Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
9 Jul

How to Gain Weight and Build Muscle

So you wanna put on some lean muscle mass. And you want to do it within the context of the Primal Blueprint, but aren’t sure where to start. It’s a common question and it’s about time I addressed it head on.

As I’ve made pretty clear, our ultimate goal is to achieve positive gene expression, functional strength, optimum health, and extended longevity. In other words: To make the most out of the particular gene set you inherited. These are my end goals, and I’ve modeled the PB Laws with them in mind. But that doesn’t mean packing on extra muscle can’t happen with additional input. After I retired from a life of chronic cardio and started living Primally, I added 15 pounds of muscle, while keeping low body fat levels without really trying, so it’s absolutely possible for a hardgainer to gain some. The question is how much and at what expense?

I’d be the first to tell you that lean body mass is healthier than adipose tissue. Generally, the more lean mass a person has, the longer and better they live. But to increase mass at the expense of agility, strength, or speed is, in my opinion, counterproductive. What would Grok do – go for enormous biceps or the ability to haul a carcass back to camp? Unless you’re a bodybuilder (nothing wrong with that, mind you; it’s just not my focus), I can’t advise simply packing on size without a proportional increase in actual strength. Those bulging biceps might look good on the beach, but then again, so does the body that comes with keeping up with the younger guys, knocking out twenty pull-ups in a row, and lifting twice your bodyweight. Form is best paired with a healthy serving of function. The two are quite delicious together, and, luckily, following the PB allows us to get both without sacrificing either.

Of course, we’re all built a little differently. The basic building blocks are the same in everyone, but sexual reproduction (as opposed to asexual reproduction) has the funny habit of producing unique genetics and small variations that affect the way we respond to our environments. It’s why some people are short and some are tall, or why some of us respond better to carbohydrates than others. Even though we all pretty much operate the same way, there IS a range of possible outcomes that is proscribed by your direct ancestors. By that same token, some people just naturally have more muscle mass. They’re usually innately more muscular than the average person, and putting more on through resistance training is often an easy task. Then there are those who can’t seem to gain a pound: the hardgainers. They might be increasing strength, but it doesn’t seem to translate into visible muscle mass. Now, my initial advice for a hardgainer is this – don’t worry too much about it! As long as you’re getting stronger, you’re doing it right.

Let’s face it, though. You’ve probably heard that enough already. It’s fun being the lanky guy at the gym who can lift more than most, but you’re dead set on bulking up (who doesn’t like a bit more muscle to go along with that strength?), and you want to do it in a Primal context. Besides, continuing to increase strength will eventually require increasing size. To do so, you have to target the very same anabolic hormones that others use to get big, only with even more enthusiasm and drive. Like I said, we all have similar engines, but some require more fuel and more efficient driving (sorry for the corny analogy). Activating these hormones will work for anyone, provided they work hard and eat enough food.

The main hormones that contribute to muscle anabolism are testosterone, growth hormone (GH), and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). A little more about each and how to utilize them:


Crazy bodybuilders don’t inject themselves with anabolic steroid hormones that are based on testosterone for nothing. Among other roles, testosterone is an important muscle-building growth factor that favorably affects protein synthesis in addition to working with other hormones (like GH and IGF-1) to improve their function (more on this later). If you want to increase strength and build muscle, testosterone is absolutely required (don’t worry, though: no injections necessary!).

Growth Hormone

It’s right there in the name, isn’t it? Growth hormone. It helps muscle grow and, perhaps more importantly, it burns body fat. After all, leaning out is a big part of building muscle (or else you’ll just look puffy) and GH will help you do it.

Insulin-like Growth Factor 1

IGF-1 is extremely similar in effect to GH, as it should be – GH stimulates IGF-1 production in the liver. In fact, it’s suspected that IGF-1 is actually responsible for most of the “growth-promoting effects of circulating GH.”

Anabolic hormones all work together. In fact, to maximize their muscle-building potential, you must have all three present. Testosterone increases IGF-1, but only in the presence of GH. GH promotes skeletal muscle cell fusion independent of IGF-1, but the two are most effective in concert. Luckily for you, the types of exercises that stimulate the secretion of one will generally stimulate the secretion of the others. Funny how that works out, huh?

Enter The Central Nervous System

In order for your body to start pumping out these delicious anabolic hormones, you must first give it a reason to do so. I might even say you should give your genes a reason to express themselves. The most effective way to do this is by notifying the central nervous system. Now, the CNS can be a stubborn bastard, but he’s all you got when it comes to interpreting stimuli and relaying messages to the rest of the body. He’s not easily perturbed, and he won’t bother if you aren’t serious. If you insist on doing nothing but light aerobics or tiny isolation exercises, your CNS will barely notice. If you want to get your CNS’ attention, pick up the intensity. Run some sprints or do some heavy lifting. When you do an exercise like the squat with a heavy weight, all hands are on deck. Your CNS realizes that some serious exercising is going down and notifies the hypothalamus, which in turn talks to your pituitary gland. This tiny – but vital – member of the endocrine system is the gland that dispatches luteinizing hormones to tell the testicles to secrete testosterone. It’s also the gland that synthesizes and secretes GH. IGF-1 is mostly produced by the liver, but its production is facilitated by the presence of GH, so we can see that it all comes down to CNS stimulation. Chronic cardio doesn’t affect your CNS in any meaningful way, so that’s why we tend to avoid it; vigorous sprints, hard and heavy lifting, and anaerobic output will get its attention, so do plenty of these to maximize muscle growth.

Cortisol: A Hormone to Avoid

Promoting muscle and strength growth also requires avoiding excess amounts of catabolic (muscle wasting) hormones like cortisol. Cortisol is the major stress hormone, and it exists for a very legitimate reason (dealing with “flight or fight” incidents, inadequate sleep, anxiety), but in large amounts cortisol increases serum amino acids by breaking down muscle, inhibiting protein synthesis and reducing amino acid uptake by the muscles – all awful things for muscle growth. Compounding the problem even further, the broken-down muscle is converted into blood glucose, which then raises insulin secretion and increases insulin resistance while promoting fat storage. And we all know how great those muscles look with a nice layer of adipose tissue covering them up! On a serious note, most people following the PB already minimize cortisol by getting plenty of sleep and reducing stress, but if you’re preoccupied with building muscle mass and engaging in extended workout sessions to achieve it, avoiding excess cortisol can get tricky: excessive exercise without enough recovery time actually increases cortisol. It makes sense (think of it like your body’s telling you it needs a day or two off), but the desire for more muscle mass drives many to work out to the point of counter-productivity. Just be careful, and give yourself at least a day of rest after a particularly grueling session.

Lift Really Heavy Things

If you haven’t figured it out already, you’re going to be doing some heavy lifting in order to put on lean mass. The foundation of your routine should be the big compound lifts: squats, deadlifts, presses (bench and overhead), pull-ups, rows, dips, snatches, power cleans, clean and jerks. These engage multiple muscles while triggering your hormonal response systems. Bodyweight stuff, while valuable, simply isn’t going to get you the strength and mass increases you’re looking for. Testosterone, while useful, only gets really anabolic when you start lifting. You need to get under some decent weight, enough so that your CNS and endocrine system are blasted, but not so much that you can’t maintain proper form.

A popular routine is the 5×5 method. Popularized by programs like StrongLifts and Starting Strength, doing compound lifts for five sets of five reps allows you to strike a balance between strength building and superficial muscle hypertrophy. Done this way, your hypertrophy won’t be purely sarcoplasmic, which results in fluid-filled muscles that look big but don’t see a corresponding increase in actual strength. Instead, the 5×5 method promotes myofibrillar hypertrophy: hard, dense muscle fibers that increase strength and size (with no puffiness). That’s real muscle that would make Grok proud.

If you’re lifting heavy and lifting hard, keep your workouts spaced at least a day apart and don’t lift more than 3x/week. Three exercises per session should be perfect. That may not sound like much, but it’ll be plenty if you do it right. Remember, you’re doing big compound movements that will really shock your system, with an emphasis on intensity and power. You don’t want to overwork yourself, release a bunch of cortisol, and set yourself back a few weeks.

Squats and deadlifts are absolutely required. No excuses. They engage the most muscles and produce the biggest hormonal response. They will be the bedrock of your mass building campaign. Most programs recommend doing squats every session, and I tend to agree. You can handle it. Deadlifts are a bit more taxing and so should be relegated to every other workout. So, one week you’ll deadlift once, the next week twice. You can also sub in power cleans for the occasional deadlifts (or do them in addition) if you’re comfortable with such a complex movement. Presses are paramount, both overhead and bench. I’d alternate both types of presses every session. Pull-ups are great, but weighted pull-ups are even better. Same goes for dips. Just try to get one pulling, one pushing, and one squatting exercise in each session.

An example for beginners, with sets coming first in the sequence:

Squat 5×5
Pull-ups 5xFailure (add weight if “Failure” is becoming more than 12 reps)
Overhead Press 5×5

Squat 5×5
Deadlift 1/2/3×5 (your choice; deadlifts can be incredibly taxing, and with exhaustion comes poor form, so be careful; sometimes it’s better to do a really heavy load for a single set)
Bench Press 5×5

Squat 5×5
Pull-ups 5xFailure
Overhead Press 5×5

Do this sequence every week (maybe Monday, Wednesday, Friday) and steadily increase the weight each session. Once you’re making progress, feel free to add in other exercises like dips or more Olympic lifts. For more mass, more lactic “burn” (and more GH secretion), reduce your rest periods between sets or even superset them. If you feel like doing some cardio, stick to sprints once weekly, or even a Crossfit-style metcon (metabolic conditioning) workout, maybe some Tabata burpees. The key is conserving strength and giving your body time to rest and recover for the next round of squats, deadlifts, and presses.

This “program” can be tweaked and altered. Just make sure you’re doing big movements while maintaining extreme intensity and great form. Oh, and always make sure to squat and deadlift. Always. They produce the most testosterone, GH, and IGF-1.

Eat Lots (I Mean Lots) of Plants and Animals

No one would ever call the Primal Blueprint a protein-sparing plan, but you’re going to have to eat even more than before. Stuff yourself. I always say that body composition is 80% diet, and that goes for putting on mass as well as losing fat. You need to provide plenty of protein for all those hormones to synthesize, after all.

  • Never let your protein intake go lower than 1g/lb of body weight when you are aiming to add long-term muscle. It’s the building block of muscle, and your body is going to be starving for it.
  • Eat plenty of saturated and monounsaturated fat. Fat blunts insulin secretion while increasing testosterone production. Insulin may be useful for stuffing your muscles full of glycogen, but that’s not what you’re going for… right?
  • Dietary fat, in conjunction with all the GH you’ll be producing, also spares muscle wasting.
  • You may have heard of the popular GOMAD method – Gallon of Milk a Day for easy mass-building. It undoubtedly works, but a gallon of milk isn’t exactly Primal and I can’t recommend it. Instead of milk, why not a dozen eggs a day? ADEAD? If you can manage it, eating them on top of your regularly scheduled meals is a great source of affordable protein, fat, and vitamins (Vitamin A in particular may have pro-anabolic effects).
  • Eat often. If you’re going for pure size and strength, fasted workouts and skipped PWO meals may not be the ticket. You’ll burn more fat with the extra GH secretion and existing muscle will be spared, but you may be missing the chance at prime protein synthesis when you fast. A PWO meal of protein and fat will still blunt the insulin secretion and provide fuel for your muscles.
  • Increase caloric intake. You’re going to be expending so much energy on the lifts (and you’ll continue to burn through it even on rest days) while eating clean, Primal foods (and keeping insulin low as ever) that fat accumulation shouldn’t be an issue at all. Eat!
  • On those days when you do expend a ton of energy – maybe on your metcon or sprint day – having a Primal-friendly starch, like squash or sweet potato, is a decent way to replenish depleted glycogen stores.
  • Eat a big piece of fatty meat every single day. Steak, whole chicken, lamb leg, organs, whatever. Just eat a solid piece of animal flesh for a powerful protein infusion on a daily basis.
  • A hardgainer is often someone who doesn’t eat enough. Sure, genes play a role, but you can ultimately have a significant say in how those genes rebuild you. To a point. Eat more and lift harder to grab the reins.

I’m a firm believer in the body’s natural ability to achieve proper homeostasis, provided we supply the right environment and the right foods. For some of you, that might mean lower body mass, lower than you’d like. In my opinion, that amount of muscle is probably “right” for you and I wouldn’t recommend going above and beyond to achieve more of it… but I also wouldn’t condemn it, especially if it’s pursued in accordance with the Primal Laws. As for me, I am comfortable where I’m at and tend not to seek added mass (I’m also at a point where lifting heavy increases my risk of injury, and I HATE downtime). But if you are a hard-gainer looking to add a few, as long as it’s not just show muscle and you can actually lift some decent weight and at the very least manipulate your own body weight comfortably, eat those dozen eggs and gain that weight.

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Gio JL Flickr Photo (CC)

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Plugging Starting Strength and Practical Programming by Rippetoe. I started on a 5×5 program and then switched to SS. Wish I had done SS from the beginning. Also is a fun sight and anyone who thinks they are a hard gainer needs to go there for some hefty doses of reality. One of the diets 70sbig advocates is a paleo + milk diet coupled with linear progression barbell training.

    Michael wrote on February 11th, 2010
    • Hi Michael, why is that? -did you find 5×5 being too hard when working out 3 times a week? You see more progress with SS? I’m starting out myself so I’m just curious.. Cheers :)

      George Clooney wrote on March 24th, 2010
  2. Hi Mark. I bought your book a couple of days ago and I LOVE every page of it! Though there is one question i’d like to ask (anyone, for that matter, please feel free to contribute) about training frequency depending on job type. I work as a construction / manual labourer and i’m trying to decide whether to go a 3 day full body routine or just keep it at 2? I’m afraid I might overtrain if i’m on a 3 day full body strength training routine. I’d like to add about another 6-7kgs of lean muscle tissue. Thanks in advance!

    Daniel wrote on March 9th, 2010
  3. Great comprehensive article Mark. I totally agree that compound exercises definitely are the way to go if you want to put on size as quickly as possible. The king of them all squats is a must for boosting the metabolism and pumping out those essential growth hormones.

    Toning Abs wrote on March 16th, 2010
  4. “Lift really heavy things” haha I like your writing style, and the information is solid. Thanks for this great article.

    Jeff wrote on March 23rd, 2010
  5. I have a question. I am an 18 year old male and I follow the crossfit wods. I have been exercising for years (crossfit for a little over one year) but eating very wrong (ridiculously high carbohydrates and very little fat and only moderate protein). I have been following a primal diet to the extent that I can in college (lots and lots of eggs and nuts/nut butters) for a while now hoping to finally bring my body fat down but have not been able to see any progress. Is it possible that I am eating too much fat now if I am eating almost 60 eggs a week and adding more fat in the form of spoonfuls of nuts and nut butters? That said, I really love eating primally. It has opened up new worlds of taste that I had been restricting in following paleo and zone diets

    Ben wrote on March 26th, 2010
  6. Ben,

    I thought I was eating lots of eggs at about 20 per week!

    I also had been eating tons of starches. I replaced those with mostly good greens (keeping starch intake only around workouts–as many have done for years). I am eating plenty of fats in meats and oils in salads, plus a Fish Oil supplement, and now have clearly visible abs–finally.

    Are you getting enough good protein? And are you strength training centered on the big lifts? Those two factors account for much of what will happen in bodycomp change. Old stuff, really.

    I agree with the author to avoid fasted workouts and training. Just eat consistently, but eat well– as described here. Most of what is necessary to do for lean gains and fat loss is already long known.

    For strength and muscular development, Rippetoe’s Starting Strength is the way (for beginners and most who say they are lifting veterans). It centers on 3 basic lifts per session–and if eating correctly–one will probably not get noticeably better results with more work or bodypart specializing.

    SS is a brilliantly articulated work on a 5-rep method that is proven for decades. His instruction has even taught me some things on the “basics”–which always work best.

    Good luck,


    Roy wrote on April 3rd, 2010
  7. this article has done me wonders. i’ve been steadily in the gym for 4 years now and after this article, i can say i’ve REALLY seen a significant progression in my attributes. i’ve gained about 10 pounds in the past 2 months. i can’t say it’s all muscle, but my cardio and strength have increased significantly, so i definitely can’t call it bad.

    i’ve focused on my legs a lot more and decided to go down in weight on the bench. by going down, i tried increasing my output on the lower weight and generally adding weight gradually to optimize my sets…instead of walking in the gym and throwing 225 on the bar and doing 3 sets of 6, i go in and do 5 sets of 5 at 185, adding 5 pounds per session…it’s worked out great. and i’m going in on leg lifts and squats like crazy doing 5 sets of each at a lower weight and maximizing on the day i dedicate specifically to lower body. right now i’m 197. i was 185 when i came across this article.

    my diet has changed significantly. i love food, but i suck(ed) at cooking and would always cut out and catch a burger or some other crap to substitute a good meal. well now that’s stopped. every week i go to the grocery store and stock up on chicken, eggs, fish, turkey and canned tuna. that along with all the fruits and vegetables and i’m golden for three meals a day outside of breakfast.

    chrisc wrote on April 5th, 2010
  8. There is definitely truth in the familiar saying, “If you want to get big you need to eat big and lift big!”

    Enough said.

    weight training routines wrote on April 9th, 2010
  9. What is your opinion of an exercise program like P90X for building lean muscle?

    David Gress wrote on April 12th, 2010
  10. I am doing P90X. The system uses nutrition effectively and has good motivation for taking workouts to the next level with exertion. It is a system for getting RiPPED (low body fat) rather than mass building. Of course you will still build lean muscle if you are honest in your workouts and what you have to do every day with your daily goals.

    Staying in your hypertrophy range (5-10 reps per exercise to failure) throughout the system and eating big is best. Supplement P90X with compound movements like squats and deadlifts and sprints. Lots of sleep, moderate water intake (A gallon a day is probably too much, but not much less than that) and eat properly according to the guides.

    gestalt wrote on April 12th, 2010
  11. The tried and true 5×5 routine. The shortened version is awesome for people on the go.

    What’s interesting is that most people confuse ripped and muscle building. Physiologically speaking they are the same, but one simply has less fat.

    You lift more weight, not including the 2-6 weeks it takes for learning and skill building and the rest is structural changes whether from muscle or connective tissue change or both.

    Always had a hard time following diets, but oh well.

    Awesome post.

    Darryl wrote on April 13th, 2010
  12. Whether one wants to lose weight (FAT) or gain weight (MUSCLE), I believe the principles of rational strength training (focus on basic movements with lots of weight, with barbells, preferably) and diet (PRIMAL) should be applied—in both cases.

    The only thing that should differ dependent on which goal is applied, is that the QUANTITY of PRIMAL food intake be altered.

    I don’t see any other path here.


    Roy wrote on April 14th, 2010
  13. I’ve been Primal for about two months now, and I’m experiencing a weight-loss problem. I’ve lost more than I’d like! I’m 5’7″, and I’m down to a 34″ chest, 25″ waist and 35″ hips. I’ve got a six-pack, a 14″ bicep and 23″ thigh, so I don’t think I’m lacking in the muscle department too much. I’m not sure my weight, because I don’t own a scale, but my clothes have become baggy and I feel this is too small for me.

    I do my weight training every other day, and I tend to count my being on my feet all day (I work at a coffee house) as low-level aerobic exercise. I get in a sprint session about once a week, and a longer run also because I like to.

    I eat whenever I’m hungry. What can I do to reverse my shrinking self?

    Erin wrote on April 20th, 2010
    • If you like heavy cream (and who doesn’t :)), then try drinking that often to add in some more calories or any other fat that you like, as well as Clint’s suggestion for sweet potatoes, etc.

      Toolman wrote on April 21st, 2010
    • Don’t just cook with oil, add extra oil to your foods.

      Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s both have wild rice, but it’s also available online.

      Also, coconut milk or cream is high calorie and easy to drink or add to foods (like curry).

      Here’s a primal dessert

      Coconut Banana “Ice Cream”

      Serves 2

      2 bananas (previously sliced into rings and frozen in a zipper bag)
      .5 oz unsweetened, shredded coconut
      .25 cup coconut milk

      Pour all ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until it’s creamy. If necessary, drizzle a tiny bit more milk to get to the desired consistency.. It will never be totally smooth because of the shredded coconut.

      Garnish with a few reserved coconut shreds.

      Nutrition: 205 calories, 11g Fat, 29g Carbs, 4g Fiber, 2.5g Protein

      If you used coconut cream instead of milk, you add an additional 50-75 calories, depending on the brand. Or you can just eat more of the “ice cream” yourself.

      Roland wrote on April 21st, 2010
      • Roland, that dessert recipe sounds delicious. There are some banana allergies in our household, though, so I think I’ll experiment with using other fruits. No Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods within 100 miles of South Bend, IN, unfortunately, but I’ll scope out some of the smaller natural foods stores.

        I’m also going to let you guys in on a bit of a secret. I don’t know about other coffee houses, but Starbucks has heavy whipping cream on hand (that’s what goes in my coffee when I’m at work), you just have to ask for it. You might get some rolled eyes, although not from my manager, who also uses it — just tell them tough cookies.

        Erin wrote on April 21st, 2010
  14. Erin,
    Add in a few more Primal carbs like a sweet potato or even a little wild rice and see if the loss levels out. I had that problem too and went too far the other way so add the carbs in slowly until you find your “sweet spot.”

    Clint White wrote on April 20th, 2010
  15. Thanks, Clint! I’ve searched unsuccessfully in our supermarkets for wild rice, but I will pick up a few more starchy vegetables on my next grocery trip. I was thinking — all the women on my mother’s side of the family hover around 5’0″ and 100 lbs. I thought I just got my curves from my dad, like my height, but I’m starting to wonder whether going Primal is just finally making those “little” genes express themselves.

    Erin wrote on April 20th, 2010
  16. I’d recommend the same Primal dietary approach—regardless of goals. Only the calories need be manipulated.

    Thus, I’d recommend eating more of the good protein sources until you notice a *slow* weight gain. Only a small surplus is needed. I would not go “starchy”, which is contrary to inflammation principles, is fattening, and only pulls in more water. Complex cycling and timing of macronutrients is not needed either. This is simple stuff but few believe that.

    If you are already eating (chewing) as much as you truly an and still not gaining, add some tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. But this is usually not necessary if eating properly.

    And anyone needs is progressive, demanding, basic barbell lifting using any rep range between 5-12, or some combination thereof.

    Genetics takes care of the rest.

    Roy wrote on April 22nd, 2010
  17. Erin, that sucks about the banana allergy. Other fruits are not as creamy, so you’ll have mixed results. Papaya might work. I don’t like them, so I’ve never tried it.

    Roy, Mark recommends some “primal friendly” starches in the article.

    Roland wrote on April 22nd, 2010
    • Roland: Right. I was referring to avoiding a departure towards things like baked potato, rice, breads, etc.

      Agreed that there are better starches and perhaps these can be used around workouts, or in the mornings of training days—when insulin levels favor. But even this *may* not be necessary. In general, I’d oppose a traditional “bulking” mentality.

      Roy wrote on April 22nd, 2010
      • Perfect! Agreed.

        The trick is really to find a way to eat just a little more per day AND then not go and waste it by subconsciously training, moving, or fidgeting more!

        Roland wrote on April 22nd, 2010
  18. Wow, great info.
    I’m currently trying to get leaner but when ever i do that i lose all the muscle that i have worked so hard to gain.
    Might have to hook myself up with a copy of your book.
    thanks again.

    Rob wrote on May 6th, 2010
  19. I am an athlete at a high school a 10th grader. I am not a hard gainer but I consider myself as an easy gainer maybe because I eat a lot of calories, protein but not as much veggies and fruit (I do drink water though). I am strong for my age and I play basketball, and wightlift. I wight 150 pounds and I am 5 feet and 10 inches tall. I can bench about 120 pounds but I am losing muscle and potting fat!! How can I lose fat and gain muscle with pounds?

    David wrote on May 10th, 2010
    • David, if you’re losing muscle, you need a better weight training program.

      You don’t say whether you’re gaining weight, in addition to fat, but the better weight training program and some real efforts in the gym should help to shift fat gain to muscle gain.

      You could still be eating too much, but it’s hard to tell without knowing more about your actual scale weight gains and program.

      Get on a good weight training program like Starting Strength or The New Rules Of Lifting (both books on Amazon) and see what that does to your body.

      Roland wrote on May 11th, 2010
  20. Ok thatk you. I will try a new wight training program. Oh by the way I was skinny two years ago and now I look fatter and more muscular. But is is not actually fat it is hard muscle with fat. I guess I have to rain harder. Thank you all.

    David wrote on May 11th, 2010
  21. Mark,

    Great article. But hardgainer or not, I’m concerned about the fat intake you propose (especially saturated) when doing this type of workout. Wouldn’t that lead to an increase risk of heart disease and clogged arteries??

    Warren wrote on May 19th, 2010
  22. 5×5 stuff is terrible and useless
    all the people doing the Rippetoe stuff become fat and even less conditioned and strong than someone doing a normal lifting routine. Volume is underestimated, it builds muscles better than intensity.

    Andry wrote on May 28th, 2010
    • I think that’s an ignorant thing to say. Rippetoe’s methods build muscle differently than higher rep volume. Starting strength is designed to gain weight and o-lift/powerlift strength. It’s not designed for any other conditioning.

      Ben wrote on May 28th, 2010
    • There is no such thing as a “normal” lifting routine. Low volume/heavy lifting has been around for decades, Rippetoe is just restating it. Bill Starr did it before that.

      Never let anyone tell you there is only one way to lift weights. There are literally dozens of ways that many have had success with… High volume/moderate weight, HIT, low volume/heavy weight, slow go, olympic, powerlifting, etc.

      Any trainee should try any and all and see how their body reacts. If meeting goals then put it in your bag of tricks. Switch routines and styles throughout a training year.

      Roy wrote on May 28th, 2010
    • Well that is an incredibly silly thing to say, and is highly unfounded.
      Rippetoe’s program is ‘Starting Strength’.
      Not ‘Starting Conditioning’.
      Not ‘Starting Kind Of Strong’.
      ‘Starting Strength’.
      Strength in his program is the bottom line. He is not concerned with your conditioning on his program. It is intended to be used as a program to acquire a base level of strength. After attaining this base of strength you can do whatever you want to get rid of the fat you likely will have put on during the program.

      Riley wrote on June 23rd, 2010
  23. A hardgainer here. Great info…

    Just wondering whats some examples of good post-workout meals to take?

    Ive been eating a can of tuna in springwater and 4 cucumbers. So only protein and some carb intake there. No fat as I heard it gets in the way of protein absorption.

    Hope to hear some wise words! Cheers

    Rick wrote on June 1st, 2010
  24. Just more on my above post. Im also on a Candida diet. So no fruit (sugar), diary, etc… and eating only about 80g carb a day. Im staying away from protein powders preferring to go as ‘whole’ as possible.
    Also, any thoughts for a good pre-bedtime snack/meal?
    Thanks guys

    Rick wrote on June 2nd, 2010
    • You’re really going to have to eat more than that. You don’t list the rest of your diet, but you’re being way too careful after a workout, IMO. It leaves me with the impression that you might be too careful the rest of the day, too.

      That whole “avoid fat” thing after a workout is a myth, and while it might be fine for those who are going to eat 600-800 calories of protein and carbs, you’re not eating enough after the workout, anyway.

      Just eat. Protein, fat, veggies. You must eat more calories than you burn to gain weight.

      Roland wrote on June 2nd, 2010
  25. Hey Roland, thanks for your reply

    Ive been eating 3000cals a day, I weight 75kg. 6 meals a day. usually about 250g fat, approx 160g protein (enough for 1lb per kg of bodyweight for me) and the rest in carbs.

    Alright Ill throw in some fats for the postworkout meal too. Maybe some coconut oil?

    Any thoughts on a pre-bedtime meal? Ive been downing about 4 eggs.

    Thanks for the response!

    Rick wrote on June 2nd, 2010
    • If you’re gaining weight, then there’s no reason to eat more pwo, but just don’t worry about fat. If anything, I’d try my hardest to get any carbs in then. Like actual squash or tubers with a higher carb content. Cucumber is pretty light in the calorie and carb department, so considering that a pwo carb is not very realistic.

      That being said, you don’t need immediate carb replenishment unless you plan to train again THAT day, anyway. Your next few meals should be fine for loading you back up on glycogen.

      As to bedtime, eat anything that sits well and doesn’t keep you up. Eggs should be fine if that’s what you like. It’s P and F, so you’re good to go.

      Roland wrote on June 2nd, 2010
  26. Not sure if I understand the workout correctly.
    For example on A:
    Squat 5×5
    Pull-ups 5xFailure (add weight if “Failure” is becoming more than 12 reps)
    Overhead Press 5×5

    Do I squat for five sets, then move to pull ups for five sets, then overhead press for five sets? Or do I do one set of squats, pullups, and Overhead press, and repeat four times?


    Lars1000 wrote on June 3rd, 2010
    • Typically:
      Squat all 5 sets, move to pullups for 5 sets, etc.

      That said, you could also, too mix it up, do a set of squats, a set of pullups, a set of OH press and then repeat.

      Try them both. Switch it up every week or so.

      Roy wrote on June 3rd, 2010
  27. I am a hardgainer- was 160 on a seafood diet. Went down to 145 on a cheap non seafood diet, if I forget to eat a few meals I can lose 5 pounds a day easy. Hope this helps me I made alot of mistakes running everyday for a few years and really broke down with muscles that stayed sore for months. thanks

    Todd wrote on June 4th, 2010
  28. this all seems fantastic but im abit of new commer to this and don’t understand why you don’t want your muscle glycogen to be full? Thanks

    Sam wrote on June 15th, 2010
  29. Hi Mark

    Just had to drop a quick line and say that I’m stoked to have found your website! My American wifes mum sent me your dailyapple website link and I couldn’t believe that there was someone else out there as Primal as us! We’re in Sydney Australia and live and breath exactly what you are writing about. My partners have just bought your book and look forward to seeing what you have to say. We’ll write about it on our blog soon. I’m sure it will be great :) Keep up the positive messages of health that challenge the staud quo and look us up if you ever come to Sydney!


    primalbrad wrote on June 17th, 2010
  30. ‘Insulin may be useful for stuffing your muscles full of glycogen, but that’s not what you’re going for… right?’

    why don’t we want to do this??

    Sam wrote on June 20th, 2010
  31. I gotta say a dozen eggs a day sounds like it could definitely be harmful. As much as I love eggs, and could easily eat a dozen a day, I gotta think it’d be bad for me. Am I wrong here?

    Ronstar wrote on June 21st, 2010
  32. Great article! Included heaps of insightful tips and covered pretty much everything that you could ask on how to gain weight and build muscle. Thanks for the post!

    Craig Mutimerz wrote on June 24th, 2010
  33. Hey Guys,

    How big can us ectomorphs expect to get with this kind of workout and going Primal?

    In one of Marks other articles he says: “And in the long-term the range (or limits) of possible outcomes is determined by gene expression (5’8” ectomorphs simply can’t become 275-lb body-builders, but they can be well-proportioned 165-lb men or 135-lb women.)”

    Im a 6’2″ male and my goal is to reach about 200lb. Is this impossible/unrealistic? Doing a bit of research I heard thats how much Hugh Jackman weighed in Wolverine and he is a 6’2″ Ecto as well… sure he didnt go Primal (lots of carb bulking) but when he leaned out he had some serious muscle there. Is this possible with the Primal way?

    Thanks in advance!

    Rick wrote on June 25th, 2010
    • I would say it is definitely possible. I’m ectomorph, 5’11” and have weighed 200 lbs. Sitting at 185 lbs. right now and lean and muscular so I think it definitely attainable. Of course I’ve been training for 20+ years.

      I would encourage lots of fats, proteins and a good amount of low glycemic starchy veggies (sweet potatoes, etc) along with of course lots of fibrous veggies.

      Lift heavy (and smart), keep progressing (adding weight, decreasing rest time, adding reps, etc.) and eat lots of good foods and you can achieve your goal.

      Roy wrote on June 26th, 2010
      • Roy’s pretty spot on.

        Obviously, you can be limited by genetics, but most people never get to anywhere near their limitation.

        To get big (or bigger), you have to eat more than you burn and continually get stronger, lifting heavier and more volume. One way or another, that has to happen.

        One HUGE benefit of Mark’s Primal eating is that it naturally curbs the appetite and self-limits calories. Calories tend to be at pretty reasonable number for both healthy living and a leaner look than most of us are used to. But, because of these “benefits,” adapting it to getting bigger means some more creative eating or a slow down of activity or both.

        You’ll have to find a way to eat more than you burn. Track your food, track your weight, and if you’re not slowly gaining weight, bump it up.

        Don’t just eat more on training days, either. Yes, a huge meal with lots of primal carbs is probably best right after training, but muscles grow over time, so eat a little more on the day after, too.

        Of course, if you’re adding too much body fat for your liking, slow it down some OR consider an IF day during the week. I train on Sat, eat bigger on Sunday, then IF all day Monday, then train again Monday night. Play around and see what works.

        Roland wrote on June 26th, 2010
  34. A lot of people completely overlook the importance of the central nervous system in the muscle building process. While everyone knows that you’ve got to lift heavy weights to build muscle mass, hardly anyone takes the approach of mixing things up in order to shock your CNS. I think that focusing on your central nervous system in addition the the basics is a great way to build more muscle mass.

    Nick Andrade wrote on June 26th, 2010
  35. Thanks Roy, Roland and Nick…

    Great to hear the positive replies!!

    I sure am upping fats and protein. I have Candida (yeast overgrowth) that im currently overcoming/healing… so low carbs is a must. And no starchy veg too. I have about 6T coconut oil and 3/4 cup of olive oil a day to up the good fats and other fats from avocado, meat, good butter and other sources.

    Any advice on squats? I seem to be really terrible with squat strength. I feel my technique is 100% sound so Im working on that by lowering the weight. My strength in general isnt great… I weight 76kg. Im deadlifting 5×5 85kg… but only squatting about 35-40 kg. Ive got really long legs so maybe thats part of the challenge. I heard core work can really assist squat strength alot.
    I guess it doesnt matter. as long as the weight increases and Im happy with the mass Im gaining its all good. its all about progress.

    Rick wrote on June 26th, 2010
    • Rick, at your height and if you have long limbs you may very well be more suited for deadlift than you are for squats. Certain body types are more well suited for certain lifts.

      Doesn’t mean you can’t squat just means it may be more of a struggle for you and you need to be very careful on your technique, i.e. absolutely no rounding of your back and knees being pushed outward and not collapsing inward.

      Squats of deadlifts either one will work for gaining some good mass. Just keep pushing up your numbers and keep your form perfect and you will get there.

      Roy wrote on June 27th, 2010

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