Just the other day, I ran into an old friend at a coffee shop near where I live, and we started talking about training and nutrition. My friend had started lifting about two or three years ago and was really into it. He told me how he was doing a dirty bulk cycle and asked me what I thought of that.
He got the idea recently by reading about Christian Bale’s physical prep for Batman Begins, and was amazed how Bale had gone from looking like he did in The Machinist to looking like Batman.
For his role in the The Machinist, Bale had dropped 63 lbs down to 110(!), and then went up to 225 before dropping back down to 200 for his role in Batman Begins. My friend figured that if a movie star could eat his way to a 115-pound weight gain and end up looking like Batman, then so could he. And he decided that a massive dirty bulk would be the way to do it.
In case you’re not familiar with the concept of a dirty bulk, it’s basically a gluttonous phase of massive calorie ingestion where pretty much anything goes in terms of nutritional choices, just as long as there’s plenty of it.
Just to give you an idea, delicacies such as twelve-topping pizza drowning in olive oil are common in these cycles. This was popular (and still is to a certain extent) in bodybuilding circles.
The idea behind the dirty bulk is to use the phase of calorie surplus to build as much muscle as possible, and then switch over to phase of calorie restriction, also known as a cutting phase, to burn off the unwanted pounds of fat that also came along for the ride. The two successive phases are polar opposites in pretty much every way.
Does it work? For some, yes, it can help them pack on some serious muscle, but it’s a rickety bridge for most, which is why I wouldn’t recommend this method.
First, let’s get one thing out of the way: Christian Bale is a movie star whose paycheck depends on the way he looks; he has the time and money to devote a HUGE chunk of his day to getting physically ready for his role; and he is also someone who’s been training for years and knows what he is doing in and out of the gym. It should be also noted that my friend was assuming that the only way Bale could’ve accomplished this is by doing the mother of all dirty bulk cycles.
This friend in question recently turned 30, has been training for 2-3 years, and is definitely not a movie star. Furthermore, not to be judgmental or anything, but he’s not exactly the poster boy for leanness, either.
This is one of the issues I have with guys trying this method. It’s one thing for a skinny teenager who has trouble gaining weight to do it, but most people who dive into a dirty bulking phase end up holding on to those extra pounds of fat that they put on—and I promise you there will be gained fat if you do a dirty bulk.
Eating like a starving pig day after day also sets off an endocrine rollercoaster that can take a serious toll on your health and even put you at risk for serious problems, such as metabolic syndrome and diabetes, just to name a few. It can also do a heck of a number on your sleep and stress levels, which in turn can completely screw up your gains.
As I mentioned before, my friend is not a movie star, nor is he a professional bodybuilder. Dieting after an extended bulking phase is some serious business; it’s damn hard and takes an incredible amount of dedication and willpower.
Most people who dirty bulk tend to overestimate their own discipline (the bulking phase, however, comes pretty easily for most). I’ve seen lots of guys get into a dieting phase after a dirty bulk and completely fail because they didn’t expect it to be that hard. That’s why it ends up being disastrous for many guys out there. I’ve actually seen some just keep going, figuring they’ll keep bulking for months and months (even years!) and shoot for an unrealistic size.
Ultimately what I dislike about this method is that it doesn’t promote all-around good health. Forcing yourself into obesity seven months per year so you can look good for the other five doesn’t make sense to me.
When I designed the ATHLEAN-X nutritional program, I wanted to create something sustainable, something that would allow you to look both lean and muscular twelve months per year while maintaining great health.
I’m not saying bulking can’t work—it has worked great for many. It’s just not a philosophy I can get behind. It is entirely possible to gain muscle while dropping body fat; albeit slower, it’s actually a much better long-term approach.
Think about what your health and fitness goals are for six months, one year, five years from now? Do you envision consistent progress, or constant seesawing where you’re afraid to take your shirt off from September to March?
There’s no wrong answer, it’s your body and your life, but I can tell you that, for of all us with busy lives, the old cliché about slow and steady winning the race definitely rings true.
In my opinion the best meal plan is one that leaves you feeling satisfied and doesn’t run your metabolism through the ringer. If you’re looking for a fitness and nutrition plan that will give you consistent year-round results without starving yourself EVER, join us on Team ATHLEAN! I’ll coach you through what I strongly believe to the best science in both nutrition and muscle building!
Jeff Cavaliere, MSPT, CSCS is a professional sports physical therapist and strength coach, and the creator of the ATHLEAN-X™ workout programs and Supplements.Read more about Jeff
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