Q: You’re a great inspiration and my new role model. I’m 16, and I’ve been wanting to bulk up for two years. First off, I’m using the four-day pull/push split that you recommend in your book Natural Bodybuilding. Is it okay to do three exercises for the major bodyparts and two for the smaller ones? Let’s say I do three exercises for shoulders on Monday and then three on Thursday. Will I be at risk of overtraining? Second, a question about counting calories: On my oatmeal package it says 120 calories per 30 grams of oats, which also includes 20 grams of carbs. So if I multiply those 20 grams by four, I get 80 calories, while on the package I see 120 calories. Which number should I go with? Third, I tend to gain fat easily. Last time I did a two-month bulk, I got a gut that took me ages to lose. I think it was due to my eating carbs late at night. I go to school and normally train between 6 and 8 p.m. I have a postworkout shake, then a meal at 9:30 p.m. Should I have carbs with that meal or just stick with veggies? If yes for carbs, how many—60 to 80 grams? Meanwhile, is it reasonable for me to weigh 190 pounds at 13 to 14 percent bodyfat by 2013 if I’m training each bodypart twice a week? Right now I’m at 6’ and 145 pounds with 10 percent bodyfat. As to cardio, how often should I do it to keep fat gains low? Finally, I’ve been training for three months and have gone from 135 to 145 pounds. Would it be okay for me to incorporate drop sets, or is that for advanced trainees?
A: If you’re using the four-day-split routine, you can do three exercises for the major muscle groups and two for the smaller muscle groups and you won’t overtrain as long as you keep the sets moderate. Because the sets are limited, it’s important to choose the best mass-building exercises in order to maximize your muscle growth.
For the deltoids, it’s okay to use two to three exercises because they’re a complex muscle group consisting of three separate heads. In order to fully develop the deltoid, you need to do a pressing exercise for the front head, as well as an exercise for the side and rear heads.
When training to gain more size, I like to choose basic exercises that use several muscle groups to perform the movement. Exercises like barbell and dumbbell presses for the front deltoids and upright rows for the side delts and traps are great mass builders because they incorporate other muscle groups like the triceps and traps. That enables you to use more weight to build more mass.
As to the oatmeal, one cup of oatmeal contains 300 calories, with 10 grams of protein, 54 grams of carbohydrate and six grams of fat. You may only be looking at the carbs when figuring out the calories but you need to add the grams of protein and fat. There are four calories for each gram of carb, which means 54 grams of carbohydrates will add up to 216 calories.
If you gained too much fat when you tried bulking up in the past, it wasn’t just from eating carbs at night but too many calories and carbs overall. I don’t know how much you were eating then, but it was more than your body needed. That’s why you put on fat.
What I’d recommend is to write down how many calories you’re taking in along with numbers on protein, carbohydrate and fat. If you find that you’re putting on too much fat when trying to bulk up, you can look at your diet notebook and figure out what to cut back on.
Endomorphs, who have a slow metabolism, have to be very careful when adding size. Obviously, you need more calories so you can grow, but you have to eat the right amounts of the macronutrients so you gain muscle without adding too much fat.
For those who are trying to bulk up and get bigger, I’d normally recommend a diet consisting of 35 percent protein, 50 percent carbohydrate and 15 percent fat. If you have a slow metabolism, you may need to eat more protein and less carbohydrate to keep from adding bodyfat. A diet consisting of 45 percent protein, 30 percent carbohydrate and 25 percent fat may work much better.
The bottom line, of course, is always the number of calories you’re taking in. If you’re eating the right macronutrient percentages but your calorie intake is too high, you’ll still add unwanted bodyfat. You have to find the right number of calories that will enable you to gain size without adding too much fat.
That said, if you’re eating your last meal later at night and you’re worried about bodyfat, I wouldn’t include carb in that meal. Your postworkout drink will restore your glycogen, so you won’t need additional carbs for your last meal of the day. I’d stick with protein—chicken, steak or fish—along with some type of fibrous vegetable.
It’s hard to say how much weight you can gain over the next couple of years. You’re only 16 and have been training for just a couple of years. At that age you can make some truly remarkable gains in a short period of time if you eat correctly and train hard. I went from 135 to 155 pounds in my first year of training when I was 14 years old. I was overtraining by working out six days a week, twice a day, but I still made impressive gains because my body was new to training.
It’s more important to focus on doing the exercises correctly and building muscle size and strength slowly in your growing years. Don’t try to rush the process by lifting too heavy or eating too much food. Your body will be ready to grow at your age, so do everything right with your training and nutrition and watch how fast you grow.
If you choose to do cardio, I would stick with no more than a 30-minute session three times a week. I always liked to do my cardio first thing in the morning or immediately after a workout because I felt it tapped the fat stores more efficiently than doing it at other times of the day.
As for drop sets, I think they’re a training technique too advanced for you at your stage of the game. Focus on the basic exercises, and do them in textbook form to build up your strength. When you get stronger on all the basic movements such as bench presses, incline presses, squats, deadlifts, barbell rows, dips and overhead presses, you’ll build the muscle size you’re seeking. Drop sets, supersets and preexhaustion techniques are good for advanced trainers who are looking for ways to shock their complacent muscles into growing. You’re not at that stage yet.
Editor’s note: John Hansen has won the Mr. Natural Olympia and is a two-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Check out his Web site at www.NaturalOlympia.com, or send questions or comments to [email protected] or P.O. Box 3003, Darien, IL 60561. Look for John’s DVD, “Natural Bodybuilding Seminar and Competitions,” along with his book, Natural Bodybuilding, and his training DVD, “Real Muscle,” at his Web site or at Home Gym Warehouse, www.Home-Gym.com. Listen to John’s new radio show, “Natural Bodybuilding Radio,” at www.NaturalBodybuildingRadio.com. IM