Bulking: How To Bulk (& Difference Between Clean & Dirty Bulk)

Updated in November 2023

Bulking is a term used to describe the process of putting on weight by increasing muscle mass. This is considered to be the first phase of hypertrophy. People who weight train and high performance athletes will tend to look for more muscular definition. Bulking is done by increasing calorie intake for a period of 4 to 6 months. 

After gaining weight through bulking, the next step is to lose excess fat that was gained in the process. This is referred to as cutting. Bulking and cutting is a strategy that aims to alter body composition through overall weight gain, followed a period of losing body fat.

Although bulking is common among weight trainers, it can also be done by those who go to the gym and wish to increase their muscle mass. You are advised to be monitored by both registered dietitian and a personal trainer to ensure your eating and exercise plans are appropriate for your goals. Having trained professionals monitor your progress will also ensure that you do not put on excessive body fat.

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How to bulk

Athletes will typically focus on bulking on their off-season, when they are not actively training for a competition. This is so that they can freely gain weight without concerns. To make sure bulking is done correctly in a healthy weight, there are a few nutritional tips to keep in mind: 

  • Eat more calories than you burn. Given the goal is to gain weight, you need to eat a hypercaloric diet, with increased carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats. 
  • Limit bulking to a specific time period. Cutting your bulking period short or extending it may result in less muscle mass during the cutting phase. 
  • Stick to your exercise plan, as indicated by a personal trainer. You exercise plan should be guided by your personal goals. During bulking, high intensity exercises, for example, should not exceed 15 minutes. 

If it normal to notice an increase in body fat when muscle mass increases. Therefore, monitoring by a registered dietitian and by a personal trainer will ensure that body fat increases are kept at a minimum. This will allow the cutting phase to be more efficient. 

There are two main strategies for bulking, both which should be monitored by a personal trainer and a registered dietitian. These include: 

1. Clean bulking

Clean bulking involves careful tracking of the food ingested. With this type of bulking, healthy and functional foods are generally favored, despite the number of calories they may have. 

A registered dietitian can be helpful in not only developing an appropriate eating plan, but also in recommending certain supplements to make bulking more efficient. This will make the cutting phase more successful, and will ensure that muscle gains are done in a slow, but healthy way. 

2. Dirty bulking

Dirty bulking involves less tracking of food. You generally aim to consume more carbohydrates and fats, which leads to increased weight, but particularly increased body fat. 

This strategy is not as healthy and the cutting phase will take a little longer, however muscle gains are much quicker. This strategy is most used by professional athletes. 

Bulking and cutting

Bulking involves the process that that precedes cutting, in which more calories are consumed than burned. The objective is to gain weight to increase body mass. When the bulking phase has ended and the person has successfully gained weight, than the next phase of cutting starts. Cutting involves a more restrictive diet and more intense physical activity in order to lose accumulated body fat and achieve better muscle definition. 

Bulking and cutting are usually done in combination, but should be monitored by a registered dietitian and by a personal trainer. This will ensure that the expected benefits of increased muscular strength and hypertrophy with fat burning are accomplished.

Bulking and cutting can also result in better overall circulation, which is of great value for weightlifting competitions. It can also lead to increased growth hormone levels, which is also necessary for gaining muscle mass.