You may be wondering, “How do I bulk while on a diet? Is it even possible?” The answer is yes! You absolutely can gain muscle mass while on a diet, it just takes a little more attention to what, and how much you’re eating!
Bulking on a diet can be an interesting task, as many diets restrict access to common sources of protein, carbs, or supplements that make bulking an easier experience. That’s why we have compiled a bunch of helpful bulking tips for those who are on a vegan, paleo, or keto diet.
What Is Bulking?
Bulking season centers around heavily increasing muscle mass during the winter months. In the summer, many fitness fanatics enter what is called the “cutting season” which centers around shrinking calorie intake in order to lower body fat percentage. This gives that iconic, lean, shredded look that we all want when we’re on the beach, but this caloric deficit can be quite strenuous on the body. This is what makes bulking season important, as it allows your body to recover from the stress of consuming less calories than it really needs. Let’s dive into how you can reap the benefits of bulking while staying true to your diet.
1. Vegan Bulking
The vegan diet has so many wonderful benefits such as helping the environment and preventing animal suffering. When it comes to increasing muscle mass, the vegan diet definitely has some pros and cons, but it is absolutely possible to reach your desired bulking goals with the right approach.
Simply put, you’re going to have to eat a lot more in order to see results. The goal is to maintain the high intake of calories and proteins needed in order to reach a calorie surplus. It is very important to ensure you are eating calorie-dense foods in order to stimulate muscle growth. This can be a little more difficult on a vegan diet, as plant based foods aren’t as dense in calories or the branch 3 amino acids found in animal protein, which are paramount to your ability to gain muscle.
Vegan Foods For Bulking
Now that we’ve covered the basic mindset behind gaining mass while on the vegan diet, let's talk about what vegan foods will be your best friends during your bulking journey. We’ll break it down into 3 separate categories: protein, healthy fats and carbs.
When trying to bulk on a vegan diet, it is extremely important to focus on not only getting a sufficient amount of protein, but also making sure you’re getting enough of the branch 3 amino acids. Many bodybuilding pros suggest that you should be consuming around 0.8-1g of protein per pound of body weight per day to increase muscle growth. Some really solid plant based foods that contain important amino acids are edamame, soy beans, mung beans, peas and lentils. Another way to ensure your protein intake is sufficient to increase muscle mass is to try out different vegan protein powders or supplements. The side benefit of consuming vegan protein shakes when bulking is that they are a great way to increase your calorie intake, so you’re killing 2 birds with one stone by adding protein shakes and supplements into your diet. Throw in some nuts, seeds, berries, peanut butter and even oatmeal into your vegan protein shake to further increase it’s caloric density.
Vegan Healthy Fats
Healthy fats are an essential aspect of a vegan bulking diet. They offer a long-term source of energy, reduce inflammation after workouts, and contribute to increasing your mass as you begin your bulking period. Vegan foods with healthy fats include flax seeds (amazing when ground up, and are also a great source of protein!), coconut, avocado, olive oil and nut butters. Add some sliced avocado to some seeded gluten-free bread, or even pair your bread with some nut butter with a side of flax seeds. Also, healthy oils such as avocado oil, coconut oil and olive oil are a wonderful source of omega 3’s and healthy fats, and are really easy to incorporate into most dishes.
Getting enough carbs into your body is an absolute must as you enter a bulking period. Carbs are one of the body’s main sources of energy, which is needed to ensure you have enough gas in the tank to complete an intense workout. You might be asking yourself, “What are the best carbs for energy?” Luckily, the vegan diet has tons of options. Sweet potatoes are the pinnacle carb for muscle gain, and can assist in refuelling your body after a heavy workout. Healthy whole grains such as oats are also an incredible source of carbs. The benefits of oats don’t stop at carbs, as they are literally one of the healthiest foods on this earth, containing beneficial nutrients, fibre and proteins that are essential to maintaining a healthy diet for bulking. Some other suggestions include regular potatoes, carrots, beets, squash, bananas, berries, quinoa, brown or white rice and apples!
All in all, bulking on a vegan diet may pose a few challenges when trying to get enough branch 3 amino acids, but otherwise, building muscle mass on this diet is absolutely possible with the right intake of carbs, healthy fats and proteins.
2. Keto Bulking
A lot of people think you need to consume a boatload of carbs to gain muscle, but that simply isn’t the case! There is another energy source that your body can use to fuel your workouts, and that source is fat! The general idea is that you’re going to need to consume a lot of healthy fats and proteins in conjunction with high-stress workouts in order to achieve the gains you desire.
A popular tip from keto bodybuilders is to consume roughly one gram of protein per pound of body mass per day, similar to the vegan diet. A tough part of building muscle on keto is the fact that the keto diet reduces hunger, which can make it hard to put your body in a calorie surplus. This is where tracking your calories can really help, as you can see if your intake is too low for consistent muscle growth to occur.
Bulking Foods For Keto Diet
Let’s jump into the best keto foods to increase your gains! There are three important categories we’ll be touching on; protein, healthy fats and electrolytes.
As you’ll come to learn, eating high-protein foods is a necessity when bulking, no matter what diet you’re committed to. Common animal proteins such as steak, ground beef, chicken breast, sausage and whole eggs are known to help build mass during a bulk. Protein shakes are an amazing way to “shake” things up a bit, just so you don’t have to constantly consume dense meals to reach your daily protein goals. Similar to the vegan diet, you should be eating 0.8-1g of protein per pound of body weight per day, allotting for around 18-20% of your daily calories.
Keto Healthy Fats
When on a low-carb diet, your body begins using fat for energy, rather than carbs. This means that you’re going to need to eat a lot of healthy fats in order to have enough fuel for the gym. These healthy fats include, but are not limited to butter, coconut oil, fatty cuts of fish, avocado, MCT oil and various types of nuts. These energy-boosting fats should account for about 75% of your daily calories, but there needs to be a strategy behind this, as eating this much fat every day can cause excess weight gain. This is where the benefits of intermittent fasting come into play, as participating in a fast approximately 2 times a week can give the body a break from consuming such heavy amounts of fat.
When you consume low-carb foods, there is a possibility that your electrolytes can become imbalanced. Electrolytes are important for muscle tissue function, so you’re going to want to ensure that you consume foods with electrolytes regularly so you don’t lose gains. Foods high in electrolytes include spinach, kale, avocado, full-fat yogurt, cheese, salmon and almonds! Sugar-free Electrolyte supplements are also a great option, but shouldn’t be your only source.
If your body is in a state of ketosis, increasing muscle mass is quite simple. Providing your body with electrolytes, proteins and healthy fats will ensure your calorie intake is on point for gains. Since your fat intake will be high, make sure to participate in a fast twice a week to prevent unhealthy weight gain.
3. Paleo Bulking
The paleo diet is actually quite simple when it comes to bulking, with most of its attributes being a solid foundation for a healthy, clean bulk. Though this is true, not being able to consume grains or processed starches can make it hard to find different options for carbs.
If you find you’re struggling with this issue, you can actually omit carbs all together and put your body in a state of ketosis. Since the options for carbs aren’t as plentiful on the paleo diet to begin with, switching to a more fat-focused diet can simplify your bulking process.
Paleo Foods For Muscle Gain
Here are the best foods for muscle growth while practicing the paleo lifestyle. We’ll be focusing on protein, healthy fats and carbs.
By now, you should be well aware of just how important protein really is when it comes to increasing mass and muscle. Luckily, there are plenty of options for high protein foods available to anyone on the paleo diet. Foods like grass fed beef, organic chicken and eggs are all excellent options for protein, and will certainly help with reaching your daily protein intake. Add seasoning and spices to your proteins to make it easier on your taste buds, as you're going to need to eat a lot in order to maintain a calorie surplus.
Paleo-Friendly Healthy Fats
Healthy fats are essential muscle building foods, and can function in multiple ways when on the paleo diet. They can function as an awesome recovery tool in between workouts, or they can be the body’s energy source! As mentioned above, putting your body into ketosis while on the paleo diet can be a good strategy, as the options for carbs aren't as plentiful. Some paleo foods with healthy fats include almond butter, coconut butter, raw nuts/seeds, extra virgin olive oil and fatty cuts of fish.
Since whole grains are off-limits to paleo enthusiasts, it can be difficult to maintain a steady intake of carbs. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have options, but it may require discipline. As mentioned above, you can’t go wrong with sweet potatoes, as the benefits of sweet potatoes are a match made in heaven for any bulk. They contain a high amount of carbs, enhance brain function, and provide your body with essential vitamins, making them one of the best bulking foods. Starchy vegetables and fruits such as carrots, regular potatoes, beets, squash, bananas and apples will generally be your go to carbs for muscle growth while on the paleo diet.
The paleo diet creates a really solid landscape for a healthy, natural bulk. With a solid foundation of protein, healthy fats and carbs, you will certainly be on your way to achieving your bulking goals. If you’re having trouble with the lack of options for carbs, try substituting them with healthy fats in order to put your body in a state of ketosis, which allows your body to burn fat for energy instead.
Bulking season is incredibly beneficial for fitness junkies who want to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Even if you’re on a restrictive diet, participating in a seasonal bulk is absolutely possible with a proper strategy. There are tons of vegan, paleo and keto friendly foods for building muscle, you just have to make sure you’re eating enough calories, carbs, healthy fats, electrolytes and the almighty protein to maximize your results. For more information on general tips and tricks for a successful bulking season, check out our “Foods For A Healthy Bulking Season” blog post!