I think the most common goal we all have in the gym is to get bigger and bigger. But actually getting there is easier said than done. Another goal most all of us seem to have is to keep the body fat to a minimum so the muscle that we have worked so hard to gain can be easily seen. Both of these can be accomplished, but the order it is done is pretty important. You have got to decide which is most important to get first. Size or definition?
Every time I go to the gym, I see lots of guys with pretty good muscle definition and no body fat, but put some clothes on these guys and you would never know they set foot in a gym. They just plain look skinny. These guys just can’t figure out why they can’t ever put on some size. So what’s the problem? CALORIES!
In order to gain muscle, you have to take in just slightly more calories that what you burn every day. Of course this also means that you might have to gain some fat in the process. Sorry guys and gals, if there was any other way the pros would never need to diet down before a contest. They would stay at competitive body fat percentages year round. So if you really want more size you will have to be willing to gain a little bit of extra fat. Note that I only said a little bit! So how do we gain this mass and not come out looking like Porky Pig? Simple---it’s like walking up stairs. You have to gain mass in steps. Put on some mass and gain a little fat in the process, then diet down and lose the fat that was collected in the process. Then repeat!
First we need to find a starting point. So you need to know how many calories it takes you individually to maintain your body weight. While it is a very complicated process to accurately determine this amount, you can easily estimate it. I have found that most of use who seriously lift weights can maintain our body weight by consuming about 18 calories per pound of body weight, per day. So, let’s say you’re a 200 lb. man and want to maintain your weight (200 x 18 = 3600 cal/d). Now is 3600 cal/d going to be written in stone for everyone? Of course not! We all have different needs, so this amount may vary. But we ARE going to use this figure as a starting point, so remember 3600 cal/d.
Next we need to add some calories so we can start gaining weight and gaining muscle. But how much? Well, we know it takes about 3500 calories to gain one pound, so we can assume now that we need to add at least 500 calories per day to our diet. So our 200 lb. man now theoretically needs 4100 calories per day to gain at least 1 pound per week.
Well let’s go back to 4100 calories per day. As I mentioned earlier, we are not all the same and may have different caloric needs. So this theoretical amount of 4100 calories may or may not cause you to gain any weight. Let’s say that you have eaten this amount of food for one week and nothing happens. You did not notice any gains but you did not lose any weight either. What’s wrong? Obviously, it takes you more than the original 3600 cal/d to maintain your weight. So we need to make some adjustments. From here (4100 cal/d) we will add another 500 cal/d (4600 cal/d). Now we will wait another week and see what happens. If you still do not see any gains, repeat this process until you start gaining no more than one pound per week.
I’m sure by now some of are thinking that if 500 extra calories give us one pound more must be better. Not so fast! The quicker we gain, the more chance there is that we will store fat. Remember we only want to take in enough to cause the muscles to grow. That way we will minimize fat storage. So more is not necessarily better in this case.
Well what happens when you finally start gaining, but are gaining too much weight too fast? Simple----we do some fine tuning, by lowering the caloric intake by 100 cal/d until we level off to one pound per week. It’s just that simple!
OK, let’s say it took us 4100 cal/d to gain one pound of body weight per week. Will we keep gaining weight as long as we eat this amount of food? NO! As we become more muscular and gain more body weight our caloric needs increase. So 4100 calories soon will only help us to maintain weight once again. It should be obvious that we need to increase our food intake again.
So, now what we need to do is determine about how many calories per pound of body weight it took us to gain weight in the first place. This will make it much easier to adjust our caloric intake as our body weight increases. So 4100 / 200 lbs = 20.5 cal/lb. That simply means it took us 20.5 calories per pound of body weight to gain weight. Now that figure should stay about the same as long as we do not increase our energy needs by increasing our activity. So as our weight slowly rises, we need to also recalculate our caloric needs. Therefore, as our 200 lb. man reaches 205 lbs., he needs to also have increased his caloric intake to 4200 cal/d to avoid hitting a plateau and not gaining any more body weight..
While out 200 lb. man may want to eventually get up to 260 lbs, this should ONLY be done gradually and in steps. I would suggest that you only gain up to 15% at one time to minimize that amount of fat that is collected in the process. This means that our 200 lb. subject should not gain any more than 230 lbs.
At this point our subject needs to very slowly ( 1 lb./wk) drop his weight back down about 10% (210 lbs). Why so slow? Because slow weight loses help to keep the muscle you had to work so hard to gain, while dropping that fat. This whole process will help eliminate the body fat that was gained in the muscle building process. The goal here is to end up with more muscle and less fat than you started out with. By doing the math you should end up with a net gain of 5% every time you repeat this cycle.
Pretty simple, huh? Possibly, but it still takes lots of dedication and hard work in the gym. So don’t just stop with your first cycle, you need to repeat this whole process so you can gain more and more muscle mass. Like I said---it is just like climbing steps. Gain some mass and then take off the fat. That’s how the pros do it!