The Problem With Bulking

Lift more weights, eat more food, do less cardio. 

Sounds pretty easy right? 

Well, I guess it is physically but it’s not so easy mentally.

To put it into context, I’m coming to the end of the first month of a 6 month plan in which I’m spending 3 months building muscle and then the last 3 months will be spent trying to strip body fat to increase definition and get that ‘toned’ look that I’m after. 

To build muscle, you need fuel. And that fuel is being supplied by nearly 2,000 calories each day of unprocessed food. That’s an awful lot of food, especially given that to meet this I’m having to eat mountains of vegetables, lean protein and lots of carbs squeezed into 3 main meals and 2 snacks each day.

The workouts are focused around lifting increasingly heavy weights and doing very little cardio training (apart from my daily commute and occasional cycles to see friends) which is very different to the high intensity stuff that I normally do. 

The result is that although I feel stronger (I’m PBing all over the place on squats, presses and basically everything), I also feel ‘bigger’. You’re probably thinking ‘well obviously, you’re building muscle’ but for someone who has spent their entire life trying to be smaller, this feeling is alien and not entirely comfortable. 

Watching my abs disappear day by day, the scales creep up slightly and my legs getting bigger is actually bloody difficult. It goes against the grain and it makes me feel out of shape bizarrely. It’s having an effect on my willpower too as I’ve never had to eat more to hit calorie goals before, so I’m thinking ‘well I might as well have 3 biscuits, it’ll help me hit my calories’. 

As I keep telling myself (and my friends and clients), you have to trust the process and getting control over your willpower and brain is part of this process. So I’m making sure that I eat plenty of ‘clean’ foods and hitting the gym to try and avoid the dips in willpower. 

Most of all, I’m accepting the fact that I’m struggling and that is ok. Not everything is easy and I know that I will appreciate the results a lot more because of the battles that I’ve been through. 

The Clean Eating Revolution

You might have heard people talking about ‘clean eating’ but what does it actually mean? Well, there’s different levels of clean eating. 

For example, you could go hardcore and do a Whole30 which cuts out all sugar, dairy, legumes and grains or you can do a slightly more lifestyle-friendly version, which is what I’m doing.

The rules are very simple. If it came out of a packet and has been processed far beyond its natural state, don’t eat it. So that means trying to steer clear of:

Bread (especially white or over-processed types)

Pasta

Cakes/biscuits and anything sweet or dessert like

Most dairy (minus a bit of feta or greek yogurt here and there)

‘But what is there left?’ I hear you cry. Plenty is the easy answer. You can eat all vegetables (although try to stay away from canned veg and beans as they often have stabilisers and other chemicals in them), meat, fish, brown/basmati rice, sweet potatoes, fruit, dark chocolate (with 3 ingredients or less), nuts etc. 

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A typical day of clean eating:

Breakfast – green smoothie (½ banana, handful of berries, 10 pieces of cucumber, a big handful of spinach or kale, 1 stick of celery, juice of ½ lemon, 2 tsp flaxseed, 1 tsp chia seeds)

Morning snack – a few almonds or macadamia nuts

Lunch – baked chicken breast with spices, baked sweet potato, steamed green vegetables, raw spinach, tomatoes, cucumber, ½ avocado, drizzle of olive oil

Afternoon snack – 100g greek yogurt with a chopped apple or berries

Dinner – 2 egg omelette with mushrooms, pepper, spinach and a side salad (spinach, cucumber, spring onion, cucumber, pumpkin seeds, olive oil, lemon juice)

Evening snack – 1 square of 90% dark chocolate

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When I’m focusing on eating ‘clean’ foods 80-90% of the time, I feel less bloated, my energy levels throughout the day stay much more constant rather than peaks and troughs and I feel stronger and more focused in the gym. It’s also really good for building lean muscle without increasing body fat whilst doing the right sorts of workouts. 

I eat out at least once a week with friends and the key to sticking to your clean way of life is to pick things off the menu that are as unprocessed as possible, preferably without sauces which are often loaded with salt or sugar. If you do want to indulge yourself then go for it but try to limit it to once a week if possible. 

Let me know how you get on! 

Quick and easy dinners

The last thing I want to do in the evenings during the week is spend hours chopping and then cooking food, especially if I’ve just worked out. My rule is, if it can’t be on the table within 25 minutes then it’s a weekend dish. 

So here are my top 3 quick ‘n’ healthy dinner recipes..

1) Asian spiced salmon with vegetable stir fry

1 x fillet of organic salmon (approx 200g)

Spices (five spice, cumin, garlic)

Assortment of vegetables (aubergine, onion, pak choi, mushrooms etc.)

Gluten free soy sauce

1 x teaspoon Thai green curry paste

1 x tablespoon coconut oil

Melt the coconut oil in a wok and add in the curry paste. Fry the paste until it smells amazing. Chop all of the vegetables (you can be fancy and julienne them or just cut them into cubes all roughly the same size) and throw them into the pan. In the meantime, season your salmon fillet and roast in the oven at 180 celcius for 10-15 minutes. It should still be pink and flakey. Serve in a bowl with a splash of soy sauce.

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2) Simple salad

1 x handful of lettuce leaves

4 x cherry tomatoes

8 x slices of cucumber

1 x spring onion

½ x sweet pepper

1 x cooked beetroot

150g of protein of your choice

Dressing (2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, squeeze of lemon juice, 1 tsp wholegrain mustard, pinch each of salt/pepper/sugar – shake up in a jar and keep in fridge)

Chop and combine all ingredients. Dress with 1 x tablespoon of dressing

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3) Quick Tuna Stew

1 x tbsp olive oil

Assortment of vegetables (onion, aubergine, courgette, peppers)

1 x tin of tomatoes

1 x tin of pole & line caught tuna

Spices (cumin, garlic, chilli flakes, paprika)

1 x handful of green beans

5 x brussel sprouts

Chop up the assorted vegetables and cook gently until soft. Add in tin of tomatoes and tin of tuna with spices. Allow to bubble for 15 minutes. Steam the beans and brussel sprouts (I use a bamboo steamer, it’s brilliant…) and serve everything in a big bowl. This is like a big tummy hug in a bowl!

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