Many containers, with meal prep for healthier eating.

How to clean bulk

09 Jun 2023 • 10 min read


Whether you’ve been exercising for years or are 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.

Skip to: What does clean bulking mean? | Clean bulking benefits | How to clean bulk | The takeaway

What is clean bulking?

Bulking, usually combined with cutting, is an approach that bodybuilders and gym-goers use for muscle building. 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 and 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 goals.

How to clean bulk

A healthy diet for building muscle is key, and 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. Healthy foods to build muscle include:

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

Choosing nutritious, high-calorie foods is a good starting point. Foods like dairy, oats and avocados are great for including in a higher-calorie yet healthy diet.

When choosing a diet for building muscle through clean bulking, many people choose to moderate or avoid foods like fatty meats, processed food, sugary drinks, saturated fats and alcohol.13

Handpicked content: 7-day vegan/vegetarian meal plan for weight gain

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. Muscle-building supplements like bulking powders are popular amongst those who body build, as they are thought to help people ‘bulk’ up their lean muscle mass.

You’ll also want to make sure you stick to a consistent workout plan too, focusing on compound exercises that allow your muscles to grow. Looking for an easy, muscle-building workout plan? Check out our workout plan for gaining weight.

Handpicked content: Best supplements to help build muscles

The takeaway

The process of gaining lean body weight and muscle mass is a slow one, and it takes months to see progress.

Clean bulking combines eating more nutritious foods with a regular exercise routine, so it could be a great way to help you reach your fitness goals. However, it is always important to see your doctor before starting any weight-related program.



Author: Donia HilalNutritionist

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.

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