Bulking is a popular bodybuilding strategy that involves increasing caloric intake and lifting heavy weights in order to build muscle mass and gain weight. There are two main approaches to bulking: dirty bulking and clean bulking.
Dirty bulking involves consuming calorie-dense, often unhealthy, food in order to hit excess caloric intake goals. This approach is easier to follow but can lead to excess fat gain and negative health effects.
Clean bulking, on the other hand, involves consuming clean, nutritious food while also tracking macronutrient intake in order to minimize fat gain and promote overall health. Clean bulking is more restrictive and requires more planning and discipline, but can result in the growth of lean muscle tissue and numerous health benefits.
When it comes to choosing between clean bulking and dirty bulking, it ultimately comes down to personal preference and goals. Some people may prioritize maximizing muscle growth and are willing to accept some fat gain, in which case dirty bulking may be a good option. Others may want to minimize fat gain and prioritize overall health, in which case clean bulking may be a better choice.
This article will explain the basics of bulking diets, the differences between clean and dirty bulking, which approach is ideal for your situation, and why.
What Is Bulking And What Is A Bulking Diet?
The term “bulking” refers to the deliberate attempt to gain weight by consuming more calories than are burned in a given time period.
In order to gain muscle mass, most people rely on a high-calorie, high-protein diet in addition to weight training. A calorie surplus is necessary for mass gain, including healthy weight gain, in addition to increased protein intakes, sufficient weight training, and rest intervals. This tried and true method is backed by science, too: When weight exercise is included, the effects of the additional calories and protein on muscle protein synthesis are amplified.
Many of us would want to be able to build muscle mass simply by eating more, but doing so without putting on any fat is notoriously difficult. You can’t discount the importance of diet in this. The proportion of fat to muscle weight growth depends on both total caloric intake and dietary composition.
Fortunately, there is a solution: the bulking cycle, which is called a cycle because it is best understood in conjunction with the second portion of the cycle, the cutting phase. To gain a lot of muscle and fat, you need to enter into a calorie surplus during a bulk. After this, you enter a cutting phase, during which you reduce your calorie intake, and your body fat percentage drops while you keep most of the muscle mass you gained during the bulk.
Clean Bulk vs. Dirty Bulk: Differences
There are three approaches to bulking: clean bulking, dirty bulking, and the “if it fits your macros” approach. Clean bulking involves consuming mostly whole, healthy foods in order to gain muscle mass, while dirty bulking involves indulging in more unhealthy, processed foods and focusing more on quantity of food rather than quality.
The “if it fits your macros” approach involves consuming any type of food as long as it helps you reach your daily macro goals. Both the clean and dirty bulking approaches involve consuming a high-protein diet and engaging in weight training. It is important to remember that bulking will almost always result in some increase in body fat in addition to muscle mass, and that adequate protein intake is necessary for proper muscle development.
The clean bulk is typically recommended for beginners, while the dirty bulk may offer some benefits over the clean bulk but can also lead to a greater increase in body fat. The “if it fits your macros” approach offers a middle ground between the two approaches.
To further understand the differences between clean and dirty bulking, let’s examine how each approach affects muscle growth and fat gain.
Muscle Growth Potential
A study that examined the rate of muscle gain in trained athletes found that a nutrition-controlled diet, which included high protein and less than 30% of calories from fat, resulted in more weight gain (0.4% body weight per week) and more muscle mass (72% of total weight gain) compared to an ad libitum diet in which participants were asked to increase their intake on their own without nutritional counseling (0.2% body weight per week).
Another small study found that increasing calorie intake by 1,000 calories per day led to weight gain, but that the amount of protein in the diet affected the amount of weight gained, with those consuming a low-protein diet gaining significantly less than those on higher-protein diets. These studies suggest that both calorie and protein intake play important roles in muscle gain.
More calories mean faster weight gain; it takes 2,800 more calories to gain one pound of muscle. Because a dirty bulk is generally high in calories and protein, muscular mass may be gained faster when compared to lean bulk.
Potential For Fat Gain
During bulking, it is important to consider the effects on body composition. A high-calorie, high-protein diet and weight training can help increase muscle mass, but may also lead to an increase in body fat. To prevent fat gain and promote muscle growth, it is important to have sufficient protein intake, around 25% of total calories.
Factors such as fitness level may also affect the amount of fat gained during bulking, with untrained individuals potentially gaining more lean mass. To achieve the desired end result, it may be necessary to follow a fat loss diet (cutting phase) after a bulking phase to reduce body fat.
A slower and more macro-focused approach to weight gain, such as a lean bulk, may result in greater muscle mass and less body fat than a dirty bulk. Your fitness level and body composition can determine how much and how quickly you gain weight.
If you’re looking to improve your health and muscle growth, a balanced diet that includes plenty of protein could be a great place to start. A lean bulk is more likely to provide a more nutritional approach to bulking, although this method requires at least a fundamental knowledge of nutrition, with an emphasis on more nutrient-dense foods.
Benefits Of Dirty Bulk
Consuming more calories and protein can help you gain muscle mass faster, and a dirty bulk, which allows for more indulgent food choices, maybe a more enjoyable way to achieve these goals. However, it is important to keep in mind that this approach may also result in more fat gain and may require some nutritional intervention to ensure adequate calorie and protein intake.
Additionally, there may be a limit to how quickly you can put on healthy weight, so it is important to consider the potential for excess fat gain. Some people may find the dirty bulk to be a more sustainable option because it allows them to enjoy their food and stick to the diet more consistently.
Disadvantages Of Dirty Bulk
There are several potential disadvantages to the dirty bulk approach:
- Weight gain: While gaining weight is the end goal of a dirty bulk, not all fat is created equal. The body fat percentage may rise instead of the muscle mass when doing a dirty bulk. A person’s health and looks could suffer as a result.
- Health risks: Consuming high-calorie, high-fat, and unhealthy foods can increase the risk of developing health problems such as obesity, high cholesterol, and heart disease.
- Decreased performance: Poor nutrition can negatively impact athletic performance and reduce the body’s ability to recover from exercise.
- Poor body composition: A dirty bulk may result in an increase in body fat, which can negatively impact physical appearance and overall health.
Benefits Of Clean Bulk
A slow, controlled approach to weight gain, such as a lean bulk, is often considered a more effective way to add muscle mass and minimize body fat gain. This approach involves carefully tracking your caloric intake and macronutrient ratios, and gradually increasing your intake over time as needed to support muscle growth.
It is important to note that your starting fitness level and body composition can strongly impact your ability to gain weight and muscle mass. For example, beginners may find it easier to gain muscle mass, while more advanced trainees may have a harder time adding mass due to their increased muscle mass and metabolism.
Disadvantages Of Clean Bulk
The cons of clean bulking include being very strict with your caloric intake, slower progress than dirty bulking, and needing to devote time to meal prep due to the specific macronutrient breakdown. Additionally, clean bulking requires a great deal of discipline and patience to stick to the plan, as cravings can be difficult to fight off. Some potential disadvantages of clean bulking include:
- Time and effort: For clean bulking, you need to plan your diet and workouts carefully and stick to them. Preparing meals and keeping track of what you eat can take a lot of time, and it may be hard to stick to the diet and workout plan you need for clean bulking.
- Cost: Since clean bulking typically entails eating more food, including high-quality sources of protein and other nutrients, it can be more costly than a normal diet.
- Potentially slower progress: Clean bulking is a viable option for muscle development, but it may take longer than dirty bulking (which involves consuming a large number of calories without regard for the source).
- Potential for overtraining: One common strategy for promoting muscle growth during a clean bulk is to increase the frequency and intensity of your workouts. The risk of overtraining increases, which might reduce performance and muscular development.
There are advantages to both dirty and clean bulking, and the optimum diet for you will likely vary from person to person. If you want to gain muscle and improve your chances of long-term success, the available evidence suggests that lean bulks are your best bet.
Genetics can also play a role in your ability to gain weight and muscle mass. Some people may naturally have a faster metabolism or a harder time adding mass, regardless of their training and nutrition habits.
Overall, it is important to find a balance that works for you and to track your progress over time to ensure that you are making progress toward your goals in a healthy and sustainable way.
Rahul is a sports and performance consultant. Over the course of his 15-year career in the fitness sector, he has held positions as a strength and conditioning instructor, gym owner, and consultant.
He is deeply committed to assisting people in finding happiness and feeling good about themselves.
Rahul has a master’s degree in exercise science and is a certified NSCA CSCS and CISSN.