A bulking stack is a multi-ingredient supplement combination that is geared towards bodybuilders and serious athletes who are trying to gain muscle mass as quickly as possible.
These supplements support muscle gain by providing the body with raw building blocks for muscle, supporting high levels of androgen steroids like HGH and testosterone, and directly enhancing workout performance by boosting anaerobic energy reserves.
We’ve done the research on how to make the most of a bulking stack. Read on to find out how to best integrate a bulking stack with your training program.
Bulking stack benefits
1. Bulking stacks integrate well with protein supplements.
It should be no surprise to anyone considering a bulking stack supplement that your caloric intake, and particularly your protein intake, need to be high during a bulking phase—that’s a given, and not something you should be relying on a bulking stack to provide (instead, use a mass gainer and protein powder if you need supplemental caloric intake).
2. BCAAs in a bulking stack can accelerate muscle repair
Branched chain amino acid supplementation reduces muscle soreness and prevents performance loss after difficult weight training workouts, according to research published in Japan (1).
While BCAAs at the level delivered in a bulking stack aren’t going to contribute much to large increases in body mass directly (since that requires a lot of calories), they do contribute indirectly to mass gain by allowing you to perform more intense workouts and recover better afterwards.
3. Bulking stacks that include hormone-boosting ingredients discourage fat accumulation
Bulking stacks and cutting stacks have nearly opposite goals, but one area where their ingredients overlap is in the inclusion of supplemental compounds that are designed to boost levels of human growth hormone (HGH) and testosterone.
That’s because these anabolic (muscle-building) hormones are essential both for building and maintaining muscle mass. Testosterone in particular has the added benefit of discouraging the accumulation of body fat (2).
For example, as men get older, their testosterone levels tend to decline, and their body fat percentage tends to increase. More conclusive evidence comes from studies where older men are given supplemental testosterone—their lean body mass increases and their body fat content decreases.
4. Power-boosting compounds like beta-alanine can lead to greater muscle mass
While raw increases in muscle mass come from converting calories (and more specifically, protein) in your diet into muscle tissue, supplemental ingredients that boost your ability to perform during and recover after your workouts have the ability to indirectly influence your muscle mass gains while bulking.
In addition to BCAAs, bulking stack ingredients like beta-alanine, glutamine, and creatine can boost your muscular power production or improve your recovery capacity. Either of these outcomes will increase the training stimulus on your body or its adaptive response, leading to greater muscle mass gains.
5. Bulking stacks with creatine can lead to serious muscle mass and power gains
Creatine is a particularly interesting example, because it supports muscular power as well as directly supporting mass gains. According to a review article published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, creatine supplementation supports strength and size increases in two ways (3).
First, it leads to direct increases in muscle mass and size, but second, and equally importantly, it leads to increased muscular power production due to enhancements of the creatine phosphate energy system.
These enhancements permit higher-caliber workouts, which in turn generate a greater training stimulus for the body. While they aren’t the most important ingredients in a bulking stack, they can nevertheless be useful when it comes to squeezing out maximal gains during your bulking phase.
Bulking stack side effects
Compared to cutting stacks, which often feature powerful stimulants to burn off fat quickly, bulking stacks tend to have a milder side effect profile.
Most bulking stack ingredients have excellent safety profiles. This is true for supplemental ingredients like creatine and BCAAs, as well as vitamins and minerals that support a healthy hormonal profile, like zinc, magnesium, and vitamin D.
Even some of the newer bulking stack supplements which feature HMB appear to have pretty good safety profiles, based on clinical trials on HMB showing no significant adverse effects at doses used in research.
Side effects are more likely in bulking stacks with herbal extract ingredients. The area where bulking stacks may run into issues with side effects is in some of the herbal extracts that support high testosterone levels, like tribulus terrestris, longjack, or fenugreek seed extracts.
There tends to be less research on the efficacy and safety of these herbal ingredients, and some of them have been associated with gastrointestinal problems.
Bulking stack dosage
Creatine: target 15-20 grams per day when bulking. For basic bulking stack supplement ingredients like creatine and BCAAs, dosing recommendations are fairly well-researched and well-documented. For creatine, a dose of three grams per day (possibly after a few days or a week of a “loading” phase with higher doses of 15-20 grams of creatine per day) appears to be enough to generate optimal strength and mass gains from a creatine supplement (4).
This is pretty typical of the amount of creatine you’d get in a bulking stack that chooses to include creatine monohydrate as one of its core ingredients.
BCAAs: aim for 3-6 grams. BCAAs, similarly, don’t require massive doses to be effective: a dose of three to six grams is thought to be effective for boosting muscle recovery and limiting soreness and fatigue.
Optimal dosage is less clear for herbal extracts. As for ingredients that sustain an anabolic hormone environment, the research is less clear. For compounds like tribulus terrestris, horny goat weed, longjack, ginseng, and other androgen supporting ingredients in a bulking stack, you’ll generally have to trust the nutritionists that formulate the product in question.
One good indicator of quality is listing ingredients separately, as opposed to grouping all of the herbal extracts into a single proprietary blend. Separate ingredient listings in a bulking stack allow you to directly evaluate the contents of a specific ingredient and compare them with other bulking products.
Bulking stack benefits FAQ
Q: What kind of protein is best for bulking?
A: For bulking, you want a protein powder that has a complete amino acid profile. If you have no dietary restrictions, one of the best candidates is whey protein: it’s been proven to be effective in many different studies, it has a complete amino acid profile, and seems to confer a small but significant advantage over other forms of supplemental protein.
However, the specific type of protein you consume takes a back seat to the overall quantity of protein. It’s far better to get adequate protein intake, even if it’s from suboptimal sources, than to get less protein than is desirable, no matter how high-quality the source.
The situation is a little different for cutting, since you are intentionally trying to limit your caloric intake in that situation but for bulking, where excess calorie consumption is the goal, the purity and protein content by weight is less of an issue than during a cutting cycle.
Q: What supplements should you take when bulking on a keto diet?
A: Bulking on the keto diet can be tricky, because keeping a high protein intake while staying in ketosis can be tricky. Supplements that can help include BCAAs and creatine, which are very low in non-fat calories but support muscle protein synthesis.
You may also benefit from an exogenous ketone supplement, which can keep you in ketosis even if your protein or carbohydrate is a bit beyond what is normally necessary for staying in a state of ketosis.
One type of supplement you should definitely steer clear of is traditional mass gainers—these tend to be packed with carbs, and will rapidly pull you out of ketosis and put your body back into a state with a lot of glucose in your blood.
Q: What supplements can help you increase muscle density without bulking up?
A: If you are specifically looking to avoid bulking up, a good strategy is to support muscle protein synthesis while avoiding the state of excess caloric energy availability that characterizes a typical bulking phase.
The only way your body can bulk up is if you provide it with calories in excess of what you burn off in a typical day, and if this caloric excess is maintained for several weeks. By keeping a fairly strict diet, but also providing your body with BCAAs, creatine, or controlled amounts of a high quality protein like hydrolyzed whey protein, you can encourage muscle repair and synthesis without large increases in your body mass.
Of course, you won’t get the same benefits in strength that you would get if you were bulking—the whole rationale behind alternating cycles of bulking and cutting is that it has been found to be the most effective way to increase strength and maintain a lean physique—boost strength and muscle mass first, then burn off excess body fat.
Q: Is glutamine supplementation helpful while bulking?
A: Glutamine is a supplement that is often found in pre-workout supplements, and has multiple benefits during bulking. It’s a type of amino acid that helps boost muscle recovery, but it also helps increase human growth hormone levels. It can even reduce the buildup of lactic acid in your muscles during intense workouts.
It should be pretty clear to see why these kinds of benefits are useful for bulking. Many bulking stack supplements do in fact include glutamine, including several of the top-ranked bulking stacks in our rankings.
Often, glutamine is found alongside other supplements that increase muscle recovery and improve muscle performance, like branched chain amino acids and creatine.
Q: Can people who exercise casually take a bulking stack?
A: Bulking stacks are best used by people training for sports that involve adding muscle mass, with less focus on power-to-weight ratio, or by people who intend to bulk for several weeks to add muscle mass, then do a cutting phase to shave off excess body weight.
Bulking stacks are less well-suited for casual fitness enthusiasts who are just looking to improve their strength a bit, or who don’t have a regimented bulking and cutting cycle laid out already.
Bulking stacks also may not be the best choice if your sport depends strongly on your muscular power relative to your overall body weight, such as in running or cycling.
Bulking stacks do find use among athletes in sports with weight classes (including many combat sports), though they are typically only used when an athlete is trying to bulk up to move up to a larger weight category.
Related: Our best bulking stack picks
The right bulking stack can significantly improve the rate and efficiency of your muscle mass gains during a bulking cycle.
By supplying your body with the building blocks it needs for additional muscle, providing support for high levels of testosterone and human growth hormone, and enhancing workout performance, a bulking stack is a great way to take your gains to the next level.