I recently received a skinny guy weight gain question from across the pond. Someone from The Tree House Press asked, via Twitter, the following (in summary):
RE: Carbs and bulking up – You got your size pre paleo; what would you recommend for a 150lb male wishing to add size? I’m out of whack with the good carbs, to be honest, oats are awful for my IBS…
So here’s the thing: I weight the same now, at 45, as I did back when I was playing college football twenty some-odd years ago. Now, I don’t know what my body fat was back then – it certainly wasn’t high, mind you – however, I can you that I’m much more cut these days. Same bodyweight, more cut…at 45. I’ll let you do the math. The Paleo lifestyle does a body good. Not only that, but you can gain some serious lean mass, and drop fat, by following the Paleo Way’s very simple dictates.
Gaining weight is a highly n=1 proposition, and different tactics need to be employed depending upon one’s underlying physical make-up. The one universal, however, is that the body – regardless of it’s underlying make-up – must receive an adequate dose/frequency stress stimulus in order to signal the need for lean tissue growth. How that dose is delivered, though – in order to be most efficient and effective – is were the variability comes into play. It’s my belief that the “eat to grow” mantra is a bit incomplete. In my years under the bar, I’ve observed that the mantra ought to be “properly stimulate growth, then eat to accommodate”. Not as sexy sounding, but it is the truth – for quality, lean tissue accumulation, at least.
Again, we must first begin any weight gain quest with the delivery of a proper stress stimulus, however, the most efficient delivery mechanism will vary depending upon the individual’s physical and psychological underpinnings. For instance, I’d take a mesomorph who wants to gain weight in a completely different direction than that of an ectomorph (for a quick discussion of body types, check here). As an example, in my experience, most mesomorph-types have superior recovery ability and therefore can handle more training volume and frequency. Ectomorphs, on the other hand, usually have suppressed recovery attributes and usually fare better on HIT-type programs (lower volume, more infrequent workouts). The key in either instance is to dose (inroad) the body with adequate stress, while allowing for enough recovery (or timing the next stress dose) so as to catch the crest of the supercompensation wave. This isn’t at all rocket science, but again it’s a highly n=1 property. The point here is that we first want to signal the need to put on lean tissue, then eat so as to support that endeavor. For more, check out this previous post. Although geared more toward weight gain in an athlete, there’s still some good information there for someone interested merely in aesthetics (i.e., lookin’ good nekkid).
Since I don’t have a frame to drape that 150 lbs over, I’m rather limited in my suggestions. One thing that does stand out is the fact that you’ve apparently struggled with IBS in the past, and that this condition is worsened by the ingestion of oats. The first thing that I would suggest is that you eliminate all grains and all sugars and move as soon as you can to the full-on adoption of the Paleo way of eating. Also, since you’re prone to IBS (and inquiring about weight gain), I’d be willing to bet that your body’s ability to absorb nutrients from the foods that you do eat has been compromised. That being the case, along with adopting full-on Paleo eating habits, I’d check into taking some probiotics and/or digestive enzymes until things get back on track. Robb Wolf and Andy Deas do a bang-up job of covering this topic in episode 29 of The Paleolithic Solution. The take home message is that if you’re not properly absorbing the nutrients you do take in (which I suspect you’re not), it doesn’t matter what you eat, or even how much – you’re likely not ever going to gain weight until this issue is resolved. And make no mistake, this is an overall health issue as well as a weight gain/aesthetics issue.
As far as to what foods I’d recommend, within the Paleo window, to gain weight, I’d say this: emphasize starchy tubers (sweet potatoes, yams, etc.) as a carbohydrate source (and load ‘em up with raw butter), and, if at all possible, get your hands on some raw dairy – milk, yogurt, cheese – whatever you can get. The caveat is this, however: hammering raw dairy and starchy tubers in the absence of busting your ass in the gym will only make you fat. It’s really that simple. First and foremost, get your digestive/nutrient absorption issues resolved. Then, work hard (and according to your physical make-up), and eat smart and within the Paleo umbrella. Eat to satiation, but don’t force-feed. Chronic, forced over-eating will make you just as miserable as chronic under-eating. When you’re hungry, eat – when you’re not (even if you think you’re “supposed to be hungry”), don’t worry about it. You’re job is to bust ass in the gym, and provide your body with the proper, healthy, nutrients. You’re body will no doubt take over the internal workings without you having to think about it. All you have to do on that end is learn to listen to what your body is saying.
The Weekend’s Workouts –
To preface this weekend’s workouts, let me just say that I got hold of some bad food (spring mix lettuce?) on Friday afternoon, and it did a total number on me. At least I think it was the suspect lettuce – it’s the only thing I ate that was out of the ordinary and possibly questionable. Or maybe it was just a stray virus, who knows. In any event, from about noon to midnight on Saturday, I was down for the count and, needless to say, this did disrupt the workout plans for the weekend. By Sunday I was ok, but still a little weak from the lack of food and probable dehydration that comes from, well, you know…the body’s way of ridding viruses and/or poisons from the system. Anyway, away we go:
Friday evening –
A short and sweet superset session here. My plan was to come back in on Saturday and hit some heavy pulls, but…
The cable flye was done as a pre-exhaust for the press, and the arms remained roughly parallel to the ground throughout the movement; my hands traveled a plane from approximately nipple level (at the bottom-out position), to just under the plane of the chin at full contraction. Two hand positions on the press, the first being a regular grip, the next being a “palms-in” grip. So, after moving from positive failure in the flye, I hustled over to the press and hit regular grip presses until positive failure, then re-gripped (parallel, palms-in grip) and hit it again until positive failure. Three sets of this was plenty enough. The bands made for an increasingly, super-hard press – especially in the last third of the movement.
kneeling cable flye: 60 lbs x 9, 6, 5
atlantis incline press with bands: 180 x 5 (3), 3 (3), 2+ (2)
Ok, so we’ll just call Saturday a “lost day”. If you’re into astrology, Saturday’s astrological alignment involved a Grand Cross with a full moon. Hmmmmm…
…on to Sunday –
reverse lunge + BTN jerk: 115 x 6 (5); 135 x 6 (5); 155 x 6 (5); 165 x 5 (4); 175 x 4 (4); 180 x 4 (4); 185 x 4 (2)
reverse grip pull-ups: 45 x 5; 70 x 5; 80 x 3, 3, 3, 3
then, a superset of –
feet elevated push-ups: bodyweight x 50, 40, 40
GHR: bodyweight x 20, 20, 20
Hell of a superset to kick things off here. The reps listed above are per leg, then, in parenthesis, the jerk reps. No rest between any part of this complex, and just enough rest between exercises to move station to station.