From beginners looking to put on some muscle to professional bodybuilders preparing for the Olympia, bulking is a vital part of training for muscle growth.
Here, the aim is to eat more calories than needed to increase weight. This is done through taking in lots of protein, carbohydrates, and fats.
However, this can be difficult. The main challenge is that it can be hard to eat a high enough amount of food to gain the needed weight.
This is particularly the case for ‘hard gainers,' who find it difficult to gain weight. These people quickly feel full and move around more, which makes it tougher to overeat.
This can be solved easily, though if the right foods are picked. So, below, we look at the best foods to help you bulk up.
Best High Calorie Foods for Bulking
The best bulking foods are usually high in calories and highly nutritious, but also foods that are tasty and don’t reduce hunger too much.
Good choices should include lots of protein and healthy fats, and if possible, vitamins and minerals. Carbohydrates aren’t needed as much but are useful for athletes in endurance sports.
This is because protein and healthy fats can help recovery from exercise. Overeating on a high-protein diet also makes it harder to gain fat than overeating on carbohydrates or fats.
Surprisingly, poor choices are high in nutrients like fiber, like whole grains. Highly water-based foods such as fruit or watery vegetables are also less than ideal, because these types of foods and nutrients reduce hunger more than others.
Hunger is often seen as an adverse effect of dieting, but when trying to gain weight, it is a valuable tool for bulking. So foods should decrease hunger, but not by too much.
To help you find the ideal options for your diet, we’ve laid out twelve foods and meals that are good choices for when you're bulking.
These options are also organized into possible meals to help you design a diet plan that will help you put on muscle fast.
Each slice With Butter contains...
Carbohydrate: 32 grams
Protein: 15 grams
Fat: 35 grams
Vitamins/Minerals: Vitamin A, Calcium, Iron
This is one of the best food choices for breakfast when bulking. The high calories along with high amounts of protein and carbohydrates make it an excellent choice for athletes or bodybuilders.
These egg-covered slices of bread are also a very easy and fast to make. Preparing one slice should take around three minutes and increasing the number of slices for added calories can be done easily too.
It is important to use white bread here and not brown or whole grain types. This is because the added fiber may reduce hunger and make it difficult to eat more calories later.
Eggs also have higher quality protein than most other foods, except for meat or dairy. This is because the protein in eggs is more easily absorbed in the body and improves protein synthesis in the body.
This is done by firstly heating a frying pan and layering it with cooking oil or butter. Then, 2-3 eggs should be broken into a bowl and mixed well. This will allow full coating of the bread when dipping each side of the slice into the bowl.
After each side is coated, the bread should be placed in the pan and fried until each side is a light golden-brown colour.
As mentioned, it is easy to add more than one slice at a time for added protein and calories. This can help you add or take away calories as needed. So, this is a good way to increase calories at breakfast time.
Mass Gainer Shakes and Smoothies
For those who have a busy schedule, shakes or smoothies can offer an easy way to get in calories. They are also useful for including nutritious ingredients like vegetables without reducing hunger too much.
This is because liquid forms of food don’t affect hunger as much as their solid forms. So, you can use these shakes or smoothies to get in vitamins and minerals from your vegetables.
A general guideline for making shakes and smoothies is to include at least one source of protein, like whey protein or egg whites. Along with this, some carbohydrates should be added for taste. It’s here that high-calorie fruits like bananas can be useful.
So, if you’re pressed for time and trying to gain weight, investing in some protein powder and a blender could be worth considering.
Full English Fry Breakfast (Bacon, Eggs, Sausages and Pudding)
Many bodybuilders will be very happy to see this option included on the list. This combination of foods offers a high-protein (41.5g) and high-calorie (763 calories) meal for bulking up. It is also a fast meal to prepare.
The bacon and eggs offer high amounts of protein. Meanwhile, the sausages and pudding provide extra calories through fat.It’s important to note, though, that this meal is very high in saturated fats. This could lead to unwanted fat gain and high cholesterol. So, while this meal is good for taking in calories, it should be used sparingly.
White Pasta and Pesto Sauce
Each large plate contains...
Carbohydrate: 111 grams
Protein: 21 grams
Fat: 25 grams
Vitamins/Minerals: Iron, Sodium
This is a very diverse food that can be used for either lunch or dinner. It is also easily changed by switching sauces or meats. So, no matter what type of diet you're on, white pasta is very useful.
Adding pesto will help increase healthy fats in the food and adding meat like chicken or beef will increase protein. This makes for a pasta dish that is very useful for putting on weight while also providing proper nutrition.
Like with the French toast option, it is important to use the white pasta here and not the whole wheat type. Like in bread, the whole wheat or brown forms are higher in fiber and can reduce hunger to a greater extent than white pasta.
Subway Sandwiches or Wraps
Either of these options is ideal for athletes with busy schedules because they are both fast and easy to get. They are also easy to vary in ingredients, which can be a big help when eating a lot of food.
They can also be made at home if you want to save money or have more control over the nutrient content.
When choosing either a wrap or Subway-type sandwich, it is important to include as much protein as possible with some vegetables to make sure the food is nutritious. Adding sauces is also a good idea as it can improve the taste and help when eating large meals.
Just like with pasta and the French toast, though, whole grain or whole wheat bread should be avoided. But, cheese is a helpful addition due to its high protein and calorie content. Some cheeses, like mozzarella and cheddar, are better than others.
Adding cheese should also be done with caution, as this food can also have a negative effect on cholesterol.
Pizza (with Beef, Chicken, Bacon and Pepperoni)
Carbohydrate: 198.4 grams
Protein: 112 grams
Fat: 53.6 grams
Vitamins/Minerals: Iron, Calcium, Vitamin A, Sodium, Potassium
High-calorie? Check. High-protein? Check. Great taste? Check.
This is easily one of the most popular bulking foods for athletes, and for a good reason. The high level of protein and calories makes it an excellent food for putting on weight.
One of the only issues with this choice is that it can leave you feeling stuffed and make it difficult to eat more. This is why it is better near the end of the day. But, even this fullness is mainly due to its extremely high-calorie content.
The ingredients can also be easily changed to suit your preferences. Like with choosing ingredients for sandwiches, you should include as much protein as possible. Also, adding extra cheese is another option to boost calories and protein.
For another easy and diverse option, pizza is a tasty and nutritious choice.
Each Steak Contains…
Carbohydrate: 2 grams
Protein: 36 grams
Fat: 15 grams
Vitamins/Minerals: Iron, Sodium
The reason this food stands alone, despite its low calorie content, is not only because of its high amount of protein but also due to some different nutrients.
Beef contains a high amount of creatine, with only a pound of beef delivering five grams of creatine. This amount of creatine is enough to help significantly boost strength and muscle growth.
This is higher than other red meats, like duck or lamb, which usually only provide around two grams of creatine.
But, it’s also worth noting that beef can have some saturated fat, though this can vary with different types of beef steak, though. So, despite a moderate fat content, beef is an excellent choice when looking to gain weight and improve strength.
This is an option for the more adventurous athlete or gym-goer. The duck and lamb both provide a high amount of protein and healthy fats.
Along with this, it’s an easy dish to add vegetables to. The high protein, healthy fat content, and nutrients from the vegetables makes for a great meal to help you put on weight while keeping you healthy and active.
Also, if you’re looking to add more calories or healthy fats, you can use cooking oils like olive or coconut oil to fry the meats and vegetables.
This can help provide more health benefits and increase your total food intake to boost weight gain even further. This option is especially useful for athletes or gym-goers who cannot eat beef or pork, and need to take in their protein from other sources.
Curry (Madras or Korma)
Unlike the other multiple choice foods on this list, these options offer unique and different benefits to each other.
Spicier curries, like madras or vindaloo, provide a greater health benefit because of their unique nutrients. But, creamier curries, like korma or tikka masala, contain a higher amount of calories.
Just like their benefits, their taste is also very different, and preference of either curry will depend highly on the individual.
But, regardless of the type of curry chosen, both are good choices for trying to put on weight. Like other options on the list, their meats can also be varied.
They can also be easily combined with white rice or different pieces of bread to help add more calories if needed.
Toast with Avocado Spread
Each Two Slices With Half an Avocado Contains…
Carbohydrate: 15.9 grams
Protein: 2.5 grams
Fat: 38 grams
Vitamins/Minerals: Sodium, Vitamin A
While this food is lower in protein than other options on the list, it is loaded with healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals along with a high amount of calories. It also requires only two ingredients to make and can be eaten hot or cold, which makes it an easy food to eat or pack when on the go. So, if you’re short on time and finding it difficult to take in more fats and vitamins, this is an ideal option.
Peanut Butter and Jam Sandwiches
One Sandwich Contains…
Carbohydrate: 48 grams
Protein: 15 grams
Fat: 18 grams
Vitamins/Minerals: Sodium, Vitamin C, Iron, Vitamin E, Magnesium, Copper, Potassium
Similar to how pizza is a favourite dinner meal when bulking, peanut butter sandwiches are easily one of the most loved snack foods. This is due to their great taste and their high protein and healthy fat content. The blended form of peanuts are also lower in fiber and easier to add to different foods. So, anytime you’re looking for a tasty and fast bulking snack, this is a low-cost and versatile option.
Each Pack Contains...
Carbohydrate: 21 grams
Protein: 23 grams
Fat: 38 grams
Vitamins/Minerals: Sodium, Vitamin E, Magnesium, Copper, Potassium Along with the blended peanut butter, the solid forms of the nuts are also perfect for getting in calories while keeping protein and fats high. It is also high in minerals like potassium, which is essential for heart health. They’re also one of the most convenient snack foods that can be found in nearly all stores as well as bars and some clubs. So, even if you’re on a night out, you can still get some nutritious food and boost your calorie intake.