The world of bodybuilding is a confusing one, that is pretty much all the experts will agree on. There are so many different ways of approaching every single aspect of the game. Some things however are etched in stone. Rules, commandments if you will, that the God of Iron wants you to obey. This is definitely so when planning your next bulking diet. How hard can it be to put on weight? Well, for some, very hard. Moreover, the point is to gain as much muscle as you can without turning into a bloated fat guy. Fat is your friend when bulking, which is a different story than being married to it for life. So obey your 10 commandments and you've already put in the BULK of the work when planning your nutrition for your next mass phase.
1. Thou Shalt Eat More (Use A Weight Gainer)
The point after all is to pack on weight. If you aren't eating enough, what exactly do you plan to pack on? So consume more calories. To maintain your bodyweight you need to consume 10 calories per pound of bodyweight. This is a line that can stretch for 500 calories. So consuming at least that much more is a must, but also for every Joule of energy you expend you need calories to replete that expenditure. So add those calories. The more you eat the more growth potential you create. After all the single most anabolic compound in the world is food. Something that always stuck in my mind was the turnaround of my training days. I always had great definition, but I never could pack on the pounds. When my weight-training instructor/coach told me I needed to add weight for football season, I told him that it was impossible to gain for me. He taught a very simple rule of thumb: If you aren't growing, you aren't eating enough. It's that simple. You may think you are, but until you either put on weight or regurgitate your meals you haven't done all you can. This is also why I recommend weight gainers as one of my top 3 supplements, especially for those who have trouble putting on weight. They are a cost-effective source of quality nutrients, they go down easy and taste great, but the best of all is that they add numerous calories (600-1200 cals per serving) to your daily diet in the correct manner. They are invaluable if you have trouble meeting your daily nutritional demands. The bottom line is simply: EAT MORE!
2. Thou Shalt Eat More Often
Closely related to the previous commandment because more meals equate to more calories in a much easier fashion. It's much easier to chow down on 8 meals of 500 calories than it is to gorge on 4 meals of 1000 calories. But that isn't why this is the second most important commandment. Digestion and use of nutrients is the real reason. By keeping large spaces of time between meals insulin peeks and drops, as do concentrations of nutrients, which wrecks havoc on your metabolism. That means large amounts of nutrients will not be used because they are rendered useless after a space of time because cells are either saturated or there aren't enough hormones in circuit to process it all. So what happens to the excess food? It turns to fat. Especially with the large amounts of simple carbs in your diet, it is easy to manufacture more body fat. A little is necessary, too much usually gets in the way and stunts the stamina. By eating more meals (6-8 per day) you will not only solve this problem, but you also keep levels of nutrients in the blood constant which avoids that the body will rob the muscle stores of protein and glycogen to feed itself in the "starved hours" between meals. Evenly divided protein works anti-catabolic and the fat and carbs can use the protein to repair tissue damage from your workouts. And that, my friends, equates to growth.
Constant supply of amino acids (protein) to the body is most important because this keeps nitric oxide levels high. NO is a signal molecule that is present in all living creatures. It is created in the body by way of metabolism. Some meat-eating plants can obtain NO from the things they digest, but most living things have to make do with other ways of maintaining Nitic Oxide balance. In animals that equates to a constant flow of protein to preserve it. Arganine for instance is one amino that has been linked to this effect strongly, but it is by far not the only one. Optimal levels of NO ensure that you avoid a catabolic state, thereby negating your gains. This is one of the main motivations behind the multiple-meal plan for athletes.
3. Thou Shalt Get The Right Amounts Of Nutrients
Protein means most important, and it is. But that statement alone has caused many people lots of gastro-intestinal grief. Some think protein is the what-all of nutrition and start consuming large amounts while neglecting their carb and fat intake. Wouldn't it be great to get all that protein in? Naturally, but you will not absorb a whole lot of protein without fats or sugars present. In fact, both are needed for optimal use of protein. In my article on Anabolic nutrition we discussed what each nutrient does for you, now its time to look at what each will do for your muscle-growth.
Tissue in the body is formed of protein, regardless. Protein made from amino acids which are in turn obtained from dietary proteins. These are the building blocks of muscle tissue. We need to get them in place to repair the damage that training has caused and optimize growth. The trick is getting them where they need to be, here is where fat and sugar come in to play. Fat is an important nutrient, the extent of which was discussed in the aforementioned article. Fat is also responsible for aiding the digestion of large amounts of protein. Look at the Biological value of an egg as opposed to only the egg white. Eventhough the yolk is made up of fat, minerals and vitamins it adds a phenomenal 9 points to the BV index. Why? Because the fat allows you to get more of the protein into your system. Then its in your system. Right, big deal! What do you intend to do with them? Repair muscle, but that means you need to get them into the muscle. This happens on a first come first serve base. But the amount of protein delivered to a muscle is dependent on the blood sugar level. An exhausted muscle stops taking up glycogen, its completely depleted of both glycogen and protein. As we discussed, carbohydrates in the cell increase the volume and thus the level of other nutrients. So you have all this protein but can't use it. In comes a sugar (the higher it is on the glycemic index the more it increases blood-sugar levels) and raises the level of glucose in the blood. Homeostasis is a body system that keeps a proper balance of things. When it senses that blood-sugar levels are drastically increasing it will signal the pancreas to make insulin, which is a hormone that locks on to target cells making them take up glucose and store it as glycogen for future use as an energy source. The result is that you are increasing the carbohydrate level in the cell as opposed to the blood and thus create a larger volume (2.7 grams of water to every gram of glycogen) allowing more protein in the cell and speeding up repair.
So the proper balance between these nutrients is what delivers the best results. For the hardgainers, and this includes the majority of people I've worked with I recommend a 50/35/15 percentage of carbs/protein/fat almost as a given. Its been said that it should be closer to 60/25/15, but even on very high calorie diets that will compromise the amount of protein one gets. Its true that the carbs in a diet will be used mostly as fuel and therefore have a protein sparing effect, but since I recommend a majority of simple carbs you have to take into account that this will blunt insulin receptors and allow for more free glucose to be stored as adipose tissue. Hence the 50/35/15. This is the diet that, in high enough calories will deliver the best results in mass accrual in my opinion. Of course you should expect to gain some fat on this. Meaning that if you are chubby by nature these ratios will worry you of course. It's a relatively easy thing to pack on mass like this, but if you are going to bloat up beyond belief you have to calculate that a long drug out cutting phase will cost you a lot of mass as well.
Recently I've been instructed in the art of ketogenics by my friends, Dorian and fitnessman. Of course I'm not one to blindly follow, but I did draw my conclusions upon review. You want to restrict the use of sugars in your diet without losing the ability to assemble most of your protein intake. This is the thing most MRP's are fashioned after. So you will limit carbs in favor of protein and fat to a 40/40/20 ratio, if you are really heavy even a 35/45/20 ratio. By increasing the amount of calories from fat you are insuring a large amount of protein being digested. To achieve this one could make use of a few tablespoons of olive or flax oil before a meal. The larger amount of fats will provide the loss of calories from carbs, decrease sugar cravings, be used as fuel and above all make you reach satiety much sooner, making it less likely that you will consume empty calories. The use of lower glycemic carbs is advised as well as these will not as easily be stored as fat (potatoes, bread, grain, pasta, oatmeal). The lack of sugar has one downside : a decrease of insulin. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. If you are chubby or overweight odds are you make plenty of insulin, but you're receptors are blunted causing sugar to be stored as adipose tissue instead of glycogen. Also one of the main reasons fat people tend to be short on breath. One way to overcome the insulin issue in these types of diets is by adding chromium. Don't try this if you are skinny, because chromium is only absorbed if you are deficient in it, making it a total waste. But overweight individuals and older people are often deficient and will benefit from the receptor-upgrading effects of chromium, allowing more insulin to be put to use in storing glycogen and protein as opposed to fat-tissue. The double effect makes it a worthy addition to the latter bulking ratios. Try using 3 times 500 mcg daily of a good chromium picolinate supplement. If your insulin remains low, it may be time to think of Alpha Lipoic Acid. In large doses it's useless, but at 400-800 mg a day (in pill form, it denatures when exposed to air) can mimic the effects of insulin to a point. These are case-specific recommendations, I'm not recommending these supps to just anyone.
4. Thou Shalt Stick To Calorie-Dense Foods
I don't know about the other hard-gainers out there, but for me, I had a rough time getting used to the massive amounts of calories it took to make me grow. There are many times when I thought I really couldn't eat anymore and that I would never grow. Well, time teaches us many new things. This commandment is a mere remark to heavier individuals, but if you are skinny by nature, take this into account. The more calories you get per gram of food you ingest, the better. There are limits to the amount of food we can digest. Sometimes these limits are lower than what we need to grow, so we need to approach our numbers as best as possible. That means limiting foods that don't contain a lot of calories and replacing them with more caloric foods. Vegetables are out, not entirely, but should be decreased. They are made up of over 80 percent water. Meat on the other hand is very high in calories, so forget about turning vegetarian when bulking. Eggs make a good base for bulking, as does milk (high fat, high-cal, lots of protein and still meeting your daily hydration requirements). You have to remember that there is no use in stuffing yourself with things that will only reach satiety faster and not pack on any quality mass.
This does bring with it a few issues that need addressing. For instance you'll notice that calorie-dense foods are just that because they are high in macronutrients and consequently low in vitamins, water and certain minerals. You'll need to avoid the pitfalls of deficiency by making sure you don't forget to take your multi-vitamin and replenish the things you are missing. That makes B and C vitamins the target here. Optimal levels of these are needed for good digestion and functioning so you may need to look into taking a B-complex and 1000-3000 mg of Vitamin C over three doses daily. Calorie dense foods tend to be richer in fat-soluble vitamins. This is one of the reasons both these vitamins are in my top 5 of best supplements.
5. Thou Shalt Use A Multivitamin
We already touched on this in the previous paragraph, but this really is an important part of any diet, especially calorie-dense bulking diets. You need to maintain optimal levels of micronutrients as well as macronutrients in order for all to function well. A multi-vitamin is an easy way of getting the necessary ones in the right amounts instead of having to fill up on low-calorie foods and lots of them to get the required doses. Which I doubt is even possible in today's world of processed and denatured foods. While it is true that some minerals do compete for absorption, these are the least of your concerns. Iron can be obtained from chocolate or liver at any time of day and not, as I'm sure your parents always told you, from broccoli of spinach. The same for the essential zinc and magnesium. I'm a firm believer in ZMA, but if you get adequate amounts of meat daily (3-4 servings) odds are you get plenty. If that's not the case, supplementing these at a different time of day is wise. Its best to take at least one daily dose of a multivitamin containing at the very least the RDA of each of the substances, after breakfast. Taking it with food slows digestion, giving it a bit of a time-release effect. The body has a way of taking the nutrients it needs, so if a deficiency occurs, this will make sure you are covering all bases. In the interest of optimal recovery you may choose to look into supplementing an additional Vitamin C supplement, or if you aren't eating meat a Vitamin B supplement as well. Just covering all bases.
6. Thou Shalt Take Care Of Post-Workout Nutrition
Nutrition is important, more important than anything else. It's 80 percent of the body-building equation. If there is one thing my endless yammering has taught you, it should be that. But of all nutrition, what is the most important? Then I'd have to say post-workout nutrition. With all macronutrient levels depleted after hammering out set after set and every piece of muscle-fiber screaming for nourishment, you have a 1-hour optimal window to turn an initially catabolic reaction into an anabolic engine. Providing all the necessary ingredients for recovery when the body needs it most, allows you to rebuild stronger and bigger in anticipation of another agonizing session. Your body also has the capability of absorbing more protein at this point in an attempt to keep nitric oxide levels high and stave off a catabolic output of cortisol. Taking care of post-workout nutrition is without a doubt the most important of your nutritional functions of the day.
First of all, get all the protein you need. Whereas this is usually 30-35 grams, post-workout count on an amount closer to 45-50 grams. Add in once to twice that amount of carbohydrates. If you are a hard-gainer, make it closer to 2 with most all of them coming from simple sources. If you tend to pack a bit more weight it's better to stay closer to the equivalent of the amount of protein and make it half simple, half complex sources. Fat in these meals should be limited to clean fats from oils, milk, fresh nuts and so on. If post-workout for you, as for many, means drinking a shake, here are some things to watch: when using straight protein be sure to add some source of carbs such as a high-quality dextrose supplement or some pieces of fruit. After all, you are bulking, you need the calories. If you use an MRP, the same. Most MRP's are great for diets, but way too low in carbohydrates to be sufficient for bulking. Often the amount of carbs is less than that of protein. The better investment here is a weight gainer. These things combine 40-50 grams of protein with 50-120 grams of carbs in a great profile that provides additional fats and vitamins.
Organizing post-workout nutrition isn't always easy though. First of all the ride or walk from the gym. The recommendation is to take in your shake or meal immediately after a workout. I think that should be rephrased to as soon as possible. Give or take a minute, you have to figure your optimal window runs for about an hour after you finish your workout. So you have some time. Now taking into account showering and getting dressed, if it takes you more than half an hour to get home, it may be time to start looking into a way to take your shake with you so you can still get it in on time. Perhaps make it before you leave an so on. Its also a good idea to make sure everything is closeby for when you get home to make your shake. If you have to clutter around for things to long, you are wasting precious time. How about creatine? It's a well-known fact that creatine and protein compete for the calcium transport ion, with protein winning most of the time, simply because there is more of it. Well, no worries. If you are taking creatine, new studies suggest that a mix of 50 grams of protein and 50 grams of sugar (or any ratio higher in sugar) can illicit the same insulin spike that is achieved with 90 grams of pharmaceutical grade dextrose. This is the optimal dose of the high-glycemic sugar often added to these so-called new generation of creatine products. Since most weight gainers contain a profile beneficial to this situation, its not such a bad idea to mix your creatine in your gainer. If you are afraid that your post-workout meal is too high in protein and too low in carbs (say you're hooked on MRP's despite knowing better) then try to get in your creatine with some juice as soon as you get a chance (if you have to, put the creatine in a bottle, and after a workout add water and drink) and normally within 15 minutes it should be in your system, so give it 15-20 minutes and then drink your post-workout shake or eat your post-workout meal.
Note: Do not mix creatine before working out. In a solution of any kind creatine becomes unstable and turns to the waste product creatinine. This goes for all creatine suspended in liquid, no matter what they tell you. For more info:
7. Thou Shalt Eat Before Bed
If post-workout nutrition is the most important meal of the day (and there you were thinking it was breakfast) eating before bed is probably the second most important thing. It's a myth that anything you eat before sleeping will turn to fat. Now don't go chugging snickers bars at midnight, that will make you fat, yes. But you have to figure that for the duration of sleep (7-10 hours if you know what's good for you) you are burning an average 67 calories per hour. That's if you are a quiet sleeper. That means, until you get breakfast (which can be 11 hours for some people, you are on a fast, when levels of nutrients are low, the body is cleansing itself and nitric oxide levels are hard to maintain. The first motive here is preparation. You are headed into a prolonged fast, so you want to make sure that you make up for the calories you'll be missing. Always be preventive. So if you sleep ten hours, getting 670 calories right before bed is a good bet. Don't put in too many carbs, insulin response during sleep is low, so chances are simple carbs will be stored as fat. Some is good, but don't go overboard.
The second part of the reasoning is that Growth Hormone levels peak during sleep. 75 percent of daily hGH output is produced during sleep and 60 percent of that in a large spike in the second hour of sleep. Since the body does a large part of its recovering at night, it makes sense to get all the nutrients you'll need, then let the GH do the rest. This way you will be fit, rested and recuperated for the next day's workout. For me, invariable of which diet I'm on, my last meal before bed is a weight gainer. Just the right amount of calories, easy to prepare, mix with milk which improves the quality of my sleep and so on. That covers me until morning, then I get out of bed and start on breakfast while I'm getting dressed. As soon as my first bite of breakfast is in, I'm ready to focus on the next day's nutrition, until that time I'm still working on the recuperation from the previous day.
8. Thou Shalt Not Avoid Meat
Time for my rant on vegetarians again. Sorry guys, I respect your beliefs, but you'll never amount to anything in this sport without either meat or steroids. The benefits of meat are high calories, massive bio-available protein (80 BV for red meat, slightly less for chicken), a good natural source of creatine and loads of calories. A decent fat content helps too. Look at some of the biggest guys in our sport: Schwarzenegger and Oliva back then today the likes of Mike Matarazzo, all these guys had one thing in common: they ate multiple meals with lots of meat in them. Red meat like ground beef and huge juicy steaks being the meal of preference. Chicken and tuna are great if you are on a diet, but for genuine mass nothing beats real meat.
You know the saying, "You are what you eat". And I don't mean you'll turn into a cow, but when you stop to think about it, the meat we eat is muscle. Muscle equates to muscle. After all the cows and pigs needed the same stuff to grow their muscle meat as we do, so you know you are getting a lot of the essentials just by eating meat. Some of the strongest and most muscular people, like certain tribes of Indians, lived on high-fat, high-protein meat diets. They lived off things like buffalo. They were healthy, strong, fierce. An awesome sight. That kind of reflects the ideals of bodybuilding. Its one thing that we don't eat meat like we used to, but its another to drop meat entirely. For health reasons too. Soon you'll find yourself deficient in zinc (which most athletes are deficient in to begin with) vitamin B12, the amino acid taurine and several oxalates. I don't know about you guys, but eating like a Big Cat is hard enough for a hard gainer, trying to eat like that AND have to juggle around eating meat is damn near impossible.
To each his own, and I know several activists for whom vegetarianism is more of a religion than a way of life, and I'm cool with that. Meat or no meat is your choice, but if you want to get massive, it's better to shoot yourself in the foot than stop eating meat.
9. Thou Shalt Drink Plenty
One thing often forgotten on any diet is hydration. The human body is made up of over 60 percent water at any given time in your life, so water is a key element in functioning of the body. I'm sure everyone learned at some point during their school years that a lot of water is lost during the day via sweating, urination and so forth, and that this amount increases drastically with severe physical exhaustion. So replenishing water during the day is very important. Don't be a child of consumption and start drinking coffee and coke to make up for this, because these are severely diuretic and will, in the end, only increase the amount of water lost during the course of the day. Water of course is just that and nothing more. So some ways of turning water intake functional would be to consume milk for extra protein and consume fruit juices for extra sugars. This way you get your water without having to sacrifice your caloric intake. Water also improves digestion which can save you a lot of trouble when bulking. You wouldn't be the first one that felt like barfing because you upped your calories too fast. And don't think it can't happen to you, it happens to the best of us.
What you need to remember is that you want to drink your water, not eat it. This goes back to the stuff about eating calorie-dense foods. A percentage of our daily water intake comes from foods we eat, like vegetables. You have to figure that you'll be missing this extra water, and probably need another quarter gallon to make up for it. Also be careful of what you are taking. Again if you are using creatine, adding a half gallon to a gallon to your water intake is no preposterous precaution, as creatine sucks a lot of water into cells, minimizing the amount of extra-cellular fluid in the body.
10. Thou Shalt Increase Calories Gradually
Read a good quote from Mike Matarazzo in the last FLEX (July 2001) I read. It kind of explains in short what would have otherwise been one of my endless paragraphs that I'm famous for, so I'll share it with you :
"Just as you can't increase your bench press by suddenly piling 600 pounds on the the bar, neither can you gain muscle mass by suddenly stuffing yourself with 10000 calories a day."
This is a great article by the way for all meat-lovers. The point is you need to make changes gradually. You don't add 10 sets to a workout at once, you don't run 40 miles if you have only done 5 before and so on. These things make sense. Obviously you want to increase calories drastically so you can start packing the mass on, but do so in small increments of 125-250 calories per day over a period of 1-2 weeks. I'll probably address the same issue again when discussing the cutting of calories for a diet, so keep it in mind. Changes should always occur gradually, too much is too much.
Obviously this is not the extent of the bulking process, but these ten points provide an easy-fix guide to the most common pitfalls of the bulking diet, and can serve as a quick reference guide to optimizing your diet. It should be used as such. I hope it may be of some use to those of you seeking fast gains and are willing to make the dietary effort to do so. In any case, Good Luck.