5 common mistakes costing you gains

Key parts of this article:

*Eating massive amounts of protein is not the key to putting on size, even with "hard gainers"

*Timing carbohydrate intake is one of the most important factors in shredding / bulking

*its easy to eat too little fat if you're on the typical bulking diet

*malnutrition will devastate physique changes more than any other factor

*the type of training will dictate the hormonal response and therefore the result, just getting "a pump" is not enough for long lasting gains


Everyone in the gym knows they want it.  They don't always say it, but deep down, people that are regularly working out desire a fashionable physique and some strength to go with it.  Often times, however, people go to war in the gym without a strategy, making tons and tons of micro mistakes that end up costing them their prize.  

Here are five common missteps that I have seen in the gym that continually cost people results, whether the goal is leaning up, bulking up, or both.

1) Eating an ultra-high protein diet in an attempt to "force" the muscle mass


The traditional bulking program is simple:  Eat everything in sight, milk by the gallon, breast upon breast of chicken, 2000 calorie mass gainer shakes from what looks to be a cement bucket.  Unfortunately this is but a media ploy generated by an out of control fitness industry that uses the lack of knowledge by the masses as leverage to advertise obscene products endorsed by professional bodybuilders on the cover.  Most of the time said bodybuilder doesn't even use the product but was paid a nice fee for the photoshoot.

The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) states that the recommended protein intake for an active person is anywhere from 1 - 1.3 grams of protein per KILOGRAM of bodyweight.  Not 1 gram per pound, but 1 gram per KG.  This means that you have to divide your bodyweight in pounds by 2.2 to get kilograms.  As an example I weight close to 215 so I am roughly 100 kg.  So I would only need 100 grams of protein per day to actually maintain my size.  I've seen mass gainers that contained 100 grams of cheap protein in one serving!

Extra protein not only puts a burden on the digestive tract, but since so much of it goes to waste, the rest is broken down into sugar and other byproducts.  The sugar is then stored as fat as any excess sugar would be.

Also, the type of workout being performed is crucial.  Most people opt for the bodypart split concept (back and bis, chest and tris, legs, etc).  This type of workout does not provide the optimum growth factors and so only so much growth can occur.  Think about it:  Your arms can only get so big while the rest of the body lags behind.  Exercises like deadlifts, squats and their variations cause MASSIVE hormone responses, which lead to more muscle.  

The lesson here is that cramming protein is not the answer.  Focus on quality meals or supplements that are third party tested, and if you eat three 25 gram protein meals plus three snacks of 10 grams of protein, you are at your 100 gram goal.  

2) Timing carbohydrate consumption, with the proper type of carb, is crucial

All fitness competitors go through some type of carbohydrate cycling, whether its intermittent fasting, standard carb cycling with high and low days, or even getting into ketosis, which is the complete absence of most carbs.

However, even if you're not doing a competition but want to look good naked, carbohydrate timing is going to affect a lot of what you do.  

The simplest way to describe carbohydrate timing for the average person working out is this: keep the carbs within a window of several hours around your workout.  That is to say, if you work out at 5:30 when you get off of work, then you can have a carbohydrate meal, with protein of course and healthy fats, about 2.5 hours before your workout.  After the workout, you can then have another carbed up meal.  This doesn't mean you can go all out at Ihop, but you can be more liberal with things like rice, sweet potatoes or even pasta.

Carbohydrates create a specific hormone response, chiefly insulin.  Insulin tells your body to store energy, whether that means adding to muscle, or storing fat.  Working out, with proper intensity of course, causes what's called "insulin sensitivity" in the muscle cells.  This is good news for those looking to add muscle, because when a cell is "sensitive" to insulin it will readily bind to it and reap the benefits.  In this case, insulin sensitive muscles will re-route nutrients to muscle instead of fat.  However, the converse is true as well, if you sit on the couch eating Ben 'n Jerrys, your fat cells will become insulin sensitive and the nutrients will go to where you don't want them - your stomach and butt!

The take home here is that you want carbohydrates after an intense workout, just eating protein will not be as effective.  Protein piggy backs the carb induced insulin response and then shuttles to the muscle!  And there you have it, added muscle.

3) You need fat and cholesterol to add muscle, and to remain healthy in general

If you are on a statin drug and trying to lift weights you better listen up.  Cholesterol is imperative to sex hormone production a.k.a. testosterone.  Not only as a society are we blocking this nutrient but our diets are designed to eliminate it.  

We've all heard the "red meat gives you heart disease" nonsense.  It's an outdated model, essentially dead on arrival.  I'm not saying meat is great, but that's another topic, but I am saying that if you eat chicken, broccoli and rice six times per day you are not getting the proper fats and cholesterol you need.

The solution is fairly simple!  Add healthy oils to meals, eat some fish here and there, and if you're a vegan, you can still consume omega-3's by eating krill oil, which is algae based and contains the DHA your body needs.

Another side note: Your brain requires fat and cholesterol to repair and grow.  So do your brain a favor and eat some fat!  

Olive oil, flax seed oil, fish oils, and other nut oils offer fantastic sources of healthy fats.  And a healthy brain will ALWAYS help to add muscle if not for the fact that you will be more mentally alert and able to recruit more muscle fibers through your nervous system which also requires cholesterol and fat.  

Check your current diet and make sure it isn't purely a vegetable / chicken combination over and over.  And as for food outlets to eat out?  Forget about it.  The food is junk.

4) malnutrition is the single most hindering factor for muscle gain, fat loss and overall health and longevity

There are five essential "macros" out there: Protein, fat, carbohydrate (actually not essential), vitamins and minerals, and water.  We need all of these, and vitamins and minerals have taken to the backdrop as fitness enthusiasts everywhere flock to cheap protein shakes that contain little more than cheap protein, cellulose and a trace mineral here and there.

What about magnesium? Iodine for thyroid health? Vitamin D, K, E? Iron? Calcium citrate?

There are so many vitamins, minerals and trace metals that contribute to building a physique.  For instance resveratrol, found in grapes and the infamous "red wine" hero, is not only great for the prostate, but it also helps with cellular metabolism i.e. fat loss!  Another one is nitric oxide (NO) which dilates the blood vessels, allowing for more nutrients to reach deeper into the body...including the brain and muscle tissue!  

Getting maximum nutrition is much too in depth to cover here, but the only real way to ensure you're getting everything you need is to do your own research, or hire a nutritionist to craft a meal plan that will guarantee that the lesser known vitamins and minerals are hit.

One way to at least attempt full nutrition is a greatly varied diet containing various vegetables of different colors, fruits for antioxidants, different protein sources like nuts or meat or plant based proteins like artichokes and tofu.  We typically consume a very linear diet in the US where we have a few staple foods like potatoes and corn, but we rarely branch out and so we miss the mark.

Some superfoods to include would be blueberries, turmeric, garlic, cinnamon, leafy green veggies, pomegranates, akai berry, shitaki mushroom, licorice root, and more.  There are literally thousands if you look.

5) You get exactly what you deserve in the gym, period

Back to the training styles.  For whatever reason the bodypart split training has become quite popular, in my mind because it is the easiest and least taxing.  Doing things like heavy deadlifts, front squats, overhead squats, weighted chin ups and dips, or even the mythical olympic lifts have a much, much stronger hormonal response than a typical lifter's workout.

Getting a pump is nice, don't get me wrong, and the muscle does increase in size, at least temporarily as it is engorged with blood, but we all know what happens later in the day.  The pump subsides and we're right back where we started.

Full body workouts using compound movements actually trigger more testosterone, growth hormone, IGF and others simply because of the huge demand on the body.  Think about it for a second.  If a heavy triple on deadlifts recruits literally every muscle in your body, which it must, then you're getting the testosterone production of your entire body.  If you do bicep curls and tricep extensions, sure it may hurt, but you're only getting the testosterone from those small muscle groups.

Most professional bodybuilders started as powerlifters or even olympic weight lifters.  This allows them to put on incredible and long lasting size before they begin the bodybuilding.  

I assure you, if you are a novice or intermediate lifter, if you do a six week program incorporating less reps, more weight and even less diversity, meaning squats, deadlifts, bench and overhead press, and eat properly, you will put on not only significant size but also your cells will actually be physically stronger because of specific structural proteins created.  These types of gains last longer, so if you don't eat enough for a few days, you don't instantly lose everything you had.  I know from experience!  Nothing is as frustrating as having a couple light days eating wise and you lose ten pounds.

It doesn't have to be that way!

To sum it up...

Training properly, with compound movements as the foundation, still allowing for our favorite exercises like curls and extensions...coupled with a varied diet that addresses the digestive tract and cellular biology in general...with reduced emphasis on massive protein intake and more on quality, diversity and timing...all of this equals an outstanding physique.

Happy hunting friends, and get them gains.

Ben Hetzel

Benjamin Hetzel