Eating with a Purpose: Mass Gaining

Hello readers,

Before, we covered general diet guidelines: basic building blocks any good diet can start on. Those were:

  1. Hit your macros: eat for your goals, and stick to it
  2. Drink plenty of water
  3. Eat your fruits and veggies
  4. Avoid processed foods
  5. Avoid sugars
  6. Don’t get rid of all fat in your diet
  7. Starches are both carb-rich and sometimes even a good source of protein
  8. Make up your mind about grains and be consistent

In case you didn’t read those, I am linking them here and here.

So what now? Now, as I told a friend recently seeking advice for beginning lifters, at this point in the choose-your-own adventure novel, you do what to some lifters is the scariest part: you choose your path. However, just like with those novels, if it doesn’t work out… you can go back and choose another goal. So do some research, choose your fitness goal and thus your diet goal, and move forward. Time is wasting and you could be making gains.

But really, back up.
Don’t worry. It’s just his cheat day.

Did you choose weight gain?
Keep reading.

Did you choose weight loss?
Check back soon for a new blog post.

For those who have spent even a short amount of time in the gym, reading fitness message boards, and/or hanging out and talking with other fitness-minded friends… you’ve most likely heard the term “bulking.” Bulking generally refers to mass and weight gain in general, with the assumed sub-goal of not putting on too much fat in the process.

Seen Above: BULK and Skull
Seen Above: BULK and Skull

Now, there are two types of bulking. Messy bulking… and clean bulking. Messy is weight gain through pure caloric consumption, with less regard to protein/carb/fat ratios. The goal is solely to gain weight. Even if 25% of it is fat. You will still gain strength, but you probably won’t be winning any bodybuilding competitions. If that is your goal, continue to read… but mainly you just need to use your calorie and macro calculator, stick to general principles of pre/post-workout protein consumption , and stay tuned for a later article about routine programming to make gains. The rest of this article will mostly pertain to those trying to clean bulk. A clean bulk is a bulk with the goal of gaining weight, while staying lean. Many people will messy bulk and then slim down. By clean bulking, you gain weight slowly, but steadily and don’t risk a loss in workout intensity and volume by shredding pounds after a messy bulk. As stated before, since a bulk can fit workouts for hypertrophy (muscle volume/large muscles) and maximal strength (powerlifting/high one-three rep maxes), this article just focuses on diet. Later articles will focus on different exercise methods and programming.

The Blob: Clean Bulk (left), Messy Bulk (right)

The Rules of the Mass Gain:

  1. EAT MORE – Eat more calories than you expend
  2. SKIMP ON FAT, BUT DON’T LOSE IT –  Limit your fat intake to about 15%
  3. SAVE YOUR PROTEIN –  Save your protein for muscle synthesis
  4. BURN CARBS – Use your carbs and fat for energy
  5. DRINK YOUR GAINS – Consume your post-workout protein shake within 30 minutes of your work-out
  6. LIFT – Your body may be gaining weight, but your muscles need stimulation to grow
  7. LIMIT CARDIO – But don’t eliminate it
  8. SLEEP – Get a solid amount of sleep (7-8)
  9. YOU DO YOU – Know your body and it’s strengths, weakness and limits
Dem's the Rules
Dem’s the Rules

Eat More

Broken down to the basics, weight loss and weight gain are simple. To lose weight, eat less calories than you expend daily. To gain weight, eat more calories than you expend daily. I’ll use myself as an example. On average, I weigh 200 pounds. I’m male, 28 years old, and 5’9″. I have a very high level of physical activity between Army mandated exercise, movement at work and my personal workouts. Per the calorie calculator I mentioned earlier, these are my targets. Obviously, when you figure yours out, vet it through multiple calculators to be sure.

Yup. I eat to survive.
Yup. I eat to survive.

Skimp on Fat, but Don’t Lose It

Various health and fitness organizations and institutes will recommend different amounts of fat intake. NASM recommends up to 30%, while others will recommend a maximum of 15% of daily caloric intake. Personally, I strive to maintain a 50% Protein, 35% Carbs, 15% Fat diet. The point is, your body needs fat to think, survive… and as the first fuel source to burn. You want your body to burn fat > carbs > protein. 

Save Your Protein/Burn Your Carbs

As mentioned in the fat section, you want your body to burn fat first and protein last. Part of the reasoning is that fat and carbs make for better fuel. Every gram of fat is worth 9 calories. Carbs are worth 4, but are healthier for you and don’t immediately lead to health problems. Finally, protein is worth 4, just like carbs… but protein is used to rebuild the muscle that is torn during exercise. However, if the body burns through your consumed fat and carbs, protein can be converted to a source of energy… and fat.

In case you haven't seen the commercial... SPOILER... they like protein.
In case you haven’t seen the commercial… SPOILER… they like protein.

Drink Your Gains

Protein requirements can be met by normal meals and plant/meat consumption. But it can also be (and might need to be augmented with protein powder. It’s a quick and convenient way to meet your daily needs. Every gym bro and even well-meaning friends will all have different ideas for you on how much protein you should consume. As Greg points out over at, the ideal amount hovers around .82g/lb, per the studies mentioned in this article.

Following this, while you do need to space your protein intake throughout the day, protein consumption post-workout will yield high protein uptake. However, some research has shown that drinking your protein before a workout, or even up to several hours after, can yield similar if not better results. A pre-workout shake can even yield a 30% better results. Personally, I consume part of my protein shake before, and part of it after.

Another prime time to consume protein is when you first wake up, in order to kickstart your metabolism for the rest of the day.


I probably shouldn’t have to explain this, but… workout. All of these dietary guidelines and general recommendations don’t mean much if there is no muscle being torn down to rebuild and grow, and energy expended, and fat burned. Plus, if you’re reading this and not lifting, I’m just confused.

Selfie, anyone?

Limit Cardio

Lifting is not the opposite of cardio. One can and does help the other. But if you’re serious about making massive gains without it taking forever, your cardio does need to be limited. Basically, if calories, carbs, fat, protein, rest time, and sleep are all your resources for recovering from the strain of working out, then by doing cardio on the side you are using those for cardio and thus eating into your pool of resources. Cardio burns fat and carbs much more efficiently than lifting does. In other words, you might have to double your food intake, rest time and sleep time. And at some point the return on that investment is no longer profitable or even breaks even.


Sleep is when your muscle recovers and builds. Your muscle doesn’t grow during the workout. Sure, you may get a “pump,” but any lasting changes won’t occur without sleep. During exercise, you tear muscle. During sleep, your body takes all the nutrients you’ve consumed and repairs that torn muscle, but bigger and better. 7-8 hours is ideal, and 5.5 is a minimum. Muscle growth occurs during the first few hours of sleep. It’s most important that you get quality sleep. To assist with this, since I know I have sleep issues, I take melatonin before I go to bed.

Finally… YOU DO YOU. All of these rules and suggestions are great for the average person with average goals for average amounts of time based on studies and research taken from someone who isn’t you. As many of my lifting friends have pointed out, they don’t always need to drink protein shakes to gain weight or muscle. Some people build muscle quicker, or make strength gains easier. Some need less sleep. Some need more. Not only are we all physically built differently, but our jobs and schedules and families and lifestyle choices affect our mood and how our bodies respond to other stimuli.

Stick to these general ideas, with wiggle room to be you (with careful monitoring), and work your tail off, and gains are almost always possible.

If HE can gain... so can you.
If HE can gain… so can you.

Until Next Time

Jacob Summers (SuperSoldier) is not a medical expert in the fields of nutrition or fitness. The opinions expressed here, while researched and vetted against some professionals, are still just the opinions of Jacob Summers as a result of personal experience with himself and those who have sought help from him.

2 thoughts on “Eating with a Purpose: Mass Gaining

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