Thursday, June 24, 2010

Blast the Past: My mass-gaining diet Experience

Okay, it's been a while since I posted anything, and for that I apologize. So, I'll get back to work with a nice long post about one of my most popular topics on this blog...

I've always been really surprised that the popularity of my blog took off pretty much on the success of my entries regarding mass-gaining with BW-only exercises. I've been re-reading Randy Roach's excellent book, "Muscle, Smoke, and Mirrors," and as I sat reading it, it really shouldn't have been a shock that, even now, a lot of people ask me about it. The whole notion that I could pack on 23-plus pounds of muscle using no supplements and no weights flies in the face of much of what anyone who tells you how to bulk up for the past 50-or-so years.

As I thought about it, I've got a lot of new readers since then and, like me, I'm sure that they don't like looking back in archives for information. Since I never started tagging my posts (sorry about that), I thought it would be an opportune time to share with my readers my thoughts and experiences about my mass gaining experiences.

The story: If I told you that the winter of 2006-2007 was an easy work season, I'd be lying to you. I was doing a lot of physical labor, most of it out in the cold. As a result I fried my bodyweight down to 157 lbs (at the time, my normal was just under 164 lbs). This was galling since I started training to GAIN muscle, not to lose weight. Even so, my efforts weren't serious enough. So, at the dawn of 2007, I decided to really get with it, settling on 180 lbs as my target for the year.

I did what a lot of you probably did who don't have the luxury of training with a "pro" in a gym environment: I started reading up. I probably found out what a lot of you found out: most of the literature written about mass gain after the 1960's is BULLSHIT. The magazines, and the books published by the owners of the magazines, flourished for one reason: to sell their protein supplements. Protein supplements made the strength industry as we know it. They exist to make money first and to get you big second.

Just in case you're totally new (or hopelessly naive) to the strength training world, most of the physiques you see selling supplements are built with steroids. The publishers of the magazines (and the owners of the supplement lines, sometimes the same entity) viciously guard this "secret". How much to they guard it? Remember this guy interviewed by Chris Bell on Bigger, Stronger, Faster? Well, he got fired for admitting to steroid use in that interview by the supplement company who had hired him to model their product. No strength-publisher or supplement-maker sells steroids. All of them sell supplements. So they have nothing to gain and a lot to lose by letting everyone know how these guys really get so big.

So, If I really wanted to find out how to put some meat on myself, I'd have to look back a little further. It's not that protein isn't crucial to getting muscle. That fact has been well-known to strength trainers even before they knew of the word protein and long before the protein supplement boom of the 1950's. If you look back at what they were eating before the strength training world became dusted with protein powder, you'll find a two foods coming up constantly in the diet of body cultivators: eggs, whole milk, and (to a lesser degree) nuts and seeds.

If you grab yourself a basic textbook on nutrition and study the macronutrient content of food (and I suggest that you do), you'll find that most foods are overwhelmingly high one macronutrient over all of the others. Grains, fruits and veggies are mostly carbohydrates. Most meats are overwhelmingly high in protein. What's interesting about the three that I just mentioned is that, by contrast, these three have more even split of the macronutrients.

A little comparison...
Beef Tenderloin, 4 oz
Total Fat 7.5g
Total Carbs. 0g
Protein 31.7g

Banana, 3 oz
Total Fat 0.2g
Total Carbs. 18.5g
Protein 0.9g

Milk, 8 fluid oz
Total Fat 8.1g
Total Carbs 12.9g
Protein 7.9g

1 Egg
Total Fat 5.3g
Total Carbs. 0.6g
Protein 6g

Pistachios, 1 oz
Total Fat 12.7g
Total Carbs. 7.9g
Protein 5.8g

See what I mean? The more I thought about it, I realized that these three foods that we eat have another purpose: they're designed by nature to provide the need of a growing organism. While birds, mammals and trees are all quite different forms of life, they actually have surprisingly similar macronutrient needs to grow.

Humans are no different. My research into Vince Gironda turned up so much mass-gaining gold. I remember reading that fat is needed in the diet. While the body makes muscle out of protein, it still needs specific hormones triggered to initiate the process. Not surprisingly, most of the hormones in our body are fat-based chemicals. So, the fat gives the order to the body to start building and the body responds by taking the protein and making something out of it. It's an over-simplification but it works for our purposes.

I also recall reading that steak and eggs was Gironda's favorite muscle-building meals. Even went so far as to eat it for every meal, every day, for six months on end. In the process, he claimed to have gotten in the best shape of his life with this diet.

Plus, look at it this way: I just dropped into your lap a good excuse to eat one of the best-tasting MAN dinners ever! It sure beats the hell out of drinking down a snotty-flavored protein shake that probably won't work and might be laced with toxic metals.

If there's one thing that I've inherited from my old-time mass building research, it's the notion in giving out guidelines rather than exact formulas to follow. I didn't follow a strict regimen of eating that you might see in most literature these days. I'm just like many of you in the sense that I need some flexibility in my diet. So, if I were to give my starting points for diet, based on what worked for me, I'd go with an even 1/3 split between protein, fat and carbs. Eggs, whole milk, and nuts are awesome foods for getting bigger so plan on throwing more of these into your diet. I'd keep the calorie consumption above 3,000 calories, but you can tailor this to your present bodyweight and how high you want to go. As I've already said in the past, I was well over 4,000 calories per day, at times. A good rule of thumb is to never feel hungry. If you feel hungry, then you're not gaining. You might even be losing if you're a hard-gainer.

This isn't going to be easy. I firmly believe that muscle gaining is every bit as hard as losing fat. It requires a very dedicated effort to eating the right way. Dedication that most might consider a fanatical obsession. I think it's even more important than the exercise that you do. I found out that it's easier to make up for the mistakes in the gym by getting it right in the kitchen than the other way around. Be prepared for some aches (like growing pains in puberty), more clothes shopping(right at the top of every guy's least-favorite thing to do), and some steroid use allegations (yes, I was accused of steroid use!).

So, how did I fare in my mass-building? I started out pretty good for a while. In a reasonably quick period of time (for a hard-gainer), I went from 157 lbs to 172 lbs once I got armed with the right information. Then, work became extremely busy and stressful. Once that happened, I hit a major plateau. It was all I could do to hold at the mid-170's for months. If I were to do this all over again, I'd make sure that I got enough sleep. Without a doubt, this was my biggest screw-up.

By August, 2007, things slowed down and I made it up to 180 lbs. Then, I got to do it all over again! I went to Peru for three weeks in September, got a violent case of diarrhea, and lost 14 lbs. Then, work resumed its frenzied pace in the dead of fall and winter. Anyone who works hard outside in the cold can tell you that it's easy to fry weight off the body in these conditions. Still, I toughed it out and got back up over 180 lbs, even flirting with 190 lbs. By this point I was getting fat and I wasn't as quick on my feet in BJJ class. So, I let my weight gradually descend down to 175 lbs. Presently, I hover between 170-175 lbs and I'm happy right there.


John Cintron said...


Great post. How tall are you? I really wish I had this info when I was younger and bulkingup I bulked up got to 192 but sloppy fat. I have been trying to get my waist to having abs keeping the mass it's so hard. I am between 170-180 all the time every time I come close to getting ripped I get hurt. I have been doing bodyweight movements with weight vest and I bought chains going to take pictures and put them on my blog. They look sick people stare atme like I am crazy when they see me with them on or working out.I actually thought youhad a video to put up soon. Take care John Cintron

Anonymous Fat Girl said...

Very interesting post. I've often wondered why the protein shakes are pushed as feverishly as they are. It's all about $$$$.

John Cintron said...

My Protein shake 4 or 5 organic eggs,water and a pack of strawberry rasberry smoothie. This actually taste better no stomach upset and not chalkie aftertaste left in my mouth.

John Cintron

Anonymous said...

Vince Gironda passed away at 79 having suffered from heart disease and dementia for the last four or five years of his life. His diet got many people lean on the outside, but, it didn't take into account the potential issues it could create internally. I tried his diet after having trained at his gym and couldn't do it...besides the fact I had to run and swim for my job, the cost of the protein, dessicated liver tabs and all the rest was ridiculous.


Anonymous said...


I've read several articles like yours about the kind of hard work that goes into gaining mass. But once you gained the mass initially, how hard did you have to work to maintain that gain? At 175, did you find that you still had to put a lot of effort into keeping at that weight? Or did you find that if you got stressed/side-tracked/busy, you reverted to a lighter weight?



Justin_PS said...


when I was upper 180's-low 190's, the weight dropped off pretty fast once I stopped eating like a horse. I always assumed that this was mostly fat loss. For a while, I hovered around 175-180. Then, I dropped down to 170, give or take, and I've stayed there ever since.

So, to answer your question directly, I feel that my most natural weight, 170-175, was the easiest to maintain. I could have stayed higher but I would have had to put a little effort into it. Of course, I've dipped a few times and yes stress or not eating enough played a role.

Justin_PS said...


I don't claim that Vince Gironda always had it right and I'm the first to admit that no diet is perfect but Gironda probably proved, better than anyone else, how to eat to get muscle.

I would submit that his son's health problems, his increasing sense of irrelevancy, the closing of his gym, and his on-and-off battle (which he admitted to) with alcoholism contributed to his emotional and health problems than his diet ever did.

Anonymous said...

Hi Justin,

Vince's on again/off again struggles with alcohol were well known. But, according to at least one person that worked for him, they really didn't take off until the problems with his son increased. This same individual felt that Vince was not a functional alcoholic, but, someone who would, at times, consume too much. During the handful of times I was in Vince's facility, I never smelled alcohol on the man when we spoke.

But, damage to the endothelial cells takes decades to accumulate. This is the damage which leads to the accumulation of plaque, etc., won't become evident until your 50s, 60s or 70s when TIAs, strokes and hearts attacks result.

Regardless, people like Steve Reeves and others who didn't follow diets close to Vince's continue to validate it was the training, not the diet, that generated the hypertrophy. The big names who showed up at Vince's to train didn't do so to put on muscle--Arnold, Carl Weathers, Mohammed Makkawy, Larry Scott, Sergio, etc., were all already loaded with plenty of muscle.
They showed up to get in shape...lean out and get ripped.

Authors with personal and/or professional experience in the nutritional industry--which includes the educational background to further back their recommendations--have shown high protein diets don't 'build muscle'. While people continue to dismiss the results, even high carb diets such as Ellington Darden's has been shown, repeatedly, to pack on muscle while the trainee only performs one set of the designated exercises.

Clearly, there are better and healthier ways of adding muscle, but, it always starts with working out.

Justin_PS said...


It just goes to show the craziness of the strength training landscape. One guys says one thing, another says something else. The rest of us are left trying to decipher what will work and what won't.

What I've learned is that Vince's approaches to diet worked very well for me. I certainly built and (for as long as I chose to maintain it) held onto muscle. My training partners at BJJ noticed the difference too.

What about you? What muscle-building diets worked the best for you?

Raul said...

hey justin, i've been reading your blog for a long time and it's the first time I drop a comment. Right know I'm training with bw also. I'm 15 years, and I'm planning to join the navy so I want to become amazingly strong and huge amazingly fast as you did. Just wondering If you can teach me how did you started, what exercises did you do and how was your workout like, I mean, you started from 0 right? Thanks a lot

Justin_PS said...

It's all here. Read on and figure it out...

Thanks for reading.

Raul said...

Wow Justin, there are lots of posts, but if you say the info is there, I'll look for it, I know It's worth the time. Thanks

Kostas the said...

Fantastic post!
Right to the point.