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Bulking But Nutrient Deficient

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Bulking But Nutrient Deficient

Too many people bulk up on low-quality meat that's high in calories but low in nutrients. Why? Since every type of strength athlete from rugby players to powerlifters would have gone through a bulking phase at some point or another. But faced with the task to build as much muscle as humanly possible many opt to create a calorie surplus by going on a “dirty bulk” (consuming over 5,000 calories a day on anything and everything they can find). But studies show this approach to muscle growth might be doomed and here’s why.

It’s commonly known that to increase muscle mass you need to create a ‘calorie surplus’, this is just simply where you need to consume more calories than you burn. However a common mistake among strength athletes is to immediately reach for the pizza, burgers, soft drinks and ice cream and ignore the superfood shakes and best whey protein and think that the extra calories will also add extra quality muscle. The only problem is whilst your body meets its daily calorie needs, it will be lacking in certain other vitamins and minerals that are needed for muscle growth.

For instance, ice cream and soft drinks aren’t 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.

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 contain 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).

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 unwanted bulk. This is because 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 lipogenesis (the storing of body fat.) Yes, there are promising studies around green tea tablets and other fat burners, but often prevention is better than cure. So learn to avoid bad insulin sensitivity before it becomes an issue and ignore the lure of the dirty bulk.

So 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.

So put down the lower-quality salami pizza. Invest in some Outdoor Bred Pork Sausages from and stop count calories and instead count nutrients. Your body (and bulk) will work far more efficiently once you do.


*One of those silly disclaimer thingy's > Athleat has no affiliation with THE PROTEIN WORKS™ nor do we endorse them specifically. Ross does and therefore we are more than happy to give him some links through to the Protein Works website :)


  • Les Rowe
    Les Rowe 1 Jan 1970

    Interesting article and some good information. I am curious how best to loose the gut and bulk up with some good muscle but TBH despite having a good set of shoulders I have been sedentary for more years than I can count. The upshot is that now I am thinking more about my health and fitness at 52 than ever before. I want to find a nutrition approach and an exercise regime that is both effective and manageable and the same with the dietary aspect. I hear a lot about paleo and similar approaches but its finding the most effective combination with the internet proving fads left, right and centre. What I need is something geared towards a 50 something, unfit, slightly overweight bloke, any recommendation where to look for good advice?

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