What’s better for muscle gain: a clean bulk or a dirty bulk?

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I need to clean my mirror more often.

Most bodybuilders follow a simple cycle of training/eating: bulking and cutting. During the bulking stage, athletes enjoy lenient diets and exercise regimens. The highlight is eating without care aka the “dirty bulk”. Basically, you get to eat a lot of junk because you just want to gain weight, so you opt for calorie dense foods. A lot of people attempt this, especially people who are hard-gainers. The idea sounds commonsensical enough: eat to maximize growth before cutting down. Even though they may gain fat, athletes hope to gain more muscle than through a slower “clean bulk” process. The latter takes longer because the goal is to maximize muscle growth while minimizing fat gain. It requires eating at a calorie surplus but (1) at one that is much lower than generally found in a “dirty bulk” process and (2) from healthier options.

So, what’s better: a clean or dirty bulk? My vote is in favor of the “clean bulk” and here are 3 reasons why–

(1) When you gain weight from body fat, you will never lose those fat cells.

When people gain weight with a coinciding increase in body fat, new fat cells are created. Subsequent weight-loss results in shrinking of those fat cells but not a decrease. It’s important to note that there is nothing wrong with fat (you won’t hear any fat-shaming from me), but objectively speaking, you’ve raised your baseline amount of body fat even after cutting. Don’t be fooled by inaccurate body fat measurement tools.

(2) Muscle maturity takes times.

People want big muscles, and they want it now. There is always a sense of urgency when it comes to building muscle without understanding that building muscle takes time. Remember when you were a kid and you were ready to be a grown-up? Fast-forward 10-20 years and you were an adult. It took time right. The same applies here: don’t rush the process.

(3) It’s a lifestyle/lifelong habit.

In line with point #2 above, you can’t rush the process but you can stay committed to it. Rep by rep and day by day, every workout counts. I believe that fitness is a state of doing, not a state of being. Following a clean bulk means you never have to endure a tough cutting phase. You can see how this mimics the extreme ends of the spectrum of weight-loss via yo-yo dieting.

Clean bulk ftw! Happy lifting, friends.

Thomas Ngo RD


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