Clean Bulk v Dirty Bulk | Which Bulking Diet Plan Is Best?

In this blog, we’re going to compare ‘lean’ vs ‘dirty’ bulking. The first thing I want to say about this is the type of food has nothing to do with it. ‘Clean’ eating is irrelevant, what matters is your caloric intake. 1000 calories of vegetables are still 1000 calories.

What is a ‘lean’ bulk?

A lean bulk is a smaller calorie surplus. Now a smaller calorie surplus, obviously means you’re going to gain less weight. What you need to remember is weight does not equal muscle in its entirety.
So with this smaller calorie surplus, we’re going to accumulate less body fat. It doesn’t matter how lean you gain or how not lean you gain, you’re still going to gain some body fat. By lean gaining, you’re still going to gain weight, water, glycogen, muscle and body fat just less of the latter.

What is a ‘dirty’ bulk?

A ‘dirty’ bulk is a higher surplus, it’s the opposite so, whereas a leaner bulk may be gaining 2lb per month, a ‘dirty’ bulk may be upwards of 3 or 4. In short, you’re just eating more calories than if you were to lean bulk above maintenance thus gaining weight fasted including body fat.
So, let’s get into the pros and cons of both of them.

‘Dirty bulk’

So, obviously, you get more body fat. Now, I don’t know about you but it’s kind of nice to look like a bodybuilder all year round and not someone who’s out of shape.

A quick little disclaimer, I have done both methods, guilty… I’ve gained too much body fat and it’s resulted in a lot of things. I’ve had to diet for longer firstly. Do you want to spend six-plus months dieting? Probably not. Especially if you don’t need to.

With that, is obviously going to come to a lot of the ill effects of dieting, such as increased down-regulation metabolism, as in it’s going to downregulate faster if you’re dieting harder for longer, you’re going to risk muscle loss as well and for a bodybuilder, that’s not good news.

So it means a longer diet, more body fat, increased risk of losing your muscle, a decrease in nutrient partitioning and a negative in P‐ratio, which basically means, less muscle, more body fat. When we gain weight, we’re going to gain muscle but it’s come to a certain set point of body fat when past, we are not maximizing our potential to put on muscle, we’re still growing it but calories are more likely allocated to body fat. We’re now gaining more body fat in relation to muscle. Due to more body fat we also struggle to see our physique in honest form, i.e we associate more weight with muscle, we cant see lean tissue being added. Our natural testosterone is also affected by decreasing as body fat increases.

The cons of ‘lean gaining’

If you’re too lean, for example, if you’ve just finished a long diet like a show prep and you’re really lean, then trying to gain weight slowly from there isn’t going to be easy because you need to reverse ill effects of dieting such as lethargy, lack of libido, low testosterone levels and sub-par due to things like a lack of joint cushioning and fuel substrate. You need to improve your performance and well-being first and foremost by allowing yourself to gain some body fat relatively quickly, I suggest gaining around 1 percent of your weight per week for the first month then slow it down from there at 1% per month.

People who try to remain lean are also scared to gain body fat, which is inevitable, it will be gained but it is about limitation. The idea that they must gain at a slow rate can reinforce this idea that they should always have abs which can affect commitment to weight gain. And then there are adherence issues. Until calories are high enough to adhere to, there’s obviously the risk of binge eating, this factor depends on how food-focused one is, however.

We need to compromise…

As mentioned above, I suggest gaining weight at a quicker rate on the back end of a diet (1% per week, so if you’re 200lb then that’s 2 lb per week, for the first month) however, the only purpose here is to reverse some ill effects of dieting so if you feel ‘normal’ and performance is increasing after week 1 or week 2 then slow it down, 1% per week for a month is a generic figure, don’t gain weight quicker than needed for the sake of it!

Then the next step is to slow your rate of weight gain down, I suggest 1.5‐3lb per month for natural trainees, lighter individuals/advanced bodybuilders should avoid the top end of the recommendation, which is more suited for beginners. I don’t suggest gaining any less due to scale fluctuations.

The beauty of ‘mini cuts’

I love mini cuts, not because I love cutting but because they give me long‐evitiy to a gaining phase, it’s a safety net for when body fat begins to get too high for my liking. I suggest four to six weeks in length with a minimum of 16 weeks before implementing, the longer you go without the better. The beauty of a mini cut is due to their duration you can get more aggressive with your calories thus lose weight quicker (30% calorie deficit). Mini cuts are perfect for those with long gaining phases as when it comes to dieting, you’ll be thankful you’ve ‘cleaned’ up some mess prior and controlled your body fat.

So, as we’ve probably kind of established by now, lean gaining is obviously what I’d recommend. Now, this is my recommendation and as with anything, my recommendations are ingrained with science, okay. They’re all evidence-based. I classify myself as an evidence-based practitioner. This isn’t going on what the big guy in the gym said to me, this is going off research.

And the winner is…

Lean gaining is, in my opinion, the most efficient way to grow taking all things into account, however, it is not the only way. I see so many top-level bodybuilders taking the ‘dirty’ approach and getting phenomenal results. As a beginner, I received great results from this method but when compared to a slower approach, there were too many cons.

The most important thing is that you’re growing during your gaining phase then it comes down to personal preference and what is optimal for YOU.

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Faye Reid

Faye Reid

Writer and expert

Faye has an MSc in Sport Physiology and Nutrition, and puts her passion into practice as goal attack for her netball team, and in competitive event riding. She enjoys a pun, and in her spare time loves dog walking and eating out.