Nutritionist Mike Roussell lays out some of the basics (and some of the not-so basics) for eating your way towards muscularity.
That's what we're all really after, right? Barrel chest, back like a barn door, and arms that threaten to pop the seams of our polo shirt sleeves.
Muscle like this takes dedication, commitment, and hard, hard training. Packing all those mounds of muscle on your frame requires hundreds of consistent hours in the gym, pounding out rep after rep with bone-crushing quantities of iron.
But that isn't enough.
To achieve a physique of truly "head turning" proportions, you need to complement your hours of dedication in the gym with proper nutrition. Training and nutrition are two sides of the same coin: you can't focus on just one. Well, I suppose you can, as long as you're satisfied with an average physique.
But if you want to be exceptional, read on.
In this article I'll reveal to you the key nutritional strategies that'll allow you to pack on pounds of lean body mass. These strategies will take to you to a level where many people aspire but never reach: uncontrollable growth.
Bulk or (gasp) Cut?
Before you start your quest for uncontrollable growth, it's important to assess the current state of your body. Are you lean and mean, or are you fat and flabby? Be honest, because your answer will determine the answer to that perennial question, "Should I bulk or cut?"
If you're lean and mean (around ten percent body fat), then you've got the green light to go ahead and get started on your quest to get huge. If you're fat and flabby, then you'd be better off losing the extra lard before you begin your journey for uncontrollable growth.
The reason for this is that carrying around extra body fat (especially around your waist) will decrease your insulin sensitivity and lead to negative nutrient partitioning. In other words, it'll be harder for you to gain muscle without gaining even more fat. Once you drop the excess body fat, your body will "handle" nutrients better, shuttling them towards muscle-building processes, and not ones that end in body fat storage.
More Calories equal More Muscle
At the most basic level, when you begin your quest for more muscle, it's important to be in a caloric surplus, as succinctly described by 6-time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates: "If you're maintaining your weight, then you're burning roughly the number of calories you take in on a daily basis. If you're gaining weight, then, obviously, you're burning less; if you're losing weight, then you're burning more."
It's important to keep in mind that the goal is to build as much muscle as possible. Getting fat is easy: anyone can do it, and most people do. Getting huge and staying lean is the holy grail of bodybuilding: that's where you're headed.
Don't just haphazardly increase your caloric intake. Bump up your calories by 300-500 calories per day for a couple weeks and see what happens. Are you growing? How has your body composition changed? If you're putting on muscle and not very much fat, then keep increasing your calories. Once your fat gains start to increase, then you've found your muscle building "sweet spot."
More Metabolism, More Muscle
Most people would stop there, but you're not most people. Your mantra needs to become "More metabolism, more muscle." Increasing your food intake (or "overfeeding" as scientists call it) will cause your metabolism to increase. You can also cause your metabolism to increase through increasing your training. Once you've reached your caloric sweet spot, it's time to manipulate your training variables.
Strength and conditioning research shows that increased training frequency trumps all other variables in regards to size and strength. If your schedule allows it, increase your training through increased frequency, and watch to see how your body responds. If you increase the rate in which you were gaining muscle, stick with your new routine, and give your calories another bump up.
Carbohydrates and Workout Nutrition
It's important not to be carbophobic during your mass building phase. Yes, it's possible to build muscle without a lot of carbohydrates. But most people do better with carbs included in their mass building programs. Carbohydrates are important because they're the most potent stimulator of the hormone insulin.
Insulin is the anabolic hormone in the body. Stimulating insulin at key times during the day will boost your body's muscle building potential. Don't go carbohydrate crazy. Taking in starchy carbohydrates (rice, oatmeal, yams, dextrose, etc.) first thing in the morning and during and after your workout will provide the proper timing to insulin surges that will maximize muscle growth while minimizing fat gains.
Taking in the proper types of carbohydrates during your workout will lead to better performance in the gym and more muscle. During this time, you want to have a workout shake that contains fast acting sugars such as dextrose and maltodextrin. These sugars will get into your system fast, stimulate insulin, and fuel your workout.
You can further boost the power of this shake by adding fast acting proteins such as whey protein isolate or hydrolyzed whey and branched chain amino acids. These fast-acting proteins and amino acids will further stimulate insulin and ensure that your body doesn't chew up any muscle during your hard training sessions.
Supplements to Boost Strength and Volume
To your workout concoction, you should also add micronized creatine and beta-alanine. These two compounds allow you to handle a larger training volume and heavier weights, two integral components to building more muscle.
I Can't Eat That Much!
People always whine to me that they can't eat the amount of food needed to maximize muscle growth. There are two things that you can do in this situation.
- Just shut up and eat more. If you're eating 3,500 calories a day and still not growing, then guess what: you need to eat some more. There's just no getting around it. It may seem distasteful at first, but you have to force yourself to eat more food. After a while, you'll get used to it, and eating more won't be an issue.
- Increase your meal frequency. If you're having trouble sitting down and eating huge meals, then reduce the size of your meals, and increase the frequency in which you eat. Many people find it much easier to eat 8 smaller meals than 5 larger ones. Yes, this does mean that you'll be eating every hour and a half or so. Do it.
Two More Essential Mass Building Supplements
These next two supplements may not seem flashy or "designer" but they are extremely effective and help with the "little things" that can slow or halt progress.
Taking a fish oil supplement each day is important for a myriad of reasons related to your health. Fish oil can also be an important component of any mass building program. When you're lifting heavy and training often your joints can take a serious beating. Daily fish oil will help quench the added inflammation in your joints due to your hard training allowing you to continue training heavy pain free.
Greatly increasing your caloric intake can often take its toll on your gastrointestinal track. Probiotics are "good bacteria" that can help your body break down and digest foods, allowing for better absorption and assimilation of nutrients. One probiotic supplement first thing in the morning (on an empty stomach) will help with your digestion and aid in easing the transition into eating more food.
The Forgotten Variable
So far in this article we have focused heavily on nutrition and supplementation along with a brief discussion on important training variables. One variable that we have not mentioned that is just as important as training and nutrition and supplementation is sleep and recovery.
Eating enough food, maximizing your hormones through supplementation, and training hard, heavy, and often is extremely important. However, without proper rest and recovery, your progress will be severely limited.
It's when you're sleeping that the magic happens. This is the time when your body repairs, rebuilds, and restructures itself bigger and stronger than before. Getting a full and restful sleep every night is a must when you're mass building, and it's even better if you can boost your recovery with a nap during the day.
One supplement that helps many bodybuilders sleep deeper and longer every night is ZMA. The zinc in ZMA prevents subclinical zinc deficiencies that may hinder Testosterone levels, and the magnesium works as a sedative and relaxant, leading to deep muscle building sleep.
A little after you pop your nightly ZMA, but before you hit the sack, it's important to give your body the building blocks it needs for a full night of muscle building. You can do this in the form of casein-rich protein shake. Casein (or even better, micellar casein, the protein used in Metabolic Drive® is a slow digesting protein that will allow for your blood amino acid levels to stay elevated well into the night, creating an anabolic environment while you sleep.
Add to your casein shake a handful of almonds, or 1-2 tablespoons of peanut butter. The fats in the nuts will further slow the digestion and absorption of the protein even more.
Go Forth and Build
In this article, I've outlined for you the key nutrition and supplementation components to building a rock solid muscular physique. Here's a quick summary of points to remember:
- Get lean before you get huge
- You need to eat more calories than you burn
- A workout shake containing dextrose, whey isolate or hydrosylate, BCAAs, creatine, and beta-alanine will maximize your performance in the gym, leading to more muscle.
- Fish oil and probiotics will keep your system functioning optimally when lifting heavy and eating a lot.
- Proper sleep and recovery are just as important as training and nutrition.
Now get out there and grow!