When it comes to “bulking season” a lot of people debate the clean bulk vs dirty bulk method. I have very strong opinions on this subject and believe that if your goal is to have a ripped and solid looking physique for the majority of the year you should follow a clean bulk.
This article is going to break down the pros and cons of the clean bulk vs the dirty bulk.
Let’s first dive into what a “bulking period” is and then i will take a step back and go into the definition of a clean bulk vs a dirty bulk.
A bulking period is a time when you are consuming a calorie surplus in order to give you body the best chance of building lean muscle mass. A calorie surplus is when you consume more calories than your metabolism burns throughout the day. It takes a calorie surplus to gain lean muscle mass and the best way to pack on mass in a short amount of time is with a bulk.
Most guys will consume anywhere from 500 to 1,000 extra calories per day during their bulking period in hopes of gaining a lot of weight in a short amount of time. It is not uncommon for guys bulking up to gain 20-25 lb. in a span of a few months.
Now that we have that covered lets define what a “dirty bulk” is.
What is a dirty bulk?
A dirty bulk is a flexible dieting term that literally means you can eat whatever you want as long as it is in line with your macros. For example, if you figure out that about 4,500 calories is needed for your bulking period, you can consume whatever you want as long as it fits into that calorie profile.
Nothing is off limits on a dirty bulk and I mean nothing! Pizza, donuts, cookies, candy, ice cream – I’m getting hungry just thinking about all of the different things you can enjoy on a dirty bulk!
So what is the problem with a dirty bulk?
The first issue is that although you are consuming around the same amount of calories on a dirty bulk, you aren’t factoring in your hormones.
Spiking your insulin with high sugar and unhealthy carbohydrates is undoubtedly going to lead to a lot of additional fat storage. Although it is strategic to spike your insulin levels post workout it will cause you to store excess body fat at other times of the day.
The other problem is that consuming super high calorie foods like cheesecake, ice cream, and pizza makes it hard to stay under your calorie limit. Many guys on a dirty bulk who are stuffing their face with pizza, burgers, fries, and ice cream will be consuming in excess of 6,000 calories a day! This makes it awfully hard to get ripped for the summer time when you are stuffing your face and gaining 1-2 lbs of fat per week.
The third problem is that consuming a bunch of empty processed calories can play havoc on your overall health and immune system. Bodybuilding alone can take a toll on your system and if you are consuming a bunch of junk along with your strenuous workouts you are just asking for trouble.
What is a Clean Bulk?
A clean bulk is another strategy where you have a strategic amount of calories you are consuming over maintenance (I like to stick to 500 over maintenance when bulking) and you stick with whole natural foods during your bulk.
A good rule of thumb is stick with foods that only have 1 ingredient. This is basically the typical bodybuilding diet where you are eating very “clean” but in a calorie surplus.
What type of foods are on the clean bulk diet? Lets take a look:
- Lean Proteins: chicken, fish, turkey, lean grass bed beef, egg whites, tofu, whey protein, casein protein, cottage cheese
- Complex Carbohydrates: black beans, whole grain rice, oatmeal, quinoa, sweet potatoes, red skin potatoes, fruits, vegetables
- Healthy Fats: avocado, coconut oil, chia seeds, olive oil, nut butters, cashews, almonds, peanuts, brazil nuts, whole eggs
The benefit to a clean bulk diet is that you will maximize your lean muscle gains, anabolic muscle building hormones and immune system all while minimizing your fat storage. If you are serious about bodybuilding and looking to compete I suggest that you follow the clean bulk protocol.
The main disadvantage with the clean bulk is that you have to “eat clean” without much balance in your diet. This can lead to occasional binging and horrible food cravings. I can’t tell you the amount of times that I have woken up in the middle of the night craving a piece of cheesecake or a box of pop tarts! Yes – I would eat the entire box if I could!
What’s the best strategy? Clean Bulking vs. Dirty Bulking
The best bulking strategy is without a doubt a combination of both clean bulking and dirty bulking. I recommend that you stick with the 80/20 principle at the bare minimum. This means that you eat clean for 80 percent of the time and you eat dirty 20 percent of the time. Clean bulking vs. Dirty bulking does not have to be that complicated. Its all in moderation.
Optimal Clean Bulking vs. Dirty Bulking for Fat Loss/Lean Muscle
I stick closer to the 95-5 rule where I eat clean all week and allow myself 2 cheat meals of whatever I happen to be craving. This past week, my cheat meals included 3 red velvet cake donuts and a big dish of Pad Thai! Yes – I make my cheat meals count. Clean bulking vs dirty bulking means that I am not going to starve myself of the things I truly enjoy the most.
A bodybuilding diet doesn’t have to be boring. There are many things that clean bulking vs dirty bulking can entail. Stick with a healthy diet most of the time and you will reap tremendous benefits long term. If you happen to crave something throughout the week work it into your 20 percent dirty bulk and continue to follow your regimen. Balance is key for long term results!