Can you add mass without increasing body fat percentage? This is a difficult question to answer as there are so many variables. The usual definition of ‘bulking up’ or ‘gaining mass’ is the accrual of total body mass, which typically includes adding a small amount of fat to speed up the muscle gain. Nowadays, however, everyone seems to want to ‘lean bulk’, which is adding lean muscle mass with either very little or no fat gain. Is this possible?
The first question that must be asked is, ‘how fast do you want to gain muscle mass?’. If you want to gain muscle mass as quickly as possible then a typical bulk is the way forward as the the extra calories will induce greater muscle gain (yes, there will be fat laid down too). If you want to add muscle slowly then a lean bulk is totally fine because you’ll understand that you may only add 1lb of muscle per month, compared to 2-3lbs you could add on a typical bulk. This lead to to the question, ‘can you do a typical bulk without gaining fat?’. In my opinion, no, but you can minimise the fat gain by optimising your food timings.
As with most diets, Carbs are the key here; timing your carbs is the key to minimising fat gains whilst bulking. The way you structure your food on training days ad non-training days needs to be different. As you would expect, Carbs need to be lower on non-workout days than workout days; in addition, the timing of the carbs needs to be different. Let us assume you train in the evenings:
Training days: Protein and fats all day up until 1 1/2 hours before training at which point a high carb, moderate protein, low fat meal should be consumed. Post training nutrition should be high carb, moderate protein, low fat also and this should be consumed up until you go to bed.
Non-training days: Majority of carbs for your breakfast. You’ll still be anabolic the morning after your workout so make the most of this by eating a carb heavy breakfast. After this meal however all of your meals should be high protein, high fat, low carb.
The logic behind this? You need to remain sensitive to insulin to continue to make muscle gains. Consuming carbs at all meals will desensitise you to insulin overtime, thus reducing the power of this extremely potent hormone when you need it (post workout). By only consuming a lot of carbs for the several hours after training and the morning after too, you will make use of insulin for muscle building purposes. Any carbs outside of this period will probably be laid down as body fat, which is something that you should be looking to avoid.