While weight loss is a more common goal these days, some people are interested in gaining weight for certain purposes instead. In the world of bodybuilding and strength sports, a common term for weight gain is often used — bulking.
What is Bulking?
Bulking is a phase of bodybuilding. This is the phase in which you intentionally increase weight by consuming more calories than you burn. As a rule, in this phase, people who want to become more muscular use a combination of strength training and a high-calorie diet with a high protein content. There are two main types of bulking. Dirty Bulking and Lean Bulking.
Dirty Bulking can be defined as a period of inexorable weight gain by any means necessary to increase muscle mass and strength. This is usually combined with high-intensity exercises with weights to complement this adaptation. This approach is useful for bodybuilders, weightlifters, and powerlifters in the off-season.
In the Dirty Bulking approach, no products are prohibited. The goal is to eat as much as is tolerable to increase body weight. Often, high-calorie smoothies and weight-gain powders are used during this phase to promote a calorie surplus and subsequent increase in muscle mass.
While this may work for some, others may find that the negative side effects outweigh the benefits since it can contribute to unwanted fat gain.
- All high-calorie foods: red meat, protein powders, high-calorie mass gain powders, carbohydrates such as pasta and baked goods
- Low in calorie foods
Lean (Clean) Bulking
In Lean Bulking, you rigidly regulate excess calories to prevent excessive weight gain. The diet mainly consists of whole foods with minimal processing. High-calorie unhealthy foods are restricted to promote a slimmer body composition.
Lean Bulking is often used by athletes who want to stay relatively slim in the off-season, for example, mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters, boxers, and gymnasts. However, this approach is not suitable for everyone since the weight gain associated with it is usually slower than with Dirty Bulking.
- Low-fat proteins: chicken, fish, turkey, cottage cheese, tofu, and eggs
- Healthy fats: olive oil, avocado, nuts
- Legumes: all beans
- High-quality carbohydrates: oats, quinoa, whole-grain pasta, white and sweet potatoes
- Fruits: apples, oranges, bananas, pineapples, grapefruits, and all kinds of berries
- Non-starchy vegetables: peppers, asparagus, string beans, mushrooms, onions
- Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts
- Dark leafy greens: spinach, chard, kale, and cabbage
- Drinks: water, seltzer water, tea, coffee, and kombucha
- High-processed foods: fried foods, canned soups, and stews, sweet cereals, chips, fast food
- Fats: fatty pieces of beef or pork, as well as processed pork or beef sausages
- Saturated fats: margarine, butter, and some oils
- Beverages: soft drinks, sweetened coffee, sweet tea, lemonade
Preiato, Daniel. “Clean Bulking: Overview, Guide, and Best Foods.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 8 Oct. 2020, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/clean-bulk#downsides. Preiato, Daniel. “Dirty Bulking: Effectiveness, Downsides, and More.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 5 Dec. 2019, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/dirty-bulking#foods-to-eat-and-avoid.