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The First Key to Old School Success: Eat Like A King

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The First Key to Old School Success: Eat like a King, by Tim Donahey

Many people initially blame their workout routine for their lack of muscle growth when they should be blaming their diet.  If you aren’t gaining weight then even the best exercise routine will fail to add muscle to your frame.

If you were building a house, you could have the best possible design plans on the market, but if you don’t have the necessary raw materials to build it out of, you will have no way of translating those designs into reality.  You can’t build a house out of blueprints any more than you can build your body out of workout routines!  You need raw material to build it out of and for you that raw material is always going to be food.  Avoid these 6 common dieting mistakes and it will pay dividends on your muscle building goals.

6 Common Diet Mistakes

1. You Don’t Consume Enough Food

When it comes to deciding what sort of materials to put into your body, quantity trumps quality.  I don’t care if you buy all of your food organic from your local farmer’s market or get free range grass-fed prime rib, if you aren’t eating enough of it to fuel growth you still won’t grow.  If your goal is growth then you will have better success by eating 5 lbs of ground round cooked in lard than you would eating one $60 top sirloin steak.  Am I recommending that you eat your meals, breakfast lunch and dinner, at McDonald’s?  No!  If you can eat an abundance of quality food, then more power to you, but if you have to choose between quality or quantity, choose quantity.  Here’s why.  The untrained body requires a set amount of calories to maintain equilibrium (to stay the same), the body in training requires that same amount plus the number of calories that were burned to maintain equilibrium. That means if Johnny Noob’s body burns 2000 cals per day just sitting on his ass, and it burns 2500 cals when he adds in an hour long workout, then eating 2500 will only succeed in keeping John the same size, regardless of the quality of his diet. In order for Johnny (or YOU) to gain 1 lb of bodyweight in a week he must increase his caloric intake by 500 cals. per day in addition to his caloric needs of maintaining equilibrium. So if Johnny wants to gain 1 lb by Sunday, he’ll need to eat 3000 cals. per day starting Monday. If Sunday comes and Johnny still weighs the same, he needs to eat an additional 500 cals. per day, and so on.  Now, if Johnny does this for a few weeks, but all he gains is fat, then is the time to start modifying his workout programming.

2.  You Don’t Consume Real Food

If the last diet mistake was too little quantity, this mistake is too little quality.  The biggest culprit for most trainees is the so-called “powdered weight gainer.”  Weight gainer is powdered crap.  Would you take a tub of your own whey protein and dump about 12 cups of sugar into it? Cuz that’s basically what weight gainer is. Take a look at how many grams of sugar are in a serving, chances are that it has 30+ grams of sugar in it.  Sugar is not real food.  Not all weight gainers are that way, but most are.  If you want to save your money and make an effective weight gaining shake with all real foods, do this:  2 cups whole milk, 2 scoops whey, ¼ – ½ cup of oat flour or blended oats (use a food processor or coffee grinder), 2 TBS of peanut butter, and a banana.  This works out to be about 950 cals and about 33% carbs, 33% protein, and 33% fat.  It’s healthy, filling, delicious, and cheap.

To take this notion of eating “real” food 12 steps further, I’ll cite a portion from an important book called In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, by Micheal Pollan.

Michael Pollan’s Twelve Commandments for Serious Eaters

1. Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
2. Avoid foods containing ingredients you can’t pronounce.
3. Don’t eat anything that won’t eventually rot.
4. Avoid food products that carry health claims.
5. Shop the peripheries of the supermarket; stay out of the middle.

6. Better yet, buy food somewhere else: the farmers’ market or CSA.
7. Pay more, eat less.
8. Eat a wide variety of species.
9. Eat food from animals that eat grass.
10. Cook, and if you can, grow some of your own food.
11. Eat meals and eat them only at tables.
12. Eat deliberately, with other people whenever possible, and always with pleasure.

Some of these commandments apply more toward weight training than others – the bolded ones – but they are all good rules of thumb for smarter eating.

3. You Don’t Consume Enough (any) Fats

Newsflash: Fat does not make you fat. (Eating too much while doing too little does). Fat is absolutely crucial if you want to add muscular bodyweight. Fat is responsible for delivering essential vitamins (A, D, E and K) throughout the body and in rebuilding cell walls, and there are essential fatty acids that our body’s cannot produce on their own and must be ingested to maintain vitality. Not only that, but a low fat diet can increase insulin production which results in greater fat storage.  Yes, skipping the dietary fat can increase bodily fat.  Plus it is an easy way to dramatically increase your caloric intake (remember: quantity!) and getting enough cals to promote growth without them would be difficult. That said, you should be ingesting predominantly healthy fats and avoid Trans fats at all costs. Fatty foods that you should be consuming everyday, or rotating throughout the week include: nuts, seeds, avocados, peanut butter, whole eggs, whole milk, fish/flax seed oil and olive oil.  Try to get at least 25% of your cals from fat, less than that could impair your gains.

4. You Don’t Consume Enough Protein

Protein is what your body needs to synthesize muscle, if you get too little of it, you’re curtailing your muscle gains. A pretty safe way to estimate how much protein you need is to calculate 1 gram per lb of current bodyweight, or 1 gram per pound of desired bodyweight. Say Johnny Noob weighs 150 lbs and wants to gain 20 lbs, he should eat 170 grams of protein per day. To give you some idea of how much that is in terms of food, it would take a 21 oz sirloin strip steak, or 28 large eggs, or 1.4 gallons of whole milk for Johnny to get enough protein. When you consider everything you eat throughout the course of a day, and the limitless combination of food, 170 grams is really quite doable. But even so, it could be difficult. This is why you should have at least one protein shake a day. Most protein powders contain about 20-25 grams of protein per scoop, so 2 scoops in 2 cups of milk will knock out a considerable chunk of your daily protein requirements. Add in plenty of dead animal, eggs, and a few handfuls of nuts, and you’ll be well on your way.

5. You Consume Too Much Protein

Wait, didn’t I just say that the problem was too little protein? Yes, but here’s the thing. For every novice trainee that gets too little protein there is another who consumes nothing but protein, usually in the form of the aforementioned protein shake or weight gainer. Many trainees are of the mindset that when it comes to protein, more=better. They go for 2x or even 3x the “1 gram per 1 pound of protein” suggestion with the impression that they will gain 2x or 3x the muscle. Truth is that the human body cannot assimilate unlimited amounts of protein, and anything above that is converted to simple carbs and fatty acids and either burned or stored as fat. In the process of converting the protein, the kidneys kick into overdrive to filter out any waste products that are left behind, which are subsequently pissed or crapped out. There is some evidence that this process can deplete the bodies stores of calcium or could over strain the kidneys of an individual with kidney problems! It is certainly better to get a little too much protein than way too little, but anything beyond 1.5xbodyweight of protein will be a crap shot.

Another problem is getting too much protein from one source. If you’re getting the majority of your protein from powder for example, you’re severely limiting the variety of proteins that you should be consuming. Every source of protein, whether it’s soy, milk, yogurt, beef, fish, nuts or eggs is not equal and each offers a variation in both it’s nutritional profile, how well it is digested, and how well it is synthesized by the body. Your best bet is not to have all your eggs in one basket and instead get an assortment of proteins from a variety of food sources. This will ensure you get a more balanced diet and well rounded muscle building effect.

6. You’re Not Drinking Whole Milk

Whole milk is truly amazing stuff. It is affordable, readily available, requires no special preparation, contains everything that a body needs for growth, is unparalleled for muscle building and overall development, and best of all it avoids all of the 6 common diet mistakes. Mammals are the most evolved class of animal on the planet, and it is no mistake that the one trait we all seem to share is the consumption of whole milk. I won’t say much about it now because I intend to write a longer entry about it in the future, but take my word for it; drink at least 2 cups a day of honest to goodness whole milk and rest assured your muscles will thank you.

Bottom line: Diet is solely responsible for weight gain (or loss), exercise programming is responsible for whether that weight gain (or loss) is fat or muscle.

Tim Donahey
Tim Donahey is a competitive raw powerlifter in the USAPL and maintains the Starting Strength Wiki.
  • bob Aug 26,2009 at 7:20 pm

    thankyou very much for taking the time to write such a wonderful article. the biggest suprise was that you wern’t trying to sell anything.

  • Tim Donahey | Muscle and Brawn. Jun 11,2009 at 2:34 pm

    […] –The First key to Old School Success: Eat Like a King […]

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