Powerful nutritional tactics for meet day

Today is the day of the big competition. You’ve been putting in some of the hardest training sessions of your life. You’ve been getting plenty of sleep, even taking those extra power naps that help you recover from those brutal workouts.

You’ve been taking the latest supplements, making sure you have that natural edge. You’ve even been avoiding those late nights out with the boys to make sure that your training doesn’t suffer. Your gear couldn’t be in better working order. You just had that double ply denim bench shirt tweaked just right, and those new knee wraps have really made the difference this last training cycle. Everything is perfect or is it?

You run out the door after wolfing down some breakfast and are at the meet with enough time to weigh in and listen to those boring rules meetings. Yeah I know, you have to break parallel in the squat. Come on and get on with the show! You double checked your gear twice to make sure you have everything from your ammonia caps to that all important water bottle used to wet down the seams in that new denim shirt. Just when you think you brought everything that you will ever need to the meet, including that good luck jock strap from when you used to play high school football, it suddenly hits you. You forgot one very important thing-FUEL. Not the type to run your car, but the kind that is going to get you through the entire contest, and keep you going strong all day long. You have forgotten to bring the right nutrients that your body will need to perform optimally at the contest. No problem you say, “I’ll just grab something at the meet.” Food is food right? Wrong! This major mistake has just caused you to hinder your performance on the most important training day of the year. All the preparation and hard work, the endless hours of sweat and tears could be completely ruined if you don’t plan out your nutritional tactics for meet day. Don’t let this happen to you!

Nutrition is often overlooked in the sport of powerlifting. I know, we don’t have to have 3% body fat like the bodybuilders we so strongly detest. Nor do we have to posses the endurance to run or cycle mile after mile like a triathatlete, but that doesn’t mean that nutrition doesn’t play a vital role in the performance of the powerlifter. The above scenario may seem unrealistic, but I have seen it happen not just at state meets but at national and world meets! I have witnessed one guy scarf down link after link of sausage, gorge himself on endless strips of bacon and then wash it down with some sugary fruit punch drink less than half an hour before squat warm ups. Then I hear him complain that he feels bloated during his squat attempts. What else would you expect to feel after inhaling several small farm animals right before your warm ups. Another personal favorite is the guy who scarfs down a couple candy bars and washes them down with close to two liters of soda after his squats. He seems to be flying high until he misses his 2nd and 3rd bench attempts. Later I hear him telling his handlers that he just ran out of steam and he can’t figure out why. Considering he consumed enough sugar to put a polar bear into a diabetic coma, I’m surprised that’s the only thing that happened. Then there is the guy who avoids breakfast because of his nervous stomach. For the rest of the day he may have a couple pieces of fruit but his hunger starts to kick in right at the worst time. His favorite time to load up on a double burger, fries and a vanilla milkshake- is oh about 45 minutes before his first deadlift attempt. Then he complains that he his stomach hurts trying to get down into proper deadlifting form. I know these scenarios sound really funny but they are things I have experienced while coaching some of my athletes at competitions.

The purpose of this article is to help the competitive powerlifter plan out what kind of things one should and should not do on meet day in regards to nutrition and supplementation. Let’s start off with some of the better things to eat on meet day. Nerves can be at an all time high come competition day and you don’t want to weigh yourself down with foods that take several hours to digest. Breakfast is going to be a very important meal so make sure you start your day off in the right direction. You want to consume an adequate amount of protein, carbs and fat, yet you don’t want to eat half of the country’s livestock just before doing squats. Breakfast should take place about 2 hours before warm ups. If you are the type that has a hard time stomaching food on meet day, make it 3 hours. One word of advice, eat only until you feel slightly satisfied, not to the point where you have to unbutton your jeans to get a little breathing room. Remember, you are fueling your body for competition, not trying to get your moneys worth at a Sizzler buffet. For breakfast you want to eat a low glycemic carbohydrate that is going to give you the proper energy source to start off your day. My personal favorite is a bowl of rolled oats with a diced apple and cinnamon for flavor. For a protein source, a lean piece of beef or a small omelet is perfect.

The best thing to drink would be a glass or two of purified water. This will help keep you hydrated before you start your warm ups. Foods that you want to avoid would include fatty meats like sausage, bacon, and high glycemic carbohydrates like fruit juices and pancakes smothered in syrup. This will cause the blood to be pulled from your muscles and to be relocated to your stomach to start the digestion process. This is not something you want come meet day, especially before your opening squat attempt.

During the competition, eating large amounts of food, especially the wrong types are not recommended. This will cause you to feel lethargic and out of the groove. Even worse is if you don’t eat the right combinations of foods you may cause a massive insulin spike that will drain your energy at the time you need it most. During the competition small meals should be consumed that are easily digested. For carbohydrate sources you want to stick with ones that have a low glycemic index. This will protect you from your blood sugar level from taking a rollercoaster nightmare which will cause a decrement in your performance. Protein is also important in keeping your blood sugar level stable and to maintain an influx of amino acids to your hard working muscles. Chicken breast, fish and lean cuts of beef in small amounts will do the trick. In the charts 1A and 1B, I have laid out what types of foods to consume, and to avoid on meet day. This allows you to mix and match to your desired taste. These are not your only choices available, but this will give you a start. You can find a Sample Nutritional and Supplement Outline below also. This is an example of one of my athletes that they have used with success on competition day. Remember, everything is relative. If you are a smaller lifter you may eat less, if you are a super heavyweight you may have to increase the amount of nutrient dense food.

Hydration is another key factor in obtaining your optimal performance come meet day. You should never be thirsty, as this is an indication that you are already dehydrated. Even a 2% dehydrated state will cause a decrement in performance, so make sure you bring at least a gallon of purified water with you. For those that made weight in the morning using a sauna or some other type of water weight loss technique, hydration will play an even more important role with you. Consuming a liquid electrolyte formula after weigh ins to replenish minerals you have lost will be very important. An electrolyte imbalance can cause you to cramp, decrease your strength, and set you up for injury. Electrolytes improve fluid absorption and the transport of nutrients into working muscles, so their importance cannot be over emphasized when cutting weight. Sipping on a glucose polymer solution between your attempts and events will help replenish glycogen stores and prevent dehydration.

In regards to supplementation, this can be your ace in the hole for your meet day nutrition strategy. For those that can’t stomach too much solid food during the contest a protein shake can be substituted. I recommend that you stick with a whey protein isolate because it is fast absorbing and it is easy on the stomach. Egg or casein protein powders may cause bloating in some individuals, so avoid them on meet day.

Protein bars can also help when in a bind but make sure they are low in sugar. Everyone likes some type of pick me up for the show and the most popular is the Ephedrine/Caffeine/Aspirin stack in either synthetic or herbal versions. Make sure you check with your organization for specific supplementation rules. One ingredient that has benefited my lifters is adding L- Tyrosine to the stack. This is an amino acid which the brain converts to several stimulatory neurotransmitters. These include dopamine, epinephrine, and nor epinephrine. Studies have shown that L-Tyrosine can increase energy levels, improve mental concentration, and increase performance. Stacking this with your ECA can really give you that extra kick. Creatine is another valuable meet day supplement. Since it helps replenish your ATP stores, it will help increase your overall output and help you recover for the next event. My lifters take a serving directly after the squat and bench press. The glucose polymer solution that I mentioned will be beneficial in keeping you hydrated and maintain your blood glucose levels, keeping you fuelled throughout the day. Just make sure the label says glucose polymer. This is a longer chain carbohydrate molecule, so they prevent you from crashing like the bench presser I mentioned earlier. The perfect type is a combination of maltodextrin and amylopectin starches. Avoid many of today’s popular sports drinks as many of them contain the wrong types of carbohydrates that can decrease your performance. Avoid drinks containing corn syrup or sucrose. In regards to supplementation on meet day, don’t take anything that you haven’t used in training. You don’t want anything to upset your stomach or give your nervous system a shock right before the meet. As always, don’t change anything last minute.

Into the millennium powerlifters are looking to increase their performance from many new angles. Optimum sports nutrition for the powerlifter can no longer be overlooked when trying to obtain a PR. If you have overlooked your powerlifting nutrition in the past now is the time to make a change. Eating three square meals a day will no longer cut it. In powerlifting, performance nutrition is the weak link that can drastically affect your progress in the long run. A powerful nutritional regiment is going to take powerlifters to the next level in their health, recovery and performance. Don’t be the one that has forgotten about his nutritional tactics for meet day because your competition won’t!

Table 1A – Foods to Consume

Table 1B – Foods to Avoid

Sample Nutritional and Supplement Outline

Breakfast 7:00 AM

Meal 1

1 bowl of Rolled Oats
1 Apple
1 Omelet consisting of 6 egg whites and 2 yolks
1 Tbsp. of Flax Oil or Fish Oil
16oz of water
Vitamin/Mineral Pack
1 gram of Vitamin C

9:00 AM

ECA stack + 3 grams of L- Tyrosine

9:30 AM (During Squat Warm-ups and Attempts)

8-16oz of Glucose Polymer Solution
Continue to sip solution as needed after attempts

11:00 AM (After Squat Event)

Meal 2

5 grams of Creatine
5 grams of Glutamine
50 grams of Maltodextrin
25-50 grams of Protein
1 Sweet Potato

1:00 PM (Bench Press Warm-ups and Attempts)

8-16oz of Glucose Polymer Solution
Continue to sip solution as needed after attempts

2:00 PM (After Bench Press Event)

Meal 3

5 grams of Creatine
5 grams of Glutamine
50 grams of Maltodextrin
25-50 grams of Protein

3:00 PM (Long break for the Bench Press Competition)

Meal 4

1 Chicken Breast
¼ cup of Brown Rice
1 Apple
1 Tbsp. of Flax Oil or Fish Oil

4:15 PM

ECA stack + 3 grams of L-Tyrosine

5:00 PM ( Warm up for Deadlift and attempts)

8-16oz of Glucose Polymer Solution
Continue to sip solution as needed after attempts

5:45PM (After Deadlift Attempts)

Meal 5

5 grams of Creatine
5 grams of Glutamine
50 grams of Maltodextrin
25-50 grams of Protein
Vitamin/Mineral Pack
1 gram of Vitamin C

Meal 6 (After the Meet)

Here anything goes, but here is my personal favorite.

16 oz Steak
Baked Potato with Sour Cream
Chocolate Milk
1-2 pieces of cheese cake ( Hey you deserve it!)

Written by Anthony Ricciuto

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Shelly’s Cooking Corner – Grilling the Beef

Succulent pieces of juicy, lean beef dripping with muscle-fortifying flavor are a quintessential part of summer grilling and an integral component to a bodybuilder’s diet. With a mouthwatering marinade or a rub of herbs and spices, red meat effortlessly surpasses the bland taste of white-flesh fish, chicken, or cuts of lean pork.

The following recipes transform beef tenderloin, flank steak, and top sirloin into easy to grill dishes you can enjoy throughout the grilling season.

Beef naturally has a higher fat content, which lends to its unbeatable flavor. Very lean cuts of beef can be used but may lack flavor and tenderness. To further reduce the fat in these recipes, cut the amount of olive oil in half.

Recipe 1.  Beef Tenderloin with Shitake Mushrooms and Green Beans (Makes 2 servings)

Saucy shitake mushrooms and tender green beans add earthy flavor and tantalizing texture to the succulent slices of steak. With this dish, getting your protein and vegetable quota is quite the tasty endeavor. Sugar snap peas or hulled edamame (fresh soybeans) can replace the green beans for variety. Regular button mushrooms, sliced portabello, or other wild mushrooms can be substituted for the shitake.


  • 2 (5-ounces each) trimmed beef tenderloin steaks, about 1 1/2 inches thick
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or more to taste
  • Pinch of salt or more to taste
  • Coarse-ground pepper to taste
  • 4 ounces fresh green beans, trimmed, cut in half
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 4 ounces shitake mushrooms, sliced
  • Pinch of salt or more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3/4 cup dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon lite soy sauce or tamari


Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Rub steaks with olive oil and season with thyme, salt, and pepper. Set aside.

Meanwhile, simmer green beans in salted boiling water for five minutes. Drain and hold aside. In a medium sauté pan, heat olive oil over a medium flame and add shallots and garlic to the pan, cooking until soft.

Add mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Add sherry and soy sauce, cooking to reduce by one third.

Add green beans to pan, tossing to coat with sauce. Remove from heat and set aside.

Wipe the grill grate with oil, using tongs and a paper towel. Place steaks on grill, cook for two minutes on each side to seer the outside.

Reduce heat to medium, if using a gas grill, or move to a cooler part of the charcoal grill and cook for an additional four minutes on both sides.

Remove steaks from grill, allowing them to rest for 5 to 6 minutes and then slice against the grain into one-inch slices.

Top each steak with mushrooms, green beans and sauce and serve.

Nutritional Analysis (per serving)

Calories 490; Protein 40 grams; Carbohydrates 19 grams; Fiber 3 grams; Total Fat 24 grams (Saturated Fat 6 grams; Monounsaturated Fat 13 grams; Polyunsaturated Fat 5 grams); Cholesterol 110 milligrams; Sodium 602 milligrams.

Recipe 2.  Grilled Flank Steak with Rosemary Garlic Paste (Makes 2 to 4 servings)

Flank steak is a cut gaining in popularity, particularly for fajitas. A simple wet rub of rosemary, garlic, and olive oil infuses the beef with fabulous flavor. Slices of the steak can be paired with steamed quinoa or brown rice and leftovers can be warmed and wrapped in whole wheat tortillas with fresh salsa for next-day meals.


  • 3 medium garlic cloves
  • Pinch of kosher or sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 (1-pound) flank steak


Chop garlic on a cutting board and sprinkle with salt. Use the flat edge of the knife and crush garlic and salt into a paste.

Add rosemary and olive oil and continue to mix into a paste. Rub on steak and set aside.

Preheat grill to high. Wipe the grill grate with oil, using tongs and a paper towel.

Grill the steak until the steak is seared and brown on one side, about 4 minutes. Flip the steak using tongs and grill until the interior of the steak is cooked just less of your desired doneness, 2 to 5 minutes for rare or medium-rare depending on thickness of steak and heat of the grill.

Transfer steak to a cutting board and tent loosely with foil. Let steak rest for 5 minutes. Slice the steak very thinly against the grain and serve.

Nutritional Analysis (per serving, based on 4 servings):

Calories 278; Protein 36 grams; Carbohydrates 1 gram; Fiber less than 1 gram; Total Fat 13.5 grams (Saturated Fat 4 grams; Monounsaturated Fat 7 grams; Polyunsaturated Fat 2.5 grams); Cholesterol 108 milligrams; Sodium 159 milligrams.

Recipe 3. Tropical Beef Kebabs (Serves 4 to 6)

Kebabs are a must on the backyard grill. Warm weather cooking wouldn’t be the same without chunks of beef threaded on skewers with juicy fruit and crisp-tender vegetables. The large selection of fruits and vegetables make kebabs a dish with near-infinite variations. For best flavor, allow beef to marinate 6 to 8 hours or overnight. To keep wooden skewers from flaming on the grill, soak them in water for 30 minutes before skewering food. Metal skewers do not need to be soaked.

Marinade – Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper or to taste

Meat: 1 1/4 pounds top sirloin, trimmed, cut into 1 1/4-inch cubes*

Fruits and Vegetables – Ingredients

  • 3 cups pineapple cubes (1-inch cubes)
  • 3 limes, cut into 1/4-inch slices (do not peel)
  • 1 medium orange or red bell pepper, seeded, cut into 1-inch squares
  • 1 red onion, halved, cut into 1/2-inch thick wedges
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Pinch of salt
  • Black pepper to taste


To maximize flavor, cut beef into cubes then butterfly each cube by placing the tip of the knife in the center of a cube and slicing down so that only one half of the cube is cut all the way through. This will increase the surface area exposed to the marinade. When skewering, simply hold the cut together and slide on skewer as an intact cube.

Combine marinade ingredients in a large bowl and add cubes of beef. Toss to coat, cover, and refrigerate up to 24 hours. When ready to cook, preheat grill to high.

Place fruits and vegetables in a large bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Toss ingredients until well-coated.

Thread each skewer with a piece of pineapple, an onion wedge, a slice of lime, a cube of beef, and a square of bell pepper. Repeat sequence two more times, a total of three times per skewer.

Grill kebabs, turning a one-quarter turn every 1 to 2 minutes, or until beef is browned and cooked to medium-rare.

Transfer to a serving platter and serve with a squeeze of fresh lime or lemon juice.

Nutritional Analysis (per serving, based on 6 servings):

Calories 279; Protein 22 grams; Carbohydrates 14 grams; Fiber 2 grams; Total Fat 15 grams (Saturated Fat 5.5 grams; Monounsaturated Fat 7.5 grams; Polyunsaturated Fat 2 grams); Cholesterol 68 milligrams; Sodium 49 milligrams.

Written by Shelly Sinton

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The Ten Commandments to Becoming a Magnificent Mass Monster

When it comes to the task of packing on muscle mass, the term “analysis paralysis” comes to mind. To be blunt, many people just make it more complicated than it really has to be. That’s not to say that adding any amount of significant muscle mass is an easy task. On the contrary, if it was easy, we would have a bunch of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s and Dave Tates walking around instead of all these “weenie girly men” who wear Under Armour to the mall in an attempt to impress the local 18 year-old girls.

Needless to say, I think many tend to over think things when it comes to packing on those slabs of man meat (or woman meat; I don’t want to leave out the ladies). Many will debate and discuss every minute detail regarding what the optimal macro nutrient breakdown should be and what new and advanced training program they will be following; in reality, all they really need to do is stick with the basics that have been proven to work for decades. In the realm of training and nutrition, nothing is really new or revolutionary, and many would be well served to just shut up and get down to business.

Come Hither, My Disciples

Wouldn’t it be cool to have your own personal time machine? Just imagine if you had access to one and the things you could do with it! If I had one, there are several key missions I would do with it. First, I would most certainly use it for purely selfish reasons. I would go back and tell myself not to throw that 0-2 curve ball to the jerk who hit the 450-foot home run off me in my first college start with five professional scouts watching in the stands. I would become best friends with Bill Gates. And, heck, I might as well throw in a chance encounter with Mariah Carey (circa 1995, before she turned into a hooch). Last, but not least, I would have to say that the main thing I would use it for is to go back and kick my own ass for literally wasting years with my training and eating habits.

I look back at my training and eating habits from when I was in school, and I have to cringe in embarrassment. Yep, you guessed it; I did three sets of ten for everything, hitting body parts once per week while not eating nearly enough calories. Sound like anyone YOU know? I trained this way for years, and while I made decent progress and was better off than most guys, I still wasn’t entirely satisfied. It wasn’t until I started looking past most (not all) mainstream magazines and the typical foo-foo weight room banter, and started reading and educating myself on the more “old school” principles (as well as the more recent research) that I started to make the gains that I had always coveted. To say “I wish I knew then what I know now” would be an understatement of epic proportions.

With that being said, I think another important mission I would undertake with my time machine would be to go back and play God, and instead of telling Moses to write the 10 Commandments as we all know them, I would have him write “The 10 Commandments to Becoming a Magnificent Mass Monster.” Oh, and since I would be taking on the role of God, I would also make a point of ensuring that George Lucas never made those last two pieces of crap he calls Star Wars (Revenge of the Sixth excluded).

The 10 Commandments (As They Should to Have Been Written)

1. Thou Shalt Use Compound Movements

These are the movements that should make up the bulk (I’d say ~ 80%) of any program you follow – PERIOD.

In order to get big, you have to do movements that will make you big. So, it is high time that you do away with those isolation biceps curls and leg extensions, Peggy Sue, and start doing some deadlifts, squats, bench presses, dips, pull-ups, good mornings, and rows. These are the movements that will allow you to use the greatest amount of weight and promote a MUCH greater growth stimulus in the muscle cells. Think about it; what do you think it going to elicit a greater growth stimulus – a set of leg curls using 120 lbs. or a set of deadlifts using 300 lbs.? Not only that, but doing the compound movements (in conjunction with doing them HEAVY) will automatically activate high threshold motor units, which have the greatest potential for growth, and since these movements target the largest muscle groups in the body (thighs, hamstrings, mid/upper back, chest), you will be getting bigger in the right places. And let’s not forget strength. As I noted, compound movements will allow you to use more weight and I always stress that one cannot get bigger without getting stronger first. Ever seen a really small strong person? So, implementing these movements to get stronger now will undoubtedly lead to more significant hypertrophy gains in the future.

As an aside, I would also like to mention that these compound movements should also be used when one is trying to “lean up.” And yes, ladies, you need to pay attention to this, as I know there are some out there reading this thinking to themselves, “Well, I don’t want to get big and bulky.” However, I will say that by doing the compound lifts, you will be using multiple muscle groups as opposed to ONE when doing isolation movements (think Cybex Circuit). Which do you think is going to burn more calories and provide a greater caloric deficit to promote fat loss – a movement using your entire body (as do squats and deadlifts) or those worthless hip abductor machines? If you guessed the latter, please go back to reading “Good Housekeeping.”

2. Thou Shalt Lift Heavy

This goes without saying, but the compound movements are challenging. It takes time to learn the proper technique and to acquire the proper motor learning patterns to become efficient in these lifts. So, when I say “lift heavy,” I don’t necessarily mean one should do it right away if they’re just learning to perform these movements. I know many people jump into the gauntlet and try to lift heavy right off the bat and end up hurting themselves not too long afterward. One should definitely take a few weeks (especially if he is a newbie) and use higher rep ranges (6-12) to learn proper form and to gain confidence in his ability to perform the compound movements. Most of the strength gains early on will be due to neuromuscular recruitment improvements rather than hypertrophy, but one will still put on a fair amount of muscle mass right off the bat even with the high(er) rep ranges. Once that newbie period is out of the way, though, if you want to get the most out of your training buck, you HAVE to incorporate heavy lifting.

As I stated in the introduction, I wasted many years doing 3×10 of just about everything. While it does have its place and is rather effective for people just starting out, it is only going to take you so far. When people talk about hypertrophy, there are a few major factors that come into play, some of which are time under tension, load (mass), and acceleration. The latter two interact in terms of their ability to produce intramuscular tension (ability of a muscle to produce force: force = mass x acceleration). For the sake of this article, I am just going to discuss “load,” but for further insight, check out Christian Thibaudeau’s superb book, “The Black Book of Training Secrets.”

Low rep/high intensity strength training is effective mainly due to the fact that it leads to degradation of the contractile proteins actin and myosin, which results in sarcomere hypertrophy. In layman’s terms, this means increased thickness and density of the ACTUAL muscle fibers. On the flip side, higher rep/lower intensity training leads to sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, which increases the size of non-contractile elements such as collagen and improves one’s ability to store substrates such as glycogen. Including training protocols that target BOTH types of hypertrophy is definitely going to elicit the greatest amount of muscle growth than if you were to just concentrate on one or the other. However, if you want to be big and strong, implementing heavy, low-rep strength training is a must and is a concept that many tend to overlook. Some of the biggest guys out there are the ones who do absolutely no heavy training, and tend to be “all show and no go.” Simply put, they’re big, but weak. By implementing heavy strength training into your arsenal, you can rest assured that you will not only put on a fair amount of mass, but you will also be strong to boot. And besides, it is just so darn fun to lift heavy things.

Let’s say that someone has been doing 3×10 for most of their training sessions and for a particular bench press session, they used 200 lbs. for each set. We can calculate that 200 lbs x 10 repetitions comes to 2000 total load for one set. Obviously, at this weight and rep scheme, three sets yield a total tonnage of 6000 lbs. for that particular bench press session. Now, when we talk about heavy strength training, typical set/rep schemes usually flip that 3×10 around. So, instead of doing three sets of ten repetitions, you would do ten sets of three repetitions.

Essentially, you are doing the same volume (very important), but with heavier loads, which you’ll recall activate high threshold motor units and fast-twitch muscle fibers (given a fast concentric) that have the greatest propensity for growth. So, that same individual will now use 225 for his “working sets” because he is using a low-rep set-up. Now, we have 225 x 3 repetitions comes to 675 lbs. for one set. With ten sets, we get a total tonnage of 6750 lbs.: 750 lbs. more than the typical 3×10 set/rep scheme that was originally used! Which do you think is going to elicit more muscle growth? 6000 lbs. or 6750 lbs.? So, when you hear your local gym warrior (who looks the same now that he did five years ago) proclaim that you can’t get bigger lifting heavy weights and that high reps are the way to go for maximum hypertrophy, tell him to go back to the 3rd grade and relearn how to add.

*** I will say that one needs to take into consideration the entire training session’s volume as well as any individual time constraints. Performing 10×3 is going to take quite a bit longer than 3×10, so you obviously will have to plan accordingly. Both protocols have their place as far as maximum hypertrophy is concerned and one is not inherently better than the other; they’re just different. However, I do feel that many tend to neglect the advantages of heavy, low-rep training and would be wise to start incorporating it into their programs. I guarantee you will be pleasantly surprised if you do so.

3. Thou Shalt Limit Cardio

Not too long ago, a gentleman approached me because he was all flustered that he couldn’t put on any significant amount of muscle and was perplexed that his bench press wasn’t going up. Outside of asking him what he was currently doing in terms of his exercise selection and whether or not he was using set/rep schemes that allowed him to lift heavy, I asked him how much cardio he was doing each week. He responded, “Oh, I run about 20-25 miles per week.” YOWSA! Listen, I am not going to be the guy who says that cardio is a waste of time and that only housewives use the elliptical machines. However, if putting on muscle is your goal, participating in that much cardiovascular exercise is going to be counterproductive. In short, it can be very catabolic and can sacrifice a lot of hard earned muscle.

An analogy that I like to use with clients is to compare a marathon runner to a sprinter. Marathon runners, while they do have very low levels of body fat, have little to no muscle mass. On the flip side, sprinters are ripped and have a ton of lean muscle mass. That alone should get my point across. For this reason, I tend to advocate that people who are trying to add on size should just stick to doing 1-2 High Intensity Interval Training(HIIT) sessions per week, brisk walking, or GPP (General Physical Preparedness) to keep their conditioning up while trying to add on some quality muscle mass. Cardiovascular exercise does serve a purpose and does have many important benefits (more efficient oxygen transport, increased nutrient partitioning, as well as general “heart health”), but if one is trying to put on size, they have to be cognizant of the amount they are doing and be careful not to overdo it and sacrifice too much lean body mass. A general way to approach things would be to perform 1-2 HIGH intensity sessions (HIIT) per week and possibly 1-2 LOW intensity sessions (walking) per week. Try to avoid the drawn-out, steady-state cardio as much as possible.

4. Thou Shalt Be Mindful of Post-Workout Nutrition

If you have been training for any significant amount of time and have not been utilizing proper post-workout nutrition, then you need to hightail it to Barnes and Noble and purchase “Post-Workout Nutrition: Where the Heck Have You Been the Past Five Years?” (side note: this book doesn’t really exist). It should come as no surprise to you that the 4-6 hours after a training session should be a time where you try to push the envelope and take full advantage of the anabolic window. I once had a guy tell me that he usually waited two hours before eating anything after training because he thought that he would burn more body fat if he did so.

Needless to say, I put a stop to that rather quickly. As I stated previously, this is a time when you WANT to feed the body. A quality post-workout drink containing at least a 2:1 ratio of carbs: protein would be a great start. (Opticen is a great choice) Liquid formulas are ideal at this juncture because they are absorbed by the body at a much faster rate than whole food sources and they serve three vital functions: replenishing depleted glycogen stores, promoting protein synthesis, and staving off further muscle protein catabolism (by restoring positive nitrogen balance). Ideally, you should drink half of these calories during your workout and the other half immediately afterward. Then, you should wait about an hour or so and have a whole food protein and carbohydrate (P&C) meal that will probably end up being your largest meal of the day. During my last bulking cycle, this meal would easily total 1200-1500 calories! Again, a good rule of thumb is to use a 2:1 ratio of carbs: protein. Options include pasta with chicken, oatmeal with whey protein, cold cereal with added whey protein and a piece of fruit, or a combination of everything! About two hours later, I would ingest yet another P&C meal, but with a ratio of around 1:1 (carbs: protein). As you can see, you will be eating the bulk of your daily calories during this time; this might scare some people, but you have to realize that your body will be using these calories for a specific purpose: getting BIG.

Disclaimer: If you are prone to storing fat easily, I would alter things slightly in that I would stick with the PWO drink, but use a 1:1 ratio with your first whole meal and then revert back to P+F meals from then on.

5. Thou Shalt Get Ample Rest

As impossible as it may seem for many of you, you need to make sure that you are getting ample rest at night in the form of a solid 7-9 hours per night. I’m sure many of you know how your performance plummets in the gym when you are dead-tired, so I don’t really need to elaborate any further about how imperative it is that you get enough rest. Also, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to try to get a short 20-30 minute “power-nap” at some point during the day (preferably right after a training session). Personally, I have found that this works wonders and helps with recovery. Additionally, many individuals get into the mindset that more is better and want to be in the gym every day. I’ll be honest and say that sometimes I have to force myself NOT to step foot in the gym. Incorporating planned back-off or active rest periods every 4-6 weeks is a great way to keep your body fresh and to stave off lingering injuries. I have found that most do well with just cutting their overall training volume in half (as most tend to overtrain due to volume) and keeping the intensity high during these weeks. This is highly individual, though, so you will just have to play around to see what works best for you. Either way, taking a planned back-off week every 4-6 weeks is a superb way to allow the body to heal and to come back even stronger than before.

6. Thou Shalt Eat at a Surplus

How many of you have heard the following a few hundred times: “Dude, I am eating all the time, but I just can’t put on any weight. What’s the deal?” Newsflash: you’re not eating enough; it’s as simple as that. Well, it isn’t entirely THAT simple, but assuming they aren’t being complete sissies in the gym, then yes, it is that simple. I know it sounds a bit hypocritical of me to be busting the chops of these people, but I like to consider it a healthy dose of “tough love.” If you want to get big, you have to eat big. Now, I am not saying you have to go out and eat fast food every day and down a half-gallon of ice cream every night, but you do need to eat at a caloric surplus to grow any significant amount of muscle. It takes calories to build and maintain muscle and if you’re not taking in enough calories to do so, then you’re just not going to get the results you want. Think of calories as a foundation. You can’t build a house without a solid foundation, right? Well, the same can be said of building a big and muscular body. Again, I am not a huge advocate of eating whatever you want, but rather I prefer “clean bulks,” where one attempts to limit fat gain. By using the foods listed in that article, I find that most do quite well in this regard.

How much should you eat? Everyone is different, but I feel a good starting point is adding 500 calories to your maintenance intake. To figure out your maintenance intake, a good starting point would be body weight x 15-18 (the leaner you are, the higher you can start). So, a “lean” 200-pound man would start his maintenance at 3600 calories (200×18) and eventually work up to a 500-calorie surplus of 4100 calories per day. I say eventually because one shouldn’t just go ahead and eat at a +500 surplus right away, especially if fat gain is a concern. Rather, gradually increase calories by 100-250 per day for a few weeks and gauge progress as you go. If you find that you’re putting on fat a little too fast, reduce calories. If you find things are progressing nicely, then I see no reason why you can’t gradually increase calories as you go.

7. Thou Shalt Train Often

The more times you stimulate a muscle to grow (given proper recovery, ample nutrition, and varying training stimuli), the more likely it is to grow. It’s an outdated, senseless concept to train a muscle group and then wait 7-10 days before you train it again. This is why many of the training programs you will find here on Wannabebig advocate that you train as often as possible without overtraining or persistently over-reaching. The key, however, is that you feel motivated to train and you use shorter, yet more frequent training sessions that emphasize compound lifts. Many of the routines you see in the popular muscle magazines are geared towards individuals who are using “help” and just have way too much volume for your average gym rat. More often than not, someone will attempt to follow one of those programs and be burnt out faster than you can say BALCO. Ideally, the best split is where you can train using short, frequent training sessions or programs designed by strength and conditioning coach Chad Waterbury. All of these programs use compound lifts, and most are designed in a way where you are training as often as you would like and provide a different training stimulus in each session to help stave off over training.

8. Thou Shalt Train With Like Individuals

Ask any power lifter whether or not it helps his strength or performance to train in an environment with other strong people, and he will more than likely retort with, “does a bear shit in the woods?” I know firsthand how much of a drag it can be to train in your typical commercial gym, where butt-blaster machines and 45 year-old women wearing pink spandex surround you (of course, with REO Speed wagon playing on the radio). There are times when I can literally feel the strength being sucked out of me as soon as I walk through the doors. I do a fairly good job at sucking it up and mustering enough motivation to train on my own on a daily basis. However, when I have the opportunity to train with a friend or with like-minded individuals, or in a facility that caters to the “non-wussified,” it is like night and day in terms of intensity and performance. This became quite apparent when I had the opportunity to train at Highland Strength and Fitness last summer just outside of Boston with several friends of mine. The gym itself was amazing and I was like a kid in a candy store with first-time access to a dead lift platform, glute-ham raise, reverse hyper, and all the goodies that come with a power lifting/strongman-designed gym. More importantly, guys who like to train hard and heavy surrounded me; you don’t find many housewives in your commercial gym that enjoy that! Even though I was training around injuries, I was able to set a personal best, with a rack pull for 575×2. Prior to this, I had never even attempted a rack pull over 500 lbs!

Needless to say, a training environment, where I was able to train with other people with similar goals made a HUGE difference for me. With that being said, try your best to get a training partner with similar goals or to train around people you know will push you and not allow you to back down from lifting heavy weights. Trust me, you will be surprised as how much it helps.

9. Thou Shalt Stick To the Gameplan

Raise your hand if this sounds familiar. You read about the latest “it” training program, get all fired up cause it fits your goals to a “T,” and then rush to the gym on Monday to try that puppy out. Then by the following week, you read about yet another program that is PERFECT, and decide to ditch the one you were doing and start the new one ASAP. The cycle repeats itself every two weeks or so and more often than not, you are left perplexed as to why you are not getting the results you want, even though you have been in the gym almost everyday busting your butt for the past six months.

I’ll admit that I have been a culprit of this in the past and I constantly come across individuals who do the same on a weekly basis. I understand that there are hundreds of quality programs out there designed to get you big and strong, but constantly switching from one to the other is just not a smart way to train and is more counterproductive than helpful. How do you expect to gain a true sense of progress if you are constantly switching programs faster than you can save money by switching to GEICO? The take-home message is to find a program that fits your goals and needs and STICK TO IT for the duration (most only last for 8 weeks, 12 at most). That new program you read about isn’t going anywhere and will be there when you complete your current one.

10. Thou Shalt Not Fear the Macronutrients

Because I am such a nice guy, I am going to take this time and tell you how much of each macronutrient you should try to shoot for when trying to add on size. I am not a big fan of trying to aim for a specific percentage of each because depending on one’s total caloric intake, doing so can equate to either too little of a particular macro, or too much. And besides, it is just a pain in the ass to do so. Rather, I prefer that one shoots for a specific gram total of each.

Protein: I see no reason to go above 1.25-1.5 grams per pound of body weight. Many bodybuilders tend to get in the mindset that the more protein you eat, the more muscle you grow, which is just not the case. Yes, you need to make sure that you are getting enough protein to ensure a positive nitrogen balance, but if you’re eating at a surplus it won’t necessarily matter where those extra calories are coming from in order to build more muscle mass. In other words, eat your carbs and fat.

I think a good number to shoot for would be 2.0-3.0 grams per pound of body weight. The approach I like to take is to ingest the higher number on training days and the lower number on non-training days (this usually just means subtracting your post-workout drink on days that you don’t train), but this can be highly individual. Of course, this number can be deflated a bit for less-lean individuals or for those who have a slower metabolism; for these individuals, about 1.5-2.0 grams per pound of bodyweight is more appropriate, but I think the above criteria would serve most well.

Fat: Simple. Fat will serve as a caloric ballast and make up the rest of your calories. All I will say here is that it would be in your best interest to make certain that you are ingesting “healthy” fats such as fish oil, flax oil, olive oil, natural peanut butter, mixed nuts, etc. These are in addition to the fats you will be ingesting naturally from your protein and carb sources.

So, for a 200-lb. person with a caloric goal of 4000 calories per day, a typical day would look something like this:

  • Protein: 200 x 1.5g/lb/BW= 300 grams. 300 x 4kcal per gram= 1200 calories from protein.
  • Carbohydrates: 200 x 2.0 g/lb/BW= 400 grams. 400 x 4 calories/g= 1600 calories from carbohydrates.

Note: this would represent a training day.

  • Fat: 1200 calories (protein) + 1600 calories (carbs)= 2800 calories. 4000-2800= 1200 calories from fat. 1200/9 calories/g= ~135 fat per day.

As the weeks progress, if one notices that they are putting a little too much fat on for their liking, I would say that decreasing carb intake would be a smart thing to do. Conversely, if one finds that their weight is holding steady, then I would add some more carbs and work their up way to the higher end of the spectrum listed above.

And That’s About It

So there you have it: the Ten Commandments for Becoming a Magnificent Mass Monster. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a monster per se, but I know that by following the above suggestions, I was able to put on close to 30 lbs. of lean body mass in only one year. To clarify, putting on mass is not an easy task and definitely takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and CONSISTENCY.

In all honesty, though, I just think that many tend to over analyze things and worry about the minutia to the point that their progress stagnates. Get your butt in the gym, lift heavy, use movements that will make you grow, eat a lot, get ample rest, and repeat.

Written by Tony Gentilcore

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