Eating to grow...

Eat... A lot. That's the most important couple of sentences I can say. Eat more and you'll grow more, eat less, you grow less. It's a linear relationship that I don't find it to be all that confusing. But somehow nobody gets it right because diet remains the most common mistake by people trying to put on size. It's magical.

Realize that what you put in your mouth is by far the largest factor determining your muscle growth. If you can keep large quantities of food there all day long, you're probably growing. If not, you're probably not growing. In terms of muscle growth, diet is vastly more important than what you're doing in the weight room. And if you're already in the weight room training really hard and not seeing the results you want, chances are you're overtraining. It happens, and it's fairly common. And by overtraining, I mean you're working out at all while you're under-eating. There's virtually no amount of exercise you can perform that can constitute overtraining if your sleep and food supports it. So the challenge becomes eating enough to support it. Learn to do this. And if you think it's easy, you're not doing it right. You're probably not even close actually.

Even if your workouts are absolutely perfect, you'll still put on a grand total of 0 pounds and 0 ounces if you don't increase the amount of calories you're taking in. Look at it this way: when a kid hits his growth spurt, he doesn't stop eating at any time during the day. He'll eat like 9 dinners during the four hours that you didn't eat. And where do you think this growth is coming from? It seems pretty obvious to me. According to the laws of the universe, nothing can be converted into body size but calories. Nothing. And this kid's got tons of calories, and therefore, tons of growth. Take home message: just because you're not 12 doesn't mean you can't eat your way into another growth spurt.

Of course there is a little more to it than just plain eating more volume. Regardless of how much broccoli and lettuce you eat, your weight isn't increasing. It might decrease, but it certainly isn't going up. And if you eat tons of food where the center is creamy, you'll end up with stretch marks all over your stomach. So there are some rules.

Rule number one: Timing. If you go longer than an hour and a half without a big meal, you're not growing as fast as you could be. Big meals being relative from one body to the next. Don't worry about what a big meal is though. We'll talk totals pretty soon. Think timing for now. You should be eating a meal every 60 to 90 minutes. Don't clock it, just make it a habit to eat very routinely.

Rule number two: Eat less fat. Try not to go above 50 grams of fat per day. You're going to be eating an exorbitant amount of carbohydrates. This means the amount of insulin surging through your system is absurd. Please don't have diabetes and do this for obvious reasons. Anyway, insulin prevents lipolysis from taking place (preparation of stored fat to be used as energy). So if you're not able to burn body fat, and you're eating tons of fat in your foods, your stretched stomach skin will feel very taxed. Rule number two's point is that it wouldn't hurt you to eat lean foods.

Rule number three: Not too much worthless sugar. This doesn't mean fruit, this means added sugar, candy, Sunny Delight, things like that. We've already talked about insulin. We don't need to encourage insulin any further on your already borderline-diabetes'ed body.

Rule number four: Figuring out what your big meals are. Here's an estimate: a gram of protein per pound of the bodyweight you'd like to have, and about 3 times that in decent quality carbohydrates if you can stomach it. So lets say you weigh 180lb and want to weigh 210lb. Eat 210 grams of protein and about 630 grams of carbs every day. Divide that into maybe 8 meals and that's your totals for each meal. So if you're the guy wanting to be 210, you're eating 25-30 grams of protein and about 75 grams of carbohydrates every hour and a half as your routine meals. Understand that this is a ballpark figure though and adjust the numbers to how your body feels. Understand also, however, that sacrificing carbs for even more protein isn't going to help you. If you're the 180lb guy, there's no way your body can use 210 grams of protein in a day to rebuild your muscle tissue regardless of how much devastation you put it through. The protein-related growth comes from hormonal factors. Suppressing catabolic hormones and promoting anabolic ones. You'll get your results at 210. If you up that and eat fewer carbs in exchange, you'll just grow less. So actually obey rule number four.

Rule number five: Make your pre-workout meal smaller and your post-workout meal larger. If you have food in your stomach while you're working out, your workout won't be overly worthwhile. You have a finite amount of blood, and when you start working out, the muscles demand it. If you're not working out, your digestive system is using about a quarter of your body's blood supply and the muscle is using about a fifth. When you start working out, your muscle requires about 80-85% of it, and it's taking it from your digestive system, which is now using less than a twentieth. So if you have hordes of food in your stomach and no blood to aid digestion, it's coming back up. You vomiting doesn't help the intensity of your workouts. So keep your pre-workout meal small. Afterwards though, you've burned out some of your glycogen stores (stored carbohydrates) and you've got all sorts of muscle damage (repaired via protein ingestion), and you've got a good deal of cortisol being released (suppressed by protein ingestion). So your intake of carbs and protein should be pretty excessive. Try to get in this girthy meal within about 20 minutes of the time you finish your last set.

Rule number six: Food choices. You're going to be eating a lot of the time. Make your food taste good because I promise chicken breasts, rice, egg whites, cans of tuna, oatmeal, etc., these things will not work for you. And what works best for someone else may not work at all for you. You'll have to try everything for yourself. A daily never-ending bowl of raisin bran and frosted mini wheats did the trick for me. My poop was ridiculous for 2 months, but I gained about 30lb. That might not work for you though. Try tuna casserole, try making pancakes with protein powder in the batter, melt 3lb of low-fat cheese over something with tons of carbs, blend up 5lb of blueberries with a couple tubs of cottage cheese and yogurt, use Cliff Bars- just do whatever it takes to get the calories in. Whatever it takes.

Rule number seven: Real food beats supplements. Food will always produce better gains than powders. Keep that in mind. Powder is good. Food is better. The problem is that it's difficult to eat the volume of food needed. That's why you make your food taste good. But if that's not doing the trick, buy massive plates, bowls and glasses. It'll make your huge serving seem smaller and easier to eat if it barely covers any of the plate. Five servings on a nine-serving plate proportionately looks tiny. And it doesn't hurt to picture yourself growing while you're pushing your calories in. You might dwell on your full stomach if you're not focused on your growing arms. If none of that works, supplementing a little bit with carb and protein powders won't kill you.

Rule number eight: Drink plenty of fluids. Your body will not approve of your weight gain if you don't.

Rule number nine: Motivation. If you're worried about your bodyfat percent or what your abs look like with your shirt off, don't worry about gaining mass because you'll probably put on no size whatsoever.

That's it for the rules. Basically to summarize, putting size on at any level is an issue that predominantly deals with your spoon. Make it a big spoon so it matches your monster dishes. And if this spoon isn't shoveling in a minimum of 7 or 8 meals per day, your results are going to be slow. If you're not eating vastly more than your stomach wants you to, your results are going to be slow. And if you don't have a fairly preposterous amount of calories in your stomach within twenty minutes of the time you finish your last set, your results aren't going to be nearly as fast as you want them to be. And hunger has nothing to do with when you eat. So do whatever it takes to get the food in.

Question: What if I don't want to grow really fast and I just want to put on some size without putting on any body fat?

Answer: There's a couple ways we can take this. For both of these ways, realize that your growth will be slow. The better, slightly easier method of the two, is to eat healthy foods only- but otherwise follow all of the rules. Re-read rule number 6. "Chicken breasts, rice, egg whites, cans of tuna, oatmeal, etc." These are now your main foods. There's no way in Hades you'll be able to stomach enough of that to gain any body fat. So that will control your caloric intake as much as you need. And that's pretty much all.

If you want to be more technical, you could try tacking on 500 calories to the total of each day at the start of next week- and then adding 100 calories per day each week beyond that. You'll gain some size, but you'll spend more time counting calories than you will working out. So it's kind of a waste of time.

Just realize that either approach you choose to prevent body fat increases will cause your muscle to grow less. So figure out what it is you want to do- and don't change midway through. Stick with your choice for at least 6 weeks before you change your diet again.

Question: I hear people talking a lot about their nitrogen balance and amino acid pool in reference to eating- and how you need to work with both in order to grow. Can you tell me about these things?

Answer: I could, but it's the most meaningless topic discussable in any field remotely related to fitness in any way. If I went into length on this subject you would get nothing out of it. The people you hear talking about their amino acid pool and nitrogen balance are not smart and all humankind should be embarrassed on their behalf.

Here's the deal, both of these things are worthless catch phrases and the people who use them, do so to be cool. There's no other explanation. You won't catch someone with knowledge of protein metabolism talking about their amino acid pool. But to be nice, I'll define them for you.

Your amino acid pool is simply the amount of amino acids you currently have in your system. As such, there isn't actually a "pool." It's irritating when people call it that. You just store amino acids in your blood, liver, and muscle tissue, and collectively, that total stored amount is referred to, irritatingly, as your "pool." It's pretty similar to the way your body stores fat, and essentially exactly the same as your carbohydrate storage- but you never hear people talking about their "carbohydrate pool" or "fat pool."

If you eat protein, you obviously have more in your system. Calling it a pool is just ridiculous and meaningless. And you can't even measure it anyway, so it's actually especially meaningless.

And then your nitrogen balance: protein has nitrogen on it. Nitrogen is part of every protein molecule. If you eat it, the amount of nitrogen in your body goes up. Again, this is obvious, but people want to sound cool by calling it "nitrogen balance." I guess because you pee out nitrogen, this makes it balancing act. Second only to your amino acid pool, nitrogen balance is the dullest piece of information one can learn in life. And like the pool, it applies to nothing because if you want to measure it, you have to collect all of your urine, feces, hair, semen, semen's hair, spit, sweat, etc. (I made up semen's hair). 100% of every single piece of thing emitted by your body would have to be collected to even have an idea. So naturally it's probably never actually been legitimately measured at any time in history and thus, it's nothing more than meaningless theoretical words.

So next time you hear guys in tank tops talking about either of these two "incredible phenomena" just understand that these are sad, sad living failures who are going nowhere in life due to their inability to comprehend any basic human function.

I'm probably overdoing it a little bit on the aggression with this response. My bad. Have a good Wednesday through Sunday.