As a nutrition coach that works with clients who want to get stronger, I’m often asked if dirty bulking is a good way to build strength more quickly.
So, does dirty bulking make you stronger? When combined with resistance training, the increased calorie intake from a dirty bulk can help contribute to both muscle and strength gains. With that said, there is no evidence to support that a dirty bulk provides more long-term strength and muscle gains compared to a more calculated and controlled calorie surplus.
In addition to this, it is important to take into consideration the negative impact that a dirty bulk can have on your health and fitness goals if implemented for a long period of time.
- A dirty bulk will result in increased strength gains when combined with resistance training since studies show a calorie surplus of 10-20% above your maintenance calories is sufficient for muscle gains.
- While a dirty bulk will yield impressive strength gains initially, staying in a dirty bulk for too long will result in unnecessary and unwanted fat gain.
- A dirty bulk is a good option for individuals who have a tough time gaining weight, while individuals who gain weight easily are better off following a clean bulk with a calculated and controlled calorie surplus
Dirty Bulking & Strength: What’s The Connection?
Studies have shown that in order to gain a significant amount of muscle you must be in a sufficient calorie surplus. For the majority of people, this means eating around 10-20% more than your maintenance calories.
However, a dirty bulk will typically surpass this calorie range by quite a bit since a dirty bulk is typically used as a “calorie free-for-all”.
A dirty bulk would qualify as a more extreme calorie surplus, and because it is a surplus it is safe to assume that when combined with a proper strength training program a dirty bulk will result in increased muscle and strength.
It is important to keep in mind that a dirty bulk will not produce strength gains on its own, and has to be combined with resistance training to give your muscles a reason to become stronger.
If you drastically increase your calories above maintenance level without a proper exercise routine, then you are more likely to gain weight from fat as opposed to muscle.
How To Take Advantage Of Your Strength Gain During A Dirty Bulk
You can optimize your ability to gain strength while dirty bulking in the following ways.
Prioritize Protein Rich Foods
While a dirty bulk allows you to eat whatever foods you desire in unlimited quantities, if your goal is to increase your strength, then you should be paying attention to your protein intake.
Protein is an essential macronutrient for strength gains because it helps the body to build, maintain and repair muscle. So, if you’re not consuming enough protein, then even if you’re in a calorie surplus you will not make significant strength or muscle gains.
The recommended daily intake of protein is around 0.36 grams per pound of body weight; however, research indicates that a sufficient amount of protein in your diet to encourage muscle growth is around 0.7-1 gram per pound of body weight.
Train At Least 3 Times Per Week
If you want to maximize your strength gains during a dirty bulk, then you should aim to lift weights around 4-5 times per week, with a minimum of 3 lifts in a week.
The goal when training in a bulking phase is to work each muscle group around 2-3 times per week.
Include a Combo of Compound and Isolation Exercises
To challenge your muscles enough to encourage more growth, it is best to include a combination of both compound and isolation exercises into your workout routine.
Compound exercises are movements that work multiple muscle groups at the same time. For example, when you perform a squat the muscle groups that are working are your glutes, quadriceps, and calves, along with your core stabilizing muscles.
A few more examples of compound exercises are:
- Bench Press
- Push Up
- Pull Up
- Shoulder Press
On the other hand, isolation exercises are movements that work on one specific muscle group, and typically only require the movement of a single joint. For example, a bicep curl is specifically targeting the biceps.
A few examples of isolation exercises are:
- Tricep Kickbacks
- Crunches and Sit Ups
- Dumbbell Lateral Raises
- Calf Raises
Including plenty of both isolation and compound exercises in sets of 3-12 reps (lifting heavy as opposed to lighter weight) will encourage muscle building.
You should be lifting heavy enough that your last few reps should be quite challenging, which brings me to my next tip!
- Related Article: Does Bulking Increase Testosterone? What Science Says
Make An Effort To Progress Your Movements Each Week
When you are resistance training it is important to ensure that you are striving for progress in your exercises and the weight that you are lifting, since this will challenge your muscles and result in more strength and growth.
If you stick to the same exercises and lifting the same weights every week even though you find it less challenging than when you started, you are likely going to hit a plateau in your progress.
You can progress your movements by:
- Adding a couple of extra reps at the same weight
- Adding an extra set at the same weight
- Increasing the weight for the same number of reps and sets
- Slowing down the movement to spend more time under tension at the same weight
- Switch to a more difficult variation of the movement
If you are doing too much cardio during your dirty bulk, you run the risk of burning too many calories and no longer being in a calorie surplus. If you’re no longer in a calorie surplus then there will be less energy available to put towards strength gains.
While you are dirty bulking your exercise should be focused primarily on weight training, and your cardio sessions should be secondary.
If you’re someone who enjoys cardio then you may want to continue engaging in some cardio sessions while you’re bulking.
I recommend sticking to lower-intensity activities (i.e. walking or biking), keeping your sessions short (i.e.10-15 minutes), and making sure that these sessions are happening after your lift or on days off from lifting.
Will You Be Stronger On A Dirty Bulk vs Clean Bulk?
Although a dirty bulk (unlimited calories) may initially yield more strength gains compared to a clean bulk (10-20% higher calories than your maintenance), both bulking strategies are equally as effective at producing strength and muscle gains, especially over a consistent period of time.
In the first week or two of a dirty bulk, you might notice some significant improvements in your strength thanks to the excess calories (energy).
However, following a dirty bulk for longer periods (more than 4 weeks) greatly increases your risk of putting on excess fat, which will add to the weight you will need to drop later on in a cutting phase.
Following a more slow and controlled calorie surplus with a clean bulk will produce very similar strength gains, with a much lower risk of putting on unwanted fat.
Should You Use A Dirty Bulk To Get Stronger: My Recommendation
Whether or not I think it is ideal to utilize a dirty bulk to gain strength is dependent upon the individual and how easily they gain weight.
I would recommend a dirty bulk to improve strength for those who struggle to put on weight, otherwise known as “hard gainers”.
Hard gainers are typically young individuals who are quite physically active and have a fast metabolism, which makes it hard for them to consume enough calories to gain muscle.
I wouldn’t recommend a dirty bulk for strength gain for those who can put on weight quite easily. For these individuals, I would recommend sticking to a cleaner bulk with a more calculated calorie surplus to avoid excess fat gain.
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About The Author
Colby Roy is a holistic health and nutrition coach. She is certified through Precision Nutrition and has a passion for all things nutrition and healing the body. More specifically, Colby likes to work with clients who want to optimize their gut health and energy levels.