Dirty bulking – a typical bodybuilding “off season” in which said bodybuilder will stuff his/her face with cheap restaurant food, donuts, poptarts, and anything else to get in an extra 4-5,000 (or more!!) calories all in the name of some sick “off season” gains. Nothing is off limits here and the more weight gained the better… cause more weight = more muscle, right?
My experiences with dirty bulking
I did my first drug free bodybuilding competition back in March of 2010. I had prepped for a good 12 weeks, gotten down to a shredded 160 from around 185, and took 4th place in the novice lightweight division.
I was happy to knock out my first show but of course I wanted more. I set a plan into action to gain as much weight as possible in my off season, do another 12 week diet at the beginning of the year, and win a higher weight class than the one I had just competed in.
And I did just that – I put on 50 pounds and bulked up from my shredded 160 to 210 by eating everything from ice cream to pizza on the regular.
Long story short I did compete that next year, and after 12 weeks of chicken, rice, fasted cardio, and fat burners I competed again… at 163 pounds.
That’s 3 pounds of muscle gained out of 50 pounds put on.
Not only that but I also gained high blood pressure, low testosterone (tired all the time, low libido, stressed out), and heavy breathing after walking up the stairs.
So was my dirty bulk really worth it?
The truth shall set you free
The truth of the matter is if you’re a natural bodybuilder gaining muscle is a long process that requires consistency, dedication, and patience.
You can’t “force feed” your muscles into growth just by increasing your calories by some ridiculous amount.
That is of course unless you’re brand new to the lifting game.
If you’re a new lifter and are naturally skinny, sure the dirty bulking approach may work for your first year of “newbie gains.” After that if you’re filling up on massive amounts of junk food on the regular all you’ll be doing is making yourself fat which is definitely the opposite of your bodybuilding goals. That doesn’t mean you have to avoid unhealthy food all together but I prefer to keep 80-90 percent of my daily eating from whole nutritious foods. Make that 80-90% made up of eggs, meat, potatoes, rice, and healthy fats and you’ll be golden.
I also read somewhere that the potential muscle gain for a natural lifter is only around 30 pounds and maybe 35-40 pounds if you have the genetics of an olympic athlete. That might not seem like a lot – but when you think about it it really is!
If your natural frame is a skinny 140 pounds, then an extra 30 pounds of muscle brings you to a lean 170 which is huge compared to a non lifter! You’ll generally put on 10-20 pounds of that in your first 2 years lifting. After that there’s where the patience and dedication come into play because it can be frustrating when the gains begin to slow down. But don’t give up. I’ve seen plenty of drug tested bodybuilders reaching their peak genetic potential in their late 30s after putting in the work that needed to be done for years and winning competitions.
Time + patience + consistency = results.
What to do instead: the lean bulk approach
Instead of stuffing your face until you get fat and losing that masculine chiseled jawline (because these things are important, you know), take the lean bulk approach instead.
#1) Get to a healthy body weight. This may sound hard but make it your mission to get lean and you WILL do it. If you’ve cut down before you know how to do it, but if not see my article “how to stay lean and mean year round” for some tips on getting started.
#2) Find out your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). This will show you how many calories it’s taking to maintain the weight you are at right now. There are calculators online you can use like this one, or you can take your bodyweight (in pounds when you’re already leaned out) and multiply that number by 15. So for me at 160 that’s 2400 calories a day. This will at least give you a starting point.
#3) Increase those calories by a modest 300. That’s it. No need to add an extra few thousand. Fat is put on way more easily than muscle so that’s what anything more than that will become! Again, for me at 160 that puts my calories at 2700 for the day.
#4) Fill up on nutritious whole foods. Whole foods will make you feel way better than eating a bunch of crap. Sure you could always macro everything in (IIFYM style) but is it really worth sacrificing your health to pleasure your taste buds? Eating healthy doesn’t have to be as bland as you think anyway.
#5) Monitor the mirror and your weight. If you feel like you aren’t putting it on fast enough than add another slight increase. If you are putting it on and you’re looking soft than dial it back a little bit.
#6) Remember that bodybuilding isn’t a sprint it’s a marathon. It takes years to build the physique you want. You just have to want it bad enough to do what it takes in the gym AND in the kitchen. It’s a game of patience and self control. Discipline young master, discipline.
IF and lean bulking
As many of you know I’m a big fan of intermittent fasting but will it work for a bulk?
Adding in 300 calories isn’t that much at all! It’s 4 eggs (320 cal), a big baked potato (11oz is 297 calories), or a half cup of ice cream (80/20 rule). So that in itself isn’t really that much extra food. Easy peasy. Plus I like eating Goku sized meals so intermittent fasting just makes it all the more enjoyable.
Setting up macros
How much protein, carbs, and fat are needed?
Science shows that you really only need .8-1g of protein per pound of lean body mass to build muscle, in spite of what the guys at the gym or the magazines have told you. Anything beyond that is simply robbing you of the testosterone and well being benefits of healthy carbs and fats.
As for the said carbs and fat just stick to a healthy balance! It’s the calories that matter most in weight gain/loss so exact amounts don’t quite matter. I personally feel my best on higher carbs with moderate fat, but experiment and find what works for you!
Thanks for the read!
Train hard and eat well!!