We’re going to pre-empt this article by saying, “Read the title”.
We are undoubtably going to get some snarky comment from someone saying we’re stupid, we know nothing about nutrition, this isn’t Paleo, we hate babies and many other things that will only indicate his/her inability to lift heavy stuff and/or be muscular.
So…please just read the title.
This entry contains strategies to help skinny guys who have a difficult time adding mass, as I will always be a skinny guy in recovery. We’re not offering up these tips for those of you looking to lean out, reverse diabetes or cuddle puppies in capri pants after hot yoga.
This is about getting bigger.
You should only seek to add muscle once you have leaned out to your liking. The reasons for this are two fold. First, if you still carry a noticeable amount of excess body fat then the muscle you do gain will not appear to be lean since it will remain hidden under that layer of “protection”. Second, if you have already leaned out your body is going to be very sensitive to growth tactics and will expand at a much more rapid rate than it otherwise would.
Adding mass is one of the most common goals around the nation for a lot of undersized men, especially those who are hardgainers like me, the naturally skinny types who typically can eat a ton of food, lift heavy weight and struggle to put on weight. A lot of people think that you can’t add mass in strength and conditioning, that it requires a body building approach and that is just untrue.
Both Pritz and I have recently put on weight, his gain of nine pounds and mine of thirteen while making ourselves familiar with Red Lobster, hash browns and many other foods as we’ll get into.
Quite frankly, while we hardgainers are certainly starting behind the eight ball, gaining weight is one of the easiest things to do, most of us just aren’t eating what we think is a lot of food nor are we lifting weight that is actually growth inducing.
Most people who try and do it are just too hesitant to ante up and do it full bore when there are plenty of overweight people proving it is in fact, quite easy if you throw caution to the wind and keep a fork permanently in your hand.
It’s important that you realize the level of commitment a mass gaining program for a hardgainer truly is all about as packing on muscle is not a secondary goal where you can say, “Well I’d like to also add a little bit of muscle, if possible.”
I hate to tell you, but it doesn’t work that way.
Adding muscle is the one and only focus if it’s a goal, so there is no dipping your toe in the water and hoping that the magic muscle fairy deliveries you stout arms and poppin’ pecs.
The main areas of focus for your gaining efforts are the gym and the kitchen. You need to amplify the intensity in both with more emphasis placed on hard work on the stove top, and while we’ll provide you with your best chance to do so while keeping your diet clean as a choir boy, you might just need a willingness to get your hands a little bit dirty in the process, as well.
Go Heavier, Go Higher, Go Less
You need to train higher rep, heavier load and most likely less frequent.
Strength training at low rep challenges the Central Nervous System and builds strength neurologically, which is why we have a bunch of lean mother fuckers in the gym who are strong as hell.
But, in order to actually build muscle you need to tear it down which is only achieved with volume and reps.
Every set of compound, Olympic and power lifts needs to be above eight reps with heavy ass weight. When we do RFG days, make damn sure you are not picking fat loss and make sure you are not leaving anything on the table on any set. You need challenging, grueling sets. Get rid of the cardio-based approach and hit the squats, deadlifts, presses, rows and anything else that involves a barbell hard…as…shit, and with the only goal to maximize the weight you lift.
Squatting at 115# to parallel doesn’t count. Remember, you need to go above and beyond regular requirements to build mass. Up your weight twenty pounds and get your ass to the floor.
You cannot let your body try and dictate the rules, it’s hard wired to be skinny so it’s going to throw up rules like a nerdy lifeguard when the cool kids are trying to have a pool dunk contest.
Overrule it. Embrace failure underneath and on top of the bar.
Further, reduce your training volume from the hectic five days a week you are most likely doing to three days all focused on growth. The new stress of lifting heavy enough to build mass will take its toll and you want to give your body days where all it has to do is allocate calories to recover and grow, not to manage another workout that’s not geared towards your muscle growth goals.
Lastly, never miss squat day. Ever. It’s the best mass gaining exercise you can do.
Carbs > Protein Shakes
One of the most common mistakes bros can make is to think they are going to add muscle simply by mixing in a morning and post workout protein shake, or most likely what we call a protein smoothie.
Some coconut milk, a piece of fruit, and a scoop of protein a couple of times a day might shed fat but it ain’t gonna add squat to your frame.
While protein is certainly in the adding mass starter kit, what really takes a skinny dude to bulky is the constant spiking of insulin to feed torn down muscles, which typically requires you double or even triple your daily carbohydrate intake on training days.
Foods like sweet potatoes, white potatoes, rices, oats, quinoa and a personal favorite since we’re here in San Diego, corn tortillas are all great to keep your diet clean and trending to gain mass. Eat these with every single meal. If you can see any porcelain on your plate, cover it with more of these foods until it’s a shield of food fit for a viking.
Homemade carbohydrate-based recipes like pancakes, muffins, etc. that include coconut flour and almond flour also work so long as you are eating a heaping plate.
Almond and peanut butter are also great.
Whole wheat and rice-based pastas, as well.
Don’t focus so much on calculating every gram of macronutrient you consume, just eat and eat with little focus on the details. Another mistake hardgainers often make, and my biggest mistake when I first tried to add mass is thinking that anything sandwiched between a bun, glazed with sugar or stuffed with french fries was going to instantly kill me and make me a morbid sack just because it wasn’t “clean”.
If you are a Paleo-based eater like I often am, you might have to temporarily set these notions aside for a minute as adding mass for hardgainers can often be very difficult while keeping diet clean.
Can it be done the caveman way?
Yes, you can certainly add mass with a huge intake of the above clean foods and you’ll mostly likely have success so long as you can stomach the monotony of consistent high intake of those foods.
But, if you want our real answer, the one we give after the corporate luncheon when have the meeting with the fellas in the secret clubhouse, off the record, we’ll tell you that pancakes, burritos and In N’ Out will tip the scale faster than any sweet potato topped with grass-fed butter ever will.
Gaining mass is all about macronutrient quantity for hardgainers, it’s a simple math equation where we MUST create an enormous surplus of calories and clean food often has too low of a macronutrient count to get r’ done. This is a good thing and the reason why those foods keep us lean and energized, because every calorie is filled with important things.
However, that is the exact fact that can work against you in the opposite goal of gaining mass.
By now, everyone knows about Michael Phelps’ 12,000 calorie per training day diet in preparation for the Beijing Olympics. This wasn’t a case of Phelps being reckless or juvenile, this was precise food science. His body required that obscene amount of fuel to perform and it did not matter what the most decorated Olympian of all time ate, his priority was calories so he consumed a ton of pancakes, soda, candy, ice cream, pasta, fast food, and up to six energy drinks a day in order to meet his macro needs, and I’d say it worked out just fine for him.
Pro Bowler Chad Johnson used to eat McDonald’s three times per day during his heavy training.
Cy-Young winner Tim “The Freak” Lincecum requires three double doubles, a large order of fries and a large chocolate shake from In N’ Out every day for lunch when he puts weight back on in the offseason.
2-Time Olympian Kendrick Farris is known for his slogan, “Pancakes and PRs”.
Legendary strength coach Dan John is known for telling his hardgainer clients to eat large pizzas with olive oil poured on top of them post training for glorious, insulin spiking muscle growth, saying “the goal is to keep the goal the goal”.
Robert MacDonald of Gym Jones underground fame routinely eats multiple Smash Burger value meals for his post training nutrition.
Most closely applicable to the fitness realm, CrossFit Games Champion Rich Froning unapologetically consumes a training diet of creme pies, Nutter Butters, Oreos, peanut butter pretzels and ground sausage wrapped in bacon (fast forward to minute 3:51). Do you think Froning is concerned with Facebooking and Instagramming coconut flour brownies when he is training?
He probably laughs at that shit with his buddies. He just sees and eats, like a high performing, well-oiled robot. Everyone thinks these guys are religious with their diet but for a lot of high level athletes, they simply need calories to perform, grow and recover.
While we are not a professional athletes nor genetic freaks who appear adverse to fat gain like Michael Phelps and Rich Froning, some of the same philosophy absolutely applies to you if you’ve been struggling to add mass the clean way.
Remember, it is all about calories and that critical two hour window post training where we want to spike insulin and drive nutrients to muscles ready to soak them up like garlic bread to marinara. Knowing that, would you rather send 800 calories of chicken and sweet potatoes or 2,000 calories of burgers and fries?
For adding mass? I’ll take the 2,000.
Get on the Juice
A proven method for adding mass and strength that’s kind of in between the 100% clean method and totally throw caution to the wind method, one that we have never seen fail a client is GOMAD, an ancient Latin word for the rehabilitation of a skinny dude.
A Gallon of Milk A Day (GOMAD) has been used in hardcore weightlifting circles for years and is the closest thing to a guarantee to put 15 – 25 pounds on your frame in 30 – 60 days.
I can hear the Paleo crowd shitting their pants right now and not because of the havoc a gallon could wreak on your bowels, but the thought of a gallon of cow juice a day has most likely set off your internal Robb Wolf alarm. Like we said guys, the Paleo-based approach to food is awesome for most goals, unfortunately gaining mass is not one of them.
Not water milk.
Not coconut or almond milk.
This has the added benefit of making your lifts explode through the roof as it’s all but a lock you will also PR across the board, most likely by a wide margin. Drinking a gallon of whole milk per day does carry the risk of adding a few pounds of fat in the process depending on your metabolism, as milk is literally human growth juice but the positive effect on your muscle gains and lifting gains will be undeniable.
Some folks have real dairy sensitivities and if you are starting cold turkey, it is not recommended you go from no milk consumption straight to an entire gallon. Drinking a gallon of milk per day is a lot harder than it sounds so start off with three tall, 16 oz. glasses with every meal or this shake when you wake up and before you go to bed as you de-sensitize your body: 12 ounces whole milk, large scoop of weight gainer (not protein powder), banana, peanut butter, spinach, two TBSP of coconut oil and half an avocado.
You’ll be able to gauge how your body will react to the huge dairy intake. I’d recommend googling it and reading the message boards of folks who have done it. They will shoot you straight on what happens.
John Blackburn recently underwent GOMAD and can tell you how he felt on it, as well.
GOMAD is the closest version of steroids that nature provides and if you are a hardgainer, your fat gain will be minimal and completely dwarfed by the sexy boy new muscle you pack on.
What About Fat Gain?
Well, truth be told if you are a hardgainer your fat increase will be minimal and that’s if you go the unclean, more guaranteed route of mass gain where you’re freely consuming sweet potatoes, rice, milk, burgers, burritos and whatever else comes across your carnivorous path.
If you go about adding muscle the 100% clean way you most likely won’t gain any fat at all, but you could also short your mass gains in the process.
Adding some visceral fat is certainly a possibility when you aggressively set out to add mass, it’s just the nature of the business when you immediately double your caloric intake and while it would be ideal for you to not be afraid of some temporary fat protecting your abs from danger, we also completely understand you want to minimize this risk.
Remember this, guys. Mass gaining is typically a short-term endeavor lasting only a couple of months. You are not going to suck years off of your life by eating a few burgers, so don’t be a hypochondriac that somehow you’re going to turn into a fat slob overnight. This is just not possible while you are aggressively training three to four days per week. When people get into health trouble with this stuff it’s after years and years and years of abuse in combination with complete abstinence of breaking a sweat.
We’re talking about eating burgers and olive oil after intense weight training and primal movement, not ordering Papa John’s and eating and sitting in front of World of Warcraft all night.
Don’t buy into the dogma that unclean foods are always the anti-Christ.
At the end of the day, it’s easy. Just monitor yourself. You don’t need to get super obsessive over body measurements, just keep a log on how you look and feel and you’ll be able to tell if you’re putting on fat you don’t like. If you are, cut back. Easy peezy.
If you want muscle, you can’t be scared of food.
As they say, “Don’t let a quarter hold up a dollar.”
Start out going purely clean with an increased uptick in your clean carbs, especially post training. If you need to grow some more, add the massive milk intake to your diet, and if you still are not seeing results then get Michael Phelps on that shit. If you are not adding the mass you want to see from a natural diet then it’s time to get a little more Project Mayhem with your menu and always remember that any fat you do gain can always be targeted after you put on your mass during a cutting phase.
A few pounds of fat is not permanent, guys. Would you take five pounds of fat for twenty pounds of muscle?
I thought so.
What we’re betting is the most likely outcome is that you are so happy with the v-neck filling muscle you added that you don’t really care about the small amount of fat that came along with it.
Let your guard down. Eat more. Eat more diverse. Lift heavier and get your mind right that adding mass is completely attainable regardless of metabolism, you just have to work a little harder and potentially compromise your diet temporarily to achieve it.