The role of grain boundaries in limiting irradiation damage in nanocrystalline materials is often correlated with the grain boundary sink efficiency. Here, we demonstrate on a tungsten material system (which has very distinct vacancy and interstitial mobilities) that sink efficiency does not unequivocally describe how grain boundaries impact irradiation damage. Rather, it reflects a particular defect diffusion equation that can change if any of the bulk conditions change. Even when denuded zone formation does not occur and grain boundaries have zero sink efficiencies, grain boundaries still impact the performance of nanocrystalline materials under irradiation by acting as a saturable defect storage site. However, denuded zone formation can occur under a necessary requirement of extra defect recombination at the grain boundaries (which, for example, is not possible when vacancy migration does not occur). These insights provide answers to several outstanding questions regarding the sink efficiency of a grain boundary and assist in parametrizing the role of grain boundaries in limiting irradiation damage in nanocrystalline materials.