There are two key paradigms here – clean and lean bulking – with different perspectives on weight gain. But to understand them, you need to know the basics of “classical” or “dirty” bulking.
Dirty bulking is the mentality of gaining weight no matter what by eating and lifting everything. This is a totally laissez-faire approach to dieting for muscle where you get your protein in and eat whatever else you want.
Clearly, there are problems with this approach! It’s awful for health, indistinguishable from regular fat gain for metabolic purposes, and certainly not in-line with your aesthetic goals.
This often requires a huge cut afterwards, undoing all the hard work you’ve put in while pushing you to a calorie deficit that is so strict you’re losing muscle. There’s a better way.
On the other extreme, Clean bulking is an optimistic and restrictive approach that suggests you eat enough to gain weight, but of “clean” foods.
This is a huge ask since your food volume and tedium are likely to be very high. Quitting is easy at this point.
Alternatively, I like the “lean” bulk. This is a diet that keeps overall gains low, allowing you to build muscle without gaining fat. This might mean a calorie surplus of 300-500, rather than the 1000s you might see in a dirty bulk.
This is also great because it allows you to train effectively, recover effectively, and eat plenty of healthy foods with some luxuries here and there to keep you on the right path!
This should focus on getting all your nutrients in – not just proteins, but vitamins and minerals – with a 10% allowance of luxury foods. These allow for recovery, enjoyment, and a flexible approach to dieting.
Remember: whatever you gain now is going to take time and effort and restriction to lose later. It’s always better to extend a bulk as long as possible without getting too “fluffy” for your own goals. This means patience and a sustainable approach to gaining mass.
A lean bulk might take a little longer but there are two key benefits to this:
- You’re gaining muscle and improving performance sustainably over time
- You’re not cutting. Enjoy it!