For the natural bodybuilder, can “quick weight gain” ever be an indicator of fast muscle growth? We’re bombarded with the notion that it can as we witness ads for products in which ‘quick weight gain’ promoters claim they gained “blankety-blank pounds of muscle” in “so-and-so” number of weeks. But quick weight gain is probably the most inaccurate measurement of whether the body is gaining muscle. Let me illustrate this point with a personal story.
I was recently out with a few family members on a Saturday for my birthday. Just for fun, I decided to engage in ‘quick weight gain’ to see what numbers I could stack up on the scale and lose by the following weekend. During that birthday weekend, I ate a lot of bread and simple sugar carbohydrates. It was an indulgence that included pizza – topped off with a big slab of sugar-laden cheesecake on Sunday night. As a side effect, I consumed enough sodium that I felt thirsty between just about every meal and found myself chugging water by Sunday evening.
How’d I do for “quick weight gain?”
How about eleven pounds up on Monday morning? I was up eleven pounds and I don’t think I gained an ounce of body fat.
How would I know that?
Because by the following weekend, my “quick weight gain” had transformed into quick weight loss; the sodium, glycogen, and epidermal water retention were shed from my frame in only a few day’s more time than it took to gain it.
“Quick Weight Gain”: Carbs, Sodium, and Water
Whether we’re talking ‘quick weight gain’ or quick weight loss, short term fluctuations are often attributable to water rather than body fat or muscle. Here are some factors to consider:
- There are about 2.7 grams of water attached to every gram of carbohydrate. Thus, higher carbohydrate intake can bring more water into the body.
- Higher sodium intake causes water retention/”quick weight gain.”
- Pounds of epidermal water weight (beneath the skin) can be stored by the body.
- Low sodium/complex carbohydrates such as fruits and vegetables can work as diuretics – flushing sodium and water from the body.
'Quick weight gain': What's displayed on the scale is too often not detailed enough feedback
With those points in mind, it’s easy to see how I quickly dispensed of my ‘quick weight gain.’ Starting Monday morning, I consumed just enough complex carbs (fruits and vegetables) to provide bodily energy. Oh… I still ate some bread throughout the week – but I greatly controlled these starchy carbohydrates in order to counter the effects of the weekend of gluttony. I drank a lot of water during the week while maintaining a low enough sodium intake that I rarely felt thirsty. With each passing day, I could see the water that had stored itself beneath my skin steadily disappearing.
‘Quick Weight Gain’ vs. Actual Muscle Growth
Based on current Internet muscle building dogma, one would think I was providing a bodily anabolic environment during my quick weight gain despite the fact that much of it came in the form of “bad carbs.” Conversely, many would surmise from similar thinking that my subsequent weight loss resulted in a “catabolic state”; one in which muscle growth was difficult if not impossible. However, neither was the case. The window of time in which I conducted this “experiment” was one of constant muscle growth.
How do I know this?
Simply because my muscle’s strength and volume performance went up as predictably as ever during the week in question. Even as I consciously cut my carbs and overall caloric intake during the week following the birthday pig-out, my strength and muscle size made their predictable, nearly perfunctory steps forward.
And this is the best feedback for your muscle growth progress. Forget the notion that your body weight will accurately provide short-term feedback of muscle building progress within the time-span of days or weeks. Muscle building is a two-step process; muscle tissue tear-down (workouts) coupled with muscle building recuperation (recovery between workouts). This formula is intrinsically time-dependent – the rest between workouts being the most time-consuming part of the formula.
‘Quick Weight Gain’: It’s Your Choice
For anyone who doesn’t mind a smooth appearance and the risk of high blood pressure, gaining water weight is always an option. For those who are self-consciously thin, a muscle pump accompanied by water retention can cause ‘quick weight gain’ and a filled-out appearance prior to a high school class reunion or similar social event where “appearing bigger” might be desirable.
But it’s important to distinguish this phenomenon from real muscle gains. We see product ads with testimonials claiming gains of 10, 20, or even 30 pounds of muscle within weeks or months. Yet it’s no surprise that even before/after pictures that accompany such “quick weight gain “claims become questionable for anyone with a discerning eye. Even the “after pics” that appear to have been legitimately taken within weeks of the “before shots” often have the subject showing off a “water/glycogen weight gain” more than one of predominantly muscle gains. This is no surprise; the visual improvements created by the two-step muscle building formula require substantial strength/volume gains before muscular development becomes discernable to the eye.
This is why long-time bodybuilding expert Clarence Bass advised his readers to avoid the temptation of measuring muscle building progress with the bathroom scale and/or mirror. It’s much more effective and realistic to measure strength gains in the gym. That way, the often misleadingly illusory effects of ‘quick weight gain’ and ‘quick weight loss’ are sidestepped in favor of reading true muscle building feedback that can be more effectively acted on.
For long-term, real progress… I recommend dumping the ‘quick weight gain’ notion while adopting one of effective strength and muscle performance building. Solid weight gain will most surely follow.