First off I have to say I am amazed that I was finally able to gain so much muscle/fat weight in general, I am very much a hard gainer when it comes to both gaining muscle or even getting fat.
My geek to freak workout was basically:
- Going 2 times at the gym per week for 10-15 minutes each
- Eating A LOT 6 days a week
- Not eating 1 day a week until 1-3 hours before bed (24 hour fast)
- A few (probably optional) supplements, ALA (before big meals) and BCAA’s (on fasting days) that you can find easily online or at local stores.
Honestly I have been wondering for years how to put on weight, yet my weight simply was not moving (up or down! Yeah the its hard for me to get fat part is a quality problem, but it also meant I cant gain muscle). Despite years of training at the gym, sometimes 5 days a week for 1 year, I always reached a strength plateau and my weight barely was moving (I’ve been at 155 pounds +/- 2% all my adult life). At best, I was cutting towards a six pack but without the muscle tone overall that I wanted. I later on tried the body by science ideas (big workout until exhaustion once a week) and similar ideas from the 4 hour body, but figuring the best way to gain muscle seemed to elude me …
After re-reading the 4 hour body a few months ago, a certain part from the author, Tim Ferris, hit me “the most common problems for trainees who plateau is NOT EATING ENOUGH“. I thought I was eating a lot since I eat mostly “paleo” (no processed foods, high fat, medium/high protein, medium clean carbs such as white rice and sweet potatoes) and always eat until not hungry but I was wrong! And so I decided to try again and this time I got results!
But for a skinny guy like me, I pretty much have to eat until I feel sick while doing this, forcing my body to store calories and by doing these short (but demanding workouts) of around 15 minutes, I get most of it to go to my muscles instead of belly. Also, this proved to me how wrong a lot of naysayers saying its not possible to gain muscle with such a lot amount of time at the gym (~15 minutes 2 times a week) or how you need to use steroids or something. I still have a lot of room to grow and cut for the perfect “before and after” pictures but I wanted to post a midpoint post.
All this is described in more details below
Here are some end of phase 1 before/after pictures.
In terms of muscle tone its harder to see on these pictures as you can see more muscle before since I was skinny and low % body fat while now I have more fat in my body but its hiding my muscles which gained even more weight than what I gained from fat. Phase 2 starting today (for a future blog post) is, I want to gain another 5-10 pounds and then cut on the fat I gained (you can see my belly is a big bigger/more full in the “after” pics on the right).
I did things FAR from perfect, everyday as I was still drinking a lot on weekends and in month 2 even during the week. It is definitely possible to get better results, especially if you have better genetics than me for weight building (not too hard).
What I did, gym time/food … And 24 hour fasting…!?
So first off I did exactly the geek to freak workout protocol from the 4 hour body, which is 2 big compound movements per workout done 5 secs up and 5 secs down until exhaustion, with the goal of reaching 70 seconds under load (7 reps). If I do more than 70 seconds, I add more weight next time. If I do less, I usually note it and do it again next week. 3 minutes break between the 2 or 3 workouts a day.
So if done perfect its exercise 1 until you cannot move the weight and hold it until you can’t, 3 min break, exercise 2 go until you can’t move, leave and go eat a huge meal.
The time at gym is very minimal but you have to focus on giving it 110% and not “quitting” too early on an exercise.
I customized my workout towards what I had available in my limited gym in Bangkok that was part of my condo.
Workout 1 (usually Sunday)
“9” on the machine to “11”
This is something I need to work on or replace as an exercise, my gains here were very minimal
Dumbbell shoulder press
30 lb to 45lb
45 pounds dumbells each hand, 14 reps to 50 pounds dumbells (max in gym) 20 reps.
I did lunges as a bonus to have SOME leg exercise here, as I did not have a squat rack or leg press machine. Workout 1 will be improved in phase 2 by adding squats.
Workout 2 (Usually Thursday)
Bench press machine
I had no spotter or else I would have used a barbell. On the Machine I went from “13” to “15” which was the max available and became way easy… I am going to a new gym now with real numbers on the weights.
27.5kg on each side to 40kg on each side + Barbell
Obviously, be careful with deadlifts, but from years at the gym I do it without injuring myself so this was the perfect big movement exercise for me since I can push myself a lot without worry about injury from the weight falling down on me.
Eating like a pig, and more
I eat a LOT, way past when I am not hungry. I wake up in the morning with coffee + butter/coconut milk (no sugar!), eat a big portion of meat (beef or chicken) + 1 portion of veggies (usually brocoli or spinach).
I repeat big portion of meat + veggies for lunch, sometimes with white rice or sweet potatoes, same for dinner. I cook things with butter or coconut oil. As for fruits I pretty much ate blueberries and bananas whenever I felt like it.
I ate a lot of this “healthy” ice cream with tons of fat to stack on calories when eating normal food gets too boring.
Whenever possible I add fermented foods like Kim chi and sauerkraut to help with digestion, something I learned might be useful in this post for weight building. If anything, fermented foods have healthy bacteria so its still a good lifestyle choice (and kimchi is delicious).
Intermittent fasting once a week (24 hours of no eating)
From the same previously mentioned post, I got the idea of doing 1 day of intermittent fasting (IF) a week to not only give my body 1 day of “low calories” to reset insulin sensitivity but also to burn some of the extra fat I accumulated during the week. This means I make sure I stop eating at 10pm the previous nigh, wake up in the morning with coffee, BCAA (more on supplements later) and do not eat until 10pm again. I’ve been doing IF for years every now and then and honestly I love it for productivity beyond the health benefits of intermittent fasting that a lot of bloggers talk about.
For obvious reasons I usually timed these the day before I was going back to the gym, to make sure I had a few days worth of nutrients already fixing my torn down muscle fibers.
Supplements I took
Besides my normal supplements (Vitamin D which is very important, magnesium since most of us are deficient and vitamin C which is risk free with good benefits) that I take everyday and are explained in detail here, here are my (very few and not exotic) best supplements for muscle growth that I used.
– I took R-Alpha Lipoic Acid before meals to minimize fat gains. ALA (Alpha Lipoic Acid) which Tim Ferris recommends in the 4 hour body is also effective but is technically S-ALA and R-ALA in a 50/50 ratio to minimize costs. S-ALA is synthetic and badly absorbed but makes ALA supplements less expensive. I made a post on ALA specifically and You can find a good summary with sources here on this. Anyway I went the more expensive R-ALA route because I have to take the supplement a lot (usually my 2 biggest meals a day) and I wanted to minimize potential side effects from the synthetic ALA. R-ALA Amazon link for USA people and here is the iherb link for international folks (use coupon IFI934 for $10 off).
– I took BCAA’s (brain chain amino acids) to minimize the chance of losing muscle mass on fasting days while not interrupting the fasting the same way eating protein would. You can see a study on this here. While I don’t take BCAAs on normal days since I eat so much protein, I do think based on studies such as this they are helpful in not making me lose lean muscle mass on the 1 day a week I skip 2 meals. Amazon link for USA people and here is the iherb link for international folks.
– Protein powder on no specific time schedule… Simply whenever I felt I did not each enough in a day. I chose the true whey brand because it sa protein powder made specifically to be used as a protein powder and not simply made as a derivative of making cheese like normal protein powder. The benefits are a less “burned” powder which even if it does not impact the protein absorption, it definitely has more minerals (calcium) and other good things if you look at the nutrition label. Also the cows are grass fed (aka normal food) instead of grain fed. Amazon link for USA people and here is the iherb link for international folks.
On Muscle memory
While Tim Ferris gained 30+ pounds in 1 month, I do believe he had some muscle memory advantage in doing so (which I view as a good thing) from doing it in the past which is also a reason I went through this protocol as I figured once I reach my ideal weight, it will forever be easier for me to get back to it in the future, thanks to muscle memory AND experience. I made some mistakes along the way that slowed me down, especially in month #2, but next time I will have experience and muscle memory on my side. This was done also while having a “normal life” for me, which means 2-3 times drinking a week, my results could have been better
The downside of gaining muscle mass weight so fast
Its very time consuming to prepare and eat so much food so I cant do this my entire life but for now, my goal is to go even higher (185-190 pounds and than cut on the extra fat in my belly that increased a bit as you can see in the pictures) because once I reach higher strength goals it will be forever easier for my body to re-acquire those muscles if I do lose a bit while traveling or what not.
Mistakes/improvements I made that I will “fix” in the next phase + in the future if I go back from 155 pounds
It will be way easier for me to redo this process in the future thanks to a few key changes, especially #2. Here are a few tips for when you guys try to gain muscle mass.
1) The easiest change was a quality of life thing, its better to over eat early in the day than a few hours before bed, because that can make it harder to fall asleep.
2) A mistake I made was in month 2 I slacked off a bit on the overeating all week (barely any days I felt “sick” from eating too much) AND I started partying a lot again, 3 nights a week. I had a lot of exercises that I did not make gains for 1-2 weeks during month 2 (wasted a lot of time). Alcohol intake personally severely lowers how much food I eat in a day since I am not hungry while drinking and 2) go to bed without cooking any big meal. This is of course in addition to whatever problems alcohol might have on muscle recovery/repair. My strength gains were plateauing until I realized this and will now resume overeating for another 5-10 pounds then go towards losing fat while keeping my muscle mass (much easier for me, as I will describe later).
3) I was testing the benefits of infrared saunas and this caused some problems such as 1) burning more calories so I might have needed to eat even more and 2) I once did a session before a workout and I was considerably weaker than usual due to my muscles having been “stressed” an hour before in the sauna, big mistake and a waste of a week …
Onwards to Phase 2/Round 2. More muscle, less fat!
So while I definitely made some great growth progress for a skinny guy like me I still want to gain a bit more muscle and then focus on cutting some of the excess fat I gained. This has definitely been the best way to gain muscle for me so I will keep going, I just finished a 2 week break and am starting at from 80kg. I will do another post with the changes I’ve done and see if I can keep up the growth!