Some links in this article are affiliate links, which means we earn from qualifying purchases. Learn more.
Feeling undersized as a teenager isn’t a great experience, so many teens want to turn to a dirty bulk to help them get bigger. The high school students I work with always ask me if a dirty bulk will help them grow muscle, and I have to be honest with them…
Teenagers shouldn’t dirty bulk. Dirty bulking as a teen won’t set you up for long-term success because you won’t learn about proper nutrition or develop habits that lead to muscle gain rather than fat gain. Teens will grow muscle in time with consistent effort and proper nutrition without dirty bulking.
As a strength and conditioning coach for several high school students and athletes, I love helping teens grow bigger and stronger. But sometimes the “bigger” part of that equation is out of our hands and the best we can do is build a solid foundation to encourage growth later on.
- Dirty bulking involves eating more calories than you’re burning to gain mass (fat and muscle) at a faster rate.
- Dirty bulking isn’t appropriate for most teenagers, but there are a few use cases where it would be beneficial.
- Teenagers can build muscle and get stronger without dirty bulking if they’re implementing certain nutrition and exercise strategies.
What Is Dirty Bulking?
A dirty bulk is where you aggressively try to gain as much weight as possible by eating far more calories than you burn each day and lifting weights regularly. This usually entails eating high-calorie foods seen as “dirty,” such as pizza, burgers, and cookies.
Standard bulking (gaining more muscle and less fat) involves eating 250-500 calories above your maintenance calories (the number of calories you need to maintain weight), but dirty bulking is more aggressive and involves eating as many calories as you want as long as it’s more than a standard bulk.
Though dirty bulks can lead to an increase in muscle mass, there is an associated increase in fat mass as well. So you will get bigger with a dirty bulk, but a lot of that added weight could be strictly from fat.
3 Reasons For Implementing A Dirty Bulk
There are three main reasons why people choose to implement a dirty bulk to add mass. These reasons are:
- To gain weight for a specific sport. Football players, wrestlers, Olympic weightlifters, and powerlifters may be in a position where they need to gain weight quickly to advance in their sport. In these specific situations, a dirty bulk may be beneficial.
- They struggle to put on weight. Those who have a hard time gaining weight (hardgainers) may not be able to gain weight without pushing themselves to a more extreme form of bulking, like a dirty bulk.
- They’ve reached a plateau in strength. Most lifters end up plateauing with their lifts at some point and many have broken through that plateau with a dirty bulk because a bigger body can move more weight.
Why Teens Should NOT Dirty Bulk
Despite there being legitimate reasons to dirty bulking, most teenagers should not dirty bulk, and here’s why:
1. You Won’t Learn How To Fuel Yourself Properly
Dirty bulking is kind of like cheating. Many people – teens and adults included – use dirty bulking as an excuse to eat whatever they want.
They lift hard, then cram their face with pizza and cheeseburgers and never learn how to fuel their body properly with nutritious foods. They don’t learn how to track macros or count calories and put no effort into making intelligent food choices.
When your “diet” is to eat as many calories as possible by stuffing your mouth with high-calorie junk food, bad habits are sure to follow.
2. You Won’t Build Good Habits
Dirty bulking in your teens can lead to lifelong bad habits, and a lifetime of bad habits leads to health issues, excess body fat, and missed opportunities for gains simply due to a lack of knowledge and understanding of nutrition.
If you develop the habit of hitting the drive-through every day in your teens, it’s really difficult to break that habit when you get older.
I work with high school lifters and athletes every day and I was one myself, so I completely understand wanting to get huge as soon as possible. But you need to realize that what you do as a teenager influences you long-term.
Rather than trying to get as big as possible in high school, focus on setting yourself up for success in college and beyond.
Take the time to learn what proper portion sizes and a healthy diet look like while you’re young, and you’ll develop such good habits that you’ll be leaps and bounds ahead of everyone as you get older.
3. You’ll Be Working To Lose Fat For The Rest Of Your Life
When giving a workshop several years ago, a shredded Art De Vany was asked how to get rid of fat. His answer was “don’t get fat in the first place”, which may seem harsh but it is accurate. Those who add excess body fat when they’re younger tend to fight that added weight for the rest of their lives.
You can get big in your teens quickly by dirty bulking, but you’ll also put on fat and perhaps struggle to lose that fat until the day you die. Don’t worry about gaining muscle quickly – trust the process, keep showing up, and the muscle gains will come.
4. You Should Focus On Getting Strong Instead
The other day, one of my high school clients asked me how long it takes to gain muscle and I had to be honest with him – it can take years to grow serious muscle. Patience is the key.
I started training consistently at the age of nine and didn’t see any real muscle growth until I was around 15 years old. As a youth not yet through puberty, no amount of dirty bulking would have changed that.
I just had to keep showing up, keep working hard, and get as strong as possible. In doing so, I was able to take full advantage of the foundational work I had laid when my body was ready to grow in my late teens.
The stronger you are, the bigger you can get. Research suggests that increased tension development (i.e. how much tension you can build in your muscles) is the key to building muscle, and the best way to increase tension development is by getting stronger.
As a young teen, you need to focus on building a foundation of strength. The stronger you get in your early teens, the bigger you’ll be able to grow in your late teens once your body is primed to grow.
5. You’re Body Will Grow When It’s Ready
People are primed to grow in their late teens; in fact, boys see approximately a 30-fold increase in testosterone production during puberty which can lead to tremendous growth when combined with consistent weight training.
If you were to dirty bulk on top of this hormonal shift, it would likely just contribute to added fat mass rather than additional muscle mass.
If you are lifting weights regularly (at least 3x per week) and eating ample protein (1g/pound of body weight), then all you need to do is let Mother Nature take care of the rest. Work hard, be patient, and you will grow.
3 Use Cases For Dirty Bulking As A Teen
Although I’ve just laid out all of the reasons why teens shouldn’t dirty bulk, there are three specific situations when dirty bulking as a teen may be beneficial:
- To gain weight quickly for a specific sport
- To maintain your weight
- To gain weight after years of dedicated training
Let’s look at these in more detail.
Gain Weight Quickly For A Specific Sport
One of the main reasons teens may choose to dirty bulk is to be more competitive in their sport. Football, rugby, and hockey players can benefit from added size. Wrestlers, Olympic weightlifters, and powerlifters may need to bulk up to succeed in a heavier weight class.
In these specific situations, implementing a short 2-4 week dirty bulk during the offseason could be the difference between maximizing their athletic potential or not.
For physical sports like football, rugby, and hockey, your performance may improve simply by having more total mass.
As legendary college football coach Nick Saban says”
“big people beat up little people”
For weight-class sports like wrestling, weightlifting, and powerlifting, you may need to add mass quickly to succeed in the next weight class up.
As it is often irrelevant if you add fat mass along with muscle mass in these situations, a dirty bulk may be appropriate.
To Maintain Your Weight
If you struggle to maintain your weight due to a very active schedule and faster metabolism, then a higher calorie intake associated with a “dirty bulk” may be more of a necessity to prevent you from continuing to lose weight.
When I was in high school, I would lift weights at lunch, have football practice after school, then head to wrestling practice at the university. I was training hard for 5-6 hours each day. As an already too-small middle linebacker, I had to eat whatever I could get my hands on just to keep from losing weight.
Cereal, pizza, protein shakes, and burgers weren’t treats, they were high-calorie foods I needed to eat to simply maintain my weight and succeed as an athlete.
To Gain Weight After Years of Dedicated Training
If you are 18 or 19 years old and have been strength training and following a structured nutrition plan consistently for at least four years, then you could benefit from a dirty bulk to help you grow.
With a solid background of dedicated training and proper nutritional habits in place, you should be strong enough and educated enough to benefit from a dirty bulk if it is implemented correctly.
Rules To Follow For Dirty Bulking As A Teen
If you meet one of the criteria above that would make dirty bulking as a teen beneficial, then there are a few important rules to follow.
Rule #1: Opt For A Relatively “Clean” Dirty Bulk
You can do a dirty bulk (consuming a larger amount of calories) while consuming foods that are considered “clean.” Despite the name, you don’t have to only eat “dirty” foods when you’re dirty bulking.
Instead of pizza, cookies, soda, and cheeseburgers, try bulking with healthier foods to ensure you consume ample vitamins and minerals and develop better habits.
Foods don’t have to be low in calories to be healthy; there are plenty of high-calorie healthy foods that you can include while dirty bulking, like avocado, peanut butter, salmon, nuts, and seeds.
Adding these higher-calorie nutrient-dense foods can help you hit a higher-calorie target while still providing your body with the nutrients it needs to function optimally.
This is even more important if you’re “dirty bulking” just to maintain your weight because this way of eating will be a more long-term strategy than it would be for someone dirty bulking to gain weight.
Rule #2: Have A Daily Protein Goal
Hitting a daily protein goal (1g of protein per pound of body weight is ideal) will encourage muscle growth and help make sure you don’t go crazy with empty calories (calories with little nutritional value).
You can enjoy foods like pizza, fried chicken, ribs, and cheeseburgers on a dirty bulk to help you get enough calories and protein to increase your potential to gain muscle.
Rule #3: Dirty Bulk For A Short Period Of Time
If you decide to dirty bulk as a teen to gain weight, ensure you have a set start and end date, and stick to the plan. Prolonging a dirty bulk will only end in excess fat gain and limited muscle gain, so it’s important to be firm with your timeline.
Dirty bulking for a week or two is ideal for teenagers, because it’s long enough to help them put on weight, but not so long that it would cause issues (i.e. excess weight, health issues, nutrient deficiencies).
During this short period spent dirty bulking, hit the weights hard to ensure you gain as much muscle and as little fat as possible.
Last but not least, those who are dirty bulking to gain weight for 1-2 weeks should go back to a more normal eating routine (i.e. return to maintenance calories) once the dirty bulk is over.
My Recommendation For Most Teens That Want To Bulk
My recommendation is for teenagers to avoid dirty bulking because dirty bulking as a teenager can lead to bad habits, cause excess fat gain, and hinder future progress. Teenage lifters simply need to be patient and enjoy the process of gaining strength and muscle the right way.
To grow big and strong without dirty bulking, you should:
Lift Weights For Sets of 3-5 Reps For 3 Days/Week
Lifting weights is the only real way to build muscle. As a teenager, the best results will come from lifting in sets of 3-5 reps for a total of 20-30 reps per exercise for 3 workouts a week.
Researchers at the University of Ohio’s Department of Biomedical Sciences found that lifting weights in the 3-5 and 9-11 rep range both produce similar results in muscle growth. But they found that lifting in the 3-5 rep range had the added benefit of increasing strength.
As a teenager, your focus should be on getting stronger. As you get stronger, you will lift heavier weights, which will lead to bigger gains in muscle mass.
Eat Your Bodyweight x 20 In Calories Each Day
Lifting weights is crucial for strength and muscle gain, but your body will only grow if you are in a caloric surplus. To achieve a calorie surplus, you need to eat more calories than you burn.
As a teen, you should aim to eat 250-500 calories more than your maintenance calories. If you don’t know your maintenance calories then you can follow a simple formula using your body weight in pounds multiplied by 20.
Building muscle requires hard work in the gym and the kitchen. Tracking what you eat encourages you to learn more about the calories and macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat) in the foods you eat, which is an important part of the process.
Take the time to track and measure the foods you eat and make sure you’re eating enough to build muscle.
Eat One Gram of Protein Per Pound of Bodyweight
Eating enough protein is the key to building muscle, so teenagers wanting to gain muscle should eat one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight every day.
If you’re meeting your calorie target but you’re not getting enough protein then you’re less likely to put on muscle and more likely to put on fat.
Eat 4-6 Meals Spread Throughout the Day
When and how often you eat can impact the amount of muscle you gain. Eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day has been shown to maximize muscle growth.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) states that:
“Consuming 20–40 grams of protein every three to four hours increases muscle protein synthesis and is associated with improved body composition and performance.”– ISSN
As a teenager looking to gain mass, you should not skip breakfast or try intermittent fasting. Instead, eat consistently throughout the day, from morning until night
Consistency is the key to making progress, especially when your goal is to build muscle. You need to consistently lift weights and eat enough calories and protein for months to see notable growth.
You can have the perfect diet and workout plan, but if you don’t dedicate yourself to following the program consistently throughout your teens, you will not see great results.
Working hard in the gym one week and then skipping a couple of workouts the next will not get you the results you want. Nor will eating enough calories and protein during the week but falling off the wagon on the weekends.
You don’t have to be perfect. But teens need to stick to their diet and workout program at least 90% of the time for months and sometimes years to become the big, strong individual they want to be.
What To Read Next
Goldberg AL, Etlinger JD, Goldspink DF, Jablecki C. Mechanism of work-induced hypertrophy of skeletal muscle. Med Sci Sports. 1975 Fall;7(3):185-98. PMID: 128681.
Duke SA, Balzer BW, Steinbeck KS. Testosterone and its effects on human male adolescent mood and behavior: a systematic review. J Adolesc Health. 2014 Sep;55(3):315-22. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2014.05.007. PMID: 25151053.
Campos GE, Luecke TJ, Wendeln HK, Toma K, Hagerman FC, Murray TF, Ragg KE, Ratamess NA, Kraemer WJ, Staron RS. Muscular adaptations in response to three different resistance-training regimens: specificity of repetition maximum training zones. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2002 Nov;88(1-2):50-60. doi: 10.1007/s00421-002-0681-6. Epub 2002 Aug 15. PMID: 12436270.
Schoenfeld, B. J., Contreras, B., Vigotsky, A. D., & Peterson, M. (2016). Differential Effects of Heavy Versus Moderate Loads on Measures of Strength and Hypertrophy in Resistance-Trained Men. Journal of sports science & medicine, 15(4), 715–722.
Chad M. Kerksick, Shawn Arent, Brad J. Schoenfeld, Jeffrey R. Stout, Bill Campbell, Colin D. Wilborn, Lem Taylor, Doug Kalman, Abbie E. Smith-Ryan, Richard B. Kreider, Darryn Willoughby, Paul J. Arciero, Trisha A. VanDusseldorp, Michael J. Ormsbee, Robert Wildman, Mike Greenwood, Tim N. Ziegenfuss, Alan A. Aragon & Jose Antonio (2017) International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14:1, DOI: 10.1186/s12970-017-0189-4
About The Author
Riley Nadoroznick is a strength, conditioning, and nutrition coach and the owner of Conviction Fitness.
Why Trust Our Content
On Staff at FeastGood.com, we have Registered Dietitians, coaches with PhDs in Human Nutrition, and internationally ranked athletes who contribute to our editorial process. This includes research, writing, editing, fact-checking, and product testing/reviews. At a bare minimum, all authors must be certified nutrition coaches by either the National Academy of Sports Medicine, International Sport Sciences Association, or Precision Nutrition. Learn more about our team here.
Have a Question?
If you have any questions or feedback about what you’ve read, you can reach out to us at email@example.com. We respond to every email within 1 business day.