What is the Best Muscle Building Diet?

Clean Bulk vs. Dirty Bulk: Which is better for bulking up and gaining a few pounds this bulking season? To settle the debate once and for all, we compare these two different bulking methods to see which comes out on top.

Learn the difference between the two, the pros and cons of both methods, and choose the best muscle building diet for you.

Cargo Allowances

Gaining mass, including a healthy weight, requires a calorie surplus, usually in addition to increased protein intake, adequate weight training, and recovery periods. And while eating more food may sound like a dream come true for many of us, it’s hard to gain lean muscle without packing on extra body fat.

Diet certainly plays a role here. The amount you eat and the type of food you eat in general can have an impact on the type of weight you end up gaining: fat versus muscle. So how can you tip the odds of getting more muscle mass in your favor?

There are two main types of muscle building diets: a clean bulk diet or also called lean bulking diet and a dirty bulk diet. A dirty lump usually involves eating a lot of extra calories from high-calorie foods, including junk food, to promote rapid weight gain. A clean bulk uses a more moderate increase in calories in addition to healthier food options.

But which is better to achieve optimal mass?

To help you decide the best way to gain weight, we’ve compared these two muscle-building diets. When analyzing each approach we observe:

muscle growth rate

The more calories you eat, the more weight you can quickly gain, hence the desire to make a dirty bulge. But let’s take a look at how fast you can gain muscle in particular on either diet. Is there a limit to the rate at which you can support muscle growth?

One study looking at trained athletes and rate of muscle gain included a nutrition-controlled group and an ad libitum group (1). The controlled nutrition group followed a macro-controlled diet plan intended to promote a weight gain of 0.7% of total body weight per week, or approximately a 500-calorie increase per day. The diet was high in protein (1.4 to 2 grams of protein per kg of body weight) and less than 30% of calories from dietary fat and suggested 5 to 7 nutritious meals throughout the day. day. Post-workout nutrition was also included.

ad lia littlea The group received no nutritional advice and were asked to increase their intake on their own with the same weight gain goal of 0.7% body weight gain per week.

While protein intake remained similar in both groups, calorie intake was actually higher in the nutrition-controlled group and therefore resulted in greater weight gain: 0.4% of body weight per week compared to 0.2%. And almost 72% of the total weight gain in the controlled nutrition group was muscle mass.

While increasing calories was a clear supporter of mass gain in this study, protein intake is also important to consider. Protein plays a crucial role in gaining lean tissue because amino acids are the building blocks of all muscle, and without adequate protein, muscle gain is difficult to achieve.

This was evidenced in another small study where participants They were fed an additional 1,000 calories a day to promote weight gain, with varying amounts of protein at 5%, 15%, or 25% of their calories (two). All of the protein groups gained weight, but the low protein group gained significantly less.

The winner

What we can glean from the science here is that more calories equals more, faster weight gain—it takes about 2,800 extra calories to build a pound of muscle. And because a dirty bulk is often associated with more calories, with adequate protein included, muscle mass can be achieved more quickly on this type of diet.

However, this approach may require some nutritional intervention, either calorie tracking or systematic dieting, as achieving higher calorie and protein goals can be difficult through ad libitum diets. Also, there is most likely a threshold for how quickly one can gain healthy weight and fat gain should be considered.

potential fat gain

Because any weight gain ultimately includes some amount of fat gain as well as muscle, the effects on body composition are an important factor when deciding on a bulky eating plan. Even if it can promote rapid lean tissue growth, if you end up gaining a lot of fat along with it, you’ll likely need to go through a fat loss (cutting) diet soon after to achieve the end result you’re looking for. searching.

In the first study mentioned above, higher caloric intake promoted an increase in total lean body mass, but also resulted in a significant amount of weight gain from body fat.


*The graph illustrates total body weight (weight gain) and % gain in lean/muscle body mass (LBM) and fat mass (FM) between a group with a higher nutritionally prescribed caloric intake (NCG) and an ad group. libitum/with a lower caloric intake (ALG).

And the second study above that looked at different protein levels suggests that protein intake is also key to preventing fat gain. If protein intake is too low, there are not enough amino acids available to build muscle, and excess calories will lead to more body fat. Additionally, some studies suggest that if most of your excess calories come from protein, they are more likely to promote lean mass over fat gain (3,4,5). But these effects seem to wear off once optimal protein needs are met, around 25% of total calories.


The amount of fat you can gain might be more closely related to your fitness level, as untrained people are more likely to pack on lean mass compared to those who have been strength training for some time and have already gained a good chunk of fat. amount of muscle to start with. (6). This would explain how a 2000 calorie surplus in untrained individuals could result in almost 100% of the weight gain as muscle in one study (7).

The winner

Based on limited research between the two bulking diets, a slower, more focused approach to weight gain, such as lean bulking, will likely result in more muscle mass and less body fat gain than a fast approach. However, your starting level of fitness and body composition can greatly affect the type of weight you can gain and how quickly you gain it.


We know that building muscle requires an increase in protein and calories combined. And while we can further argue whether a clean bulk or dirty bulk approach provides them better in the diet, overall nutrition must also be considered.

Certain vitamins and minerals are important in supporting muscle growth. Nutrition is also key to recovery, reducing the risk of disease, improving energy, mood and general well-being. Therefore, including more nutritious food options in your loading diet could offer additional advantages.

Lean bulking generally emphasizes more nutrient-dense whole foods and has the potential to supply more nutrients than a dirty lump loaded with heavily processed foods and empty calories. Studies suggest that vitamins A, C, and E may play a role in supporting muscle growth, and these vitamins are most commonly found in fruits and vegetables (8). In addition, an adequate intake of B vitamins, zinc, vitamin D, and calcium is also thought to be important, with meat and dairy being the best sources (9).

And what matters is not so much the amount of food you eat, but the type of food. Even at higher caloric levels, nutritional deficiencies occur: large numbers of people in this country are overfed and undernourished (10). If most of your calories are coming from foods that are high in fat, sugar, or heavily processed, you may be missing out on a lot of essential nutrition to support your muscle-building efforts.

There is also the health concern of consuming a diet rich in not-so-healthy ingredients, such as added sugar, trans fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, etc. A higher intake of highly processed foods has been linked to a number of chronic diseases. and increased inflammation (eleven,12,13,14,fifteen,sixteen,17). And while these concerns may not directly affect your ability to build muscle mass, poor food choices can really add up and negatively impact your life over time. Clean lumps also sets you up for more success on a maintenance diet after your lump as you continue to instill healthier habits.

The winner

Proper nutrition beyond macro balance and protein intake can offer additional benefits to your health and ability to grow muscle. Lean bulking is likely to be more apt to offer a more nutritious approach to bulking up, but a basic understanding of nutrition is needed with an emphasis on more nutrient-dense foods.

The verdict

Both bulking methods offer unique benefits, and like most things, the best diet for you probably depends on the individual. However, based on existing research, lean volumes are likely your best bet to add more lean mass and set yourself up for more success and better results in the long run.


* The graph is based on the cumulative research and evaluation mentioned above.

Meal preparation to gain muscle

Sticking to a bulking diet may seem easier than it is. For many, it can be challenging to consistently get enough calories and master your lean mass macros for optimal results. Learning how to prep meals for muscle mass is a great start to help keep you on track and ensure you’re consistently hitting your nutritional goals.

Turn your bulking diet down to a science with this free muscle-building meal prep toolkit. A comprehensive guide with custom macro calculations, food lists, meal planning templates, and tips from the pros.

Get my toolkit

Don’t you like to prepare? How about a meal delivery program that cooks your food and provides you with quality, nutrient-dense proteins, grains, and vegetables to make the muscle-building side of dieting a breeze? trifecta a la carte options are designed for custom meal preparation. He is also a favorite of Trifecta athlete Mike Rashid.

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