There is often a lot of meticulous work that goes into a cutting phase, people will calculate their macros precisely, choose specific food groups that are nutrient dense and eat to fuel their body. When it comes to bulking however, this careful planning often gets completely ignored.
Bulking season for the majority is a time when you can consume a large quantity of calories, usually from foods that are lower in nutrient density (you might call them junk foods) and something that couldn’t really be consumed on a cut.
It’s a time when you can get a bit slack in your dieting and the general response is “It’s ok, I’m bulking”. A bulking phase is a growing phase so it’s the time when you can make the most improvements to your physique, I can fully understand wanting to be a bit looser in your food choices but what I’ll never understand is the dirty bulking mentality.
Like I mentioned, bulking is a prime time to improve your physique and most people should be focusing on this phase the most for long term progress.
Why dirty bulking Is a waste of time! Dirty bulking is a waste of time because as you accumulate more body fat it becomes increasingly more difficult to build more muscle mass. The higher you body fat percentage the less optimal your nutrient partitioning and hormonal responses to resistance training are.
There are countless methods that you can employ for a successful bulk and I’ve covered dozens of methods on this site from lean bulking vs a bulk and cut approach, bulking with a low appetite and how to minimize fat gain on a bulk.
Excessive fat gain when bulking not only prolongs the time you’ll then need to be on a cut for but also slows down the rate of muscle growth during a bulk. This is mostly down to hormonal balance for testosterone and insulin sensitivity and also less efficient nutrient partitioning.
What Is Dirty Bulking
Dirty bulking is a style of bulking that essentially means you don’t track your daily calorie or macro intake and the majority of your diet is made up of junk foods.
Just to be clear I’m not hating on junk food and strongly disagree with classifying food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ because this creates a strong psychological association with food that can be damaging when dieting.
Junk food in this instance is of course foods that are high in calories with a lower nutrient density (loaded with sugars or fats) that you are typically restricted to when cutting.
These are your pizzas, burgers, takeaways, crisps, sweets and snacks that you crave on a diet and then indulge on during a dirty bulk. This isn’t a healthy way to diet from a mental aspect and is definitely not ideal for building muscle.
You can of course include these foods when calories are high and you are bulking but usually an 80/20 rule is best for both body composition and adherence to a diet. This means 80% of your food comes from nutrient dense sources and 20% are your ‘junk’ foods.
Bulking should not be an excuse to indulge and try to justify it as a facilitator for muscle growth and a dirty bulk is the worst possible route you can go down when building a physique.
Why Dirty Bulking Is a Waste of Time
Dirty bulking is a waste of time purely for the reason of gaining unnecessary amounts of excess body fat. Keeping all factors the same, the more fat you accumulate the worse your physique will look and perform and this is the key issue with dirty bulking.
A successful bulk should see you carefully tracking your calories and weight to ensure that your progress is more a result of building muscle and not gaining fat. When I say carefully tracking I don’t mean that you can’t have any flexibility in your diet but rather you need to monitor and adjust based on how you respond to your caloric intake.
Dirty bulking however throws that concept out of the window! The aim of a dirty bulk is to eat as much as possible in order to gain as much weight as possible and this is with the intention of building more muscle mass.
This can often be an innocent mistake, it’s easy to get caught up and assume that the more the scale goes up the more muscle you are building as a result. Chasing scale weight is however a dangerous game to play when bulking.
You can only build muscle at a limited rate despite what marketing campaigns would have you believe, the quicker your scale weight goes up the more likely that this is due to water retention and fat gain with only a small percentage actually being muscle mass.
On average a beginner could hope to build 1lb of muscle every few weeks with expectations being 25lbs gained in your first year of training. After this the progress slows dramatically and you’ll be doing well to gain 1lb of muscle in a month.
At a more advanced level you are looking at a few pounds of new muscle tissue over the course of an entire year! (source)
Therefore you can see that trying to push the scale weight at a rapid rate does not necessarily mean that you are packing on muscle mass in the process. The harsh reality is that the quicker you gain weight the more likely it is to be excess body fat.
If your goal is to build muscle mass then a dirty bulk can still do this of course as a caloric surplus will facilitate the repairing and growth of muscle tissue however it’s the amount of excess body fat you incur as a result that is the issue.
What Happens If You Dirty Bulk
When dirty bulking we’ve covered that the likely scenario is that you will gain a significant amount of body fat in the process, this is true of most body types even if you think you need to dirty bulk as a hardgainer.
Simply gaining extra bad fat is not the only issue when it comes to dirty bulking though but is rather the trigger for a chain of events.
The first being that the more body fat you accumulate the easier it becomes to then store additional body fat from then on. The reason for this is nutrient partitioning.
Some are blessed with ideal genetics in that everything they eat is shuttled to the muscles and minimal amounts of surplus calories are stored in the way of body fat. For others you might have pulled the short straw and tend to store body fat regardless of what you consume.
For everyone else in between you likely have an even balance of where your calories are utilized. The goal of course is to utilize calories more for muscle growth than fat storage but it’s not always that simple.
Weight training and consuming the right kinds of foods will help with nutrient partitioning as your actions are signaling your body to utilize the calories for your muscles in terms of protein synthesis and muscle glycogen storage.
There is of course a limit to this and this is when dirty bulking tips the balance. Once you’ve maxed out your glycogen stores in the muscles (there is a limit) then your body is left with a few options with what to do, either excrete the surplus calories or store them for future requirements.
The storing for future requirements is of course in the form of body fat. This is where people that are over weight quickly spiral out of control. The more calories you consume the easier it is to store as body fat as your metabolism slows down and more likely your energy expenditure alongside this.
When you are lean at a low body fat level (around 10%) your body is highly efficient with calories, the bigger the surplus and more body fat you have the less efficient you can utilize calories and the more body fat you store as a result.
Therefore dirty bulking often starts a snowball effect of accumulating fat a quicker rate and equally slowing down the rate of muscle growth. This is also why a failure to track your calorie intake will lead to an overconsumption of calories for most people.
With a higher body fat level comes the next issue of hormonal balance, particularly in the form of testosterone production and insulin sensitivity. Both these vital muscle building processes become dampened the higher your body fat percentage and this makes building new muscle incredibly difficult to do.
Insulin sensitivity links in with nutrient partitioning and dictates how you utilize carbohydrates in the body, either for immediate energy, to be stored as muscle glycogen or the worst case scenario as body fat. The higher your calorie surplus and more body fat you have the less sensitive you are to insulin.
This leads to a host of problems when utilizing carbs and the outcome is once again putting on more body fat.
Finally, while it’s not exactly a direct result of dirty bulking it needs to be noted that the more body fat you put on the longer it will take to cut down and reveal your physique underneath.
Cutting diets don’t need to be excessively difficult but the more body fat you have the longer it well take to lose and the more frustrating a cutting phase can become. Therefore dirty bulking doesn’t only affect your current physique but also your future physique as well.
Does Bulking Actually Work
Bulking is the single best process you can do (besides taking performance enhancing drugs but we’ll leave that to professional bodybuilders!) to build muscle and ultimately a physique.
It’s inevitable that you will gain some body fat when bulking and this is true even when taking a lean bulking approach but the goal should be to minimize fat gain whilst still providing an ideal environment for muscle growth.
Therefore I don’t want to say that a dirty bulk is an incorrect approach to take as keeping all other factors the same through training and recovery you should still build muscle, the only issue with a dirty bulk is the unnecessary amount of body fat you accumulate as a result.
How to Know When You Should Stop Bulking
If you are truly committed to going down the route of dirty bulking despite my best effort to persuade you otherwise then you should at least know when you should stop bulking.
When cutting you can either do it until you look a certain way (visible 6 pack), get to a certain weight or preferably a specific body fat percentage. When bulking however it becomes a bit more difficult to evaluate.
When bulking, and especially on a dirty bulk, you should look to stop a bulk at around 15% body fat. This may seem low for some or too high for others but for most people this is around the level when your abs are no longer visible.
This is an important point to note as you are now getting into the territory where fat gains can come around quickly and it starts off the snowball effect that I mentioned earlier.
Therefore 15% is a good time to reset, get back down to a lower body fat level where your body will start to function more efficiently again and then restart the bulking process. A dirty bulk will mean you get to that 15% level much quicker but if you are going to dirty bulk at least do it with a damage limitation system in place!
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