If you are looking to build some muscle, your lean bulk macros and total calories play a significant role in what results you get.
With a wrong approach to bulking, you might end up gaining large amounts of excess body fat or hardly see any strength and muscle mass increase.
Here’s a complete guide explaining how to calculate your lean bulk macros and set you up for a successful off-season, lean bulking phase.
In this guide, you will learn:
- What Is Bulking?
- What is Lean Bulking?
- What are the Benefits of Lean Bulking?
- Calculate Your Macros for Lean Bulk
- How Long Should You Lean Bulk?
- When Should You Start a Lean Bulk?
- Lean Bulking Tips
- Frequently Asked Questions About Lean Bulk Macros
What Is Bulking?
In bodybuilding, athletes tend to switch between two diet phases – cutting and bulking.
During a cutting diet phase, the goal is to lose fat while maintaining as much muscle as possible. For that, you need to be in a caloric deficit.
On the other hand, during a bulking phase, the goal is to build lean muscle mass. Therefore, it’s important to be in a caloric surplus.
What is Lean Bulking?
Lean bulking is different from bulking, as the primary goal is to build muscle mass while minimizing fat gain.
This means that during a lean bulk, your caloric surplus is fairly small and the diet is more “stricter” in general, in comparison to the classic bulking approach.
Some may even eat the same exact foods when dieting also during a lean bulk, just in larger quantities.
What are the Benefits of Lean Bulking?
The goal of a lean bulk is to put on as much lean muscle as possible without gaining much body fat.
Therefore, the main reasons to consider a lean bulk diet include:
- Increase in lean muscle mass
- Increase in strength
- Increase in metabolism, thus easier bodyweight management
- Minimal increase in body fat
Consuming more calories while weight training can help you put on more muscle and gain strength.
Furthermore, having more lean muscle mass increases your basal metabolic rate (BMR) – that’s how many calories you burn while at rest.
This means that you will be able to eat more and stay at the same size.
Isn’t that cool?!
Calculate Your Macros for Lean Bulk
Next, I will explain how to calculate your macros for lean bulk step-by-step, with actual examples.
However, if you don’t want to go through this “manual”, but the more accurate process, feel free to use the lean bulk macro calculator below.
The lean bulk macro calculator estimates your macros (based on pre-configured distribution) and calories for a lean bulk and typically gives pretty accurate results.
But keep in mind that over time you will still need to adjust your macros and calories yourself.
Next, I will explain how to calculate your lean bulk macros in a more “manual” approach, step-by-step.
Step 1. Calculate Your Daily Calorie Needs
First, you will need to identify how many calories are you burning daily.
An easy way to determining your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE), is by using a TDEE calculator. This calculator takes into consideration your personal factors such as age, gender, height, current weight and daily activity level, and provides a fairly accurate estimate.
A different way of determining your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) is by tracking your daily food intake and monitoring your body weight fluctuations.
As a matter of fact, it’s something I would still advise you to do after you have estimated your TDEE using a calculator.
So, for a couple of weeks, track your food intake precisely and weigh yourself regularly.
If you see that you are gaining weight, then you are eating above your TDEE. Decrease your total calorie intake by a few hundred calories so that your caloric intake is around your TDEE level.
If you notice that your body weight is constantly decreasing, you are eating below your TDEE. In this case, you should increase your caloric intake by a few hundred calories.
Lastly, if your body weight stays about the same, then you are eating at around your TDEE level.
Step 2. Create Caloric Small Surplus
Once you know your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) you will need to bump up your calories slightly to create a caloric surplus.
Although, the appropriate calorie surplus for you will depend on various factors, such as your age, gender, body fat percentage, and most importantly training experience.
Research shows that novice/intermediate athletes should increase their caloric intake by approximately 10 – 20%, with a target weight gain of about 0.25 – 0.5% of body weight per week.
Advanced athletes should be more careful and aim for a low weekly weight gain, thus, have a lower calorie surplus.
For example, half that of novice/intermediate athletes. That would be approximately a 5 – 10% increase in calories and a target weight gain of about 0.15 – 0.25% of body weight per week or around 0.5 – 1% per month.
Start out at the lower end of the spectrum of caloric surplus, while closely monitoring weight gain. Then slowly increase calorie surplus when needed.
Novice/intermediate athlete (Robert) who weighs 70 kg/155 lb and burns 2500 calories daily could start by increasing its calorie intake by 10%.
2500 X 1.1 = 2750
So, Robert’s lean bulking calories would be 2750 calories.
On the other hand, an advanced athlete (Nick) who weighs 82 kg/180 lb and burns 3000 calories daily could start by increasing its calorie intake by about 5%.
3000 X 1.05 = 3150
So, this means that Nick’s lean bulking calories would be 3150 calories.
If you want to read more about the ideal weekly weight gain when bulking then check out the guide on bulking weight gain per week.
Step 3. Estimate Your Protein Needs
Protein is the main building block for our muscles and plays a major role in the overall health and function of our bodies.
Research suggests that a sufficient protein intake during a lean bulk is around 1.6 – 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day or 0.7 – 1 gram per pound of body weight per day.
Robert weighs 70 kg/155 lb
70 (kg) X 2.2 = 154 grams of protein per day (measuring per kilogram)
155 (lb) X 1 = 155 grams of protein per day (measuring per pound)
155 x 4 (calories per gram of protein) = 620 calories per day from protein
Consume protein in optimal amounts, about 25 – 50 grams per meal and distribute evenly throughout the day consuming 3 – 6 meals.
Step 4. Choose Your Daily Fat Needs
Similarly, fats are proven to be essential for overall body function and proper hormone production.
Studies suggest that on a lean bulk type of diet, athletes should consume around 0.5 – 1.5 grams of fats per kilogram of body weight per day or 0.23 – 0.68 grams of fats per pound of body weight.
This means that usually, about 10-30% of your total calorie intake would come from fats.
Robert weighs 70 kg/155 lb
70 (kg) X 1 = 70 grams of fats per day (measuring per kilogram)
155 (lb) X 0.45 = 70 grams of fats per day (measuring per pound)
70 x 9 (calories per gram of fats) = 630 calories per day from fats
If consuming the required amount of calories is a challenge for you consider starting with the more moderate fat intake.
When it’s time to increase caloric intake further, consider increasing calories mainly through fats. Specifically, fat sources that are calorically dense such as nuts, oil and nut butter.
Step 5. Determine Your Carbohydrate Needs
The remainder of the calories should come from carbohydrates.
Once you have determined your protein and fat intake, identifying your carbohydrate intake is easy.
Simply take the remainder of your daily calories and divide by 4.
In previous examples, we identified that Robert must consume 2750 calories daily.
Furthermore, he needs to consume 155 grams of protein per day, this means 620 calories will come from protein.
He also must consume 70 grams of fats per day, this means 630 calories will come from dietary fats.
620 + 630 = 1250 calories from protein and fats
2750 – 1250 = 1500 calories left for carbohydrates
1 gram of carbohydrates contains 4 calories
1500 / 4 = 375 grams of carbohydrates per day
The ratios between fats and carbohydrates can be interchanged, depending on your personal preferences, as shown in the examples above. Just makes sure you consume enough dietary fats – at least 45 grams per day.
How Long Should You Lean Bulk?
Typically, people plan out their lean bulking phases in 12-week (or 90 days) blocks followed by the maintenance or cutting diet phase.
The period of time for how long you should lean bulk really depends on your body fat percentage, training experience and your goal.
In regards to body fat, I would usually recommend stopping a lean bulk and going into a cutting phase once you reach about 20% body fat. This way you will have less body fat to lose which will help you maintain more muscle when dieting.
Novice athletes can get away with longer lean bulking phases than just 12-weeks, as they are primed to put on much more muscle, faster than an advanced athlete. Still, the recommendation here is not to go overboard and gain too much body fat.
Maybe your goal is to get strong and you don’t care about having a six-pack?!
Then you can lean bulk as long as you want. Only when you don’t feel comfortable with your body composition, then you can consider going into a cutting phase. If you want to learn more about how to approach this transition best, check out my guide on cutting after bulking.
When Should You Start a Lean Bulk?
As you know the primary goal of lean bulking is to put on lean muscle mass while minimizing body fat gain.
Therefore, you should start a lean bulk when you are fairly lean and have somewhat visible six-pack abs.
That usually is around 10 – 15% of body fat.
You don’t want to go into a lean bulking phase if you are already fat. Sure, it can help you build more muscle mass but also make you look more fat.
So, start a lean bulk phase once you are satisfied with your body fat percentage and are ready to put on more muscle mass and add minimal body fat in the process.
Recommended Reading: Should You Bulk or Cut If You Are Skinny Fat?
Lean Bulking Tips
Here are some tips you should consider following to ensure you have a successful lean bulking phase.
Be Consistent and Follow Your Lean Bulking Macros
This is self-explanatory – you must stick to the lean bulk macros that you calculate for at least 3 weeks before making any changes.
Especially when building lean muscle – don’t expect to see drastic changes in just a few weeks. It takes months to build new muscle tissue and see noticeable progress in the mirror.
Just follow the plan and aim for a target weekly and monthly weight gain I mentioned before.
Be Ready to Adjust Macros Over Time
Over time, your body will adjust and you will probably stop gaining any weight.
This is completely normal.
If you follow your macros, your body weight and especially lean muscle mass will increase. What you have calculated to be your lean bulking macros and calories at the start, after some time will be your maintenance calories and macros.
So, increase your caloric intake by about 50 – 100 calories, through carbohydrates and/or fats.
Follow the Right Workout Program
What you do in the gym will play a huge role in what results you get out of your lean bulk.
Make sure you have a proper workout plan in place with some sort of progression scheme in place.
Also, consider using my free Google Sheets workout template to build your own workout routine and then track your performance. It allows you to track sets, reps, weight and the total volume.
Track Your Progress
To ensure your lean bulk is going according to plan you must track your progress on a regular basis:
- Weigh yourself every day, in the same conditions and compare weekly medians.
- Take progress pictures to track your progress from the work you put in following your lean bulk macros and working out in the gym.
- Take measurements of your arms, chest, calves, waist, thighs, neck, as well as body fat level, if possible.
Recommended Reading: 20 Lean Bulk Tips for Staying Lean While Bulking
Frequently Asked Questions About Lean Bulk Macros
What’s Considered a Lean Bulk?
Lean bulk is a dieting approach where you eat in small, regulated caloric surplus with an aim to build lean muscle mass and prevent excessive body fat gain. The diet mainly includes minimally processed, whole foods, and limits the consumption of high-calorie junk foods.
What Is the Best Macro Ratio for Building Lean Muscle?
Macro distribution may vary depending on your fitness goal and other personal factors like weight and TDEE. A typical macro ratio when building lean muscle is 25% protein, 20% fat and 55% of carbs.
How Many Carbs Do I Need to Lean Bulk?
Carbohydrates must be prioritized during a lean bulking phase, as they are the main source of fuel for the body. After you have calculated your protein and fat needs the remainder of your calories should come from carbs. Which typically is around 50 – 60% of your total caloric intake.
I hope this article answered your question regarding how to calculate your macros for a lean bulk.
Calculating your lean bulk macros is just the beginning. To get the results from your plan you will have to regularly measure your food intake and measure your progress.
Also, remember that lean bulk macros are different for every individual. This means that you will have to calculate your personal lean bulking macros and keep adjusting them as your body weight increases and your body adapts.