When I was a teen I didn’t want to eat and it showed. I was an imposing six-foot-one and 125 pounds of skin and bones. I was highly active with energy to spare, but knew nothing about the benefits of eating enough of the right kind of foods. It wasn’t until I started weight training to pack on some pounds that I found out the connection between my eating and my progress of eating as it applied to my progress. Once I discovered this eating took on a whole new meaning. I went through a lot of trial and error and not to mention growing up throughout those early years. Huge calorie-laden weight shakes, countless hours (up to three per day) in the gym, and all the food I could get my hands on. Ah, those were the days, when I could eat whatever I wanted and burn it off just by chewing!
Of course, looking back I could have done things a little differently. Sure, I was fortunate that as a kid my mother cooked a lot of healthy food, unlike today whereas fast food has become a staple of the American diet. But I still could have focused a little more on a few things and backed off of others. Now as I train many bodybuilders I see a lot of myself in them, especially the extremely thin ones who desperately want to pack on some serious muscle. It is always a great opportunity for me to show them the right ways to get there faster without some of the mistakes I have made. I have been down that road and done that, so it is always a pleasure to show others that I did it and that I am a living testimonial of a major transformation.
Below are some simple rules to follow, or better yet, rules I wished I had followed. These are not hard and fast rules but just basic guidelines to take in and modify if needed. I do think, however, they are very important in your quest to build an impressive physique. As always, please talk to a health professional before starting any program.
Rule 1: EAT!
I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked by others on how to gain muscle. I always answer back with a question; what are your eating habits? Nine times out of ten they are poor. They either eat a ton of junk food or not nearly enough food, period. In your mission to gain weight, you must EAT! You must eat enough all day every day and create a calorie surplus. This does not mean eat everything in sight, but just enough for your body to utilize for your rigorous workouts.
Rule 2: Eat Right
Make sure the food you intake is of healthy choices. Get in good carbohydrates such as cereals, oatmeal, rice, potatoes, pasta, wheat bread, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Choose healthy proteins such as turkey, chicken, beef, fish, skim milk, egg whites, and light cheeses. I would not worry too much about fats. If most of your diet is of the healthy variety and your goal is to gain weight, the fat content will take care of itself.
Rule 3: Eat Often
Looking back at my old habits, I was guilty of not eating often enough. I would many times skip breakfast and then eat a massive lunch and dinner. Two meals a day was not the best approach. When I began weight training I started eating three solid meals per day with two homemade supplement shakes in between. Talk about crazy! I would mix about three or four heaping spoonfuls of non-fat yogurt, about 5 egg whites, three or four cups of milk and then two scoops of cement-tasting protein powder. Blend it all up and I had myself a super mass 3000 muscle shake! Now, I do not recommend that in particular, whereas now there are so many great products on the market. But the point is to eat frequently with most meals being actual food and possibly a shake or two added to the mix.
A sample daily menu could look as simple as this:
- Breakfast: 1 bowl of oatmeal or healthy whole grain cereal with milk, banana, 1 glass of orange juice or milk.
- Midmorning: Protein shake.
- Lunch: One or two turkey sandwiches on wheat bread, piece of fruit or granola bar.
- Afternoon: 1 bowl of oatmeal or whole grain cereal or sandwich with natural peanut butter, glass of skim milk.
- Post-workout: Protein shake.
- Dinner: Chicken, beef or fish with pasta, rice, or potatoes.
Rule 4: TRAIN!
You will not gain muscle if you do not train. Not only that, but you will not gain muscle if you do not train hard! I cannot tell you how many times I look around the gym and see so many people playing on their cell phone and/or their MP3 player. So much time is wasted fooling with these devices that precious time is lost. These are the same individuals that tell me that they have tried everything and just cannot gain any muscle weight. Others simply are there to mingle, socialize, or just plain hang out. When you get to the gym, show up with a goal, show up to train, show up to train hard! Love going to the gym, love training, have fun training, but train! I used to think to myself: the longer I waited between sets after a certain amount of time my muscles would start to shrink. True or not it fired me up to lift hard and heavy on my next set.
Rule 5: Train Smart
Do not train just to train, train smart. When I started I was doing 30 plus sets per body part sometimes up to 40 while spending 3 to 3 ½ hours per day in the gym. I was grossly overtraining, but that is how we all did it back then. My training partner would do 40 plus sets for triceps alone! In this case more is definitely not better; however, I see a lot of guys barely do much in the gym worth anything. Not enough work, not enough intensity, and not enough attention to form and function. Do just enough to work the muscle properly and then leave. Too much of anything is bad for you so adjust your volume, reps, movements, and splits according to your specific needs.
I am a big believer of using your fast metabolism to your advantage. Whereas many have written before regarding “hardgainers” needing to train less often, rest a lot and so forth I am quite the opposite. I feel someone with a fast metabolism can workout more frequently due to there quick turn around to repair muscle tissue. If your nutrition is sound and consistent, there is no reason not to work every body part twice per week.
A good split can look like this:
Rule 6: Leave Your Ego At The Door
How much ya bench? Who cares! If your goals are not sport-specific then do not worry too much about being able to bench a lot of weight. Your goal should be to be strong all over. I was never a big bencher, but I could always curl a ton of weight. However, I was never worried about what others thought of my strength. My goals were to always push myself past my own limits, to challenge myself with every set and rep and to work toward realizing my own potential. Sure, push yourself, and sometimes max out and see where your strengths lie, but not at the expense of safety. Egos can sometimes get you hurt and cause an injury, taking months to repair.
Rule 7: Supplement Wisely
You see them everywhere: supplement ads. A supplement is just that: items in addition to your already well-rounded eating plan of solid food. Do not go overboard with powders, pills, and potions. They have their place in a program, but as a teen you may want to see how your body reacts first to good nutrition and hard training. After several years you may want to experiment to see which supplements will work for you. Rule of thumb: if you do decide to try a supplement do so one at a time, read the labels and take accordingly. If you have any questions ask a healthcare professional.
Rule 8: Rest
You grow when you are adequately rested. This means getting the recommended eight hours of sleep per night if not more. When your body is asleep it has the opportunity to repair and grow from that intense training session you did earlier. Lack of sleep equals less growth and improvement. Also, try getting in a 15 to 20 minute power nap before hitting the gym. It will recharge you and do wonders for your performance in the gym.
Rule 9: Seek Knowledge
Read about training, do your research and scrutinize everything. Just because it is written or said does not mean it is golden fact. Read articles on MuscleandStrength.com and ask questions in the forums. While ingesting all of this information you will form your own opinions, ideals and programs to fit your body and goals. Always seek to learn more.
Rule 10: Have Fun
Do not be a prisoner to the gym. Have fun. If you find yourself dreading the gym then back off a little, cut back on days per week you train for a while, relax a little more, and do whatever it takes to get that fire back. Your teen years should be great years to be spent being with your friends and being involved with school not living in the gym. Find a balance. Rely on your friends for support and invite them to train with you, but by all means have fun with it!