Six Secrets to Gaining Muscle Mass
How to get the most out of your hard training
by Charles Poliquin
The truth is, just about any weight training program will produce positive results in muscle mass if you work hard and strive to use more weight on basic exercises such as dips, chin-ups, squats and bench presses. Just visit any prison, where the inmates are not likely to have the services of certified personal trainers and professional strength coaches, and you’re going to find some very large and strong individuals. But on this side of the wall, if you’re training hard and you’re not achieving the results you want or your progress has stagnated, what is holding you back may not be what you are doing inside the gym but outside it.
It’s no secret that despite the benefits of living in one of the world’s most prosperous countries, few Americans take adequate care of their health. We take care of our cars and electronic gadgets, but we eat crap and persist in lifestyle habits that prevent us from packing on those much-desired pounds of muscle. To get you started on the right track, here are six simple tips to help you make significant gains.
Tip 1: Start the day with a liquid meal. Start the day with 40-60 grams of unsweetened, plain, high-quality whey, such as Whey Stronger®. Add 20 grams of glutamine, 5 grams of creatine monohydrate, and 3 grams of the carnitine of your choice (my personal favorite is Acetyl-L Carnitine Propionate for its specific, positive effects on the brain and on testosterone levels). An hour later, you should have a solid meal, such as steak and eggs. Whenever I lose muscle mass because of extensive traveling, I use this approach and I’ll often gain back five pounds of muscle in as little as five days.
Tip 2: Use the “ding-ding, time to eat” method. Making a conscious decision to take the time to eat is one of the best keys to gaining mass. Sounds simple, but if you’re like me and run a business, have a family and a lot of other interests and obligations, it becomes easy to skip meals (or, as I prefer to call them, feedings). My good friend Angus Cooper was a bronze medalist in hammer throwing at the Commonwealth Games, and when we were training together, he would find me every few hours and yell, “Charlie, EAT!” With his help, I finally got from 192 to 200 pounds for the first time, in just two weeks. If you don’t have a friendly Kiwi friend to remind you when to eat, the next-best solution is to wear a watch with an alarm. Once you have had a meal, set the watch so that it rings two and a half hours later, indicating when it’s time for your next feeding.
Tip 3: Take a power nap. Napping is also good for grownups! The more naps I took, the more I grew. Robert Kennedy, who owns several popular muscle magazines, is also a big proponent of napping for muscle growth. A good nap should be 20 to 60 minutes, no longer; otherwise you will become too groggy. Whenever I teach in Sweden at the Eleiko Education Center, I always tend to gain mass back very easily because there I found the perfect hiding place to take a nap after lunch. My gift is that I’m the type of guy who can nap anywhere – on a clothesline, at a busy shooting range or in a newborn nursery; no amount of noise or postural discomfort will prevent me from sleeping. So nap as often as possible and GROW!
Tip 4: Go on a “150 percent calorie splurge day.” This tip I learned from former world powerlifting champion Mauro Di Pasquale, M.D. Once every five days consume 50 percent more calories than you regularly do; it works like magic. You can get away with eating foods that are not necessarily the healthiest, but be sure to avoid trans fats such as you might find in many junk foods or crappy protein bars. Personally, I prefer to use high-calorie foods such as protein pancakes with maple butter, and organic oatmeal cookies. Consume these extra calories on an off day from training, and spread them out over six or seven meals. As a general guideline to determine your caloric needs, take your bodyweight in pounds and multiply by 16. If you weigh 200, you would need 3,200 calories to maintain your weight, so therefore you would consume 4,800 calories on your hypercaloric day.
Tip 5: Take BCAAs as your new best friend. BCAA stands for branched chain amino acid, and amino acids are the basic components of protein (or, as we like to say in the iron game, “the building blocks of muscle”). Always carry a bottle of BCAA Excellence 2.0 with you to prevent muscle catabolism, which is the process by which the body breaks down muscle tissue to use as an energy source. If a meal is going to get delayed when your watch goes off indicating it’s time to eat, get some water and take 10-20 capsules.
Tip 6: Have on hand a secret high-calorie jar. In one of my cabinets at the office, I keep what I like to call a “secret high-calorie jar.” It’s a mixture of nuts and dried fruits. If my feeding times get delayed, I reach in and take two handfuls from the premixed jar to keep my blood sugar constant (because when my blood sugar gets too low, I morph into something that’d scare off Sean Penn, Serena Williams and Christian Bale combined. My concoction contains dried fruits (apricots, blueberries, Thompson raisins, figs, cherries, mango slices), nuts (pistachios, cashews, walnuts, dates, pecans, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, macadamias) and seeds (pumpkin, sesame). Besides providing myself with a load of quality calories, I’m also getting many valuable nutrients, such as selenium from the Brazil nuts, magnesium from the cashews, and antioxidants from the dried fruits. Occasionally I’ll add some amino acid capsules to further increase the anabolic (i.e., muscle-building) process.
As you can see, these tips are easy to implement and require no exceptional sacrifice. Each tip is extremely effective individually, and if you use them all, you should notice a tremendous increase in your training drive and your muscle-building gains. And hey, it’s much better than going to prison to bulk up!