how can i bulk without losing my abs

How Can I Bulk Without Losing My Abs? Here Is What You Need To Know (As A Skinny Guy)

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Are you a skinny dude wanting to bulk? But you also want to keep your much coveted abs? Then keep reading! Because today I will be answering the question “how can I bulk without losing my abs”.

Bulking without losing your abs can be achieved through a lean bulk. Lean bulking allows you to gain muscle with minimal fat. A lean bulk involves consuming a 5-15% daily caloric surplus, 2.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, and performing high volume resistance training.

I have personally spent the last 2 years bulking and cutting to reach 165 pounds and 12% body fat.

And I am now currently lean bulking to pack on more muscle without gaining more fat. So I know it works!

So if you want to find out the best way to bulk without piling on the fat, then keep reading!

my personal bulk journey

If I can do it you can too!

How to Lean Bulk Without Getting Fat | Beginner's Guide
infographic showing how to bulk without losing your abs
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Bulking Will Cause Abs To Become Less Visible

OK so before I get into the bulk of the answer (excuse the pun!), I would like to set one thing straight.

Bulking in general will cause your abs to become less visible.

But there is a difference between losing your abs and losing definition in your abs.

How Can I Get Big Without Getting Fat?

Lots of Skinny Dudes out there.

In fact, performing high intensity resistance training (particularly abdominal workouts) whilst on a bulking diet will likely increase your abdominal muscle mass.

Yet you may still lose abdominal definition.

As a skinny guy, one of the aesthetic perks you have is that your abs tend to be highly defined. And this is because your low body fat % accentuates the definition of your abdominal musculature.

But the opposite is also true. When you gain fat mass during a bulk, your abdominal musculature becomes hidden (just like how a wrapper can hide the segments of a chocolate bar).

diagram showing how you can bulk without losing your abs?

Furthermore, bulking as a principle requires you to be in a caloric surplus. And when you enter a caloric surplus, you will gain not only gain muscle mass, but also gain fat mass.

Therefore, as a skinny guy aiming to bulk without losing your abs, you need to accept the fact that your abs may become both bigger, yet also become slightly less visible.

That being said, from my personal research and experience, I have found 2 ways to gain muscle whilst maintaining muscle definition.

And these two ways are lean bulking and deficit bulking.

For more information on building muscle, check out my gain muscle fast guide!

Go On A Lean Bulk To Minimise Losing Ab Definition

One of my favourite ways to bulk without losing ab definition is to go on a lean bulk. I love this method of bulking because it’s a great way to increase your muscle:fat ratio.

To put it simply, a lean bulk will allow you to maximise you muscle gains and minimise fat gains. And this will will allow you to bulk without losing ab definition.

So what is lean bulking?

Steve Katasi from Adapnation defines a lean bulk as being 5-10% above your maintenance calories. In comparison, a dirty bulk describes being 20+% above your maintenance calories.

bar chart showing that lean bulking reduces fat gain

A 2013 study highlights the merits of going on a lean bulk. In this study, the authors showed that after a certain point, the calories you consume will actually be stored as fat rather than muscle!

Therefore, if you are a skinny dude looking to bulk without losing ab definition, I would highly recommend going on a lean bulk!

Lean Bulk With Whole Foods To Maintain Ab Definition

When you are trying to maintain ab definition on a lean bulk, it’s important to focus your diet on whole foods.

Whole foods are those which have been unprocessed and do not have additives added to them. As a result, they often contain complex carbohydrates, high levels of of lean protein, healthy fats, and/or dietary fibre.

And these macronutrients will help you build muscle whilst keeping the fat away.

Examples of whole foods include:

  • Potatoes.
  • Whole grains.
  • Fresh meat and fish.
  • Nuts and seeds.
  • Fresh fruit and veg.

Unlike processed foods, whole foods are also usually harder to digest. And this means your body has to work harder to extract all the macronutrients required to maintain your abs.

bar chart to show that whole foods allow you to bulk without gaining fat

In fact, a 2010 study showed that simply swapping white bread (processed) for whole-wheat bread (whole) in a sandwich can increase the energy required for digestion by almost 50%!

Therefore, eating whole foods will provide your body with much-needed muscle building resources whilst minimising fat storage. And this is essential if you are looking to bulk without losing abs!

Limit The Duration Of A Lean Bulk To Prevent Losing Abs

I would also recommend limiting your bulking duration if you want to bulk without losing your abs.

This is because your body fat % largely dictates how visible your abs are.

A low body fat % will make your abs more visible, whilst a high body fat % will make your abs less visible. And the longer you bulk, the more fat you will gain.

Therefore, limiting the time you bulk can help you develop your abs whilst keeping body fat low.

In order to judge your body fat %, all you need is a mirror and camera. Just take regular photos and compare yourself with body fat % charts such as this one by Train Beyond The Box.

how to lean bulk so you dont lose your abs

So the next question is how long should you bulk for?

I generally restrict my bulking phases to 3 months. Additionally, I will do a lean bulk rather than a dirty bulk (as described above).

And after those 3 months have passed, you can examine your body fat % and assess whether to carry on bulking or go on a cut.

For most people a body fat % between 10-15% will show your abdominal muscles.

So to put it simply- lean bulk for 3 months before assessing your body fat %. If you are approaching the 15% body fat mark and your abs seem to be disappearing, then consider starting a cut.

By carefully monitoring your body fat % this way, you can bulk without losing your abs!

Go On A Deficit Bulk To Keep Your Abs Visible

Deficit bulking is the second way to bulk without losing ab definition. In fact, deficit bulking should add more definition to your abs (if done correctly)

So what is deficit bulking?

Deficit bulking describes the process of gaining muscle whilst on a caloric deficit. And the aim of a deficit bulk is to build a lean and muscular body. Therefore, deficit bulking shares similar principles to body recomposition.

If you want to find out how to gain muscle and lose fat simultaneously, check out my body recomposition guide!

diagram to show deficit bulking retains your abs

The scientific literature suggests that deficit bulking could be an effective way to bulk without losing ab definition.

For example- this study showed the body can indeed build muscle despite being in a caloric deficit.

In this study, the authors suggest that going on a caloric deficit which results in 0.5-1.0% weight loss per week can still maintain muscle mass.

From my experience, this rate of weight loss can be achieved by going on a 10-20% caloric deficit. In other words, by eating 10-20% of your daily maintenance calories.

So if your maintenance calories are 2600, then aim to consume 2080-2340 calories every day (10-20% of 2600 calories).

If you do decide to try a deficit bulk, you will also need to consume a high protein diet to prevent muscle being broken down due to calorie restrictions.

Which brings me to my next point.

High Protein Is Essential To Gain Abdominal Muscle During A Deficit Bulk

Eating a high protein diet is essential for any bulking programme to work. But it is especially important during a lean bulk, since you will also be in a caloric deficit.

So how much daily protein should you consume?

This 2016 study showed that consuming 2.4g protein per kg of body weight per day can maximise muscle gain, when compared to consuming 1.2g protein per kg of body weight per day (when combined with high volume resistance training).

bar chart to show that a high protein is required to bulk without losing your abs

In other words, eating more protein will allow you to deficit bulk without losing your abs!

More specifically, this study showed that eating 2.4g protein per kg of body weight per day increased lean muscle mass by 1.2kg and decreased fat mass by 4.8kg.

In comparison, eating 1.2g protein per kg of body weight per day increased lean muscle mass by only 0.1kg and decreased fat mass by 3.5kg.

Therefore, these results indicate that you should eat at least 2.4g protein per kg of body weight per day in order to maintain your ab muscles during a deficit bulk.

As an ex-skinny guy who has gained almost 40 pounds of lean muscle mass myself, I can say that this is a good target to aim for. And I consume similar amounts of protein on a daily basis myself.

Combine A Bulk With High Volume Abdominal Resistance Training Exercises

Regardless of which bulking method you adopt- lean bulking or deficit bulking- you will need to combine your diet with high volume resistance training. That is if you want to bulk without losing your ab definition!

Compound lifts should be the staple foundation of your training volume, and many of the compound lifts will also work your abs along with the other muscle groups.

If you don’t know what a compound lift is, be sure to check out my compound exercise introduction!

But to really build ab muscles, you should also include core-specific exercises.

My favourite core-specific exercises include the traditional sit-up, rotating crunch, and hanging knee raise.

resistance training exercises are required to build your abs

The sit-ups and crunches will work your abdominal muscles in general, whilst the knee raise will work your lower abdominals. And working your lower abdominals is essential to maintain ab definition during a bulk, since most people store fat in the lower belly first!

As a skinny guy, I would recommend first mastering exercise form first. And once this has been done, you can add weights to make the exercises even harder.

For example, I love holding a dumbbell between the legs whilst performing the knee raise! It’s a great way to gain abdominal muscle.

Conclusion

That’s it!

In this post, I have covered a popular skinny guy question- “how can I bulk without losing my abs?”

There are in fact many different ways to bulk. And from my personal experience and research, lean bulking and deficit bulking are certainly effective at gaining abdominal muscle whilst keeping the fat away.

Both bulking methods require you to combine high volume ab resistance training workouts with a high protein and nutritious diet. The only difference is that lean bulking involves a 5-10% caloric surplus, whilst deficit bulking involves a 10% caloric deficit.

But both bulking methods will allow you to build those abs without gaining fat.

I am currently lean bulking myself, so I know it works!

Which bulking method (lean bulk vs deficit bulk) will you be trying?

Let me know in the comments below! It would be great to learn from each other. Us skinny dudes need to help each other grow!

Alternatively, signup to the Kalibre Newsletter for weekly posts!

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Thanks for reading guys!

Peace Out,

Kal

(Biochemistry BSc, Biomedical Sciences MSc, Ex-Skinny Guy)

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