Part one of this series introduced you to your genetic limitations and potential, as well as how to optimize your training program to maximize what yo’ Daddy gave you.
Part two will focus on the next important stage of building muscle naturally: What to do when you get home from the gym. Eat right? Stuff your face? “Bulk up?” It ain’t that simple.
Nutrition 101 For Building Muscle
Scrawny to Brawny taught me the #1 rule about nutrition and it goes like this:
If you think you are eating enough food… you are NOT eating enough food.
Eat. You have to eat more food. A LOT more food than you are eating now. I may have found a better approach to training later on, but I started to put on muscle only when I finally decided to get serious about eating. I cleaned up my diet and made sure I was getting at least five meals a day plus protein supplements. Not on-and-off five meals a day.
But here is where you can learn from my mistake with nutrition over the years. You can, as you stuff your face for growth, eat too much. I was finally putting on muscle, but I also carried a lot more fat. In short, I bulked.
Now, some will argue that bulking is the way to go if you are serious about building muscle. That you can’t build muscle and lose fat at the same time. You just have to put up with the fat gains that come with the added muscle while “bulking.” Wrong.
How To Bulk Up Fast
Jeff Cavaliere is a professional sports trainer. He has been the head Physical Therapist and Assistant Strength Coach for the New York Mets and trained pro ballers Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez, to drop just a couple names.
What I learned from watching the stunning amount of incredible videos on Jeff’s YouTube channel is that while bulking does work, it is a myth in terms of being an iron clad commandment of body building nutrition.
All you’re doing when you bulk up is getting fat. And fat, my friends, is not easy to lose. If you bulk, you have to cut, no if’s and’s or but’s. And if you cut fat, you are also cutting muscle.
That sounds like the most retarded approach to building muscle, and it was confirmed for me when I cracked 180 lbs at age 32 for the first time in my life. I was bigger. I had more muscle. I successfully “bulked.” But I was fatter and I did not like it. There had to be a better way. While you do need more calories when you are training for mass, you don’t need the massive increase in calories that many people, even some so-called professional trainers, will tell you you need.
Why Mass Gainer Supplements Suck At Building Muscle
All you need is a positive nitrogen balance in your blood stream that comes from having adequate protein intake in your diet. If you are worried about taking in too much protein, don’t be—that is also a myth.
How Much Protein Can You Digest Per Meal?
All traditional bulking advice can be summed up as follows:
- calculate your daily caloric intake (i.e. your macros)
- estimate your additional caloric needs while lifting
- add 500 or 1000 extra calories (quality calories of course, not pizza and Big Macs)
- train, weigh in, check result, adjust caloric intake, repeat
Too much weight gained? Reduce calories. Not gaining weight? Increase calories. This really made sense to me until I hit the mother of all inventions—necessity. I was 40 and had time to lift seriously again, but not the money to invest in a proper increased caloric rich diet as I had before. What to do? I decided to:
- train as hard as I could with the limited calorie intake I had
- strictly limit liquid protein supplements only around my workouts
- eat as best I could and as much as I could 8 to 12 hours around my workout, but still only three meals a day
- rest more (I simply didn’t have the energy / calories to train more frequently)
- train the whole body only once per week, with only two workouts per week
- kept my workout to an hour, tops. In and out.
The result? I lost some Christmas fat and added 15 lbs of muscle in 4 months—170 to 185 lbs—on only three meals a day and working out only twice a week! I kept the workouts intense and short, just like Jeff talks about. I simply could not believe that with such a sub calorie diet (and only working out twice a week) I could lose fat AND gain muscle, but the results spoke for themselves and confirmed what Jeff talks about in his videos.
So, you do need calories, a LOT more calories than you are eating now if you have never gotten serious about building muscle, but calories are not everything. They have to be balanced with the work you are doing in the gym. The rules of nutrition to build muscle naturally, fast are:
- protein, protein, protein
- liquid protein only before, during and after your workout
- higher calories and carbs within the first 8 to 12 hours around training (the amount depending on your intensity)
- a normal diet the rest of the time (i.e. only solid food and limited, in fact almost no, liquid protein supplements)
In short…Eat when you are hungry.
Eat for the activity you are about to do
How crazy does that sound! Going to the gym to try and surpass a deadlift max weight of 325 lbs? Two egg omelet. Half a cup of oatmeal porridge. Banana. Two scoops weight gainer protein supplement for another quick liquid 500 calories. All taken in about ONE HOUR before your workout.
Sitting on the couch crushing Zeus again in God of War III? You can skip that 500 calorie weight gainer and just have a two egg omelet and a tuna sandwich. Pretty simple eh?
Don’t stuff food in your face every two to three hours like a robot. Don’t eat 4000 to 6000 calories a day because you are trying to “bulk” and you were told you must based on your calculated macros and the mass gain goals you have set for yourself. Eat if your body commands you to eat.
Eat until you are full, NOT exploding, then a little more and be done. Eat when you are hungry again. If you are training three times a week with intensity and heavy weight, you won’t have to schedule your meals every two to three hours. Your body will SCREAM to get up and eat, even at 4 am in the morning!
That is the mistake I made the first time I bulked up. I was training hard, but not nearly hard enough to justify the massive calories I was consuming for my stage of muscular development. I was eating like I was training for a Mr. Olympia contest. I was literally forcing food into my mouth that had no business being there because my training was still not maximized to match my higher calorie intake. For once in my body building life, I over shot on my diet and under-performed in the gym.
You will notice my nutrition advice is pretty general. I will not tell you how to calculate your macros or what you should eat or what exercises to train with. You can buy the book Scawny to Brawny for all of that information or find it all over the web. This is good information to know, do not get me wrong. Just don’t treat those caloric calculations like some kind of law of gravity. As you get bigger, your body will naturally demand more calories from solid food to maintain itself AND continue to grow.
What I want you to take away from this piece on muscle building the natural way is a philosophy, a mindset. A new way of seeing your body and how to feed it properly after leaving everything you have on the gym floor in a pool of blood, sweat and pain.
Two final tips on nutrition
1) Cottage cheese is your best friend before bed
A 1/2 cup of cottage cheese gives you 15 grams of slow release casein protein while you sleep. Add three tablespoons of yogurt, some chocolate chips, half a squeezed lime for flavor splash and a dash of hydrolyzed whey protein isolate for fast uptake when growth hormone kicks in at it’s highest during your first REM sleep cycle (I believe, see Jeff’s channel, it’s on there somewhere)… and you are set to keep feeding your muscles protein all night, or at least until 3 or 4 am or so depending on how hungry your body is when you are forced awake by growls in your stomach.
2) Wheat is the enemy. Cut it out
I have another great book I want to share with you: Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back To Health
This is the single most nutrition shattering book you will read. It completely destroys the “healthy whole grain” diet advice and is the science that underpins the paleo-diet trend that is all the rage right now. Wheat, very simply, is death. At the very least fat, guaranteed. Diabetes, mental health (bipolar and schizophrenia), digestive issues, skin problems (acne). There seems to be no end of horror this staple of the Western diet is responsible for.
I have personally started to cut wheat from my diet drastically and I can testify to feeling stronger, more alert, and have maintained far lower body fat year round than I was able to before.
That sums up my advice for you on nutrition for building muscle. You will note, not anywhere did I say a Big Mac twice a day is a good thing. Nor Pizza. Nor alcohol. When it comes to what to drink to build muscle:
Surely Maximus must supplement with something though right? I do. Keep your eye out for part three coming soon.