There’s always a lot of opinions on how to put on muscle or “get big” as some would say. Through my own personal struggles to gain weight I have found a method that makes it incredibly easy. It is so straight forward that failure is almost inexcusable with a moderate amount of effort in the gym. Do these two things and over months of training you can add a very respectable amount of natural muscle.
When I started to train my progress was slow to non existent the first couple years. I learned I couldn’t just blindly hope I was eating enough. I had to actually write my food down each day and add up the calories. That led me to the conclusion I was underrating most days by anywhere from 500-1,000 calories. Wow. At 6’4 I needed to eat a lot of food! Being into “health food” and vegetarian, getting 3500-4000 calories a day is some work. I don’t want to spend all my free time preparing meals and eating. I want to maximize my time to do with as I please. Sitting around eating all day is not my idea of a good way to live.
By trial and error I discovered there was a better way to get in those calories. And that leads me to the first thing everyone who is struggling to put on muscle should try doing: tip #1 is drink your calories. What is one of the number one tips you hear when people talk about losing weight? Stop drinking your calories! There are crazy amounts of calories in flavored coffee creamers, pop and shakes from fast food restaurants to name a few examples. I don’t believe you should compromise your health with “dirty bulking.” This leads to a increase of fat gain which is absolutely not what anyone wants. Not to mention those foods are nutritionally deficient and will not serve you as well with training and recovery. But that’s not to say you cannot learn from them. Have you seen a very large person always drinking sugary pops? I know I have! Drinking your calories works. But you need to do it in the right way.
What should you do? I have personally made most of my progress taking a lean mass gainer protein shake 2x a day. It’s totally possible to make a healthy, high calorie shake out of ingredients at home like milk, oats and peanut butter. That being said, the balance of carbs, fat and protein in a mass gainer shake are ideal for putting on lean body mass. Optimum Nutrition’s Serious Mass has been my go to brand for a long time due to the lower price on amazon.com. Like most protein powders chocolate is the best tasting flavor in my opinion.
Here’s exactly how I have used a mass gainer to make the most progress of my life and hardly worry about my diet, saving so much time! I hardly worry about meal prep either as the time it takes me to eat is very minimal. And I want to be clear, I typically eat at least 4,000 calories a day. There’s no denying it takes a long time to eat upwards of 3,500 to 4,000 calories when we are talking about healthy, whole grain food. I don’t have the time or energy each night to eat half a box of pasta and when I do I simply would rather not.
In the morning when I wake up I put one scoop of Serious Mass in a blender bottle with about 2 cups of soy milk. You can use cow milk, almond milk, or even water if you prefer. However, remember there is very little nutritional value in almond milk as it is mostly water. Due to the thickness of soy milk I top it off with a little bit of water after I shake it up initially so it is thinner and easier to drink. This first “meal” of mine comes out to about 860 calories. It’s quick and easy to drink and I can drink it on my drive into work. Perfect.
During the morning I might eat another meal like 2 cinnamon raisin bagels with peanut butter. I do this out of convenience and lack of planning most days. I won’t lie. I simply find it easier to throw bagels and peanut butter in a bag if I haven’t prepared anything special. This way there are no excuses. And it has been working for me so far!
After my workout I make the shake that really counts. In my opinion, this is the single best way to put on mass if you struggle with eating:
2 cups soy milk (or whatever milk you prefer)
1 scoop of Serious Mass or your preferred mass gainer
1 frozen banana. I like this because it adds a bit of sweetness. By freezing the banana it helps make the shake taste like an ice cream shake. Delicious. I always pre-peel and cut my bananas then freeze them in bulk.
1/2 cup natural peanut butter. Here’s where you can really adjust depending on your other meals. If you want less calories use less peanut butter. When I am trying to diet down I sometimes use just a couple tablespoons. Peanut butter is your greatest ally to put on weight. This alone is over 700 calories. I would have a lot of trouble eating this. But in a shake it’s easy as cake.
1/2 to 1 cup of water. This is vital because if your shake is too thick it is much harder to drink. You might think this just means more to drink overall, but trust me. Play around with the amount of water because thinner shakes slide down nice and easy.
Blend everything for about 20 second. Make sure you scrape any excess peanut butter off the sides of the blender. Those are gains and they are precious.
Lastly, and this is totally optional, I like to add in 3-4 ice cubes. I then blend the shake for about 8 seconds on high. This improves the texture and taste by making it colder and reminds me more of an actual chocolate ice cream shake. I enjoy the feeling of the small ice crystals as I drink it. And this is a bigger shake. If you were to chug it you would probably throw up! I usually sip on it over the course of 1 hour, though sometimes more. That ice helps keep it cold too.
This shake is about 1,600 calories. Adding in the other shake you drink (either in the morning or at night) your total calories are already over 2,600. This is brain dead simple and leaves absolutely NO EXCUSES to reach your daily caloric goals. Adding in a another 1-2 meals and you easily can reach them. For some of you this may already be too many calories. In that case, cut down on the peanut butter or remove it depending on what else you plan to eat. On my rest day on Sunday I will often drink two mass gainer shakes, however, I will not use peanut butter as I am typically expending no calories in the gym. That leads me to my second point.
If you want to eat more food and keep putting on muscle you: tip #2 have to workout consistently! Nothing can stimulate your appetite better like a routine training schedule. I find it so easy to eat the way I do. Yet, when I get sick or experience a rare time when I’m not working out each day I find it much, much harder to eat food. My body simply doesn’t want it! Not to mention, if you keep eating this much food without working out you are wasting your time. Those excess calories will not go to build lean body mass because you’ve done nothing to make your body need to repair itself. Instead you will just get fat. Simple.
I want to reiterate that although you do need to eat a decent amount of food to put on size, you absolutely do not need to overeat and you probably need to eat even less than you imagine. The hard reality is that a good amount of weight to gain is only about 2 lbs a month. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you are gaining much more than .25 to .5 lbs a week I’d be willing to bet a good portion of that is water and fat. I know this because every time I diet down that is about the gains I’m left with (not to mention I’ve researched this question in depth).
The best strategy is to eat at a level where you are gaining a little weight at a time, but not too much. My recommendation is to never allow yourself to go above 10% body fat. It can be hard to see a difference between 10 and say 15% body fat especially if you are tall like me. This is why you have to really be mindful of gaining weight too fast if visually you can’t tell. The truth is, all that time spent losing the excess fat is only less time you can spend building muscle in the future. And going into a caloric deficit to lose fat (which you will have to do) increases the chances of losing muscle depending on how long you remain in a lowered caloric state. When in a caloric deficit I promise you are not going to gain much or any muscle unless you are coming from an obese state or a true beginner who has never lifted. In both cases, the muscle you put on will be limited at best.
Again: to be successful at gaining muscle you should 1. try drinking your calories with a mass gainer and 2. always workout consistently. Do those two things and you can see incredible results given decent amount of time.