Dirty Bulk Meaning, Foods, & Results

Dirty Bulk

If you need to put on weight, you’re probably looking for a bulking diet and workout plan. This process involves increasing your calorie intake and hitting the weight room to increase body weight and muscle mass.

But not all bulking routines are the same. Some require eating healthy while others let you eat whatever you want.

So how do you know which kind of bulk is best to reach your goals? In this article, I define a dirty bulk and explain how it compares to a clean bulk to help you decide which is right for you.

What Is a Dirty Bulk?

A dirty bulk is a period of aggressive weight gain where you prioritize body weight over body composition. In other words, you don’t care if you gain fat as you gain muscle.

To gain weight as fast as possible, dirty bulking involves eating whatever you can to maximize the calorie surplus. That means it’s not against the rules to eat fast food or junk food in a dirty bulk.

Dirty Bulk Food

Dirty Bulk vs Clean Bulk

The main difference between a dirty bulk and a clean bulk is food choices. You can eat unhealthy foods with a dirty bulk, and you don’t need to track macros.

By comparison, a clean bulk requires you to eat mainly healthy foods. And it usually involves tracking macros and calories to ensure you hit your prescribed targets.

Here are some examples of foods you might eat on a dirty bulk compared to foods you would eat on a clean bulk.

Dirty Bulk Foods

  • Pizza

  • Burgers

  • French Fries

  • Pastries

  • Ice Cream

  • Chocolate Milk

  • Weight Gainer

  • Sugary Drinks

Clean Bulk Foods

  • Rice

  • Lean Meat

  • Baked Potatoes

  • Eggs

  • Greek Yogurt

  • Whey Protein

  • Fruit Smoothies

  • Water

Of course, this is not a complete list but it gives you a good idea of how both bulking diets compare. Here is the list again as an image so you can share it with your friends.

Dirty Bulk vs Clean Bulk

Another type of bulking meal plan is called a lean bulk. It differs slightly from a clean bulk, so let me take a moment to define it.

Dirty Bulk vs Lean Bulk

The main difference between a dirty bulk and lean bulk is calorie intake. With a lean bulk, you eat only enough to create the smallest calorie surplus necessary to gain weight.

By comparison, a dirty bulk usually involves a large calorie surplus to maximize weight gain. But the more calories you eat, the more body fat you accumulate. So dirty bulks typically result in a lot of excess fat gain.

On the other hand, lean bulking allows you to gain muscle with minimal fat gain. Like the clean bulk, you should generally stick to healthy foods on a lean bulk.

Below is a before and after picture where I gained 20 lbs during a lean bulk. The visible 6 pack abs mean most of the weight gained was muscle. By comparison, most of the weight gained during a dirty bulk is fat.

dirty bulk vs lean bulk

Dirty Bulk Pros & Cons

By now, you can tell that dirty bulking has benefits and downsides. For example, seeing the number on the scale go up almost every day can be rewarding. But that comes at the cost of extra body fat.

In addition, dirty bulking is nice because you can eat whatever you want without counting macros or calories. Plus, fast food doesn’t fill you up as much as healthy food, so it’s easier to eat more.

But all that junk food takes a toll on your health. You run the risk of causing high blood pressure or heart problems. Plus, you won’t look or feel your best.

Dirty Bulk Pros

  • Rapid weight gain

  • Eat whatever you want

  • Easier to get more calories

  • Not necessary to count or track macros

  • More convenient than cooking / meal prep

Dirty Bulk Cons

  • Gain a lot of body fat

  • Takes longer to get in shape later

  • Feel more tired and lethargic

  • Look more bloated and puffy

  • Junk food has low nutritional value

  • Raises blood pressure & risk of heart disease

  • Over time can cause other health problems

Who Should Dirty Bulk?

As you can see, dirty bulking has more cons than pros, and it’s not for most people. But there are some specific situations where it might work for you.

For example, young men in their late teens or early 20s sometimes have super high metabolisms. These hardgainers don’t gain weight even if they eat more than average. In that situation, you could use a dirty bulk to make it easier to pack on pounds.

Another situation is people who play sports where they must gain weight to compete, such as a lineman on the football team. In this case, you might not care if the weight is muscle or fat as long as the scale goes up.

Just be aware of the negative effects dirty bulking can have when you make your dietary decisions.

Dirty Bulk Results (Case Study)

You may be wondering what kind of results you can expect from dirty bulking. And it’s essential to have realistic expectations if you consider this approach.

That’s why I will share my own experience with dirty bulking. In my early 20s, I dirty bulked because I had difficulty gaining any weight. And frankly, I didn’t know much about nutrition yet.

Unfortunately, this was back in 2010 before cell phone cameras were prevalent so I didn’t take before and after pictures. But I have weighed myself almost every day for over a decade and recorded it in a spreadsheet.

From this data, I know that I gained 30 lbs during 8 months of dirty bulking. Some of that was muscle, but a lot of it was fat and water. So let’s take a closer look at my dirty bulk results in terms of body composition and overall health.

Dirty Bulk vs Clean Bulk Daily Body Weight

Figure 1. The “engineering” in Nutritioneering comes from analyzing the effects of various inputs on key outputs. Like the effect of calorie intake and food choices on body weight. In the last 12+ years, I’ve weighed myself thousands of times. Not because I’m obsessed with my weight, but because I’m passionate about learning from it!

Total Weight Gain

First, let’s look at how much total weight I gained dirty bulking. To be precise, I started at 160.0 lbs in January and ended at 190.6 lbs in September, or 30.6 lbs gained in 33 weeks.

That’s pretty good, considering I was a hardgainer that never broke 172 lbs before that. And I think most skinny guys would be excited to gain 30 lbs in less than a year.

Another way of looking at the numbers is by weight gain per week. Since the bulk lasted 232 days, that’s an average of 0.13 lbs per day or just under 1 pound per week.

But the big question on your mind should be, how much of that weight was muscle?

Dirty Bulk Weight Gain

Figure 2. Daily body weight during an 8-month dirty bulk phase. The average weight gain was 0.13 lbs/day despite a couple of weeks off of the gym and calorie surplus (indicated by sudden weight drops).

Muscle Gain

Unfortunately, I did not track my exact body composition during this dirty bulk. But it’s generally accepted that experienced lifters can gain up to 2 lbs of muscle per month when diet and training are optimized.

In other words, the best-case scenario is that I gained 0.5 lbs of muscle per week, which would be 15 lbs of muscle gained during the 33-week dirty bulk.

However, I would not say that a dirty bulk is an optimized diet for muscle gain because it promotes excess fat gain. And I don’t believe I hit the best case scenario numbers based on my size and strength gains during that period.

It’s more likely that I gained about 0.33 lbs per week which would be 10 lbs of muscle in 7.5 months. Still, nothing to scoff at, but you could achieve that with a clean bulk!

Dirty Bulk Muscle Gain

Figure 3. The approximate rate of muscle gain compared to overall weight gain.

Fat Gain

Now if we take the total weight gain and subtract the muscle gain, we’re left with fat gain. In this case, that would be an unappealing 20.6 lbs of fat gained (30.6 lbs total – 10 lbs muscle = 20.6 lbs fat).

That’s not good, even starting from very lean! I went from 6-pack abs to flabby 4-pack abs and had accumulated fat all over my body. While I was happy with the weight gain, I wasn’t happy with how I looked.

Still, it might not be quite as bad as it sounds because weight gain isn’t as black and white as muscle and fat. We also have to consider any water retention that occurred due to the dirty bulk diet.

Dirty Bulk Fat Gain

Figure 4. The approximate rate of fat gain compared to overall weight gain. Note: this chart does not account for potential water weight gain.

Water Weight

You may not want to hear this, but dirty bulking is a great way to retain water and get bloated. High sodium foods like burgers and fries cause your body to store more water outside cells and under the skin.

And it was pretty apparent that I was holding excess water after the dirty bulk. My face, hands, and lower legs were all swollen and puffy.

Another reason I know I was retaining water is because my weight quickly went down 7-8 lbs any time I took a week off and ate less. These abrupt decreases are evident in the scatter plot of my weight.

Of course, it’s not possible for someone who is relatively lean to lose several pounds of fat in a week. And muscle doesn’t waste away that fast either. So the big dips had to be primarily excess water.

Now if we adjust the numbers for 7 lbs of water weight, my fat gain drops to 13.6 lbs (30.6 lbs total – 10 lbs muscle – 7 lbs water = 13.6 lbs fat). Still not great, but better than 20 lbs.

Dirty Bulk Weight Composition

Figure 5. The estimated amount of fat, muscle, and water weight gained during a dirty bulk.

Overall Health

Dirty bulking doesn’t just affect your weight and body composition. Another factor you must consider is your health.

When I was dirty bulking, I was young and felt invincible. So I didn’t think about the potentially harmful effects of eating unhealthy.

It wasn’t until I had a health screening that I realized my food choices were taking a toll. At 24 years old, my blood pressure had skyrocketed to 160 over 90 due to the high sodium content of the dirty bulk diet. That’s stage 2 hypertension!

High blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and heart attack. And that’s why it’s wise to pay attention to what you eat, even if you think you’re young and healthy!

Dirty Bulk Health Effects Blood Pressure Ranges

Figure 6. Blood pressure ranges and corresponding health risk categories. After just 8 months of dirty bulking, I was in stage 2 hypertension.

Dirty Bulk FAQ

Now you have a good idea about what a dirty bulk is and the kind of results you can expect. But you might have more questions about it’s safety and effectiveness. So here are some short answers to other common questions.

Is a dirty bulk faster?

Generally, you can gain weight faster on a dirty bulk than on a clean bulk or lean bulk. But more of that weight will be body fat and retained water instead of lean muscle mass.

So while dirty bulking might be faster in the short term, it will take you longer to trim down later.

How long should you dirty bulk?

If you choose to dirty bulk, it’s probably best to limit this phase to less than 12 weeks. Any longer than that, you run the risk of high blood pressure and the associated health problems.

For healthy long-term weight gain, it’s better to use a clean bulk or at least eat mostly healthy foods.

Should I dirty bulk if I’m skinny?

Being skinny doesn’t mean you need to dirty bulk. Instead, try increasing your calorie intake with healthy foods first and make sure you hit a decent calorie surplus.

Then if you find you’re still not gaining weight, you could try a temporary dirty bulk to see if it helps you break through your plateau. But don’t use your genetics as an excuse to eat crappy food!

Should I dirty bulk if I’m not skinny?

Most men probably shouldn’t dirty bulk if their body fat is above 15% because the additional fat will put them at higher risk for health issues from being overweight. Also, you won’t like the way you look and it takes too long to get lean again.

The only exception is if you need to gain weight for sports and don’t care about body fat percentage. But it would be best if you still were mindful of the health risks.

Is dirty bulking bad?

A dirty bulk is not inherently bad or wrong. But prolonged periods of excess calories and poor food choices are definitely bad for your health.

Therefore, dirty bulking is not suitable for people who are already overweight or have health issues. Even lean, healthy people should understand the risks and only use dirty bulking for short periods if necessary.

Is dirty bulking worth it?

For most people, gaining scale weight faster isn’t worth the risk of excessive fat gain, water retention, and health problems that come with a dirty bulk.

Moreover, you can gain just as much, if not more, muscle on a clean bulk while maintaining your health. Or gain a little less muscle but minimize fat gain using a lean bulk.

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Is taking steroids considered a dirty bulk?

Anabolic steroids have nothing to do with a clean bulk or dirty bulk. Although steroid use can cause some of the same health issues as dirty bulking, like an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Is it better to bulk or cut first?

If your body fat is above 17% for men or 25% for women, then it’s generally better to cut before bulking. Otherwise, you will gain even more fat and it will take much longer to get lean later.

On the other hand, you may want to bulk first and cut later if you’re already relatively lean.

Bulk vs Cut

At the end of the day, the right meal plan depends on your current body composition, short-term goals, and long-term goals. But knowing which plan to choose to reach your goals faster can be tricky.

That’s why I created the definitive guide to bulking and cutting. So you can figure out how to eat and train based on your body type and fitness goals.

Take the Bulk vs Cut Quiz to Find the Right Fitness Goal

Dirty Bulk vs Cut
Bulk vs Cut

Final Thoughts on Dirty Bulking

Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have wasted my time dirty bulking. Still, I learned a valuable lesson while improving my meal plans. And I think we all go through our own learning curve with health and fitness. 

When we’re young, it’s all about getting quick results regardless of how it might affect our bodies later. But as we get older and wiser, we understand that eating smarter gets us farther in the long run.

As I grew physically and mentally, I realized that clean bulking gets more efficient results without excess fat gain or unnecessary health risks. So all the meal plans I offer include healthy food choices and recipes.

Because, at Nutritioneering, our mission is to help you build a healthy body through smarter nutrition and workouts.

metabolic confusion meal plan

Clean Bulk Meal Plan

Don’t waste your time or risk your health dirty bulking. Get a clean bulk meal plan built for your body, activity level, and goals! Including daily nutrition targets and healthy recipes for just $13.99 per month.

Customize Your Plan

With this information, you’re well on your way to gaining muscle and increasing strength. Make sure you check out these other articles for more helpful fitness tips!

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