What the Heck is Bulking and How Can it be Clean or Dirty?


6 minute read

October 6, 2020

          So, you read my earlier blog post about the IIFYM diet and heard me talk all about calorie surpluses and calorie deficits and now you want to know what these are? Well you’re in the right place! And if you aren’t here because you read the IIFYM blog post, but now you’re interested in it, you can read it right after you read this one! Isn’t that just great?!


          Anyways now that I got that advertising out of the way, what is a calorie surplus you ask?


          Everyday your body is doing work even if you don’t realize it. You may be sitting on the couch watching Netflix and eating chips all day, but your body is still working, whether it's muscle movement when you have to click that button to let Netflix know you’re still alive, cell growth, or energy conversion, it's work nonetheless. This work, like everything else in this world, requires energy, and energy comes from consuming calories. The number of calories each individual person needs to fulfill this basic daily energy requirement is known as “maintenance calories” (Lifesum, 2020). Whenever you eat more calories than the maintenance calories you need, you are in a calorie surplus or in other words you are BULKING and will gain weight.  


          It is important to remember that everyone is different, and your number of maintenance calories is going to be different than your friend’s number of maintenance calories or your mom’s number of maintenance calories or your dog’s number of maintenance calories! This number depends on multiple factors such as height, muscle mass, age and gender, and it can be calculated through online calculators that I link in the IIFYM blog (click here).


          So, if your goal is to gain weight and more specifically to gain muscle mass, then bulking and being in a calorie surplus is definitely for you! Good job, you made one decision today! Now you just have to make one more decision; do you want to clean bulk or dirty bulk?


Dirty Bulking


           Now a dirty bulk is basically the opposite of everything your mom ever taught you. You basically want to eat as much junk food and high caloric foods as possible. The idea behind a dirty bulk is “to eat as much as tolerable to increase body mass,” and “no foods are off-limits” (Preiato, 2019). Since the goal of bulking is to eat as many calories as possible and junk foods are high in calories, this may seem like a great idea but let’s look at the pros and cons first before you go out and eat a box of twinkies and 10 Big Macs and then wash it all down with a 2-Liter Pepsi.


           Pros: Are you one of those people who everyone hates because you complain all the time about how you just eat whatever you want and never gain any weight? Me too! Well, this type of bulk may be for you because it is basically guaranteed to help you gain weight.


          Surprise surprise, studies show that eating foods high in fat and sugar (like the foods you eat during a dirty bulk) lead to weight gain (Stinson et al., 2018). When paired with high intensity exercise, dirty bulking may help you increase weight significantly faster than clean bulking (Preiato, 2019).


           Cons: One of the major cons of the dirty bulk is that there is no focus on nutrition. This is a problem for many reasons, but the two that you probably care most about are that 1) it does not optimize muscle growth and 2) it may make you sluggish and depressed.


          A 2012 study shows that when participants consumed the same additional number of calories, those consuming higher percentages of protein saw increased muscle growth and decreased fat gain (Satrazemis, 2020). This means that if you are just eating whatever you want during a dirty bulk and not paying attention to your macronutrients, you may gain weight, but it may not be the type of weight you want. A focus on nutrition and macronutrients are required to ensure that your weight gain is mostly muscle and not fat!


          Another 2016 study showed that high-glycemic foods (sugary foods, white breads and soft drinks) that one may consume during a dirty bulk resulted in higher depression and fatigue levels (Breymeyer et al., 2016). Well, that's no fun!


Clean Bulking


          While it may not be as fun, clean bulking is probably healthier for you in the long run. Clean bulking uses more strategic eating that focuses on eating whole, non-processed foods and high amounts of protein. This allows you to get the extra calories you need while also ensuring that you’re getting the vitamins and minerals that your body craves (Fetters, 2019).


          During a clean bulk it is definitely helpful to track what you are eating and maybe even meal prep at the beginning of each week so that you know exactly what you will be eating that week. It is important to ensure that you are getting enough protein (1-1.5g per pound of body weight per day is usually suggested) but you also want to make sure you are eating enough carbohydrates and fats as well (Charlebois, 2019). These numbers will be different for everyone and depend on your own personal body and health, but play around with it and find what works best for you! Again, I talk more about macronutrient splits in the IIFYM blog post found here!


          Pros: A clean bulk, being the opposite of a dirty bulk is most likely going to result in more lean muscle mass growth and less fat gain because it takes a slow and steady approach to bulking that focuses more on macronutrients. A clean bulk is also more likely to provide the proper nutrition that your body needs to stay energized and happy throughout the day (Satrazemis, 2020).


          Cons: Since more calories means more weight gain and clean bulking may not be as high of a calorie surplus as dirty bulking, clean bulking may result in slower and less weight gain overall (Satrazemis, 2020). This just means that a clean bulk will most likely take more time, effort, and research than a dirty bulk would.


          So, in summary, if you are looking to be in a calorie surplus and gain some weight, I would most likely recommend a clean bulk. This will result in a healthier and happier weight gain. However, as I always say; everyone is different and everyone has different goals so if all you care about is weight gain and not what you’re putting in your body or how it makes you feel, then a dirty bulk may be the most efficient diet for you. Also remember that whichever bulk you do decide on, it is still very important to also be actively exercising as well. It's all about that balance between meals, muscles, meditation and mindset (sounds familiar)!


Happy Eating,

           Seagull Strength

Works Cited

Breymeyer, Kara L, et al.“Subjective Mood and Energy Levels of Healthy Weight and Overweight/ObeseHealthy Adults on High-and Low-Glycemic Load Experimental Diets.” History ofthe Human Sciences, 1 Dec. 2016, doi:10.1016/j.appet.2016.08.008.

Charlebois, Derek. “The Top10 Rules Of Successful Clean Bulking!” Bodybuilding.com, 15 July 2019,www.bodybuilding.com/content/


Fetters, K Aleisha. “WhatIt Really Means to Bulk Up.” Men's Health, Men's Health, 2 Feb. 2019,www.menshealth.com/


Lifesum. “Lifesum App.” Lifesum,2020,lifesum.com/health-education/calorie-maintenance-what-it-is-and-why-it-matters/.

Preiato, Daniel. “DirtyBulking: Effectiveness, Downsides, and More.” Edited by Natalie Olsen, Healthline,Healthline Media, 5 Dec. 2019, www.healthline.com/nutrition/dirty-bulking.

Satrazemis, Emmie. “DirtyBulk vs. Clean Bulk: What Is the Best Muscle Building Diet?” Organic MealDelivery - Trifecta Nutrition, Trifecta Nutrition, 5 Feb. 2020, www.trifectanutrition.com/blog/


Stinson, Emma J, et al. “High Fat and SugarConsumption during Ad Libitum Intake Predicts Weight Gain.” History of theHuman Sciences, 26 Apr. 2018, doi:10.1002/oby.22124.

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