TS: With hardgainers the key is, first, to get them to eat the amount of food you’re suggesting. Second, it has to fit into their schedules. Most people work and have other activities, so would you say that they should have maybe three solid-food meals a day and two blender drinks with ice cream, bananas and whatnot?
WB: If they have to, yeah. Those shakes can be pretty healthful. You can certainly get an additional thousand calories per drink. I used to make some of my drinks with whole cream. They were pretty rich, but they tasted good.
TS: The homemade drinks seem to be a lot more advantageous because you can tailor them to your needs, as opposed to commercially available weight-gain powders.
WB: You can. High-calorie intakes are not in vogue anymore. For the last five or eight years the new buzzword has been repartitioning with low-carb, high-protein diets. I’ve maintained for a long time that that’s all very well and fine, but for a 17- or 18-year-old kid who’s got a raging fast metabolism, you can basically forget the repartitioning angle.
That all came up with the invention of meal-replacement products. They stopped pushing you to eat everything in sight to get weight on you. The big, successful bodybuilders I know, especially off-season, eat big. One pro I know stopped every time we saw a Taco Bell so he could eat five tacos. The guy was hungry constantly!
TS: There’s a lesson to be learned there. Take Lee Priest. He bulks up a good 40 to 50 pounds in the off-season. I don’t think that’s really healthy, but if you’re doing a bulking cycle, you need to put on a little fat. It seems that when you add a little fat, you gain muscle a little easier. Is there something going on that we don’t know about?
WB: We’ve already shown that lowfat diets are very hard on testosterone levels. We know that lowfat diets suck for getting big. I’m sure most people notice that the real explosion in drug use in bodybuilding took place in the ’80s, right? That’s exactly when the high-carb, lowfat craze took off. My theory is’and I saw it firsthand many, many times’that it was so metabolically difficult to put on any muscle, bodybuilders were basically forced to start using greater and greater amounts of steroids to make any gains. Now most in-the-know bodybuilders have come to understand that the higher-protein, higher-fat, lower-carb diets are the way to go, especially in the off-season. Now, of course, the drugs are in the culture and they’re gonna use a lot of them. But, metabolically speaking, you create a much better environment on that kind of off-season diet than you ever would the other way around.
TS: Are you saying that skinny hardgainers can eat whatever the hell they want?
WB: They can eat basically whatever they want. All they have to do is follow some basic rules: Get adequate protein throughout the day, get adequate amounts of the right kinds of fats, don’t overtrain, take an antioxidant or whatever they need, that type of thing. In addition, they should feel perfectly happy adding meat to their diet’or even cheeseburgers. I’ve convinced bodybuilders to eat whatever the hell they wanted at least once a week and, voil’, they put on muscle mass’with very little added bodyfat. One pro I worked with was hooked into that chicken-and-rice-diet thing, and after I finally convinced him to add some red meat to his diet, he exploded. It was amazing. He put on muscle at an excellent rate and went from a medium-sized Middleweight to true national-level Middleweight who could barely make the weight class, he was so big.
Nowadays, most bodybuilders have come to see how anabolic red meat is, but that was some years ago, when red meat was being shunned by bodybuilders because of its fat content. Now I know many bodybuilders who eat red meat right up to the day of a show.
TS: What would be a good sample meal? A solid meal that would be convenient and wouldn’t take Martha Stewart’s culinary skills or more than a half an hour to cook?
WB: Are we still talking about hardgainers with fairly low bodyfat? I guess it depends on which meal. A typical breakfast is a three- or four-egg and cheese omelet with maybe a bowl of oatmeal. The one thing most bodybuilders don’t get enough of, especially with all those calories, is fiber. You really do have to keep finding places to slip fiber into the diet.
TS: Maybe some broccoli and cauliflower?
WB: Yeah, that type of thing. Some steamed vegetables. Brown rice instead of white rice. You want to eat calories, but you do need to get some fiber in your diet. It’s not easy to do when you’re eating lasagna and pizza, things like that.
TS: Supplements for the hardgainer. Start with the foundation, as you call it, the supplement pyramid.
WB: Creatine and a good multi-mineral, multivitamin. I’m a big proponent of flaxseed oil. I’ve always considered that a foundational supplement. TS: How many tablespoons a day would you recommend?
WB: My basic recommendation is usually one tablespoon per 75 pounds of bodyweight. For off-season diets I recommend fat intake be divided into three, with a third coming from flax, a third coming from monounsaturates, and the rest from saturated fats.
TS: Do they really need to get that scientific?
WB: Well, no, they don’t have to kill themselves about it, but they should keep an eye on it. People shouldn’t shy away from saturated fats. They’re not the evil they’ve been made out to be. In fact, some studies have shown that not only do we need fat to keep optimal testosterone levels, but the type of fat counts also. It’s been found that saturated fat was needed for optimal testosterone production, which leads to an anabolic environment. TS: If they want to use meal-replacement powders, such as Muscle Meals, could they mix in things like a frozen banana, ice cream and flaxseed oil for extra calories?
WB: Some of those MRPs are very nice for that because they already include vitamins, proteins, and they’re easy to tailor. If you want more fat, if you want more protein, if you want more carbs, they’re easy to use as a base.
TS: Now, there’s a certain type of hardgainer who’s fat but can’t put on muscle. What would you recommend for those people?
WB: They’re a different case. With people like that I have to suspect that Mother Nature just didn’t give them optimal hormonal environments. I’d want to know what their blood biochemistry is like. I’d want to have them do a full thyroid panel and total testosterone, free testosterone, estradiol, IGF-1 and some other tests just to rule out any hormonal problems.
Those aren’t rare cases. We call them ‘skinny fat’ people. Once you eliminate hormonal issues, they often just come down to dietary problems and/or genetics. They tend to eat more carbohydrate and less protein than they think, the wrong types of fat, that type of thing. They’ll often look at me very sincerely and tell me they’re doing everything right. I’ll say, ‘Okay, let’s go to the basics. What did you eat for breakfast today?’ And they’ll give me a look and say, ‘Well, nothing.’ And I’ll say, ‘End of conversation. We have nothing further to talk about, do we?’
Often they don’t eat breakfast or their breakfast is a bowl of raisin bran or something like that. I have very rarely met a hardgainer who had high bodyfat who didn’t put muscle on when he was really doing everything right. If not, then you usually find something in his blood biochemistry that would lead you to believe that he had a problem.
TS: In terms of training, I have a feeling that typical hardgainers may be training a little bit too much and that their nutrient intake can’t support it. Would you agree with that?
WB: There’s certainly no doubt that most hardgainer types and younger guys tend to overtrain. They also tend to undereat and undersleep. That makes three big strikes right there. For so many of the fairly successful bodybuilders I’ve worked with, one of the things that made them grow was just basically working on quality over quantity and reducing the number of sets they did per bodypart. I’m really not a high-intensity-training advocate, but most hardgainer types do overtrain.
TS: I think a lot of that comes from reading in the magazines about the champions’ routines, where they’re loaded with elite genetics and quite a bit of drugs, don’t you?
WB: Yeah, they’re loaded with the world’s best genetics and an insane amount of pharmaceuticals. They can also take naps during the day. They live, breathe and eat bodybuilding. The average kid reading their routines thinks that’s what he should be doing. I think IRONMAN has always done a good job of keeping the focus on what real people should be doing. About 99.9 percent of the readers fall into the normal-person category, and they’re trying to add some muscle.
TS: Maybe keeping their workouts under an hour, reducing the sets, increasing the poundage while keeping strict form and’
WB: [Interrupts] Not avoiding exercises. I find a lot of times, though not always, hardgainers avoid the exercises they don’t want to do. They call themselves hardgainers, but they don’t squat. In fact, some don’t do legs at all! A leg workout to them is two sets of extensions and two sets of leg presses. It’s hard to differentiate true hardgainers from people who want to call themselves hardgainers so they don’t have to squat, deadlift or do other things they really don’t want to do. That’s the bigger challenge. It’s not getting hardgainers to grow but actually separating the hardgainer from the whiner!
TS: It seems as if true hardgainers are pretty much born with the odds stacked against them. They not only have to eat a lot more, but they have to plan a lot more and be very disciplined. You can count me out!
WB: The only difference between hardgainers and nonhardgainers is that they have much less room for mistakes. People with truly good genetics can make amazing numbers of mistakes and still improve.
TS: So hardgainers should really stick to the core basic exercises like benches, curls, triceps extensions with the barbell, squats, barbell rows, military presses and deads.
WB: Yeah, and eight to 10 sets max for major bodyparts and four to six for smaller ones.
TS: Should they go to failure? And what about rep tempo?
WB: Going to failure is okay. It’s hard to say what the optimal training regimen is. It depends on their experience and other factors. True hardgainers probably don’t have the genetic machinery to recuperate in the way that genetic superiors do. Throwing in the forced reps and negatives and all that type of stuff is probably very counterproductive for most, who really should just stick to the basic theory of progressive resistance. They probably should go through power cycles for several months and then back down somewhat. There’s a lot of good writing on following particular strength routines and cycles by people like Charles Poliquin, Paul Chek, Louie Simmons and Charles Staley.
You can’t get strong indefinitely. Your joints, your ligaments, your nervous system and your hormones won’t tolerate it.
TS: So hardgainers should basically stick to the basics and look through a magazine like IRONMAN for little tips here and there to tweak a routine to suit their body type?
WB: IRONMAN does a good job of not publishing fictitious workouts by outrageously genetically gifted pros all the time. They tend to use articles by Stuart McRobert on hardgainers, and Steve Holman’s section tends to stress the basics: recuperation, form and so on. IRONMAN has always been one of the better magazines for helping hardgainer types, younger guys, to not lose sight of what’s really important: Eat, sleep, train, repeat. TS: As an example, what would you recommend for a quad workout for your typical hardgainer?
WB: My quad workouts are actually pretty boring. For the typical hardgainer’in fact, for most people up to fairly advanced levels’they have to get under the squat bar until they can no longer move the bar.
I see people do squats and then go do leg presses. If you can do leg presses after squats, you didn’t squat. You certainly shouldn’t be able to budge a leg press. If people are going to do one other exercise for quads, I’ve always seen great results when they do leg extensions before squats. It’s very productive, but I wouldn’t recommend that for a beginner.
I think a true squat workout takes all of your effort if it’s done right, varying rep ranges to the right cycles, where you’re working for particular reps. For most people nothing puts mass on the quads and on the overall body like squats. I think it was Tom Platz who said, ‘You’ll never reach your full upper-body potential unless you squat.’ What he meant, true or not, is that squats are such an intrinsically anabolic exercise. My leg workouts consist of five or six sets of all-out squats. I like squat routines that culminate with one set of high reps. I also have some good leg routines in my book Priming the Anabolic Environment.
TS: You do the high-rep set to pump in more blood?
WB: I don’t know if it’s to pump more blood in there, but I think it’s internally anabolic. Squats are one of the few exercises where you can actually have enough resistance on your back and still do high reps.
TS: What about drugs? I’ve seen hardgainers take a lot of steroids. They pretty much do everything right, they eat a ton of food and they train for the most part pretty correctly, but, after they’re done, the results don’t really warrant the dosages they’ve taken. WB: No, that’s just what happens. The depressing fact is that the absolute number-one factor that separates the Flex Wheelers of the world from the skinny guys in the gym is genetics. That’s unfortunate because it’s the one thing you can’t alter. I’ve known many guys like that. They can do everything Flex Wheeler ever did, train, eat, whatever, and their whole body doesn’t match his triceps.
TS: Obviously, they’ll never look like a professional bodybuilder’maybe at most they’ll look like an athlete. The discipline of preparing your meals at night and training really hard and intense in the gym and pushing yourself mentally and physically’is that where they’ll gain the most in terms of personal satisfaction? If they’re not going to be able to look in the mirror and see what they see in the magazines, what’s the point? WB: People have to find that out for themselves. Proper motivation for being in the gym is to be the best person you can be.
Sometimes it’s not just about genetics, sometimes it’s to be the best person you can be within the context of the fact that you have a real job, you have to go to school, you have a kid, and you have a whole bunch of things to do.
It’s like the athlete who plays a team sport and the minute that he’s off the team, he stops exercising. People like that don’t exercise for themselves, their motivation is to win a game or for money or whatever.
Your motivation for being in the gym has to be for you personally, in my opinion. It should be to be a healthy person, a strong person, to look the best you can look. If your motivation is strictly external and the only reason you’re there is to impress your buddies and look as close to the guys in the magazines as you can, you’ll always be unhappy. Most will fail. I know those people, and I’ve even been there myself as a younger guy.
Then you have the people who’ve lifted many years and who learn to train whether anybody’s looking at them or not. They’ll be in there working out alone. They don’t care. For them, it’s the journey. They’re trying to be the best person they can be within the context of their own life, including their genetics.
I remember an experience many years ago that brought it home to me. I’ve lost 35 pounds or so of muscle because I have other priorities in my life, but when I was really into it, I wore baggy clothes because most regular clothes didn’t fit. My mother said, ‘You shouldn’t be that big because girls don’t like big, muscular guys.’ I said, ‘Ma, I don’t work out for women. I work out for me. If a woman doesn’t like the way I look, that’s irrelevant to me.’ She couldn’t fathom that. It was beyond her comprehension.
I know that many people learn a great deal from working out. They learn discipline. They learn goal setting. They learn patience. They learn maybe some of the same things that people learn in the military.
People learn a lot of life’s lessons and goals in the gym. I know I certainly did. I think most people who have ever survived a set of high-rep squats, giving everything they had mentally and physically, know that if they can survive that, they can do pretty much anything.
TS: Dieting down while saving muscle is the natural bodybuilder’s major problem. When you’re on steroids, you don’t have to worry about it. A natural bodybuilder, however, has to use every tactic he can think of.
WB: The difference between the two is probably that natural bodybuilders need to take more time. Again, the difference is only in the level of mistakes. Natural bodybuilders cannot afford to make the mistakes that drug-using bodybuilders can make. I’ve seen many, many drug-using bodybuilders make just about every mistake they could and still come out looking pretty decent. Natural bodybuilders have to be a lot more methodical. They have to be a lot more knowledgeable and they have to be a lot more patient. They can’t do crash diets. I find a lot of natural bodybuilders tend not to eat enough calories when they’re dieting.
I don’t think they or the diet are necessarily any different. Certainly, drug-using bodybuilders can eat a lot more food when they’re dieting because they have basically fat-burning metabolisms. I often think that natural bodybuilders have to do double the aerobics that drug-using bodybuilders do to get lean, but all that does is chew up their muscle mass.
Precontest or presummer, I tell people to do the same routine they’ve always done. What they’re trying to do is stay strong and maintain muscle mass. They should try to use good weights and stay strong’and keep the reps in the six-to-10 range.
TS: What about macronutrient manipulation to save muscle? I know you recommend an isocaloric diet of one-third fat, one-third protein and one-third carbohydrates. Most of the carbohydrates should be low on the glycemic index, like brown rice, oatmeal, broccoli and things like that; however, the most popular nowadays is the ketogenic diet, which is high in protein, high in fat’any fat, really’and very low in carbohydrates, under 40 or 50 grams a day. What’s your opinion?
WB: I think ketogenic diets work. I just don’t think you need to go to that much trouble. They’re hard to do. I don’t think they’re necessary. I don’t really push isocaloric diets precontest. I think it’s more or less off-season. I generally want to feed a particular tissue and give people a number, such as a gram or a gram and a half of protein per pound of lean body mass, a certain number of carbs and fat and that type of thing for dieting. I don’t give specific ratios much. My goal is always to feed the particular tissue I want to grow and starve a particular tissue I’m trying to get rid of. When I train bodybuilders, I give them particular numbers. Again, the body doesn’t care about calories. The body cares about nutrients. If you give the body the nutrients it needs, the calorie issue takes care of itself.
For precontest diets I can give specific numbers. A gram and a half per pound of bodyweight of lean body mass for protein. Between .8 and 1.2 grams of carbs per pound of lean body mass. And one tablespoon of flaxseed oil per 75 pounds of bodyweight. Plus, the bodybuilder should get natural fat from red meat, eggs and so on. I also tend to use tricks, such as carb cycles, cheat days, altering the levels of different fats with different properties. For me, the fat and protein levels should be constant. The variable on a fat-loss diet is the carbohydrates. There are tricks that I like to do; for example, carb cycling. You start to diet down with those static numbers and when you hit a plateau, you start to cycle the carbohydrate levels. Say your bodybuilder needs .8 grams of carbs per pound of body mass and you cycle the carbs. He might have 75 grams one day, 150 the next and 220 the next. By the end of a seven-day cycle the carbs should still average out at .8 grams per gram of body mass.
It has to do with changing the body’s metabolic set point, which involves a whole range of things, including thyroid, liver ATP levels, etc. When you carb-cycle, the body’s unable to get a grasp on what you’re trying to do, whether you’re trying to starve it or overfeed it. That probably has a particular effect on the hormone leptin, but it does affect growth hormone and others. I’ve always had very good results with carb cycling if it’s done right and done at the right time in the diet.
TS: Let’s talk about this whole issue of glycemic index. Does it really matter what type of carbs? Does it have to be that scientific?
WB: Precontest in particular I’d say, yes. Off-season not as much, but there are some recent studies that show that the type of carbohydrate you eat absolutely does have an effect on insulin levels, fat-storing enzymes, that type of thing.
TS: What about postworkout nutrition for the off-season hardgainer and for a bodybuilder dieting down, trying to save muscle? Blender drink or a solid meal?
WB: With the postworkout drink you want to get those anabolic hormones up as fast as you can. You want to replenish glycogen as fast as you can and stop the catabolic process.
The drink I always have people use is about 100 grams of carbohydrates, 50 grams of protein and some fat. I think the thing that people don’t add to postworkout drinks is fat. They don’t really understand that intramuscular triglycerides are used as an immediate energy source, more so than scientists realized before. You want to replenish intramuscular triglycerides as well as glycogen.
TS: So maybe a tablespoon of flaxseed oil?
TS: Would a hardgainer need to take in more carbohydrates postworkout?
WB: I think hardgainers could just take in more of everything. They could have another one of those weight-gainer drinks: ice cream, frozen banana, maybe a little cream, that type of thing.
TS: But wouldn’t all that fat slow down the glycemic index rating?
WB: It would slow it down, but it’s still gonna be faster than eating a meal.
TS: And then maybe an hour or hour and a half later, you prefer them to have another’
WB: [Interrupts] Yes, they would have a regular meal. Another thing I see a lot of bodybuilders and hardgainer types do, because they read it in a magazine article or something, is avoid red meat. Red meat is just about the most anabolic food, and I don’t even know why. If you look at it in terms of its biological value, its PER, its NPU, any of those, it’s not that high. Red meat has heme iron, carnitine, creatine, B-vitamins and other goodies, but to be honest with you, the presence of none of those nutrients explains why red meat seems to be so inherently anabolic.
I remember one bodybuilder I trained who is a pro now but wasn’t at the time. He was stuck as a Middleweight for years. He ate a ton of protein, white rice, that type of thing, but he didn’t eat any red meat. He thought he wasn’t supposed to. The only thing we really changed in his diet was that we replaced a lot of that silly boiled chicken with red meat. He just exploded with muscle.
I think some of that had to do also with the fat in the red meat he was eating. As I said, I’ve never been sure as to why red meat is so anabolic, but I have no doubt that it is. I don’t know if it’s due to the carnitine, the creatine or what. Red meat is true growth food in my book.
TS: Are there any supplements you recommend for dieting down?
WB: Specifically, the ephedrine and caffeine stack is great for dieting. Studies have shown that it does retain muscle mass while you lose weight. It makes life easier. It’s also an anorectic; that is, it suppresses appetite. It’s maybe not for people who have high blood pressure or heart problems, but studies have shown ephedrine-caffeine products to be amazingly safe. I highly recommend fish oils and flaxseed oil for anyone who’s dieting. During particular times of dieting, I think the more omega-3’rich oils are better. That is, flaxseed and fish oils. CLA [conjugated linoleic acid] might be useful for retaining muscle mass as you diet.
Creatine is also useful in a diet. Creatine is water weight. It’s not gonna prevent you from losing fat. I think natural bodybuilders can use some creatine.
TS: Let’s cut to the chase. How many inches are you right now, honestly?
TS: [Laughs] No, penis.
WB: Let’s see, I haven’t’
TS: [Interrupts] You’ve never measured it with a ruler?
WB: Yes, of course I have. Every man has. Any man who says otherwise is lying.
TS: I go 4 1/2 inches.
WB: I’m 35 years old, and I haven’t checked since I was probably 18, but it was slightly above the average. I do recall I was happy to find that it was a little better than the national average. But that’s not what women care about, right?
TS: So what if a genie came up to you and said, ‘Will, by the grace of my hand, I’ll make you the smartest man in the world and the richest man in the world, but you can only have a two-inch penis at erection.’ Would you take the deal?
WB: Never. Absolutely not!
TS: Never? Smartest man, richest man?
WB: No, no!
TS: Is it possible to have sex if you’re only two inches?
WB: Well, with a Chihuahua, sure.
TS: I mean with a girl.
WB: If you can get her to stop laughing, I suppose, sure.
TS: I’ve heard that the fitness babes, because they’re so muscular, are actually better in bed and tighter. True?
WB: Tighter compared to normal women? Well, as a general rule, muscular athletic women tend to be tighter than women who don’t work out, but not always. It’s the same thing as saying a tall guy always has a bigger penis than a short guy, which is generally true but not always. You don’t want to say anything and alienate people because it’s not always true. I will tell you one thing: Once you have a female bodybuilder, you don’t go back.
TS: So what you’re saying, Will, is that female bodybuilders don’t get fucked, they fuck you?
WB: Something like that [chuckles].
TS: We’ll end on that note.
WB: This has been the most deranged and interesting interview I’ve ever done.
Editor’s note: To contact Will Brink, send e-mail to [email protected] To get your own copy of Will’s new book, Diet Supplements Revealed, visit www.HealthandMuscle.com. To arrange your own personal one-on-one phone consultation with the man who tells it like it is, contact www.Qfac.com. To obtain a totally uncensored, unrehearsed and unedited double audio CD of this interview, visit www.sumopublishing.com.
About the author: The Sandwich recently found out his true weight by stepping on an industrial-strength cow scale. He weighs in at a bovine, bone-crushing 397 pounds. He now can proudly proclaim that he’s the biggest writer in the business. Eat that, Lonnie Teper! To contact The Sandwich, send e-mail to [email protected] IM