Nutrition Strategies for Monster Mass

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Nutrition Strategies for Monster Mass

Disclaimer: I am not a scientist. I do not hold a degree or any standardized certification in nutrition. There are many others in this industry who can spout study results, chemical names and detail the complex processes of how various nutrients are processed and absorbed in the human body. What do I know? I know what works. Gaining muscular bodyweight has been my particular obsession for the better part of three decades, and to that end I have conducted my own research and interviewed thousands of bodybuilders about how they used food and supplements to accomplish that goal. You can sneer at this as “bro science,” but I will take anecdotal evidence that you can actually apply successfully over academic facts that don’t always carry over into real-world results. I will read the latest findings of various studies like anyone else, but in the end, all I really give a damn about is what works in the real world, because that’s where I live – not a lab! What’s going to help me get bigger? I suspect most of you reading MD share my sentiments. With that in mind, let’s get into how you can manipulate your nutrition to create a bigger and better you. None of these tactics are “secrets,” yet it constantly surprises me how many aspiring bodybuilders are ignorant as to how to make food the ultimate anabolic substance.

 

Nutrition Is 100% of Gains

You’ve heard various percentages ascribed to how critical nutrition is as a factor in your overall success or failure as a bodybuilder. Here’s the thing: Your training, nutrition and recovery all need to be on point. Think of them as three sides to a pyramid. If any side is weak, the whole structure collapses. To build muscle tissue, it’s important to understand that your workouts do nothing but stimulate gains. Those gains can’t take place unless you feed the muscles and let them rest between your workouts. Consider the food you ingest to be roughly equivalent to the raw materials needed to construct a building, such as steel, concrete and wood. Without those materials, nothing can be built, even if you have the best blueprints and construction workers. Without adequate nutritional support, your muscles won’t have the raw building blocks they need to fuel hard workouts, and then rebuild into slightly larger versions of themselves every time.

 

A Steady Stream of Nutrients

What’s the hardest part about bodybuilding? Some would assume it’s the training. Who would be willing to endure self-inflicted torture and push past the barriers of pain and effort as they struggle against gravity with crushing loads of iron? The answer is, plenty of people. Granted, you are in a select group if you train with authentic intensity on a regular basis, but let’s be real here – training is fun! At least, it is for those of us who have this crazy goal of building ever-larger muscles. What’s not fun is eating like a true bodybuilder. Sure, we all love to eat, I know. But most of us like to eat what we want, when we want. That might be doughnuts or cereal for breakfast, if you even have breakfast, a burger and fries for lunch, and a big dinner of something like a steak and more fries. Three meals a day is the norm for the average person, which is why they look so average. Building an exceptional amount of muscle mass requires an exceptional amount of food, spaced out over multiple meals.

Why not just eat three massive meals every day? You could do that, but the problem is that your body can only absorb and utilize so much food, specifically protein, at once. The upper limit for this has been debated for decades, and certainly must vary by the relative size and activity level of the individual. For instance, a 330-pound NFL lineman can certainly utilize more protein per meal than a 140-pound office worker. Yet still, even that lineman can’t metabolize 300 grams of protein at one meal. The best way to fuel muscle gain is to provide a steady stream of nutrients, 24 hours a day. We do this by eating five to seven meals per day, spaced out every two to three hours. Cooking the sheer volume of food needed to do this is a lot of work, which is why most people don’t do it. You are either cooking mass quantities once or twice a week on “food prep” days, then freezing individual portions, or cooking all those meals fresh, as needed. Most bodybuilders do the prep days, as few have the time or inclination to spend what is realistically about four hours or more every day cooking. Others opt for fast food or what I call “toaster oven” meals from the freezer section of Costco to make up a large part of their meals, but I advise against this. The quality of the protein in these options is mediocre at best, deplorable at worst, and loaded with sodium and preservatives. Do you really think a grilled chicken breast you cook yourself is going to be the same quality as some breaded chicken tenders that may have been “cooked” a year or two ago?

Back to the main point here. Your goal is to keep your body in an anabolic, or muscle-building state, at all times, and to avoid ever falling into a catabolic or muscle-wasting state. Going more than three or four hours between meals puts you at serious risk of “going catabolic” and starting to lose muscle mass as the body leeches amino acids out of your muscles for fuel. You work too hard in the gym to build muscle, so the last thing you want to do is lose any precious lean tissue because you were too lazy to eat enough. You won’t even be hungry all the times you need to eat, but eat you must. Eating is undoubtedly the hardest part of bodybuilding, because when done properly, it’s a job. But doing that job and doing it well will make all the difference in your gains.

 

The 3 Most Critical Meals

All your daily meals are important, but there are three in particular that are especially significant due to their timing. They are the pre-workout meal, the post-workout meal and your last meal of the day/night. The pre-workout meal provides the fuel for your training. It must be substantial enough to give you enough amino acids and glucose in the form of your protein and carbohydrates, so that you have the energy to fuel each and every muscle contraction of all those sets and reps. The workout itself will deplete those, which is why the post-workout meal needs to replenish those spent materials. I’ve always felt that the size of the body part being trained should also correlate to the relative size of those meals. For instance, you don’t need to eat as much before and after an arm workout as you would if you were training legs. The leg workout would be far more taxing and demanding overall, because legs involve so much more sheer mass being trained. The third meal that should always get special consideration is your last meal of the day. After it, you won’t be eating for quite a while, in most cases six to nine hours. As such, that final meal should sustain you as long as possible. For that reason, I suggest fattier protein sources like steak, ground beef, white pork, salmon or whole eggs for this meal. The fat will slow down the digestion and give you a slower trickle of amino acids all night long. Those who eat leaner protein sources like egg whites or white fish in their last meals won’t just be starving in the middle of the night – they may very well be venturing into that dreaded catabolic status we want to steer clear of.

 

Mid-Sleep Shakes

One sneaky trick that I started doing over 20 years ago, and that many top bodybuilders practice as well, is to drink a protein shake at some point during the sleep cycle. I have heard of some who set their alarms and have a full solid meal at 2 or 3 in the morning, but personally I feel this disrupts the sleep cycle too much and cuts into your amount of quality sleep. How easily would you be able to fall back asleep if you had to sit there for 15-20 minutes heating up food, chewing and swallowing it? In contrast, you can drink a shake in under a minute when you happen to get up to use the bathroom, and then get right back to bed. I usually get up twice to urinate, so I have half the shake each time. The shake is already mixed and in the refrigerator, so it really does take almost no time to drink, then it’s back to sleep. This probably sounds extreme or ridiculous to some of you, but we are striving to accomplish something extreme with our physiques. With every pound of muscle you add to your frame, every further pound will become more difficult to add. Gaining muscle is a struggle for most of us, and extreme measures are required to keep the process moving in a forward direction. If it were easy, every guy in the gym would be a monster!

 

Macronutrient Requirements

Your priority when it comes to your meals must be protein. There is no one consensus on exactly how much is required, but most successful bodybuilders have arrived at 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight every day. If you are a 200-pound person, that’s 300 grams, evenly divided among your meals and shakes. If you can eat five solid meals and one shake every day, that works out to 50 grams per serving. If you include that nighttime shake as a second shake, your average could come down to 43 grams. That’s about what you would get from a 6-ounce chicken breast, 6 ounces of 4 percent fat ground beef or six large whole eggs. Of course, it’s a bit easier to measure how much protein you get from protein powders, because the scoop is calculated to an exact serving size. All your meals must contain protein. Good sources are light and dark meat chicken or turkey, eggs, beef, fish and Greek yogurt.

Carbohydrates are next. How many do you need? It won’t be the same for everyone. Typically, those who are naturally leaner people require larger amounts of carbs than those who naturally hold more fat. You can start with 2 grams per pound of bodyweight and adjust up or down from there, depending on your results. Good carb sources are brown and white rice, oatmeal, potatoes, yams, quinoa and pasta. Though you may choose to eat fewer carbs in the evening, be sure that both your pre- and post-workout meals are both rich in carbohydrates. These are the times when they are needed most, to fuel and then replenish.

Finally, do not avoid fats. Fats are vital not only for their caloric content, but also in the anabolic mechanisms of the body. You can get healthy fats from whole eggs, salmon, avocado and raw nuts. You may also use olive oil in your cooking.

 

Food Must Be Your Base

There are some excellent protein and weight gain powders out there, but I caution you against relying upon them too much. Far too many bodybuilders use them as a crutch or a substitute for failing to put out the effort and time required to prepare mass quantities of real food. I get it. Some of you are very busy people who genuinely don’t have a lot of time for such tasks. In that case, either cook an entire week’s worth of meat and fish once a week and freeze individual portions, or consider the many meal-prep services that now exist to capitalize on the demand created by everyone and his sister now being a physique competitor. Our bodies are designed to process real food. The golden rule I like to follow is that at least four of your daily meals must be solid food, with shakes augmenting the remainder of the balance. That being said, supplements can and should be a valuable part of your overall nutrition program. See the sidebar, “Supplements to Feed the Beast” for a list of recommended types of products.

 

A Final Word on Junk Food and Fast Food

How much of the “bad” food should you allow yourself to indulge in? That depends on how easily you gain body fat, and how much body fat you are comfortable carrying. Obviously, it’s much easier and tastier to chow down on fast-food burgers, pizza, tacos and fried chicken as opposed to fresh food that you cook yourself. The underlying issue in this comparison is that some people will thrive and make better gains by including these taboo items as often as every day, while others will just get fat. You probably already know where you fall on that spectrum. There’s a phrase that makes a lot of sense, “Quality food for quality gains.” Gaining lean muscle mass is much harder than gaining body fat. Shit, have you ever watched that show, “My 600-lb Life”? Those sad souls are the champions of weight gain, albeit the wrong kind. It is a far greater challenge to gain weight eating clean, or at least 80 to 90 percent clean (nobody is expecting you to adhere to a strict contest-type of diet all the time). The reward is in knowing you are legitimately adding muscle mass, not just fat and water. It’s your body, though, so how clean you choose to eat in your quest for gains is up to you.

 

Ready? Feed Your Beast!

Eating to gain isn’t rocket science. Long before the modern era, aspiring muscle men used to gorge on steak, whole milk or even cream, eggs and potatoes. Due to their lack of understanding of some basic nutrition principles, many tended to gain loads of fat along with the muscle. Follow the strategies laid out here, and you will be well on your way to being the biggest beast you can be!

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