Clean Bulk vs Dirty Bulk? Which Is The Better Option?

Are you thinking about bulking up but are confused about how to approach the subject? I don’t blame you. There are 1000s of resources out there regarding how to gain weight. We even wrote an article on How to Bulk Up Fast For Skinny Guys that you can access by clicking here. However, when it comes to bulking the most common question is, “Clean Bulk vs Dirty Bulk? What is better?!”. In this article, we will cover the differences, pros, and cons of both types of bulking as well as provide you with a reasonable conclusion in regards to which we believe is more effective to put on weight and gain muscular size.

What Is The Difference Between a Clean Bulk vs Dirty Bulk?

Before we go into the pros and cons of both types of bulking its important to understand what each of these types of bulking means and what the differences are. Recognizing that both dirty bulking and clean bulking are diets meant to help you achieve caloric surplus the difference comes down to the food you are eating to achieve that surplus. 

For dirty bulking, it means eating just about anything to make that happen. This includes fast food, and calorically dense foods regardless of how “healthy” they are. Also when referring to dirty bulking it also implies that people who choose this method of gaining size are typically consuming over 20% in excess above their maintenance calories. 

On the other hand, people who choose to clean bulk, similarly, also seek to achieve a caloric surplus. Despite this, however, the source of calories usually comes from cleaner sources of food such as brown rice, chicken breast, broccoli, fruits, and vegetables. This of course, is in contrast to calorie-dense foods usually consumed in dirty bulks. Additionally, people who clean bulk tend to consume an additional 10-20% in excess above their maintenance calories as opposed to exceeding anything more than 20%.

In the end, the goal is the same, consume a caloric surplus. The benefits and disadvantages, however, may help you make a clear decision on what may be a better option for you.

Benefits of Dirty Bulking

First things first, what could be the benefit of dirty bulking? After all, you are eating fast food to hit your calories, right? Well, that’s not quite true. The fact of the matter is that, if your required calories to bulk up are 3500 calories, 4000 calories or whatever your number is, chances are it’s going to be a lot more food than you are used to eating. (Again you can calculate your number to bulk up here). This can overwhelm people trying to eat that many calories in chicken breast and rice. As a result, sometimes it may be in your best interest to eat a few cheat meals to help you achieve that caloric surplus.

Dirty Bulking Is Easier

Occasionally eating a pizza or some chicken wings isn’t the end of the world. If anything it can make your size building goals a lot easier. Most healthy meals have between 300-500 calories but if you still have a long way to go with your daily calories a 2000 calorie pizza is pretty enticing. The undeniable benefit of fast food is that it has a lot of calories. According to WebMD the “average portion size nearly quadrupled for fast-food entrees, and more than quadrupled for desserts between 1986 and 2016” (Thompson, 2016).

Ultimately, it is undeniable to say that dirty bulking makes it easier for you to achieve your daily caloric surplus because you have more flexibility with what you can eat. 

Dirty Bulking Saves Time

Again if you are someone who doesn’t like to spend time grocery shopping and cooking at home, you will find dirty bulking is very convenient for you. Simply ordering food means you get to stay at home while someone else makes your food and delivers it to you. Plus, there are loads of options such as skip the dishes, doordash, and foodora available to you.

Ultimately these options allow you to save a lot of time as opposed to getting up and cooking the meals yourself.

Disadvantages of Dirty Bulking

Of course like all things there is always another side. Dirty bulking is no different. Here are some of the disadvantages of dirty bulking:

Dirty Bulking Can Be Expensive

When it comes to ordering and buying fast food to help you gain weight there is no doubt that convenience comes at a cost. In this case, trying to eat out is going to cost you a lot more than buying groceries and making meals at home. According to AOL, “In general, a meal costs $5 to $7 at a fast-food restaurant, but the cost of cooking at home averages out to $1.50 to $3 per person. That’s a 40-79 percent savings for homemade food” (Aol, 2013). The trade-off here is that dirty bulking can be expensive, especially if you really are dependent on food from outside. Again, something to keep in mind when deciding what you value more, convenience or saving money. 

Dirty Bulking Can Lead To Unwanted Fat Gain

Although scientifically it may seem that dirty bulking should lead to faster weight gain, it’s important to realize that although this is true, it’s important to recognize the body’s composition of protein when compared to fat gained during a dirty bulk. Essentially, how much of that weight gain is real muscle as opposed to fat. According to a study published in the US National Library of Medicine, here were the results of an experiment between two groups of athletes who followed separate dieting regimens (one for clean bulking and one for dirty): 

Clean Bulking  Dirty Bulking
Bodyweight increased by 1.5±0.4% Bodyweight increased by 3.9±0.6% 
Fat mass increased by 3±3% Fat mass increased by 15±4%
1 Rep Max Increased by 6-12% 1 Rep Max Increased by 6-12%

As you can see, although dirty bulking led to a greater increase in body weight, it also led to a significant increase in fat mass as opposed to clean bulking. Again, something to consider when evaluating the trade-offs for yourself.

Benefits of Clean Bulking

In terms of clean bulking, let us determine what are the benefits of choosing to clean bulk as opposed to going with a dirty bulk:

You will Put on Less Fat 

As mentioned earlier, because clean bulking is much more controlled in terms of nutrition you are less likely to put on as much fat as you would dirty bulking. This is especially beneficial if you are already at a low body fat percentage. This is because at a low body fat percentage even if you put on minimal fat you can still have good muscle definition while bulking up. This leads us to the next benefit of clean bulking.

Clean Bulking Means Looking Good Year-Round

Unlike dirty bulking, clean bulking will allow you to look good year-round while still enjoying the same strength gains as a dirty bulk. Although your physical growth may be slower in terms of body weight increase, you can ensure that the composition of your body will not be impacted greatly in comparison to a dirty bulk. If you don’t believe how much fat and muscle differ in terms of look, take a look at 2 people at the same weight. One with higher muscle composition while another with higher fat composition

Clean bulk vs dirty bulk

As you can see, although they are at the same weight the body composition of that weight plays a huge part in how you look year-round.

Disadvantages of Clean Bulking

Here are some of the disadvantages of clean bulking

Slower Bodyweight Gain

As opposed to dirty bulking where you may be able to put more than 1 pound a week, clean bulking might be slower in terms of gaining pure bodyweight.

Requires More Meals

Unlike dirty bulking where the foods you consume are calorically dense, most clean bulking diets are low in calories which means you have to make up for this by eating more frequently. Sometimes this could mean up to 6 meals a day to hit the required calories. 

The Verdict – Clean Bulk vs Dirty Bulk?

In conclusion, whether or not you choose to dirty bulk or clean bulk is completely up to you. The strength gains as mentioned previously are identical in both cases. However, based on the major differences in fat gained and unhealthy body weight gained we believe that clean bulking is the way to go. Although it may be slower, it is in the long run, more sustainable. Additionally, it will allow you to bulk up without going through the trouble of losing the excess weight gained from dirty bulking. Additionally, the major disadvantages of requiring more meals and time to prepare those meals can be addressed from careful time management and good meal prep. Making clean bulking the winner in our opinion. 

Additional Resources

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