One might say I spend a lot of time on the teen forum here at Bodybuilding.com. In fact, I'd say I spend 90% of my time in that particular forum. I guess I like to hang out in the teen forum because I remember what it was like when I was 16 years old and first took an interest in improving my body. I was completely clueless.
At times, I remember wanting to quit due simply to sheer confusion. I was so overwhelmed back then that it's a small miracle that I managed to stick it out. That said, eight years later at 24 years old, one of my main goals is to help the next generation. I'm trying to see to it that today's teens have less confusion and BS to contend with than I did.
The Dirty Bulk
One piece of bad advice that I see thrown around all too frequently is the dogma that hard gainers should dirty bulk. For those of you not familiar with the concept, the idea of dirty bulk is simply to eat as much as possible, adhering to no real nutritional guidelines other than getting a boatload of calories down your gullet. There is no distinction between junk food and health food. Calories are calories. You're a skinny SOB and you need to eat!
Hey, that sounds good to me! Where can I sign up? Who wouldn't love being told to go ahead and eat pizza, burgers, fries, ice cream, and all the other usual no-no foods? Hell, do you want to go to an all-you-can-eat-buffet and stuff your face until you're on the verge of vomiting? Good! The dirty bulk absolutely welcomes such behavior.
Are you getting excited to embark on your dirty bulk? Are you all amped up to stuff your face with whatever the hell you want while packing on slabs of new muscle? Well, hold on there, sparky. I haven't given you the full rundown just yet, so keep reading.
Too Good To Be True?
The basic premise of dirty bulking is true; hard gainers need to take in a lot more calories than the average trainee. After this singular truth though, fantasy takes over. Unfortunately, dirty bulking is yet another "too good to be true" idea. Sure, one can grow on this type of diet, but not only is it far from optimal in regards to muscular gains, it is downright reckless in terms of your overall health.
It is great to be involved in a fitness program. In a nation facing ever-increasing diagnoses of diabetes and unhealthy weight gain amongst our youth, I applaud people for getting off the couch and into the gym. However, just because you lift weights and do your cardio (I hope), doesn't mean that you don't have to worry about what you eat.
In the same vein, just because someone has a fast metabolism and six-pack abs year round doesn't mean his cardiovascular (heart, lungs, arteries, veins, etc.) or endocrine (hormonal) systems are in good health.
The Reality Of The Dirty Bulk
Sure, junk food contains an abundance of calories, and those calories will help you grow. However, junk food is called junk food for a reason.
Carbohydrate sources that are simple, processed, and devoid of fiber take blood sugar and insulin levels on a roller coaster ride that will eventually lead to insulin resistance. If your body becomes less sensitive to insulin, not only are you on the track to diabetes, but you're going to have a hard time shuttling nutrients to your muscle cells. This will ultimately translate to reduced results from your training. (Fedele et al, 2000)
Your body will also be much more prone to storing fat. Hmmm... less muscular gains and more body fat? Sounds like the exact opposite of what my goals are in bodybuilding. As a nice little cherry on top, if you develop diabetes, your risk for kidney failure, heart disease, and stroke all increase by up to four-fold. ("Diabetes statistics," 2007)
The abundance of saturated and trans-fats in the junk food you eat will eventually cause arterial plaque to build up, putting you at risk for hypertension, heart attacks, and a whole slew of other cardiovascular health problems.
I can't speak for anyone else, but I love lifting weights and I want to be able to keep on lifting right into my golden years. Dropping dead from a heart attack or stroke in my thirties or forties isn't an option that works for me.
The junk foods that are the staples of dirty bulking are also almost completely devoid of vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, bioflavonoids, and other little essential goodies. While you are probably not at risk of becoming malnourished, you certainly aren't creating the optimal nutritional environment within your body to build muscle or stay relatively lean.
So, What's The Alternative?
Remember what I said earlier: the one thing right about dirty bulking is the large amount of calories. What you need to do is get an abundance of healthful calories into your system on a regular basis so you can grow without posing such a large threat to your health.
The first thing I'd suggest is eating every few hours. Force yourself to eat if needed, but stick to healthy food choices. It will be difficult at first, but eventually you're going to adjust to this eating schedule and you'll find yourself hungry more often because your body is "expecting" food every few hours.
Make homemade weight gainer shakes from healthy food sources like protein powders, reduced-fat milk (or even better, almond milk), natural nut butters, fruit, and raw, old-fashioned oatmeal. Throw a little Splenda or Equal in there and your shake becomes quite tasty.
You can also use commercial weight gainers, but steer clear of products that use maltodextrin, dextrose, or sugar as the main carbohydrate source. Be sure to keep an eye on the saturated fat content as well.
Another useful trick is to take olive oil "shooters" several times a day. Olive oil shooters are just like they sound; you just fill a shot glass with olive oil and toss it down the hatch. If you do this three times a day you'll have added almost 1,000 health-promoting calories to your diet. Since olive oil is a source of healthy fats.
Ah Man, Healthy Foods? Thanks For Raining On My Parade!
I know, I know... none of that sounds as fun as eating a pizza with two liters of soda and a half-gallon of ice cream, but I can promise you that it is infinitely more productive. While quantity most certainly counts in the case of a hard gainer, you don't want to completely sacrifice quality. It may work for a little while, but in the long run it is going to do much more harm than good.
Besides, I'm not saying you shouldn't live a little here and there, just keep your overall nutritional intake healthful.
As a bodybuilder, you've already decided you're going to stand out from the pack. You aren't happy being one of the ordinary folk. Don't stop at the decision to bust your a$$ in the gym. Separate yourself from Joe Schmoe in your nutritional choices as well. Remember, you get out what you put in, and the correlation between your diet and your physique is no exception.
- Diabetes statistics. (2007). Retrieved from http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/diabetes-statistics/
- Mark J. Fedele, Jazmir M. Hernandez, Charles H. Lang, Thomas C. Vary, Scot R. Kimball, Leonard S. Jefferson, and Peter A. Farrell. (2000). Severe diabetes prohibits elevations in muscle protein synthesis after acute resistance exercise in rats. J Appl Physiol, 88(1), 102-108.