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Muscle Gain Math

So there is a fairly short list of topics that I keep meaning to write about and never seem to get around to (I’m running out of stuff to talk about).  Today is one of those since it addresses a question that gets asked fairly frequently.   And having officially released my Nutrition for Injury Recovery e-book, it’s time to finally get around to it.

That question has to do with what kind of calorie surplus is optimal for muscle gain.  That is, people continuously ask what kind of daily, or weekly, or monthly surplus is required to optimize muscle gain and hopefully avoid excessive fat gain.  And, at long last, having run out of podcasts to post links to for a bit, I want to address that question. Now I have mentioned this at least obliquely in earlier articles, primarily the one on the energy balance equation but I want to look at it more comprehensively here.  Basically to examine the factors that determine the actual calorie numbers that we are looking at for gains in muscle mass.

I want to make it clear that these numbers are not perfect.  Actually pinning down good values for them has been … Read More

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Muscle Growth and Post-Workout Nutrition

In recent years, there has been huge interest in the topic of around workout nutrition for promoting optimal gains in strength and muscle size (prior to that, most interest had to to with recovery from exhaustive endurance exercise).  And, as is so often the case, as research has developed, many ideas, some good and some bad, have developed out of that.

Early research into post-workout nutrition focused almost exclusively on endurance athletes and, really, the only issue of importance was refilling muscle glycogen and re-hydrating the athlete.  For this reason the focus was on carbohydrates and fluids with little else considered.  At some point, I recall it being the mid-90’s some early work suggested that adding protein to post-workout carbohydrates was beneficial in terms of glycogen re-synthesis and a new dietary trend started to form.

Now, it turns out to be a bit more complicated than that whether additional protein actually increases glycogen synthesis depends on a host of factors, primarily how much carbohydrate is provided.  Simply, if sufficient carbohydrate is given following training, adding protein has no further benefit in terms of promoting glycogen re-synthesis.

In situations where insufficient carbs are consumed (by choice or otherwise), extra protein helps.  … Read More

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Meal Frequency and Mass Gains

The issue of meal frequency for muscle mass gains would seem to be pretty well decided, right?  Bodybuilders have been pushing for 6 (or more) meals per day spread out every 2.5-3 hours for decades and this is taken as an almost de-facto requirement for success in terms of optimal mass gains.

Then again, the people who have used Intermittent Fasting (for examples, check out Martin Berkhan’s appear to be making exceedingly good progress in terms of muscle gain despite not eating for 14-16 hours during the day suggesting that perhaps the above dogma regarding meal frequency isn’t quite as well established as folks might think.

Now, I’ve discussed meal frequency previously, in terms of its effects on weight, body fat and body composition in the research review on Meal Frequency and Energy Balance and won’t rehash those points here.  Rather, what I want to discuss here is the potential impact of meal frequency on mass gains for athletes trying to increase muscle mass.

And since I covered the topic in exceeding detail in The Protein Book, I’m simply going to excerpt that section of that chapter.  I’d note that I cover a tremendous number of other … Read More

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The Baseline Diet 2009 – Part 2

In The Baseline Diet: Part 1, I discussed three of the primary aspects of the baseline diet: meal frequency, caloric intake and water intake and I want to recap here briefly.

In terms of meal frequency, a daily intake pattern of 4-6 meals (depending on such factors as size and caloric intake) should be sufficient for the majority of bodybuilders and athletes. There are, of course, going to be exceptions.

In terms of caloric intake, the biggest problem I see among most lifters (especially those who classify themselves as ‘hardgainers’) is that they don’t eat enough in total (this is often coupled with exceedingly poor training approaches). And since you can’t build muscle out of thin air and wishful thinking, that will limit results. A good starting point for calories, is 16-18 cal/lb but this will have to be adjusted based on real world changes in body composition. Some need much more and some may need less to avoid excessive fat gain.

Finally, water is intimately involved in just about every reaction in the body, and water/fluid intake should be kept high to ensure adequate hydration. A good rule of thumb to individualize water intake is that you should … Read More

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The Baseline Diet 2009: Part 1

Preamble: I originally wrote this piece 10 years ago and have done rewrites to it over the years as the knowledge base and my own opinions have changed about things.  I’d note that, the changes I’ve made over the years are fairly minor and I’m actually pleased with how well this has held up since I originally wrote it.

I find that lifters, especially new lifters often get so fixated on magic, complicated approaches to training and diet (including mine) that they forget to get the basics in place.  The simple fact is that the basics and fundamentals are where every diet and every training program should start.

Why?  Because they always work.  More advanced approaches should be brought in when they are needed, not just because the trainee is bored or wants to do them.

The bottom line is this:  Before you worry about advanced approaches, get your fundamentals straight. That’s what The Baseline Diet is all about.



I’m going to start this article with a few questions. How much mass have you gained in the last few months (or years as the case may be)? If you’re like the average lifter, the answer is assuredly ‘Not … Read More