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The pros and cons of a 12-week bulk

How much muscle mass can you build if you follow a bulk diet for 12 weeks? Men’s Health editors Martyn de Jong and Mart de Jong will figure it out for you. Along the way, they share their personal tips, tricks and experiences in collaboration with Body&Fit. Want to follow their journey? This time Mart shares his story.

The pros and cons of bulking

After this, if you ask me what I think about bulking, you'll definitely get a comprehensive answer. After all, this process cannot be summarised in a few words. This is partly because bulking comes with various advantages and disadvantages. Here are my key learning moments from the past few months.

Bulking is a life project

First of all, it's good to realise that bulking is hard work. I don't mind that at all, as I like a challenge, but it is necessary to be aware of this beforehand. The thing is... you can't just cycle bulk while living your life. No, bulking becomes your life. Therefore, you will sometimes have to say no to other activities in order to reap the full benefits of this process.

Fortunately, that is exactly why it is fun to do. Bulking really gives you something to sink your teeth into for a few months. Literally and figuratively. You work towards a certain result and constantly have to weigh up how best to approach things. Trial and error, we call it. But the nice thing is that every good choice is rewarded in the best way: with gains. And yes, that motivates me enormously.


Magical things happen

Because how nice is it to make progress in different ways and to see your body change every time? I can tell you the answer: very nice. From week one I could already see the difference in the mirror, but especially on the bar. As soon as you give your muscles enough fuel, magical things happen. As your carbohydrate intake increases, your muscles look fuller and bigger, which makes a world of visual difference, especially in the upper body. When I topped this off with a daily dose of creatine, my strength increased even more and my big lifts went through the roof.

For 12 weeks, this resulted in a lot of progress in bench pressing, squatting and deadlifting. No fewer than 15, 25 and 30 kilos per exercise respectively. Secretly, I perhaps enjoyed this even more than my newly acquired muscle mass. Especially because it helped to break through old plateaus. This allowed me to take another step forward in terms of results in the gym. Apparently, bulking was really necessary to achieve my goals.

How big is too big?

Which brings me to the next thing: something that I ran into quite a bit while bulking. At one point I discovered that the more I ate, the bigger I became. ‘Duh! That's what bulking is all about,' I hear you say. However, this effect brings with it a dilemma: when is it finished? When you're cutting, the limit is quite clear — at a certain point, there is simply no fat left. With bulking, however, you can always continue. Still, I personally think that bigger is not always better. Especially if it gives you an insecure feeling and a lot of fat mass. Fortunately, our coach Jasper Schmitz has a golden tip: “Stop bulking just before your six-pack disappears. Of course you can also continue, but in practice that rarely delivers more quality and muscle mass, but a lot of fat. Permabulk, we call that," Jasper says jokingly. In other words, fat that stays with you for an unnecessarily long time. A shame.

Eating a lot does not happen by itself

The subject I get the most questions about is, without a doubt, nutrition. Because how are you supposed to eat large amounts of food and at the same time meet all your macros? After 12 weeks of bulking I can say that it is a mix of several things. First of all, getting used to it. The first time I had to eat 100 grams of rice, I thought: this is impossible. Yet a few weeks later I managed to eat 200 grams. Part of that is mental, part is physical. Think of it as a campfire: if you throw large logs on it, the fire gets bigger and you need more logs so that the fire keeps burning. The same thing happens in your body. If you eat well and train hard, your body will automatically need more food. Add sufficient exercise (walking or a bit of HIIT) and experience the difference.

It's also a question of smart eating and timing. Don't try to fit 3,000 calories into just two or three meals. It is impossible to eat such portions. Whereas eating a smaller amount 5 times a day is probably fine. If you choose these meals smartly, it becomes even easier. Peanut butter, nuts, oatmeal, full cream cheese, rice and avocados, for example. These are all healthy, high-calorie products that take up relatively little stomach space.