My friend Lynn, who is a great football coach(and has a sweet motorcycle) asked for some bulking up advice for his players. They have all summer to train and want to put on some serious mass. This post will detail the key elements to putting on strength and size while minimizing your overall fat gain. Our goal is to gain as much muscle as possible while minimizing the fat, so that you end up with a solid well-built frame rather than just looking like a fat guy who maybe lifts weights.$nbsp;
Youtube video if you’d rather not read.
Table of contents:
Your goal is to gain weight. There’s one key element to gaining weight, that no matter who you are or what you do that is constant, and that is the need for an caloric excess. Your body cannot create something from nothing. Therefore you need to take in more calories then you expend in order to gain muscle. It doesn’t matter how hard you workout, it doesn’t matter how many supplements you take. If you don’t eat enough calories you will not gain muscle. Period. You can still gain strength, endurance, speed, etc. But without a caloric excess you will never put on any noticeable size.
Originally this section was titled “diet”, but I changed it because I don’t like the word diet. Diet implies that it’s a plan you follow for a few weeks or months and then quit once you’ve reached a body composition goal. This is the wrong mindset. If you want to truly create a body that’s admired by all, you need to make good nutrition a lifestyle choice. Temporary diets will create temporary results. Lifestyle changes will create permanent results.
Macro nutrient breakdown
If you don’t know what macro nutrients are here’s a good resource. But very simply macro nutrients are your carbs, fats, and proteins. Manipulating your intake of macro nutrients is the easiest and best way to change your body composition. I like the KISS principle(keep is simple stupid) so I’ll make this guide very very simple and I won’t throw numbers at you. If you want specific numbers on how many grams of protein or carbs you should take there are lots of good resources out on the net. But I think those numbers confuse the issue, so how about I just tell you what kinds of things should make up a meal.
Each meal should contain:
- One portion of meat. I find for me at 198lbs 12-16ozs of meat per day along with two scoops of protein(50g) is enough protein to keep me fueled.
- One portion of fat. Generally the fat just comes with the meat and from the cooking oil used. Don’t worry about the fat, if you’re eating fatty meats and cooking with oil you’ll get plenty.
- One portion of carbs. The carb portion is the portion that you’ll manipulate. Keep your proteins and fats the same and manipulate your carb intake depending on how fast you’re gaining weight.
- Two chicken thighs with one sweet potato. This is a quick and easy meal I LOVE. You can set your oven to 500 degrees, coat the chicken thighs with seasoning, cut up the sweet potato into quarters, then bake it all for about 40 minutes. You’ll get crispy chicken with fully cooked potatoes.
- Steak with sweet potatoes.
- Stir-fry with 2 cups(cooked) rice.
- Fajitas(try to keep tortillas used between 3-4, I try not to eat too much flour/pasta and will explain later)
- Three eggs, two strips of bacon, one potato fried, half an avacado.
- 8ozs of hamburger meat fried with fried potatoes and a side of spinach salad.
You get the idea. Every meal has a meat portion, a carb portion, and some veggies. I recommend buying a big bag of spinach every week and having a spinach side salad with each meal.
As I said earlier you want to keep your protein/fat the same and manipulate your carbs. If you notice you’re gaining more fat than you want, eat less carbs. If you notice you’re not putting on the size/strength that you want, eat more carbs.
For example… if you wanted to gain more weight, instead of one sweet potato with the chicken thighs, you could eat one and a half sweet potatoes. Or even two. If you found that you were starting to get fat around the belly instead of eating one sweet potato with the meal maybe you wouldn’t eat any, carbs for the next three days, or cut down your carbs in half for the next week.
A word of caution: pastas and flour
Through my bodybuilding experience I’ve really found that the thing that makes me put on the most fat are grain products like pastas and flour. I won’t go into the science here, one because I’m not at all qualified to do so, and two because it’s quite complicated. What I’d suggest however is to just try it out. See if eating less grains makes you feel better and helps your body composition.
I used to eat a TON of pasta, I’m talking half a box of spaghetti with one meal, and then I’d have to take a nap. That’s how much glucose was being shuttled into my system and the resulting spike of insulin literally knocked me out. Now after a meal of meat and sweet potatoes I feel more energized. This is the greatest signal for me to avoid grains. Food should make you ENERGIZED. I don’t think it’s natural to need a nap after each meal.
Grain products: pastas, anything made with flour, buns, cereal, etc.
FAT does not make you fat
This is a myth that’s been floating around the weight-loss industry for as long as the weight-loss industry has existed. Fat doesn’t make you fat. Your body NEEDS fat to thrive. Cholesterol is a building block of testosterone. And testosterone is essential to building muscle. So if you try to cut out all fat from your diet you’ll end up holding yourself back from your goals.
I cut from 10% to 6% bodyfat using a ketogenic diet, where 65% of my calories came from fat, 30% came from protein, and only 5% came from carbs. So that’s proof right there that FAT in and of itself does not MAKE you fat. In my opinion CARBS are a much bigger contributor to stored body fat than fats are.
Cheap bulk foods:
Bulking can be really difficult for some people. Ectomorphs especially can find it really tough to get enough calories in to grow, especially as a teenager. Here are some of my favorite foods to help pack in the calories and not break the bank.
- Chicken! Chicken thighs are great, you can get chicken quarters from wal-mart for less than $1 a pound.
- Pork! Pork is another great cheap protein source. I like to get pork butt and shoulder roasts, they’re about $2.20/lb and just roast them in the oven or a slow cooker so you’ll have meat for several days.
- Potatoes. Great source of carbs. Easy to cook. Delicious too.
- Rice. Try not to eat too much white rice, but it’s still easy to cook and ridiculously cheap.
- Peanut butter. I have a jar of peanut butter that sits next to my computer. Anytime I need extra calories or just feel lazy and don’t want to make a meal I’ll eat one or two tablespoons of peanut butter. *Quick breakfast tip, if you don’t have time to make breakfast in the mornings eat a banana with peanutbutter, just take scoops of PB and put directly on the banana. Great source of calories and WAY better for you than cereal/toast/etc.
- Nuts. Almonds are my favorite but can be a little pricey. Peanuts are the cheapest. Like peanut butter I always have a bag of almonds and a jar of peanuts/mixed nuts sitting next to my computer and will snack on those throughout the day.
Now you’ll notice nowhere in this post do I mention fast food. Fast food is not a good option to get in extra calories. Don’t get so caught up in “needing to get enough calories” that you stuff your face with fast food. Think of the long term. Each burger you stuff in your face means that at the end of your bulk it’s that much more fat you’ll need to cut in order to reach your ideal body. A much better thing to do is carry around a bag of almonds/peanutbutter/peanuts with you and snack on those if you don’t have time to get in a proper meal. They are an excellent source of calories and healthy as well.
This post is written for beginner and intermediate level lifters in mind. Disregard this section if you can bench more than 315, squat 405, or dead 500+.
Full body workouts are the way to go for gaining lots of size quickly, especially for beginners. You’re at a point where your body can handle heavy full body workouts three times a week. And you want to put your body under maximal stress so that all the nutrients you’re getting in can be most effectively utilized re-building muscles 24/7.
If you read muscle magazines you’ll see a lot of bodybuilders advocating single body part splits. So chest monday, legs tuesday, bis/tris wed, etc. Not only have these guys been lifting for 15+ years, but they’re also on a boat load of steroids, and they’re spending 2-4 hours in the gym at a time just blasting one bodypart.
This is not an effective way to train for most people. I like full body workouts because they’re fast, efficient, and give you the most bang for your buck in the gym. In as little as 45 minutes three times a week you can build a very solid foundation of muscle.
Being on a caloric excess(like you will be during your bulk) leads to very fast recovery times so they’re the best time to do full body workouts. You should feel completely refreshed and healed up for each session so you can give full effort to each workout and make some great strength gains in the process.
The madcow 5×5 program is my favorite full body workout program, you can find it here. I’ve used the program successfully for years and it’s helped take my bench from 205 to 315, squats from 225 to 365, and deads from 255 to 395.
There’s this myth in bodybuilding that you shouldn’t do cardio when you’re on a bulk.
Cardio is great and should be done year round, whether you’re cutting or bulking. Now with that said your cardio sessions should be well integrated with your lifting sessions. This means don’t do a bunch of sprints the day before your heavy leg day. I like to do my high intensity cardio sessions immediately after my leg workouts. So if I do squats Monday I’ll incorporate 5-8 HIIT(high intensity interval training) sprints as my cardio for the day. And on days before heavy leg days I’ll try to do lower intensity cardio, so slow jogs, ellipticals, walking on a treadmill at a high incline, etc.
Cardio is great for getting bloodflow throughout the body and actually helps you to repair and recover faster because of this improved circulatory system, and thus helps you build more muscle and gain more strength.
I’ve come full circle on supplements. At the beginning of my bodybuilding journey I probably spent $3,000 a year on supplements. Then I went through a period where I decided they were all just a bunch of marketing hype and didn’t take much aside from a few vitamins. And now I take just a few of the most effective supplements.
If I were stranded on a desert island and could only take one supplement, I’d take protein. There is a noticeable difference in muscle soreness and recovery time when taking 25-50g of protein in a shake after a workout as opposed to not doing that.
If you’re short on money protein from Wal-Mart or Sams club will do the trick.
My favorite is Myofusion protein from Gaspari nutrition. It tastes great, mixes well, and has been super effective in helping in muscle recovery.
If you’re less than 150lbs take one scoop after each workout. If you’re over 150lbs take two scoops. If you’re a mass monster you probably don’t need my advice on how much protein to take
Creatine is one of the most misunderstood supplements out there. In short creatine helps pull water into your muscles and that increased volume makes you look bigger and also makes you stronger. It is not a steroid. It is not “useless.” True, if you stop taking creatine you’ll lose some weight quickly.
But here’s why it’s effective. 1) you don’t ever have to get off creatine if you don’t want to. 2) While you take creatine you are stronger. Therefore you can lift heavier weights, creating more muscle growth and more strength growth. On average you can get as much as a 5-10% boost to your strength one month after taking creatine. And it’s SUPER CHEAP too.
600g of Optimum Nutrition’s is only $15, you can find it here. Just take 5g a day in the mornings. No need to “load creatine” or cycle or any of that stuff. Just 5g a day is all you need. Here’s a fruit punch flavored creatine, may be a little easier to down than non-flavored creatine.
WARNING: Taking creatine drastically increases your body’s water consumption. If you take creatine you should consciously drink more water throughout the entire day. You should not take creatine if you do a lot of outdoor physical activity that leaves you regularly dehydrated. I personally don’t take creatine anymore because I’m in the Army and there’s occasions where we literally run out of water during field operations and being on creatine in such a situation could potentially be life threatening.
Most pre-workout supplements are just loaded with junk and provide you with an unnecessarily high level of stimulants. I prefer to just drink a cup of green tea before my workouts now. In the past I’ve taken caffeine tabs before a workout. You can get No-Doze 200mg caffeine tabs from wal mart for less than $10.
I’ve found these pre-workouts to be effective however if you’re looking for something more “official.” For me I use about 1/4th to 1/8th the recommended dose of these and thus a $13 jug will last about six months. My favorite by far is Gaspari’s Super Pump, here’s a link to it. It’s cheap, effective, and tastes great. Another great supplement that’s gotten quite a bit of good reviews is 1MR, you can find it here.
If you wanted my honest opinion I say skip the pre-workouts, cut out as much caffeine from your day as possible, it’ll lead to an overall higher levels of energy and makes waking up so much easier because it improves your quality of sleep, however this is difficult for people to do so use what you need.
Multivitamins are great and just help fill in the gaps in your diet. I recommend NOW Adam, it has great reviews and a great profile. Multivitamins is one area that it makes sense to buy quality, because some of the cheap stuff you get from wal-mart might not even be digested by your body. Seriously, some cheap multivitamins you sh*t out most of it rather than absorbing.
Vitamin D3 – Great to supplement with, improves your overall mood and energy levels. Your body produces vitamin D3 naturally when you’re exposed to sunlight but as we spend more and more of our times indoors many people develop a Vitamin D deficiency. Supplementing when you’re deficient can really greatly improve your health/mood. I recommend NOW foods D3. NOW foods produces quality vitamins.
Consistent training and consistent nutrition will lead you to an incredible body over the long term. Don’t try to kill yourself with every workout. Don’t freak out about making sure every meal is perfect. If you can CONSISTENTLY go to the gym and CONSISTENTLY eat pretty healthy then in the long run you’ll reach your goals.
Too many people try to be PERFECT at everything they do. No one is perfect. You will fail. And if you have the mindset that you need to be perfect most likely you’ll do great for two weeks, fail, and stop trying altogether.
It’s okay to fail
Failing is wonderful. Failure is the best teacher. Failure causes you to adapt and change.
So the next time you miss a workout or eat a bad meal don’t beat yourself up. Just take it as a lesson learned and say “okay, I failed, now it’s time to get back on track.”
It took me years before I could completely cut out junk food from my diet. It took probably a year’s worth of trying and failing before I finally instilled the habit of working out everyday. There were times when I’d stop working out for weeks. But everytime that I failed, I eventually got back on track.
Write down your goals
You should keep track of all your goals in a notebook and review them weekly. Make sure they’re realistic and make sure they have a definite timeframe.
For example good goals are:
- Gain 25lbs to my squat by July 30th, 2012.
- Gain 2lbs of muscle this month.
- Cut 30 seconds off my mile by July 30th, 2012.
Keep track of your workouts
Write down your workouts in a notebook. Review it periodically to make sure that you’re increase your weight lifted, amount of reps, etc. Your body will only adapt to the stress you put on it. That’s why there are those guys you see in the gym month after month and it doesn’t look like they’ve changed at all. They do the same workouts every day, therefore their body has adapted to those workouts and they aren’t growing because they aren’t adding new stresses.
That’s why I love the 5×5 program. It forces you to constantly progress week over week.
The product links in this article are affiliate links and I do get a small percentage of the sales. It doesn’t increase the price to you, it’s just Amazon’s way of rewarding me for driving sales to their page. This helps support what I do. Feel free to not use them and just Google the products yourself.
[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.thehealthygamer.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Side-tri.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]I’ve researched bodybuilding and nutrition for the last 11 years and tried every diet/workout/supplement under the sun. The goal is to cut through all the BS in the industry and get you real actionable items. [/author_info] [/author]