Bulking and cutting cycles are big in bodybuilding, as well as certain sports, such as wrestling and MMA. In these circles, people frequently switch between periods where they try to get bigger (bulking) and slim down (cutting).
There are many different ways to go about bulking and cutting. In this post we're going to look at one of the more controversial options - dirty bulking. We'll share all you need to know about how a dirty bulking diet works, and whether or not this form of accelerated weight gain is right for you.
What is Dirty Bulking?
Dirty bulking is a way to get as big as possible, as fast as possible. It's intended to help you put on both lean muscle mass and fat, for a big overall weight gain.
A bulking diet involves putting your body in a high-calorie surplus, where the calories you take in significantly outnumber the calories you burn in a day.
And it’s a no holds barred approach, generally allowing the person to eat anything they want in order to gain weight fast (although that’s not always the best idea, as we will discuss later).
What is the Purpose of Dirty Bulking?
The purpose of a dirty bulk regimen is to put on a significant amount of weight and muscle mass, in a short time.
Whether it's for aesthetics, for performance, or any other reason, the person wants to gain weight, a lot of weight, fast. Either they need to gain weight as quickly as possible, or want to do so without cutting out the foods they love (and they don't care about excess fat gain as well as muscle).
Does Dirty Bulking Work?
A dirty bulk diet is certainly effective for weight gain. There's a clear formula for gaining weight: simply take in more calories than you put out.
Dirty bulking satisfies this, by putting you in a huge caloric surplus.
Often, however, dirty bulking is done with the intention of putting on muscle mass more so than body fat. In this case, it really depends on a number of factors, to do with how you execute your dirty bulk.
If your calorie surplus is big enough, you should add muscle - a 10-20% surplus is generally required to build muscle.
But you need to ensure that you're getting enough protein. Also, some kind of resistance training, such as lifting weights, is essential to stimulate muscle growth.
Without adequate protein intake and exercise, your dirty bulk might end up in a lot of unwanted fat gain and not much else.
Who is a Dirty Bulk Ideal For?
A dirty bulk works for anyone who wants to put on a serious amount of weight.
For example, bodybuilders, who might go on a hard bulking cycle, followed by a cut to lean out and chip away all the fat they’ve put on.
It might also be used by underweight people, who for aesthetic or health reasons, want to build out their frame with fat and muscle.
Athletes are another group who often use dirty bulking to promote weight gain. Some will put on a lot of weight in the offseason, knowing that when full-time training starts again, they'll burn enough calories to slim down (and hopefully keep their muscle gains).
Martial arts fighters in particular do dirty bulks a lot, to boost themselves to higher weight classes, or just maintain mass during a camp. Take Mike Tyson, for example, who used to eat 4,000 calories daily.
How to Do a Dirty Bulk
You might think of a dirty bulk as a “no rules” diet. Anything goes, just eat as many calories as possible.
That's close to the truth. However, while calorie intake is the overall goal, you should make sure that in addition to your calorie-dense foods, you also get enough protein in your diet too. You'll need at least 2.2 grams of protein per KG of body weight to build muscle, assuming moderate activity levels.
You should also do some kind of strength training, to stimulate muscle growth.
But the biggest challenge of doing a dirty bulk is getting enough calories. It might seem easy - just eat whatever you want, right? But you can get to the point where you just don’t feel like eating, but you’re not at a huge caloric surplus.
Focus on high calorie, nutrient-dense foods full of healthy fats, to get more calories in before you feel full. Also, save your protein until the end of the meal, as protein makes you feel full quicker.
Also, being active can help you get extra calories in. Even though a workout increases your calorie output, it also increases appetite, which may help you eat more over the day.
Potential Benefits of Dirty Bulking
Let’s look at a few possible benefits of a dirty bulk approach.
The first is simple. It’s the reason most people go to the gym, or plan their diet. They want to look good.
Of course, for many people, their aesthetic goals are the opposite. They want to lose weight to look better. However, some people are naturally skinny, and look better if they're able to put on weight (even if a lot of this added weight is more body fat).
Can Support Muscle Mass Gain
We generally need a calorie surplus to gain muscle. Over time, you’ll build muscle with regular training and a light caloric surplus - but it will certainly take time. You can see bigger and quicker gains if you increase this surplus. Just be prepared to see some fat gains at the same time.
Can Support High-Output Athletic Performance
High-end athletes often have a ridiculous caloric intake. That’s because they need a huge amount of fuel for their intense training schedule.
We mentioned Mike Tyson’s 4,000-calorie diet earlier. But there are even more extreme examples, such as Michael Phelps, who used to eat between 8,000-10,000 calories per day.
Even if you’re not a heavyweight champion or olympian, a large calorie intake may help support high-output activity, such as training for a marathon.
Potential Downsides of a Dirty Bulk
Here are some potential issues from doing a dirty bulk.
Unwanted Body Fat and Weight Gain
When the idea of your dirty bulk is to put on muscle, the added weight in other areas (namely fat) may be an unwelcome addition.
While a dirty bulk should help you put on more muscle vs clean bulking diets, it's virtually impossible to do so without a lot of added fat too.
Eating Too Much Junk Food
While being allowed to eat junk food might be fun, it's not great for your overall health long-term. Continuing a dirty bulk for an extended time can have a lot of negative effects on your health, such as high blood pressure, insulin spikes, and increased risk of heart disease.
Can Make You Sluggish
The effect of a high caloric intake on elevated blood sugar levels, and the increased stress on your digestive system make it easy to feel tired and sluggish from a dirty bulk.
The result is added body weight from gaining fat, and less motivation to carve out the body composition you are after.
How Quickly Can I Grow Muscle on a Dirty Bulk?
There’s a limit to how fast you can gain muscle, even on a dirty bulk.
You're generally looking at potentially gaining muscle at a rate of 0.5-1 lbs per week on a bulk. Not all of this is going to be muscle, either.
That’s about the limit, as long as you do it naturally. Some people may find it easier or harder to put on weight than others, but either way, you shouldn’t expect huge gains right away.
Dirty Bulk vs Clean Bulk: What's the Difference?
As opposed to dirty bulking, clean (lean) bulking is a more measured approach to gaining weight and more muscle mass without the unwanted fat gain.
With clean bulking, your aim is still a caloric surplus. However, it's intended to minimize fat gain, as well as maintain better overall health.
A clean bulk regimen is a healthy diet that avoids ultra-processed foods, high calorie foods with added carbohydrates, and junk food with processed sugars.
The result is building muscle with a leaner physique, as well as being able to stick with your clean bulk diet long-term without negative health consequences.
Is There a Healthy Way to Dirty Bulk?
Dirty bulking doesn’t always have to be unhealthy.
You don't have to eat pizza and ice cream all day. It's possible to get a lot of extra calories while still getting a balanced nutrient intake, and avoiding a lot of the unhealthy parts of a traditional dirty bulk diet, namely the negative health effects.
What To Eat
You want to look for healthy foods with a significant calorie surplus, which also have a good overall nutritional profile.
Here are some examples:
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grain carbs
- Dried fruit
- Beans & legumes
- Healthy fats (olive oil)
- Protein powders and mass gain formulas
An easy way to start the day during a bulk is to drink a shake with our weight gainer protein supplement, Naked Mass. Each serving delivers a whopping 1250 calories, and 50 grams of premium whey and casein protein ideal for muscle growth and recovery.
What Not To Eat
Avoid eating junk food, fast food, processed foods, and artificial sugars. Ultra-processed food intake will help you put on weight, but do so with a lot of unwanted extras.
Simple carbs are another thing you might want to avoid. Things like baked goods, cereals, and sodas are all high in calories, but may result in spiking blood sugar levels, so they are not great if you want to dirty bulk in a healthy way.
Also, avoid low-calorie foods. While these are good for overall health, filling up on light foods will make it tough to reach the caloric surplus you need for a bulk, without resorting to unhealthy junk foods (check out our protein brownie mix for a quick delicious, healthy, satisfying treat).
Bottom Line on Dirty Bulking: Should I Try It?
Dirty bulking is a little extreme for most. While effective for weight gain, you run a big risk of long-term health consequences if you maintain this diet for too long.
It is possible to dirty bulk without sacrificing your health, but it takes a lot of planning and preparation.
Most people will be better off with a clean bulk. You’ll gain weight and muscle slower, but this diet is more realistic to stick with long-term.
In time, with consistency, you'll still experience weight and muscle gain, and you'll do it while keeping a clean bill of health.