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Last updated: Jan 10, 2022
5 min read

Dirty bulking: what is it, results, and risks

Dirty bulking is a dieting strategy used by people looking to gain weight. It involves packing in calorie-dense foods like snackfoods and junk. Clean bulking, on the other hand, involves more health-conscious food choices. While dirty bulking will help you pack on the pounds, it can also lead to health problems and might not be the best choice.

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Imagine following a diet that lets you eat anything you want. Pizza, hamburgers, and ice cream––sound appealing? 

For people looking to get more muscle and bulk up quickly, the math may be simple. You need to consume 2,800 calories more than you burn in a single day to gain a pound. Since most of us burn around 2,000 calories a day, you need to get 4,800 calories in your body to get that gain in a single day. And while that may sound simple, it can be more difficult than you think if you’re eating healthy foods like vegetables and lean protein.

If you work out regularly like many people interested in dirty bulking, you’re likely burning more than the standard two thousand calories per day, meaning you need even more. 

So how can you get all those calories in when there are only so many hours in a day? One way is through dirty bulking. This technique involves consuming large volumes of junk foods like chips, sweets, and sugary drinks in an effort to bulk up. 

But does dirty bulking work? And more importantly – is it the right way to go? Read on to learn more.  

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What is dirty bulking?

In the world of bodybuilding, bigger is often considered to be better. Dirty bulking is one way to get bigger faster. As opposed to lean or “clean” bulking, which focuses on healthy foods and aims to build muscle without adding fat to the body, dirty bulking is a no-stops approach to getting yourself into a fast calorie surplus to get you bigger faster. 

The idea is to pack on weight, hopefully, muscle, by eating calorie-dense foods. Dirty bulking is popular among “hard gainers,” or individuals who have a hard time gaining fat or muscle. Excess calories are great for increasing body mass, but there’s no guarantee that the weight will go to your muscles. 

While dirty bulking is a favorite of bodybuilders, it may also be helpful for powerlifters, gym-goers looking to increase muscle mass or anyone who wants to increase their body weight in general.

And while packing on the pounds by blasting through bags of chips and huge calorie-laden meals might sound like fun, it’s not going to be very fun in the long run. 

Is dirty bulking effective?

That depends on your goals. If your aim is simply to gain weight, dirty bulking will certainly help you get there (Stinson, 2018). As we mentioned, it’s simple math. When you consume more calories than you use, you gain weight. 

However, if your goals are centered around muscle gain, you may need to take a more targeted approach. With dirty bulking, the foods you eat will likely contribute to fat gains rather than lean muscle, which requires a more careful approach and consumption of protein, so your results will depend on what you choose to put in your body (Leaf, 2017). 

Fast foods are typically higher in calories while being less filling, so they may fit well with the ethos of dirty bulking. So while you may see the numbers on the scale going up, that doesn’t mean it’s a good option. Consuming calorie-dense foods with high sugar content and sodium content can lead to some serious health risks, and not just in the long run. 

Is dirty bulking healthy? What are the risks?

On the whole, eating whatever you want with no concern for nutritional value isn’t a good idea. 

When you eat food with high sugar quantities, your blood sugar rises. This spike in blood sugar does a few things: first, it causes your pancreas to release insulin, a chemical that acts like a key to your cells, opening the door and letting the sugar in, resulting in just as rapid a drop in blood sugar, which tells your brain you’re hungry. 

Also, the more time your body spends with too much sugar in your blood, the less sensitive it becomes to that insulin, leading to a condition called insulin resistance which is a precursor to diabetes

Diabetes isn’t the endgame when your blood sugar is out of control. High blood sugar can irreparably damage your kidneys, your nerves, your blood vessels and more. Also, it goes without saying that consuming too much sodium, which is far too prevalent in junk foods that are meant to be consumed occasionally and in small quantities, can significantly affect your blood pressure (Poti, 2017).  

High blood pressure can lead to heart disease and stroke. So if you want to be pumping iron well into your golden years, dirty bulking is probably not the way to go.

That being said, it is possible to follow a dirty bulk while eating healthy foods. When following this diet it’s important to listen to your cravings. If you’re craving carbs, dirty bulking encourages you to eat them but they don’t necessarily have to come from french fries. 

While dirty bulking is a great strategy for gaining weight, it overlooks the importance of macronutrients in muscle development and health. If you go to the gym regularly and are looking to amass muscle, protein should be the focus of your diet (Leaf, 2017). 

It could be helpful to restrict your dirty bulk to a predetermined period. While eating whatever you want for a few weeks will likely have negligible effects, doing this for a long time carries serious health risks, including an increased risk for certain types of cancers (Fiolet, 2018). 

What foods can I eat while dirty bulking?

This is the fun part of this diet: eat as much as you want! 

Foods high in fat, calories, and proteins will all help you reach your weight gain goals. Examples are fast food, carbs, ice cream, and anything else that might be off-limits on other diets. Really, there’s only one rule: stay in a state of caloric surplus. Dirty bulkers often consume protein powders and other nutritional supplements to help pack on extra calories, too. 

For bodybuilders, dirty bulking is often followed by a period of “cutting weight,” which is when they try to lose excess fat by doing cardio and focusing on lean muscle development. 

Dirty vs. clean bulking

Eating excess calories is a good way to gain weight but if you want to develop muscle, you need to be more careful about what you eat. 

A clean bulk is another kind of bulking diet that minimizes fat gain and focuses on building muscle. A balanced diet rich in protein is the best, healthiest way to gain muscle. Fat should be consumed in moderation, while the rest of your calories should be for fueling workouts (Iraki, 2019).

When it comes to gaining weight quickly, dirty bulking may be one approach you’re looking to try. But if you’re playing the long game, lean bulking is probably a better option. 

References

  1. Fiolet, T. (2018). Consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort. BMJ (Clinical Research ed.), 360, k322. doi: 10.1136/bmj.k322. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29444771/
  2. Iraki, J., Fitschen, P., Espinar, S., & Helms, E. (2019). Nutrition Recommendations for Bodybuilders in the Off-Season: A Narrative Review. Sports (Basel, Switzerland), 7(7), 154. doi: 10.3390/sports7070154. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31247944/
  3. Leaf, A. & Antonio, J. (2017). The Effects of Overfeeding on Body Composition: The Role of Macronutrient Composition – A Narrative Review. International Journal of Exercise Science, 10(8), 1275–1296. doi: 10(8):1275-1296. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29399253/
  4. Poti, J. M., Braga, B., & Qin, B. (2017). Ultra-processed Food Intake and Obesity: What Really Matters for Health-Processing or Nutrient Content? Current Obesity Reports, 6(4), 420–431. doi: 10.1007/s13679-017-0285-4. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29071481/
  5. Stinson, E. J., Piaggi, P., Ibrahim, M., Venti, C., Krakoff, J., & Votruba, S. B. (2018). High Fat and Sugar Consumption During Ad Libitum Intake Predicts Weight Gain. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 26(4), 689–695. doi: 10.1002/oby.22124. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29504262/