18 August 2011

Can't Gain Weight? Guess What- You're Doing It Wrong #3

This man's "health drink" consisted of a shot of gin and raw egg in a stout beer with some sugar added, and he lifted more on his off day with one hand than you can lift with both on your best. Coincidence?

Having covered myriad weight gain diets used by champion lifters throughout the last hundred years, a couple of prominent themes rose to the surface:
  1. all diets should be protein-centric. No true muscular weight gain can take place without making massive protein consumption one's primary goal.
  2. one's diet should be high in animal fats. Fats seemed to comprise the caloric majority of all of the diets I outlined and seem to play a vital role in muscular weight gain and strength training in general.
  3. a proper weight gain diet contains what would appear to a casual observer to be a ludicrous number of calories.
I believe I've found the perfect meal.

The utility of protein in any weight trainer's diet has been covered ad nauseam by myself and others, and hardly seems worth revisiting. Should you find yourself without the requisite knowledge on the subject to proceed, check out these sources for more information (here, here, and here). In short, without devoting a considerable portion of your diet to high-quality protein sources, you will not grow. Additionally, high levels of protein consumption is positively correlated with bone mass (Cooper et al), inversely correlated with serum concentrations of sex hormone-binding globulin (the shit in your blood that prevents your testosterone from binding to your receptors, aka "shit in your blood that sucks")(Longcope et al), may improve athletic performance, and despite vast amounts of negative press based on ancient studies (Campbell et al), do not negatively affect renal function.(Ibid)  Rob Faigin devoted half of his epic, must read book to protein, so it's got to be good, right?
Conversely, high fat diets have received either mixed reviews in the press or overwhelmingly negative reviews, but are rarely portrayed as anything but highly dangerous and possibly insane.  In my investigation, however, fat is the unsung hero of strongmen.  The utility of a diet high in animal fats is perhaps the most interesting theme running through the diets of sundry strongmen, and bears further investigation. If you'd care to briefly revisit the previous installments, you'll notice that every last one of those motherfuckers ate saturated fat like they were persistence hunting a coronary. Though I doubt any of them knew it, the inclusion of massive amounts of fat in the diet has been shown to markedly increase testosterone levels. According to a 1982 study, high fat diets resulted in markedly improved serum testosterone concentrations when compared with low fat diets. Additionally, the switch from one diet to the other caused test levels to change accordingly. In this study, dietary percentages of fat and carbohydrates ranged from 25%-40% and 45%-57%, respectively, and the results showed for the first time that a high fiber, low-fat diet significantly "reduces the biologically active, free testosterone in serum. (Hamalainen et al)
Perfect snack for those parties ranging from the awkwardly feminine to the possibly Canadian.

Another study was conducted in 2004 on the subject that made things a bit more interesting by comparing the effect of fat intake on strength athletes to non-athletes, and found that there was a significant correlation between testosterone levels and saturated fat intake in the strength athletes. (Sallinen et al)  This finding was especially interesting given the stated comparison, and would seem to corroborate the incidental correlation between the supermen I've outlined in this series and their diets.  This correlation was found to exist even more impressively in another Penn State study in 1994, which showed that the correlation between dietary fat and testosterone levels is even higher than the correlation between weight training (albeit a fairly ridiculous program of jump squats and bench pressing).(Volek et al)  The result of both studies, however, is the theory that "dietary fat and protein intake may lead to [positive] alterations in the regulation of the endocrine system during prolonged strength training" and that "saturated fatty acids and monounsaturated fatty acids are strongly associated with serum basal testosterone concentrations."  (Sallinen)  In short- if you train your ass off and eat a lot of saturated fat, your body will reward you for stuffing yourself with wings and beef ribs with lower overall bodyfat, harder erections, more physical strength, better mental health, and a whole host of other health benefits.(Kvorning et al, Men's Health, Kvorning et al, Svartberg et al)
Boom.  Testosterone raised, motherfuckers.

Finally, as JM Blakely stated so succinctly, "Remember - If you want to beat the man, you've gotta out-eat the man!" I am perhaps among the worst of the strength training community in over-analyzing the role diet plays in strength building, but I can find absolutely no fault with this statement. Certainly it bears mentioning that there are some caveats to this rule, and that the composition of one's diet is just as important as its volume, but volume is a generally ignored issue in weight gain, amusing as that sounds. Thus, if you find that you cannot gain weight, it's likely how much you are eating as opposed to what- the "what" only enters into play when examining the kind of weight you're gaining.  Thus, if you want to gain weight, you need to line up protein-rich foods and attack them like you're Kobayashi in an eating competition with Galactus.
Fucker would probably win, too.

The themes consistent across these strongmen's lifestyles actually extend further than their voracious appetites and amusing food choices.  Not surprisingly, most or all of the superhumanly strong motherfuckers I've mentioned in their series made mention of the necessity of making like a modern-day Rip Van Winkle.  Anderson stated outright that more than 8 hours was necessary, Hepburn apparently found 10 hours was the golden amount (Katterle), Pat Casey agreed with Hepburn (Casey), and Arthur Saxon got at least 8 hours a night. (Gaudreau)  Most of them mentioned the importance of sleep in terms of recovery, and should thus be a consideration for the lot of you as well.  Amusingly, I get a multitude of questions regarding the necessity of sleep, in spite of the fact that I've made my opinion on the subject fairly plain.  As such, here's a blanket answer to the question "is there a way around the sleep issue?"  NO.  There is not.  
Better hit up the nearest gay guy for some GHB or jump a fratboy and steal his roofies (which is probably a good plan even if you're not having any trouble sleeping-who needs a reason to fuck up a frat boy?).  
No time for sleep?  
Make some.  
You can't?  
I guess you're fucked, then.

The last trend I noticed in my research was the propensity for these trainers to stay in the "5 reps or less range".  Saxon, Anderson, and Hepburn all seemed to favor 1-3 reps, and the only person who consistently seemed to train at a higher rep range than 5 on a regular basis was Ed Coan, who would venture into the 6-8 range.  I've mentioned previously my problems with the rep range breakdowns in terms of their efficacy for certain goals, but I found this to be a nice bit of anecdotal evidence to support my supposition that the conventionally accepted ideas about rep ranges and hypertrophy are total horseshit.  I'll touch more on this issue in a future blog, so this anecdotal evidence will have to suffice for now.

  • eat more protein and saturated fat.
  • lift very heavy
  • get a bare minimum of eight hours sleep.
I never claimed it was rocket science- these are not men who spent a lot of time dithering about shit.

  • Booties brought to you by Alexis Texas.
     Campbell B, Kreider RB, Ziegenfuss T, La Bounty P, Roberts M, Burke D, Landis J, Lopez H, Antonio J.  International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007 Sep 26;4:8.
     Casey, Pat.  I'm Going to Bench Press 600 Pounds!  http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2010/12/im-going-to-bench-press-600-pounds-pat.html
     Cooper C, Atkinson EJ, Hensrud DD, Wahner HW, O'Fallon WM, Riggs BL, Melton LJ. Dietary protein intake and bone mass in women. Calcified Tissue Intl. 1996 58(5) 320-325.
     Faigin, Rob.  Natural Hormonal Enhancement.  Cedar Mountain:  Extique, 2000.
     Katterle, Sean. Doug Hepburn's Raw Strength. http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2009/02/doug-hepburns-raw-strength-sean.html
     Kvorning T, Andersen M, Brixen K, Madsen K.  Suppression of endogenous testosterone production attenuates the response to strength training: a randomized, placebo-controlled, and blinded intervention study.  Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2006 Dec;291(6):E1325-32. Epub 2006 Jul 25.  http://ajpendo.physiology.org/content/291/6/E1325.full.pdf+html
     Longcope C, Feldman HA, McKinlay JB, Araujo AB. Diet and sex hormone-binding globulin. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2000 Jan;85(1):293-6.
     Men's Health.  The Hardness Factor.  http://www.menshealth.com/health/hardness-factor
     Sallinen J, Pakarinen A, Ahtiainen J, Kraemer WJ, Volek JS, H√§kkinen K.Relationship between diet and serum anabolic hormone responses to heavy-resistance exercise in men.  Int J Sports Med. 2004 Nov;25(8):627-33.
     Svartberg J, Agledahl I, Figenschau Y, Sildnes T, Waterloo K, Jorde R.  Testosterone treatment in elderly men with subnormal testosterone levels improves body composition and BMD in the hip.  Int J Impot Res. 2008 Jul-Aug;20(4):378-87. Epub 2008 May 15.
     Volek JS, Kraemer WJ, Bush JA, Incledon T, Boetes M.  Testosterone and cortisol in relationship to dietary nutrients and resistance exercise.  J Appl Physiol. 1997 Jan;82(1):49-54.


  1. Nice. I've enjoyed this series. I would like to add that there is no evidence to support the hypothesis that saturated fat is inherently bad for you.

    It only becomes a problem when there are systemic inflammation issues (due to problematic foods in the diet, among other things). If you're metabolically well, saturated fat is only going to benefit you.

    I've been eating grass-fed ground beef and pork in a meatloaf with most, if not all, of the fat (it soaks up in the meatloaf) and consuming coconut products, like full-fat coconut milk and coconut oil. Coconut contains saturated fat, including medium-chain triglycerides, which are very efficient in ketogenic diets. They're more easily used as energy than glucose.

  2. Holy SHIT, them fuckin' booties.

    God damn.

  3. Hmmm so what about carbs. Aren't they beneficial for weight/muscle gain especially PostWorkout?

  4. @imperator- from what I've read, the 1980s hype about MCts is a bit misplaced. I've not really experimented with them much, though.

    @Josh- clearly, they ate carbs, but the importance seemed to lay in fat and protein for these guys.

  5. THanks Jamie, for once again informative writing. I do however, have been wondering about "balance" lately. I guess this question might go back to "how we are meant to eat", but is there any evidence that prolonged consumption of protein/fat under limited carb consumption may offset some sort of natural balance.? I know this sounds stupid in light of your past articles, but just to be the devil's advocate..
    btw.. your new background kicks ass!

  6. Jamie, I'd be interested in what you have read on MCTs. Regardless of whether MCTs are special or not, coconut products are a good source of saturated fat. About 90% of the fat is saturated.

    Abe, there are no essential carbohydrates. Your body can produce glucose from amino acids and triglycerides, so you could literally eat zero carbs your entire life. When you're in ketosis, your entire body runs on ketones, except for some parts of the brain. It will get glucose from converted amino acids and/or triglycerides.

    Genetic variation means some people perform better on more carbs, though. You just have to tinker.

  7. Love this series! It is fun to read about the other side.

    I would like to see a series for fat bastards like me. 45y/o 6'4" 340-350lbs depending on the day. Last competition, May 2011, Squat 300kg, bench 165kg, dead 275kg.

    Trying to find that fine line between lifting heavier and still lose a little bit of fat at a time.

  8. are front squats supposed to hurt my deltoids? how did you learn them?

  9. Front hurt my deltoids too. Here's what I did to fix it. I
    a. Raised the weight and only did triples, doubles and singles. (more reps just suck to much)
    b.made sure the weight was all the way back, barely pressing into my neck.
    c. sucked it up and dealt with it.

    I suggest you do the same. They're supposed to hurt.

  10. High-rep front squats are only for crossfags who don't understand the purpose of that exercise in the first place.

  11. I understand that and I do singles, doubles and triples. However, I'm starting to include front squats and I realised that front squats really hurt it may be some technique issue. Thus, I was asking for a tutorial, web, something.

  12. Front squats hurt. That's all. I imagine the only way for them not to hurt is to get really good at them and impress gymgoers pointlessly with a heavy front squat that is, in fact, far below your max.

  13. Front squats shouldn't hurt your delts.
    And Glen is absolutely right in that high rep front squat are pointless.
    Anything over 5 or 6 is pretty pointless because your upper back fatigues before your legs do.
    Experiment with your grip width.
    If you're talking about the cross-arm style then disregard everything I just wrote and disregard doing front squats because you're too lazy to develop the mobility to rack the bar. It isn't difficult at all. Learn it.

  14. Or you could be busy with getting strong as shit and have neither the interest nor the time to devote to developing wrist flexibility, like myself, haha. Also, since racking the bar is pretty unnecessary outside of olympic weightlifting...

  15. I sometimes wonder what kind of poundages those old time guys would be using in the squat if it was around in their day. I mean with proper stands/racks etc. Do you think their numbers would be as impressive as all their other lifts?

  16. Jamie- It's really not that hard to develop the moderate wrist flexibility required for front squats, especially if you just touch the bar with the tips of your fingers like I do. Is a week or two really too much of an investment to get better at one of your favorite lifts? (and yes, I'm pretty sure it would make you a little stronger at the lift)

  17. I agree with Nathan.
    I rack my cleans and front squats with only my fingertips on the bar.
    I don't even think about my elbows, which really helps with focusing on the lift itself.
    To each his own, though.
    Do what you can and work with it.

  18. In my eyes, that lift requires extreme wrist flexibility, and I have very little in the way of wrist flexibility. 60 degree flexion is possible, but 90 is about as amusing as trying to touch my toes would be- shit is not happening.

  19. http://dinosaurtraining.blogspot.com/2011/08/enough-is-enough.html


  20. Dray-- I've been reading his asanine posts about that for the last few weeks and always think to myself: "What the fuck am I reading?"

    My routine is nothing by front and back squats, overhead presses and cleans (full cleans, not power cleans because I hate them) and I've made more fucking progress in 6 months than I have in a long, long time.
    Back squat: 7-11 times a week.
    Front squat: 2-3 times a week (can replace 2 BS days)
    Cleans: 8 times a week. Never less. Rarely more.
    Overhead: Every other day.

    All lifts to a daily max then some volume.

    That routine has made me stronger, leaner and more muscular than I have ever been.

    Brooks is bordering on HIT these days and it comes through his writing.

  21. Jamie, random thought I had yesterday - is it by chance all the individuals you've highlighted in this series are white?

    I assume that has little bearing and it's better to look at their lifestyles and training. Any chance you can find a non-white example? Tommy Kono? Not sure of his diet, but he was strong.