To build muscle, you need to be in a calorie surplus, where you are consuming more calories than you are burning. This is known as bulking. A common question that we hear is “Does bulking make me lose abs?”. Let’s take a look.
This is a tricky question to answer, not because everyone is different (though they are), but because there are two definitions for losing your abs.
What the question is really asking is will bulking lead to me gaining body fat? Leading to the visibility of your abs vanishing.
Bulking will not lead to you losing your abs, they will still be there. But they may not be visible. But you won’t lose them if anything they will probably get stronger. Once you begin to lose weight (known in bodybuilding as a cut) your abs may be even more defined then they were before you started bulking.
Unless you are already overweight or you are a complete novice lifter, it is very difficult to build muscle unless you are in a calorie surplus (where more calories are consumed than burned each day). This is because your body needs fuel to increase muscle mass.
But obviously, staying in a calorie surplus for a prolonged period of time will lead to weight gain and excess body fat. The goal for most people is to create a calorie surplus with minimal body fat accumulation.
There are two ways to bulk. They are often called clean bulking and dirty bulking:
Both forms of bulk have their benefits, clean bulks are easier to recover from, and are less extreme. Dirty bulks are required if 1) You don’t have much time, and 2) if you are very underweight and struggle to put on weight.
Bulking does not have a large range of benefits, just a couple really. It can help you to train harder in the gym, leading to increases in strength and muscle mass. You may also see an increase in testosterone, but this will begin to reverse once the body fat levels increase too far.
Bulking will also help with recovery, may help with improved sleep quality, and it can also help with nutrition. More calories from a varied source, could mean better intake of vitamins and minerals.
Of course, consuming excess calories for a prolonged period of time is going to lead to more body fat. Depending on your personal genetics and your starting point bulking can cause quite substantial fat accumulation if you’re not careful. If you are very lean or underweight it may take a long time, but eventually it will catch up to anyone.
Most bodybuilders, powerlifters, or fitness models accept that some body fat accumulation is inevitable. But increasingly, the dirty bulk is falling out of favour, and controlled “clean” bulks are becoming the norm.
This is because a dirty bulk that leads to too much body fat accumulation means that you need a longer and more extreme cut to get lean afterwards. As cuts are much less enjoyable, most lifters believe that doing everything to shorten them is the best course of action.
The best way to avoid excessive fat gain is to properly plan out and implement your bulk. Give yourself as much time as you can and stay in a moderate surplus rather than a massive one.
Take continuing photos of your physique and use these photos to gauge progress. Use measurements of body circumference and muscle mass/strength as well.
These measurements are crucial as they can help you to decide whether you are performing your bulk correctly. Remember, the main reason why you are increasing calories is so that you can exercise harder and get better strength and mass gains.
If you are gaining body fat but not seeing enough positive changes then you need to adjust either your calorie intake or the amount of exercise you are performing. Trying to up your daily step count is a good way to keep body fat in check while in bulking mode.
There is of course an argument that bulking and cutting are old fashioned, and that shifting from one extreme to another is pointless for most people.
Exercising regularly while maintaining a calorie balance is a good technique for many people. With perhaps the occasional short-term cut to help define abs in time for a holiday or photoshoot.
Whatever happens, your abs aren’t actually going anywhere. Train them regularly, and they will be as strong as ever, whether you are bulking or cutting. Lowering body fat will help make them more visible, but that does not mean that they vanish when you gain weight.
You can train them directly through crunches, planks, leg raises, and other exercises. Or just train them indirectly through compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, lunges, presses, and cardio exercises such as swimming or sprinting.
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