Tips for putting on size
By Denis LaBreche
To me as a lifter and as a coach, nutrition is paramount. The old cliche “you can’t out train a bad diet” is very true in most respects.
For the most part clients will come to me as a nutrition coach first and foremost for weight loss, or more specifically, fat loss. This is the main engine that runs the fitness industry today; people that are looking to make a lifestyle change and shed some body fat. But what about the other side? What about the people looking to gain mass and get stronger? The skinny kid who has “done everything” to get bigger…or the female powerlifter who really wants to increase her total?
For these people there is very little information out there on what to do compared to shedding bodyfat. Simple tag lines such as “eat big, lift big” or “eat and grow” are just about all the specifics you will easily find on the topic. So what is a lifter to do, just eat everything in sight? Do a dirty bulk and then shed fat later?
The truth is that to gain muscle, just like losing fat, you need to be consistent over a long period of time. I would tell a client it is unrealistic to lose 30lbs in a month. I will also say it is unrealistic to gain 20lbs in a month. The journey of weight gain is as slow and methodic as the journey of weight loss.
So, with that said I want to give everyone a few important tips on gaining size.
Track your calories/macros. People always think of food tracking as a way to lose weight. But it is just as important for those looking to gain. If I don’t track my food, I can promise you that I will not eat enough. The problem with not eating enough is that I then will quickly lose weight and this will impact my performance in the gym very quickly. Most people who have a tough time gaining weight always say that they eat SO MUCH food. Then in reality, when they start tracking it is very often revealed that they are inconsistent at best. Tracking food will show you if you are eating enough or need to eat more.
Get the right amount of protein. So many gym bro’s are way off base when it comes to protein intake. I have seen as high as 3g per pound of body weight. That would mean at 250lbs I would need to consume 750g of protein (3000 calories from protein alone) to build mass? The truth is that the body can only use so much dietary protein to build muscle. With clients I will go as high as 1.5g/lb for people in a deep deficit to as low as 0.5g/lb for high level athletes. For a lifter, and for the express concern of building muscle I stay in the 0.8-1g/lb range. Far below what you will read from magazines. Going above that is just making for some very expensive urine.
Be patient. The human body is very efficient. But the garbage you see on the internet about gaining 20lbs in 6 weeks is just sales and nothing more. The truth is the body can only create muscle so quickly. And it is not a matter of more protein will build more muscle. Genetics can play a factor in this, but if you are gaining 1-2lbs a month of lean mass you are in a great spot. And think about that, 2lbs a month is 24lbs in a year. That is a ton of mass gain. This is a long process.
Lean gaining is a myth. Now don’t get me wrong, you can get larger without piling on a ton of body fat. That is the purpose of this article. But don’t for one second think that you can JUST build muscle, or JUST lose fat. It doesn’t work that way. When you cut, you will sacrifice lean tissue and when you grow you will add some body fat. Again back to being patient, if you are gaining 3lbs a week you better believe that it is mostly fat mass.
Make good food choices. This one really frustrates me. So you want to be a strong, high-level athlete? Then why would you resort to eating garbage food just to gain weight? I’m not going to sit here and pretend to be the cleanest eater in the world, but I will tell you that I try as hard as I can to eat high quality, nutrient dense foods whenever possible. When you start eating upwards of 5000 calories a day, sometimes you have to make some concessions on food quality. But most people will never get to those food levels. If it fits your macros is a clever little saying, but nutrient density is very important as well. If you get equal macro portions of gummy bears or blueberries, ask yourself which one you feel will be better for your performance as an athlete?
Carbs are your friend. You may read a ton on the internet about carbs this or gluten that or ketogenic/paleo diets or whatever. Here is the fact. Aside from being the best choice for creating energy in your body, glucose (simple carbohydrate) is the best and easiest source of energy for your brain and nervous system. If you are eating at a caloric surplus you better be eating a ton of carbs. And if you are not…try it and you and your performance will thank me.
Embrace the fat. Dietary fat that is. With most clients I will stick to 20-25% of total calories from fat. With people looking to become crazy strong I have bumped that number as high as 35%. The catch is, you are looking for good healthy fat sources, not KFC twice a day. Dietary fat has a myriad of benefits to the body but in this case I use dietary fat, as well as fish oil, to keep the bones and joints happy during rigorous training.
Supplements are a very small part of the equation. That might be a little too black and white but…if you are a 200lb male eating 1500 calories a day all from protein and you only train 30 minutes a day three times a week, no supplement in the universe will help you build muscle. A supplement is just that, a supplement to a great diet. You can use these to fit protein into your busy day or to use as a safety net for your poor choices but they should NEVER replace good food.
Be consistent. This should go without saying but if there is one thing I seem to type over and over to clients it is “just be consistent.” For training and nutrition, nothing will ever be as important as consistency. A perfect workout plan will only be effective if you are consistent just as a perfect mass building diet will only be effective if you are consistent.
Train like a savage! A line Stan Efferding uses all the time is to “train like a savage.” What exactly does that mean? Well to be honest, getting stronger is not easy and often it is not fun. It is a long and painful process with a payoff of personal glory and not much else. But damn it, I love this stuff! If you want to gain size and have the nutritional building blocks in place, then get into the gym and crush some weights! This doesn’t mean to kill yourself or hit a 1 rep max every day. But I see a lot of lifters hammering minute details such as running precise programs with dictated percentage of 1rm and rpe scales and avoiding accessory work in fear they may negate the anabolic window or whatever new misinformation you can read on the internet daily from coaches trying to reinvent the wheel. The bottom line is make sure you are in a caloric surplus, eat good nutrient dense food choices and put in some hard work. People seem to think that there is some mythical percentage based window that makes it so you do not have to work hard. That’s bull! Go crush some weights.
I have one piece of advice for anyone looking to gain lean mass it would be to hire a nutrition coach. Gaining weight takes just as much coaching as losing weight does. Just as much time, consistency and dedication.
I hope you enjoyed this article and please feel free to send any feedback or questions to me at labreche111 at gmail.com
-Denis has been strength training for over a decade, competing in powerlifting for 3 years and more recently strongman. He has competed at the national and international level. He enjoys working with clients of all skill levels. From true beginner to the elite powerlifter and athlete. His true passion lies in helping people with nutrition. Whether the goal is weight loss, muscle or performance gain or somewhere in the middle he has you covered! Follow him on Instagram and Facebook