Who says you can't be a mass monster and still look like a fitness model? Ryan Kurek proves that it's nothing more than an old bodybuilding myth.
The 6-foot-3-inch MuscleTech brand ambassador, personal trainer, and ironworker Kurek has expertly sculpted his 271 pounds of lean, dense mass into an aesthetic, balanced frame in which no muscle group overpowers another.
Kurek started lifting at the age of 16 to fortify himself against high school bullies. "I was probably 160, soaking wet, then," he recalls. He started lifting and never stopped.
"I've been hovering around 270 since late fall of 2017," Kurek says. "When I turn 40 in ten years, I'd love to be ripped-and-zipped at 300, but I know that's pushing it. Realistically, I'm aiming for 280, cut, over the next few years."
Unlike some of his peers, the Buffalo, New York, resident has found that a meticulous nutritional approach—in which you weigh every morsel and count every calorie—isn't necessary to make substantial progress. Instead, he sums up his plan in four words—"Eat heavy, lift heavy"—and breaks it down into six rules.
Rule 1: Build Your Meal Plan Around Your Schedule
Setting structural steel in place on commercial construction sites during evening and late shifts, Kurek doesn't always have time for meticulously planned meals. While some of his meal choices aren't perfect, they do meet the caloric and nutritional demands of a very physical job.
"I've learned to meet my energy needs by choosing heavy complex carbs, good fats, and complete proteins," he says.
His favorite protein source is red meat, along with whole eggs, marinated chicken, and lunchmeats, including turkey, roast beef, and ham—sometimes slapped between two slices of P28 High Protein bread.
He gets most of his carbs from white potatoes, using instant mashed potatoes at work. His diet also includes bananas, Granny Smith apples, and Campbell's Chunky canned soup.
"Sometimes I'll open a can of soup and slam it down cold. It takes me about 30 seconds to finish an entire can," he says. "The cold doesn't bother me...much. I love bread, too—anything from P28 to Italian white to sourdough."
Rule 2: Eat a Lot—But Keep the Junk Food Within Reason
"If you're trying to bulk, eat heavy, but be smart about it," Kurek says.
Kurek errs on the side of clean foods, but will veer off the path to maintain his sanity when his eating plan gets monotonous.
"I include cheat meals in my plans, although I don't usually schedule them," he says. I end up cheating two or three times a week with pizza or anything deep-fried. I try to avoid sugar, but I love chocolate."
The key, he says, is moderation and timing: Have just enough to quash the craving, and avoid loading up on cheat foods before bed.
Rule 3: Divide to Conquer
Instead of limiting yourself to the traditional breakfast-lunch-dinner mealtime mantra, eat every 2-3 hours.
"I average three bigger meals per day, but I also have 4-6 smaller ones in between, or whenever I can sneak in a bite at work," Kurek says. "It's especially important to have a good supply of fast-acting carbs post-workout. I usually go for Gatorade, dextrose, MuscleTech's Cell-Tech, or even a Mountain Dew. You should also have a solid mass gainer powder on hand to make shakes. These gainers work wonders when you use them right. MassTech Extreme 2000 triple-chocolate brownie flavor is my go-to product!"
Rule 4: Ditch the Scale and Food Log
If you're trying to cut weight, every calorie matters. In mass-gain mode, the macronutrient equation isn't nearly as complex. You don't need to weigh food portions or write down everything you eat, Kurek says. You just need to eat!
Kurek says it's always been hard for him to add size to his physique. As a hard gainer, he focuses on eating lots of clean foods, gauging how much he needs to eat by what he sees in the mirror and on the scale.
He believes bulking is pretty simple. "Eat. And if you're not hungry, get hungry," he says. "You won't grow without food."
Rule 5: Lift Consistently and With Purpose
"I lift before every work shift," Kurek says. "Even though my job is physically demanding, the mood enhancement and metabolic boost I get from a solid 60-90 minutes of serious gym time before work is more than worth the effort. Leg day is the only struggle because I already cover 15-20 miles a day around my work site."
In his off season, Kurek has no set days for chest, back, legs, or shoulders.
"I just try to hit each major body part once a week, then rest it five days before hitting it again," he says.
The key, he's found, is to make sure he gets the training in—but not to train so much or so hard that it becomes counterproductive.
"Some days, I'm too spent from my job the night before to hit the gym the next day," he says. "A younger me would get all worked up about skipping a session, but these days, I listen to my body. If I can't lift on a Tuesday, I'll get to bed early, rise and grind through a Wednesday, and hammer it out Wednesday night."
Kurek's sessions consist of a variety of techniques and set-and-rep schemes.
"My first few lifts always involve near-max poundage and 4-6 reps per set, whether it's on presses, deadlifts, or a leg move," he says. "Dropsets and supersets have worked wonders for me, too. You can tear your fibers all you want lifting heavy weight, but I gain a ton because of the increased blood flow from the pump."
Rule 6: Always Be Open to New Tricks
"I used to be too stubborn to take advice and tried to reinvent the wheel instead," Kurek admits. "Nowadays, when more experienced—and especially larger—lifters give me pointers, I try to put my ego aside and pay attention to what they're saying. I've learned to listen, and it's helped me immensely."
But, you can't just blindly follow someone else's training program.
"If you're going to invest the time and energy to improve yourself both physically and mentally, take the same amount to learn what works best for you. Self-knowledge is power," Kurek says.
Kurek says Bodybuilding.com has been his best source for new ideas over the years.
"Bodybuilding.com is my meathead bible," he laughs. "We're lucky to live in a time when resources like this are so readily available."