Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Getting Big Right With Stew

I totally understand the desire to get huge.  I've made two honest attempts in my life to accumulate more than 20 lbs of mass on my genetically-robbed frame.  It's got to be the biggest reason why anyone with testicles ever attempts to strength train.  Whenever I write about it here, they're my most popular posts.  What I don't understand is why there is so much mystery about how to get big.  It's simpler than the collective IQ of the riders on the little, yellow bus:  eat more and train a lot... and get some rest (yeah, I fuck that one up, just like you do too). 

So, after basically getting past that pesky physical therapy shit that left my left leg looking like a soda straw with scars, I decided to make the jump up to 200 lbs.  All of that flabby mass that used to wave hello to me in the bathroom mirror as I walked in cooperated and along with the food and leg work, I gained some legitimate mass pretty quickly.  Afterwards, I settled into a nice, steady pound-per-week gain and delighted as my upper back began its steady rejection of size medium t-shirts (unless I wanted to sport the skin-tight douchebag look). 

That was when I was in Florida.  I left around mid-April while the General Contractor I work for proceeded to screw Charlotte County (long story).   When I got home, things hit some snags.  There was that back issue left over from muscle imbalances from babying my leg, letting my hip muscles tighten up.  Then there was that cold that everyone in Florida got that left me with a cough so brutal that if I ate too much and got a coughing fit I'd have to lay down to prevent blowing chunks. 

The biggest problem of all was my diet.  I had a nice system going down in Florida for eating and I let it lapse when I got back due to lack of time to cook for myself.  While I haven't slacked on the high protein nuts for snacks that worked so well seven years ago, I did stop making soups and stews. 

Yes, I got the idea from this article by Jamie Lewis. 
That has been a mistake.  While I'm on the brink of 200 lbs, I admit that some of it has been fat gain, more than I cared to see.  I can't share the same distain for abdominal definition that a lot of the strongmen competitors that I interact with have.  I'd rather get a good overhead press from having strong muscles rather than growing a gut.  I still have people to be sexy for, after all.  Upon closer inspection of the matter at hand, I understand why stew worked so well for a nice, lean mass gain...
  1. De-naturing and easy-digesting!  No, I'm not going to rip off Jamie that latently.  Yeah, the meat gets de-natured with such a long, slow and low cook.  That makes it more digestible.  Actually, it makes everything in the stew more digestible.  That's really important because, as Vince Gironda pointed out years ago, it's not what you eat that make you big, it's what you can absorb.  Considering that my digestive tract works as well as drunk blind man driving a  heavily-abused Yugo in a F-1 Grand Prix, this is extremely important.  
  2. Garlic and Onions!  Pick a stew.  Any stew.  From anywhere.  I can almost guarantee you that it either has onions and/or garlic in it.  These two vegetables suffer from not being green enough to be considered nutritional powerhouses, or even thought of as vegetables at all, but they have some ridiculously-important benefits to the aspiring muscular man and they all revolve around both having high concentrations of Sulfur-based compounds in both.  These have two notable advantages.  The first is that they play a role in raising testosterone levels (provided that you're eating a high fat diet).  The second is that they play a role in joint health by helping regeneration of tendons, ligaments, and cartilage.  
  3. Did I mention a lot of protein?  It's very easy to get a lot of protein into a single meal with a stew or a soup.  Most of my favorite recipes have 60-90 grams of protein in just 8 fluid ounces.   Keep in mind that I'll often eat a 32-58 ounces of stew/soup in one sitting.
No, I'm not citing studies.  This is a blog after all.  If you want to verify this, you'll just have to cut into your porn-watching time to find out...
What To Do In The Kitchen
I've tried out at least ten different soup and stew recipes in that past, several months.  Regardless of which I've tried, there are four tips that work for just about any of them:

  • Double the meat content, at least, and always
  • Triple the spices, at least
  • Use fresh herbs, even when they specify dry ones
  • Be careful about adding extra vegetables.   That will water down the flavors
I also prefer to make stews that have a very high protein content in relation to carbs and fats.  That way, I can adjust the entire meal's macro ratios by adding something fatty or high in carbs.  Some of my personal favorites are:
  1. Borscht (use the first tip listed above on this one.  BIG TIME)
  2. Bacon, Beef and Lentil Stew (throw a few bay leaves into this one)
The routine in Florida was two make two-three of these on a Saturday or Sunday.  These could easily provide a weeks worth of lunches, and a few dinners here and there.  I'd also throw in either some crackers or whole meal bread to mop things up as well as get my carbs in.  This Greek Yogurt works remarkably well as a replacement for sour cream in any recipe that calls for it with the added benefit of having far more protein. 

Best of all, just about all of these stews and soups can be made on a pretty modest budget too while getting a lot of very easily digestible calories and protein.  If you can't grow on a steady of these you probably can't grow on anything. 

There's a good reason why despite drastically different cultures with vastly different foods to work with in every corner of the world all have at least one, or several different stews or soups in their cuisines.  This is the sure-fire way to get inexpensive, nutritious dishes in the diet.  This has fallen into a sewer pipe in the past, several decades in the strength training world.  Consider this entry a suggestion and a stern warning that forgetting this style of cooking should be making it into your diet on a regular basis if muscle-building is a concern to you.