What are the best mass-building foods? How much protein is enough? Should you reduce your carbohydrate intake? To help clarify the confusion, we spoke to five amateur and pro bodybuilders about the single year in which they gained the most mass. Here are their secrets to size.


Mike Dragna
Year: 2000
Pounds gained: 41
Start weight: 224 pounds
End weight: 265 pounds


Nutritional Profile
Protein: 55%-65%
Carbs: 25%-35%
Fat: 10%-20%


Mike Dragna concedes that cutting back his training volume was chiefly responsible for his big gains of 2000. "Previously, I was on a high-volume system, working each bodypart twice a week and taking only one day off from the gym," says the 31-year-old. "I was overtraining and standing still in terms of progress." So Mike pared down his schedule, working each part once a week and scheduling two full days of rest. "I was finally able to recover from workouts and increase the amount of weight I was lifting because I wasn't always tired and sore," he adds.


In contrast to his abridged training schedule, Mike, who won his pro card at last year's USA Championships, gradually increased his meal frequency from four a day to seven. "I took the calories I was already eating and split them into smaller, more frequent meals so it wasn't too much of a shock for my body," he notes. "I also began using meal-replacement shakes for three of those meals, mostly out of convenience–who has time to cook and package all that food?–but also because it's difficult to eat seven meals of solid food a day."


Each of Mike's shakes contained 50 grams of protein and 25 grams of carbs; solid meals included such items as baked and sweet potatoes, chicken, sashimi and steak. "I recommend steak once a day for regular guys and twice a day for hardgainers," he says. "It seems to provide the additional calories you need if you're having trouble gaining weight."


Apparently, Mike's strategy worked like a charm, and the then-amateur packed on an astounding 41 pounds in one short year. "Sure, some of that 41 was fluids and bodyfat, but come contest time, once I dieted down, I was still up 25 pounds from my previous weight," he remarks. "Not too shabby, huh?"


Most Massive FAQ: Staying strict on your diet week after week is tough, even for guys who make their living from bodybuilding. How do you approach cheating in your diet?


"I'm not a big junk-food eater, but I still schedule an entire day when I allow myself to cheat. Mostly, I use this day as a mental break so I can relax and not worry about when and what to eat, which typically takes a lot of time, planning and foresight. Giving myself the leeway to cheat and have foods I'm craving helps me stick to my diet the rest of the week, allowing me to focus on eating clean and fueling my body properly the other six days."


Mark Dugdale
Year: 2003
Pounds gained: 40
Start weight: 195 pounds
End weight: 235 pounds


Nutritional Profile
Protein: 29%
Carbs: 55%
Fat: 16%


Before 2003, 29-year-old amateur bodybuilder Mark Dugdale followed a see-food diet: You see it, you eat it. While that strategy worked for a while, Mark needed to change his approach, beginning with an increase in meal frequency from four to six a day. "Train your body to eat like you train it to lift–slowly and steadily," he says. "Adding a few extra meals a day is like going from 225 to 500 on the squat rack–impossible. Add a small meal here and there until you get up to six a day, then increase the volume of each of the new meals." Sounds easy, but he admits he frequently had to force-feed in the beginning. "There were days when I didn't want to eat my next meal," he says. "But I began to look at eating more as a job than an enjoyment, sucked it up and put it down."


In addition, Mark, who last year nabbed the Oregon State and Los Angeles bodybuilding titles, also changed his nutritional profile, replacing fast-acting carbs and fatty off-season fare with clean, whole foods such as chicken, lean steak, brown rice and lots of veggies. "I'm not a big fish eater, so I'll have an omega-3 oil capsule with each of my meals to make sure I'm getting my essential fatty acids," he says.


The result? Less bodyfat, improved conditioning and an additional 40 pounds. "Anyone can go to the gym and move weights around, but without the nutrition to back up that training, you'll never get bigger," notes Mark.


Most Massive FAQ: How much protein is enough, and is there such a thing as too much?


"Overeating any macronutrient–including protein–can contribute to fat gain and won't necessarily make you bigger in the right places. I get exactly 316 grams of protein a day, a bit more than 1 gram per pound of bodyweight off-season. I don't think you need more than that. In fact, carbs are just as important for gaining size because they provide the energy you need to train hard. I eat a slow-releasing carb like brown rice or oatmeal with every meal, with the exception of post-workout, when I have a drink of creatine, glutamine and 70 grams of dextrose that goes straight into my muscles to replenish glycogen and keep me from becoming catabolic."


Ronnie Coleman
Year: 2003
Pounds gained: 33
Start weight: 287 pounds
End weight: 320 pounds


Nutritional Profile
Protein: 55%
Carbs: 30%
Fat: 15%


A year ago, if you'd theorized that Ronnie Coleman would add another 33 pounds to his gargantuan Mr. Olympia frame, people would've laughed. But in 2003, Big Ron did just that. He attributes much of this incredible gain to his "back-to-basics" lifting plan that hearkens back to his powerlifting roots. And while no one can argue the benefits of heavy lifting for gaining size, behind the iron curtain lies the truth of Ronnie's remarkable reconditioning: his diet.


For the 2003 Mr. O, Ronnie cleaned out his fridge, replacing his typical empty off-season calories with nutrient-rich foods, and his five-meals-a-day profile included lean steak, grilled chicken, potatoes, and red beans and rice. "My calories were pretty much the same–around 4,000 a day–but right away I lost some bodyfat just because of my smarter food choices," he says. "My energy went up in the gym as well, and I was able to lift even more weight as a result."


Although he prefers clean foods year-round, Ronnie, now 40, still has one cheat meal a week. "I have pancakes for breakfast on Sunday mornings, and that's it," he reports. "I stay away from pizza and fried chicken because the fats take so long to digest that I can't eat as much food as I need to the rest of the day."


Most Massive FAQ: Should you do cardio only precontest, or is it important to do cardio off-season to control bodyfat levels?


"I do 45 minutes of moderately intense cardio activity four days a week, even when I'm not training for a contest, alternating between the stair-stepper, treadmill and bike. A lot of people think cardio makes you shrink, but cardio can actually help you gain muscle. Think about it: The more cardio you do, the more you'll want to eat, and the more nutrients your body will have at its disposal for growth. Cardio will only make you shrink if you don't eat enough food or if you eat foods with poor nutritional value. Doing cardio certainly burns calories, but if you're eating enough of the right foods, the losses will be nearly all bodyfat, leaving you leaner and meaner all year round."


Frank Roberson
Year: 2003
Pounds gained: 35
Start weight: 245 pounds
End weight: 280 pounds


Nutritional Profile
Protein: 20%-30%
Carbs: 50%-60%
Fat: 10%-20%


"Do as I say and not as I do" was Texan Frank Roberson's advice to his personal-training clientele. "I'd tell my clients to eat 5-6 clean meals a day and drink lots of water, and I'd go home and do exactly the opposite, eating two meals a day of burgers and Coke," the 30-year-old laughs. "But to be fair, I was working two jobs–one was a night shift–and it was usually very hard for me to eat frequently and correctly."


Excuses aside, Frank, who won the heavyweight class at last year's NPC Nationals, had maxed out in all directions with his poor nutrition; he says his energy level was abysmal and his weight hovered around 245 no matter how hard he trained. "I'd be completely spent within 30 minutes, and my lifts were weak," he says. "I was benching only 300 and was squatting–this is embarrassing–315 and struggling!"


Frank finally listened to his own advice, swapping burgers for chicken breasts, lean steak, fibrous carbs and his new discovery–healthy dietary fats. "I learned to eat almonds, flaxseed oil and avocados," he states. "I used to think these things would make me fat, but I was surprised to find that I had more energy and gained quality size more easily." Frank also started to eat more often, allowing him to double his daily caloric intake from 3,500 to 7,000, and his body responded. "I added weight like crazy, and my energy went through the roof. Now I squat 600 for reps no problem, and my bench is up to 560."


Most Massive FAQ: Fibrous carbs found in grains, fruits and veggies aren't considered nutrient-dense; why do you recommend a diet high in them?


"Consuming fiber isn't just a healthy practice, helping you clean your insides out–it actually enables you to eat more food. Before this past year, I wasn't giving my body enough fiber, and frankly, I felt bloated with all the protein and starch I was eating, not to mention I wasn't even hungry very frequently. Now I have fruit a few times a day and veggies like salad, broccoli, spinach and green beans with every meal. I'm able to eat more often and don't feel bloated all day long."


Troy Alves
Year: 2000
Pounds gained: 35
Start weight: 210 pounds
End weight: 245 pounds


Nutritional Profile
Protein: 40%
Carbs: 50%
Fat: 10%


Plateauing is a big problem among bodybuilders, and many an athlete hits a weight limit that seems to spell the end of his gaining potential. Troy Alves found himself in just such an unfortunate predicament. "My body wasn't making any major changes, and I knew I had to do something different," he says. "So I went back to basics with my lifting and cleaned up my diet drastically, eating the same foods I'd consume only precontest–grits, steak, chicken, brown rice and ground turkey."


Eating clean also allowed Troy, now 36, to eat more. "I was hungry all the time!" he laughs. "The cleaner food was absorbed faster; I initially had to eat 8-9 times a day." After a few months of such frequent feeding, Troy evened out at six meals a day, four of food and two of high-calorie shakes in between meals. "My body finally had a continual supply of nutrients that it could actually use," he remarks. "It was like a sponge, sucking it all in and packing on 35 pounds, no problem."


Give an assist to taking additional downtime. "Rest days and during sleep are when your muscles do all their growing," explains Troy, who finished among the top five at three pro shows a year ago. "Get at least seven hours of sleep every night, and if your schedule allows, a short nap during the day. Additionally, make sure you schedule at least two days off from lifting to rest, recover and repair."


Most Massive FAQ: What supplements do you recommend to optimize mass-gaining?


"I'm a big believer in glutamine and whey-protein shakes for recovery and optimal muscle gain. I'll have a serving of glutamine with my preworkout meal to prep my body for the intensive work. Immediately afterward, I'll have a whey-protein shake with about 40-50 grams of protein blended with another serving of glutamine and a simple carb to replenish my glycogen, repair my tissues and decrease my recovery time. Then once more right before bed, I'll have another whey-protein/glutamine shake to spare muscle during the nightlong fast as well as to promote growth-hormone production while I sleep."