Julian Smith claims he bulked for six years straight.
He attributes the majority of his success/his accrual of lean muscle mass to this extended bulk phase he did that lasted six years.
Basically, he walked around fatter than he needed to be for six years with the logic that he needed to be in a surplus for over a half a decade straight and walk around at 20%+ to maximize his bodybuilding progress.
His claim is that being in a surplus for six years allowed him to put on enough muscle so that when he cut down he had a sufficient amount of muscle to be satisfied with his progress, which may have not been possible if he had followed a traditional bulk and cut approach.
From what I gather, Julian Smith is asserting that in order to build muscle efficiently, you need to accept being a bit fluffy for a while in a consistent surplus to gain as much muscle as you can.
The Problem With The Julian Smith Approach To Bulking When You Are Too Fat
While I agree that a productive bulking phase will inevitably result in an increase in body fat, do you really need to bulk for over half a decade straight to efficiently build muscle?
No, not at all.
In my opinion, it's the complete opposite.
I think that after a while, continuing to bulk is actually counterproductive.
It's accepted that if you're in a surplus, you're going to gain some fat, however, walking around at 20%+ year round is a horrible idea if body composition and lean gains in muscle mass are your priority.
I'm not sure if Julian Smith actually asserts that the way he went about his bulk was ideal, or if he just thinks it was ideal for himself.
However, there's a few reasons I would advise against this kind of practice, besides the obvious drawback that holding too much fat will have on your sex appeal.
Ideally, you want to be as lean as possible.
Even if we look at this just in terms of ideal bodybuilding outcomes and throw everything else to the side, bulking for an excessive duration of time will eventually result in severely diminished returns, and eventually can even hinder your progress.
The problem with bulking when you're too fat is you start to really hinder your insulin sensitivity.
Insulin Sensitivity And How It Affects Your Progress
When you start to develop insulin resistance, this will negatively affect your muscle growth potential.
It will also make you far more likely to hold more fat.
The fatter you are, the more prone your body will be to holding onto even more fat when you gain weight.
Your nutrient partitioning starts to go down the toilet when you continue to bulk with suboptimal body composition.
If you've ever forced yourself to continue gaining weight, I'm sure you have noticed this yourself.
If you've gotten really lean, you'll notice when you start bulking back up that your nutrient partitioning is excellent.
Your pumps in the gym are phenomenal and the weight you're gaining looks great.
Each pound looks like clean weight with a favorable ratio of muscle relative to fat.
And then, if you take in too many calories for a prolonged period of time, you will start noticing that your body composition quickly takes a hit and your insulin sensitivity seems to decrease.
Your pumps in the gym are no longer as good, you're starting to notice your abs blur over more and more by the week at a very quick rate, and each pound you gain doesn't seem to be an ideal ratio of muscle to fat anymore.
After a pushing your body for too long and letting your body pack on too much unnecessary fat, you will eventually hit a point where every single pound you gain is almost complete sh*t weight, and you're gaining far more fat than muscle.
At that point, what is the smart move?
To continue to bulk up and increase your calories even more?
Factors Working Against You During Excessively Long Bulk Phases
Your insulin sensitivity becomes so poor after a while that you are just digging yourself a deeper hole that you will need to climb out of when it comes time to cut.
If you are a natural athlete, this will be much more detrimental to your muscle growth potential as you will need to diet even longer than you would have otherwise to strip all the garbage weight off.
Even if you use exogenous anabolics, while endogenous androgen suppression is not a concern during the cut phase, is there really a point of continuing to hammer away in a surplus trying to milk more muscle gains out of that bulk phase when your Myostatin is so elevated that it is preventing you from even gaining more muscle in the first place?
When your insulin sensitivity is subpar, your nutrient partitioning is impaired, and your Myostatin is elevated simultaneously, you cannot expect your body to respond optimally during an extended bulk.
You would have far better outcomes cleaning out your body (if you use drugs), followed by cutting down to single digit body fat percentage, and redoing the process over again from a lean foundation.
Deleterious Outcomes Of Excessive Bulking
If you get to a point where you're gaining more fat than muscle, but you continue to slam your body with excessive calories despite being a high body fat percentage, you can actually start to cause ectopic fat storage.
Ectopic fat storage occurs when you've consumed excessive calories for a prolonged period of time and your body isn't just storing fat as adipose tissue anymore, but it's also starting to store fat in other areas of your body too.
You start to store fat in organs, muscle tissue, and in other areas that you shouldn't have fat depositions in for obvious reasons.
In no scenario is storing fat in your liver, skeletal muscle, heart, and other important organs, conducive to muscle growth.
Aside from the obvious things I've already outlined, gaining fat in excessive amounts and then having to lose it all afterwards will result in a much higher likelihood of a slow metabolism and stubborn fat stores.
You’re going to have to peel all that weight off again afterwards.
If every pound you gain, pound for pound, is far more fat than lean muscle, you're putting yourself in a position where down the line you're just going to need to cut harder strip that fat off.
If you’re natural and rely solely on your own endogenous androgen production for the retention of muscle mass in a steep deficit, you're going to have to deal with the fact that you're going to have an even longer extended period of calorie suppression and endogenous androgen suppression.
This will inevitably result in you being forced to be in a subpar hormonal state for muscle retention for a longer period of time just to peel that extra fat off.
You're going to lose more muscle than you would have otherwise if the bulk had been cut off before the point where severe diminishing returns set in in the first place.
My General Stance On How To Bulk
I believe that a minor surplus is ideal for bulking without excessive fat storage.
And by minor I don't mean 500-1000 calories.
I literally mean 300 calories above maintenance.
This will support recovery and muscle growth, but not cause excessive and unnecessary amounts of spillover.
As you gain weight and start to plateau, your energy demands to continue growing will increase.
At no point should your surplus ever significantly exceed 300 calories in my opinion.
Keep in mind, your “maintenance” will change over the course of a bulking phase, as well as over the course of a cutting phase.
If you have a legitimate maintenance of 3000 calories and start bulking at 3300 calories, and after X amount of time you stop gaining any weight for over a week straight (not even a 0.1 pound gain over 7 full days of eating the same diet), in general, it is typically safe to assume that your metabolism has adapted and your new maintenance is now 3300 rather than 3000 calories.
This is common sense, and your body will adapt its metabolism to whatever calorie intake you have.
If you've plateaued, you can add another 100 calories in to start progressing again.
If that isn't sufficient, add more.
But, you shouldn't ever be randomly jumping your calories up several hundred calories each time you plateau.
This is the same reason why so many people burn out their metabolisms when they're cutting.
Prematurely cutting calories before you've milked all the fat loss possible out of each incremental drop in calories will result in premature metabolic slowdown without the fat loss you could have squeezed out of that drop.
I'm sure you know someone who has done this, or have done this yourself, where you plateau and then drop your calorie intake by another 300 calories, and before you know it you're cutting on sub 2000 calories and still can't lose weight and are starving all day.
This is the same principle that applies to bulking.
If you plateau, you shouldn't throw another 300 calories in, you will gain unnecessary amounts of fat.
Milk the muscle growth out of each incremental increase, and then increase your calories once you've plateaued for a full week.
In general, at the start of any bulk or cut, I use 300 calories as the increment to kickstart the process, but every drop or increase thereafter is a 100 calorie drop or bump, followed by a thorough milking of that increment until all the potential gains (or fat loss) from that increment has been exhausted.
This is how I've been able to get shredded while still eating a reasonable amount of calories, as well as gain lean size while also eating a reasonable amount of calories.
This is why metabolic priming during your bulk phases is so critical too, as an intelligently designed bulking phase doesn't just serve to build muscle and gain strength, it also sets you up for your upcoming cut phase and will allow you to get leaner with a higher calorie intake than would have been possible otherwise had you not primed your metabolism with an extended period of a surplus of energy.
This is why if you cut for 12 weeks and get down to 2100 calories per day and plateau, you can't just take a break and then jump back into a “deficit” at 2700 calories (less than your maintenance on paper) and lose weight.
Your metabolism will have adjusted to that 2100 calorie per day intake and slowed itself down to prevent you from starving.
It is a defense mechanism, and learning to manipulate your body's regulatory mechanisms is critical for making your bulk and cut phases as conducive to your goals as possible.
How To Determine Your Maintenance And How Many Calories To Start Bulking With
If you don't know where to start, the first thing you should do is calculate your BMR and maintenance calories.
This is the calculator that I recommend – Maintenance Calorie Calculator (I Recommend Using The Mifflin-St Jeor Formula Option In The Advanced Options Section)
This must factor in your estimated activity level as well.
This is a rough estimate of what your maintenance calories are based on your activity level and body type.
These calculators provide very rough calculations and should serve as a guideline only.
If a calculator says your “maintenance” is 3000 calories, but you've been eating in a deficit for 2 months and have stalled in weight loss at 2400 calories per day, your maintenance is obviously not 3000 calories anymore.
This calculator should simply serve as a reference of where to start a bulk or a cut, and that's it.
Even the baseline calculation can be off as much as +/- 500 calories at times.
This is why I suggest you do what I call a “feeler week” when you start a bulk.
This is where you eat a calorie intake equivalent to that of your calculated maintenance level calories for the first week of your diet.
This week will be used as a “feeler” week to assess how inaccurate the calculator was relative to your actual maintenance.
For example, if the calculator says your maintenance is 3000 calories, and you eat 3000 calories every day for a week straight but you lose 2 pounds, then it is obvious that the calculator was off by a decent amount and you can then adjust your caloric intake accordingly relative to what your actual maintenance most likely is.
Or, if the calculator determines that your maintenance is 3000 calories and you eat 3000 calories every day for a week and you don't lose weight, but you don't gain any weight either, then it can be concluded that 3000 calories is indeed your actual maintenance level of calories.
See what I mean.
It is very useful to determine what this number is as accurately as possible because then you can be much more precise when calculating your macro and calorie intake each day, and know what to expect results wise at the end of each week.
Once you figure out with a somewhat close level of accuracy what your maintenance is, then you can create your bulking diet and figure out what you will be eating each day.
Where Do Diminishing Returns Set In During A Bulk Phase?
As a general rule of thumb, lean bulk up to 14-15%, and then mini-diet and strip the fat off and get back to an insulin sensitive foundation in the single digits is what I find works best.
I would not bulk past 16% body fat as the absolute maximum ceiling.
Bulk up to 15%, then cut back down to 9%, and then rinse and repeat.
Gain muscle, peel off the sh*t, gain muscle, peel off the sh*t and become insulin sensitive again.
The only caveat to this would apply to newbies to lifting who are skinny fat, or are already 15%+ without a foundation of muscle on their frame.
Guys who just need to build muscle and have no foundation to support their metabolism as they cut down would be best served by eating slightly above maintenance and focusing entirely on gaining as much size and strength as possible.
Muscle is critical for staying lean without having to severely deprive yourself of nutrients, so building a foundation of muscle is a priority before you get into the bulk and cut cyclical process.
As a newbie, you can get away with lean bulking for a long period of time without even needing to jump into a deficit, as in the grand scheme of things, it would be counterproductive to try cutting when you barely have any muscle on your frame.
Obviously it is not an ideal position to be in where you have to try and “bulk” when you are already over 15% body fat, but you have to start somewhere and the sooner you build a foundation of lean muscle that can support a decent metabolic rate, the sooner you can then do a proper cut phase, get to single digits, max out your insulin sensitivity, and start to build on your foundation.
While I do believe that newbies will benefit from an extended lean bulk, it certainly isn't ideal to bulk for six years straight still.
There is no scenario in a health or bodybuilding context where I feel that being fat for six years is going to be more effective for building muscle mass than bulking and cutting down and becoming insulin-sensitive again.
If you're wondering “how can I achieve a physique like Julian Smith?”
In my opinion, the faster, smarter and healthier way would be bulking up and then cutting down once diminishing returns set in.
Not bulking for six years straight.