Let's start out by saying this: Everyone has a baseline of maintenance calories that they need to just exist and stay the same weight. If you're 200 pounds and your needed maintenance calories are 2,500, you have to create a surplus in order to gain weight. If you want to “get big,” you need to eat more than 2,500 calories: a surplus. The differences lie in how many calories of surplus you create. There are two ways to do this: clean bulking and dirty bulking.
Clean bulking involves a small surplus, like 100 calories extra a day or 15 percent over your maintenance requirement while continuing to meet your macros. This gradual pace will minimize gains in body fat while helping you put on one to two pounds per month. While you're going to put on fat while bulking no matter what, if you want to stay as lean as possible while adding fat and muscle, go for clean bulking.
Dirty bulking is taking in a much larger calorie surplus, usually without tracking macros, following a set diet, or doing cardio. This is done without regard to fat. Do this if you want to fill out but do not really care about the rate or ratio of fat to muscle you're putting on. You might now be asking yourself: why would anyone dirty bulk? Well, the basic premise is this: the more you eat, the bigger you'll get. This is true, but it doesn't mean you'll get more muscular. People don't realize that the body can't build unlimited muscle in a set amount of time. In fact, it's impossible for someone who's been training regularly to gain 30-40 pounds of muscle in a few months or even a year. The only people who can gain even 18-20 pounds in a year is someone totally new to the gym, lifting weights, and training.
Why should I clean bulk instead of dirty bulk?
- The body can only build a set amount of lean muscle over a period of time. This isn't a “more = better” equation; past what the body can do naturally, you can't speed up the process any significant degree by doing it more. Any extra calories that you eat are just going to be stored in the body as fat.
- Dirty bulking can slow down your entire fitness process. It happens often: a skinny guy will want to get bigger and decide he doesn't care about gaining excess fat. He bulks up by chowing down on Big Macs, brownies, and pasta with no regard to his macros. After a few months into his smorgasbord, he wakes up and realizes that he's not happy with his body. He hasn't come close to his lean ideal, but now he has the added problem of carrying around extra fat (usually in the stomach). Now our guy has two options: he can keep bulking and gain even more fat, or he can start cutting—which essentially puts him back at square one. For every pound or two of body fat you gain, that's about a week of dieting and cardio.
- You'll feel better overall. You'll function better, have more energy, and reduce your risks of heart disease. Eating when you aren't hungry and stuffing yourself when you are is a recipe for feeling bloated, tired, and sluggish. Clean bulking, on the other hand, integrates cardio sessions throughout the week to leave you feeling energized.
Okay, you've convinced me. How do I clean bulk? Aim to eat about 15 percent more calories than you need to maintain your current weight. This is enough to build new muscle near your maximum potential but will keep fat gains at bay. While you're clean bulking, eat within your macros. Be sure to consume plenty of carbs, proteins, and limited amounts of fat. The meals should be very similar to what you ate while shredding, but in slightly more abundant quantities. We especially love the Promax Pro Series bars for when you need energy for a big cardio session.