- Fitness model Nathan Honess spends the fall and winter doing what is known as bulking.
- He eats up to 4,000 calories a day to help his muscles grow.
- Honess eats in a calorie deficit in the spring to reveal the muscles he built in fall and winter.
It might seem odd for a fitness model, whose job it is to look as lean and muscular as possible, to spend the fall and winter putting on weight — but that’s what many bodybuilders like Nathan Honess do in what is known as bulking season.
Honess, a 42-year-old fitness competitor, model, coach, and Bio-Synergy ambassador from the UK, will spend the next six months putting on up to 22 pounds by eating 4,000 calories a day so he can build muscle.
“Bulking is the process of eating in a calorie surplus. A surplus is achieved when you consume more food than the body needs. These extra calories provide the muscles with the stimulus to grow,” he told Insider.
“Bulking helps achieve more muscle and size. Plus, the extra calories give you more energy to lift heavier — and more intensely — in the gym, which is needed for muscle growth.”
“You also get to enjoy more food,” he said.
The fall and winter bulk is then followed by a spring cut, when he eats less food to enter a calorie deficit and lose fat, revealing the muscles he spent months building.
Currently, Honess weighs 152 pounds. During a bulk he can go as high as 174 pounds.
“You don’t want to put on too much extra weight though as it’s harder to lose,” he said.
Honess prefers a ‘clean bulk’ to a ‘dirty’ bulk
There are a number of approaches to bulking, including what are known in the industry as “clean” and “dirty,” although generally dietitians warn against labeling food as “good” and “bad.”
Honess said to avoid a “dirty” bulk, which involves eating excessive amounts of treat foods like ice cream, pizza, and chips, as they are low in protein, high in fat, and can cause fat gain.
Instead, Honess opts for healthier bulk foods like oatmeal, sweet potatoes, and protein shakes.
When bulking, Honess eats up to 7,000 more calories per week than usual
Honess eats up to 4,000 calories per day during a bulk, tracking everything he eats on MyFitnessPal. When he’s not bulking, he eats around 3,000 per day to maintain his muscle, weight, and eat as many calories as he burns.
Honess said he needs to eat a surplus of 3,500 calories per week to gain one pound. In order two gain one to two pounds per week he eats 500 to 1,000 extra calories per day — or up to 7,000 a week.
It can be hard to hit the high calorie target with “healthy” foods though, he said.
“On a clean bulk I often struggle with getting my calories over my calorie target, so sometimes I run the risk of adding too many high sugar and processed foods to make up the extra calories which I need to get in,” Honess said.
The three macronutrients; protein, carbs and fats, make up the food we eat. Honess’ goal is to ensure that 30% of his daily food intake is protein, which research shows helps with muscle strength and growth when combined with strength training.
“With fat and carbs it’s a mix but it does tend to be 25% fat and the rest are carbs,” he said.
Honess doesn’t do extra cardio when bulking
Honess keeps to his usual weight lifting routine during a bulk to build muscle, with less of a focus on cardio as this can sometimes affect muscle gain.
“Being a 100% natural fitness model and at the age of 42 I am almost at my max of muscle development so I do work on my weaker areas; I do two leg days a week working on the back of my legs and two days on my upper body,” Honess said.
“I tend to do HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) classes with my clients daily to keep overall fitness up plus I will be on my feet achieving at least 15,000 steps daily on average,” Honess said.
“However, I don’t tend to do any additional cardio in a bulking phase.”
He also focuses on stretching to stay flexible and mobile.
What Honess eats in a day while bulking:
Breakfast: Four whole eggs and one egg white with two pieces of toast.
Lunch: Turkey or beef roast dinner with a lot of different vegetables, plus mashed potatoes for carbs.
Dinner: Chilli beef mince with rice; fish (mainly salmon) and chicken dishes with vegetables and a carb source such as rice, pasta, sweet potatoes or white potatoes.
Snacks: Up to three snacks such as protein shakes, protein bars, cottage cheese, fruit smoothies, quark cheese, desserts, a pack of flavored chicken, and yogurts.
Drinks: 101 to 169 ounces of water, three cups of coffee (black, white or cappuccino).