Monthly Archives: January 2011

How Easy Is It to Gain 10 Pounds of Fat in 10 days?

Answer: too easy

Granted, the following is a fictitious example but it’s done for illustration purposes. If I keep my moderate activity level and burn off 2500 calories per day, and it takes approximately 3500 extra calories to store one pound of fat (assuming all extra calories go to fat storage), I’d need to eat 6000 calories a day to gain one pound of fat. In 10 days of doing this I’d gain 10 pounds of fat.

This is a sample “day” but obviously there can be more variety totaling the same amount. Other than making yourself sick, you will also retain a lot of water weight given the extra salt.

Daily Diet

McDonald’s: 3 Big Macs = 1620 calories

Wendy’s: 3 Large Orders Natural Cut Fries = 1560 calories

7 Good Humor Ice Cream Sandwiches, Vanilla = 963 calories

Peanut Butter M&M’s, 12.7 oz. package (Medium) = 1870 calories

Total: 6013 calories

If I did this for 10 days I’d gain approximately 10 pounds of fat. An important point, however, is that fat is rarely gained in consecutive days (unless you’re on a long vacation, you’re Morgan Spurlock in Supersize Me, or a competitive athlete rebounding from a very low body fat level). In most cases, fat weight is gradually increased over time. A birthday here, holiday there, company dinner, etc. Unless you’re actively counterbalancing these occasions with days of significant deficits, you may wonder how it happened or fall into the excuse of, “I’m just getting old.”

On the bright side, it’s never too late to steer things in your favor.

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How Many Calories To Gain Muscle?

Do a search on how to grow bigger muscles, and the advice is usually the same: you need plenty of protein and calories to grow muscle. Some even say you need a massive excess of calories to grow bigger muscles.

On the other hand, it is well-proven that an excess of calories leads to fat storage. So why is it that excess calories somehow grows bigger muscles? It cannot be the training that “directs” the extra calories into muscle storage instead of fat. After all, there are legions of powerlifters and football linemen who still carry liberal fat deposits, despite their hard training.

You cannot "force-feed" yourself to grow bigger muscles

I’m the slender-type (naturally thin build) and more than once I’ve tried the bulking concept: plenty of protein (more than 1 gram per pound of bodyweight) and calories (up to 5000 a day). I supplemented religiously. I was training hard and consistently like a  power-builder. I tried it both “clean” and “dirty” (healthy foods vs. not-so-healthy junk foods). After 6 months of this I’d end up with a 34″ waist on a small frame and be smooth as a baby (no definition).

Barring genetic complications,  there are three things that significantly increase muscle mass:

  1. Growth spurts (infancy and adolescence)
  2. Chronic mechanical loading (weight training)
  3. Chemical alteration (anabolic steroids and growth factors)

#3 is usually a hidden piece of the misinformation puzzle. You probably need plenty of calories if you’re on several types of steroids and growth hormone, but for the natural athlete, too many calories will only make you fat. You might look big in a T-shirt, but when the shirt comes off, and there is no definition anywhere, then much of the weight gained was fat.

In fact, a beginning steroid user may gain upwards of 20-30 pounds of lean weight or more in a matter of weeks. More weight is gained exponentially as the doses increase and other drugs are added in (HGH, Insulin, IGF-1, etc.). Bodybuilding competitors at the national and pro level are supreme examples of genetically altered physiology. However, it is not without negative effects.

Weight training builds muscle

Muscles are like a well-designed machine: they “remodel” based on their function but only to the extent that is necessary to perform that function. In the case of weight training, they only grow big enough to match the weight loads that they need to lift and support. Your body is very efficient and comically massive muscles are very inefficient, unless you are injecting yourself with super-human doses of drugs.

Other ways to grow muscle may be illegal and come with negative side effects

Whereas muscles model according to function, fat cells expand or shrink based on energy balance (calories in vs. out). So additional calories beyond what your body requires only leads to fat storage.

So how many calories do you need to build muscle?

Enough to prevent starvation. In other words, enough to prevent the consumption of your lean mass once fat stores are depleted. The last part of that sentence is crucial. As long as you have fat stored on your body,they can be used to meet your calorie requirements. Even protein requirements of the human body are not much and many are recycled.

So if you’re natural (drug-free) and hell-bent on gaining muscle mass, you can do two things:

  1. Train with weights to enlarge existing muscle fibers.
  2. Manipulate your caloric intake (up or down) based on how lean you want to be.

You cannot eat more to grow bigger muscles, otherwise the obese population would be hyper-muscular instead of fat if all they did was train.

It’s All About Proportions

Pleasing proportions invoke primal reactions

J.P. Morgan said, “A [person] always has two reasons for doing things: a good reason and the real reason.”

Likewise, despite claims to the contrary, I’m confident that more than 90% of people work out to look better.

I’ll also make the bold generality (but not guarantee) that women often want to be smaller and men usually want to be bigger. In fact, many women who start a training program are afraid of getting “big”, and men who diet to get lean are afraid of getting “small”. This typically translates as women not wanting to be overly muscular and men not wanting to appear under-muscled.

I will argue that’s it’s not primarily size that creates a visual impact, but proportions. Think of a Ferrari: if you’re wowed by its visual appeal, do you really wonder how much it weighs or what its dimensions are? Or when getting  a new hairstyle, do you measure how much hair is cut away?

Imagine having wide shoulders but an even wider waist. Your shoulders would appear narrow no matter how wide your shoulders are. In contrast, a person with an average shoulder width may appear wider if they have a small waist. It’s an optical illusion.

What’s the point of gaining 20 pounds if it all goes to your belly and backside? Likewise, what’s the point of fitting into the smallest size if there are no curves to the body?

Beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, and proportions. If you have genetically large, muscular calves for example, consider yourself blessed. Once you get lean enough to reveal them fully, you will get the”diamond” shape that people envy (consequently, the inner calf curve is one of the most visually appealing curves of the body).

Take home point: for maximum aesthetic appeal, train to maximize your muscular development. Structure your caloric intake to stay reasonably lean. Let your genetics determine the rest. The most pleasing look will be you at your best!

Eat What You Want and Trim Down

Bold statement but nevertheless true.

What is not true is that you can eat however much you want and lose weight. You still have to be in a calorie deficit.

Of course I love a consistent diet of what’s generally considered “healthy food” (fruits and vegetables) but food serves many purposes, and unless you have a very strong personal reason for avoiding certain food items, why deny yourself in the long term? You are only bound to fail.

Instead, build your weight/body fat reduction plan around what you prefer, then systematically find places you can cut down.

Like a big, juicy restaurant burger? Try going hungry most of the day, exercise, and save up for that high-calorie meal.

Looking forward to dessert? Then forget the balanced meal and go straight for the doughnuts, cookies, cake or pie; whatever it is.

Dieting doesn’t have to make you miserable. You do need to be 100% conscious of the calories you’re consuming (most establishments are making this very easy), and you need to get used to feeling hungry occasionally (which is not that bad). If  you’ve ever been so distracted you forgot to eat, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

One warning: some food items may give you the “cannot eat just one” phenomenon, and it’s best to avoid these items. For example, if I eat one Skinny Cow ice cream sandwich, I will end up eating the whole pack of 7, knocking back over 900 calories in probably 10 minutes. So I don’t eat any.

You have an infinite variety of choices, anyway.

Don’t wait. Start now.

Overestimating Muscle Mass

Happy 2011! As far as New Year’s Resolutions go, it’s common to want to get in better shape. Some even aspire to be “ripped” like the models on the cover of fitness magazines.

In fact, almost everyone wants to get lean but not too muscular. I have news for you: you’re not as muscular as you think. That’s not meant to discourage you, but as a reality check.

I can assure you because I’ve seen it with my own eyes: getting six-pack lean requires massive weight loss, and invariably the loss of inches. The common perception that you can “sculpt” the body to be the same size but better proportions is false. Imagine creating a sculpture from a hunk of clay – you’ll need to remove a lot of clay to get the finished product.

If you have a moderate amount of body fat, take 20-30 pounds off your current body weight and 2-3 inches off the waist (and a little bit from other areas), and that’s the size you’ll be cover-model lean. And fitness models aren’t small people, either. If you’re up close in person with one you’ll get an idea of the proportions, it’s pretty nuts. And we’re not even talking about the huge bodybuilders.

So do yourself a favor and embrace the beauty of fully developed muscle mass. It’s what you’ll have left when you decide to lean out.