I'm currently training someone who is already extremely fit and very lean but is wanting to gain a bit of muscle in some places -- mainly on her legs and butt. Said girl is a real cardio bunny and follows a low-calorie diet. I gave the instructions "No cardio, eat 500 calories more a day, lift heavy and bulk!" She kinda freaked out.
Bulking may be a hard word for many women to be at ease with. I know I was. When I first intentionally tried to gain weight I was scared shitless of being, well, bulky. I was scared I’d never get the weight off again. But if you are serious about building up any part of your body — say your legs and booty — you better not be on a calorie deficit diet. If you are doing it right, you will put on weight. You may have to say goodbye to your abs and embrace your fat pants for a time while you put in the work back there. But hopefully it’ll all be worth it next time you cut. Fitness models and competitors regularly cycle periods of cutting and bulking.
Times of bulking or a more relaxed way of eating in general are important for other things beyond just building muscle. Being on a strict diet sucks. Your emotional and social life can really take a beating. But also, prolonged periods of dieting which are often coupled with intense workouts can put your body in a long-term catabolic state. Catabolism, the opposite of anabolism, is the state of the body breaking down. Being a constant state of depletion may burn fat, but it will also burn off muscle mass and inhibit tissue repair and rejuvenation. As you result your skin may feel fatigue, muscle and joint pain and look pale and sallow. You will likely have high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, compromised immune system and decreased overall health.
Being anabolic on the other hand in being in a state of repair and building. Not only are you building muscles, your bones are strengthening themselves, your cells are renewing, collagen production is keeping you young. Ever heard that muscles are the fountain of youth? It’s true. It’s a time of plenty in your body’s ecosystem and it will flourish.
Yes, you will put on a few pounds. You may be inclined to let everyone know that you’re not fat, you’re bulking (but the truth is no one will even likely notice). You may feel a bit sluggish, heavy and not quite yourself if you’ve been used to always being leaner. But stick with it and trust the process. And don’t you dare hate your body. Appreciate it for all the stages it goes through. Watch it with fascination. Keep your eye on the prize. Remember you are trying to change your body. And you can’t change your body by doing what you’ve always done.