1. Avoid the dirty bulk at all cost!
If you’ve read any of my articles pertaining to nutrition in the past, you will know I am a huge proponent of getting the majority of your daily caloric intake from clean, whole foods. While this is a no-brainer when it comes time to get lean or when you’re starting to get ready for a contest, it is something that is still lost on a majority of people when they enter their bulking, off-season, or gaining phase of the year. More people than I care to count treat this period as a free pass to cram whatever they can, whenever they want, into themselves, and while they gain a lot of weight, both muscle and fat admittedly, they suffer during and at the end of the bulk for a couple reasons. First, is that “dirty” foods, being foods high in trans and saturated fats, can negatively affect your cholesterol and other blood lipids, causing your body to have a much higher risk of heart disease and stroke, since having high cholesterol causes plaque buildup in your arteries and veins. So, I hope you quickly realize how detrimental to your health doing “dirty bulks” can be over the years.
Another reason I’m very against the “dirty bulk” is that whenever it comes time to get in contest or beach shape, the amount of work and dieting you have to do is much more than if you would’ve kept it clean. At best, the dirty bulk is like taking three steps forward and two steps back, instead of eating cleanly and taking two steps forward and one step back. Most likely though, the amount of cardio and the size of the caloric deficit you will have to do to get in shape will cause you to be worse off than before, because when you are dieting and performing cardio like that, it is impossible to not burn muscle tissue as well, no matter how on point your nutrition may be.
2. Eat enough
I can’t tell you how many messages and people I get asking me “what supplements do I need to take to actually gain weight? I’m eating so much food, there’s no way that is the problem.” To which I very kindly reply, “Its not the supplements, its that you’re not eating enough.”
Gaining weight is very simple: you have to consume more calories than your body burns. If you aren’t gaining weight (fat or muscle) you aren’t doing that, plain and simple. A loose recommendation I make to people looking to gain weight is to consume AT LEAST 1g of protein and 2g of carbs per pound of bodyweight per day. That being said, I’ve taken the liberty of including the equation for determining your Total Daily Energy Expenditure Calculator (TDEE) that will tell you how many calories you need to consume per day to just theoretically maintain your current weight, taking into account your age, sex, weight, height, and activity level. Once you know what your TDEE is, you can add a surplus to that number to begin to gain weight.
Step 1: Find your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
Women: BMR = 655 + ( 4.35 x weight in pounds ) + ( 4.7 x height in inches ) – ( 4.7 x age in years )
Men: BMR = 66 + ( 6.23 x weight in pounds ) + ( 12.7 x height in inches ) – ( 6.8 x age in year )
Step 2: Factor your activity level into your BMR to find TDEE
• If you are sedentary (little or no exercise) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.2
• If you are lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.375
• If you are moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.55
• If you are very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.725
• If you are extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.9
Everyone’s body is different, so much like everyone needs different levels of deficits to lose weight, everyone needs different levels of surplus to optimize lean mass gain and minimize fat gain. I would recommend starting at a 10 percent surplus over your TDEE, and doing that for a month. At the end of that month, if you aren’t gaining, bump it another 5 percent and do that for a month, and so on and so forth until you’ve reached a caloric surplus that is causing you to gain weight.
The biggest help you can give yourself in this regard is journaling your food, and with the amount of awesome apps out there now, it is easier than ever! That way, you can see by day, week, or month if you’re truly eating as much as your think, and can fine-tune your surplus to optimize lean mass gain and minimize fat gain.
3. Drinking plenty of water
Your body’s skeletal muscle is made up of approximately 75-80% percent water. It only makes sense that you need to drink enough to keep your muscles hydrated, as well as give your body what it needs to effectively process food and eliminate waste. How much is that? I always recommend consuming a half a gallon of water per 100g of protein consumed per day at the BARE MINIMUM.
By keeping your body properly hydrated, you will be able to experience harder muscle contractions, and your body will be able to exert itself at a maximal level for longer. As previously mentioned, properly hydrating your body will help it digest food and eliminate waste by-products more efficiently, which is important because a high protein diet like the one I’m recommending can be hard on your kidneys if you’re dehydrated.
4. Get extra calories from supplemental and healthy fats
If you heed my previous advice about avoiding the dirty bulk, your diet will be relatively low in dietary and healthy fats. While I’m not a huge proponent of high fat diets, I firmly believe, and research supports, the fact that your body needs the right kinds of fats to optimize hormone production, have healthy cell membranes, and give you the healthiest looking hair/nails/skin as possible. Also, proper intake of healthy fats can actually increase your body’s ability to burn fat and keep you leaner than without them while trying to gain weight.
My personal favorites for healthy dietary fats are salmon, avocados, and non-processed nut butters. What I mean by non-processed is they don’t contain a ton of preservatives, hydrogenated oils, or other ingredients other than nuts, salt, and healthy oils. I also strongly recommend consuming at least a teaspoon a day of a quality fish oil, as it is rich in EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) or Omega 3 fatty acids which are extremely beneficial for the aforementioned reasons. I recommend females consume between 40-60g a day of healthy fats, and 60-100g for males.
5. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep
This might be one of the most important, and overlooked components of putting on quality size, or making any kind of progress in your physique, period. When you sleep, your body is in a resting state that consumes far less energy than when you are out and about and taking on your day. As a result, your body is able to devote more energy to the repair of damaged cells, as well as allow your brain to rest and replenish neurotransmitter chemicals responsible for a whole slew of functions in your body. Furthermore, your body’s main release of growth hormone happens while sleeping, but only if you sleep enough!
Consequences of sleep deprivation include the depletion of your neurotransmitter chemicals, which can lead to mental fogginess, depression, and generally feeling sub-par. Also, not getting enough sleep can cause extremely high levels of cortisol, which is your bodies stress hormone, and is extremely catabolic. Aim to get at least 7-9 hours per night depending on your body and how hard you’re training, and consume some slow digesting protein such as cottage cheese (low or non fat!), Greek yogurt, or casein protein to minimize muscle loss due to the fasted state you’ll be in if you sleep long enough.
6. Keep your training intense
When in a gaining phase (or cutting phase to be honest), a lot of people make the mistake of taking overly long rest periods. This is a big mistake! In order to make a muscle grow, you subject it to a stimulus that it is not used to. In other words, the workout must be intense enough to make it adapt. I’ve come up with something I like to refer to as the intensity equation, and while it doesn’t actually spit a number out, if you have a basic understanding of math the illustration should really hit home. Here it is:
Training Intensity = (Volume x Weight used)/Rest time
As the equation illustrates, your intensity is relative to how many reps and sets performed (volume) with a given weight(s), divided by your rest time. It really does nothing to your intensity to jack the amount of weight your lifting way up if you cant perform the optimal amount of reps for hypertrophy (muscle growth), which is 8-12, or you have to take an overly long period to recover, which is anything longer than 2 minutes in my opinion. I personally never take longer than a minute and 30 seconds in between sets, even during my offseason phases. The only exceptions to this rule are squats, bent over rows, and dead-lifts, and I only make exception on the last set or two when things get really heavy. The reason I allow for longer on these kinds of lifts is that it takes much longer for your body to replenish the oxygen deficit caused by these intense compound movements. In this case, the rule of thumb I use is to allow my breathing to normalize, as this is indicative that your body has replenished its oxygen levels.
7. Measure progress with more than just the scale
I stress this tip to everyone I come in contact with, both guys and girls, because the number on the scale just doesn’t matter unless you’re trying to make a weight class for whatever sport you do. I know that that sounds counter-intuitive, especially since it is a gaining period, but lets be honest. If the number on the scale is staying the same, but your looking harder, leaner, or bigger in the mirror, something good is happening! It means you’ve found that sweet spot where your gaining very minimal fat, but are gaining muscle, because you don’t look leaner without losing body-fat, and if your losing body-fat but the number on the scale is staying the same, what do you think is happening? Ill tell you: Growth!
That being said, I realize it is close to impossible to be gaining muscle while burning fat, but I believe it is very possible to be extremely close to this state if you follow the above tips and remain consistent and dedicated to your training, nutrition, and supplementation programs. In addition to the “mirror check”, I am a big believer and proponent of taking regular (once a month) body fat measurements with calipers and taking circumference measurements of all body parts. I am very aware that calipers might not provide the most accurate initial estimation of body fat, but they do provide a fairly accurate measurement of relative change.
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