We’re all for autonomy, and we’re deep believers in free will, but sometimes there’s nothing better than being told what to do. Making your own choices all the time is liberating … and a huge amount of work — particularly when self-doubt enters the picture. “Am I doing the right thing? Am I making the right choices?” Well, hardgainers — and anyone else who wants to add some quality mass — get ready to take orders. In the next few pages, we’re going to take all the guesswork out of gaining mass and will give you the exact recipe for an average day: what to eat, what to take and when to get big.
What follows is the ideal one-day meal plan for a workout day on a mass-gain diet. (On rest days, omit the preworkout and postworkout meals and replace with a midafternoon snack similar in composition to the midmorning snack.) To make this plan easy to adopt, we’ve included a breakdown of calories and protein, carb and fat content for each meal, though it’s more critical to meet the daily totals than make every meal match what we’ve created. (There are two meals — preworkout and postworkout — that have stricter guidelines. Also note that you should move these two meals according to your particular workout schedule.)
As a rule of thumb, you should be eating 20 calories per pound of bodyweight, and protein and carb intake is calculated in a similar way. Protein intake should be between 1.5 and 2 grams per pound (so 270 to 360 grams per day for our hypothetical 180-pound person), and carbs should be no more than 2 grams per pound (360 grams per day for the same guy). There is no harm in following a diet like this one as long as it helps you reach your mass goals, but definitely stick with it for at least two months to give yourself a chance to see significant increases.
6:00 a.m.: Wake Up
Take: 3 to 5 g nitric-oxide (NO) booster
Notes: There are two reasons for having an NO booster waiting on your bedside table. One is that you need to take a lot of it throughout the day, so starting early ensures that you’ll meet your totals. And two, the amino acid arginine found in NO boosters is required by other systems in the body. Taking it on an entirely empty stomach increases the likelihood that more of it will be available to do what it does best for muscles: dilate blood vessels to allow more nutrients to get to muscle tissue and improve muscle recovery, muscle growth and strength.
6:30 a.m.: Pre-Breakfast
Eat: 1 scoop whey protein, 1 banana (190 calories, 21 g protein, 28 g carbs, 0 g fat)
Take: 500 to 1,000 mg vitamin C, 5 g branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), 3 to 5 g glutamine, 1 to 1.5 g carnitine
Notes: After sleeping for (hopefully) seven-plus hours, your body is in a fragile state. It has most likely resorted to catabolism (breaking down muscle mass) because you haven’t eaten since the previous night, so returning your body to an anabolic state, in which it builds up muscle mass, is your top priority. Two nutrients will help put an end to catabolism: fast-acting amino acids and fructose. A whey protein shake, being a liquid, doesn’t have to undergo much digestion in the body before its aminos are released and travel to muscle tissue. Meanwhile, though the banana is a whole food, and therefore does require some digestion, it contains large amounts of fructose, which unlike glucose needs to be metabolized by the liver. Because catabolism is controlled by the level of glycogen stored in the liver (too low and catabolism begins), sending fructose there quickly refills glycogen stores and ends catabolism.
On the supplement front, taking vitamin C will protect the NO levels you boosted a half-hour before. BCAAs are the three aminos (leucine, isoleucine and valine) most critical to promoting anabolism, while glutamine also promotes muscle growth (not to mention immune function and digestion) and carnitine boosts the number of testosterone receptors on muscle cells, meaning your muscles can make better use of the amount of testosterone you already have circulating in your body.
8:00 a.m.: Breakfast
Eat: 3 eggs plus 3 egg whites (scrambled), 2 cups cooked oatmeal, 1 ounce almonds (736 calories, 48 g
Take: 1 multivitamin, 1,000 IU vitamin D, 2 to 3 g conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
Notes: Like all the rest of the day’s main meals, breakfast is composed of high-quality protein, whole-grain carbs and healthy fats. Taking a multivitamin ensures that you meet all your daily vitamin and mineral needs, but because there’s a limit to how much of each that companies can fit in one pill, we recommend taking supplemental doses of certain vitamins.
Take vitamin D, for example. Most multivitamins only include the Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamin D, which scientists now agree is well below what the body needs. Vitamin D is implicated in improving bone health and reducing the risk of diseases like cancer and multiple sclerosis, but it also binds to receptors on muscle tissue and boosts protein synthesis and how well muscles contract — both of which will have a positive effect on mass. And CLA influences fat-burning and muscle growth.
10:00 a.m.: Midmorning Snack
Eat: 8 ounces low-fat (1%) cottage cheese, 1 cup sliced pineapple, 5 Ak-Mak whole-wheat crackers, 2 tablespoons peanut butter (546 calories, 42 g protein, 51 g carbs, 20 g fat)
Notes: With protein (cottage cheese), slow-digesting carbs (pineapple, crackers) and healthy fats (peanut butter) all present and accounted for, this snack may seem more like a meal. The goal, though, is not just to fill your belly but also to get in the right kind of calories in the right amounts.
Eat: 4 slices whole-wheat bread, 8 ounces deli turkey meat, 1 medium sliced tomato, 1 tablespoon light mayonnaise, 2 cups salad, 1 tablespoon olive oil and vinegar salad dressing, 1 medium peach (714 calories, 61 g protein, 79 g carbs, 17 g fat)
Take: 2 to 3 g CLA
Notes: You’ll see that CLA makes another appearance at this meal because it, too, like nitric oxide, is a supplement that is required in large doses and therefore should be split up throughout the day. It’s known primarily for its ability to reduce body fat (particularly in the abdominal area), but several studies have also shown that taking CLA can increase lean mass, i.e., grow muscles, too.
4:00 p.m.: 90 Minutes Preworkout
Take: 200 to 400 mg caffeine, 3 to 5 g NO booster
Notes: The preworkout period is yet another critical nutrition window. Preparing your body for the training to come can be the difference between a killer workout and a waste of time, and the prep starts early. Caffeine not only increases alertness but also increases strength and reduces the pain that hard workouts can induce. Equally important is another dose of the NO booster, which will dilate blood vessels to allow protein and other nutrients to reach your muscle tissue.
5:00 p.m.: 30 Minutes Preworkout
Eat: 1 scoop whey protein powder, 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce (186 calories, 20 g protein, 26 g carbs, 0 g fat)
Take: 1.5 to 3 g carnitine, 5 g glutamine, 5 to 10 g BCAAs, 500 to 1,000 mg vitamin C, 3 to 5 g creatine
Notes: Thirty minutes before working out, feed your body about 20 grams of fast-digesting protein and about 20 grams of slow-digesting carbs. This will ensure that you have ample energy to complete the type of workout necessary to help build the mass you’re after and also that your muscles will be well-stocked with protein. We’ve already told you about most of the supplements you’re taking here, but you should note that creatine increases the amount of fluid in muscle cells, which actually spurs them to grow permanently.
7:00 p.m.: Postworkout
Eat: 1 scoop whey protein powder, 1 scoop casein protein powder, 2 slices white bread, 2 tablespoons jelly (449 calories, 47 g protein, 59 g carbs, 3 g fat)
Take: 5 to 10 g BCAAs, 1.5 to 3 g carnitine, 5 g glutamine
Notes: After workouts, your body needs at least 40 grams of protein and between 60 and 100 grams of carbs. Contrary to every previously held exercise science belief, slow-digesting casein protein is now recommended as a postworkout protein because research has shown that taking it in a 1:1 ratio with whey protein after workouts increases lean mass. Meanwhile, the postworkout period is the time to get in all the fast-digesting carbs you’ve been craving. They jack up insulin levels, which in turn propel all that protein into the muscle cells to begin the work of fixing all the micro-tears your workout created. Our menu here is fairly sedate, so substitute angel food cake or jelly beans if you’re looking to quiet your sweet tooth while promoting muscle recovery.
The supplements should look familiar by now, and taken after workouts, they will aid in recovery and growth. Glutamine, like creatine, adds volume to muscle cells, which will increase their size. BCAAs can add to the insulin surge you’ll get from the fast carbs, and having a surplus in your body will further boost muscle growth.
8:00 p.m.: Dinner
Eat: 8 ounces top sirloin, 1 large sweet potato, 1 cup chopped broccoli, 2 cups salad, 1 tablespoon olive oil and vinegar salad dressing (595 calories, 58 g protein, 51 g carbs, 16 g fat)
Take: 2 to 3 g fish oil, 2 to 3 g CLA
Notes: Like all the meals on this plan, dinner includes lean protein (yes, steak can be lean — you just have to be careful on which cuts to buy) and slow-digesting carbs. Sweet potatoes, unlike their white counterpart, are not only slow-digesting but also full of beneficial vitamins, like beta-carotene.
Taking healthy fats with meals is essential because they require fat to be absorbed. Fish oil, which contains omega-3 fatty acids, promotes cardiovascular health, but it can also prevent muscle breakdown and boost growth. CLA is also a healthy fat, so taking more with meals ensures optimal absorption.
10:00 p.m.: One Hour Before Bedtime
Take: 1 dose ZMA
Notes: ZMA stands for zinc magnesium asparatate, and taking those two minerals together replenishes any that your body has lost through sweating. It works best on an empty stomach, and magnesium promotes sleep, which is why you take it before bed. It also aids recovery so that you don’t risk overtraining, and boosts the levels of key anabolic hormones, always good things to have flowing through your circulatory system.
11:00 p.m.: Bedtime
Eat: 1 scoop casein protein, 1 tablespoon peanut butter (214 calories, 27 g protein, 7 g carbs, 9 g fat)
Take: 5 to 10 g glutamine
Notes: At bedtime, the goal is to avoid foods that may be stored as fat (i.e., carbs) while focusing on foods that will prevent catabolism for as long as possible through the night (i.e., protein). Protein is essential, and casein is the primary choice because it is not immediately broken down by the body. Eating healthy fats with it will further slow digestion.
In addition to its other benefits, glutamine can also increase growth-hormone levels, so taking it before bed can maximize those levels overnight, when they’re naturally highest.
Avoiding Aches and Pains
This mass-gain day constitutes a recipe of sorts, one that if followed will yield major mass gains. But there’s one element missing — the training. Eating well is critical, but without the gym, little mass will be made. However, training hard is associated with bumps and bruises on top of the regular old soreness that comes from a hard workout. Keeping a handle on inflammation — and pain — resulting from those types of everyday injuries is critical to avoiding overtraining.
One solution: The centuries-old homeopathic remedy arnica, which has anti-inflammatory and anti-swelling effects and can be a counterirritant, drawing circulation to affected areas. Whether used topically as an ointment or dissolved under the tongue as a tablet, arnica can keep you in the gym longer and more consistently.