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.
Changing 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.
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?
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
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
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.
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.
|7 am||Meal #1 - 4 servings cereal with 16 oz whole milk|
|9:30 am||Meal #2 - 6 whole eggs cooked in coconut oil on 5 flour tortillas with
1/2 avocado and Louisiana Hot Sauce
|1 pm||Meal #3 - 2 scoops whey protein|
|3 pm||Meal #4 - 12 oz chicken breast with
2 cups pasta or rice
and 1 Tbsp olive oil, and an apple or orange
|6 pm||Meal #5 - 8 oz ground beef with sautéed mushrooms and onions, 12 oz sweet potato, and an apple or orange|
|10 pm||Meal #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,