Is Pizza Good for Bulking and Bodybuilding? Why You Shouldn’t

Nutrition | Written by Nathan Petitpas | Updated on 2 July 2024

A flatbread covered with jalapenos, red onions, pepperoni, and mozzarella cheese raises questions about pizza's suitability for bulking due to its high calorie, protein, and carb content.

Pizza can be a suitable option for bulking due to its significant content of protein, carbohydrates, and calories, which are crucial for muscle growth.1 However, when considering a bodybuilding-focused bulk, it’s important to note that there are many other sources of macronutrients that offer greater nutritional value per calorie. Additionally, while pizza provides some essential macronutrients, it often lacks in beneficial micronutrients that are also important for overall health.

That being said, pizza can be incorporated into a bulk to reward yourself, take a break from the blandness of chicken and rice, and if you’re dirty bulking or doing IIFYM (if it fits your macros), then it really doesn’t matter as long as you meet your caloric and protein requirements.

So if you’re set on eating pizza while making gain, we’ll explain the ins and outs using pizza such as how the source of carbs, fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals compares to other foods in addition to detailing the best way to eat pizza during a bulk.

The Impact of Pizza on Bulking Efforts

There is a lot of conflicting information about the effectiveness of pizza for bulking. Some sources suggest that bulking can be successfully achieved by incorporating pizza into one’s diet.

When it comes to gaining muscle mass, a person’s diet has to fulfill two criteria: it should provide the body surplus carbs as well as a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight – with some bodybuilders eating 1-2 grams of protein per pound of body weight.

An average slice of cheese pizza can be expected to contain 300 calories with a fairly even amount of calories from carbs and fat, as well as about 13 grams of protein.

Of course, this varies by brand and depends on the size of the pizza, among other things. The pizza provides a good balance of calories and protein, especially when topped with meat, making it a suitable option for those looking to increase their muscle mass.

Pizza is not generally recommended for bulking unless you are following a dirty bulking approach, and even in that case, it is not the best option.

Having enough protein and calories only means that it’s possible to bulk with pizza. However, just because it’s doable doesn’t mean it’s a good choice.

Whether bulking, cutting, or eating at a maintenance level, the body has many nutritional needs that pizza won’t cover.

Of course, it can be supplemented with healthier foods before or after, but pizza just isn’t as nutritious as say chicken and rice. Which goes to say, maximizing gains and maintaining general health requires a balance of micronutrients and macronutrients that pizza simply doesn’t have.

Ultimately, the fact that pizza has fairly high protein content and may contain some veggies is the only nutritional plus that it has.

Pizza Doesn’t Have Optimal Macronutrients & It’s a Poor Source of Carbs

When people think of carb-rich foods, they might think of pizza or pasta. After all, the dough usually consists of refined, white flour that’s rich in carbs.

An overweight man in a green shirt, and dark denim pants on a beige colored couch eating a plate of pizza that has onions, peppers, ham and pepperoni on it.

Source: Odua Images via Canva.com2

Pizza definitely has a considerable carb count, but cheese, oil, and processed meats drive up the portion of calories from fat. Plus, they’re mostly unhealthy fats that don’t contribute to workout performance and contribute to greater weight gain.

These fat calories make up around one-third of the calorie count in pizza, which is much more than ideal. Carbs and proteins both have an important role to play in promoting muscle growth, while dietary fat has a secondary role.

Overall, it’s not a desirable source of energy compared to something more carb-rich for a variety of reasons.

For one, eating carbs promotes insulin production, and insulin is an important transporter of protein to the muscle tissues.3 So, eating carbs should help stimulate muscle growth in a way that fat wouldn’t.4

Plus, carbs are the most accessible form of energy for the whole body, including the muscles.

While the muscles and liver hold some local reserves of energy, longer training sessions can exhaust these reserves. Consuming carbohydrates allows the body to replenish these reserves, which lets the body push further in high-volume strength training.5

Pizza’s excessive fat calories will get someone into a caloric surplus, but they don’t offer benefits like carbs do. The fat in pizza is just unwanted calories, especially since studies associate pizza consumption with high intake of saturated fat.6

This is one of the unhealthy fats which has associations with weight gain and poor health. Plus, adding meat toppings to pizza to hit protein targets is going to add more unhealthy fat.

In most cases, the meats that restaurants and chains offer as pizza toppings are highly processed and contain nitrates. So, taking steps to make a pizza protein-rich enough will make the unhealthy fat problem even worse.

Overall, eating pizza as a staple of a bulking diet would increase a person’s long-term risk of health problems due to its lack of nutritional value.

Pizza Lacks Micronutrients & Overall Nutritional Value

Besides having too much fat (especially saturated fat), pizza barely has any value as a source of micronutrients. The list of minerals that a slice of cheese pizza contains adequate concentrations of is quite small, although it does cover the calcium and zinc requirement.

Likewise, there should be considerable amounts of B12 vitamins and the tomato sauce contains an antioxidant.

That’s about all there is to say for pizza, though. Even with healthy toppings, it’s liable to have small to nonexistent traces of the majority of all important vitamins and minerals.

Choosing pizza as a dietary staple means it’ll be difficult not to develop deficiencies over time. “Empty calories” is a common phrase that people use to describe junk food, and pizza might be described as “empty protein.”

Pizza can serve as a food for bulking up, but even if it is loaded with a variety of vegetables, the nutritional value provided by the vegetables remains minimal.

One of the most significant problems that pizza has is that between the tomato sauce, cheese, and refined flour, there’s almost no fiber. As you may know, fiber is one of the most important nutrients for long-term health and to feel good on a day to day basis.

It helps slow the increase of blood sugar after a meal, increasing long-term energy levels and avoiding unpleasant sugar highs that come with refined foods such as white flour.

Routine fiber consumption helps maintain healthy gut bacteria and prevent stomach problems in the short-term and long-term. Ultimately, wondering whether pizza is suitable for bulking overlooks similar issues as assuming you can eat anything while on a calorie deficit, as it ignores factors beyond calorie content.

Hitting a calorie goal in and of itself doesn’t make a diet healthy or unhealthy.

Dirty Bulking Isn’t Optimal & Leads to Greater Fat Gain

Some believe dirty bulking can work, and that’s because it can, but for those who are serious about maximizing their efforts in the gym, they should consider clean bulking instead since it offers healthier macro and micro nutrients.

Besides all of the nutritional shortcomings of pizza, dirty bulking simply results in greater fat gain than clean bulking. That means that bulks will have to be shorter, cuts will have to be longer, and a bodybuilder won’t get the results they want.

Why Some Might Use Pizza for Bulking (Upsides to Eating Pizza on a Bulk)

Thoughtlessly eating pizza on a bulk, whether it’s eating nothing but pizza one day or eating some pizza every day, isn’t good or healthy. However, there are some cases where strategically incorporating pizza into a bulking diet can be a smart decision.

Pizza Is High in Protein & Protein Is Vital for Muscle Building

Muscles are protein, and without sufficient protein intake, there’s no hypertrophy. Eating consistent, high amounts of protein throughout each day is key to help the body recover from strenuous activity like resistance training.7

Cheese and flour both have respectable protein content, and as far as comfort food goes, there aren’t many options with more protein than a pizza with meat toppings.

Eating comfort foods in moderation is a normal thing to do and it can be part of a healthy diet. Compare pizza to other options like ice cream, candy, or pastries, and it becomes obvious that pizza is far from the worst way to indulge those cravings.

Even in moderation, pizza does help someone inch closer to eating the amount of protein their muscles need.

Pizza Is Calorie Dense

While the average person today can eat 3-4k calories in a day without even realizing it, that’s only easy because of refined sugars. Many people can struggle with healthy bulking because they find it difficult to reach a caloric surplus sticking to healthy foods.

Open box of sliced pizza with pepperoni and cheese in a blue background.

Source: Andrei Ureche via Canva.com8

Even if eating yet another plate of grilled chicken, steamed vegetables, and brown rice is physically healthy, it can become tiresome to eat the same hearty foods day-in-day-out. This is where the calorie density and good taste of pizza can make it a great supplement to a bulking diet.

Compared to that plate of chicken and vegetables, a person can get the same number of calories with a couple slices of pizza. In this scenario, pizza falls under “if it fits your macros (IIFYM).”

The person is getting their daily fiber intake as well as protein and carbs, all while eating little to no unhealthy fat, refined sugar, or other unhealthy substances. In this level of strict moderation, nothing in the pizza is harmful and it’s a fine way to reach those calorie goals.

A Great Treat or Reward for Consistently Eating Clean

Diet fatigue is real, and it’s a menace to eating healthy. Some people never find junk food tempting and that’s lovely for them, but other people find it hard to abstain completely.

It’s a lot more sustainable and practical to use pizza as an occasional reward for consistently eating clean than it is to swear off pizza forever. Even if it’s not part of a strategic, macro-targeting plan, just eating a couple slices of pizza each week isn’t going to derail a healthy diet.

When Pizza Should Be Considered During a Bulk

While pizza isn’t a great food for bulking overall, there are definitely some cases where it makes sense. Namely:

  • When it fits macros
  • When a person’s daily limit still has plenty of calories to spare
  • As a reward for eating clean
  • Moderate indulgence when out with friends or family, a treat
  • To carb load for carb cycling

How To Eat Pizza When Bulking (Bodybuilder Pizza Guide)

There are numerous methods to enjoy pizza in a healthy manner or to enhance its nutritional content. Some people explore alternative, health-focused options such as Marco’s Pizza bowls for a keto diet or Mod Pizza’s keto-friendly selections.

It’s not the best idea to bulk with Marco’s Pizza Bowls; keto foods are too low in carbs and high in fat to be best for most bulks.

Since the Mod pizza cauliflower crust is not keto-friendly, it serves as an alternative to traditional pizza with a more favorable micronutrient profile. That said, carbs are desirable when bulking, so it’s best to look for whole wheat pizza options.

https://pixabay.com/photos/pizza-italian-homemade-cheese-3007395/

Order Pizza With All the Veggies (Choose Toppings and Ingredients To Increase Nutritional Value)

If possible, ordering pizza with whole wheat dough is one way to greatly improve its nutritional value. That will improve the micronutrient profile as well as the fiber, and some will even prefer the taste.

Besides that, piling on the veggie toppings will make up many of the micronutrient shortages and add some unrefined carbs to balance out the fat and white flour to some extent.

Then of course, adding meats such as pepperoni, ham, beef, sausage and more can increase the protein content of any pizza – and of course – protein is the building block of muscles.

This sort of pizza is much better for a bodybuilder, although it’s still best eaten in moderation.

Eat Pizza in Moderation or Within Your Caloric Limits (Most Important)

The most important thing with eating any kind of pizza on a bulk is to observe caloric limits and eat it in moderation. Think of calories as a resource to spend in exchange for micro/macronutrients, and that one or two slices of pizza are a reward for saving calories.

If a bodybuilder is 600 calories below their limit and they’ve avoided eating unhealthy fat and they’ve come close to their carb and protein goals, they can use those calories they’ve saved to eat a couple of pizza slices.

Eat Nutritious Foods the Rest of the Day and/or Week

Of course, the whole idea of eating a bit of pizza while bulking is that a person has otherwise been eating nutritious foods. However, that ultimately relies on a person being disciplined and making sure that they eat a diverse range of healthy, whole foods for the rest of their diet and have extra calories in their budget.

Most people aren’t actually aware of how much they eat, and that’s because it’s difficult to keep track and easy to miscalculate. That said, taking the effort to eat healthy and track calories and macros is rewarding.

Not only does it mean greater gains and better health, but it also means including some pizza in a person’s bulking diet.

Dirty bulking has its appeal, but a person shouldn’t eat a lot of pizza when they’re bulking. Ultimately, whether pizza can be effective for bulking depends on consuming it in moderation and choosing healthier pizza options.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Pizza Good for Bodybuilding?

Pizza can be suitable for bodybuilding in moderation, when a person uses it strategically to fill calorie gaps or offer relief from diet fatigue.

Is Pizza Good for Bulking if You Do IIFYM?

Pizza is a good choice for bulking only if a person does “if it fits your macros (IIFYM)” and “if it fits your micros.” As long as a diet involving pizza has the right balance of macronutrients and all the right micronutrients, it can be suitable for bulking. Of course, even with IIFYM, the answer to “how many slices of pizza should I eat on a diet” is to stay within your caloric limits, whether that diet is meant to cut or bulk.

Is Pepperoni Pizza Better for Bulking Than Cheese Pizza?

Pepperoni pizza has considerably more protein than cheese pizza, which is a perk when it comes to bulking. However, it also has more sodium and unhealthy fats. Either way, eat pizza in moderation and make sure to reach macro/micronutrient goals with other foods.


References

1Akyurt, Engin. Canva. Accessed 19 April 2023. <https://www.canva.com/photos/MADyRV1y-sw-pizza/>

2Odua Images. Canva. Accessed 19 April 2023. <https://www.canva.com/photos/MACcwOObAD0-lazy-overweight-man-eating-pizza/>

3Stahl, A. (2022). Insulin causes fatty acid transport protein translocation and enhanced fatty acid uptake in adipocytes. NCBI. Accessed December 17th, 2022 from <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11970897/>

4Figueiredo, V. C. (2013, September). Is carbohydrate needed to further stimulate muscle protein synthesis/hypertrophy following resistance exercise? NCBI. Accessed December 17th, 2022 from <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3850644/>

5Henselmanns, M. (2022, February). The Effect of Carbohydrate Intake on Strength and Resistance Training Performance: A Systematic Review. NCBI. Accessed December 17th, 2022 from <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8878406/>

6Powell, L. M. (February, 2015). Energy and nutrient intake from pizza in the United States. NCBI. Accessed December 17th, 2022 from <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25601973/>

7Stokes, T. (2018, February). Recent Perspectives Regarding the Role of Dietary Protein for the Promotion of Muscle Hypertrophy with Resistance Exercise Training. NCBI. Accessed December 17th, 2022 from <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5852756/>

8Ureche, Andrei. Canva. Accessed 19 April 2023. <https://www.canva.com/photos/MAD59-Fee0Y-pizza-pepperoni-in-a-cardboard-box-pizza-delivery-service/>

About the Author

Nathan Petitpas

Nathan has been a fitness enthusiast for the past 12 years and jumps between several types of training such as bodybuilding, powerlifting, cycling, gymnastics, and backcountry hiking. Due to the varying caloric needs of numerous sports, he has cycled between all types of diets and currently eats a whole food diet. In addition, Nathan lives with several injuries such as hip impingement, spondylolisthesis, and scoliosis, so he underwent self-rehabilitation and no longer lives with debilitating pain.