Most people who are versed in the dieting process look forward towards the Muscle Gain portion of dieting, commonly called massing or a bulk. This is a period in which increased calories are needed in order to illicit growth of the body tissued, primarily muscles, so that strength, power, endurance, and other aspects of athleticism can increase. It's also a great time to let the body recover from hard periods of training, and acute or chronic injuries. However, a lot of people abuse the muscle gain dieting process, and have a lot of work to do to get to a good place to begin a cut.
5. Be Prepared
Just like with cutting body fat, muscle gain is no easy task, and while missing a meal here or there can benefit weight loss (in a less than ideal way), missing a meal while trying to gain muscle mass slows the process down significantly. It's recommended that to put on muscle mass, you need somewhere between 250-500 extra calories a day, so as to put on .5-1 pound of bodyweight on a week. Even missing a small meal means delaying this process. This means that you're going to have to be a little more prepared with getting food packed for the day. Once you've completed meal prepping, in whatever form you choose, you'll want to make sure that you have all your meals ready to go for the day the night before, as not to forget to eat a meal.
For our beginners who have a difficult time eating thanks to less than normal work schedules (3rd shift, nurses and other hospital staff, etc) you know that eating regularly can be a challenge, but even with muscle gain plans, there's always a work around. Often times, people will complain that their job or occupation won't allow them to eat food in the work place, in the cases of hospital staff, this is a very real issue, but there's always a work around if you try hard enough. While you may not be able to bring food with you into the areas of a hospital that need constant habitat control (nor want to) or if you're a laborer with strict rules about bringing food on to the warehouse floor or work site, you can always keep your lunch and/or meals ready in the break area, so if you have some down time, you can easily access it, if it's not going to take you so far out of the way that you'll miss something critical with your work.
Otherwise, the simplest work around to getting enough food in if you have irregular work schedules is simply to get up much earlier, and begin eating prior to work. This is often easier said than done for a lot of people, but really, time management is your friend here. If you wake up with just enough time to clean up and pound some food and get out the door to work, take that time and double it. So if you wake up an hour before you need to leave, wake up two hours, this way, you can get in two meals prior to work. Wake up, eat a meal before you do anything else, and then eat a second meal prior to leaving. It's rarely that you don't have time, but more likely, that you're not utilizing all the time you have properly.
4. Focus on Affordable Food
When it comes to food, you won't need to increase your protein intake anymore than you would than if you were cutting weight (to be discussed at a later time) but you will be increasing your carbohydrate and fat intake. Most people think "but wait, isn't protein what builds your muscles?" While protein and amino acids are a critical component in building muscle, the nutrients from carbohydrates and fats are equally necessary for building muscle mass, so you're going to be investing in more carbs and fats at the grocery store for your meal prep.
A nifty marketing trick my dad taught me early on when I started shopping for myself was this: never take the food at eye level. That's the more costly food in the supermarket, and the ones that the store want you to buy. Look for foods in the top shelf or bottom of the shelf, where the price per volume will be significantly less. In addition, try looking for generic branded or store branded foods, as they will be even more affordable. While Jasmine White Rice is a favorite go to for a lot of my fitness and lifting friends, it's way over priced compared to the bargain brand white rice just below it or to the right of it. While it's nice to go with the Whole Foods brand of food choices, there's no clear evidence that paying $5/lb in rice is going to give you a more anabolic response than the $.99/lb Costco brand of rice that will last you through a Game of Thrones length winter.
I would invest, however, in some grass-fed butter for your fats, particularly for cooking, as the added Omega-3's and other nutrients not found in grain-fed butter and fats can be a nice way to up your micronutrients without an added fish oil supplement. Kerry Gold Butter is my go to, and has become quite affordable since it's moved out of the niche market of Whole Foods and into numerous generic supermarkets. If you're fortunate enough to live in farm country, or Amish Country, keep an eye out for families selling homemade butter. You can get a literal kilo of grassfed butter for ridiculously cheap prices. I could get 3lbs of grass-fed Amish butter from a little country stand in South Carolina for $10.
More food means more money, so it's best to make sure you're getting the most bang for your buck if you don't want to go broke getting bigger.
3. Progressively Increase Calories and Macros
Another common mistake for beginners when going on a muscle gain diet is piling on the food right of the get-go, however, your body isn't going to respond in the way you want if you choose to go all you can eat right away. Your body can't make rapid changes just because you want it to, even when adding calories, or at least, not the changes you may want. Your body is very good at keeping things at a set environment, both when trying to cut and trying to mass. Although it's a lot easier for people to put on size than it is to cut, your body doesn't like to put on muscle as much as it does fat.
To use a crude analogy, muscle is pretty expensive to maintain, while fat is cheap. Another way to view it is you can repair the damage done by exercise towards your muscles relatively quickly; in short, when you exercise or train, your muscles get stressed and use up substrates needed for energy production and metabolism geared towards maintaining muscle mass and/or building it. Once your muscle tissue is filled up with the necessary materials to repair and build, it doesn't really utilize any more, and the rest will be converted into other substrates for other needs in the body, primarily storage energy, aka fat. In order to properly achieve muscle growth, you'll need a combination of higher volume training and higher intake of calories, both which should be progressive. Just like you wouldn't jump right into doing sets of 20 on the squat without building up to it, you shouldn't just throw down the food, if you want to make proper gains.
Just like with cutting, the process is slow, and patience is required. When reassessing macros and calories for a mass, you should look to start with 500 calories more per day from your Base Diet, and you should be gaining between .5-1lb of bodyweight per week on average. This is ideal towards building muscle, especially higher volume training sessions, and once you begin to level out on your weight gain per week, take it slowly and increase your macros and calories by another 250-500 calories until you are satisfied with your growth.
2. Bulks and Massing Are Not an Excuse to Pig Out
In relation to the previous point, just because you're on a muscle gain diet doesn't mean that this is a time to let loose and go on a See Food Diet. If you're looking to put on quality mass, then you're going to have to make as dedicated food choices as you did during the cutting phase. This means keeping up a variety of food while you are packing away the extra calories, which can be very beneficial for a recovery phase post competition season if you're an athlete or figure competitor. Getting in a wide variety of meats, carbs, and veggies during a massing phase is a sure-fire way to make sure that you're getting plenty of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) which are not only necessary for general health, but function of muscle metabolism as well.
Don't be too glum though, there is a bright side to this. I am much more liberal on Cheat Meals during a massing phase than I am a cutting phase. Obviously, that extra bowl of ice cream or Taco Tuesday isn't going to set you off track if you're looking to put on size, and it's a great way to recover from a prolonged period of cutting or maintaining weight. I would say, much like with cutting though, this should be done periodically, and not on a regular basis, but can be as often as the traditional Friday or Saturday night cheat night if you want to let loose in that manner. Don't get so obsessed with eating clean during a bulk that you forget to have fun.
1. Be Comfortable With Getting A Little Fluffy
This is going to be a tough one for a lot of people, but it's an inherent part of bulking. There is not magic method to putting on 100% muscle during a muscle gain phase, and I have friends in the body building community who use pharmaceuticals to enhance their growth, and even they can't help but get a little soft during this part of dieting, despite common perception of bodybuilding and drugs. I can't give you a proper breakdown of how much muscle to fat you'll gain during a muscle gain cycle, but be aware that it will occur. You may lose your abs, your taper in your quads may get softer, and your face slightly rounder, but that's apart of the process.
And better yet, it's 100% natural.
If you rewind the clock to the early 1800's when people were still mostly physical laborers in this country, and you tried to eat to get bigger, but complained about getting fatter, you'd probably sleep with the pigs for being so silly, or get sent on an expedition with Lewis and Clark for cardio. There's nothing to be ashamed about gaining some body fat if you're trying to get bigger and stronger, it goes hand in hand. As long as you're progressively increasing your calories and macros, getting a wide variety of food, and training hard, you can minimize the amount of fat you'll put on. View this process as an investment; yes you're getting a little softer, but eventually, when you complete another cutting phase, you're going to be even stronger, or look even more jacked, once beach season comes around again.