When the winter is fast approaching most “normal” folks prepare to add on more and more layers of clothing, but us gym rats turn our attention to adding more and more layers of muscle! With cooler temperatures comes the time to begin packing away more (quality) calories, push/pull heavier iron, and force the numbers on the bathroom scale to move constantly upward. Tank tops and shorts are out and baggy shirts and sweats are in. Thus, few worry too much about body fat percentage, and concentrate purely on trying to take up more space.
That said, there are no good reasons to let yourself get overly sloppy, as mounds of muscle can be added without having your belly challenge the waistband of your underwear – just as long as you take an intelligent approach to your training, supplementation and diet.
Although there is nothing wrong with indulging in a weekly cheat meal, if you are serious about your progress it is best to increase calories from quality proteins, carbs and fats. Staples in your diet should be steak, chicken, eggs, salmon, whey/casein protein powder, rice, Quinoa oatmeal, potatoes, whole grain breads, fruit, nuts, olive oil, and avocado.
When it comes to mass gaining I feel it far more effective to consume 6-7 moderately sized meals per day than 3-4 large ones. Eating every two hours or so will aid in keeping the stomach from bloating and being stretched, as well as enhance nutrient absorption and efficiency of digestion.
Carbohydrates are vital to maximizing muscle growth as they help to spare the use of amino acids for energy (allowing them to be utilized for muscle repair/protein synthesis), keep cortisol levels at bay, and ignite insulin (a highly anabolic hormone) release. In my experience, by doubling normal carbohydrate intake at breakfast and the post-workout meal one can greatly aid hypertrophy without causing too much fat gain (as it is at these specific meals that insulin tends to push nutrients toward muscle, and not fat, cells).
I highly recommend that your daily protein intake be split evenly between each of your 6-7 daily “feedings.” Do the best you can to vary your protein sources at each meal in order to create a more balanced pool of amino acids in your system. Because of the fast-acting nature (and high leucine content) of whey protein, this is your best source of this nutrient at the post-workout meal. Casein is absorbed rather slowly, which makes it an excellent protein choice before sleep.
I cannot tell you just how vital essential fatty acids are in enhancing one’s health and ability to build new muscle tissue. Those who claim, “Eating fat makes you fat,” do not have a clear understanding of nutrition or how the human body functions. What has worked very well for me over my career is to have a large serving of EFA’s, along with protein, at my pre-workout meal, and my last feeding before bed. Note: I generally do not eat additional fats at meals where I am consuming a decent portion of carbs, as I have found that doing so can increase body fat levels.
Only when one’s diet and training are on point do nutritional supplements become a valuable addition to a hypertrophy-driven regimen. And while there are dozens of ingredients to choose from, I have found only a handful to be truly effective when it comes to getting huge! I recommend the use of creatine, beta-alanine, HMB, Ursolic acid, Phosphatidic acid, L-Leucine, fish oil, BCAA’s, betaine, citrulline malate, and/or phosphatidylserine as part of an intelligent and efficient supplementation protocol.
Muscles do not grow while we are in the gym pounding on them! They grow while we are at rest, and especially during sleep. I can promise you that no matter how hard you train and how many calories you swallow, you will not make significant gains in muscle if you are not sleeping at least 7-8 hours per night, as well as resting your body at every possible opportunity.
Obviously the goal during the winter is adding muscle size, strength and bodyweight. However, that does not mean completely neglecting cardio. While there is no need to be doing hour-long sessions daily, I recommend at least 15-20 min of medium-paced, steady-state cardio after every weight training session in order to keep your heart healthy, burn calories in the form of fat, and bolster the appetite. In other words, moderate amounts of cardio will aid us in efforts rather than hinder us.
While I firmly believe that every exercise has value when it comes to building muscle, there is little doubt that multi-joint, free-weight movements are at the top of the list for stimulating hypertrophy and increasing one’s strength and power. During your winter mass-gaining phase, focus most of you efforts on exercises like squats, leg presses, deadlifts, bentover rows, overhead presses, pullups, dips, bench presses, upright rows, and incline presses.
There are several really effective training protocols and strategies out there, several of which I have already written about. However, for the purpose of this article, there are just some general recommendations I have that will make certain each of you are reaching your mass-gaining potential this winter:
- Lift weights no more than 4 times per week, such as Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday
- Make sure your workouts are no longer than 90 minutes in duration from first to final rep
- Hit every major muscle group once per week with all-out intensity and concentration
- Focus on the negative contraction during each rep, never letting the weight simply drop to the starting position
- Attempt to reach positive muscle failure on every working set in the range of approximately 8-12 reps
Now go out there, bundle up and get BIG!
BY ERIC BROSER