They’re all over the Internet – those articles on “bulking up” and their accompanying “weight gaining meal plans.”
They’ll tell you that the excessively ectomorphic reflection you see in the mirror is a matter remedied by caloric consumption: “Eat 3000 or more calories a day – be sure to eat every two hours – lift heavy weights using basic exercises –– oh, and don’t gain a lot of body fat.”
What? With an overly-simplistic prescription like that, how can you NOT gain body fat? There are 3500 calories in a pound of fat. If we eat 500 calories per day above our maintenance levels, we’re on track to gain a steady one-pound of fat each week (500x7).
Oh… but you’re a bodybuilder. You’re turning those 3500 extra calories into muscle each week – right?
If that were the case, why would professional bodybuilders stick needles full of pharmaceuticals in their asses to gain a lot less muscle than the ‘weight gaining meal plans’ advocates are telling you that you can gain with a bench press, a squat rack, and a well-stocked pantry? I saw one article claiming you could gain one pound of muscle per week. That’s 52 per year. We should all be Mr. Olympia material within a year and a half through simple calorie-gorging and “heavy” training if this were true.
A top Mr. Olympia competitor told me many years ago that the most muscle he’d ever gained was ten pounds in a year. That’s not even three percent of a pound of muscle per week. This was from a guy who was genetically gifted and admittedly on lots of steroids. He said that once he’d “matured”, he slowed down to gaining about two pounds of muscle per year.
My Best Muscle Gains have come when I’ve been ‘Super Lean’
We hear a lot these days about testosterone. Every bodybuilding guru and his mother tells you to keep your workouts to less than an hour so your testosterone levels won’t drop. Hungry neophytes are imbibing this information as if it is gospel, never considering that weight training workouts are a catabolic activity anyway. Isn’t it your testosterone level between workouts that really matters? That is when your muscles are recuperating and growing.
Yet it’s the “weight gaining meal plans” that are most likely to make us fat – and increased body fat is one the most threatening antagonists of healthy testosterone levels. As body fat increases, especially around the abdominal area, a hormone called ‘sex hormone-binding globulin’ (SHBG) rises in the body. As levels of this hormone go up, it binds with ‘free testosterone’, spurring a down-regulation of overall testosterone levels and an unfavorable estrogen/testosterone ratio.
It’s for this reason coupled with other principles I’ve covered in HardBody Success, such as optimizing the muscle breakdown/recuperation ratio, that I’ve been able to lose fat while gaining muscle.
How ‘weight gaining meal plans’ can make you FAT
Let’s say you do a pectoral workout once per week. You only know that giving your pecs about six days of rest between workouts is the right thing to do because “Joe the Internet bodybuilding guru” or some magazine article told you so. What you don’t know is that when training naturally, just a slight change in intensity can make a big difference in recuperation time. So you train pretty intensely today and unknowingly create a demand for….oh… maybe eight days of recuperation time.
Of course, you’re stuffing down your ‘weight gaining meal plans’ because “Joe Internet Guru” or the mag article told you that’s the “secret” to recuperating in six days.
However, the truth is that your body doesn’t know it’s supposed to recuperate in six days – nor does it speed up protein synthesis just because you’ve gorged yourself with more calories than you need. Your body recuperates the damaged tissue at a certain rate. To stuff food down and expect a speed-up of the process is like thinking the engine in an old Ford Pinto will be as fast as a Macerate because you keep the gas tank in the Pinto topped off. Additional fuel cannot change the mechanical limitations of a car and excess calories cannot change the biomechanical processes of your body.
In fact, it takes bodily energy to process excessive amounts of calorie intake. That’s one reason you feel so tired after eating an over-sized meal. We also require energy to gain muscle. If a lot of your energy each day is being devoted to digesting the contents of your ‘weight gaining meal plans’, muscle building energy is likely to take a back seat to the reserves required for daily energy and calorie digestion/processing. Not a pretty sight.
So… you train your pecs after six days when they needed eight days to recuperate. Now they’re over-trained, they haven’t grown at all, and your body keeps taking in the 3000 or 4000 calories per day that your weight gaining meal plans prescribe. It’s pretty clear how “bulking up”, in practice, can easily become ‘getting fat.’
But even if you gain muscle at the rate of that former Mr. Olympia contender I’ve mentioned (.03 of a pound per week), it is unlikely that you will need some crazy 4000 to 5000 calorie per day ‘weight gaining meal plan. The only time I’ve ever eaten that much (actually, 7500 calories per day) was in Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL Training. However, we were training at an incredible pace all day long and I probably still held over 12 percent body fat.
Don’t slow down your progress and gain nothing but an eating addiction by adhering to the mega-calorie nonsense being dispensed in too many places.