In this issue we’re going to talk about the most important part of a mass gaining program: your diet. While having the right routine is important too, the details of training are less important than the fact that you are eating right, and eating lots.
I get a lot of email from anguished teenage boys who can’t put on mass no matter how hard they try, and they are trying damn hard, at least in the gym. They are doing three-hour routines until they throw up, but just can’t seem to add any meat despite their hormonal milieu clearly being conducive to it. When I ask about their diet, it usually turns out that they eat something like a bowl of cereal for breakfast, sugary cruddy weight gainer for lunch, a spiderweb for a snack, and a plate of dust for dinner.
So today we learn how to indulge all our grandmas and eat!
The first thing to remember is that if you’re trying to gain mass, you must eat real food. None of those narsty weight gainer powders. A protein powder is okay but read the label to make sure it’s just plain whey or casein with no added sugar or fillers (powdered egg protein is also available but trust me, you and your loved ones do not want the digestive fireworks which tend to ensue from egg protein). Real food means lean protein from anything that swims, flies, or walks (and I ain’t suggesting cannibalism in print here, but ya know, shipwrecks do happen), as well as any white stuff you find in a fridge (just so we’re clear here, a supermarket fridge, not just any fridge, because I have lots of white stuff in my fridge along with blue and black stuff and I’m pretty sure it’s not edible). Real food means fruit and veggies, along with whole grains and good fats from foods like nuts/seeds, avocados, olive oil, and fish.
Second, how much should you eat if you are trying to gain mass? Remember that the way the body works is to add a little fat along with the muscle. So, monitor your intake and cut down a little bit if you find you’re adding too much fat along with your giant traps. Start with about 16 x your bodyweight (lbs.) in calories per day. For a 150 lb. person, that’s around 2400 calories daily. If after a few weeks, you decide that this isn’t enough, keep increasing calories gradually, up to about 20 x bodyweight per day (this amount is for people who *really* have problems adding weight to their skinny-ass frames). Don’t confuse fat with muscle and delude yourself into thinking that your burgeoning belly is really a giant abdominal muscle. Be reasonable about your mass gain and allow it to be relatively slow. Five pounds in a week is probably not muscle.
Third, you have probably heard about the importance of protein while weight training. You should aim for about 0.8 g of protein per lb. of bodyweight (so, our 150 lb. person aims for 120 g of protein daily). Keep track of this using something like Fitday (www.fitday.com). It is a myth that a diet with lots of protein hurts your kidneys. There is ample clinical research on athletes to show that their protein requirements are higher than sedentary people, and that protein intakes which are much higher than what I’m recommending here still pose no problem to healthy people.
Fourth, fat is your friend. By this I mean good fats such as the ones previously mentioned, as well as stuff like flax seed oil. Saturated fat is fine in moderation, but try to make the bulk of your intake from unrefined sources. Trans-fats, such as those found in margarine and highly processed junk foods, are bad news so keep your intake of those low. Don’t be shy about getting plenty of good fats in your diet.
Fifth, it’s often easier to drink your calories than eat them. A protein shake makes a quick, high-quality meal, and you can chug down lots of good nutrition. You can put anything you like into these, but here’s one suggestion:
1 to 2 cups of milk
2 scoops of protein powder
1-2 tbsp of peanut butter
If you’re really going for broke, add 1 scoop of ice cream
Mix it all up in a blender and drink (uh, remove from blender first though).
I don’t like the taste of most flavoured protein powders so I buy unflavoured whey and add in a sprinkle of fat-free Jello pudding powder (comes in chocolate, vanilla, and butterscotch; though the butterscotch is kind of gross and turns the mixture a peculiar orange colour).
Folks who are lactose intolerant will have to be more creative with getting protein, because the usual recommended alternatives to dairy-based proteins are egg protein (regular eggs are okay, but egg protein powder or liquid egg whites, well, don’t say I didn’t warn you) and soy products which for folks trying to cut down on estrogen are probably inappropriate. You’ll have to get a lot more real food to compensate. Vegans who eat no animal products whatsoever are going to be in some deep poop here with this one because their only real protein alternative is soy, so they’ll probably have to resign themselves to quite substandard mass gain.
If you are having problems with appetite, and folks who are naturally skinny often do, try the following trick. Eat every 2 hours like clockwork. It doesn’t matter what you eat, even if it’s something as small as a glass of milk. Just put something in your tummy (preferably food) every 2 hours, even first thing in the morning. After about two weeks of this regular routine, your body will become accustomed to eating this way, and start to demand food at regular intervals. In fact after this becomes a habit you’ll want it to shut up already. And don’t forget to have something before your workout (how soon before is up to you since some people don’t like to work out with anything in their tummies) and immediately afterward.
In the next issue I’ll re-cap some of the biggest and best exercises for packing meat onto your frame, and provide ideas for putting it all together into a routine. For now, though, I’ll leave you with the recipe that someone told me years ago:
Repeat until wide.