For most bodybuilders, the key to success is to combine exercise with healthy eating. We’ve all heard that a healthy, high-protein diet is best for increasing mass and staying in shape. But what about dirty bulking? What does this term mean, and is this gain method right for you?
Dirty bulking is the practice of eating calorie-dense less healthy food to help fuel rapid weight gain while bulking. While freeing the athlete to eat more of what they enjoy, the process can take a toll on one’s health, and the risks, as well as benefits, of this system should be considered.
Keep reading to learn more about the theory and practice behind dirty bulking, whether it’s worth it, and the possible gains and drawbacks of bulking this way.
What Is Dirty Bulking?
Dirty bulking sets aside dieting philosophies to focus on caloric quantity over quality or format. In other words, the goal of dirty bulking is to eat a calorie-rich diet without worrying about how healthy the food is. The idea here is that the more energy you consume, no matter the form, the faster your body can transform that caloric energy into muscle mass.
Food is consumed as quickly as possible, and the densest meals are selected to help accelerate weight gain and caloric transformation. Typically, the food is not very healthy. The goal is for that extra weight to be used to fuel muscle growth, and the body does indeed need extra energy to gain muscle.
This tactic is typically used by those just starting out with bodybuilding, but can also be used by professionals who need to bulk up quickly. It’s also employed by those with a naturally skinny frame who struggle to gain muscle or weight in general.
So what makes this diet different from traditional bulking routines? Don’t all bulking diets insist on extra calories?
How Dirty Bulking Differs From Traditional Bulking Diets
When seeking to gain muscle mass, it’s traditional to eat quite a bit of high-protein food, so that the energy consumed can be converted into muscle mass. The popular notions of which foods to use can vary, however. Some experts claim that a carb-rich diet is best, while a more contemporary trend is to avoid carbs and go for lean protein and a lot of it.
For example, most modern bulking diets are geared towards eating fairly healthy whole foods that are thought to boost testosterone and good fats naturally. These widely embraced foods include
- Fatty fish (like salmon)
- Whole dairy
- Whole grains
- Leafy greens
Such diets tend to eschew sugars and processed foods in favor of cleaner whole foods that are minimally processed and preferably organic or non-GMO.
The old-fashioned “pasta diet” (preferred in generations past and still used by some) pushes a ton of carbohydrates to induce weight gain. Pasta, rice, white bread, and other simple carbs are often used to pack on weight that can be readily converted to bulk and to muscle.
Dirty bulking pushes both of those philosophies aside and just eats anything calorie-rich within arm’s length. Whether the calories are from fat, sugar, carbs, or protein isn’t as important as how many calories the meal contains.
Meals tend to be higher in calories, and the goal is to pack as much energy as possible into each day’s worth of eating. While a typical adult diet can be anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 calories per day, a dirty bulking routine might have one consuming 3,000 or more calories per day. Those calories don’t have to balance out certain ingredients or elements so long as they’re dense and consumed at once.
This means there’s no need to be careful with what one eats, no need to measure out grams of carbs vs. protein, and no need to watch one’s diet. See food, eat food is the philosophy here. So what would one eat for an ideal dirty bulking routine? Are some food categories better than others?
The Best Choices for Dirty Bulking Foods
If you’re trying to imagine the ideal dirty bulking meal, you may have come up with something fast food related. Indeed, fast food is one of the most calorically dense meals one can eat. The combination of white bread buns, fatty beef patties, cheese, sauce, fries, and a dessert can pack a wallop.
Anything that will get the highest amount of energy into your body the quickest is preferred here. Sugary foods, meat, pastries, omelets loaded with bacon and cheese, loaded french fries, and milkshakes will all work. This food doesn’t have to be good for you in any way, shape, or form. It just has to be heavy on energy.
For example, an efficient way to dirty bulk would be to simply order the most hedonistic meal choice at Hardee’s and go for it. This diet will be heavy on fast food, dessert, buffet fare, red meat, snacks, and cheese. All the stuff you’d stay away from if trying to eat healthily, more or less. The rules and limits are essentially non-existent, so long as you’re noshing calories. The unhealthier the food is for you, frankly, the better you can dirty bulk with it. Does this system of eating have any benefits? Why would a bodybuilder opt for this routine?
What Are the Benefits of Dirty Bulking?
To be perfectly frank, the primary benefits of dirty bulking are that it’s easy to do, tastes good, and doesn’t require strict diets or skipping favorite foods. This in and of itself can be a good motivator to help jumpstart a muscle gain run, and you’ll save time versus having to carefully meal plan, pick where you eat with care, or buy healthier and more expensive foods.
Dirty bulking, as a result, can be easier on your wallet. It’s no secret that the least healthy foods tend to be the cheapest, while organic, healthy, natural foods can cost a fortune. So if you’re trying to save time, money, and effort, dirty bulking might be a desirable choice.
Noticeably, none of those reasons involve dirty bulking being especially healthy. But does this system work? Can you truly gain muscle by eating nothing but burgers and sundaes?
Is Dirty Bulking Effective?
In its basic premise, dirty bulking can help you put on muscle mass by giving you an overload of energy. It’s true that to bulk up you need to eat more and consume more calories. The more calories in your system, the more fuel your body has to convert to muscle.
If you balance out your dirty bulking with an intense and dedicated routine of workouts, fitness, and gym visits, you may find that this method helps you bulk up faster than you would have without the denser diet. So for some people, in the short term, dirty bulking can pave the way for faster muscle gain. There’s a catch, though.
Contrary to the “a calorie is just a calorie” philosophy, research does show that our bodies tend to process a candy bar differently than salmon. So eating for weight gain alone isn’t a guarantee that the added weight will be efficiently or successfully converted into muscle mass.
With dirty bulking, there’s likely to be significant weight gain in the form of body fat. If you’re putting more and more junk food into your system, your body may struggle to quickly convert that energy into healthy bulk.
Are There Health Risks With Dirty Bulking?
This brings us to our next concern, namely the possible health risks of dirty bulking. Eating mostly junk food will pack on pounds, and can cause a range of other health concerns if you carry this routine on for too long.
Junk food can be rich in sugar, preservatives, artificial ingredients, empty calories, and other components not conducive to good health. Even with an active gym routine, consuming unhealthy fast food (or entire Walmart cheesecakes) will pack on weight, spike blood sugar, and can lead to mood changes.
Chronic junk food consumption has been linked to higher risks of depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, and chronic pain. So while this diet can help some folks bulk up, it can also mess with your nervous system, wreck your natural sleep routine, and make you jumpy or unusually depressed.
If this routine is done over and over again, your health concerns may eventually include obesity, heart damage, lower energy levels, mental health issues, joint pain, and skin problems. Trying this fast bulking tactic for no more than a week at a time in conjunction with lots of gym visits may be less damaging in the long run, but it’s still a risky way to make fast gains.
It’s also possible to become addicted to tasty, fatty, sugary processed foods. So starting a dirty bulking routine can make it tougher to shift gears back to clean eating and can lead to an unhealthy craving for such foods in the future. This is especially true if your body has grown used to a healthier, more natural diet.
If you do choose to use dirty bulking, what’s the safest and least destructive way to do so?
Can I Dirty Bulk Safely?
The short answer is “maybe”, especially if you’re using dirty bulking as a new athlete seeking to jumpstart gains. In the short term, for someone who needs fast mass increases, dirty bulking can be an option if done for a week alongside intense workouts to help your weight increase rapidly.
Be sure to keep your workouts daily, intense, and consistent to ensure that the maximum amount of energy is being used to build muscle instead of turning into fat. After the first week, begin to wean yourself off of junk foods. Allow every other meal to be less healthy, while the remaining meals consist of minimally processed, healthier foods.
By week three, return your body to a whole foods diet. This three-week schedule may help you gain quickly while easing your stomach and taste buds off of junk food at a more manageable rate. This allows you to transition to healthier fats, proteins, and grains without the long-term damage you’d do by dirty bulking indefinitely.
In short, we really would begrudgingly quasi-allow dirty bulking to those completely new to bodybuilding with a naturally wiry frame who need to pack on weight quickly. It should only be done for a short time, though, and should never become an entire bulking lifestyle.
Are there ways to bulk up fast without noshing on infinite hamburgers? What alternatives to this method exist that are safer?
Alternatives to Dirty Bulking Exist
So what can you do if you’re new to bodybuilding and need to bulk up fast? A safer alternative to dirty bulking would be to focus on calorie-rich foods that are easier for your body to handle, less processed, and more carefully selected.
What sorts of foods would work well here? We recommend
- Tuna and salmon
- Organic beef
- Nut butters (natural and low-sugar varieties)
- Organic cheeses
As you can see, many of these ingredients are similar or identical to those suggested by modern bulkers to help increase testosterone and gain muscle naturally. Fish, in particular, may have benefits to brain health, especially as we age.
The mentioned foods are also dense in energy and healthy fats without all the added sugar, preservatives, and additives that can make junk food so terrible for you. Cooking these meals at home would be best, as they’ll be minimally processed, cleaner, and you’ll have better portion control.
They also taste great and can allow you to enjoy fatty, umami-rich flavors without making you unhealthy or getting you hooked on Krispy Kremes. When combined with a strong and consistent workout routine, a good night’s sleep, and healthy habits like reduced screen time, fresh air, and good hydration, this diet can help you bulk up with fewer (if any) long-term issues.
Trying yoga, meditation, walks in nature, and quitting social media can also have surprising health benefits, both mental and physical. The healthier your mind and body are, the better balanced they’ll be, and the easier physical health becomes.
This certainly beats the possible risks of dirty bulking and can help you enjoy a longer, healthier life in the process.
Dirty bulking is the process of massively increasing caloric intake through calorie-dense, typically unhealthy meals. Preferred foods for this routine include cheesy hamburgers, desserts, snacks, deep-fried foods, and anything rich in energy.
This diet can help jump-start weight gain in those finding it difficult to bulk up, and should only be tried by those new to lifting in conjunction with an intense workout routine. Ideally, this diet would be ceased within a week, with healthier foods being introduced and then fully transitioned to over the next two weeks.
Alternatives to dirty bulking include eating a fat-rich diet of whole, natural foods like organic beef, fatty fish, nuts, and eggs, ideally cooked at home. This can help one bulk up on safer ingredients, without having to detox from junk food later.
Getting enough sleep, following a healthy lifestyle, and reducing mentally unhealthy habits can also help the body work more efficiently, and lead to better health overall.
Gary David is the founder and CEO of CrazyMass, one of the nation’s leading supplement companies. Before starting CrazyMass in 2006, Gary was a bodybuilder and personal trainer for several gyms throughout Northwest Michigan, helping clients meet their fitness goals. Gary happily worked in this profession for over 15 years. He saw that most weight gaining products to increase muscle were made with ingredients that were dangerous or of poor quality. He knew there was a safer and healthier way to do this, so he created a special blend of herbs, amino acids, and nutrients to help bodybuilders slim down and gain muscle.
Although Gary no longer participates in bodybuilding competitions, he continues to be involved in the community, helping others prep for shows and attending events where he can advertise CrazyMass products. When Gary isn’t working long hours, he likes to spend his time working out at the gym, boating on Lake Michigan, traveling the trails around Northern Michigan by four-wheeler, and spending time with his family. He also loves to take a yearly trip to Europe with his wife and children.