Fitness trends come and go, but ‘bulking’ has made a place for itself in the bodybuilding and weightlifting community. Bulking simply means to eat surplus calories in the pursuit of greater muscle mass.
However, the practice of bulking depends highly on an individual’s purpose and reasoning for exercise. Those who exercise as a means to shed a couple pounds –through aerobic, anaerobic, or a combination of the two – most likely would not consider dirty bulking an efficient practice to improve progress and results.
But, those who have hit lifting plateaus in the gym or are looking to increase strength and power on the playing field may have reason to consider packing on extra mass.
What’s Dirty Bulking?
There exist 2 types of bulking: clean and dirty. However, don’t let these connotations fool you. Dirty bulking doesn’t mean slamming down tubs of ice cream and pounds of cheesecake. What these terms “clean” and “dirty” imply are the amount of caloric surpluses allowed per day.
Although both bulks result in caloric surpluses, a general description of a clean and dirty bulk among the weightlifting community is a clean bulk totals to around a 200-500 calorie surplus per day while a dirty bulk is a 500+ calorie surplus per day.
Since users on a dirty bulk consume more calories per day by eating carbs, protein, and fats; this maximizes available energy. Consequently, muscle mass and strength gains are achieved quicker but not without gaining some extra body fat.
There is a bit of leeway in dirty bulking; everyone does it a little differently according to their end goal. Some people keep their calorie surplus strictly to complex carbs, healthy fats, and lots of protein to minimize fat gain. While still getting necessary macros, others tend to be a bit more unguarded, eating more fattening foods (pizza, fried chicken).
The Pros of Dirty Bulking
Dirty bulking is a viable option for several gym-goers and offers several benefits and advantages from nutritional to physical and financial.
A surplus of carbohydrates and proteins facilitates muscle growth and keeps the body fueled for exercise. This is because carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy and protein enhances muscle growth. These macronutrients consumed together offer an anabolic advantage. Dr. Layne Norton describes anabolism as a “metabolic process that is characterized by molecular growth, such as increases of muscle mass.”
Additionally, clinical evidence suggests overfeeding may increase insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) and testosterone concentration.
As previously stated, macronutrients are imperative to muscle and strength gains. Consequently, not getting enough nutrients negatively affects muscle and weight gains.
Simply put, “sustained periods of negative energy balance decrease body mass due to losses of both fat and skeletal muscle mass,” explain one research group.
Increasing caloric intake of macros eliminates the possibility of entering a catabolic state and ameliorates muscle gain.
If you plan to dirty bulk, don’t be afraid of putting on extra weight. Consuming higher amounts of carbohydrates and fats each day provides the calorie surplus needed for fueling intense exercise sessions.
Keep in mind the longer you stay in a dirty bulking phase, the more likely you are to increase body fat percentage.
So, for those with a fast metabolism and experience difficulties putting on weight, dirty bulking is a viable option. Also, there is a bit of freedom regarding how and what you should eat. Some may consume more fatty foods than others whilst dirty bulking to optimize weight gain.
The diet flexibility and excess calories that dirty bulking offers make it a rather simple process: eat and eat some more.
Measuring and crunching caloric numbers along with meal preparation don’t tend to be as strict while dirty bulking, but this may differ according to your goal. The general consensus of those on a dirty bulk is to place more emphasis on eating, and eating a lot to increase muscle and mass gains, which translates to more energy to be used for physical activity.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep track of what you are eating. Try and keep in mind your macros while deciding on what to eat pre and post workout.
The Cons of Dirty Bulking
While dirty bulking is a viable option for increasing gains, there are some downsides to consider.
Its common knowledge significantly increasing calories leads to more weight gain than sticking to a lower caloric intake.
If you put on weight easily, or have a difficult time losing weight, bulking may be something to avoid. However, if you must bulk, a clean bulk may be a better option, since caloric intake is lower.
A result of dirty bulking is higher body fat percentage. As with any bulk, an intense cutting phase is usually required after. This is to shed the fat gained during the caloric surplus and attain a shredded physique.
Not successfully cutting after a dirty bulk means muscles remain hidden under layers of fat and are less prominent. So, unless you are willing to dedicate to a cutting phase or don’t mind higher body fat percentage, dirty bulking shouldn’t be attempted.
Here are some tips to aid the cutting phase:
- Increase aerobic activity and frequency
- Eat small meals every 2-3 hours
- Lower caloric intake
- Reduce carbohydrate consumption
Eating in surplus has its advantages, but snacking and eating habits established during a dirty bulk may be more difficult to stop then previously imagined.
The luxury of eating more may come back and bite you on your love handles, which is why knowing how to tweak eating habits back to normal is imperative.
Also, knowing when to stop bulking is important. For those looking to bulk, it is recommended you have previous dieting experience. Knowing how your body reacts to and functions is crucial to knowing how to successfully recover mentally and physically from a dirty bulk.
-  Jequier E. “Carbohydrates as a source of energy.” Am J Clin Nutr. 1994 Mar;59(3 Suppl):682S-685S.
-  Vandre Casagrande FIgueiredo and David Cameron-Smith. “Is carbohydrate needed to further stimulate muscle protein synthesis/hypertrophy following resistance exercise?” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2013, 10:42
-  “Anabolic Eating For Your Age.”
-  Layne Norton. “Are Carbohydrates Anabolic?”
-  GB Forbes, et al. “Hormonal response to overfeeding.” Am J Clin Nutr April 1989 Vol. 49 no. 4.
-  John W. Carbone et al. “Skeletal Muscle Responses to Negative Energy Balance: Effects of Dietary Protein.” Adv Nutr March 2012 Adv Nutr vol. 3:119-126, 2012.
-  “Recommended Daily Caloric Intake.”