What is Bulking and is Clean better than Dirty?

A debate that has been raging for years amongst gym goers is whether to clean bulk or dirty bulk. DESIblitz sheds light on which bulking method is better.

What is Bulking and is Clean better than Dirty?

Dirty bulking leads to a constant cycle of disappointment

Bulking is a fitness term used to describe when someone is looking to get bigger in terms of building more muscle mass.

Despite what their names may allude to, clean and dirty bulking isn’t defined by the types of foods you eat but by how many overall calories you consume.

Everybody has a maintenance level of calories which is where you eat enough food to maintain your current weight.

Therefore, those looking to gain weight, bulk up, or build muscle will have to consume more calories than their maintenance level i.e. be in a caloric surplus.

The two most popular diet methods you hear gym goers debate about when it comes to muscle building are clean and dirty bulking.

Differences Between Clean Bulking and Dirty Bulking


Both methods involve being in a caloric surplus (eating more calories than you burn each day) as the extra energy is needed to synthesise new muscle tissue.

A clean bulk is a smaller, more controlled caloric surplus with the goal of building muscle at a gradual pace whilst minimising gains in body fat.

In comparison, a dirty bulk is a much larger surplus that will cause weight gain at a much faster rate and will also result in a much higher increase in body fat percentage.

For either method, what you would firstly need to do is work out what your calorie maintenance level is and then increase that number by a set amount to encourage new muscle growth.

Clean Bulking and Its Benefits


The recommended intake of calories for a clean bulk is a 15 per cent increase from your maintenance level.

However, everyone is different and this may be too much or too little for lean muscle gains.

Our recommended approach is, after having worked out your maintenance level, increase your daily caloric intake by 100 calories and try that for a week.

If you’re not gaining any weight, increase that number by another 100 calories until you’re gaining about half a pound per week.

Those partaking in a clean bulk will have to grow accustom to the meticulous nature that comes with it; everything that you eat must be weighed beforehand in order to ensure you are consuming your correct caloric intake.

Clean Bulking vs Dirty Bulking additional image 7

Because of this methodical approach, clean bulkers are much more likely to adhere to a strict diet full of healthy nutrient dense foods which will help contribute to minimising fat gains whilst maximising the amount of lean muscle gains.

The weighing scales will also become your best friend in order to track weight gain and make sure you aren’t gaining too quickly.

Although this method won’t yield significantly noticeable results in the short term, just be patient as dirty bulking will only lead to misery.

Dirty Bulking and Its Disadvantages


The human body can only build a set amount of lean muscle mass over a set period of time and continuously shoving more calories down your throat will not speed up this process; these extra calories will unquestionably turn into fat.

For example, if you increase your daily calories by a few hundred resulting in weight gain of one pound a week and four pounds per month. That will mean in the space of a year you will put on 48 pounds and, realistically, not much of this will be lean muscle mass.

The mindset of many dirty bulkers is that they’ll ‘put on mass’ for a few months then get lean after they’ve attained the muscle.

Even if you eat clean, healthy, lean foods on a dirty bulk fat gains will not subside if the calories are still well above maintenance.

This is a common mistake beginners make, particularly if they start on the skinnier side because all they care about is getting bigger no matter what the consequences are.

After a few months of dirty bulking you will realise that you’ve put on more fat than you expected and will reluctantly have to go on a cut (calorie deficit) and try to shed some of that excess blubber.

That will mean any gains in muscle mass that you had made in those few months will be lost and you will be back at square one.

Psychological Effects of Dirty Bulking

Clean Bulking vs Dirty Bulking

The long-term psychological effects of dirty bulking are difficult to cope with as it is a constant cycle of disappointment.

You will either be fat but strong or skinny but lean; no real progress is made using this method and you will be one of those guys at the gym whose physique stays exactly the same year after year.

Both methods will result in gains in body fat but, via the clean bulking route, it is much more controlled and will result in far fewer weeks of being on a caloric deficit diet when the bulk ends and summer approaches.

It cannot be expressed enough that it is so much more difficult to get lean again after dirty bulking compared to clean bulking.

When it comes to bulking the tale of the tortoise and the hare springs to mind; in this instance, slow but steady will definitely end up winning the race.

Amo is a history graduate with a fondness for nerd culture, sport, video games, YouTube, podcasts and mosh pits: "Knowing is not enough, we must APPLY. Willing is not enough, we must DO."

Images courtesy of Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, Seannal.com, NeverFearFailure.com, BarsAndStripesFitness.com, HealthAndFitnessSociety.com and GenerationIron.com

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