Dirty bulk vs clean bulk – Which one is better and why?
As we have mentioned in previous articles, the goal of developing a pleasing to look at physique is something that every trainee has in mind.
Most of those people have heard the terms “Bulking” and “Cutting” so many times, they get confused!
Well, if that’s the case, check out our article on How to bulk and cut – Training periodization.
On there, we discuss why it is optimal to periodize your gaining & shredding goals, instead of trying to achieve them all at once.
For this article however, we will discuss how you can properly implement bulking and what type of bulk you should go for, given certain factors.
And so, without further ado, let’s dive right into it!
Dirty bulk vs clean bulk
When it comes to gaining muscle mass, trainees have been implementing two main approaches that we dare to say are extremes – Dirty bulk vs clean bulk.
Clean, also referred to as “lean bulking” implies gaining as much muscle mass as possible, with as little fat as possible.
This approach is characterized with a moderate excess (surplus) of calories and intense training to create that vital muscle growth stimulus.1
Most people that undergo a lean bulk, generally tend to stick with it for years, as the gains are a bit slower.
On the flipside, we have the dirty bulk, which implies going totally bats**t crazy on your nutrition, without caring about fat gains whatsoever.
The goal of people implementing this approach, is to get as big, bulky and as strong as possible.
Generally, people go for this approach when they have less than a year to bulk up.
But which one is optimal?
Let’s take a look
Difference between clean bulk and dirty bulk
As we mentioned, during a dirty bulk, we don’t care whether our sixpack will fade away or not.
Our main priorities are gaining as much muscle mass and strength as possible.
We know that gaining mass is just a part of the whole process.
Most trainees want to be massive, but also shredded.
And so, if we also know that cutting fat and getting shredded requires a moderate caloric deficit2 , then we can conclude the following- Dirty bulking that leads to more fat gains, will require more time to shred down afterwards.
More time to shred down then means more loss of lean body mass.
That is simply because, when we’re in a caloric deficit (required to shred fat), we not only lose fat, but also lean body mass.3
And lean body mass is every other tissue in the body except for fat, including muscle mass.
However, we also know that muscle gains occur optimally in a surplus.4
That is to say that a bigger surplus will allow the body to facilitate recovery and anabolic processes and hence, lead to more muscle growth.
Now let’s list out the pros and cons to this approach
- Plenty of food, no need to track it so much
- Plenty of energy during workouts
- Massive increases in weight & strength
- More fat gains = More time to get shredded afterwards = More loss of lean body mass
- Substantially increased bodyweight = Less athletic performance, as opposed to a body composition in favor of lean mass
- More bloated more often
- Might get clumsy, as you’re in a constant cycle of resting and digesting
- Your grandma won’t give you as much food
Now let’s take a look at its opposite – Clean bulking
As you should know by now, during a clean bulk, our goal is to retain our current levels of body fat, while gaining as much lean muscle mass as possible.
We do that by simply establishing proper nutrition habits that don’t include regular overeating.
A moderate deficit and a structured approach to training is just what is needed when the goal is bulking without getting fat.
The best thing about clean bulking is the fact that you in fact LOWER your bodyfat percentage.
Well, because if you manage to get fat gain down to a minimum and increase the amount of muscle mass that you have… Then practically, body composition will change and body fat % will decrease, though the amount of it has not increased or decreased significantly.
If that’s the case, then we’ll need even less time to get more shredded afterwards, which therefore means less loss of lean body mass!
Let’s list out the advantages and disadvantages of this approach to bulking
- Less fat gains (duh!)
- Retaining athletic shape & performance
- Less bloats
- Skintight pumps
- Less time needed to shred down afterwards, hence less loss of mass
To be honest, I do not see any serious disadvantages besides for the lesser amount of food, as opposed to dirty bulking.
However, lean bulking may not be optimal for high-end bodybuilding and physique athletes, that have a lot of experience in the gym.
Which one to choose?
As we already learned, with dirty bulking we simply eat like it is the end of the world and stack as much mass of any kind, as possible.
Now, if you have been into training for a while, you will also know that gaining strength and muscle mass is one of the things that “The law of diminishing returns” applies to.
The law of diminishing returns states that the more energy we invest into something, the lesser the return is over time.
In simpler words, that would mean that with each year of training, the total amount of muscle mass gained decreases.
And so, during the first year, also known as the newbie gains phase, we might gain as much as 15-20 lbs, while still remaining relatively lean.
In the year afterwards, we will gain probably 50% less than that.
And with each year, the amount will decrease until finally, we are very advanced and gain little to no weight each year.
Note that weight is far from the only important factor, as you can have totally different body compositions on the same weight.
You can implement dirty bulking if:
- You’re not gaining all that much weight anymore, due to advancement in training & being closer to natural genetic potential for growth
- You’re trying to aggressively bulk up
- You know how to cut the fat afterwards
While dirty bulking is the preferred option for advanced athletes, beginners can enjoy the massive gains from a slight surplus (Lean bulking), during the first year of their training.
After that, training can be periodized and a more aggressive approach to bulking can be taken, while still remaining true to micromanaging the bulking period.
Micromanaging the bulking period is one of the stepping stones to more lean muscle retention during the shredding period coming afterwards.
Why you should dirty bulk
Even though dirty bulking is not the best option for beginners and intermediates, who do not have a sharp, anabolic inner environment, it still has its advantages.
The amount of energy we provide the body with, when we are dirty bulking, combined with a smart approach to training, will definitely yield more prominent muscle gains.
So, again – If you’re already past the newbie gains phase and have stalled in progress, do give dirty bulking a shot.
If you are a relatively lean individual, who’s one of those guys that “eat everything but don’t gain weight”, then we do recommend you to try the dirty bulk approach.
Usually, people who claim to eat a lot and not gain weight, don’t really have a fast metabolism, contrary to popular belief.
Instead, they do eat a lot and they do eat everything, but the energy balance just evens out, due to their infrequent food consumption (2-3 meals a day).
Dirty bulk diet plan
Before we get into the diet plan you can use for dirty bulking, we’d like to mention that everyone has their own, individual needs in terms of energy consumption.
Each and every body/organism on this planet requires a certain amount of daily energy to maintain their body (Weight & physiological processes).
This number is called the “TDEE – Total daily energy expenditure” and depends on:
- Basal metabolic rate (BMR) – The amount of energy you need for maintenance at rest
- Non-exercise activity (NEAT)
- Exercise output
- Thermogenic effect of food (TEF)
- Body fat % (The more lean body mass you have, the more food you need to maintain its weight)
There are formulas for calculating each of these and their sum, but thankfully, that formula is integrated in calculators that give you a number with high proximity (~200 calories).
Click HERE to calculate your daily needs.
The diet plan
If you know a bit of theory, you’d know the following things about the 3 main macronutrients in food:
- Protein is the first and most important macronutrient, as it makes up our entire body. It is essential for recovery, growth and repair, especially after resistance training.
Recommended protein intake forms in the broad range of 0.75g-1.2g per pound of body weight. 5
- Carbohydrates fuel our workouts, given that we work in the 6+ rep range, utilizing the Anaerobic-Lactic system.
Recommended carb intake forms at 1.5g – 3 g per lbs of bodyweight (Can be higher while dirty bulking)6
- Fats are almost as important as protein, as they are involved in the structure of cell membranes, as well as hormonal processes and an array of other vital functions.
Recommended fat intake : 0.35-0.45g/lbs of bodyweight
Below is one of our favorite distributions of daily nutrition for dirty bulking:
The day starts off with an abundance of all 3 macronutrients, as we are looking to fuel our body for the workout later in the day.
Note that according to the natural human patterns, known as the circadian rhythm, the nervous system is most active in the late afternoon.
- Oats (Boiled or with yoghurt/fatty milk)
- Bananas & strawberries
- A teaspoon of honey
Mix all of the above in a solid oatmeal and let it soak up for some time. This part of the breakfast will grant you a ton of carbs, fiber and other micronutrients. While the oats are soaking up, take care of the second part of the breakfast:
- Whole boiled eggs (Or scrambled with butter on low heat to keep the protein structure intact)
- Feta cheese or yellow cheese
This breakfast will BLAST your body with nutrients for later use! Talk about a satiating breakfast.
Come lunch time, we further load with some of those precious carbohydrates, and we also get in some beef.
Note that red meats contain creatine, which accounts for better performance at the gym.
We personally LOVE pre-workout beef patties or oven-baked beef with rice. Give it a shot.
Here are the ingredients for your lunch:
- Beef (Ground or whole)
- White or brown rice
For best taste & juiciness, we generally recommend searing the beef in butter on the pan, then putting it in a pre-heated oven (~130-150 degrees celsius) for 90-120 minutes. You can further add spinach and cover it with other veggies, to keep it away from dehydration.
The broccoli and carrots can either be steamed or boiled along with the rice.
Feeling full? This is just the beginning. An hour before the workout, we get in a small snack, such as an oat bar.
As we know, weightlifting is not a glycogen-depleting activity, but it rather uses up just about a third of our glycogen storages.
And with the carb-abundant meals so far, you really want just a tad bit of carbs post-workout.
Focus more on the protein – We generally recommend a dose of whey or isolate protein after a workout, as it is an easy and accessible source.
Other options are eggs, beef and fish.
After having loaded the body with serious digestion tasks throughout the bright part of the day, it is time to take it easy.
Our recommended dinner is the following:
- Steamed red pepper
- Steamed carrots
- Baked sweet potatoes
This is a relatively light, yet nutritious food, that will keep you satiated and boost recovery.
If you’re dirty bulking, you’ve gotta go all-out. However, smart eating should always be a priority.
Before bed, we can grant the body slow-digesting protein, to facilitate recovery.
Such sources are:
- Casein protein supplement
Does dirty bulking work
If you’re one of those hard gainers we previously mentioned, then dirty bulking is the solution to your problem.
Dirty bulking DOES in fact work, however, it has to be carefully managed, in order to avoid extreme and excessive fat gains.
As mentioned, such fat gains will make us lose more lean body mass in the long term, so if that is the case, then dirty bulking does not work optimally if we’re looking far ahead into the game.
Clean bulk macros
As a matter of fact, when it comes to the diet structure and pattern itself, you can use the same diet plan as the one for dirty bulking, mentioned above.
The only difference however has to be the total amount of food, as clean bulking is achieved at a relatively slight excess of calories (~250-300).
And so, the clean bulk macros will remain 0.8~1.2g of protein per pound of bodyweight, along with 0.35-0.45g of fat per pound of bodyweight.
However, carbohydrate intake has to remain within the recommended amounts, which are 1.5-3g of carbohydrates per lbs of bodyweight.
Such an amount would be sufficient for clean bulking and optimal training performance, to create stimulation for the desired results.
How to fix a dirty bulk
If you happen to get yourself in the trap of reckless eating and bulking and reach excessive fat gains, worry not.
There is a solution, but the thing is that it will simply take you longer to fix the dirty bulk, as we mentioned earlier.
If you want to lose the excess fat that was accumulated throughout the duration of your bulk, while retaining the precious muscle mass you worked hard for, then follow these guidelines:
- Create a moderate caloric deficit of ~500 calories
- Grant sufficient protein intake of 1+ grams per lbs of bodyweight
- Grant sufficient fat intake of 0.35-0.45 grams per lbs of bodyweight
- Get enough carbs to optimize performance during workouts, as optimal workouts help retain muscle mass
- Introduce diet breaks every 2-3 weeks of dieting
This is an important one – In a diet break, you bump up calories slightly back up to maintenance. HOWEVER! Consider the fact that maintenance has lowered from the initial one, as the body adapts and starts burning less energy, the longer you diet.
And so, if you started at a TDEE of 2800 calories and your deficit is 500 calories, then after 3 weeks on 2300 calories, you’ll diet break at ~2600 calories.
The duration of the diet break is 5-7 days, after which you get into the deficit again, gradually over 2-3 days.
This last point is important, simply because as we mentioned, a dirty bulk ultimately leads to more time needed to shred down the excess fat and get leaner.
Longer time on a diet means more metabolic adaptations and more lean body mass lost, so ultimately, we’re aiming at creating a sustainable diet plan, that won’t have negative side effects.
The more we train, the less we gain totally. Year after year, the changes in weight are less and less significant.
That is why, if you are an advanced trainee, looking to spike up strength and muscle gains, dirty bulking is definitely a considerable option.
On the flipside, if you are a beginner or intermediate trainee, you can enjoy the amazing benefits of the newbie gains phase, even in a slight caloric surplus.
This approach to lean bulking will not only optimize your visual gains, but it will also allow you to retain and even improve athletic abilities, as most of the weight gained is active weight (Muscle tissue).
<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28630601">https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28630601</a> ↩
<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24864135">https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24864135</a> ↩
<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6315740/">https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6315740/</a> ↩
<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28630601">https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28630601</a> ↩
<a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07315724.2000.10718974">https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07315724.2000.10718974</a> ↩
<a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02640414.2011.574722">https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02640414.2011.574722</a> ↩
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