Whether you are a beginner or an experienced lifter, your ultimate goal of having that chiseled physique can only be achieved if you have a good amount of lean muscle mass to start with. Otherwise, you will just end up looking way too skinny or saggy.
Lean muscle mass gives your body the right proportions and also enhances your strength as a lifter.
To gain muscle mass, there are two concepts in bodybuilding - the first one is going on a dirty bulk and eating in a huge surplus, including junk food. This way, you will definitely gain muscle mass, considering you are working hard at the gym and focusing on progressive overload. But the drawback here is you will also end up gaining a lot of body fat because of the huge surplus. So, you will need to go on a long cutting diet to reveal your actual physique and all the muscle mass you have gained while bulking. Trust me - it's a very long and painful process.
The alternate to this concept is to follow a clean bulk diet. This is where you follow a slight caloric surplus diet and progressive overload at the gym to gain lean muscle mass. A clean bulk diet is as rigid as a shredded diet. It's just about having the correct information about it. In a clean bulk diet, your calorie surplus is tightly regulated to prevent excessive fat gain.
Now, let us discuss in detail the pros and cons of Clean Bulking and Dirty Bulking: -
Ease or Difficulty of Sticking to the Process
When it comes to ease of use, dirty bulking clearly outperforms clean bulking. Clean bulking is significantly more difficult and complex than dirty bulking. Clean bulking diets emphasize nutrient-dense foods, whereas dirty bulking diets favor calorie-dense foods. For those who require a high daily calorie intake, do not have a robust appetite, or are not organized enough to go grocery shopping and prepare meals regularly, dirty bulking is highly appealing because it is so much easier.
Lean Muscle Growth
When done correctly, clean and dirty bulking are both effective methods of increasing muscle mass. Weight training, adequate protein, and a caloric surplus are required to increase muscle mass. However, as we have already discussed, clean bulking is more complicated than dirty bulking. Unfortunately, some people begin with a clean bulking diet, become impatient, and quickly revert to a ‘dirty’ eating pattern. However, if you cannot grow on a clean bulking diet, you are most likely doing something incorrectly; you simply require more calories, more protein, or a combination of the two. Knowing which nutritious foods to consume to gain weight is highly beneficial. However, if you are concerned about gaining too much fat while increasing your muscle mass, a clean bulk is the best option for you.
Clean bulking is all about avoiding fat gain, so there's no doubt that it's the better option if you want to maintain your leanness during your bulk. Following an aggressive dirty bulking diet approach that includes convenient calorie-dense foods and a high-calorie surplus, you will almost certainly gain a significant amount of body fat.
Although some fat gain is unavoidable even when you follow a clean bulk, the problem arises when you gain excessive fat that slows down your long-term progress. Switching to a fat-loss diet takes time away from future muscle-building efforts and results in the loss of previously gained muscle.
Performance and Recovery
Clean bulking and dirty bulking are intertwined in terms of supporting performance and recovery. For example, many powerlifters and non-weight-class athletes follow a perpetual dirty bulking diet to maintain their muscle mass. Consuming large amounts of calories and protein is an effective way to fuel performance, regardless of whether or not you eat ‘clean’ or try to avoid gaining too much weight.
However, keep in mind that if you suffer from diet-related health problems, your physical performance will suffer as a result. That is why, in the long run, a clean bulking diet is preferable.
How to Follow Clean Bulking
The first step is to determine how many calories you need to maintain your current weight. These are the number of calories that you consume daily.
Having determined your maintenance calories, it's now time to figure out how many calories you should consume more than your maintenance calories each day in your diet.
Start with a 10-20 per cent calorie surplus to get the most out of your workout routine. For example, a man of average height and weight (80 kg) would add approximately 250–500 calories, whereas a woman of average height and weight (60 kg) would add approximately 200–400 calories.
It's time to figure out how you're going to distribute your macros. Carbohydrate and protein intake are essential in this situation because the goal is to gain lean muscle mass. Thus, the following will be the distribution of the macros:
- Carbohydrates – 50%
- Protein – 30%
- Fat – 20%
Your protein intake should be calculated around 1.6-2.0 grams per kg of your body weight as protein supports muscle gain.
The fats mentioned here is unsaturated (good) fats. This does not make you fat; it will promote your overall health and ensure optimum protein synthesis.
Food You Should Consume
As mentioned above, lean bulking is about having the proper nutrition. Lean bulking focuses mainly on the whole, unprocessed foods. However, small amounts of high calorie, processed items are also allowed once in a while.
Here are some food options to eat while clean muscle gain:
- Legumes: all beans, like chickpeas and kidney beans.
- Lean protein: chicken, fish, egg whites, Greek yoghurt, cottage cheese, etc.
- Complex carbs: oats, whole grain pasta, multigrain bread, brown rice, quinoa, and sweet potatoes.
- Healthy fats: olive oil, avocado, nuts, flaxseeds, etc.
- Fruit: oranges, apples, bananas, grapes, mangoes, etc.
Food You Should Avoid
While all foods can be enjoyed in moderation, it may be best to limit or avoid some of these items:
- Processed foods: cake, deep-fried foods, ice cream, chips, fast foods, cereals, etc.
- Saturated fats: butter, oil, etc.
- Beverages: colas, soft drinks, and other sugary drinks.
The Bottom Line
In many ways, Lean Bulking is more beneficial than Dirty Bulking, provided that it is carried out correctly. Using a lean bulking eating plan, you will have an opportunity to gain muscle and strength while avoiding the accumulation of excess fat on your body. This approach is intended for those who want to increase their muscle mass while preventing excess body fat.
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Cintineo, H. P., Arent, M. A., Antonio, J., & Arent, S. M. (2018). Effects of Protein Supplementation on Performance and Recovery in Resistance and Endurance Training. Frontiers in Nutrition, 5. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2018.00083
Westerman, A. (2005). Good fats, bad fats. 5 to 7 Educator, 2005(6), 15–17. https://doi.org/10.12968/ftse.2005.4.6.17788