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. This 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!
If I can do it you can too!
- Bulking Will Cause Abs To Become Less Visible
- Go On A Lean Bulk To Minimise Losing Ab Definition
- Lean Bulk With Whole Foods To Maintain Ab Definition
- Limit The Duration Of A Lean Bulk To Prevent Losing Abs
- Go On A Deficit Bulk To Keep Your Abs Visible
- High Protein Is Essential To Gain Abdominal Muscle During A Deficit Bulk
- Combine A Bulk With High Volume Abdominal Resistance Training Exercises
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).
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 favorite 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 maximize your muscle gains and minimize fat gains. And this 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.
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 an 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 lean protein, healthy fats, and/or dietary fiber.
And these macronutrients will help you build muscle whilst keeping the fat away.
Examples of whole foods include:
- 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.
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 minimizing fat storage. And this is essential if you are looking to bulk without losing abs!
If you’re a skinny guy, you can check out my other post to find out if you should bulk before cutting or vice versa.
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.
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!
You can also check out my other article which explains how long a person should stay on a bulk.
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!
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.
This 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 program 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 maximize muscle gain when compared to consuming 1.2g protein per kg of body weight per day (when combined with high volume resistance training).
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.
I use the MyProtein Impact Whey (you can find the cheapest price here) to help me reach my protein targets.
Each serving contains 21g of protein and just 100 calories, making it ideal for gaining muscle and minimizing fat gains.
The MyVegan Pea Protein Isolate (you can find the cheapest price here) is a good alternative for vegans.
Each serving contains 24g of protein and just 116 calories.
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 favorite core-specific exercises include the traditional sit-up, rotating crunch, and hanging knee raise.
The sit-ups and crunches will work your abdominal muscles in general, whilst the knee raise will work your lower abdominals. And working on 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.
You may also be interested in my guide to gaining your first 10lbs of lean muscle here!
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!
You may also be interested in the downloadable Kalibre Blueprint PDF which details exactly how I gained 40lbs of lean muscle (it’s 100% free!). It details the exact exercises and nutrition I used to go from skinny to ripped!
Thanks for reading guys!
(Biochemistry BSc, Biomedical Sciences MSc, Ex-Skinny Guy)