Along with the Mr. Olympia competition, pro football, and the return of The Walking Dead, the fall season also happens to be the time many lifters begin to consider bulking up in order to unveil a bigger and stronger body the following spring. Trouble is, adding mass while achieving the strength gains and a physique you’re content with can be tricky to pull off.
“People think that more working out makes more muscle — period,” says celebrity trainer Gunnar Peterson. “Mass is a lifestyle, and it takes proper nutrition, timing of that nutrition, and recovery. Oh, and more working out, too.”
We asked Peterson a handful of dietary questions surrounding mass gains in hopes of clearing up any confusion.
Showing favoritism to your diet or training program will be visible in your results. In other words, you have to spread the love equally to reap the rewards. “When either your diet or workout regimen slips, the other has to overcompensate,” says Peterson. “But you can’t out-train a bad diet, and you can’t out-diet a weak training program. Yin, meet yang.”
Proper nutrition will keep your energy up and your muscles nourished. Improper nutrition — snacking on a hearty diet filled with sugary snacks and empty calories — will put mass in all the wrong areas. “You want extra quality calories, not just extra calories,” he says. “Once you get that dialed in, the timing becomes the issue. There’s a big difference between eating 200 grams of protein first thing in the morning or the last thing at night, or spread out in five servings of 40 grams over the course of an entire day. Don’t believe me? Try it, but consider yourself — and your housemates — forewarned!”
In short, YES. Carbohydrates are critical for providing energy, as well as mass gains. “Carbs only get a bad reputation from people who read half of the articles on them,” Peterson explains. “Think of what they do (long term energy for complex and short term energy for simple) and use them accordingly. Don’t fill up the car before you park it for the night. Fill it up before you go for a long drive later that day.”
Not necessarily. What types of carbohydrates — fast- or slow-digesting carbs — you should consume hinge on a few factors. “It depends when I am training and how far out I am consuming [the carbs],” Peterson says. “If I have not eaten in three or more hours and it’s an hour before I train, I’d probably have a handful of almonds. If it’s 30 minutes before I train I might have a couple of carrot sticks. Getting out of my car and walking into the gym, I would probably have a handful of raisins. But that’s just me.”
The same types of healthy foods you’d eat to sculpt six-pack abs are the same foods you should eat to put on mass. You’ll just be consuming more and doing less cardio work.
“You need an adequate amount of protein — quality, bioavailable protein — for recovery and to avoid breakdown of the mass you’ve already earned,” he explains. “You’ll also want plenty of leafy greens to keep your system running smoothly, and nutrient intake high to avoid getting sick. And quality complex carbohydrates to fuel your training sessions.”
Think you’re destined to be a pencil no matter what you do, eat, or lift? That’s not the case, says Peterson. “Eat more. Sleep more. Train more,” he says. “Continuing to add those three components to your life and your body will come around. It’s simple math — just addition.”
The same principle applies to endomorphs. Genetics can be limiting, but in the end it comes down to being strict with training and nutrition as well as not throwing in the towel because gains (or losses) are taking longer than you expected.
Nothing wrong with getting by with a little help from your [supp] friends. While whole foods should be your go-to, Peterson suggests reaching for a weight gainer if necessary.
“Natural food is always the first choice,” he says. “Weight gainers and supplements are a close second these days, so by all means use them when needed.”
We know, we know. It’s a loaded question. However, there’s a ballpark figure most of us can fit into. “Personally, and this is a focus group of one so know that other answers will vary, I would say every three hours just to be safe,” he suggests. “I knew one kid who woke up after four hours of sleep to drink a shake, and then slept another four hours. I wouldn’t recommend it, but just know that it’s been done.”