Ask the Expert: How Can I Bulk Up?

Most of us want to lose weight, but what about those who want to get bigger? Skinny folks, trainers, and bodybuilders alike all know that, truth be told, getting big is hard. Over the years, some of the most frustrated clients I’ve ever worked with were those who were trying to put on mass.

man lifting weights

Getting big is hard, but it’s not impossible. Here’s how you do it.

“You See Something, You Eat It.”
This was one of the first lines I heard a bodybuilder utter about how he got so big. I’ve heard it repeated time and time again by those looking to gain. For sure, if you want to gain weight, you’ve got to eat more than you’re used to. But, now that we know more about performance eating and nutrient timing, the best way to increase your bulk isn’t to spend all afternoon gorging yourself at Arnold’s All-You-Can-Eat Buffet. Instead, by centering your diet around healthy, calorically-dense foods, you can get big without putting on the excess fat you see many bodybuilders carrying when they’re in the offseason.


Nutrient Timing
One of the easiest ways to get your body used to eating more than you’re comfortable with is to take advantage of the times of the day when it’s easier for your body to digest and utilize nutrients. I’ve broken your day into five basic periods of time. If your day doesn’t fit this exact model, focus on the concepts and adjust as necessary.

1. Pre-Preworkout. Don’t confuse this with the “preworkout” supplements you take right before training. In this context, I’m referring to all the hours of the day before you work out. To give you energy for your training session, focus on eating carbs (for energy) and protein (to maximize amino acid availability). Keep the amount of fat you ingest relatively low, as excess dietary fat will sit in your digestive tract and hinder your workout.

2. Intraworkout. These are supplements you take immediately before or during your workout that help you train harder. I’m not including food here because you should be eating plenty during the rest of the day, so you shouldn’t worry about running out of blood sugar and muscle glycogen during your training sessions unless they are longer than 90 minutes. The exception is simple carbs (or sugars) which are the foundation of most preworkout supplements because they absorb quickly, transporting the targeted nutrients I’m about to discuss.

What those targeted nutrients should be is a matter of debate and personal preference. Many people like caffeine and other stimulants prior to training. While the science around them is mainly solid, the effects vary, so start slow to see what works for you.

Nitric oxide, or NO, boosters are also popular. The science validating them is decent—and getting better—but keep in mind their role is to help you train harder. They won’t make you big. Your tests should be straightforward. If they improve your workouts then they are good. If not, you’re wasting money. Pretty simple.

Then there’s creatine, still one of the best supplements around for training. Generally, I recommend it postworkout, but you may prefer to take it during your workout as well. That’s fine. A personal trial is always recommended but this supplement’s been on the market for 30 years, under great scrutiny, and is still shining bright. Current research still shows that good old creatine monohydrate is the form that’s still the most effective.

B vitamins, amino acids, beta alanine, carnitine, et. al. are all popular preworkout ingredients with varying amounts of science showing effectiveness. Again, you need to make the call but keep in mind, as is the case with nitric oxide, these things are only working if your workouts are better. They are therefore very easy to test.

3. Postworkout. Here things start to get cool, as strategic recovery is where you can easily put away a lot of calories. First, you’ll want to drink a low-calorie post-exercise drink within 30 minutes of training. It should contain at least two parts carbs to one part protein and not exceed 250 calories. Your body can only process around 200 to 300 calories in a given hour, and excess calories will slow down the process of restoring your muscle glycogen, an absolute no-no if you want to see muscle growth and recover quickly.

This is also a great time to take more creatine and other targeted supplements because your insulin is spiking and you will utilize those nutrients very efficiently. One hour after your workout you should eat again. Now is a great time for a high-protein, high-fat smoothie that contains an insane number of calories and tons of nutrients. If you trained hard—and you’d better—your muscles will still be starving for nutrients and these calories should go down easy. This “starvation window” is something you’ll learn to greatly appreciate.

4. Evening Meal. This should be the inverse of breakfast (and possibly lunch if you didn’t train until later in the day). It should contain fewer carbs, mostly in the form of veggies, and much more fat and protein. Don’t eschew carbs altogether, just scale the meal, keeping in mind that you eat carbs for energy and you’re not going to be very active until the next day.

5. Before Bed. Recent studies have confirmed that the classic bodybuilder routine of consuming protein prior to bed can raise amino acid activity during sleep. If you’re a big guy (190 pounds or more), 40 grams of protein, preferably a slow protein (like casein), right before bed can help you recover faster than normal.

Even with a perfect strategy, eating more than your body wants is hard work. That was the hardest challenge for all of our Body Beast test group participants. But you really only have to do it once. Once your body is big, and used to being big, your caloric needs will level off to more manageable numbers.

When getting big is your ultimate goal, time under tension should be the focus of every workout that’s not recovery oriented. Time under tension is the amount of time your muscles are contracted during the workout. You want that amount of time to be as long as possible. This means slowing down your reps and focusing on form and muscle contraction. Time, not reps, is the key to training to get big. We only use reps for convenience. So the number of reps you target should be based on the speed you do them (for example, 5 slow reps might take just as long as 20 fast reps). For hypertrophy, or muscle growth, you want each set to include ideally around 1 minute of contraction.

Failure is essential. Time under tension only works if you are pushing yourself to the limit. You must add weight as you get stronger. If you never fail on a set then your workout was too easy. Add as much weight as you can safely handle. Every rep. Every set. Every workout.

There are too many strategies for targeting time under tension to go into here but you can tweak any weight-training workout to achieve it. This will be much easier to do if you are following a traditional weight-training program, like P90X or ChaLEAN Extreme. In the Beachbody lineup, Body Beast is, by far, the best training program for gaining mass since it’s designed specifically for that purpose.

It’s also vital to note that your body only has so much energy to expend and you need to strategize how it should be engaged. Adding a lot of cardio training or outside activity hurts your ability to get big because you are, essentially, wasting energy that could be used to add more weight to your time under tension goals. Every supporting workout that you do during a mass-gaining phase should be to aid recovery or reduce chances of injury. Anything else is taking your eye off of the prize.

Finally, don’t forget about sleep. It’s the best recovery aid there is. The perfect bulking scenario would have you sleeping whenever you weren’t training and eating. While impractical, you should consider this the ideal and try to get as much shut-eye as you can handle. Can’t sleep? Try these tips to get some rest.


When Will You See Results? Plus, Answers to More of Your Top Fitness Questions

By Steve Edwards


I’ve been asked a lot of questions over the course of my career, on topics as broad as a “before” picture on The Biggest Loser®. These vary from the most rudimentary, “Why should I work out?” to highly scientific, “What’s the best knee angle to activate my gluteus medius during a heel slide?” Without further ado, here are the top 10 fitness questions of all time (cue drum roll):

Couple Weight Lifting, another Couple Showing off  Weight Loss

  1. I’ve got a slight injury. Should I do my scheduled workout anyway?
    If you can do your workout without stressing the injury (in other words, so that it doesn’t hurt), then yes. However, that is very rarely the case. The vast majority of injuries, especially those we don’t see a doctor for, are soft tissue, which means you have a problem in a muscle, tendon, or ligament. Since most workouts utilize the body as a single unit, the answer is probably no.

    Training on an injury, at best, does not allow it to heal. More than likely, it makes an injury worse. In both instances, you’ve got a scenario where your hard work is likely going to all be for nothing. So, why would you roll those dice?

    Pain is your guide for soft tissue injuries. Basically, as long as you can train pain-free you’ve got a green light. As soon as an injury starts to hurt, even in the slightest, further engagement will likely make the situation worse. If you don’t know the difference between good pain (muscle soreness/cardiovascular toil) and bad pain (injury), please consult your doctor. It will make your fitness journey so much easier.

  1. Why should I do yoga?
    Woman Doing a Yoga PoseThis used to be higher on the list but people are starting to get the message: yoga is incredibly good for you. There’s a good reason it’s been around for thousands of years. Yoga trains all of the muscles in the body to work in harmony. This does not just include voluntary muscles (prime mover and stabilizer) but involuntary muscles (smooth and cardiac) as well, resulting in a workout that’s more like a full-body tonic than a sweat or pump fest. A regular yoga practice almost ensures that you’ll age gracefully.
  1. Why do I need to stretch?
    This one is a little more controversial than yoga, which is mainly because stretching has a lot of variations and some seem to offer little benefit. In a holistic sense, however, stretching has similar benefits of yoga if you’re following some type of exercise program. Most exercise causes the muscles to contract over and over. After exercise, stretching elongates muscle fibers, essentially resetting the muscle so that it’s supple and ready for further bouts of contraction. This is not disputed. The only controversy about stretching is how much you need to stay healthy, which becomes a sub-category as diverse as how to best exercise or eat. The bottom line, and all you need to know at this stage, is that some stretching after exercise will help you recover faster and lessen the likelihood of getting injured.
  1. Do I need to warm up and cool down?
    Cooling down is mainly covered in number 8, as stretching out your contracted muscle fibers is a part of it. There are a few more factors, like helping your body slow its heart rate and circulatory processes to thwart blood pooling, but most of this is accomplished without trying, as long as, say, you don’t finish repeated 100-meter sprints by sitting at a desk for hours. Luckily your desk and the track aren’t next to each other, forcing a cooldown. With that in mind, you might not want to skip to cooldown of P90X2® PAP because your desk might, in fact, be next to your living room.

    As far as warming up, it gets your blood circulating and increases the viscosity of other bodily fluids (known as thixotropy), all of which works as a defense system against injury as your workout hits its intensity stride.

    Warming up and cooling down, while not absolutely essential, are simply smart things to do.

  1. How do I put on mass?
    Man about to work outThis question used to be a blip on our radar. Over the years, Beachbody® has created so many fit bodies that individual sculpting has become a very popular subject. I guess once you’re thin and fit the obvious evolution is to look like Hercules. It’s harder than it sounds.

    Losing weight seems hard but it’s technically quite easy. If you change your habits and become healthy, weight will naturally fall off because living in gravity is easier if you’re smaller. Being large is the opposite. Not only do you have to train like an Olympian, but you also need to eat like a lumberjack.

    When you break down muscle tissue—the goal of any bodybuilder—you need to eat to repair it. The catch-22 is that your body, in anticipation, raises its metabolism in order to repair the damage and keep you at an efficient weight for fighting gravity. Being big takes extra effort because you’ve got to outeat your body’s natural response. You need to train hard, eat a ton, and most of all stay consistent when your body start to rebel. For more on this subject, read The Book of Beast .   SPECIAL LOW PRICE RIGHT NOW. Challenge Pack is only $170 and comes with all your Supplements and DVD’s.  Order Belowbody-beast-challenge-pack-buyORDER ONLY THE DVD’s ON SALE NOW:  ONLY $39.90 was $89.95

  1. How often do I need to work out?
    I’ve gotten a lot of iterations of this question, including this one: “At what point can you stop working out? You can’t tell me that Tony Horton and Steve Edwards still need to work out in order to look like that!”

    How often we need to work out depends on how hard and how long we work out, as well as what our goals are. These are huge variables since, obviously, if you want to win the Tour de France® you’re going to need more exercise than if you just want to participate in the company softball game without getting injured. The only rule is that, aside from what the questioner above believes, we need to exercise in order to keep our bodies healthy and running well.

    There is no set time. There is no set volume or intensity everyone must follow. Diet matters too. The better you eat, the less you need to exercise in order to stay thin. A person who is not overweight and eats well can probably do as little as 30 minutes of exercise a day, including just being mobile, to stay healthy. However, more and more scientific evidence shows that some amount of high-intensity exercise keeps us healthy and offsets aging. I would say, for optimal health, people should get at least 15 minutes of intense daily exercise in addition to plenty of easy day-to-day tasks like walking, chores, etc.

  1. How do I know how much weight to lift?
    Failure is your friend. If you go through an entire workout and never fail on a set, then you’re not using enough weight. Conversely you also don’t want to fail on every set. This requires some explanation.

    Man spotting for weight-lifting womanWe use repetitions as an easy way to execute what’s called “time under tension.” Monitoring time under tension is how we gauge how a workout trains your body. The number of repetitions you do should be gauged by the point at which you fail. Few repetitions (using heavier weights) train strength. Many repetitions train endurance. In between lies the sweet spot for what most of us are targeting, muscle growth (known as hypertrophy). Muscle growth, as you’ll see later, is the key for both getting smaller and bigger because it increases your metabolism and burns calories.

    There are many reasons to target different repetitions but most of Beachbody’s programs target hypertrophy or endurance, which is why the people in the cast are usually doing between 8 and 20 repetitions of an exercise. Here’s how to lift the “right” amount of weight.

    Once you can do, say, 20 repetitions of an exercise (or whatever is the peak of your target range) with a given weight, add more weight so that you can only do 8 to 10 (or the bottom of your target range) before you fail. Once you reach the top of your target range again, it’s time to add more. This is called progressive overload and it is the key to getting great results out of your exercise program.

  1. How often do I need to train my abs to get a six-pack?
    This is a two-part answer. The first is that your six-pack has very little to do with how much you train your abs. A visual six pack come from having a low body fat percentage and the best way to do that is to train your entire body, not just your abs—in fact, it’s nearly impossible to get a six-pack only training your abs. This is why we create full body exercise programs, even if “abs” is a part of the title.

    The second is that you don’t need to, nor should you, train your ab muscles every day. The muscles in your core have a higher percentage of red or slow twitch muscle fibers, meaning you can train them more often than many areas of your body, but they still respond best by having high-intensity training days followed by rest days. There is no good reason to do ab work more than 3 or 4 times per week.

  1. Is weight training or cardio better for weight loss?
    Both are great. If I could only choose one it would be circuit weight training (which also trains your cardiovascular system), but thankfully we don’t have to choose one. The best training programs address every system of your body. Not just by lifting weights and doing “cardio,” but by systematically using resistance and cardio workouts to train the various sub areas under those two modalities (power, endurance, hypertrophy, aerobic efficiency, anaerobic threshold, and so forth). The more systems of the body you train simultaneously, the easier it is to force adaptations and, thus, body composition changes.
  1. When will I begin to see results?
    Person Icing up the footWhile there is no accurate timetable to seeing results you can generally feel results happening on day one. Are you sore? Results are coming. Are you hungry? Ditto. As your body adapts to exercise, you are making internal changes, meaning results are on the way. Your body will resist the change. That’s because its natural defense (law of homeostasis) is to protect the state it’s in, even if that state is unhealthy. Its response to this is to fight it with hormonal releases. How well it adapts varies with every single individual, which is why we are constantly advising people not to look at their scale all the time and, instead, trust measurements and pictures. Some people start seeing results in a few days. Others may take many weeks. And none of that matters because the healthy lifestyle will always win in the end. If you keep at it, train hard, and eat well, your body will—absolutely, as it has no choice—change over time. Stay consistent for long enough and you’ll look like a Greek statue. It’s a physiological law