Last Updated: Jan 23, 2018
There's basically two approaches to bulking up when looking to gain weight and pack on some muscle mass.
You've got the "clean bulk" approach where you calculate roughly how many calories you need to eat every day to maintain your current weight (15 x your weight in pounds), add on a few hundred calories to help stimulate new muscle growth, and then try to stick within those boundaries day in and day out as you train hard in the gym.
Then there's the "dirty bulk" approach, where instead of counting calories you pretty much adopt a "see-food" diet. That is, eat every god damn thing in sight!
Both have their pros and cons, and either can work to gain weight and muscle, but in hindsight after over a decade in the gym there is a clear winner if you value getting the best results possible for the hard work you put in the gym and the kitchen.
1) This is reason enough to cut out dirty bulking from your muscle building strategy once and for all.
Your body can physically only build a limited amount of new muscle tissue over any given day/week/month.
Read that again so it can sink in because it's important to really understand: no matter how much you eat and how hard you train, there is a limit to how fast your muscles grow.
Some beginners fall into the trap of thinking that if you eat more, you'll gain more. But that couldn't be further from the truth.
So what does this mean for your muscle building diet?
Once you reach a certain amount of calories in a given day - ideally a few hundred calories ABOVE your "maintenance" calorie level so you can generate muscle growth in the first place - there's absolutely no reason to go higher.
Once protein synthesis has been maxed out, any additional calories will simply be stored as excess body fat.
Which leads us to the next reason to ditch the dirty bulk once and for all.
2) With a dirty bulk, and therefore gaining more unwanted body fat than you would otherwise, you're only making things harder for yourself down the track when you want to burn that fat and get ripped.
This is assuming you want to get ripped of course, but I'm assuming you do because most guys don't just want to bulk up but they wan't to be lean as well.
Most people prefer having a lean, fitness-model physique as opposed to the bulky bodybuilder look (I'm no different). It looks better and it's healthier overall.
Cutting fat is a tedious, long, and often difficult process to go through, and the more extra fat you gain during your bulking phase, the harder (and longer) you're making your cutting phase.
3) Dirty bulking will lead you down the road of average, back and forth results.
You find a lot of guys get stuck in the back and forth process of bulking up quickly and gaining quite a bit of fat along with a little bit of muscle (because remember you can't physically build too much muscle THAT fast), and then losing motivation because of the excess baggage and quickly switching over to a serious cutting cycle and then losing quite a bit of their gains as they really try to burn all that fat off with a caloric deficit and a ton of cardio.
In other words, they're stuck in short term thinking like a hamster on a wheel trying to chase that elusive carrot in front of them. I've been stuck in this yo-yo cycle of bulking and cutting in the past, so I'm not judging here.
But if you adopt a longer term focus and bulk cleanly and more SLOWLY, and then cut more slowly, you're minimizing both the excess fat gain during your bulking phase and minimizing the muscle loss when you switch over to a caloric deficit.
So ditch the dirty bulk for good, do a little pre-planning with your caloric intake when packing on that mass, and you'll be glad you did as you won't have to endure seemingly endless, tedious cutting periods, and you'll be maximizing your muscle gains anyway.
As a general guideline I would aim for a surplus of 200-400 calories per day ABOVE your maintenance caloric intake).
Is Dirty Bulking Ever a Good Idea?
There are times when dirty bulking just *might* be an option to consider.
Heck, when I first started on my journey to gain weight and build muscle, I did many dirty bulks and whilst they weren't the most effective way to go about things - they did work to finally put some meat on my bones as I had tried and tried to gain weight for a long time before that with no results.
As a scrawny noob with a high metabolism, going all out and eating everything in sight may just what you need to kick start some growth because you tend to underestimate just how much food you actually need to take in to bulk up compared to what you were eating before in your skinny days.
And eating everything in sight and dirty bulking is probably better than not bulking up at all....so everything has its place.
But looking back I would do things a little differently, because I took dirty bulking a little too far in my first few years in the gym and had to spend so much time in cutting phases to get rid of all that excess fat which wasn't fun. At least not compared to bulking.
If I had to do it all again I'd definitely stick to clean bulking as much as possible to minimize the cutting work I'd have to do later down the track. A little planning ahead now will help you in the long run.
So next time you think of pounding down every burger and extreme-calorie mass-gainer protein shake in sight on your quest to bulk up - think again.
Or don't, and learn the hard way with an agonizingly boring, literally painful cutting phase that never seems to end. Cutting is hard; why do you think 6 pack abs are so rare? Don't make it any harder than it already is by dirty bulking your way to a big beer belly.
To recap, a clean bulk is ideal because:
For discerning readers who are thinking, but what about building muscle and burning fat at the same time? Isn't that possible? Short and simple answer? Nope.
Unless you're a genetic freak, or you're on the 'roids, it's just not going to happen unfortunately and you have to accept some sort of fat gain when on a mass-gain program and diet.
I'm not saying it's completely impossible, but the odds are you won't pull it off and you'll spin your wheels. Try to chase two rabbits, ie bulking and cutting at the same time, and you'll likely catch neither.
But with a clever approach to your bulk, you can seriously minimize your body fat gains, maximize your muscle gains, and you'll be a happy (and fit, good-looking and healthy) camper.