When one of my clients decides to do a dirty bulk to add mass, one of the first questions they have is about what foods they should be eating.
So, what are the best foods to eat when dirty bulking? Though you have a ton of dietary freedom when dirty bulking, the best foods to eat are those high in calories but low in bulk or volume. Foods like bagels, pizza, cookies, and cereal are great choices when dirty bulking as they add tons of calories without filling you up too much.
Dirty bulking is a very unique dietary strategy because the goal really is to eat as many calories as possible to get as big as possible, but this requires throwing out almost everything you know about diet and nutrition and implementing new strategies.
- Tracking your calories isn’t necessary while dirty bulking as long as you’re eating enough calories to gain mass
- To encourage more muscle gain than fat gain while dirty bulking, you should follow a specific macronutrient split.
- Certain fast food restaurants are better than others when dirty bulking because they have higher-calorie, higher-protein menu items.
How Many Calories Should You Eat On A Dirty Bulk?
When dirty bulking, you should consume at least 20% more than maintenance calories. However, as the goal of a dirty bulk is to gain as much weight as possible, you have the freedom to eat as much as you want. The more you eat, the bigger you’ll get.
Macronutrient Breakdown When Dirty Bulking
When dirty bulking, you have a lot of freedom and don’t necessarily need to track macros or calories (as long as you’re eating at least 20% above maintenance); however, a macronutrient breakdown of 25% protein, 50% carbohydrate, and 25% fat can help increase lean body mass and reduce fat gain.
Part of the beauty of a dirt bulk is that you have a lot of dietary freedom. Most people prefer to take some time off of tracking their nutrition while on a dirty bulk as the goal really is to just get in as many calories as you can.
This non-tracking method of dirty bulking is best for those who don’t care about how much fat mass they’re gaining compared to muscle mass.
However, if you want to gain as much lean body mass as possible while dirty bulking and reduce body fat as much as you can, then you should be more intentional with your macronutrient ratio.
The high-carbohydrate content in this macronutrient ratio will help fuel intense training sessions, allowing you to train harder and longer, leading to better muscle mass gains.
- Related Article: Can You Build Muscle On A Poor Diet?
Rules For Selecting Your Dirty Bulking Grocery List
There are no strict rules when it comes to dirty bulking, so any food that you enjoy can make it onto your dirty bulking grocery list; however, there are certain guidelines that you should follow when making your grocery list to ensure you’re getting the most out of your dirty bulk.
1. Stock Up On High-Protein Foods
When you’re dirty bulking you’ll have more calories at your disposal to train harder in the gym and build muscle, but you need to consume enough protein to facilitate this muscle growth.
Research shows that high-protein diets lead to an increase in fat-free mass (muscle mass) when combined with resistance training.
You can certainly enjoy some junkier foods during a dirty bulk, but if you want to add lean mass and see improvement in the gym during your dirty bulk, you must make protein a priority.
So, when shopping for a dirty bulk, be sure not to skimp out on all your high-protein favorites like beef, chicken, pork, greek yogurt, and eggs.
2. Don’t Be Afraid Of Carbs
There’s a time and a place for eating low-carb, but it’s certainly not when trying to gain as much mass as possible. During a dirty bulk, eating a lot of carbohydrates will help you put on some serious mass.
When lifting weights – which is necessary to gain muscle during a dirty bulk – your main source of energy will be glycogen from the carbohydrates you eat. Eating a lot of carbohydrates will help you lift heavier weights for more sets and reps, which will lead to bigger gains.
“Current research still points to carbohydrate as an indispensable energy source for high-intensity performance”Mitch Kanter, PhD
In addition to being your main fuel source when lifting, carbs are also easier to digest and don’t fill you up as much as fat or protein-dense foods, allowing you to eat more.
Rice, pasta, cereal, bread, cookies, potatoes, and whatever other high-carb foods you love can and should be added to your grocery list while dirty bulking.
- Related Article: 15 Cheap Carbs For Bulking – That Are Still Good For You
3. Spend Less Time In The Produce Aisle
Trying to fill up on nutrient-dense foods like fruits and vegetables is not ideal when on a dirty bulk because they fill you up with fewer calories, making it difficult to eat enough to gain weight.
You should still include these foods in your diet to ensure you’re getting essential vitamins and minerals, but you won’t need to buy as much produce as you normally would.
For example, normally we recommend filling half your plate with fruits or veggies at each meal but when you’re dirty bulking a better recommendation would be filling ¼ of your plate with these low-calorie nutrient-dense foods.
Pick a few of your favorite staple fruits and vegetables such as bananas, apples, and spinach, and then fill the rest of your cart with higher-calorie foods.
- Related Article: Dirty Bulking As A Teenager: A Closer Look & Is It Safe?
4. Look For Proven Supplements
Although it’s possible to build muscle without using supplements, adding some quality supplements to your grocery list when dirty bulking can help make consuming enough calories and nutrients more convenient.
When I was dirty bulking, I made a point to have a shake (with protein, mass gainer, or meal replacement) after every meal to help me increase my calorie intake.
Best Foods For Dirty Bulking
The best foods for dirty bulking are foods that are high in calories but low in volume because they will provide you with all of the calories you need to add mass without causing you to feel overly full.
If you want my full 1-week dirty bulking meal plan then check out this article.
Otherwise, here are the 8 best foods for dirty bulking:
1. Whole Eggs
Forget your egg-white omelet. Whole eggs (71 calories) not only have nearly 4x the calories of egg whites (18 calories) but they also result in greater stimulation of muscle protein synthesis (a precursor for muscle growth) when consumed post-workout.
- Related Article: How Many Eggs Should I Eat To Gain Weight?
When dirty bulking, you can enjoy your favorite cuts of beef guilt-free. T-bones, rib eyes, and burgers are all fair game and will help you reach your calorie goal for the day because of their higher fat content.
3. Breakfast Cereal
It’s a lot easier to wolf down two or three bowls of your favorite breakfast cereal than it is to eat the same amount of oatmeal. Quick, easy, and cheap, having a few bowls of cereal before bed is a great way to cap off a day of dirty bulking.
4. Protein Shakes/Weight Gainers
Drinking a protein or weight gainer shake after each meal is a great way to sneak quality calories in to help you reach a higher calorie intake.
5. Ice Cream
I’ve never met anyone too full for ice cream. High in carbohydrates and easy to consume, ice cream is a great snack when dirty bulking. Add it to your shakes or just have a few scoops for dessert. Get my list of the best ice cream for bulking.
Cookies are high in carbohydrates and calories and an easy snack to bring along with you wherever you go. A few cookies and a protein shake make for a fantastic dirty-bulking midday snack.
One bagel (55g carbohydrates) contains over 4x the number of carbohydrates in a piece of white bread (13g carbohydrates). Eating a bagel instead of two pieces of toast in the morning will help you more than double your carbohydrate consumption.
Pizza is great when dirty bulking as it makes it very easy to consume a lot of calories. With roughly 250 calories per slice of a 14” pepperoni pizza, having the odd pizza night when dirty bulking can really help you pack on the pounds.
Eating Fast Food While Dirty Bulking
One of the best parts about dirty bulking is the dietary freedom you have, so eating fast food while dirty bulking is perfectly acceptable and, in some cases, encouraged. However, there are two general guidelines that you should follow:
- Choose foods with lots of protein like burgers, tacos, or meat-topped pizza to help build muscle mass.
- Try not to have fast food for every meal, but don’t stress about a daily trip to your favorite fast food restaurant.
Some fast-food restaurants are also better than others when you’re dirty bulking. The best places are those that have high-calorie menu items that are also high in protein, like the following options:
- Taco Bell. Tacos and burritos can provide a lot of protein and carbohydrates. Chomp down a burrito, have a taco or two for dessert, and you’ll have well over 1,000 calories.
- Subway. A sub can be a great way to add calories when dirty bulking. If you load it up with meat, cheese, and sauce then one sub sandwich can have over 1,300 calories.
- Arby’s. The half-pound French dip sandwich will provide you with 55g of protein, 52g of carbohydrates, 35g of fat, and 743 calories. Getting that many calories at one time is ideal for a dirty bulk.
- Domino’s. If you need a lot of calories, not much compares to pizza. A medium Domino’s pizza, which most people can eat in one sitting, can have well over 70g of protein, 100g of carbohydrates, and 1,400 calories.
What Foods Should You Avoid
When dirty bulking, you want to avoid foods that are low in calories and high in volume like leafy green vegetables, zero-calorie beverages, and cauliflower.
Foods you should avoid when dirty bulking include:
- Leafy Greens. Spinach, kale, and lettuce are great most of the time, but when dirty bulking, they add too much bulk for very few calories. Instead, put lettuce on your burgers, kale in your protein shakes, and/or sneak sauteed spinach into your meals to get the nutrients without all the bulk.
- Broccoli and Cauliflower. These cruciferous vegetables are low in calories and fill you up fast. Take a break from these vegetables for a while and you’ll look forward to eating them again after your dirty bulk.
- Watermelon. Watermelon is low in calories (just 40 calories/cup) but really filling due to its high water content. Eating 1-2 cups of watermelon will barely make a dent in your calorie intake but will leave you feeling full for a while.
- Oatmeal. High in fiber, low in calories, and overly satiating. However, if you insist on eating oatmeal while dirty bulking, be sure to include high-calorie toppings like honey and dried fruit.
- Air Popped Popcorn. Unbuttered popcorn makes for a great snack when you’re trying to lose or maintain weight as there are only ~100 calories in 3.5 cups, but when you’re trying to gain weight with a dirty bulk, there are much better snack options.
- Zero-Calorie Beverages. When dirty bulking, we have to break most of the diet rules we know and love, including “don’t drink your calories.” Forget the tea, black coffee, and diet soda when dirty bulking, these beverages will fill you up and offer no calories.
Campbell BI, Aguilar D, Conlin L, Vargas A, Schoenfeld BJ, Corson A, Gai C, Best S, Galvan E, Couvillion K. Effects of High Versus Low Protein Intake on Body Composition and Maximal Strength in Aspiring Female Physique Athletes Engaging in an 8-Week Resistance Training Program. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2018 Nov 1;28(6):580-585. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.2017-0389. Epub 2018 Jul 3. Erratum in: Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2020 Sep 1;30(5):383. PMID: 29405780.
van Vliet S, Shy EL, Abou Sawan S, Beals JW, West DW, Skinner SK, Ulanov AV, Li Z, Paluska SA, Parsons CM, Moore DR, Burd NA. Consumption of whole eggs promotes greater stimulation of postexercise muscle protein synthesis than consumption of isonitrogenous amounts of egg whites in young men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017 Dec;106(6):1401-1412. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.117.159855. Epub 2017 Oct 4. PMID: 28978542.
About The Author
Riley Nadoroznick is a strength, conditioning, and nutrition coach and the owner of Conviction Fitness.
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