Are you training for the right reasons?

Have a serious think about why you’re training, and be honest. I did this recently myself and questioned some of the practices I partake in and the reasons I do them.

I read a book recently by Harrison.G Pope called ‘The Adonis complex’ which looks into the unhealthy relationships we increasingly have with food, exercise and our body image. It was a bit of an eye opener in terms of statistics but the gist of the book was unsurprising and something I’ve picked up on myself when looking at other peoples behaviors.


Many people have unhealthy obsessions with exercise. It seems to be the younger generation’s thing to be obsessed with the way you look (under 30’s?) and more and more emphasis goes into body image and seeking the approval of others. Simultaneously there is less importance on ethics, morals and being a good human being. It’s likely due to the media constantly trying to sell us shit that we don’t need and this usually involves sham sales tactics of creating an insecurity in people in order to make them buy something. A man should look like this, a women should look like this….and this product will help you achieve it. You get the idea.

It’s all about social media these days, being seen in a certain light by your friends (and strangers) and sticking half naked selfies all over the internet in order to gain the approval from others you so badly need to pour water on the flames of truth that you’re likely insecure for some reason or another. I’ll probably get flamed by the naked selfie brigade here screaming “we’re not insecure”…..sorry but however much you say you’re not, you are! Progress photos are great for monitoring improvements but ask yourself why are you sharing these with the whole world on a daily/weekly basis.

I’m pretty sure my dad, my granddad and most other guys of that age couldn’t give two shits about having a six pack or spending 1-2 hours a day working out and missing their family time to get that 17 inch arm to show off on Twitter and Facebook. But then advertising was less aggressive towards these things back then and the big corporations hadn’t then figured out they could manipulate people by playing on physical insecurity (that they created) I guess.

How do you know you have an unhealthy relationship with your body image and/or food?

  • Do you miss social events with friends and family because you have to ‘make the gym’ or train?
  • Avoid eating out with friends and family to avoid ‘ruining your macros for the day’
  • Constantly post half naked selfies on the internet
  • Worry regularly what other people think of your body
  • Weigh every single food item you eat and spend large amounts of your time worrying about macros and calorie counts
  • Waste huge amounts of your time training for aesthetic reasons, as above these may interfere with your normal life.

Some of the above points are not always unhealthy. For example an athlete training for an event may be careful and very particular leading up to an event etc. Also note that  I’m not suggesting that healthy habits and training hard is wrong, it’s absolutely a good thing but there is a line. More importantly is the reasons why you’re training. 

What are good reasons to be training or being very anal about things?

Not many but here are a few-

  • You are a complete fat fuck and should lose some weight in order to maintain health and longevity
  • You have some type of metabolic disease that would benefit from strict dietary intake and exercise

That’s about it and arguably even in these situations there is no need for total obsession

So what should training be about?

  • Health- Weight training is excellent to improve and maintain all health markers
  • Living a longer functional life- Wouldn’t it be good if we could all get out of bed, walk and do normal stuff in our 80’s or 90’s?
  • Training for your sport or hobby
  • Keeping in shape for YOURSELF and not everyone else (so long as it avoids many of the unhealthy points raised previously)
  • Enjoyment of setting goals and achieving them
  • Being the best version of yourself (not aspiring to something unachievable like the pipe dream that is sold to you in the magazines and advertisements)

Health and Fitness Confusion

There are two buzz words used wrongly in the same sentence pretty regularly. The words ‘health’ and ‘fitness’ (I’ve even used them in the same sentence myself!)

This sounds really obvious but anybody looking to improve their health, fitness or sport specific performance needs to fully grasp the difference between health and fitness. This will ensure the training, diet and lifestyle system you use fits in with your goals and you’re not getting sucked into doing things that don’t fit with your goals and wasting your time and effort.

Health, as described in the dictionary, usually is defined as “The absence of disease”

Fitness is “The quality of being suitable to fulfill a particular task”

A person can be very fit but also very unhealthy and the flip side is a person can be perfectly healthy but lacks any specific fitness.

The above said, in most cases a fit person will likely benefit from many health benefits so the chances of being healthy are higher.

Example 1

A marathon runner runs 75 miles a week as part of his or her training. They have numerous niggling injuries. They also have worn their joints down (hips and knees) to the point that this may effect their everyday activities when they’re older. They may also be run down and get a cold or flu fairly regularly. Yet this person is obviously very fit at the specific activity of running, they have decent lower body development and a strong heart and lungs. Somebody able to run a marathon may have diseases too. Lance Armstrong for example got cancer that wasn’t detected for a long time all the while he was cycling competitively- he was fit but very unhealthy.

Example 2

A guy or girl does barely any exercise other than walking to work three times a week, they’re fit in no particular activity and have no real fitness, yet they have a reasonably healthy diet, average body fat levels and no diseases. Ask them to run a marathon or try any physical endeavor that requires fitness and they’ll fail,  they have good health without fitness.

How does this affect your training?

Training should be specific. If you need specific fitness for your sport you should be doing more of the sport and movements that mimic your sport. A marathon runner needs to run 26 miles so training for running this distance requires long steady runs for example as part of their training regime. For health it would probably surprise you how little is required in terms of training, you can likely get all the health benefits that an athlete might gain from as little as 30 minutes total exercise per week. Diet of course need to be dialed towards health to make this work.

In conclusion health and fitness are two completely separate things, some people may only train for health (which is great) but the training you do for health reasons and the training required for fitness are very much different and exercise specificity is key.

Drugs In Sport – Winning At All Costs

Many of us, especially kids, aspire to professional athletes and look up them as positive role models. The physical achievement of making it to the top of your sport as an athlete is always attributed to sheer hard work. What we all don’t know is that many athletes are pure liars and have achieved the greatness they have obtained through drug use.

The naivety of people does shock me a little. I remember back when I was running for a local running club some 10 years ago now, I recall discussing Lance Armstrong and the use of performance enhancing drugs (PED’s). The guys I discussed this with were shocked when I stated that I wouldn’t be surprised if he was taking PED’s. One even got offended and got quite irate, defending his Tour de France hero proclaiming “he’d never do steroids, it would be too risky to his career and health”. Well ten years on and it’s all out in the open….hate to say I told you so.

If something seems too good to be true, it usually is.

History of drugs in sport

The use of PED’s in sport is not something new. Notably in the 60’s the East Germans were keen to prove their superiority over others in many aspects (including the Olympics). The East German government initiated a sophisticated doping regime which essentially put all their athletes on steroids without the athletes knowing. They dominated the Olympics at the cost of many of the athletes’ careers and health.

Fast forward to the Seoul 1988 Olympic games. Ben Johnson wins the 100 metre sprint by a huge margin and smashes Carl Lewis. The next day it is announced he fails a doping test. Reports from the time also suggest that most of the entire field who ran the final were on some kind of PED (including Carl Lewis).

The Tour De France. Need I say any more? It’s now common knowledge that most of the field until very recently were all on a cocktail of PED’s including EPO, testosterone, human growth hormone and blood transfusions

American football. Look at the Lyle Alzado story, the whole sport is full of roid heads as he put it.

Baseball. Remember the whole Barry Bonds scandal?

Athletics. I have recollections of Marion Jones swearing in court she had never used PED’s then a short while later she is caught and comes clean and admits everything. Recently Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell received bans too.

You get the idea, drugs in sport is not something new. It’s just a dirty secret that has come to light more recently and been heavily exposed time and time again. Yet we’re all shocked each time it happens and we all look down on the athletes.

So why are athletes taking performance enhancing drugs

If you dangle a 1 million dollar prize on winning, fame and stardom then people will do whatever it takes to win. If that means taking PED’s and sticking a needle in your ass once a week, then so be it. Most of these athletes have everything monitored by a health professional anyway which makes it a lot safer and more importantly effective.

Do you the public want to see average guys doing average things to be entertained? No, we all want to see superhuman people doing superhuman things. Nobody wants to see average things, we all want the boundaries pushed and records broken which puts more pressure on athletes to take PED’s and do whatever it takes to break the records.

Are we the public judging too much?

Yes taking PED’s is cheating, yes it’s wrong and yes it doesn’t set a great example to our kids about achieving things honestly with hard work.

But the way we the public and the media talk about it is a joke. Athletes caught doping are demonised by the media and we all tell each other what terrible people the drug users are.

Rules are rules for sure but this is just sport. Aside from the rules of their sport who are we to judge these people too harshly while we are taking our drugs of choice? We sit there drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, smoking weed, eating fast food, filling our fat ass faces with sugar and burdening the tax payer to pick up the pieces via the NHS. What sort of message does this send to our kids? Taking PED’s is bad because……it’s a health risk? Because the athlete lied? or broke the ‘rules’?

Telling lies is not good of course but we all break rules, we speed in our cars, we steal pens from the stationery cupboard at work, we block toilets up and blame it on others, we lie by telling our kids about santa clause, we lie about our shitty dietary habits, we go against Dr’s orders, people cheat on their spouses, stab their work colleagues in the back for promotion the list goes on. Are we any better or should we get back in our box and take a look in the mirror before judging what others are doing?

But what about drug testing?

Dodging a drug test or passing a drug test is very simple. In fact athletes who fail drugs tests are pretty stupid in my opinion. Many PED’s clear the system in hours, all the athlete needs to do is take a steroid that clears the system quickly, so taking a short ester drug is key. Also many drugs cannot even be tested for, Growth hormone is one, blood transfusions are also nearly impossible to detect. Testosterone is also a controversial drug of choice. An athlete can increase his testosterone level to the top end of the normal range but this is still ‘normal’ and not elevated enough to cause a failed doping test yet the athlete may have doubled his natural levels artificially. There is of course the carbon isotope test now which can detect artificial testosterone but this is a recent thing. There are also a number of masking agents like diuretics that hide the drugs an athlete has taken which all make it more difficult to actually catch drug cheats red handed.

The dopers are often way ahead of the doping testers.

Is it cheating?

Not to defend Lance Armstrong but he had a point when he gave the definition of cheating. It goes like this “Cheating – to gain an unfair advantage on your opposition”. He also pointed out it’s not an unfair advantage if everybody is using drugs, such as the case in the Tour De France in his day. I still think he’s a turd for destroying people’s lives that dared to question his drug use, but this is another issue altogether.

If we consider performance enhancing drugs cheating what else can we consider cheating?

  • A player of a racket ball sport having their eye sight surgically corrected
  • A body builder having surgical implants
  • An athlete having access to state of the art training facilities
  • Creating red blood cells by training at altitude (mimicking the effects of EPO)
  • Training in an oxygen chamber to create the above effect

All of the above are deemed as ‘fair game’ yet they all give the athlete an advantage not given to them at birth, something they wouldn’t be able to naturally obtain without some kind of intervention.

You see it is not black and white by any means. Why not just open up the gates and say anything goes? Take whatever you want, do whatever you want. Then the best man wins anyway.

I’m playing devil’s advocate here to make a point but joe public needs to wake up to the fact that sport is filthy and at one stage or another in an athlete’s career they probably have taken drugs and I don’t really think it’s a big deal. I’m not talking about mediocre athletes I’m talking about those at the very top of their game- The Usain Bolts, the Lance Armstrongs, the Michael Phelps, the guys at the very top end of their sport.

Do I think more athletes will be exposed? Yes absolutely, I’m sure many of the currently ‘clean’ athletes will test positive at some point or another. I won’t be dumb enough to be shocked by it though.

Do you need supplements to get big, strong and lean?

You’re thinking of taking some supplements to get more out of your training? You’ve seen all the advertisements and you’re convinced you ‘need’ to start spending your hard earned money on supplements to get the most out of your training?

It’s all in the name really- ‘supplements’. They are designed to supplement a solid consistent diet not to replace it. If you think that taking some creatine and whey protein is going to save you from your shitty diet and training routine then you’ve got it all wrong.

Even with a solid diet there is argument that supplements are a complete waste of money. There is no reason you cannot get your dietary needs from food. I’m not talking about vitamins and minerals here (as a good multi vitamin is worthwhile) I’m referring to gym based supplements such as whey protein and pre workouts etc.

But you need more calories and protein?

I’ve had this amazing epiphany- If you need more calories then I suggest you eat more food, you need more protein eat more nuts, meat, eggs and whole milk. You need more carbs then eat more rice, pasta and oats. This is ground breaking stuff right?

Pre workouts

If you need to take some corporate concoction of god knows what to get you fired up for the gym then you have an issue (and likely too much disposable income). If you are feeling tired and need that kick then caffeine is your friend, drink some strong coffee and you have bought yourself a 5p ‘pre workout’.

Money makes the world go around

Think objectively, all that these manufactures want is your money so they’ll do anything in their power to convince you that you need supplements. But the guy advertising the protein is huge and ripped right? Well remember he’s being paid to tell you he uses the protein powder being advertised and likely is on steroids.

Be selective

Supplements are not always a bad thing and can be used sparingly in the right circumstances……

  1. You have a busy day out of the office and limited space and time available, some protein bars, meal replacement and shakes might be good
  2. You’re training fasted and don’t have access to your PWO meal for another 3 hours, maybe try some BCAA’s
  3. Creatine does (and has been proven) to work, this might be worth using
  4. Intra workout gels for very long endurance events (but not gym sessions!)

So save your money and spend it on more food, don’t be a slave to supplement manufacturers and retailers and make sure you’ve grasped the word supplement.

Mass Building – Part 3 – Other Variables

Part 1 was about diet for mass building, in part 2 I wrote about training principles. Here I’m going to touch on a few other key variables that will make a difference in the level of success you’re likely to get from your mass building regime (provided you’ve covered most of the bases discussed in part 1 and part 2)


Genetics make a huge difference. I want to be clear in my opinion of this – everyone can absolutely build muscle. How much you can build will 100% depend on your genetic predisposition. How much potential do you personally have? Well you’ll never know until you lift some heavy ass weights and eat. Genetic factors that can limit you include small thin muscle bellies, high insertion points, low levels of naturally produced testosterone and very light bone structures.


Getting adequate recovery between sessions is vital. Remember you’re stimulating the body to make a response in the gym (grow muscle), you must allow the body to actually do the growing. This happens outside of the gym. You’re simply not going to make as much progress if you train too much by destroying your muscles and CNS every day which will give it no time to adapt.


Sleep is important for many reasons. You need deep REM sleep for hormone production and for the body to repair its cells. Think how tired you feel and how well you function on a bad nights sleep. It’s the same for recovery too; if you’re sleeping poorly you’re likely not recovering as well as you could.

Training partner

Some people benefit from having a training partner. Saying that some don’t, me included. The benefits of a good training partner can be:

  1. They push you to train hard in the gym.
  2. Make you more consistent. You might not feel like training but have agreed to meet your training partner at the gym so you go anyway as not to let them down.
  3. Provide friendly competition
  4. Spotting
  5. Form checking
  6. Share training ideas

If you struggle with motivation and find training with somebody fires you up for a session, then it’s probably a good idea to train with a partner.

Mass Building – Part 2 – Training

In part one I discussed the dieting basics for building bigger muscles, here in part 2 I’ll talk about training to add size.

We’ve all seen such claims as ‘best routine for size’, ‘build bigger arms’ and other such outlandish claims on the front of magazines and in numerous articles across the internet. Many are there to suck you into reading dogmatic content and probably convince you to buy a supplement while you’re there. Let me clear this up before I begin- there is no best routine, no magic ‘best arms’ and no magic formula that will make you bigger all of a sudden.

With the above in mind however, there are set of principles you must follow to progress. As it happens you can apply these principles to your training to make positive improvements no matter what routine you follow. That means making it work for you. We all have strengths/weaknesses, we have varying time constraints, exercise likes/dislikes and access to different types of equipment. Here I will touch on the key factors that should help.

  1. Intensity
  2. Progressive over load
  3. Frequency of training
  4. Volume
  5. Exercise selection
  6. Consistency
  7. Routine
  8. Recording your training


You must train with relatively high intensity in order to send the signal to your muscles that they’re under threat and need to produce an adaptive response (growth). There is literally no point in going to the gym and going through the motions with relative ease, this isn’t going to achieve the response you’re after. Better to go into the gym for 10-15 minutes and work very hard than spend 2 hours doing nothing.

Progressive Overload

You’re not going to get bigger and stronger if you use the same weights week in week out, your goal should be to add weight to the movement you’ve chosen at every opportunity. How many small guys have you seen in the gym that are lifting very heavy weights? The answer is none. If you’re increasing your lifts on a regular basis then there is a very good chance you’re getting bigger.

Strength does not always equal size and vice versa but my opinion is that 99% of the time strength and size are linear and closely related which means getting strong through progressive overload should be a top priority.

What does this means in real terms?

Well let’s say you perform a deadlift once a week, your goal each week should be to add weight to the bar (except deload weeks, which I’ll cover another time). An example- You have a chosen set/ rep range of 3 sets of 5 reps, the last set five reps should be very difficult. If you manage 3×5 then next week you add 5kg to the bar and so forth every time you hit your goal rep numbers.

This ensures you’re getting stronger and this will correlate to size over time. Sounds like a no brainer but so many people just go to the gym lifting on ‘feel’ or ‘instinct’ when they should be looking at progression.

Training Frequency

How often to train for optimal results is down to individual recovery ability. Some people can work out 4 days a week and make decent progress when others may need as much as 7-10 days to recover between working each muscle group. This will also be dependent on your routine and the overlap of work done each session. I personally feel training 2 or 3 times a week is optimal, any more and you’re going to get over trained (if you’re training hard like you should be).

Training 5-7 days a week is ridiculous in my opinion and completely unnecessary. Not only is it unnecessary it’s sub optimal to progress and not something you’ll sustain long term without losing interest or getting injured. Think of the long game, you want to be consistent long term not burn out after 2 months and take a long layoff. You also need balance in your life and training every day pretty much means you have no life outside of the gym. If this is you then perhaps you need to get out there and live a little or re-evaluate your priorities in life (although this is a whole separate article!)

How much volume?

Age old question, how much weekly work ‘should’ you be doing in terms of total volume?  I would suggest keeping volume low but working very hard. There are varying extremes of volume, such as German volume training (10×10) and HIT on the other side of the fence (1 set to failure). I side with HIT and low volume. You can either workout for long durations with low intensity or short durations with high intensity. I know which I’d rather, get in the gym work very hard, provide the stimulus for muscular growth and then get out.

I would suggest between 1 and 4 exercises per body part with approximately 3-12 reps per set, do what suits your time constraints and what you enjoy. Also as I’ve stated put a routine together that allows for 2 or 3 training sessions per week. Training sessions should last no longer than 1 hour as a maximum.

Exercise selection

This is very simple, do what you enjoy and can do safely. Ensure you do one of the following

  • A multi joint leg movement (squat, deadlift variation, leg press etc.)
  • A vertical pull (Wide grip palms down chin, lat pull etc.)
  • A vertical push (an overhead pressing movement)
  • A horizontal pull (Rows)
  • A horizontal push (bench press etc.)

This will mean you’ve worked the entire musculature of the body. You can add accessory movements as you wish once you’ve covered the basics above.


Self-explanatory really, make sure you stick to whatever you’re doing. Don’t chop and change routines and make sure you’re consistent with your training and diet. I’d suggest riding a routine out until it has stopped giving you the gains. How can you monitor what is working and what is not if you’re changing everything about your training around every 2 weeks or so?

Recording your sessions

How do you remember what numbers you’ve lifted so you know the weight to add to the bar next time? How do you know when things have gone right and you’ve got stronger? The answer is not by memory, record your sessions down in a training journal and take it with you to the gym.

Which routine?

As long as it’s well-structured and based on progressive overload then it doesn’t matter to an extent. In any case I’ll outline a couple of variations of a good starting point…..

Push/Pull (2 day split)

Push- Squats, bench press, overhead press, triceps cable extensions

Pull- Deadlifts, wide grip palms down chins, barbell rows, bicep curls

Push/Pull/Legs (3 day split)

Push- Bench press, overhead press, triceps cable extensions

Pull- Deadlifts, wide grip palms down chins, barbell rows, bicep curls

Legs- Squats, stiff leg deadlifts, calf raises

Full body (2/3 days per week)

Deadlifts, squats, bench, overhead press, wide grip palms down chins

That’s it in a nut shell. If you implement the above and combine this with a solid diet you will make as much progress as your genetics allow.

Part 3 I’ll look into other factors that should be taken into account when you’re trying to add mass.

Mass Building – Part 1 – Diet

It’s a bit of a minefield, it’s subjective and there are of course many ways in which you can skin a cat. I will break this down into 3 separate articles (diet, training & other factors) in order to keep this as concise as possible but also to arm you with a decent method and understanding of the basics so you should be able to implement them.

In this article I’ll try and explain the basic principles of the dieting for adding muscle mass. Anybody can do this, it might require a small amount of planning and tracking (for a while) but we eat all the time anyway so it’s not like asking you to do something you wouldn’t normally do.

Diet is one of the biggest tools at your disposal to adding quality mass to your frame, you need to train, that’s obvious, but no training regime will work without the required macro nutrients and building blocks to build muscle.

Diet basics- calories

You need a calorie surplus to grow, there is no avoiding this. This means eating more calories each day than your body needs to perform bodily functions plus any daily activity. You can use the Harris Benedict formula (or other alike methods) to work out rough estimates as to what your maintenance calories are and then add a nominal number (maybe starting at +500kcals), but everyone is different and my suggestion would be to start at roughly 17kcals to 20kcals per pound of lean body weight as total calories each day in order to gain weight.

Since everybody is different you should use this as a starting point and monitor and adjust over time when weight loss stalls. The key is to gain slowly and steadily as anything more than one or two pounds of weight gain a week will most likely mean you’re getting fat.

Let’s use an example of working calories this out….

Let’s suggest you weight 200lbs and you’re approximately 15% body fat. 15% of your total weight is fat leaving 85% as fat free mass.

200x 0.85 gives you you’re approximate lean body weight, which in this case is 170lbs. 170lbs x 17kcals=2890kcals. Remember this is your STARTING point calories and you should monitor and adjust over time. I want to emphasise at this stage that everybody is different, a small guy with a very high metabolism may need as much as 4000kcals or even 5000kcals to start progressively gaining weight.

The above sounds very simple right? You need to eat in a calorie surplus.

Monitoring and adjusting over time

You may find you actually lose weight on this number, in which case you would need to add calories in. Or vice versa, you may experience too much weight gain meaning you might require backing off a little. I suggest weighing yourself as well as looking in the mirror each week. The scales can be deceptive which is when the mirror is useful. For example you’ve gained 2 or 3 pounds this week, but you’re still lean- no need to reduce calories you’ve added lean mass (likely for new trainees).

Tracking calories on My Fitness Pal or another similar tracking platform ( is a good way of tracking calories as it is simple and less time consuming. Once you have a good idea of how much you’re eating and you eat the same sort of foods then you may only wish to track once or twice a week (or less frequently) to ensure you’re ticking along on the right numbers for your goals.

Do you really need to track calories and macros?

In short-YES! At least for a while until you have a good grasp of how much you’re eating. How can you begin to make changes to your body without having a clue how much you’re eating and the macro nutrient breakdown of the food you’re putting in your body? It would be like pissing in the wind… night time.

I often find that people say “I’m eating a lot but not gaining”. When I make them track or ask them what they’re eating it turns out they’re eating like a 9 year old girl and expecting to grow into a 15 stone man, it doesn’t add up. So get real and make yourself accountable and least track for a while to give your eating some tangible context.

Should you have cheat meals?

I hate the term ‘cheat meal’. It pretty much installs in the mind that eating something you like is detrimental, bad for your health and in extreme cases can lead to eating disorders and creates unhealthy relationships with food. If you cannot go out once every week or two and enjoy some food with friends or family without feeling bad then you seriously need to look at your relationship with food and priorities in life.

Is it as simple as calories in vs. calories out?

No it isn’t. Most studies, my own practice and my own experience suggests otherwise.

Will you gain weight eating mars bars in a calorie surplus? Yes, of course but it is lean mass we’re after and not fat. Much like losing weight, you can lose weight eating in a deficit on mars bars but you will lose far more muscle eating this way and look like a bag of turds whilst stimulating hormones the wrong way.

You want to look like you train so body composition is important and the type of weight you’re gaining is important. You can accept that you may add small amounts of fat, but there is no excuse for walking around at 20-25% body fat citing “you’re bulking”. Slow and steady wins.

Food groups

So we need to look at the macro nutrient groups (carbs, proteins and fats) and the type of foods we’re eating and their effect on hormones and bodily functions within the body. I’ll touch on the very basics here as each of these need more time spent on them to give more complete understanding.

Protein is responsible for cell repair and growth. The amount of protein required for building muscle is up for debate, Brad Pilon’s research and opinion suggests that the requirements are not as high as we might think but bro science and other studies suggest as much as 3x body weight in grams. My opinion is to eat approximately 0.5 to 1 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So in our 200lb guy example, you will eat approximately 100-200 grams of protein per day. Protein supplements are NOT required unless you’re struggling to eat your daily protein requirements or you have money to burn and need a burning pit. Protein contains 4kcals per gram.

Carbohydrate intake is a hotly discussed topic. I’ve done much reading of books from people in the low carb camps (Gary Taubes and Mark Sisson to name a couple). I’ve also eaten low and very low carb diets in the past with mixed results. My own opinion is that there is no reason to exclude carbohydrates from ones diet. I would suggest the type of carbohydrate you’re eating is of more importance. Getting constant huge insulin spikes from refined sugary carbs is not what you want as this will spike blood sugar which will in turn spike insulin which is the pathway to laying down fat. Carbs contain 4kcals per gram.

I’d suggest getting your carbs from brown rice, oats, vegetables, sweet potatoes and fresh fruit (in moderation). Avoid foods with sugar in and starchy carbs, these include sweets, candy, chocolate bars, sugar, biscuits, cakes, white bread, white pasta, white potatoes and too much fruit. I would generally keep carb intake in the mid to low range, somewhere between 100g and 350g but this will depend on your food likes and dislikes. Note that some people can tolerate my carbs than others too, especially those training with more volume or athletes.

Fats are essential to fuel the body and are used to regulate hormones such as cholesterol and testosterone (amongst other things) so it’s obvious to say that getting a reasonable amount of dietary fat is a must. Good healthy fatty food sources are eggs, nuts, fish, avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, animal fats found in meat. Just remember fats are very calorie dense at 9kcals per gram.

Should you have cheat meals?

I hate the term ‘cheat meal’. It pretty much implies that eating something you like is detrimental, bad for your health and in extreme cases can lead to eating disorders and creates an unhealthy relationship with food. If you cannot go out once every week or two and enjoy some food with friends or family without feeling bad then you seriously need to look at your relationship with food. Remember as long as we’re hitting our sensible numbers in terms of calories and macro nutrients for the day then the occasional ‘dirty’ meal is no problem at all and will help keep you sane.

Would I rather you factored in a small bowl of ice cream every 2 days and stayed at your daily calorie/macro goals or crave this ice cream, fall off the wagon and eat 2 tubs of ice cream in one day (doubling your calorie goal for the day)? I think the former is better for balance, sanity and long term results.

So on occasion go and eat what you want, but factor it into your daily nutrient goals and don’t feel guilty.

What ratios of fats, carbs and protein are best for you?

Neither is best, so long as you’re eating food in its unprocessed state (as much as possible) and you’re avoiding sugar then you’ll be making positive changes. If you abide to this then it’s really up to you. If your carb choices are sensible ones and you’re hitting your protein intake and calories for the day then job done. Remember food is a pleasure of life.

The question you need to ask yourself is which method of diet can you stick to long term? For example If eating low carb is going to interfere with normal life and you’re likely to fall off the wagon every 2 weeks and binge then it seems silly to use low carb (although this is another topic in itself).

There are other tools like intermittent fasting which I will cover at another stage but understand these basics and you’re well on your way.

Conclusive points

  • Establish your starting calorie intake for gaining
  • Monitor your body weight and the reflection in the mirror
  • Make adjustments in calories as you go based on the above 2 points
  • Avoid sugar in your diet as much as possible
  • Eat 0.5-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight
  • Enjoy good fats
  • Ensure the way you eat is sustainable long term

Stay tuned for Part 2 – Training to gain mass.