Bulking is a slow process. This isn’t necessarily because your bulking approach is wrong but when it comes to building muscle, research shows that you can only build muscle at a limited rate (naturally) and this means that calories can only be utilized up to a certain amount.
When people want to gain muscle and mass quickly though, a common bulking approach they turn to is dirty bulking. This is definitely a quick process to gain size and despite it being a dieting approach often criticized by coaches, personal trainers, and nutritionists, it’s still one of the most popular bulking approaches.
As so many people still seem to follow a dirty bulking approach, even with more modern dieting strategies available, in this article I’ll be covering the question – Is dirty bulking worth it?
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What Is Bulking
If you’re looking to build muscle mass, increase strength, or just change your physique then you might be considering bulking. Bulking is a popular approach to increasing body mass that combines a specific diet and workout routine.
Bulking involves eating a surplus amount of calories, essentially more calories than you’re burning through the day.
When bulking, this surplus of calories is controlled with a set target that you usually increase over time. This calorie surplus will be different for each individual but it’s often around the 500 calorie mark. Bulking also involves eating foods that are going to promote muscle gain, often those high in protein like meat products and vegetables.
Bulking is much more than a diet. It also involves intense workouts to ensure that this surplus of calories is benefiting muscle growth, not fat gain.
A more specific bulking option you might be familiar with is dirty bulking.
Fundamentally, dirty bulking is still bulking, but dirty bulking differs from regular, ‘clean’ bulking in that it involves an unlimited amount of calorie consumption and there aren’t any restrictions on what types of food you eat. Overall, the goal is pretty much to consume as much as possible.
You can definitely gain a huge amount of body mass in a pretty short time frame with dirty bulking and given the lack of restrictions with this approach it’s not surprising that dirty bulking is popular. But is it worth it? Below, I’m going to talk through the benefits and drawbacks of dirty bulking, so you can decide if this dieting strategy is worth it or not.
Benefits of Dirty Bulking
Benefits of dirty bulking include fast increases in body mass, the lack of restrictions on both what foods you eat and the amount you’re eating, as well as the variety of foods that you can have whilst dirty bulking.
There are various reasons why dirty bulking is popular amongst people wanting to bulk up and make gains.
Three of the main benefits of dirty bulking are:
- Dirty bulking can quickly increase body mass
- Dirty bulking has very few food restrictions
- Dirty bulking allows for more flexibility and freedom with a diet
Below I’ve explained the three top benefits of dirty bulking in more detail.
Dirty Bulking Promotes Fast Results
One of the main benefits of dirty bulking is the results.
When it comes to increasing body mass, the more calories you consume above the amount that you’re using then the more you’re going to gain. As the amount of calories you consume on a dirty bulk isn’t limited like it is with other types of bulking, then you’d expect to see more gains in body mass.
When clean bulking, increasing calories is done gradually, usually over months. With dirty bulking the results are often quicker as the number of calories you’d be consuming is high from the start. As a result, you’re likely to see results in a few weeks.
When this kind of high-calorie diet is combined with intensive training you’re likely to see changes not only in body mass but in muscle mass too. So, dirty bulking can be an effective way for people to gain body mass with benefits for increasing muscle mass too.
Dirty Bulking Has No Food Restrictions
Another benefit of dirty bulking is that there aren’t any restrictions on the number of calories you consume. In fact, more calories are encouraged. This makes dirty bulking a popular option in comparison to other diets where you constantly have to think about the calorie content of what you’re eating and have to try and reach a certain calorie goal.
So given the freedom on the number of calories you’re eating, it’s not surprising that dirty bulking is a popular option.
As with calories, there also aren’t any restrictions on what types of food you eat when dirty bulking. Typically, you would want to eat higher-calorie foods to ensure that you’re consuming as many calories as possible.
Some of the best dirty bulking foods involve those high in carbohydrate, sugar, and fat content, as they’re typically the higher calorie options. Considering that popular foods like pizza, burgers, pasta, and cheese are often restricted or completely eliminated on other diets, the lack of restrictions is definitely a benefit of dirty bulking.
With this being said though, although ‘less healthy’ options are encouraged, you can still eat healthier foods too, like nuts and nut butters which are pretty calorie and nutrient-dense, as well as those high in protein content like meat products and vegetables.
Check out the best dirty bulking foods here
Variety and Lack of Cravings
One common complaint with specific diets is the lack of variety. When clean bulking it’s easy to get stuck in a rut of eating the same meals like chicken and rice every day (I’m certainly guilty of this, it’s my go-to meal), as you’re wanting to continually hit calorie targets and track macros.
With dirty bulking, you can eat a huge variety of foods. As I mentioned earlier there aren’t any restrictions on what you eat, so no food is off-limits when dirty bulking. This means that you don’t need to stick to the same meals. It also makes eating in restaurants much easier, as again you don’t have to worry about sticking to a calorie count.
Also, as you’re eating a variety of foods and not restricting what you’re eating it’s less likely that you’d experience cravings. When you start a diet and cut out foods like chips, pizza, or cookies you might find it’s all you want to eat. With dirty bulking if you want a certain food you can have it, so you won’t be fighting intense cravings all of the time.
Drawbacks of Dirty Bulking
The main drawbacks of dirty bulking include gaining unwanted body fat from excess calorie consumption, the negative impact dirty bulking foods can have on your health especially if done long term, as well as tiredness and sluggishness when doing a dirty bulk.
Although there are benefits to dirty bulking, it also comes with some serious drawbacks and a dirty bulking diet is often a noticeable area that people make mistakes with when bulking.
Three of the main drawbacks to dirty bulking are:
- Gaining excess and unwanted body fat due to a high-calorie consumption
- Negative health benefits that include raised blood sugar, blood sugar spikes, and possible risk of diabetes
- Tiredness and sluggishness
Below I’ve covered the main 3 drawbacks you’ll see when it comes to dirty bulking in more detail.
Excess Body Fat Gained
One of the main complaints you’ll see with people who have done a dirty bulk is fat gain. In fact, this is one of the biggest issues people have in general with this approach as they quickly find they are gaining too much fat while bulking.
Obviously, the goal when bulking is to increase lean muscle mass. Increasing the number of calories you’re consuming though doesn’t necessarily translate into muscle gain.
This is physiological, involving your body’s ability to generate muscle. Essentially, the average person can build 0.5lbs of lean muscle mass every 2 weeks naturally as a beginner. As you progress this rate slows down. At this point, increasing your calorie intake isn’t necessarily going to build more muscle.
“For most people, you’ll only need a surplus of 250-500 calories each day to gain muscle. Above this, the more calories that you consume are more likely to result in fat rather than muscle gain.”
Unwanted fat gain is more likely to happen when dirty bulking as you don’t actually know what amount of calories you are consuming each day.
Each day you could be going way over what’s necessary, consuming hundreds to thousands of calories more than you actually need for muscle gain. This is going to result in changes to your body composition, involving increased fat gain.
Unwanted fat gain when dirty bulking is also related to the type of foods you’re encouraged to eat. Foods popular on a dirty bulk include those that are high in calories that are often heavily processed, with high sugar and fat contents. These kinds of foods have consistently been shown to promote fat gain.
Check out this video which explains the link between dirty bulking and fat gain:
Negative Health Impact
Another serious drawback of dirty bulking is that it can have serious negative health impacts, especially if it’s done long term.
A healthy and balanced diet is important for both mental and physical health. Consistently eating high-calorie foods, particularly those that are high in sugar and fat, can lead to an increased risk of stroke, heart disease, and plenty of other bad health impacts.
As well as being high in calories and sugar content, the foods that make up a lot of dirty bulking diets are highly processed. Again, heavily processed foods have been linked to an increased risk of serious health problems. This is because these foods spike blood sugar levels. Spikes in blood sugar levels have been linked to diabetes, as well as heart and kidney disease.
Spikes in blood sugar levels can also result in cravings. I mentioned earlier that not experiencing cravings is a benefit of dirty bulking, as you’re able to eat the foods that you want so you won’t crave them.
With this being said though, the kinds of foods encouraged when dirty bulking can be addictive. This is because when you eat sugary, carbohydrate-heavy foods they spike blood sugar levels. As this level comes down you’re left craving more.
This is probably something you’re already familiar with. Think about times when you’ve eaten cookies or other sugary foods, and can’t stop with just one. By eating these foods then you can end up on a cycle of cravings that’s hard to quit when you stop dirty bulking.
A common issue with dirty bulking is the negative impact on how you feel while doing it. Even if you haven’t done a dirty bulk you’re probably familiar with that tired feeling that can come from eating a big meal. This is natural, as when you eat your body responds by pushing increased blood to your digestive system, in order to digest the food.
When dirty bulking you’re constantly having to eat a lot of food, so you’re more likely to experience this. It’s also more common to feel like this after eating certain foods, like carbohydrates. Considering carbohydrates are a key part of dirty bulking, it’s pretty common to feel tired, sluggish, and lethargic when dirty bulking.
Feeling tired all of the time isn’t ideal, especially when you consider that a key part of dirty bulking is working out intensely.
Is Dirty Bulking Worth It?
Dirty bulking can be an effective way to increase body mass and muscle mass. However, there are serious drawbacks including its negative health impact. Overall, similar results can be achieved, without the same downsides, by clean bulking.
Ultimately it’s up to you to decide if dirty bulking is worth it for you. There are advantages to dirty bulking, including the lack of restrictions on the diet and the possibility of fast results. However, I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re looking to build muscle mass, as whilst you can build muscle you’re also likely to experience unwanted fat gain.
I feel quite strongly about this and have even produced an article about why I feel dirty bulking is a waste of time and in that, I explain a bit further about most of the cons of dirty bulking.
When it comes to dieting, the people that are most flexible with their approach, yet most committed to adhering to the approach they eventually choose will see the best results. This, however, is only true when you choose a diet that is planned out and optimal based on your individual characteristics and personal goals.
Bulking is a difficult process because the progress you see in terms of muscle gain is slow and less noticeable when looking in the mirror. This is an issue because it causes people to look into ways to speed up the process and one way of doing this is through a dirty bulk.
Dirty bulking allows you to have an excessive amount of calories in order to quickly gain weight and muscle mass. While this approach sounds good, is dirty bulking worth it?
Dirty bulking is not worth it for many people. The disadvantages of excess fat gain and potential health problems far outweigh the benefit of eating whatever you want and increasing the scale weight on a regular basis. The key to bulking is to build quality, lean muscle mass which is a slow process and something that is not achievable on a dirty bulk.