Being skinny sucks. Trust me.
I spent almost all my life underweight, and – if you’re becoming a fitness trainer like I’m attempting to – it really doesn’t boost your resume.
In late-January 2011, while living in Taiwan, I weighed a whopping 128lbs (58kg) at a height of 5’6″ (168cm). I dabbled in weight-training for a few years, but made little progress. And after being a skinny ectomorph for so long, I was sick of it.
I wanted a change.
And what better time to fatten myself up than while living abroad?
Gain 10 kg (22lbs) in 2 months. (I’ll be using the Metric System in this article; Americans, you have been warned). I wanted to reach 68kg because there’s a rule-of-thumb that a male should weigh, in kilograms, about 100 less than his height in centimeters. So since my height is 168cm, I should weight 68kg. (168 – 100 = 68). Pretty clever, huh?
I can’t, however, explain why I chose April. Maybe because I wanted to leave Taiwan by then?
No kitchen. Forget about home-cooked meals with carefully selected and/or organic ingredients; I would be eating out 100% of the time. Fortunately, in Taiwan, that wasn’t a death wish.
No supplements. In Taiwan, protein power was expensive. Really expensive. I guess most of their supply comes from the United States or something. Either way, with my meager income, supplements of any kind would break the bank.
Use a bastardized-version of GOMAD. GOMAD stands for Gallon of Milk a Day. It’s a cheap and easy way to get enough calories to gain weight. 1 US Gallon of whole milk has about 2700 calories, 120 grams of protein (80% casein and 20% whey), and plenty of fat and carbohydrates. Because of money and other issues (which I’ll explain), however, I scaled it down to a half-GOMAD diet (half a gallon per day).
Try to eat healthy. Since I could only eat out, I chose healthier alternatives like 便當 (biàn dang). A 便當 – which literally means “convenient box” – is a cafeteria-style restaurant with many selections of meats, veggies, noodles, etc. Cheap and, indeed, convenient.
Lift heavy weights. Unless I wanted to gain pure fat, I had to lift often and lift heavy. I followed an old-style powerlifting routine with heavy pulls and pushes and trained my legs every workout. I wanted muscle and a lot of it.
By April 1st, I hit my goal. And though I felt victorious, in retrospect, I did some smart things, but made some mistakes too. Let’s start with the positives:
Things I Did Right
Calories In > Calories Out
The most important thing. I made sure I was eating at least 500 calories over my maintenance level. It seems easy, but people who fail to gain weight typically stumble here; if you consume enough calories, the pounds will come. Period.
I had plenty of iron in my diet – namely, barbell stuff. I lifted three times a week and kept my routine simple:
Nothing special – just lots of leg work with heavy pushing and pulling. The key to my program, however, was progressive overloading: every workout, I focused on adding 2.5 kg (about 5lbs) to every lift. By the end of those two months, I added over 30kg (66lbs) to my back squat and deadlift and almost 20kg (44lbs) to my barbell row.
I also threw in tons of mobility work and self-myofascial release. My underground gym – and that’s not a figure-of-speech – didn’t have foam rollers, so I used a tennis ball and made an ass of myself in the corner.
A great way to make small talk in Chinese, by the way.
I carried my milk everywhere. If you dug in my sackpack, you would usually find a book, an umbrella (it always rained), and a bottle of milk. When I ate at restaurants, I often asked the staff if they could throw my bottle of milk in their refrigerator. No joke.
I didn’t miss meals. Every week, I scheduled when I would eat and honored those commitments, hungry or not.
I’m actually lactose intolerant. And in a country that doesn’t have lactose pills of any kind, drinking that much milk sucked – at times, I was listing stomach problems like a fucking Pepto-Bismal commercial. But even though it was sometimes painful (and embarrassing), I persisted because a) it was the easiest way to gain weight, and b) I only had to drink it for two months.
And as much as I love eating, there were times when I couldn’t look at food anymore. Or wanted every cow on Earth to perish. (But not in a sacrilegious way). Yet even if I wasn’t hungry, I still ate the damn food. During my bulk, I had to think of eating as an extension of my training.
Things I Did Wrong (and Lessons Learned)
Proper Nutrition (or Lack Thereof)
Poor post-workout nutrition. After a workout, I drank milk and, sometimes, got a meal. That was it. Any concept of “nutrient timing” was as foreign as the country I lived in; I failed to load up on carbohydrates after a workout and didn’t know I should have scaled back – to some extent – on my off-days. I ate haphazardly, which was both good and bad.
Not enough protein or healthy fats. Aside from milk, I didn’t eat many healthy fats. No olive oil. No fish oil. No avocados. No peanut butter. Nothing. Some of that fault could be blamed on their availability in Taipei. But the rest was just ignorance – I flat-out didn’t know of its importance at that time.
Of course, now, I’m all about that steez. Youth is wasted on the young.
Too many starchy carbohydrates. Rice is king in Asia, and noodles are up there, too. Although carbs important for any weight-gain cycle, I could have chose ones more nutrient-dense like yams or sweet potatoes. That goes back to the whole “no kitchen” thing, but I’m sure some Taiwanese nightmarket sold it.
Why did Taiwan have to make beef noodles so damn delicious?
Relied too heavily on milk. It does a body good – to an extent. It’s foolish, however, to depend on one thing for so much. That comes from a nutritional standpoint and also a mental one – drinking milk day-in, day-out for two months got exhausting.
I should’ve ate more nuts or something.
No Activation Work
At that time, I lacked proper glute and core activation. Or any knowledge of its existence, if we’re splitting hairs. I didn’t know I had to teach my glutes to fire correctly or my core to turn on and resist flexion or rotation. Activating those dormant muscles may have improved my performance during that transformation.
I also wish I did more band work, unilateral exercises, and posterior chain work, as well. I also would’ve changed my exercises:
Push ups instead of bench presses – more scapula movement.
Inverted rows instead of barbell rows – easier on my lower back.
If I could turn back time.
Those two months were a blast. Yet with the lessons learned during my bulk, I realized that – no matter what – you will make mistakes.
Sorry, but with any body transformation, it’s rarely going to be 100-percent perfect (unless in some type of laboratory setting).
But that’s okay. Because that’s why we try to transform our bodies in the first place: to push ourselves – not to perfection, but to the maximum of our potential.
Until then, I raise my glass of milk to you.