You wake up one day and you decide “TODAY IS THE DAY!” You’re going to get bigger. You’re going to stuff your face every second of the day, you’re going to buy all of the supplements you see people taking on Instagram and you’re going to hit the gym 5 days a week.
After you start, you begin realizing that it’s starting to fall apart. You can’t eat nearly as much as you thought and going to the gym is becoming a burden. Before you know it, two weeks pass and you’re back to the lifestyle you lived before you started. Except now, you’ve got a pile of supplements you’re not using.
This is a common result of trying to be perfect. You even start to question if you’re really seeing any results. The lack of confidence in your path and the rapid change in lifestyle leaves you feeling like you want to quit.
“Strive for progress, not perfection.” – Unknown
After you’ve figured out what you need to do, it’s important that you split the entire process into smaller tasks and start mastering each small task one-by-one. Consistency and growth is the key. Making the change in lifestyle gradual allows you to make sure that it stays permanent.
Once you’ve made an intelligent plan, it’s also important to find ways to make yourself self-accountable. One of the ways that I did this was by spending a lot of money on the things I would be using (like workout clothes, a meal bag and supplements). This made me feel guilty if I got off track.
It also helps some people to calendar their entire schedule and receive reminder notifications that bring on a sense of responsibility. Get creative and find ways to influence your psychology to stay on track.
Assessing your current eating habits
Believe it or not, diet is the hardest part. Putting on size requires eating a lot of food. Just to get an understanding of how much food you’re currently eating, log your food for a couple days using the My Fitness Pal app (Android, iPhone).
Once you have an average for your calorie intake, calculate what it’s going to take you to start gaining weight. Typically 18 Calories per pound of body weight.
160 lbs x 18 Calories/lb = 2880 Calories
This is only an estimate. Depending on your unique physiology, the situation could be different.
Understanding how to eat
Your total calorie intake through the day is split between protein, fat and carbohydrates. Some examples of foods that are mainly carbohydrates are:
- So much more
Protein is the building block to your muscle and is essential to your metabolism. Some examples of foods that are high in protein are:
- So much more
Fat is essential to your health. It is required for the creation of sex hormones and it’s required to be able to absorb fat soluble vitamins (vitamin D, A, E and K). Some examples of foods that are mainly fat are:
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- So much more
Typically, your calorie balance should be 25% protein, 50% carbohydrates and 25% fat. So if we go back to our example of the amount of calories you should be eating at 160lbs (2880 calories), we get:
25% protein –> .25 x 2880 calories = 720 ÷ 4 calories/gram = 180 g of protein
50% carbs —-> .50 x 2880 calories = 1440 ÷ 4 calories/gram = 360 g of carbs
25% fat ——-> .25 x 2800 calories = 700 / 9 calories/gram = 78 g of fat
Using a calorie tracking app such as Myfitnesspal can help you to either track these numbers throughout the day or create meal plans that you can follow everyday.
For some people, this mathematical/analytical approach is the most suitable. I used to prefer this. You might prefer it yourself. The truth is, life started to get busy for me. Being so exact started to take its toll on me. Overall, it’s more time consuming and tiring.
That’s why now I prefer to guestimate. Using my hands, I manage to come up with numbers that are close enough. Here’s how I do it.
Thanks to my engineering background, I prefer flowcharts. I call this one a growchart. Starting at the top where it says “Muscle Meal”, follow only one of the arrows down. As you pass through a cluster of foods, choose 1 food item and move on to the next cluster that you’re led to by an arrow. Repeat the process until you reach the end.
You should be eating at least 4 of these meals each day.
Some example meals include:
2 cups of kidney beans
1 tbsp of olive oil
1 fist sized portion of cauliflower
Any low/no calorie spices such as cinnamon, turmeric, cumin
Small amount of tomato chunks or tomato paste
2 palm sized portions of chicken breast
2 fist sized portions of rice
1 tbsp of coconut oil
1 fist sized portion of broccoli
Obviously, some of these food combinations would not taste good so make sure that the combo you choose is suitable.
How to stay on track
Let’s say you get invited out to eat. Don’t use this as an excuse to deviate from the plan before you try to create something that works. Although gaining muscle is about eating a lot, you have to be selective about the foods that you choose to eat. If you have no choice, then don’t stress yourself about it.
If you think about something like Subway for example. You could envision that 6 inches of sub bread could substitute for 2 slices of bread which is half of your carb requirement for one meal. If you make it a foot-long, you’ll have enough to make a meal.
After that, you can choose chicken breast as your protein filling and load up on green veggies. Just be careful with the sauces. Since most sauces are filled with junk calories, it’s best to steer clear. Something like hot sauce which is low calorie is ok and if you add olive oil, you can cover your fat requirement for 1 meal.
This is an easy example of how to tweak some common restaurant choices to suit your needs. It comes down to creativity and your willingness to ask restaurants for special requests.
Another challenge that you may face is the cravings for junk food. Junk food is not ideal since it can cause unnecessary inflammation and insulin spikes that will actually hinder your progress….but you’re human. That’s why choosing one day where you can enjoy one cheat meal will help to keep your morale high. I find this to be really important for me. Don’t try to be tough and will your way through it. Treat yourself for the progress that you’re making.
Adjusting as you go
One way that you should be tracking your progress is through weight. Another important metric is appearance. Since the scale doesn’t always give you the feedback you need, it’s important to take pictures. Taking a picture every 1 to 2 weeks will give you some insight into your progress.
If you are 2 weeks in and you haven’t seen any progress on the scale or in the pictures, it’s time to add another meal. Some people require more food than others but what’s common is that you’re overcoming your daily calorie burn and training sufficiently enough to cause growth.
Setting the foundation
By setting the foundation, I mean the concepts. There are a few core concepts that you need to keep in mind to ensure success.
The first is good form. This is about more than just making sure your arms are in the right place when you perform a bicep curl.
With experience this means feeling your way to the right form. In the beginning, it’s very hard to know which muscles to contract because you haven’t developed a significant mind-muscle connection. With more muscle growth and more contractions comes an ability to feel your muscles in ways that you haven’t before. With this, you can feel your way to proper form.
However, in the beginning you need to use a set procedure in order to build that foundation of muscle. On top of that, it’s really important to keep in mind that your posture and longevity are riding on the way that you lift weights. If you neglect your neck or spine in dumbbell shrugs, for example, you’ll develop irreversible and serious posture problems. Same goes for squats and deadlifts.
Next important concept is the concept of failure. People are too afraid of failure. However, failure makes you stronger. There are thousands of training protocols that each address this in different ways. The majority of the gains you will make, will come from the 1-2 reps that you struggle to get near the end of your set.
The third important concept is the concept of progressive overload. What it means, is that at each training session, you have to increase the amount of weight that you’re lifting. That’s it. 3 simple core principles that you need to get started and keep you going.
I won’t cover specific training routines here since there are so many available for you to use online at websites like bodybuilding.com.
One important distinction I want to make is that strength training and mass training are not necessarily the same. With strength training, you’re training to get stronger. So you will keep your repetitions to under 5. With mass training it’s preferable if you stick to a range of 8 to 15 repetitions per set. For some people it’s actually better to train with variation to gain both size and strength but to start, go with 8 to 15 reps.
To recap what I’ve talked about here you want to start by:
- Favoring progress over perfection
- Starting small and building on your progress
- Becoming accountable to yourself
Once you’re ready to get your diet in order, you should:
- Assess your current eating habits
- Understand how to eat
- Find whether you prefer numbers or guessing
- Devise a plan that will keep you on track
- Adjust as you go
When you’re ready to start training, you need to remember:
- To favor good form
- To keep pumping out repetitions until you fail
- To enter each training session with progressive overload in mind
With the information I’ve provided to you, you can make your own plan and start deciding what small piece you’re going to implement first.