It’s no secret that a solid diet made up of wholesome nutrient dense foods will lead to the best muscle growth. But, does this mean that you should exclude junk foods completely while bulking to try and gain weight and muscle? I’ve tried both approaches and here’s what I’ve learned from doing so.
Is it okay to eat junk food while bulking? Yes, you can eat a bit of junk food from time to time when bulking to gain weight and muscle. But the majority of your food, around 80-90 % should come from wholesome nutrient dense sources if you want to see the best results on muscle growth, leanness and overall health.
I’ve always believed that life should be enjoyed, even when trying to build a lean and muscular physique. For this reason I’ve always including a bit of junk food in my diet both when cutting and bulking, simply to make life more enjoyable.
In this post I’m going to answer the question whether eating junk food when bulking will screw with your results or if it’s fine to include some of these foods in your diet.
Let’s get to it.
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The Hierarchy of Dieting Importance
When it comes to diet and improvements in body composition (more muscle and less fat) there exists a clear hierarchy of importance.
In the nutrition book of The Muscle and Strength Pyramids couplet, Eric Helms outlines the scientific hierarchy of importance when it comes to diet and body composition using a pyramid, which look like this:
As you can see, in terms of your diet, changes in body composition happen in order of importance to first your total caloric intake, second your macronutrient intake (protein, carb and fat) and then on third place you have micronutrients and fiber, nutrients which you can find from a wholesome nutrient dense diet.
So, changes in body composition don’t happen as a result of specific food sources providing the calories and macronutrients, nor do they happen as a result of how and when they’re consumed.
Basically this means that with all else being equal it doesn’t matter if you eat 100% clean foods 100% of the time, or eat those same clean foods maybe 80-90% of the time and various junk foods the other 10-20% of the time.
Now, even though micronutrients and fiber comes in at third place in the hierarchy, this doesn’t mean that they’re not important. In fact, they’re very important. If you’re not getting in enough micronutrients and fiber you will eventually run into troubles with ill-health, decreased performance in the gym, worse sleep and bad digestion etc. all of which are things that’s going to negatively affect your muscle growth.
So, the question still remains:
Should You Eat Junk Food When Bulking?
The answer to this question is that it’s very specific to the individual, as it depends on a few different factors, the biggest being:
- Training experience
Junk Food And Appetite
The level of appetite you have can highly influence whether or not you should include junk food in your diet when bulking.
The main reason that you are bulking in the first place should be to put on lean muscle mass. And the amount of lean muscle an individual can add to his or her frame is rather small, somewhere from 2 lbs per month for a complete beginner to 0.2 lbs per month for an advanced lifter.
This means that the calorie surplus you need to build muscle at the quickest rate will end up somewhere between 20-200 calories above maintenance per day. Now, if you have a huge appetite chances are high that you’ll exceed these 20-200 calories above maintenance per day, even if you’re eating mostly clean foods.
So, if you’re having a raving appetite then I recommend that you limit your junk food intake, simply because eating these foods will most likely cause you to overeat, which will lead to a lot of unnecessary and unhealthy fat storage.
Even if you’re controlling your food intake by counting your macros, I still recommend limiting your junk food intake because it will make you feel unsatiated if you’re eating to much of it.
On the other hand though, if you have a really low appetite and want to build muscle, then eating some junk food in moderation can be a good thing since it can help you bump up your calories so that you can start gaining weight.
Junk Food And Genetics
Some people simply have an easier time gaining fat than others, even if they eat the cleanest diet. While others can just pile down food and burn everything off. I’m sure you know at least one person with a “thrifty” metabolism who seems to be able to eat everything, including junk food and not gain a pound, right?
The individual who has a thrifty metabolism often starts out with the skinny physique and usually have a low appetite, however not always.
While the individual who put on fat easier often start out with either the fat physique or the skinny fat physique and usually have a high appetite, but not always.
The main difference between these individuals is that the naturally skinny guy have genetics that promote activity post food intake, where they start to subconsciously move around more when they eat more food, making it harder to put on muscle and strength.
While on the other end, the guy who naturally gravitate towards the fat physique usually get lethargic and sluggish post food intake, where they subconsciously go into relax mode after eating food, making it easier to gain weight, both fat and muscle.
Okay, so where am I getting with this?
Well, if you’re an individual who gain fat easy, then in most cases avoiding junk food is a smart idea. Junk foods are very non-satiating and calorie dense which means that you’ll quickly gain more weight than what your natural rate of muscle growth can keep up with, which means that consuming junk foods will lead to excessive fat storage.
While on the other hand, if you’re having the skinny physique and have a hard time gaining weight, then including junk foods in moderation will likely be a smart idea, since it will help you bump up the calories enough so that you can start building muscle.
Junk Food And Training Experience
Lastly, we have training experience, which doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter if you have a high or a low appetite, if you’re naturally skinny or fluffy training experience applies to all of us.
What I mean with this is that the more training experience we accumulate, the slower our natural gains will get. In fact, here’s a table of the average maximal potential muscle growth over your lifetime created by Lyle McDonald:
|Years of Training||Maximum Muscle Growth Potential|
|20-25lbs (2lbs per month) / 9 – 11 kg (0.9kg per month)
10-12lbs (1lbs per month) / 4.5 – 5.5 kg (0.45kg per month)
5-6lbs (0.5lbs per month) / 2 – 2.7 kg (0.22kg per month)
2-3lbs / 0.9 – 1.3 kg
2-3 lbs / 0.9 – 1.3kg
As you can see, gains in muscle mass slows down quickly as you get more advanced. What this means is that, perhaps you can get away with more unsatiating junk food earlier in your career as opposed to later when your calorie surplus needs to be smaller to avoid fat gain.
The 80/20 Rule of Dieting
Finally, here are my junk food recommendations when bulking.
No matter what your appetite, genetics and training experience dictate, try your best to avoid eating more than 20 % of your daily calorie intake from junk foods.
As I wrote earlier, a high consistent intake of junk foods will lead to ill-health, decreased training performance, worse sleep, and bad digestion, all of which are things that’s going to negatively affect your goal of building muscle.
Make sure that at least 80 % of your diet comes from wholesome nutrient dense foods, and then the remaining 20 % can be something that you enjoy and like. Here’s a pyramid to keep in mind:
There’s a lot more than just food composition that goes into a well set up bulking diet. The size of the calorie surplus, a balanced macronutrient intake with enough proteins and carbs to boost muscle growth and so on is very important. Not to speak of the importance of training for muscle growth.
I understand if this might feel a bit overwhelming, especially if you’ve just gotten started on your fitness journe. So, here’s what I recommend that you do to make setting up your diet a LOT easier:
Get your hands on a high quality course! This is what I did in the beginning of my fitness journey and it’s the number one reason I was able to undergo my physique transformation sooner rather than later.
Having access to a step by step course and just following it to the T is the only real “shortcut” that exists to building a lean and muscular looking physique. You basically take what someone else learned over a time course of perhaps five to ten years and bring it down to a one, two or three year process depending on your goal and starting point.
Do yourself a favor and don’t wait ten years to build the physique of your dreams, get your hands on a guide and you’ll get there a LOT quicker. I use and recommend the ShredSmart Program written by Radu Antoniu.
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Is dirty bulking worth it? Dirty bulking is when you’re simply eating everything in sight and don’t care about how much you eat and the quality of what you eat. Your main goal is just to eat as much as possible to ensure that you’re gaining weight quickly!
I can say first hand from personal experience that dirty bulking is not worth it. Since you can’t gain muscle quicker than what your genetics and training experience allow each calorie above this limit will just lead to fat gain.
Furthermore, dirty bulking is a surefire way to screw with your health since you’re eating tons of junk food with poor nutritional value.
Is pizza good for bulking? When it comes to food like pizza, burgers and sandwiches etc. they don’t necessarily classify as junk food. At least not in the same sense as candy, chocolate and ice cream etc. do.
Just think about it, a couple slices of pizza is actually a very similar meal to say pasta bolognese with some cheese in it. If you add a large side salad and a fruit to these pizza slices and you’ll have a very good bulking meal!