Nutrition Training

I Moved To The Suburbs And Got Fat: Gaining Muscle And Bodyweight

Gaining Muscle and Bodyweight

Yes, it's true – gone are my abs, feathered quads, and vascular shoulders. Gaining weight isn't easy.

But that's okay because like everything I do to my body, this wasn't an accident by any stretch. This was a calculated move to maximize my lean body mass.

No one WANTS to gain body fat, but I want to share with you just how important it is to push your bodyweight and be willing to accept some fat gain if walking around with significantly higher muscle mass is your end goal.

And while gaining muscle and fat isn't exactly a pretty process, there are some benefits to gaining nearly 40 lbs like never being hungry, looking huge in t-shirts, and setting PRs in the gym every other day.

Not to mention gaining muscle and strength that will set me up for life.

gaining muscle shoulderChanging Environments, Changing Goals

Last summer, I was really happy with how lean I was even though I was only about 180 lbs.

I was living in Chicago, right near the beach, so wearing fitted clothing and being able to go shirtless were more important to me than getting huge.

But like anyone else who loves lifting weights and changing their bodies, I couldn't help wondering how I'd look and feel after gaining muscle and walking around at 200 lbs with the same body fat.

Unfortunately for me, eating to stay lean all the time meant that my muscle gains moved at a pace too slow to detect.

But when I moved to the suburbs and took a position as an exercise specialist at a University last autumn, my environment and priorities shifted.

Now I'm in the gym for around 10 hours a day and spend my time coaching students, professors, and athletes on lifting technique, program progression, and nutrition.

90% of my conversations revolve around topics of food, weights, supplements, and congratulating anyone who set a PR that day.

On my first day of work I walked into the break room to find a couple student workers who were much more muscular for their height than I was.

I thought…

Damn, if I want to be seen as an authority around here, it's time to get serious and stop worrying about my abs!

This wasn't pressure to be someone or something I'm not.

It was the excuse I needed to start gaining muscle and the accompanying fat, which I always shied away from doing because of my previous environment, the business of blogging, and my past experience of actually being fat.

Now, I know that people always wonder why gaining muscle and losing fat doesn't happen at the same time.  Let's talk about that.

Gaining Muscle But Not Fat?

gaining muscle full body

Whether or not it's possible to gain muscle and not fat depends on a lot of things – like who your Mom and Dad are, how precise your diet and training are, how fast you want to see progress, and what, if any, PEDs you're using.

For the vast majority of the population (myself included), chasing two goals at the same time isn't the most efficient plan.

I've only ever gained muscle and lost fat simultaneously for very short periods of time when I was running Ostarine or 1 Andro on top of my TRT, tracking my macros and weighing food to the gram, AND training at an unsustainable intensity.

By all means, try gaining muscle and staying lean for yourself  because it works for some guys.

I recently helped a 185 lb natural (but gifted) lifter go from squatting 380 x 5 to 410 x 5, all while maintaining his weight and visibly leaning out. But he's definitely the exception.

FAR more often, I see genetically average lifters crap out before they reach a bodyweight squat or noticeably gaining muscle if they don't eat enough to make their body weight increase.

And of course, this failure usually leads to quitting the gym altogether. I don't want any of you to feel that you have to do that.

Get big and fat to walk around big and lean

gaining muscle mass

Currently at 216 lbs with at least more 10 lbs to gain. 

Nearly everyone I know who walks around with low body fat and enough muscle to get asked constantly if they're a bodybuilder or personal trainer has, at some point, been massive.

Without a doubt, you're going to lose some lean body mass whenever you drop body fat, so it's really best to overshoot the muscle gains as much as you can without getting uncomfortably fat.

For example, let's say you bulk up to 200 lbs and want to end up at 185 lbs with single-digit body fat by losing 15 lbs of bodyweight.

This works out great on paper, but in reality, you'll probably be down to 175 lbs or less by the time you hit your ideal body fat because you'll inevitably lose some lean body mass while you lose body fat.

Really, if 185 lbs shredded is your end goal, a better strategy would be to build in a buffer by aiming for 210 lbs or more and maintaining that for awhile as your new norm before starting to cut.

My Recent Weight Gain

gaining muscle t shirt

T-shirts fit much better after gaining muscle and overall bodyweight

Being a pure ectomorph (small bone structure), I need a substantial amount of meat on my frame to look like I lift weights when wearing clothes.

So rather than walking around with single digit body fat at 180 lbs like I have been, I'd like to eventually maintain around 200 lbs at the same body fat to fill out my frame.

Since I hadn't reached that goal with a conservative strategy to gaining and losing weight, a more aggressive approach seemed in order.

So from last August until this April, I went from 178 lbs to a high of 216 lbs.

Meaning I gained 38 lbs in 8 months!

Granted, the first 15 lbs was pretty easy as I had weighed a little over 190 before, but the last 23 lbs have been a BEAR. This is the heaviest I've ever been and have had to seriously push my diet, even relying on homemade mass gainer shakes made with ice cream to get in the calories.

Not surprisingly, all of my lifts were steadily climbing the entire time I was gaining weight (both muscle and fat).

But, 6 months into this process, I was tired of pushing my calories upward and decided to maintain my bodyweight for a month or so. And my lifting progress came to a screeching halt.

Following that little mental break, I'm back to gaining weight again and the lifts are creeping in the right direction.

My goal isn't to stay at a higher body fat forever – it's just something I have to do to drive up my lean body mass.

gaining muscle increase lean body mass

Increasing lean body mass is the key to long term physique results. 

Currently, I've calculated my lean body mass through various methods and the average is 190 lbs. Considering my TOTAL BODY WEIGHT was only 178 last summer. I'm very pleased with that increase.

Now I'm finally on track to walk around lean at 200 lbs instead of needing to get down to 180 lbs every summer to see my abs.

I'm just going to have to cut down slowly.

My weight gain diet

Keep in mind, I worked up to eating this amount of food over a LONG time.

Don't attempt to go from eating like a bird to this quantity in a short time frame, or you'll just get plain fat.

This is going to be a little embarrassing, but here it goes.

Meal Plan 
7 amMeal #1 - 4 servings cereal with 16 oz whole milk
9:30 amMeal #2 - 6 whole eggs cooked in coconut oil on 5 flour tortillas with
1/2 avocado and Louisiana Hot Sauce
11 amWORKOUT
1 pmMeal #3 - 2 scoops whey protein
3 pmMeal #4 - 12 oz chicken breast with
2 cups pasta or rice
and 1 Tbsp olive oil, and an apple or orange
6 pmMeal #5 - 8 oz ground beef with sautéed mushrooms and onions, 12 oz sweet potato, and an apple or orange
10 pmMeal #6 - 1/2 carton ice cream (1.5 quart carton) OR 1 frozen pizza OR 3 packs ramen noodles

As you can see, this diet certainly isn't “clean”. But it is what it has to be for me to get in the calories.

By the end of the day I'm usually stuffed but still have 1,000 calories to get down, so I resort to the most tasty and convenient foods to pack it in.

And usually once per day, any one of these meals will be replaced with a home made weight gain shake.

Final Thoughts On Gaining Weight

At this point, I'm still aiming to gain at least another 10 lbs and to maintain this heavier weight for awhile before starting to cut excess body fat.

I don't like the process of constantly gaining and losing 20 lbs with the changing of the seasons, so I'm hoping that this one major weight gain will be enough to leave me satisfied with my lean body mass and allow me to work on refining from here on out.

This year, my summer bod isn't happening. And I'm fine with that.

Through all this, I'm not saying that everyone should become a “fat powerlifter.”

I'm saying that if you're having trouble packing on muscle and gaining strength, it's time to look at your bodyweight.

If you aren't getting heavier from one week to the next, there's your problem right there. And it's fairly easy to fix with MORE food.

On the other hand, if you're more or less content with your current size and strength and only desire small changes over a long period of time, then working on gaining muscle and staying lean is a feasible plan.

But if you aspire to walk around much bigger than you currently are, and want to get there as quickly as possible, a more aggressive approach such as this is necessary.

All the best,

Nate

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43 Comments

  • Reply
    Ben
    April 25, 2017 at 9:38 am

    Holy cow! I was mentally calculating the calories in my head and then read “carton of ice cream” at the end and just laughed.

    I’d assume when you were living in the city you walked a fair amount… Do you think these same results would have been possible when walking many miles a day potentially?

    Either way, sounds pretty fun!

    Ben

    • Reply
      Nate
      April 26, 2017 at 4:54 pm

      Yeah, I was walking 3-5 miles per day in the city and now it’s just to and from my can and around the gym all day. It would still be possible but I’d have to eat an extra few hundred calories every day.

  • Reply
    Kris
    April 25, 2017 at 11:27 am

    Wait wait so is your BF only 11% on a massive bulk?

  • Reply
    Jay
    April 25, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    We need a before and after shot.

    • Reply
      Nate
      April 26, 2017 at 1:10 pm

      I didn’t take any specific before and after shots but any photo in my other articles is a good representation of where I started.

  • Reply
    Donald
    April 25, 2017 at 5:40 pm

    What was your workout schedule during this time? How many days, what sort of lifting split?

    • Reply
      Nate
      April 26, 2017 at 1:09 pm

      For the most part it was full body workouts 3 days per week. I completely dropped cardio due to a busy schedule but I’m regretting it now.

  • Reply
    C1263
    April 25, 2017 at 7:19 pm

    Another great article Nate. I’ll definitely refer back to this when I go for a big bulk. Did you ever look into Layne Norton’s reverse dieting? It’s very slow (think 10grams of carbs a week) increases.

    As well, it’d be interesting to hear how gradually you ramped up your cals.

    Keep up the informative posts!

    • Reply
      Nate
      April 26, 2017 at 1:08 pm

      I’ve followed something very similar to that for the past few years but the muscle gains were painfully slow. After a year of reverse dieting and very slow cutting I was lucky to come out +5 lbs of muscle for the entire year. This time I bumped my calories by about 200 at a time and rode that out until the scale stopped moving then I added another 200. I haven’t been super strict with my macros either. If I was hungry I went over my total calories and didn’t worry about it.

      • Reply
        C1263
        August 24, 2017 at 11:26 am

        I’ll have to try that, reverse dieting seems painfully slow. How did you decide to distribute that 200 calories amongst your macros? Ex: deciding to add 20g of carbs, 15g of protein, and so on.

        • Reply
          Nate
          August 31, 2017 at 9:42 am

          I didn’t worry much about the distribution. I just set the calories 200 higher in My Fitness Pal and went at it. I loosely aimed for 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight and somewhere around 150g of fat, the rest from carbs.

  • Reply
    Jac
    April 25, 2017 at 8:54 pm

    Hi nate
    Nice story i hear ya . When it comes down to it there no animal 200 lbs and skinny
    I pretty much was the same weight 185 in some of the best shape ,in a long time. im 57.
    I trained regularly hurt my back in the most bizzare with a pinched nerve blocking sensation to the infraspinatus and supraspinatus the left side of my body atrophied completely in the 3 months to find out what was wrong with me
    Anyway long = short im 200 lbs now way less training and look and feel stronger more intimidating
    I am heading to 220 to get the feeling
    Good luck
    PS still on the trt with 3 times the dose
    With your suggestions
    Be cool good luck jac

  • Reply
    Jeff
    April 26, 2017 at 1:36 am

    Just out of curiosity..how much faith are you putting into your lean mass results from the Inbody 270? Have you read the series on Weightology in regards to body fat testing?

    Not a jab at you by any means. I’m just genuinely curious.

    • Reply
      Nate
      April 26, 2017 at 12:58 pm

      I’ve used 3 methods in total, 2 electronic and 1 was the 7 site skin fold test using Lange calipers. They were all within a few pounds of each other so I feel comfortable assuming the average of the 3 is fairly accurate. One day I’ll look into getting a Dexa Scan.

  • Reply
    John
    April 26, 2017 at 9:53 am

    Amazing transformation Nate! If that’s how good being bigger can look bring it on! Hans & Franz would be proud! You’re a great inspiration!

    • Reply
      Nate
      April 26, 2017 at 1:00 pm

      Hans and Franz, lol! At times I find myself getting a little bit down because of the extra body fat but I know it’ll be easy to lose and am looking forward to being bigger from here on out. Thanks!

  • Reply
    Ian
    April 26, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    Great article man!
    I’m getting jealous looking at that meal plan as i’m experimenting with intermittent fasting once again. I’m a mesomorph at 200lbs which has come about from eating not so healthy and change in work schedule, I need to find my rhythm again. For the sake of my clothes fitting right again I need to cut back. Are you finding you pants waist getting tighter?

  • Reply
    Jackson
    April 26, 2017 at 10:51 pm

    Hey man

    I’m wondering if u are still on TRT and if so how is it going? What has changed since your last TRT update in 2015?

    Thanks

  • Reply
    George
    April 27, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    Keep at it! Definitely excited to see what happens in the future when you lean out a bit. Talk about a hell of a lot of food! Are you still tracking your macros? What’s your routine look like right now?

    • Reply
      Nate
      April 29, 2017 at 7:58 am

      Thanks, George! I am still tracking macros but mainly aim for a calorie and protein minimum and let the carbs and fats fall where they may. I’ve been using mostly full body routines or close to it. Squatting 2-3 times per week. I’m doing about 90% heavy compound movements with 10% accessory and hypertrophy work.

  • Reply
    Greg
    May 4, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    Nice work! I’m a bit too old now at 44 to handle a bulk these days but I wish back in my prime I had read your blog – you have this down to a science. And the nice thing is that you’re staying lean enough that you’ll easily be able to shed the fat and just carry your hard earned muscle. New to this site but it’s great. Keep up the good work!

    • Reply
      Nate
      May 6, 2017 at 6:33 pm

      Thanks Greg! Knowing that with a little discipline I can shed the fat is the only thing keeping me sane. I really like the direction you’re going with your blog.

  • Reply
    Greg
    May 13, 2017 at 12:34 am

    Thanks Nate! That means a lot to me.

  • Reply
    Gabriel
    May 16, 2017 at 11:54 pm

    After reading the title I thought you’d *really* gotten fat. Still looking more aesthetic than 99% of the male population.

    My own issue whenever I attempted to bulk is that I got skinny-fat. I use IF and carb cycling to shift signalling towards slower and leaner muscle gain. Seems to be working well! And being on TRT makes it even easier…

    • Reply
      Nate
      May 19, 2017 at 4:55 pm

      I don’t think I can ever let myself get truly fat, but I do feel fat at times considering I’ve been at single digit bodyfat for the past 3 years. good luck with your current endeavor!

  • Reply
    Trisha Crockett
    May 24, 2017 at 4:06 pm

    This Blog is awesome sauce!! THANK YOU for explaining everything in great detail. I am a female bikini competitor and new to IIFYM. Takes a lot of time to fill in all the blanks and learn for myself. Your posts are the first I’ve read that make the most sense and go into the amount of detail I need. I wish there was a girl version of you lol. Thanks again. Sincerely, Trish

  • Reply
    Michael
    June 5, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    I recently started a bulk based on your helpful guide. I began at a lean and athletic 170lbs (with relatively skinny legs) at the end of April and am at 185lbs about a month later. I plan to increase my weight to at least 195 before resuming intermittent fasting and tailoring back my calorie intake.

    Unfortunately, I no longer fit into any of my pants. My waist size is up from a size 32 waist to a size 34. For example, my slim-cut chinos used to have an inch or two of give in the waist; now I can barely pull them over my hips, and can’t close the waist button. The thighs are tight too.

    My question: **Can I expect my pants to fit after some post-bulk fat loss?** Does muscle development from squats, deadlifts, and rows impact waist size, or is that particular change primarily from fat gain? Does the change in seat, lower back, and leg size effectively impact the way pants fit in the waist?

    I know my old clothes will be snug through the leg and seat, or possibly too tight, but **I’m primarily curious about whether my waist size has grown permanently or not.**

    Any info or feedback you have would be helpful, even if my tailored everyday uniform is destined for Goodwill.

    • Reply
      Nate
      June 8, 2017 at 6:18 pm

      Great job with the weight gain! Once you get your body fat back down your waist will be the same size as it was. But you’re right about your glutes and thighs being the problem area. All you can do is wait and see.

  • Reply
    Eddie
    June 15, 2017 at 5:49 pm

    Hey Nate. Do you have any idea how many calories are there in that meal plan that you posted?

  • Reply
    Steve
    July 9, 2017 at 8:36 am

    Great post Nate. I stumbled upon your site while searching TRT. I’m a 55 year old male who is starting TRT next week. I have been an athlete all my life, and am planning on bulking up this summer. I am currently 161 lbs (up from a VERY lean 149 last summer…was doing multiple triathlons) and with a goal bulk weight of 190; and then a cut weight of 170. I will start lifting even heavier when I start on TRT next week. I love your blog, and this post in particular. I am always a little (hell, a LOT) worried about bulking because of my huge fear of getting “fat”. Hate when my size 30 pants don’t fit, but I know its all a part of the process. Thanks for the reassuring post on this topic.
    Best,
    Steve

  • Reply
    Doug
    August 29, 2017 at 11:05 pm

    Interesting thoughts here. I’d like to hear more about how you easily take off weight when you want to. A few years ago it was easy for me, but now, after age 50, it’s increasingly hard. I have to really watch the number of calories consumed. Although I was able to lose 15 pounds recently using keto, it wasn’t sustainable and left me craving. I’m looking for a lifestyle solution to keep me in balance. I’m average to good at cardio (running, biking), but I need to get better at resistance. I tend to find lifting a bit boring, rather wanting to be outside. I’ve recently discovered kayaking for an arm and shoulder workout, but I’m sure I need more.

    • Reply
      Nate
      August 31, 2017 at 9:26 am

      Doug, when I say easy I’m more referring to the fact that it’s simple. Dieting car be really difficult at times but as long as you consume fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight. For that, you have to keep track and the easiest way is using My Fitness Pal. If you aren’t tracking you’re just guessing and things are less likely to go your way. Check out my articles on Nutrition, especially the ones on Flexible Dieting. Dieting will take care of the weight loss but if you want to actually look and feel good once you’re lean, you need to take resistance training seriously. Hope that helps!

  • Reply
    Adrian Elizondo
    October 3, 2017 at 11:40 am

    I am really interested in a update.
    Is it coming?

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