THE VANGUARD’S WEEKLY ATHLETICS COLUMN: Dirty bulk: the straight dope

This will come as a shock to many of my readers, but believe it or not, there are actually individuals out there who are looking to gain weight rather than lose it.


This will come as a shock to many of my readers, but believe it or not, there are actually individuals out there who are looking to gain weight rather than lose it. Though these folks are a very small minority, I figured it was high time that I finally showed them some love. Today, we’re going to look at healthy methods of weight gain from a nutritional standpoint.

First off, when we’re talking about weight gain in this context, we’re referring to gaining (mostly) muscle mass. While it should be expected that an ectomorphic (which is just a fancy way of saying “scrawny”) trainee gains a little bit of fat while “bulking up,” many take things much too far. It isn’t uncommon for these individuals to fill their daily diets with junk food in attempt to compensate for their ultra-fast metabolisms. Breakfast might be a whole box of Pop Tarts, followed be several quarter pounders for lunch, a sugar-laden “weight gainer” shake before and after their workout, and finally some Domino’s pizza and ice cream for dinner. This type of eating is often referred to as “dirty bulking” in the bodybuilding community, and I should note that it isn’t just the ectomorphs that often engage in this type of dietary behavior. It isn’t uncommon to find lifters with average or even slow metabolism using the goal of muscle gain as an excuse to treat every day like an all-you-can-eat buffet.

I’ll be up-front: This kind of diet can work, but it’s far from optimal. While loading up on junk food certainly provides enough calories to facilitate muscle growth, this method falls short from a nutritional standpoint. These kinds of food are called “junk food” for a reason. They are usually void of fiber, high in unhealthy fats, loaded with sugars and have been stripped of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and so on. Even consuming 5,000 calories or more of these kinds of food could still leave the individual with micronutrient deficiencies, which over time can result in low energy levels, reduced immune function and various health problems.

Speaking of health problems, these simple processed foods will cause a rapid rise and fall in one’s blood sugar levels. Over time, this can lead to insulin resistance or even diabetes. While having excess levels of body fat is one of the main culprits when it comes to diabetes, that doesn’t mean chowing down on junk all day is good for the body, even if a fast metabolism prevents body fat gain.

So, what’s the right way to bulk up? Well, it isn’t as “fun” as the junk food diet, but I can guarantee it is infinitely better for one’s health and will producer superior muscular gains. The trick is to consume the same massive quantities of calories, but instead using nutritious food. These foods consist of lean meats and dairy, healthy fats, fruits, vegetables and real whole-grain carbohydrates. Basically, just eat what are generally considered to be healthy foods in large quantities.

One caveat to this method is that healthy foods tend to be much more filling than their junk food counterparts. A good way around this is to incorporate liquid snacks in between meals. Remember those sugary “weight gain” shakes I mentioned earlier? Most of them are garbage. They’re just whey protein and some fancy (but unhealthy) sugars. Instead, prepare a custom shake. Blend up some whey or casein protein powder with low-fat milk or almond milk, raw oatmeal, some type of nut butter, and perhaps some milled flax seed for additional fiber. Large amounts of each ingredient can be used, resulting in a high calorie content, but all the ingredients are healthful and won’t promote too much fullness in this liquid form.

Lastly, pay attention to body fat levels. As I said before, it is okay to gain some body fat and that should be expected, but if a spare tire starts creeping up then it’s time to reduce calories a bit. Other than that, train heavy and consistently, and have patience. Success

will follow. ?