5 Foods for Muscle Gain – by Jamie Bolton

2012 again. Our crazed gunman is back. Remember him? Last time he wanted to know the 5 best movements he should be doing. This time he’s back and wants to know the 5 best foods for muscle gain…..

Ahhh I’ll cut the storytelling and get to the chase. Today I’ve got for you 5 of my favorite foods to include on a muscle gain phase. (As opposed to a fat gain phase, you don’t want to go on one of them, believe me.)

In no particular order:

Whole Milk
Milk is one of nature’s best muscle foods. The problem is industry likes to toy with it too much. So it’s important to get it in as untouched a state as possible. The first step is to get whole milk. You shouldn’t be afraid of the fats anyway (natural healthy good calories, and essential for fat-soluble vitamins). The next is to go organic. You don’t want the hormones and crap they put into the cows otherwise. The final step, is to go unhomogenised. This means the milk isn’t all the same consistency most of us are used to – the way they usually do this is through considerable undesirable processing (note – there is no safety risk with this element).

The ultimate step is to get raw milk. But for most of us this isn’t really possible. And some would worry about the safety issues of un-pasteurised milk. Ultimately go as far along the steps as your budget or possibilities allow.

And why do we want milk? A lovely balance of top notch protein, carbs and fats. Packed full of vitamins and minerals. It’s designed for baby cows to grow off of – born at about 20kg, calfs then grow over 3-4 years into 730kg cows, 230kg a year weight gain. Say no more.

Whole milk - serious muscle gain potential

Beef
Cows again. Beef is an awesome source of protein and fats to support muscle growth. Go organic or better yet, grass-fed, if you can, to get it as close to the way nature intended – free of hormones and fed on a natural diet.

In particular, it comes full of B-vitamins, iron, phosphorus and zinc; plus smaller doses of other vitamins and minerals. And if you go grass-fed, its got Omega-3s too. Not to mention its a natural source of creatine, albeit in small doses.

Sweet Potatoes
An awesome, tasty source of low-GI carbs. Perfect for post-workout or any other carby meal. In fact, toss it on top of some beef as mentioned above for a cottage pie, and you’ve got one hell of a meal.

Ground beef & sweet potato combine for an awesome pie

Choked full of beta carotene (vitamin A) in particular, and a list as long as your arm of other nutrients, vitamin B, magnesium and potassium to name a few.

Additionally, as opposed to many carb sources like breads, pasta’s and so on, they are gluten-free. Many of you will probably think, ‘so what, I’m not gluten intolerant anyway’. Well, you might not be completely intolerant, but often gluten causes GI distress without you even realising you have a partial intolerance (bloated anyone?). Sweet potatoes won’t cause any of that.

Nut Butters
Think Almond, Cashew, and Hazelnut. Peanut is okay (though not strictly a nut but a legume) but is slightly estrogenic. A great way of getting good calories in from healthy fats. I know I can sit and eat a whole jar at a time without even thinking.

In particular, cashews are often referred to as ‘nature’s vitamin pill’. Say no more. You can buy from a store or you can make your own in a blender – you could try making brazil nut butter for instance, or whatever else floats your boat!

Eggs
The old-school bodybuilders in the golden era would get through up to 20 of these a day. With the yolks. And rightly so. A damn awesome muscle food.

A full compliment of amino acids and good fats. Vitamins A, D & E in decent doses. In fact eggs are one of the few natural-sources of vitamin D. Plus a good dollop of Choline and other essential minerals

Finally, eat the damn yolks. One, you probably need the calories anyway. Two, most of the goodness is in the yolk anyway – the fat soluble vitamins and minerals, the healthy fats themselves, and half of the protein. Moreover, why pay for something if you’re going to throw half of it away. Either fry them, scramble them, boil them or even drink them. Just get them down.

There you have it. My 5 favorite muscle foods. Let us know what yours are.

Until next time. Train Hard. Train Smart. Be Strong.

Bulking On A £3 Budget – by Ben Coker

This is a very short article just to fire home how simple and cheap bulking can be. People either don’t know how to eat to grow or come up with an excuses for not eating, namely its too expensive.
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I strongly recommended reading ‘Building a Basic Diet’ to gain a good understanding of nutrition as a whole, but more specifically ‘Time to Belly Up Mr. Hardgainer’ on the matter of serious bulking the blended way.
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If you believe that eating to grow is too taxing on the wallet don’t fret – it doesn’t have to be. I do fully understand that eating lots of lean meats and lots of calories in general can leave you a bit strapped for cash but what would you say if i said you can easily pack on the muscle for as little as £3 a day? And in a healthy way? You’ll want to know how i bet! Well relax because the answer is at hand.
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Below is the breakdown of 8 basic food products in terms of cost per unit, per serving, as well as nutritional values…
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Now lets break this down specifically in terms of servings, their cost and the amount you should have of each.  The macro nutrient and calorie breakdown per serving is also given…
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Now finally just to fully complete the picture here is how you can combine the foods into 5 meals or ‘feeds’ as i prefer to call them to create a bulking on a budget diet when times are hard.
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There you have it. 8 food sources. 4,286kcal. £3.07 a day. By all means this is not a perfect diet (a more varied protein source would be better) but it definitely leaves no excuses  to be not growing when times are financially hard. If you have a slightly more flexible budget obviously add in more. 4,286kcal will not be enough for 100kg + individuals that are on their diet already, but the take home message for those individuals is simply that you can get a lot of calories in for only £3.

Nutrition: Building a Basic Diet – by Jamie Bolton

In the previous article in this short series, we established the fundamental ‘laws’ of nutrition which underpin all successful nutritional programmes. 
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Now before you read on, I need you to be honest with yourself. Is  implementing those laws in that article yielding newfound results? If so, then stop reading. Stop right there.  This isn’t for you. Seriously. Why add more detail? All it will serve to do is complicate matters. Keep it as simple as possible. Likewise, if you are struggling to follow the laws then do you really think adding more detail will make it easier? No. It will just cloud things further.

If the previous piece however, made perfect sense and you found yourself nodding along realising you follow all of the laws, and would appreciate a more thorough understanding, read on.

In this article I will go into a bit more depth around the 3 macro-nutrients – what they are, good sources of them, and why we need them. I’ll also show you how to pull it all together and hopefully do all this without going too sciencey on you!

Protein

As far as the performance athlete should be concerned, protein is the building block of muscle. So we want plenty of it or we won’t recover or grow optimally. To touch on a popular analogy, if the body is a house, then protein is the bricks, if you don’t provide enough your house won’t ‘grow’ very quickly, if at all.

The best sources of protein are: meats, fish, milk, eggs & protein powders.

How much? Aim for 1g/lb of bodyweight as an absolute minimum. 1.25g/lb is a better ‘minimum’, and all the way up to 2g/lb can be beneficial. This might seem a lot, and it probably conflicts with what you’ve heard, but I’ll provide some simple anecdotal evidence – ask any big guy how much he eats – it will fall more within this realm then the textbook definitions.

Some meaty food porn. Get plenty of protein.

For those who want more evidence that that, here are some good pieces to read here and here.

Fats

Fats are the boo-boy of the media. The nutrient they love to hate. Low-fat this and low fat that. I’ll tell you now – they’re wrong. Fat doesn’t make you fat – excess calories do. Fat most definitely should not be avoided.

Fats are the low-activity energy source for the body. Any non-strenuous activity, from sleeping to even walking is mainly fuelled by fatty acids.

Getting the right kind of fat intake is crucial for optimal hormonal balance. Additionally, vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble, so limiting your fat intake is also limiting your vitamin intake. Fats are sources of essential fatty acids, i.e. the body can’t do without them.

There are 3 kinds of fats, and we want to consume all of them.

  1. Saturated. Good sources: meats, eggs, whole milk and coconut oil.
  2. Monounsaturated. Good sources: red meat, whole milk, olive oil, nuts, avocados.
  3. Polyunsaturated. Good sources: salmon, grass-fed beef, sunflower seeds, walnuts.

Aim to get about ⅓ of your fat intake from each of the types of fat. Polyunsaturated tends to be one of the more awkward to get plenty of and so supplementing with a fish oil supplement can be useful – in particular omega 3.

How much? Aim for about 0.6g/lb when maintaining or cutting, and look to up intake to about 0.8g/lb when bulking.

Oils, Avocados, Nuts & Seeds - all great sources of fat

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates, or carbs, are the instant-energy nutrient of the body, and are used to fuel intense activity as well as being the brains preferred energy source. Again carbs have been attacked in the media and low-carb crazes touted as the way to go. Again, the media is wrong.

A great analogy with carbs is to think of your body like a car and its gas tank. If your gas tank, your glycogen (carb) stores in your muscles, is full, and you continue to pour in more gas, what happens? Well, it spills over. The body is the same, but instead of gas going everywhere, fat does. But we do want to keep a full ‘tank’ so we need to tailor accordingly.

The main differentiation between carbs is the speed at which they are digested. Some will talk of this as being about simple vs complex carbs, but maltodextrin (a popular ingredient in ‘weight gainers’) is a ‘complex’ carb yet digests as fast as simple sugar. Instead, we use the glycemic index (GI) to look at how fast a portion raises blood glucose (sugar) levels. Also, we must bear in mind the total number of carbs in a portion, i.e. carrots have a ‘high GI’, but unless you want to eat a kilo of them, it doesn’t matter!

Some people will trash talk high-GI carbs as if they are the devil, but they have their place, as do the seemingly preferred lower-GI carbs. The rule of thumb with carbs as I have found, is to eat according for what you are about to do, or have recently done. And I mean this both in terms of quantity and type of carb.

What all the discussion boils down to is the interpretation of how to manipulate a hormone called insulin. The short story is that insulin is a storage hormone. When blood sugar levels rise, insulin is secreted to bring it back to baseline. This is useful around a training session as we can use it to pack our muscles full of fuel when they are craving it. But outside of these times, if we crank it up too much, we may end up driving carbs into fat stores instead (as the tank is ‘full’). So at these times, it is better to lower carb portions, and eat lower-GI carbs so as to ‘top off’ glycogen stores, rather than dumping excess carbs on the body and causing fat gain. For a more detailed discussion, see here.

Good sources of both high and low GI carbs include:

High GI carbs – raisins, white rice, white potatoes.
Low GI carbs – fruits, vegetables, sweet potatoes, brown rice, oatmeal.

Fruit & Veggies - great low GI carb sources

Let me give you some examples. If you are about to have a heavy squat session, then you would take in some quick-acting carbs beforehand, like raisins. After, since your muscles are going to be craving fuel, you could follow up with some white rice, and in sizeable portions too. A bit later on, you might follow up with a smaller portion of sweet potatoes, which are slower digesting to ‘top off’ glycogen stores.

In contrast, if you were about to sit down at a desk all day, then its best to minimize the size of carb portions and stick to the lower GI variety, in particular fruits and vegetables, since you are not about to be very active at all.

How much? Carbs really are the macro-nutrient that follow your goals, in other words, step them up if you are in a mass phase and step them down when in a leaning phase. In a mass phase, aim for 1.5-2g/lb. If at maintenance, aim for 1g/lb. And in a lean phase, aim for 0.5g/lb.

Putting it all together

I realise some of you are probably groaning at the fact that this will involve some maths, but it is your body, surely its worth the investment of a few minutes with a calculator!?

To give you an idea of what it looks like for a 200lb male:

  • Mass phase – 250g Protein, 160g Fat, 300g carbs = 3640 calories
  • Maintenance – 250g Protein, 120g Fat, 200g carbs = 2880 calories
  • Lean phase – 250g Protein, 120g Fat, 100g carbs = 2440 calories.

For a 140lb female, it would look like this:

  • Mass phase – 175g Protein, 112g Fat, 210g carbs = 2548 calories
  • Maintenance – 175g Protein, 84g Fat, 140g carbs = 2016 calories
  • Lean phase – 175g Protein, 84g Fat, 70g carbs – 1738 calories

And don’t forget to apply the laws of nutrition. For instance, we want to focus carbs around a training session. I would aim to get somewhere pushing toward 1/3 to 1/2 of the days carbs in this period.

To outline what a typical day may look like, a mass phase for our 200lb male could look something like this:

Breakfast – 100g of oats, 6 eggs, 500ml whole milk.
Lunch – 200g Salmon, 100g brown rice, 2 avocados.
Pre-training – 2 scoops of protein & 100g of raisins
Post-training – 200g chicken & 2 baked potatoes
Dinner – 200g steak (cooked in olive oil), 50g walnuts, steamed veggies

That may sound like a lot of food, but that’s what it takes to grow!

Similarly, for our 140lb female, a typical day in a lean phase could look like this:

Breakfast – 4 egg omelette with 30g cheese, 1 orange/apple
Lunch – 150g Tuna, 2 eggs hardboiled, mixed in a spinach salad with olive oil dressing.
Post workout – 200g chicken & 75g brown rice
Dinner – 200g Lamb steak, pile of steamed veggies

The key with the lower calorie meal plans is to focus on volume of food. We don’t want foods that are dense in calories. Instead we want lots of vegetables and fruits, which fill you up but aren’t heavy on calories.

Finally, remember to regularly re-weigh yourself and adjust the diet accordingly. The amount of food you ate to take you from 200lb to 220lb won’t be the same amount you need to get to 240lb – you need more! Likewise, on a leaning phase, as you drop bodyfat, you will need less calories, as you aren’t lugging around as much weight as before, so every activity requires less energy.

Summary

Using what I’ve provided here and in the previous two articles, you should now be able to put together a solid nutritional program. I want to re-iterate what I said in the very first article – focus on simple, wholefoods that great-great-granny would recognise. You can make a lot of different approaches fit into the template I have outlined here, and there is absolutely no reason to make your food choices ‘boring’.

Finally, remember, nutrition is a VERY individual thing. You may find that you can’t gain weight with the mass phase numbers, in which case – add more calories until you do. Equally, you might find yourself going a bit overboard and gaining a bit too much fat for your liking, in which case, step things down a little, in particular on the carb / fat front. But as a guideline, these numbers should work well for most people.

Laws of Nutrition – by Jamie Bolton

I wrote in “The Simpler Nutrition Guide”  recently about the effectiveness of keeping our diets simple, in the sense of unprocessed, wholesome food that even grannie would recognise as being actual unadulterated produce. I left it fairly open ended, in as much that I honestly believe you can get a long way by following a rule as simple as that. 

I realise though that many out there want a more thorough structure to follow. So in this piece I’m going to explain at a broad level, the ins and outs of dietary programmes, and give some common-sense ‘laws’ that build on the principle discussed last time. Then in a future piece, I will go into more depth around the individual macronutrients and how to set things up in a bit more detail.

Most of you reading this will have read a diet article or two in your time I’m sure. From the non-sensical rubbish like the ‘grapefruit’ diet to the more measured approaches like the ‘Zone diet’. What I’m sure everyone can agree on is that there are a lot of different approaches out there. And every approach seemingly has a proponent out there preaching that their method is the holy grail. I’ll tell you now, it isn’t. There are a lot of methods that can work, and ultimately it’s about finding something that works optimally for you, be it high fat, high carb, intermittent fasting, whatever.

The funny thing is, despite there being a multitude of different methods out there that can work, and a seemingly forever number of people who are dieting, most people ‘wing it’ when it comes to their nutrition, and eat whatever is nearest or easiest. Its quite odd when you think about it, that eating is such a primal human instinct, indeed for any living being, yet it causes us such problems, but I digress.

What I’m going to do, rather than preach recommendations, is pick out the common ‘laws’ of nutrition that underpin any successful programme.

These are, simply:

1. Eat wholefoods.
2. Eat complete protein at every meal. This includes meats, fish, milk, eggs & protein powders. This does not include synthetic ‘protein’ rubbish like soy. Also, nuts are not high enough in protein to qualify, but they are a great healthy fat source.
3. Get as many of your carbohydrates from fruits & vegetables as you can.
4. Drink only non-calorie beverages. The best is water. Black coffee & tea is also fine. Coca cola is not.
5. Eat as wide a variety of foods as possible. What I mean is try to rotate around different meats, fruits etc. What I don’t mean is rotating between your favorite fast food outlets.
6. Embrace good fats. Eat plenty of fatty fish, red meat, olive oil, eggs, nuts etc.
7. Focus your calories after your training. In particular, focus your carbs here more so than any other point in the day.

Eat at every meal

And that’s it. I think you’ll agree that it’s pretty simple again, and keeps what I said last time perfectly in mind. I’m sure there’s going to be some questions here, so I’ll try to anticipate them in advance.

What about grains?
I said to get as many carbs as possible from fruits and veggies. That gives plenty of options, heck, nearly all fruit is perfect fast food, packed with nutrients, but I know that doesn’t really answer the question. Now, as I said before, we want our food to be as unadulterated as possible. Most grains inevitably have undergone some processing which creates a problem here. Or does it? We can still stay on point by focusing on the least processed kinds, for instance, brown rice, wholegrain breads (check for the less ingredients the better) and steel-cut oats. In other words, we can pick better ‘bads’. Ultimately, it boils back down to what I said in the first article, tighten or loosen according to your goals. If your in a mass phase, then grains won’t hurt. If in a leaning phase, then probably better to avoid them as far as possible. 

Focusing on fats can’t be good can it?
The media have managed to create the perception that fat makes you fat and is to be avoided at all costs. It’s even pushed food manufacturers to create ‘low fat’ everything where they strip out fat and typically replace it with sugar, but I digress. Fat doesn’t make you fat, excess calories do. There’s good fats and bad fats. I listed some examples of the former, which are naturally occurring which in short is why they are good for you; the latter, is the trans-fats created by the food processing industry which cause health problems all over the place. Embrace good fats. After all, our primary anabolic hormone, testosterone, has its precursor as a derivative of fats.
Finally, I’ll leave you with this thought, there are essential amino acids (proteins) & essential fatty acids, but no essential carbohydrates. Still think its good to avoid fats?

Compliance
‘To err is human’. Nobody is perfect. Eating a little bit of what you want now and again won’t hurt, as long as it is just now and again. Try to aim for 90% compliance to the laws above, and don’t sweat the 10% that you don’t. That means if you eat 4 meals a day, then over a week you are allowed 3 ‘deviations’ from the laws. And that is any of the laws. Had a coca cola today? Right then you have two dietary deviations left for the week. Notice I’m not using the word ‘cheat’ here, as to me that suggests dietary deviations aren’t allowed, but here they are. Ultimately a few deviations won’t hurt, and if anything will help with your psychological sanity!

Wrap Up
We’ve gone from one idea to build a group of dietary laws here, but with one key thing at heart. Keep your food simple. There is no special diet that trumps all others. There are lots of different kinds of diets that can work, but the key underlying principle is the laws above which are common to all successful dietary programmes. If it doesn’t follow the laws, chances are it won’t work. Sorry ‘mars bar’ diet. Try following just the above laws to guide your food choices and see what it can do for you!

The Simpler Nutrition Guide – by Jamie Bolton

What I’m going to present to you today isn’t groundbreaking, it isn’t revolutionary, nor will it instantly make you drop 10lbs of fat and gain 20lbs of muscle. But it is simple, and that’s where its beauty lies. After all, its been said that complexity is the language of the simple minded. I’m going to give you a quick, easy to remember, but incredibly effective way to tidy up your diet and instinctively make better nutritional decisions. 

First, a brief history lesson. Lets think back say fifty thousand years. Our diet back then was dependant on the environments we lived in. Agriculture was a good 40,000 years from being put into use. Man was essentially the quintessential ‘hunter-gatherer’. We ate what we could hunt – meat and fish – and what we could gather – vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, eggs. If it wasn’t there, we couldn’t eat it. It was about as basic as nutrition could get, eating literally what nature provided. Was this optimal for survival? Definitely not, else agriculture and the like would never have needed to be invented. Yet many people nowadays have had great success by reverting to this kind of ‘paleo’ diet, so there is some truth for sure in keeping things basic.

Jumping forward to say two-hundred years ago and the world has changed just a little to say the least, but not necessarily for the worse. Agriculture and farming has been in action for thousands of years, and world trade has allowed food products to be moved around the world. This starts to sound a lot like modern day, but with one crucial difference – we could only eat what the land would grow, not what we could ‘engineer’ as food. In other words, we were still dependant on nature.

Lets jump to the present. The food processing industry dominates much of the way people eat. Fast food and junk food are prevalent. The use of pesticides widespread. Animals and crops are not grown the way nature fully intended. Is this all bad? No. If you were to look at standards of living today versus back then, there is no doubt things are the best they’ve ever been right now, but I digress.

Look, I’m going to cut to the chase and give you the truth – people have had success with high-protein, high fat, and high carbohydrate diets; they all work if done correctly. What doesn’t work is the synthetic ‘food’ that food processing companies push on us. Don’t major in the minors, in the big picture whether you eat 1g/lb of protein or 1.1g/lb won’t make or break your progress. Focus on eating real food as nature intended.

That’s all wonderful, but how can we use the above information to inform our dietary decisions?

In short – the further removed a food is from the way nature intended, the less of it we should eat.

What does this mean in practice? Take the donut for example; donuts are about as processed as a food can get – white flour dough fried in hydrogenated fats and tossed in refined sugar. Nowhere in nature does anything similar exist. Therefore we shouldn’t be eating many of them. Simple.

Not quite what nature intended

Lets take something a bit more questionable, like say a tomato pasta sauce. Tomato pasta sauce is tomato pasta sauce after all right? Maybe not. Look at the ingredients on the pot, and look up the ingredients online needed to make the sauce from scratch. Notice the difference? The pre-made one has far more unnecessary ingredients like e-numbers, stabilisers and sugar. Which one do you think is going to be healthier? 

What about a beef steak? Beef is wholesome, natural protein right? Yes and no. Beef is a great source of protein no doubt. But lets go a little further. Most animals are reared nowadays on diets they wouldn’t consume in nature, in the case of the cow, often corn feed instead of grass. Now this causes a host of problems for our friend the cow, leading to a less healthy animal (check out Michael Pollan’s books for more info), which isn’t quite as good for us. If you can afford it, switch to organic meats, and in the case of beef – grass-fed. Food is more than just the sum of its macro-nutrients.

So what am I saying here? Eat only freshly made, unadulterated, organic food and never touch anything that has ever heard the word ‘processed’? Not quite. Strict dietary protocols and rules like that are always unsustainable, and not much fun in the long run.

Let’s make better food choices in the simplest of ways by focusing on natural, whole foods. A great question to ask yourself when shopping is – ‘was this around two-hundred years ago’ or ‘would my great-great-great-great grandmother recognise this as food’?

Great-Great-Great Grannie would recognise this as food

How can we put this all together? Well, ‘tighten’ or ‘loosen’ according to your goals.

If you’re in a gaining phase, then you can afford to be a little ‘looser’ with your food choices.
If you’re trying to lean out a bit, then best to stay away from the processed food options and try to keep things a bit more basic & primitive.

Look, the essence of my argument is pretty simple. Our genes haven’t changed much in a few hundred-thousand years, but the environments we live in and the food we consume has changed dramatically. By keeping food choices back to the basics, there could be much to be gained.

Nutrition doesn’t need to be difficult. We don’t need to eat perfectly all the time, but if we can improve food choices step-by-step constantly, then we’ll create a healthier, better performing, better recovering athlete.

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