Is this your first shot at getting big? Or have you already been around the mass-gaining block a couple of times? Whatever the case, you’ve got to get your training, diet, and MIND in the right place. If you’re a skinny guy, every missed meal means FAR slower gains. If you’re on the chubby side, a missed training session or a dietary slip-up can quickly send you spiraling down the wrong path. And no matter how you’re starting out, a positive and driven mindset is crucial to long-term success. Here are my top 5 tips for your next all-out mass-gaining phase.
1. Tailor your diet to your training – and vice-versa
No matter what type of diet you’re using – high-carb, timed-carb, or even ketogenic – you need to organize your meals around your workouts. At the very least, this will mean eating the bulk of your carbs before and after your workouts. Potatoes and oatmeal are great, but why do you need them first thing in the morning, or right before bed? Unless you’re training around those times, you’ve got no use for those carbs. If you’re hours away from a training session – or if you’re taking the day off altogether – stick with meats, eggs, fats, and vegetables. Pound the starches pre- and post-workout, and reap the rewards of fat-free muscle gains.
Now, if you’re on the chubby side, or if you just tend to gain fat easily, you might need to take things a step further. Rather than train six or seven days per week, you may want to take two or three off days that are more or less dedicated to “damage control.” Since all those carbs you eat on workout days might spill over into some fat gain, use those off days to go a little easier on the calories. Pack in the proteins and fats, sure, but stay as close to ZERO sugars and starches as possible. For some guys, this is even a good way to gain muscle AND lose fat.
2. Focus on daily progression
Whether you want to gain five pounds of muscle or fifty, every little step counts. An extra five pounds on the bar or one extra rep may not seem like much, but if you maintain that kind of progress, you’ll be blown away by the long-term results. Just think about how much stronger you’d be if you added just TWO pounds to the bar every time you did squats. That’d be more than a hundred pound increase in just a year! If that seems like unrealistic progress on a large scale, then you understand just how important every little bit of progress can be. Think about that the next time you feel cutting your heaviest set a rep or two short!
One big caveat, though – DO NOT focus on daily body weight progress. Your body weight can easily fluctuate, especially if you’re eating more carbs on some days than others. While you can expect noticeable increases in strength from week to week, you should only be gaining two or three pounds of body weight per MONTH. Fixate on the scale too much, and you’ll just end up discourage – or fat from eating too much!
3. Start off lean
This might not be what some of you want to hear, but it’s the truth. You’ll have the best results during a bulk if you start out with a low level of body fat. The leaner you are, the better your body is at partitioning nutrients towards muscle growth, so every bit of effort you put forth will actually pay off more.
Even if it weren’t for the faster progress, you’d still want to begin your bulk as lean as possible. No matter how well things go, you’re probably going to put on a bit of fat in your quest for size. Sure, you can diet it off later, but what about now? Do you want to be uncomfortably fat AND keep eating for size gains? If you’re embarrassed to take your shirt off in public, you’re still too chubby to bulk. Lose the flab, feel good, and THEN start packing on the lean mass.
4. Don’t go overboard
If you’re a true “hard gainer” – one of those rail-thin guys who just can’t seem to put on weight – then you probably don’t need to worry. For you, it’ll be a day-to-day battle just to eat enough to grow.
However, everyone else needs to keep a close eye on his scale weight and body fat levels. Like I said, two to three pounds per month is a good rate – and that assumes you’re getting stronger! If you’re getting heavier but not handling heavier weights, you can rest assured your gains are mostly fat. Unlike what some bodybuilding gurus would have you believe, more muscle does mean more strength! Your strength-to-body weight ratio is almost always a good barometer of lean, muscular gains.
Of course, staving off fat gain is all a matter of diet. You might be matching your main meals to your workouts, but what else are you eating? Are you justifying cheat meals with your “bulk?” Are you eating dessert – totally useless from a bodybuilding standpoint – just because fat loss isn’t a current priority? You might be able to get away with cheats once in a while, but you’ll soon be sorry if you make them a regular affair.
5. Keep your eye on the prize!
Gaining muscle might be fun, and it’s certainly rewarding – but it won’t be easy. For every fellow lifter you’ve got cheering you on, there will be a slough of others tearing you down and discouraging you. Even worse, you’ll have “well-meaning” family and friends who tell you to skip workouts, stay out late, miss meals, and chow down on junk food.
There’s certainly no need to be an asshole to any of these people, but remember that you always have a choice. Is that party more important than tomorrow’s workout? Is that bowl of ice cream more important than keeping your six-pack? Is chatting more important than keeping your nose to the grindstone in the gym? It all comes down to your priorities! If you really want to get big and strong, you’ll find a way to make it happen.