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Q: I’m trying to put together the best possible mass-gaining meal plan. Where should I start?

A: Normally, when you think about building muscle, you think protein. But Mike Francois, past winner of the Arnold Classic, knows that shouldn’t be the only thing on your plate. Mass-building requires energy, through high carbohydrate intake. “To gain mass, you have to ensure you’re getting enough protein to rebuild muscle tissue damaged through training, but you also have to eat a lot of carbohydrates because gaining size requires you to fill your muscles with glycogen,” he says.

Glycogen is the collection of carbohydrates stored in muscles that powers your training and affects anabolism; think of it as an energy stockpile. To maintain that supply as you’re trying to gain muscle, you need a slight positive intake in carbohydrates at each meal — that is, you have to eat more carbohydrates than you burn.

What does Mike consider an ideal meal? “For someone who is training hard and weighs over 200 pounds, I’d suggest 6-8 ounces of chicken breast, 2 cups of brown rice, a tablespoon of olive oil and a cup of broccoli. That provides 109 grams of carbohydrates, about 60 grams of protein and 24 grams of fat.”

Mike doesn’t beat up on dietary fat: “Unsaturated fats, especially olive oil, are essential. They help all kinds of functions in the body that affect growth. Plus, they’re a dense source of calories, which is an important factor in adding weight.”

Vegetables are another must. “People think they’re a diet food, but they’re important because of their fiber content.” Fiber helps cleanse the intestines, and some speculate this can increase nutrient absorption, yet another consideration in growth and tissue repair.

 

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Finding a Balance

Celebrity trainer David “Scooter” Honig helps chisel the physiques of luminaries, including pop star LL Cool J and WBA World Boxing Champion Vivian “Vicious” Harris. He describes the ideal pre-training combo he uses with Harris: “I have Vivian eat scrambled egg whites mixed with a whole egg or 20-30 grams of protein powder from whey because it gets in the system quickly and doesn’t upset his stomach. Energywise, he sticks with a cup of oatmeal for the opposite reason: It digests slower, giving him sustained energy for his workout.”

Honig also acknowledges that the ideal meal can change from person to person, depending on metabolism. “I try to monitor my client’s bodyfat and energy levels,” he says. “If Vivian is low on energy, the ideal meal remains the same in terms of what to eat, but the quantities change; in that case, we’d boost the carbs. On the other hand, if his bodyweight is going up, say he’s gaining fat, the carb portion has to come down.”

That’s the tricky part of establishing a meal plan. The ideal meal contains ideal nutrients: lean proteins, complex carbohydrates for energy and glycogen replenishment, moderate amounts of dietary fat, plus veggies for fiber. What changes is the quantity. If you weigh more than 200 pounds, you need at least 40-55 grams of protein per meal. If you’re in the 150-190 range, that could come down to 30-35 grams. Carbohydrate amounts vary even more based on individual bodyweight, bodyfat and metabolism. One easy approach: If you weigh more than 200 pounds, fix your carbs at 80-100 grams per meal. If you weigh 190 or less, set them at 60-80 per meal. Success will come with figuring out what works best for your body.