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Posted 12 February 2015 by Ross Edgley

Whats Wrong With


Dirty Bulking?

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A view on Dirty Bulking by Ross Edgely

Personally I remain lean all year round. Mainly because I think it should be a lifestyle and not some seasonal venture that people adopt when the summer time comes round. Now I know some people will take the argument, “but I’m bulking” which I accept. Of course intelligent periodization should form part of every person’s routine. But I typically draw people’s attention to the science around these crazy, 10,000 calorie a day ‘dirty bulks’….

So it’s widely known to induce muscular hypertrophy (and increase in the size of your muscles) you will need to create a ‘calorie surplus’. Put simply you eat more calories than you use/burn. But a mistake most strength and power athletes make is they reach for the burger, chips, cheese and ice cream. All the time telling themselves it’s ok since the extra calories will also add extra quality muscle. The problem is it doesn’t. Yes, sure your body meets its daily calorie needs but it will also be lacking in certain other vitamins and minerals that are needed for muscle growth. It’s basically a very narrow minded way of looking at nutrition and the human body.

Let’s take soft drinks and ice cream as a prime example. Not exactly known for being a great source of minerals and what’s worse is that a lot of them contain phosphates that have been shown to deplete the body’s iron stores. Iron is obviously hugely important to athletes since it’s vital for the transportation of oxygen by haemoglobin and muscles using oxygen by myoglobin. Having less iron in the body means less oxygen can be delivered to the working muscles. Again, is it any wonder you see these massive guys who are on a bulk yet struggle for breath walking up the stairs. Yes, they’re carrying more weight than their frame is used to (basic physics) but equally their body’s nutritionally handicapped by the lack of iron and oxygen circulating the body. 

Talking more generally, junk food such as doughnuts or pastries lack various muscle building micronutrients such as zinc which serves as a cofactor in more than 100 enzyme processes within the body, the most important being to help build DNA, protein, insulin and testosterone production. Obviously insulin is needed by the body to shuttle key nutrients such as amino acids to the muscles and testosterone is a hugely important anabolic hormone and without sufficient zinc in the diet both are affected.

Whilst there are too many nutrients to name specifically, it’s important to note that high calorie diets can lead to nutrient deficiency or a new form of malnutrition as described by scientists Orit Kaidar-Person et al (2008) which will ultimately leave your muscles underfed and will stunt their growth. Therefore concerning nutrients, it’s much wiser to attempt a clean bulk and ensure you create a calorie surplus through more nutrient dense foods since this will ensure your body also receives the often overlooked micronutrients it needs for muscular hypertrophy. The next issue regarding a dirty bulk is related to your insulin sensitivity. Firstly insulin is a hormone responsible for shuttling nutrients to the muscles and insulin sensitivity relates to how much of the hormone insulin your body needs to shuttle these nutrients to muscles.

Put simply ‘good insulin sensitivity’ means your body only needs a small amount to transport nutrients to the muscles whereas ‘bad insulin sensitivity’ means your body isn’t very good at shuttling nutrients to the muscles and requires a lot of insulin, plus even worse than that you’re also on track to diabetes. Now whilst insulin sensitivity varies from person to person research shows that a dirty bulk won’t help matters. Specifically this relates to fast food and its content of trans fatty acids (trans fats) which is an artificially made fat that’s used when making pastries, cookies, doughnuts and French fries.  It’s responsible for that ‘melt in your mouth’ type feeling you get from a really nice doughnut or cookie and although it tastes amazing, researchers Mark. A Pereira et al (2005) state it negatively affects insulin sensitivity. This means although certain French fries taste amazing and they will help you create a calorie surplus, they will detrimentally affect insulin sensitivity and therefore how effectively nutrients are transported to the muscles. This exact principle also applies with foods that are high in fructose such as certain pre-packaged cereals, junk food deserts, potato chips, soft drinks and shockingly certain snack bars that are advertised as healthy since researchers Heather Basciano et al (2005) found that diets containing a high amount of fructose again negatively affected insulin sensitivity. So again, whilst washing your ‘dirty bulking’ meal down with a litre of orange fizzy drinks may help you get the calories in, your muscles won’t thank you for the reduced insulin sensitivity (Bray G.A, 2010).

Finally (and very closely linked to insulin sensitivity) is how effectively you will be able to keep your body fat low and only build quality, functional mass for sport rather. Whilst insulin helps to transport nutrients to the muscles, it’s also the most lipolytic (fat storing) hormone in the body, shuttling fatty acids and glucose to fat cells to be stored as body fat. For this reason no strength athlete will want bad insulin sensitivity since this means their body will release more insulin which in turn reduces lipolysis (the burning of fat) and increases lipogensis (the storing of body fat.)  The final point to consider is that whilst dirty bulking may produce short-term gains and also look very impressive as you stand on the scales and gain 5 lbs. a week, it may not be very good in the long-term and actually be counterproductive when you’re trying to build a stronger physique with more functional mass.

Written By Ross Edgley

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