Pizza can be a good food for bulking if it is part of a controlled eating plan.
If you enjoy pizza in moderation and make healthy topping choices, you’ll benefit from the high calories, protein, and carbs without getting fat.
In the years I’ve been working with bodybuilders as a personal trainer, I’ve seen every type of bulking diet under the sun. When it comes to pizza, it’s the guys who could discipline their taste buds that have added the fat-free muscle mass they’re after.
This article will break down what is actually in a pizza, what makes it a good bulking choice, and when’s the best time to eat pizza. I’ll also show what you can do to build muscle and avoid gaining fat when bulking with pizza.
What is Bulking?
Bulking is one of three nutritional phases used by recreational and competitive bodybuilders. It is the first phase, followed by cutting and then maintenance.
Bulking involves eating more calories beyond the maintenance level to provide the extra nutrients needed to gain weight and build muscle.
Bodybuilders expect to put on some fat during the bulking phase. But they generally try to keep this to a minimum, knowing that it will have to be lost during the cutting phase.
During a bulking phase, the average male bodybuilder consumes 3,800 calories per day. For a woman, that figure is 3,200. This compares to 2,400 and 1,200 calories respectively on a cutting diet.
Bulking can be classified as being ‘clean’ or ‘dirty’
A clean bulk involves controlled, gradual increases in calories using healthy foods. The goal is to add gain muscle with minimal fat gain by eating healthy foods.
A dirty bulk emphasizes adding calories quickly to get a faster mass gain. Foods that are traditionally considered to be junk food, can be included. It is accepted that more fat will be gained on a dirty bulk.
For bulking to be successful in terms of adding lean mass, it needs to be accompanied by resistance training. Most bulking phase workouts focus on heavy lifting with compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and the bench press, with rep ranges between 6-12.
What’s in a Pizza?
It would be easy to assume that a pizza would qualify as coming into the dirty bulk category. But that’s not necessarily the case. It all comes down to the choices you make about toppings and the crust.
Let’s take a look at what goes into your typical chicken and cheese pizza.
A pizza consists of leavened wheat-based dough, topped with cheese, tomatoes, meats, and other toppings. A crust will typically have the following ingredients …
- Unbleached, enriched wheat flour
- Soybean oil
Pizza crusts come in a range of varieties. The thicker the crust, the more wheat flour, sugar, and salt it will contain. Thin crust is the healthiest choice and the one that I recommend while you are on a bulking diet.
Pizzas vary greatly in their nutritional make-up, depending on the type of crust and the toppings. The following ingredient profile is for a single slice of a Pizza Hut Thin & Crispy Chicken and Cranberry pizza:
- Calories: 231.7
- Protein: 11.4 g
- Total Fat: 11.3 g
- Saturated Fat: 4.3 g
- Carbohydrates: 24.9
- Sugar: 7.6
From this, we see that a single slice of pizza is going to boost your calorie and protein count considerably. Now, if you’re anything like me, you’re not gonna stop at just one slice.
Let’s assume that you munched down on three slices of Pizza Hut Thin & Crispy Chicken and Cranberry pizza. That would give you around 700 calories, 34 grams of protein, and 75 grams of carbs.
Is Pizza Good for Bulking?
Pizza is a great food for bulking, especially due to high protein content and calories that it provides. Apart from this, pizza is also high in carbohydrates and can provide anywhere between 200-400 calories per slice.
What Makes A Pizza Good For Bulking?
1. Pizza is Easy to Eat
One of the hardest parts of bulking is consistently maintaining a high-calorie count. There’s nothing fun about feeling bloated and force-feeding yourself. So, finding an easily digestible high-calorie food that meets the macros for building muscle is golden.
That’s where pizza excels as a bulking food.
It tastes amazing. So, it’s a lot easier to eat three slices of pizza than get 750 calories from chicken breast and rice. So, adding pizza to your bulk will help to eat enough food to meet your calorie count with less stress on your digestive system.
It will also be psychologically easier to strategically add pizza to your bulk. Rather than dreading another bland bulking meal, you’ll actually look forward to those extra calories.
2. Pizza is High in Protein
The amino acids that make up proteins are the driving force behind muscle growth. That’s why bulking diets are high in protein, containing 0.8-1.0 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
If you’ve topped your pizza with meat, you’re going to get 25-35 grams of protein from your three slices of pizza. That is exactly where you want your protein count to be for each of your bulking meals.
3. Pizza is a Good Source of Carbohydrates
Over the last couple of decades, carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap. They’ve been demonized as the evil macronutrient, to be avoided at all costs.
The reality is that carbohydrates are an essential part of the bulking equation. They provide glucose, which is the fuel the body uses when working out.
Glucose is stored in the muscles as glycogen. When our glycogen muscle stores are full, the muscle is harder and stronger.
Consuming high amounts of carbs will also reduce muscle breakdown. That means the protein that is going into your body can be used to build more muscle rather than rebuilding existing muscle tissue.
Carbs also spike insulin levels. Insulin is a transporter of protein into the muscle cell. So higher insulin levels promote protein synthesis.
A three slice serving of Pizza will deliver a sound 75 grams of carbs to your body.
Check out this bulking-friendly pizza recipe with natural bodybuilding superstar Ron Williams.
What Makes a Pizza Unhealthy?
Pizzas that are made for mass consumption, such as frozen and fast food varieties, are less healthy than homemade versions. That’s because they contain preservatives, coloring, and saturated fats.
Most pizzas are made from refined wheat flour. This type of flour has most of the fiber content removed, making it less healthy than whole wheat flour. It has been associated with fat gain.
The main thing that can make a pizza unhealthy is the choice of pizza toppings that goes on the base. Some types of cheese, along with meats like sausage and pepperoni are very high in sodium, grease, and saturated fat. Some sauces are also extremely high in sodium.
Regular eating of pizza that is topped with unhealthy meats may result in high blood pressure and other contributors to poor cardiovascular health. It can also lead you to gain fat.
Best Time to Eat Pizza for Bulking
From our discussion so far, it is clear that …
- Pizza provides high levels of easily digestible calories
- With the right toppings, it is high in calories
- Too much of it will make you fat and unhealthy
From this, we can conclude that pizza is a good bulking food when used strategically. Its inclusion in your diet should be controlled. That means limiting the amount of pizza you eat and when you eat it.
From my experience training bodybuilders and discussions with other trainers, I’ve found that three slices of pizza two or three times a week is ideal. That will provide you with the high, calorie, high protein, and high carb benefits without the risk of gaining fat during your bulking phase.
When it comes to the timing of your pizza meal, I recommend having it post-workout. An intense weight training workout will virtually wipe out all of the stored glycogen in your muscle cells. That allows you to get away with higher low-glycemic carb foods that would otherwise go straight to your stomach.
At the same time, those high-protein meat toppings on your pizza will add the protein that your body needs to stay anabolic and drive the muscle-building protein synthesis process.
5 Tips for Bulking with Pizza
- Rather than buying a frozen pizza or ordering a fast-food version, make your own. Do it on a Sunday as part of your weekly meal prep.
Then freeze it in three slice portions. On the day that you’re gonna eat it post-workout, pull out a portion to defrost. Then zap it in the Microwave for 60 seconds for a ready-made post-workout meal.
Use whole wheat flour to make your pizza crusts and you’ll be adding valuable fiber to your diet.
- Practice portion control by only serving what you plan to eat. If you put a whole pizza on the kitchen counter and only plan to eat three slices, you are bound to fail.
- Stay away from processed meats like pepperoni, sausage, and bacon. Instead top your pizza with lean proteins like chicken, turkey, and beef.
- If you’re buying a fast-food or frozen pizza, go for regular thin crust rather than stuffed crust or deep dish. That will help to keep the carb, sodium, and sugar count under control.
- Add vegetables to your pizza topping. They all add health-giving vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Some vegetables, like broccoli and asparagus, are also high in protein.
Pizza is a great-tasting food that can also be a smart addition to a bulking diet. But only if it is used strategically.
To avoid getting fat on your bulk, limit your pizza consumption to two or three servings per week. Each serving can be up to three slices.
Stick with a regular thin crust and top your pizza with healthy meats like chicken, turkey, or beef. Throw on some vegetables and you’ve got a really good, easily digestible bulking meal.
Plan to eat your pizza bulk meal within an hour of completing your workout to make maximum use of its carbs and avoid storing them around your belly.
To get the optimum benefit from your bulking diet, you’ve got to be hitting it hard in the gym. Check out the best all-in-one home gyms that help you to turn your calories into lean muscle mass.
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Rohan Arora is a Certified Personal Trainer and Sports Nutritionist and has been actively involved in sports and fitness for over 8 years. He now leads the team of fitness specialists and personal trainers who help people around the world with personalized workout and nutrition plans, along with providing the right information on sports supplements.