Building Mass and Strength - Part I Diet
If there is any one topic that is near and dear to the majority of lifters hearts, it's talking about how to get as big and strong as possible. This is usually the main reason males get into the weight room. That and to get more attention from the ladies. I could write an article about that too but for now, we'll talk about getting big and strong and how to eat to get there.
You can't talk about building mass without talking about diet first. It's pretty much impossible. I can put you on the greatest mass and strength building program in the world and watch you get smaller and skinnier by limiting your food intake. This is something that is lost on a lot of young lifters. There is no magic program or magic supplement. You have to have a surplus of calories to build muscle mass. A complete novice in the weight room will gain some mass with no changes in diet, but that phase won't last that long. So we're talking about guys who have put in a few years in the weight room that are looking to take their mass and strength to a new level. And a new level cannot be reached without a diet that is dialed in to build mass.
My own experience in talking with skinny guys over the years about adding mass usually goes something like this...
Skinny guy: "I'm trying to gain weight and get big. What should I be doing?"
Me: "How much are you eating?"
Skinny guy: "Man I eat a lot. You should see how much I can eat."
Me: "Really. What do you eat each day? Start at breakfast and tell me a whole day of eating."
Skinny guy: "Oh well, I don't always eat breakfast. When I do it's usually like a couple of pop-tarts or a bowl of cereal. Then I'll eat like, some taco bell for lunch. I eat like 6 maybe 7 tacos. My friends think that's crazy right? Then at dinner I'll have like 2 big plates of whatever. Like, a lot of it too."
Me: "Awesome. I have no idea why you're still so skinny." \sarcasm
Skinny guy: "Well I been taking Gorilla Mass Oxy-Methane Andro-1. What do you think of that?"
Me: ::::walks away::::
The Right of Passage - Eat until you hurt.....then eat some more
It was the summer when I was 17 and 175 pounds. I decided that I was going to get as big as possible over those months and would do whatever it took to accomplish that. It was that summer where I learned how much I had to eat to gain mass. It was that summer that would be my Right of Passage. Almost every heavily muscled guy I've ever known has a story like this.
This was my daily diet, give or take a few things.........
10 scrambled eggs
2 cups of oatmeal or 4 cups of corn flakes
milk and orange juice
Train for 2 hours
Drink two carb drinks immediately after training (this alone was 200 grams of carbs from simple sugars)
Come home throw 4 chicken breasts in the oven and start a giant pot of rice on if none was left over from the day before. Put on 2 packs of ramen noodles to eat while the chicken breast and rice was cooking.
Eat ramen noodles and have a protein shake while waiting on food to finish. Watch cartoons.
When chicken and rice was done, eat two chicken breasts and as much rice as I could put down.
Two hours later - make blender drink consisting of...
two cups of whole milk
two cups of ice milk
1-2 tbs of peanut butter
3 whole eggs (don't believe that crap about how raw eggs are bad for you)
Hershey's chocolate syrup
banana (obviously to add flavor)
I would drink this giant concoction in one sitting. I didn't know when I found the information for this shake that it was supposed to be sipped throughout the day. To say drinking this in one sitting made me uncomfortable would be like saying Michael Phelps would make an "ok" lifeguard. But I was willing to pay the price to get as massive as I could.
I remember sitting on the couch one day downing one of these monster shakes watching Animal Planet. They had a show about lions on. The narrator informed me that lions gorged themselves to the point of discomfort because they didn't know when they would eat again.
"I know when I'll eat again." I thought "However I understand that discomfort phrase very well."
He then informed me that after a gorging lions would often find a water hole to lay in, because it would help with the discomfort.
Minutes later I was running bath water.
Lions know about eating discomfort.
But the day wasn't over yet. And neither was my eating.
Two to three hours after that shake I would have a large ribeye steak with a baked potato loaded down and a salad (because vegetables matter). If I didn't have that I would go to Subway and grab two foot longs. Usually meat ball with cheese loaded down with lettuce and tomatoes (because veggies matter!).
That evening I would eat the remaining chicken breasts and rice.
By the end of summer I had even worked up to drinking another shake a few hours after dinner. I also was in bed every night by 9:30 and up early to train to get my eat on for the day. I also remember times when I was eating that I would gag because eating had become such a chore and so difficult.
By the end of summer 210 pounds.
I love to tell this story to skinny guys because the look of horror on their face is priceless. Their comeback is usually something to the effect of
"...................................................no I don't eat that much."
Now if I had a "do-over" would I do it that way agani? Hell no. I gained a lot of fat and was miserable the entire time. But I did learn some valuable lessons. Namely that bathing to ease fullness discomfort really works! The other thing was, you do have to eat A LOT in order to grow.
But how much? Actually around 300-500 calories a day over maintenance level seems to be just about right in order to gain mass and not gain too much fat with it (some fat gain is inevitable when you are talking about gaining mass). I was probably several thousand calories over my maintenance level, and the truth is, that is not needed nor ideal. I got bigger alright and I don't think there is any doubt that I gained some lean mass over that summer. I trained as hard as I ever had for the entire summer, generally 5 or 6 days a week for two hours at a time. However i also gained a lot of fat weight too.
You can't force feed muscle into growth. I've read all sorts of anecdotal "evidence" about how a ridiculous calorie surplus creates an anabolic environment and those kinds of things but every time I ever "bulked" up and then dieted back down I ended up near the same weight I started bulking at. I don't buy it. But I was told this was the only way to do it.
This is a lie.
You can be smart about mass gain and slowly increase your calories through calorie dense foods until you start to see the scale move every 7-10 days. Or you can stuff your face and become a fat-ass, feel miserable, and eventually have to diet to get that fat off and lose whatever hard earned muscle you did build underneath. Or you can stay fat. But I can't see how anyone would justify that, even for a bigger total. Eventually it comes off or you die young. And it's hard to kick ass in a grave.
Blue Collar Eating for Mass -
A really simple way to increase mass gain is with good ol' peanut butter sammiches and/or shakes with a healthy oil. I've used this approach for really skinny guys with success every time. And they don't end up lard asses in the end.
It's very simple...
Three solid meals a day - breakfast, lunch, dinner
Two peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and banana sandwiches during the day. That means 1 in between breakfast and lunch and 1 between lunch and dinner. For the last meal of the day have a protein shake with a table spoon of flax, safflower, or extra virgin olive in it. Check the scale in 7-10 days. If you gained a pound stay on track until the scale doesn't move then add in half of a PBnJ for the day. Yeah that means just 1 half for the whole day. Don't want to do that? Add in a glass of milk with the two PBnJ's. No more. Check the scale in 7-10 days.
Your mass building friend.
If you gained more than 1-2 pounds, go to half a PBnJ between meals and reduce the oil to a teaspoon and watch the scale again. If you keep gaining drop the oil and go to a quarter PBnJ between meals. It's that simple. Just managing some simple calorie components.
This is what a day of eating could look like -
Three Whole Eggs
1 cup of oatmeal with raisins (also calorie dense)
Orange and Banana
Two pieces of toast with jelly
8 ounces of lean beef, chicken, turkey, or fish
2 cups of rice or two servings of pasta
Before bed -
Shake with added good fats (or have another PBnJ if you like em like I do)
Just play with your serving size. If you are one of those really skinny guys that tends to be excited all of the time, you will have to eat more than you are comfortable with to gain weight. Just like dieting sucks, eating big the RIGHT WAY isn't entirely comfortable. You may have to bump both your food portions and PBnJ to get the scale moving. Maintenance is easy, change is hard.
"But I don't like PBnJ!"
"Fine. Kill yourself."
All kidding aside, no really kill yourself. It's blasphemous to talk that way. But if you don't kill yourself, you could substitute the PBnJ with shakes and oil all day. Drinking calories is easier however I highly believe in eating food over shakes, especially for gaining weight. Another option is to find a nut butter you do like, and substitute that instead. Almond butter is pretty good, especially if you like Pringals potato chips (and that's not even a joke). It is thicker and not as palatable as peanut butter however. So I can't really see it on a sammich. Cashew butter is also an option. But I will admit, I haven't had any yet. So if you try it and like it, let me know. If neither of those sound like an option try 3-4 hard boiled eggs between meals. Just don't come near me while you're trying this out.
I generally also advise using a natural peanut butter, with a good whole wheat bread, and an organic jelly. Why? Because it tastes better to me and if I'm going to be eating that as my mass gaining staple food, I want high quality. Some guys don't like natural peanut butter. It's not as sweet as the regular kind. Buy the natural with honey in it. You'll never want any other kind after that. If you don't want to do any of this that's fine too. It's just a recommendation.
Don't get fat -
Let me say that becoming a big lard ass isn't required or even ideal when it comes to gaining lean mass. Without looking up boring, dry-to-read scientific medical experiments on lab rats and midgets, I believe the body does a better job of utilizing the nutrition from food when you are in shape and carrying an athletic level of bodyfat (somewhere in the 10-12% range). You also will recover faster and can do more work in the gym. This is from my own experience and talking to others that have experienced the same. Keep yourself in decent condition while gaining mass. It's not a "get orca fat free" card.
Not the look of power
If you have a pack of hot dogs sitting on the back of your neck and breathe heavy walking from your handicapped parking spot into the grocery store, then maybe you're done "bulking"? I actually highly recommend getting your bodyfat checked before you start a mass gaining diet. If you're above 12% get in shape first and try not to exceed that 12% mark. This ensures quality mass gain, yet affords you enough room for big eating. Think of it this way, if you gained fat to muscle at a 1/1 ratio and put on 20 pounds through hard training and solid eating, you'd only have 8-10 pounds to take off. You don't have to resort to a long diet and crazy cardio to take off 8-10 pounds. So the chances of you preserving all 10 pounds of mass you worked hard for is really good. Be smart and PATIENT.
In the second part I'll talk about some routines I've used that have produced really good gains in strength and mass and some other facets of training that are highly critical in building quality mass fast.