It’s hard to believe how fast the time has flown by, but I’ve been a personal trainer in London for over 20 years now, and I’ve been interested in healthy eating and fitness since around the age of 5. When I was a kid I was really skinny and undernourished, and this drove me to find ways to build muscle, bulk up, and improve my physique.
When I say I was skinny, I mean really skinny. Part of the problem was that I was an extremely slow eater and left a lot on my plate. As a result I wasn’t getting enough calories or nutrients during key periods of childhood growth. Ironic when so many kids these days are obese, largely thanks to the junk food & drink industry’s domination of the high street, TV adverts, online adverts targeted at kids, advertising billboards, supermarket shelves crammed with fizzy drinks and sweets and cakes.
To compound this, I was also burning up calories like crazy. As a kid, I had a very fast metabolism. As you probably know, the majority of the calories you burn are due to your BMR, your basal metabolic rate, which are all the key functions of your body while at rest. In addition, I was cycling a lot, playing tennis and swimming a mile every weekend. All this burnt extra calories, so I always stayed very lean.
During my mid-teens, I ate more, but it was often the wrong kind of food. My knowledge about nutrition was fairly patchy, and I fell for a lot of poor advice, like ‘to bulk up, eat anything you like’. So I ate Jaffa Cakes, whole packets of them, and swilled down sugar-rich protein shakes. This had the unfortunate effect of making me ‘skinny fat’ – skinny chest and shoulders, fat bum – not a great look.
As a teen I bought a Bullworker (a bestseller in the 1980s), and did exercise sessions in my bedroom, but the resistance was never enough (and the technique never good enough) to make a real difference. Pushups would have been more effective. I also bought one of those bendy metal bars made up of a tightly coiled spring with a handle at each end, which sprang back in your face if you lost your grip. I didn’t go to the gym until I was at university.
After I qualified as a personal trainer (Premier Training International Diploma in Fitness Training and Sports Therapy), I started applying my knowledge in a more concerted and systematic way, and made significant gains in muscle and strength. I reached around 87kg (I’m 6’1″ which is around 185cm) and my body fat was around 15%, not a bad combination.
If you’re looking to put on weight and gain muscle, how fast should you try to bulk up? Aim for an average of 1 lb a week. Any faster than that, and you’re likely to pile on too much body fat.
MY TOP NUTRITION TIPS TO BULK UP AND BUILD MUSCLE
1. Eat good fats in moderation. Fat is vital for your health, and actually boosts your testosterone levels, which helps you build muscle. Stick to foods like salmon, mackerel, sardines, beef, lamb, eggs, almonds, olive oil. Whatever you do, avoid junk food like the plague. And the biggest evil of them all is trans fats (hydrogenated fats), a creation of the processed food industry. Do not, I repeat do not eat ready meals, they’re full of junk.
2. Eat complex carbohydrates, particularly on days you work out. Include complex carbs such as oats (not alpen or any fancy boxes of oat cereals, just plain oats in plastic packets, with no added sugar), quinoa (also rich in protein), and sweet potato. All these are ‘slow release’ carbs, which means the insulin reaction is moderate because the glucose is released into your bloodstream slowly. And eat the bulk of your complex carbs in your pre-workout meal, and post-workout meal. Eat fewer carbs on your rest days. Carbs are for energy. Excess carbs (ie once your glycogen stores are full) will be stored as body-fat.
3. Consume protein with ever meal/snack. A lot of the protein-rich foods I recommend are in point number 1 above, as they’re the foods rich in good fats too.
4. Eat 6 meals/snacks a day. Never skip meals.
5. Eat plenty of vegetables, and more veg than fruit. In fact, don’t eat more than 3 portions of fruit a day. The ‘5 a day’ message is a vague and misleading health message at best, because it makes no distinction between fruit and veg. The problem with fruit in excess is that only your liver can metabolise fructose (fruit sugar) and any excess is converted to fat. Ideally eat 2 fruit a day (make one an orange for the vitamin C), and 6 portions of veg a day. Yes six! Focus on green veg like broccoli, spinach, spring greens, green peppers.
6. Get plenty of sleep, around 7-8 hours a night. This is when your muscles grow and your body repairs itself, assuming you’ve exercised effectively.
7. Exercise for muscle growth and healthy weight gain, focusing on compound resistance movements and progressive overload.
As a personal trainer in London, most of my clients want to lose significant body fat, but I have some who want to build muscle and bulk up. Those who want to bulk up are often stressed at work, get too little sleep, eat too much processed food and not enough real and nutritious food, skip meals, and don’t exercise for hypertrophy (muscle growth). If this sounds like you, get in touch!
(Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London zones 1-3 including Hamstead, Highgate, Kensington, Belgravia, Chelsea, Knightsbridge. Holland Park)
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