How I Escaped from Bulking Purgatory

July 16, 2015

How I Escaped from Bulking Purgatory

You've finally made up your mind. From here on out, it's nothing but wholesome food, the things that you've known for years to be the arbiters of proper muscle building: oatmeal, egg whites, chicken breast, and brown rice, all of the things you've heard that Hugh Jackman ate to get that Wolverine body and that will not only properly plump and strengthen your skinny-fat muscles but keep you at sub-12% body fat while you do so.

And I bet it goes well for the first three days.

Then suddenly, looking out across the ocean of watery protein shakes ahead of you, you realize that you've made a terrible mistake, and you decide, yet again, that you are not about that life. So you stop working out, banish your clean bulk fare to the coldest part of the fridge to slowly spoil, and try to forget this part of your life.

Welcome to Bulking Purgatory.

This is the theater of never-ending decision and abandonment that muscle rags and supplement farms hope you never leave. The good news? There is a way out. The bad news? You've got to forget everything you think you know about muscle-building to bust through your bulking plateau.

I've made it out in one piece (albeit a few hundred dollars lighter from years of spinning my wheels), and while I do not claim to be any paragon of swoleness or chiseled aesthetic perfection, I do know the difference between shit and Shinola when it comes to what builds muscle and what just makes you hate your life. The way out of Bulking Purgatory appears through the hazy rancor when you meditate upon a single question:

Why aren't I gaining any muscle on my clean bulk?

The long answer is because you are putting yourself through rigorous anabolism-promoting exercise but depriving yourself of the macronutrients that may be most important to anabolism itself. The short answer is because you're not eating enough, ya dingus.

Conventional clean bulk wisdom posits that in order to properly bulk up without adding bloat and unwanted body fat, you need to remain in just enough of a caloric surplus to encourage muscle growth. Sounds logical enough, right? It's too bad that for the vast majority of weight-lifters, particularly young males with average genetics and a few years of hit-and-miss training under their belts, this advice is highly impractical. Clean bulking assumes an indomitable willpower as the basis for its success, that you will have your calorie intake down to such a science that you will not, in fact, drive yourself and everyone around you crazy nitpicking your food options and bitching about not being able to go out for beer and wings with your friends. Unless you are a professional bodybuilder and are actually making a living at the muscle game, there is no reason to spend such an inordinate amount of time obsessing over the pre-poop you put in your tum-tum. And, of course, since there's such a presumed link between sugar intake and looking like lard, the clean bulker's first commandment is that thou shalt eliminate all simple sugar or condemn a paltry amount to the fabled "post-workout window," the 30 minutes after a workout that gym bros allege is when all consumed nutrients go toward muscle-building.

I'm not a scientist. I can't dazzle you with studies done on the effects of glucose uptake in mice who have just completed five sets of five reps on bench press, and even if I could, it would only serve to further confuse you. In the realm of Human Truths, I can only claim my own experiences as evidence. All I know is that on an extremely strict diet of no refined sugar and no alcohol (seriously), and after dedicating a large portion of my life to working out with the goal of "clean bulking," I stood at a lean 174 lbs. For four. Damn. Years. Sure, I looked good, but at 6' tall, I hardly felt like the big strong man I wanted to be.

What I Did that Broke my Bulking Plateau

What changed? I supplemented my already balanced diet with a range of foods higher on the glycemic index, and I mean a range. Baked goods. Milk. Orange juice. Fruit. I brought my sweet tooth back into the fold. I flipped my lanky genetics the bird and peaked at 203 lbs. My abs were barely visible, but dammit, I felt like a walking battle tank, and, along with making my other core lifts skyrocket, I'd increased my working weight on squats from 150 to 240 lbs. I believe this to be a direct result of finally ensuring my body had a constant flow of energy in the form of easy-to-burn glucose at differing levels throughout the day, and all of those extra carbs meant extra calories, enough to finally coax my jackrabbit metabolism into building muscle.

If I had continued to languish in carbohydrate restriction and constant insecurity at not looking like a GQ cover model, I believe I would still be that frustrated 174 lb weakling, and you may be reading an article about the best way to prepare boiled chicken breast instead. People gloss over what the phrase "big and strong" actually means. If you want to be lean and strong, you probably aren't reading this article. If you want to be lean and big, I'm sure you haven't been able to pull yourself away from the calorie calculator and self help books long enough to go online for the past few weeks.

If you want out of Bulking Purgatory, you can't play by the rules that landed you in there. Bottom line, if you want to get big and strong, you have to be okay with getting big, and maybe starving yourself with bland, slow-burning fuel is not going to get you there. Mark me, this is not my permission to go full-blown Augustus Gloop all day every day, it's a Cher-style slap in the face to be a well-rounded human being and enjoy your donuts as well as your chicken and broccoli.

Snap out of it, and take my unsupported anecdotes as an invitation to make a few of your own.




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