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Fact checked by Andrew Lenau, ISSA CPT & Sports NutritionistFACT CHECKED
June 14, 2022
It’s that time of the year again where all your efforts are aimed at stuffing your face with all the nutrient dense foods you can eat to receive a disproportionately smaller amount of muscle. That’s right… it’s the dirty bulking season! However, is it really a good idea to randomly stuff your face with junk food? Do dirty bulks even help? In this article, we’re going to teach you what you need to know about dirty bulking and the best way to perform one for optimal muscle growth. We’ll go over:
Time to get filthy! (“Time to get dirty” would be too obvious)
Dirty bulking is a method of putting on weight that basically allows you to eat anything you want. In fact, you’re generally allowed to eat what would be termed as “junk” food, such as pizza, pastries and other calorie dense foods. The thought on this will differ from person to person as some will say eat whatever you want and actively encourage eating high-calorie food. Others will still encourage eating high calorie foods but with some control.
Regardless, the purpose of eating these high calorie foods is to be sure your body has more than enough calories for weight gain, muscle repair and recovery. Other than maybe protein, your macros and calorie intake aren’t generally tracked.
This would be in contrast to the clean bulk. The clean bulk is another form of bulking by eating a caloric surplus, except the diet is much more controlled. You can see this play out in ways:
The primary goal of clean bulking is to maximize weight gain through lean muscle while mitigating body fat. They will encourage eating a surplus of calories but recommend this comes from healthier, nutrient dense foods.
So why would anyone want to freely eat as much pizza and cookies and ice cream as they want? Hmmm...that actually sounds really good! So other than being able to eat whatever you want, there are some legitimate benefits of dirty bulking. We’ll go over those now.
Let’s be honest, going on a diet can be stressful. Even if you’re one of the people who find eating healthy comes naturally, your mind can still wander sometimes. Performing a dirty bulk will give your mind a break. If you see something you want to eat but probably shouldn’t; you go ahead and eat it without question!
While this can seem like we’re being a bit facetious, this really can be a good mental vacation from hard dieting. To be clear, we genuinely believe you should do your best to follow a consistent diet, but there will be some time in your fitness journey when this won’t be the case. Sometimes the best benefit of a dirty bulk is just the time to eat what you want with no guilty conscience. However, this should be for a limited time.
2) Easy To Eat A Caloric Surplus:
When you are training for muscle hypertrophy, getting into a caloric surplus is the number one priority for your nutritional goals. For some people, this can be difficult when sticking to a healthy diet due to its low calories. For all people, this can be extremely easy when on a dirty bulk.
The entire point of following a dirty bulk is to eat what you want, as it’s extremely easy to pack on calories. Even if you don’t eat traditional “junk” food, eating butter mashed potatoes and bacon, or a stack of high protein French toast, still brings a ton of calories. In reality, if you follow a dirty bulking diet, you’ll eat more than enough calories without even trying which is why you don’t worry about tracking calories. This will definitely give you the energy you need to build some muscles.
There are some legitimate reasons to follow a bulking diet, but there are also some downsides. Here are the consequences of dirty bulking.
1) Unwanted Weight Gain:
The most obvious side effect of eating whatever you want is going to be unwanted fat gain. To be clear, this is fully expected and planned for by anyone who decides to dirty bulk, so it’s not really unexpected; it kind of comes with the territory.
In reality, any type of fat gain is to be expected during any type of bulk you might choose to follow. However, if you follow a clean bulk, the fat gain is minimized due to your control of calories. Ideally, you will gain more muscle than you do fat.
When you follow a dirty bulk, your fat gain will far exceed any type of muscle gain. For some lifters, this can be manageable, while others may have harder times getting rid of it when the bulk is done. Regardless, you'll have excess fat gain during your dirty bulk and harm your physique.
2) Trigger Old Habits:
Losing weight can take a long time which requires adherence and discipline. Part of this journey can include overcoming bad eating habits such as snacking or consuming certain foods. This is a common thread found in just about anyone’s weight loss process and is the biggest hurdle to conquer.
However, not all dieters are ready (or able) to start eating whatever they want and then just stop whenever they want. As most people know, eating junk food can trigger physiological reactions in the brain that are almost identical to other types of harmful behavior, such as doing drugs. In other words, it is very similar to other addictions. Therefore, it can be useful to think of eating junk food as another addiction.
That being said, when we have become clean with our diets and have been successful at removing junk food from our diet, it does not mean we are fully “cured.” Just like a drug addict could be triggered by seeing some of their favorite fixes or maybe even testing a little, some people can be triggered when they eat junk food. When we dirty bulk, we generally eat a lot of junk food. As a result, this can put us on a path that won’t just be as easy as “stopping” when we want. In other words, your dirty bulk may never stop.
3) Decrease Your Health:
Eating an obnoxious amount of cholesterol and oil is bad for your health. Surprised? Then you shouldn’t be surprised that dirty bulking is not the greatest thing for your vitals. To be clear, we’re not saying a week of pizza is going to kill you. It likely wouldn’t have any long-term effect on your health, assuming you go back to eating healthy. However, if you dirty bulk for 2 or 3 months, it’s still likely won’t have any long-term effect that can’t be reversible, but still, you could start to feel some of the effects. Again, this is all assuming you are able to reverse diet without any trouble.
Regardless, you’ll likely see various negative health effects due to high cholesterol and elevated blood sugar, as studies have shown eating ultra-processed foods (junk food) have this effect¹. In turn, this puts you at an increased risk for health complications such as high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and other various ailments. While it's likely you'll see weight gain due to the significant calorie surplus of a dirty bulk diet, the majority if it will be body fat rather than lean muscle mass. Before you decide to eat all the unprocessed foods you can, take a moment to consider your overall health.
4) Decrease Energy Levels:
Food is the fuel for your body. When you eat clean, you feel great. When you eat crap, you’ll feel like crap. As you probably guessed, dirty bulking will likely make you feel like crap. This is due to the constant sugar highs and eating food that must be processed by your body which adds stress. Still, after you have been dirty bulking for a while, you will gain fat which is also going to slow you down. The bottom line is dirty bulking will almost definitely decrease your energy, build fatigue and make you feel sluggish.
In our opinion, dirty bulking is definitely not for everyone, nor does everyone even need it. At the same time, there are those who could benefit from this diet. These are those people.
The hard gainer exists. There are such things as body types. Anyone who says they don’t or makes up an excuse like “they just aren’t eating enough” hasn’t been training enough people. This isn’t an insult, but we first wanted to address that.
Anyways, hard gainers are those who have unusually high metabolisms and can’t gain weight, or may even lose weight, when eating in a high caloric surplus.
As the problem actually is that this group isn’t eating enough calories, it’s not because they refuse to eat. Hard gainers can’t gain weight because their calorie needs are so unusually high. Therefore, letting this group of people eat “junk food” can be what they need to be able to eat a sufficient amount of calories.
There are quite a few sports that require an athlete to participate in a particular weight class. Examples are wrestling, boxing, and even strength sports (powerlifting, Strongman). While it’s pretty obvious that you can’t compete in a lower weight class, some of these sports actually won’t let you compete in a higher weight class either. However, it’s not unusual for an athlete to actually be at an advantage by moving up in weight class, meaning they’d need to gain weight before being allowed to. In these cases, a dirty bulk is the only way to gain weight fast.
Some bodybuilders will find a dirty bulk necessary to gain more muscle mass. To be clear, this would refer to athletes who only compete once or twice a year in big competitions as they have the time necessary to drop gained weight safely without losing muscle mass.
A dirty bulk can help these athletes as, to begin with, they already have very high caloric needs. Secondly, they need to be in a high caloric surplus as they’re busting their ass for minimal muscle gain. A dirty bulk delivers on both fronts.
Not every mass builder will need to do this as it is still a personal preference, but if you’ve had trouble putting on extra muscle mass, this could help.
Similar to the mass builders, some strength athletes would perform better by being at a higher weight. Perhaps they’re participating in a lifting contest judging absolute weight, or they’re able to gain weight in their category. In addition, they may be training for a new PR and need some extra calories to support their training. Regardless, a dirty bulk could help.
Being that dirty bulking is so popular, it would seem that a lot of people are using it. Unfortunately, there are, but the majority of them don’t need to be. Here are the people who do not need to dirty bulk.
If you’re under 21, there is absolutely no need for you to be dirty bulking. In fact, we don’t think younger lifters should engage in any sort of extreme methods. Not that dirty bulking is “extreme,” but it can still set you up for a poor relationship with food.
Other than possible dangerous health effects, a person at this age is not familiar enough with lifting or how their bodies respond to food. Further, this age group already tends to eat a lot regardless due to going through puberty, so giving the green light on whatever is unnecessary.
A physique athlete is all about aesthetics. While mass is important, the body’s symmetry trumps any type of mass monster. In other words, this group doesn’t need to just randomly add muscle to put on a couple extra pounds of mass. Further, gaining fat can make it more difficult to evaluate one’s symmetry. Therefore, this group of athletes would need to first lose fat again to be able to see where their physique stands.
This should go without saying, but if you’re lifting to just add some muscle and improve your health, there’s obviously no reason you need to put your health in jeopardy just to add muscle. A general lifter would be able to add muscle easily enough at their level of training. Keep in mind that it gets exponentially more difficult to put on muscle the longer you lift, so while serious lifters may need the extra calories, those lifting for general purposes should not have issues.
If you find that you are able to gain weight without having to eat whatever you see, dirty bulking will provide no extra benefits. Remember that the only physiological benefit to dirty bulking is gaining weight, so if you’re already able to gain weight with no problem, dirty bulking doesn’t really have a lot else to offer.
So now, let’s say you are one of the ones who could benefit from dirty bulking, or maybe you just want to try. There are better ways to go about it than simply eating whatever you want. By making some simple changes to your diet, you can easily increase your caloric intake without relying on junk food.
One of the first things you’re told to lose weight is to not drink your calories. Therefore, to gain weight, do the opposite. Therefore, try to drink liquids with calories rather than just water. For example:
Nut butters are full of healthy fats that pack a lot of calories in addition to being full of other vitamins and minerals. Plus, they taste great and are easy to add to your diet. For example:
Chicken breast and white fish aren’t going to cut it on a dirty bulk, at least on their own. Begin to include some fattier meats into your diet. Some easy examples are:
Not all vegetables are low in calories. Starches and legumes (technically not a vegetable but in the same category) bring a lot of calories while also providing an array of vitamins and minerals. Add these to your diet on a regular basis:
If you want to dirty bulk, realize that doesn’t mean you need to stuff your face at every single meal. You can just simply create some sort of timetable to allow when you eat a lot and when you really eat a lot. For example, you could:
There’s no single way to do this, but the goal is to just provide some structure so you don’t overdo it every single meal, every single day. For example, you could start your dirty bulk by just going all out one day a week and see how your body responds. If you need more, add a day. Follow this until you find a good balance. Also, check out our list of best bulking foods for some inspiration on what foods you should eat (for at least some of your meals).
Don’t fall victim to dirty bulking. Let’s be honest, a lot of guys just use a “dirty bulk” as an excuse to stuff their faces with junk foods and fast food. In reality, there are easy ways to get in a lot of calories without having to rely on junk food. We’re not saying you can’t eat pizza, but rather it shouldn’t be an intricate part of your diet just to gain weight.
Plus, you should never follow a dirty bulk unless you have a good relationship with food, as it can be a long dark road if you don’t. Dirty bulking can be useful for the right person in the right situation. However, start with a good clean bulk first before you decide you must eat that large pizza solo.
Related: Bulking vs Cutting
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