Monday, September 3, 2012

Scrawny to Brawny

By Paul Kita

I've been called a pencil, a string bean, skin and bones. I've heard the three words no man who cares about his physique ever wants to hear: "You work out?" Trainers refer to use as ectomorphs to distinguish us from mesomorphs, the guys who always look likey they work out even when they don't.

My fellow ectomorphs and I prefer to call ourselves "hard gainers." We brush off the insults, chalk up our physiques to high metabolism, and take solace in the fact that some of us are good at enurance sports. At least that's what I used to do. Then I had my Charles Atlas moment. But it wasn't a sand-kicking bully who made me want to become bigger and stronger. It was a former girlfriend who wanted to hire movers to carry her furniture into a new apartment because she was afraid I'd hurt myself if I tried to help. I knew it was time to build strength and muscle. But before I could, I had to demolish five myths that hold skinny guys back.

Myth 1 - An ectomorph can't gain muscle. I almost puked during a test of my maximum bench press. Martin Rooney, C.S.C.S., director of the Parisi Speed School in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, explains why: "Lifting weights is a stimulus. It attacks your body-- everything from your muscles to your nervous system,: he says. "that was your body being challenged in a way it's never been before. It isn't used to that kind of stress. Now your muscles will rebuild and prepare for the next attack."

I'd need it: That first workout was humbling. At 6 feet tall and 146 pounds, I could deadlift just 105 pounds and bench press 95 pounds only three times. I could do 11 chinups, which isn't bad, and my 11.5 percent body fat would be the envy of many mesomorphs if they weren't already laughing at my 12-inch upper-arm girth or my wimpy 20-inch vertical jump. Rooney assured me that building up from this shaky platform would be difficult but not impossible, as long as I was willing to push myself. "Your body is an incredibly adaptive organism; That's why every time you lift, you have to challenge yourself to provide a greater and greater jolt to shock your muscles into another round of rebuilding."

Myth 2 - No matter how much he eats, a hard gainer can't put on weight. If you think you eat enough to build muscle, try this experiment (Courtesy of Alan Aragon, M.S., a nutritionist and Men's Health advisor from Thousand Oaks, CA). Pick a recent day that represents how you typically eat. Try to remember everything you consumed and plug it into a calorie calculator, like the one at nutritiondata.self.com. If you're like me, you'll see a problem. I estimated that I ate about 2,000 calories a day, but it was more like 1,700--nowhere near what I needed to maintain my existing muscle mass, let alone add to it. "Underweight people tend to over-estimate their daily calorie intake," Aragon says. "Then they incorrectly attribute their low weight with high metabolism."

Calories matter. But so do the sources of those calories. More food means higher levels of glucose circulating in your blood. That creates metabolic stress, leading to inflammation, which can lead to a whole host of problems, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. Trying to build  a more muscular body with junk food is like trying to build a log cabin with wood drenched in lighter fluid. Aragon directed me toward whole grains, which provide fiber that may help regulate blood glucose, and foods rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids to fight inflammation. But I dreaded to ask my next question: How much will I have to eat?

Myth 3 - He must eat like a pig. Aragon's nutrition plan called for 2,500 calories on workout days, including 213 grams of protein. that much protein amounts to almost 2.5 pounds of raw sirloin, or 34 large eggs! I had trouble stuffing it all down at first. It took me half an hour to finish breakfast, and my lunches in the company cafeteria horrified my coworkers. I realized I couldn't consume all my calories in three giant meals. I adapted: I kept a jug of almonds and a bunch of bananas at my desk for snacks. I stored a block of cheese and a gallon of chocolate milk in the office fridge. "Your body will tell you how it best processes calories. For some people, it's large meals. If you time your meals or snacks right, you should rarely feel as if you're force-feeding yourself," Aragon says.

Myth 4 - He must live in the gym. Each week I worked out 4 or 5 days, training for up to 6 hours total. But if I felt physically or mentally drained, I skipped a workout or two. If your body's sore, it's telling you it needs more time to recover. I'm convinced that the extra rest time enhanced my results.

Myth 5 - Results will be minor - This plan is tough, especially in the first few weeks. But once you're past the shock stage, you should see steady growth. "Beginning lifters can expect about 2 pounds of muscle growth in a month," Aragon says.

Key point: Each time you hit the gym, give your best effort. You may think it's just 1 rep you're missing, but that last rep is when your muscles are working hardest. Rooney retested me 4.5 months after my first visit. I deadlifted 250 pounds, and my 3-rep max on the bench press jumped to 165 pounds. I did 20 chinups, and my vertical leap soared to 26.5 inches. That's in addition to the 14 pounds I gained. It may not sound like much, but I added 2 inches to my biceps. My waist was still 32 inches, and my body fat actually decreased to 9.8 percent. But the sweetest reward wasn't measured with a barbell or tape measure. A friend mentioned that she was moving to a new apartment and asked if I could help with the furniture. "No problem," I said. (And it wasn't)

Source: Men's Health

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