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The Ultimate Guide To Bulking: Clean Bulk and Dirty Bulk

Are you a skinny guy looking to build muscle, get big and strong? Maybe you have tried it in the past but have struggled to gain size and strength. Then you need to know about the term “bulking”.

Like they say, “You need to eat big to get big”. But do you really need to stuff yourself to get big? Or is there another way?

The key to building size and strength is to bulk up. And you need to know the ways of bulking up so you can make the best decision for yourself.

How to gain weight

The only way you can gain weight is when you are in a calorie surplus. This means that you need to consume more calories than what your body burns.

Gaining weight vs gaining muscle

It is important to understand the difference between gaining weight and gaining muscle.

If you keep stuffing yourself with lots of food, you will gain a lot of weight as long as you are in a calorie surplus.

However, this weight gain will mostly be because of an increase in your body fat. This is the easiest way to gain weight but you end up becoming fat.

If you are extremely skinny then gaining some fat will actually make you look and feel better. But if you are already fat then it will make you even fatter.

Gaining muscle means increasing your weight by gaining lean body mass. This is a more difficult way to gain weight and it takes a lot longer than just gaining fat.

The reason is that you can gain maximum 20-25 pounds of muscle as a beginner with a good diet and sufficient sleep.

And this is in your first year of lifting. As you keep training in the gym, each year your muscle gains will keep getting slower and slower till you reach your genetic potential.

What is bulking?

Bulking is a term borrowed from the bodybuilding world where bodybuilders would spend time eating a lot of calories to get in a calorie surplus to gain size and strength.

Then as the competition would arrive, the bodybuilders would cut down the body fat by going in a calorie deficit while still trying to maintain the muscle they gained while bulking.

How does bulking help build muscle?

When your goal is to build muscle, you need to eat a surplus of calories and not just protein.

If you are in a calorie deficit where your body is not getting the required calories, you face the below problems:

  • Your body is unable to get the surplus calories for protein synthesis.
  • The calorie deficit will lower your testosterone levels and increase cortisol levels further lowering muscle growth.
  • You will not have the required energy to perform optimally at the gym thereby causing your muscle gains to suffer.

So as you can see to build muscle, you need to be in a calorie surplus and bulking will help you with that.

Clean bulking and dirty bulking

There are two types of bulking that you could use known as clean bulking or dirty bulking.

Clean bulking

Clean bulking is a type of bulking where you are going to use a moderate calorie surplus.

This means that you may consume around 100-200 additional calories above your TDEE. So it is important to track your calories every day and make sure you just eat that much and not more.

Since you will be in a small calorie surplus, you will gain a minimal amount of fat while gaining muscle.

Note that clean bulking has nothing to do with eating clean foods. You could be making use of flexible dieting but you are restricting your calorie surplus to about 200 calories.

The benefits of clean bulking

  • Since you are in a moderate calorie surplus you will gain fat at a relatively slow speed.
  • Clean bulking will help you stay relatively lean and avoid feeling tired or lethargic.
  • When clean bulking, you will not get overweight and so avoid health issues such as a risk of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and blood pressure problems.

The disadvantages of clean bulking

  • As part of clean bulking, you will have to be precise in tracking your calories so you are in a moderate calorie surplus.
  • Since you will be gaining weight relatively slowly with clean bulking, your strength gains will also be relatively slower when compared to dirty bulking.

How you can start a clean bulk

  1. First, you need to to know your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) precisely before you can begin a clean bulk. Check out this post on how to calculate your TDEE accurately.
  2. Once you know your TDEE, add about 200 calories to that. This will give you the number of calories that you need to consume daily for the clean bulk.
  3. Track the calories that you consume daily using a calorie tracking tool such as MyFitnessPal.
  4. Weigh yourself daily at the same time and take an average at the end of the week. If you are gaining about 1 pound a week, then you are doing great with your clean bulk. If you are not gaining weight or losing weight then you need to consume more calories. Try adding another 100-200 calories and repeat from step 3.

Dirty bulking

Dirty bulking is a type of bulking where you don’t care about tracking your calories.

Basically, you eat whatever you want whenever you want. This has the potential to put you in an extremely large calorie surplus that will make you gain a lot of fat while trying to gain muscle.

So, you could eat junk foods or clean foods for dirty bulking. It does not matter as long as you are stuffing yourself each day.

Sounds good? Well, it does have its benefits and drawbacks.

The benefits of dirty bulking

  • As you know, most junk foods contain tons of calories. So it is relatively easy to get into a calorie surplus than just eating clean foods. This can be especially beneficial if you are someone who finds it difficult to eat a lot of food and put on weight.
  • Dirty bulking can be quite enjoyable because you can eat whatever foods that you enjoy such as pizza, burgers, shakes, etc. It does not matter as long as it contains a lot of calories.
  • Junk food is usually a lot cheaper than cleaner options. This means you can save a lot of money when you are on a dirty bulk eating junk food.
  • Going on a dirty bulk is very simple and easy. You don’t need to track your calories or keep track of what you need to buy from the grocery store. All you need to do is eat a lot of food.

The disadvantages of dirty bulking

  • Dirty bulking is all about eating without worrying about calories. As a result, you will be putting on a lot of fat.
  • Since you are consuming a lot of junk food that is high in saturated fats, sodium, and sugar, your health could be affected in the long run. You could end up risking heart disease, diabetes, blood pressure, and stroke if you continue eating such foods for a long period of time.
  • You may lack getting sufficient amount of macronutrients and micronutrients when you are just consuming junk food. A lot of junk food is devoid of vitamins, fiber, and minerals. Also, it may be difficult to get the sufficient amount of protein, fats, and carbohydrates when you are on a dirty bulk.
  • Eating empty calories from junk food may end up making you feel tired and lethargic all the time. As we know, such foods don’t give you much in terms of vitamins and minerals, so you end up feeling bad. This could also affect your performance in the gym over the long run.

How to dirty bulk

There is nothing really to say when it comes to dirty bulking. All you need to do is to keep eating a lot of food to get as many calories as possible.

The only thing you need to do is weigh yourself each week and check whether you are eating sufficient calories to gain weight. If not, then you need to eat even more otherwise continue eating like you are.

Should you clean bulk or dirty bulk?

There is probably no right or wrong answer to this question.

If you are very skinny, then it might make sense to go for a dirty bulk if you are comfortable with eating a lot of food and don’t want to track your calories.

Regardless of whether you use a clean bulk or a dirty bulk, you are going to gain fat. But the amount of fat you gain on a clean bulk will be a lot less than on a dirty bulk.

My opinion is that if you already are a bit fat, maybe about 15% body fat then you should not go for any kind of bulk but try to cut down to about 12% body fat before considering a bulk.

If you are lean, then whether you choose a clean bulk or dirty bulk is your personal choice. It really comes down to how comfortable you are with your body when you have a bit of fat on it.

If you don’t like getting fat and want to stay relatively lean and healthy then you should clean bulk.

If you don’t mind getting fat while wanting to gain strength and enjoy eating food, then you can go for a dirty bulk.

Just remember that you will need to cut down that fat later on when you want to get lean again and that will take some time and effort depending on your genetics.

My recommendation is to go on a clean bulk for most beginners because it is much more easy to track your calories so that you are getting the right amount of macronutrients and micronutrients.

This will ensure that you are making the optimal gains that you should be. Also, you won’t get disappointed by getting too fat like you would going on a dirty bulk.

And a clean bulk will keep you feeling fit and healthy and you will enjoy your workouts a lot more.

You don’t need to eat 100% clean foods on a clean bulk. Rather, you could use something called as flexible dieting.

Here, you could eat about 80% of your calories from clean foods and the remaining 20% from junk foods or foods that you enjoy.

This will keep you sane instead of restricting the food choices that you make so you can continue on your healthy diet for a long period of time. And it will keep you healthy and be able to give your best performance in the gym.


I hope this post has provided you with all the information regarding bulking.

Now, you should be able to make the right choice when deciding whether you want to go on a clean bulk or a dirty bulk to build maximum muscle and strength.

If you have any questions when it comes to bulking or building muscle, let me know in the comments.

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