Hey guys, before I get to gaining muscle, I wanted to say something. I’m writing this on the way to San Francisco on the Caltrain, heading to a consulting client’s site. Sorry that I was quiet on my blog for the last week… it was because this past week was my photo shoot week, and the temporarily “harsh” conditions that I subjected my body to resulted in me getting a little bit exhausted and sick. Basically, major scheduling issues made me shoot pictures/videos of my body over two back-to-back, late-night/all-nighter evenings, so I had to dehydrate and drink only subsistence-level fluids for almost 3 days, which wasn’t super fun (most bodybuilders do this for about 1 day or so). But the results were great in that my muscles came in looking super hard, dry, and vascular… I went into the shoot at 167 pounds, which is a weight that I have not hit since college, haha! The great news is that my diet is now over, at least for the next few months… the funny thing was that when my shoot was done at 3:00 AM this morning, I went home to raid my kitchen of junk food and my kids’ bags of Halloween candy, but the only things that my body was craving was water and relatively healthy foods like a Turkey sandwich, PB&J sandwich, and fruit, which I devoured like a savage, famished beast! It’s shocking how acclimated my body has become to good eating… it’s actually pretty cool 🙂
Anyways, through the multi-month process of dieting, exercise, taking detailed notes & journaling of all of my food intake and body weight, I learned so much about food portioning, losing fat, eating well, and my body’s response to dieting, temporary dehydration, and optimal carbohydrate levels for temporary aesthetics (pictures). As I said before, if you have never taken a journal of your food and body weight, or never counted your calories, read my post here, and I would really encourage you to try it for at least a couple of weeks. By the way, the last learning that I mention, optimal carbohydrate levels, does not refer to a diet that is constantly starving you of carbs… instead, since each gram of carb sucks in ~2.7 grams of water, I’m referring to temporarily optimizing your carb-intake for pictures so that you only have carbs INSIDE your muscles as stored glycogen, so that your muscles are full of water and look dense & full, as opposed to having free carbs outside your muscles that suck in water between the skin and make you look smoother… again, this is only a temporary manipulation for aesthetics and picture-taking purposes… I will make the point again that I LOVE carbs, and I’m a huge proponent of getting plenty in your diet to maximize your energy & performance in sports, weight training, and normal physical activity. In fact, my teammates on my indoor soccer team have been eagerly waiting for my diet to be done, as the low body fat and lower levels of macronutrients (including carbs) have resulted in me being less energetic and effective on the field…
Maximizing Muscle Gains:
Sorry for the long-winded introduction. Actually, as my title indicates, this post is not about losing weight, it’s about GAINING MUSCLE!!!! A lot of people have asked me what the optimal number of calories to intake above maintenance-level calories to maximize muscle gains. Well the theoretic answer is that each person is different, and each person has a different tolerance to lean muscle versus fat gain. Having said that, here are some good, practical guidelines to follow, and I will end with an experiment that I will run on my own body over the next 2~3 months to show you exactly how much muscle versus fat that I gain.
Guidelines to Follow to Maximize Lean Muscle Gains versus Fat Gains:
- Start out with about 500 Calories above your maintenance level calories per day. There is significant debate among bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts about what this number should be. On the one hand, you do not want to starve muscle growth by making your caloric surplus too low, and thus potentially limit your lean muscle gains. At the same time, you don’t want to eat so much that Jabba the Hut would be jealous and your only gain a small % of this in lean muscle mass. Empirically, 500 calories seem like the “Baby Bear” level that is “just right” for 90% of people (it means that you will gain about a pound of body weight per week, hopefully most of which is muscle). Of course, this figure is not set in stone, so you need to take a log of your progress and adjust your calories up or down depending on the speed of your gains, your workout intensity and frequency, and the effect of this that you are seeing on your body.
- Eat healthy, just like you are dieting to lose weight, but just eat more calories. Some people espouse eating just about anything under the sun, like JAWS (including your kitchen sink), to promote massive weight gain, irrespective of whether it’s muscle or fat, rationalizing that you can lose fat once you are ready to cut. But why make things even harder on yourself later? Anyone who has dieted can tell you that it takes hard work to lose a pound of fat. Why not optimize and promote LEAN MUSCLE GAINS as opposed to fat? Why not train your body to eat right (just more of what’s right) as opposed to eating crappy foods? Of course, I am not saying you can’t indulge yourself occasionally in life’s pleasures… on the contrary, if you must, use this time to eat out just a little more, eat just a little more junk food, and drink just a little bit more beer or wine with your family and friends. You can live a little. But don’t go too crazy because you have to lose the fat that you gain at some point.
- Try to make your caloric surplus come primarily from protein and carbohydrates because it takes 10 x more calories to store protein and carbs as body fat than it takes to store fat in foods as body fat. Basically, your body’s metabolic processes burn calories… on average, your body expends like ~2.5 calories to store about 100 calories worth of excess fat that is not burned (your body stores ~97.5% of excess fat calories that are not burned), while it expends about ~25 calories to store about 100 calories worth of excess protein and carbs that are not burned (your body stores ~75% of excess protein & carb calories that are not burned). As such, you don’t have to be Stephen Hawking to conclude that most of the excess calories you put into your body should come from protein and carbs to store the least amount of fat in your body. If you are intentionally creating a caloric surplus to feed your muscle-building process, wouldn’t you rather have any excess calories remaining be predominantly protein or carbs? Of course, in reality, your body’s metabolic processes are happening continuously, so it’s super difficult to time the impact of the fat storage and muscle building process. And this certainly DOES NOT mean that you should starve your body of essential fats or cut out most fats from your diet. Not at all… keep your fat intake stable (e.g. 15~25% of your calories). I mean, if you magically have a practical solution to calculating exactly when I should eat what foods to make close to 100% of my weight gain be lean muscle mass, I will pay you a lot of money to get this implemented for me… in fact, there is a HUGE market of fitness fanatics out there who would pay you beaucoup bucks to do the same for them 🙂
- Track your progress by keeping a log, including your body weight record at least once per week, a journal of your food and caloric intake, how you look and feel, and your actual body fat to lean muscle mass measurements (e.g. take a hydrostatic body fat test at several points along the way – this test is one of the most accurate tests to give you your ratio of lean body mass to fat). This is not a necessity, but a STRONG RECOMMENDATION. Believe me, you will learn a lot about yourself, and it will help you in whatever kind of diet in the future, whether you are trying to gain or lose weight.
- Work out Heavy and Intensely, focusing mainly on Compound Movements, to make sure you gain good, lean muscle mass. In future posts, I will recommend some workout regimens and strategies to help you maximize your gains. But in general, during this phase, go as heavy as you can on all of your weights, and stick with relatively low rep ranges, in the 3~8 range per body part. Using heavy weights and lower reps helps you get stronger and promotes a lot of growth on your muscles, much more than doing lighter weights for 8~15 reps would do (this latter rep range is for other purposes, like endurance, cutting, shocking muscles, etc. that I will talk about in future posts). For example, if you are doing squats, push yourself to go heavier, while not sacrificing form and safety, to get as strong as you can on it. This way, you will maximize your size and weight gains during this phase of growth. Also, stick to more Compound Movements, which are exercises that incorporate lots of muscles into your workouts (e.g. bench press, squats, deadlifts, shoulder press, standing barbell curls, close grip bench press, etc.), as opposed to focusing on specific body parts as much. I’m not saying ignore the smaller muscle groups, but spend 80% of your time on Compound Movements and 20% on focusing on smaller muscle parts.
- Finally, give yourself a relatively finite period of time in which you will engage in these heavy, lean muscle mass gaining exercises. For example, select 3~4 months or something like that. The reason is that giving yourself a time period helps ensure that you don’t constantly go heavy all the time and allows you to “periodize” your muscles, so you do not overtrain or get too acclimated to heavy training and your body stops responding). Also, setting a finite time period psychologically creates a deadline, which could make you work harder towards attaining the most by your deadline, as opposed to getting in an infinite mass-gain stage.
In my experience, following these simple guildelines have helped me to maximize my gains from a “Gain Period” of Training.
Lean Body Mass Test: Guess what % of my gains will come from lean muscle mass, and I will buy you dinner!
Finally, now that I’m done with my diet (losing weight portion), I’ll be going on a lean muscle mass gain phase. So I’ll buy dinner to one person (if you are not in the Silicon Valley area, I will send you money for dinner) who gets within 5 percentage points of guessing what % of my gains come from lean muscle mass versus fat. If nobody gets within 5 percentage points, there will be no winner (if there are multiple winners, then the person who is closest – if there is a tie, then I will select the first person who responded). PLEASE ADD A COMMENT ON THIS POST, IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN GUESSING!!! Of course, the benefits of winning is more than dinner… it will be good conversation and perhaps some advice on your fitness situation… who knows, maybe we can even hit the gym together 🙂
I will gauge my lean body mass % increase in the following manner:
- I am scheduled to get a hydrostatic body fat test next week. Once I get this done, I will take my lean body mass and body fat mass as the starting point for the calculations.
- I plan to take several hydrostatic body fat tests along the way, but I will take a final one sometime later this year or early next year, and I will use these calculations to select the winner.
- I will be logging all of my foods, calories, macronutrients, and body weight gains throughout this process, and I will upload it for everyone to see at the end of this period. I hope this helps other people.
Thanks, guys… until next time, take care, and get ripped!~