Q&A WITH MUSCLEBEAR – GAINING WEIGHT FOR NEW LIFTERS
Yesterday, our Q&A article for the GOMAD diet was a huge success with readership, and in less than 12 hours it’s already the site’s most popular article to date! Things are really starting to take off, and I really appreciate the support this site is getting. so far. While hosting an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit’s /r/gainit section pertaining to weight gain as a hard gainer, dozens of questions poured in and some great topics sprung up concerning gaining mass as a typical ectomorph, or beginner”hardgainer”. If you’re struggling with putting on bodyweight and you’ve been trying to get past 150, 180, or even 200 pounds, read on!
In my youth, I was purely focused on academics and had no athletic background whatsoever. As a 14 year old, I was a tall but very thin body at 5’10 and 124 pounds. It was at this age that I discovered lifting weights, and eventually found my way into powerlifting years later. Throughout this process, it took me years just to get from 124 to 180 pounds, and there were many times I felt frustrated with how to gain weight at a consistent, steady rate. Later on when I competed in powerlifting, I shifted my paradigm to rapid weight gain at the expense of body composition, and ate my way towards being a very pudding-like 265 pounds. Not a pretty sight at all! After more tinkering with my macros and learning how to structure a proper meal protocol, I can say that I know the fundamentals behind steady weight gain (and weight loss). If you’re like how I was starting out, putting on weight can be a very daunting task and often feels uncomfortable with the amount of food you’re force feeding. Hopefully this repost of the AMA session on Reddit can touch upon some concerns or issues you’re having, along with learning a few bits here and there about nutrition.
Q: If you could change something about your early weight-gaining process, what would it be?
A: Learning to not rush the process and realize that quality mass is more important than just throwing on weight at any expense. Anyone at a novice level can figure out how to turbo bulk or turbo cut once they figure out the basic mechanics of caloric surplus vs. caloric deficit for weight composition. It takes an expert to program a protocol that steadily makes adjustments to one’s intake & bodyweight, and provides the optimal plan for putting on quality mass or keeping that mass during a diet.
Q: Do you agree with the standard recommendation of a 500 kcal per day surplus?
A: Everyone’s metabolic rate & level of activity is different, but it’s not a bad start. Track your progress weekly in terms of the scale & the mirror, and see how things go. There is no magic number with the amount of calories you want to increase overall, and you are better off working more in detail with your actual macronutrient breakdown.
Q: Question from someone who is in a similar situation that you were in. I’m 17 6’1 155 pounds, and my biggest problem is that I just genuinely cannot eat enough food to gain weight. I get sick to my stomach, my jaw locks up, and my throat gets tight. How did you get past the original difficulty of eating enough to gain?
A: Find nutrient dense foods that you like eating, and spread them out over the course of 5-6 meals a day. Since you’re so young with a fast metabolism, you can get away with some dirty foods. Pizza, chocolate milk, ice cream, burgers, etc. are all loaded with calories. You don’t need to go full HAM with bulking, but if you can eat 3,000 calories a day on a daily basis (at your bodyweight of 155 pounds), you should be able to put on weight.
The most extreme I went to gain weight when I was already 235 pounds was eating TWO In-N-Out 4x4s along with a giant milkshake. This meant eating two giant hamburgers that each had 4 patties of beef and 4 slices of cheese, along with a milkshake that probably had 900 calories in it. If you can’t gain weight off that, you need an IV hooked up with lard LOL.
Q: Have you tried big shakes? It’s a standard recommendation but what I sometimes do is drink a big shake in the morning (at least 1200 calories) and eat smaller and more manageable meals during the day to reach my goal. The advantage of shakes is that you don’t need to chew and your brain doesn’t have time to force you to stop eating. I just drink the whole thing in one go.
A: Gainer shakes tend to be loaded with sugars and empty calories that are poor in nutrient value. If you’re a relative novice and desperate to gain weight, you can try it. However, it’s not a long term solution if you’re looking to build a physique and needing to gain weight for several years throughout your time in the gym.
Q: What’s your opinion on balancing cardio and lifting? I want to gain weight but I love doing cardio too much and I find it hinders recovery if I get intense with my workouts… But at the same time I don’t feel satisfied unless I train hard cardio-wise.
A: In all honesty, if you are trying to gain weight but you’re finding it difficult to do so, you should either minimize or even eliminate your cardio. I know this advice might catch a lot of shit, and understandably so – but most competitive bodybuilders and powerlifters do not perform any cardio while on a weight gaining cycle. Shelby Starnes is an IFBB pro bodybuilder who works as a nutritionist for both athletes and regular people, and he never prescribes cardio for clients while they’re putting on weight.
I personally maintain general physical conditioning through my weight training, and don’t find myself getting too beat down from actual training. If you’re concerned about your overall cardiovascular health & physical conditioning, you can still perform some cardio – but try to keep it relatively short and not as intense.
Q: What is your favorite candy? What is your favorite lift?
A: Hmm, I don’t think I’ve had candy in awhile. I like Starbursts, but I much prefer chocolates. I hate all the lifts equally. My favorite lift is the one I’m making progress with at a given time. So, I’d have to say the squat & bench.
Q: What would you do differently if you had to start over?
A: I just answered this earlier but if there’s one another thing I’d change if I started over from scratch – I would have worked with a sports nutritionist much sooner. Last year, I started working with an elite powerlifter, Tony Montgomery (who is much stronger than me) on my nutrition plan for 6 months and I learned so much from the experience. I’m not an expert by any means, but understanding the processes that are associated with nutrition timing, insulin sensitivity, optimal use for macronutrients throughout the day, etc. are invaluable when competing at something like powerlifting at a high level.
Q: So for the average lifter, do you think we need to get a rock solid diet plan from a dietician or is that only for more advanced levels when gains taper off?
A: If you’re just starting out, the best thing you can do is find free information from a credible source on the basics of nutrition. Once you understand the basics and have some money to put down, then you could consider working with a nutritionist pertinent to bodybuilding/powerlifting. I say this, because working with a nutritionist is not cheap and they usually charge anywhere from $100 to even $300 a month.
Nutritionists I recommend who are all legitimate & giving good advice:
All the dudes at Renaissance Periodization (their e-book is good if you’re willing to spend a little on information)
Q: If possible, could you elaborate a bit on your new nutritional insight? Like a ltdr for nutrition timing and whatnot because I see a lot on Reddit claiming it is irrelevant.
[People on Reddit] are right in the sense that nutrition timing doesn’t play as much of a factor compared to actual caloric intake and macronutrient breakdown when it comes to gaining weight. That said, for actual performance in the gym or any physical activity, here is the TL;DR points of nutrition timing:
- During the time windows that are further away out from training, stick to whole grains / slow digesting carbs. Use the glycemic index as a reference point for whether a carbohydrate source is quickly absorbed or takes hours to digest.
- Pre-workout and post-workout, you want consume fast digesting carbs (such as dextrose, maltodextrin, waxy maize, etc.) along with your supplements and protein intake.
- Protein intake intra-workout does very little in aiding performance.
- Minimize the amount of carbs you eat towards the evening and before you sleep. You don’t have to completely eliminate them, but the majority of your carb consumption should be taken during the afternoon & your pre & post workout windows.
Q: When you started seeing results, were you following a program?
A: I was actually not following a formal program, and kind of just winged my caloric intake while tracking it using MyFitnessPal. When I became a competitive lifter, I did eventually train at a powerlifting gym and still continued to improvise my meal plan.
These days, I follow a more structured training program set by my coach and I use a semblance of a carb cycling protocol.
Q: What’s the best thing to eat in the morning? High calorie shakes or a high calorie breakfast?
A: Generally speaking, real food takes precedence over supplements / shakes if your schedule allows for it. A meal consisting of actual food will have minerals & nutrients that aren’t available from a whey protein shake, and will likely have better macronutrient value than a weight gainer shake loaded with sugars.
That being said, I personally consume a shake upon waking up due to my work schedule, and eat a real meal about 2 hours afterwards.
Q: I hate food. How do I gain weight? Allergic to eggs. Milk is okay in small quantities.
A: I’m with you man – I have indigestion from eggs, and I can only drink milk in small quantities as well! The article I wrote about GOMAD actually covers a more realistic approach to gaining weight, and can be found here:
In short summary, eat nutrient dense foods that you actually enjoy consuming, and spread your meals out to 5-6 windows a day so your portions are more manageable.
Q: I’m a high school athlete who’s having trouble maintaining my weight during my baskeball season. I’m practicing almost every day for 2 hours and lifting minimally three times a week. Do you have any experience with this? I want to eat junk food to keep my weight up but I know that won’t help me on the basketball court. What do you think?
A: As you’ve discovered, you need to consume enough calories in order to maintain a certain bodyweight. And as you’ve also figured out, junk food that aren’t rich in nutrients won’t do you any good on the court or in the gym.
Your best bet is to become accustomed to eating “clean” foods such as rice, pasta, and grains for carb sources, along with meat, fish, and chicken for protein. Since you’re in high school, getting those meals in might be a little tricky. If you can, prep some food that you can keep in a heated container and eat between class periods. Or if you can’t do that, you’ll have to structure your meals to being Breakfast -> Lunch -> After School -> Post Workout -> Evening Dinner, which would also work fine for you.
Q: Back when i started lifting, i had a really unhealthy relationship with food, i forced it down all the time and was never hungry. I often felt like throwing up multiple times on most days a week. Did/do you experience this? If so, how do you manage it?
A: I never experienced feeling the need to vomit – the most I ever had was some general discomfort. You should try to spread your meals within the span of 6 time windows, and cut down on your meal portions. This will help with digesting all your nutrients with less discomfort, and makes consuming all your required macros easier to achieve.
If you really can’t handle stomaching food for some reason, you can consider purchasing probiotics at any general store – Walmart, CVS, etc. have it. Probiotics help with general digestion and can aide you with quality of life while you’re bulking.
Q: What would you say is a good muscle-to-fat ratio while bulking? And while leaning? What is the best way to improve those metrics? I am I am in my third year into lifting but for the first time I am taking diet more serious. I am gaining at 1.5kg of fat for 1kg of muscle. I don’t know if this is good or bad, or what I could to gain more muscle / fat. I’m 32, 65kg, 1.72m, intermediate lifter, btw. By muscle to fat ratio I don’t mean my overall fat percentage, but the comparison between the net amount of gained fat and muscle while bulking, or lost while cutting.
A: Generally speaking, you want to average about 1 to maybe 1.5 pounds per week of overall weight gain / weight loss. While starting a new diet cycle, you’ll obviously experience an initial fluctuation of water & glycogen levels which will skew your weight progress for the first couple weeks.
It’s hard to put on muscle mass but generally easier to lose fat, so I think you’re fine with the rate you’re going. Just get jacked and once you think you’ve gotten too fat, diet down.
Q: I tried GOMAD. It’s a diet, a fad diet that works wonders and then when you stop you go right back to how you were before. Do you agree with those sentiments?
A: Just like a lot of things that are done on a short term basis, the results can disappear as quickly as they came. That’s why I advocate having a sustainable, long-term outlook on not just nutrition, but training & health in general.