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Do crunches to help keep your stomach flat.
Since muscle growth requires a caloric surplus, you have to eat more. So how do you maintain a flat stomach while building mass? A higher food intake leads to weight gain. Most times, your waist will get bigger despite your best efforts to minimize fat storage. The key is to make smart food choices. Don't use bulking as an excuse to binge on junk food.
Increase Your Calorie Intake Gradually
Your muscles need the right fuel to grow bigger and stronger, so it's essential to eat more calories than you burn. That's why most bodybuilders and fitness models go through bulking and cutting phases - bulking up for a couple of months to build muscle and strength, then cutting in order to lose excess fat and make their abs pop.
Fat loss requires a caloric deficit. When you eat fewer calories than you burn, it's difficult to build muscle unless you're overweight or just getting started with exercise. Bulking will help you gain mass and become stronger, but it leads to fat gain.
To maintain a flat stomach, slowly increase your calorie intake. Eating too many calories at once causes weight gain and, possibly, digestive distress, bloating and fatigue. Plus, blood sugar levels will rise and fall throughout the day, which may lead to insulin resistance. So, add 300 to 500 calories daily each week. Track your progress and adjust your diet accordingly. If you have a hard time building mass, keep increasing your calorie intake. You can expect to gain about one pound for every 3,500 calories consumed in excess.
Do a Clean Bulk
Bulking up isn't a free pass to eat everything. Junk food and highly-processed foods, in general, have little or no nutritional value - just empty calories. But whole foods provide micronutrients and macronutrients. Your body requires larger amounts of protein, carbs and fat - the three macronutrients - and smaller doses of micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals. They help with muscle growth and promote optimum health and well-being. Fruits and vegetables, for instance, have been linked to a lower risk of mortality from all causes, including cancer and heart disease.
A clean bulk involves getting daily calories from whole, minimally-processed foods. Beef, poultry, eggs, brown rice, whole pasta, sweet potatoes, legumes, nuts, seeds and vegetables are all great choices. Ideally, choose nutrient-dense foods, such as almonds, walnuts, cheese, salmon and tuna steak. These are high in calories and deliver large doses of protein, complex carbs and healthy fats.
Use Carb Cycling
When you eat is just as important as what you eat. The carbs consumed before exercise are processed differently than those consumed post-workout. For example, if you eat oatmeal before hitting the gym, your body will use those carbs to fuel your workout. Carbs consumed after training will help with muscle repair and replenish glycogen stores. Those consumed on rest days or before bedtime are more likely to be stored as fat since your glycogen stores are already full.
To minimize fat gain, eat your daily carbs before and after training. Complex carbs are slowly absorbed into the bloodstream and provide lasting energy, so they should be consumed before exercise. Simple carbs have a faster absorption rate and fuel your muscles post-workout.
Train for Your Goals
Compound movements, such as the bench press, deadlifts and squats, stimulate hypertrophy and raise your metabolism. They also increase testosterone and growth hormone production, which are essential for muscle growth and may improve body composition. Start your workout with big, compound lifts and finish with 10 to15 minutes of HIIT, tabata or sprint intervals.
Training at high intensity can make all the difference. According to an eight-week study published by Physiological Reports, subjects who did high-intensity workouts in the three-to-five rep range gained more mass and strength compared to the high-volume, moderate-intensity volume. Just remember that, if you're training at high intensity, you'll reach muscle fatigue faster, so do fewer reps to avoid overtraining.
Limit cardio or replace it with HIIT (high-intensity interval training). In the short-term, steady state cardio causes fatigue and raises the stress hormone cortisol levels. Over time, it burns both fat and muscle, affecting your gains.
A study published in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness has found that cortisol levels not only increased in half marathon runners during a race but also remained high for up to one hour after they finished. Other studies indicate that prolonged endurance exercise may also lower testosterone levels, possibly affecting workout performance and metabolism and body composition.
Design a workout around your goals. Choose quality foods that support muscle growth and recovery. Maintain a high protein intake, cycle your carbs and fill up on healthy fats. Consider cutting back on calories and carbs on off-training days when your body requires less energy.