Many containers, with meal prep for healthier eating.

How to clean bulk

23 Mar 2023

Whether you’re a fitness guru or just starting out, achieving your fitness goals can be a minefield. From fad diets and fitness boosters to workout routines and lifestyle changes, it’s not always easy to know which approach to take for your individual needs.

This can be especially true for those who want to increase muscle mass, or ‘bulk up.’ From different bulking methods to the wide range of supplements available, it can be tricky to find the right approach to make those gains.

Clean bulking is often regarded as one of the best ways to gain muscle1. If you’re wondering whether this approach is right for you, we’ve put together everything you need to know below.

What is clean bulking?

Bulking, usually combined with cutting, is an approach that bodybuilders and gym-goers use to build muscle. It’s by no means the only way to bulk up, but it has become increasingly common in recent years2. The bulking period usually involves eating a surplus of calories to gain weight. When combined with exercise and weight training, this approach typically helps build muscle (and fat). When the bulking period is over, you would then move into a ‘cutting’ phase to lose the excess weight3. For some, bulking involves eating any type of food (including junk food). This is usually called a ‘dirty bulk.4’ On the other hand, many choose to follow a clean bulking approach. This involves eating a tightly controlled calorie surplus, sticking to healthy or unprocessed food5.

What are the benefits of clean bulking?

While it’s generally agreed that eating more calories helps lead to weight gain6, there can be some unhealthy side effects to carrying more weight. For example, overeating could put you at risk of high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and other health concerns7. Clean bulking may alleviate those adverse effects, as the focus is on eating whole and unprocessed foods. It tends to include more of the essential nutrients we need to maintain good health, like vitamins, minerals, and fibre8,9,10.

Nevertheless, it’s essential to talk to your doctor or nutritionist before starting a bulking diet. This way of eating isn’t for everyone, and might not be the best way to meet your body goals.

How to clean bulk

If you think clean bulking might be right for you, the first step is to work out how many excess calories you want to consume. It’s also a good idea to calculate your protein, carb, and fat intake to meet your goals. Some studies suggest that a 10-20% calorie surplus is enough to start building muscle. However, it’s worth doing your own research to determine what’s right for you11.

Next up, it’s time to start planning your menu. In general, clean bulking involves eating whole, unprocessed, and nutritious food. These may include:

  • Lean meats
  • Healthy fats
  • High-quality carbs
  • Legumes
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Dairy products12

Many people choose to moderate or avoid foods like:

  • Fatty meat
  • Processed food
  • Sugary drinks
  • Saturated fats
  • Alcohol13
When clean bulking, many people choose to complement their diets with protein powders or other supplements too. This can be a helpful way to get additional nutrients in an easy-to-consume way. Shop Sports Nutrition

Last Updated: 11th February 2021


Donia Hilal

Author: Donia Hilal, Nutritionist

Joined Holland & Barrett: Jan 2018

Bsc in Nutrition, Registered Associate Nutritionist and Certification in Pre and Post Natal Nutrition

Donia started her career as a freelance nutritionist, later she joined Nestle as their Market Nutritionist to help support their healthier product range, before joining the team at Holland & Barrett in January 2018.

Donia has over 6 years experience as a Nutritionist and also works with clients on a one to one basis to support their goals which include weight loss, prenatal and postnatal nutrition and children’s health.