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Training and Eating for More Muscle

Q: I’m about 170 pounds and not in the best of shape. I’m bulking slowly as I cannot commit 100 percent until after my exams are over. One day soon I’ll be able to do that, and I hope to have a good enough shape to compete. I was wondering what type of supplements you took when you were bulking. I do all the main compounds, but are there any tips or secrets that will help me build a great physique? I will be cutting for holidays next year, and I read that you didn’t like doing cardio to cut but just gave yourself 20 weeks to diet. I was going to do 500 fewer calories with high protein and carbs. Did that work for you?

A: I don’t think there are any secrets for bulking up and getting bigger. It’s a matter of heavy training and the right amount of the proper nutrients; however, it’s the combination of the training and nutrition that will enable you to add muscle size. If you consistently do only one or the other, the results won’t be optimal.

For example, you could be very dedicated to your training program by using the basic exercises and training heavy enough to stimulate the muscles. You could be doing the proper number of sets so you’re stimulating the muscles but not overtraining. If you’re not eating enough calories or the right amounts of protein and carbs, though, you won’t get the results you’re looking for.

Similarly, you could eat the perfect number of calories along with the right balance of protein, carbohydrate and fat. You could space the meals apart for proper digestion and maximum absorption of all the nutrients. You could also be taking in the best supplements on the market. If you’re not training heavy or hard enough, however, you’ll most likely add more fat than muscle to your physique.

By eating a surplus of calories and carbs, you’re providing your body with the fuel needed to train heavier and harder than your muscles are accustomed to. If you combine those extra calories and carbs with heavier workouts, your muscles will respond to the added stimulation by growing. Those extra calories, along with the added protein and carbohydrates, will then, in turn, let your muscles recuperate and grow from your high-intensity workouts.

I’ve noticed that many bodybuilders either eat more calories or attempt to train heavier and harder in an effort to get bigger, but they don’t do both. If they don’t eat more calories and carbs, they won’t have the fuel to be stronger and push more resistance every week. By the same token, if they only eat more but don’t push themselves harder to train heavier at the gym, they’re wasting the extra calories and carbs.

I strongly recommend that you keep a training log and write down how much weight you use at each workout. Your goal when you’re bulking up is to increase that resistance each week, even if it’s only five more pounds or one more repetition. In the beginning and intermediate stages of training, getting stronger on the basic exercises for six to eight reps will lead to more muscle mass.

When I was only 20 years old and seriously bulking up, I used to shoot for six to eight reps on all the basic exercises. If I could do 10 reps, then I knew the weight was too light, and I’d use more weight. I’d often finish with a really heavy set that I could do for three reps and then have my training partner help me do another two to three forced repetitions. It would get my muscles accustomed to training with a new, heavier poundage. Eventually, I would be able to use that new weight for six to eight reps, and my muscles would grow even more.

As for supplements to use when you’re bulking up, I really think that the secret is in eating lots of good-quality food instead of just popping a few pills. How much food you need to eat depends on how difficult it is for you to gain weight and add muscle. Some individuals can eat moderate amounts of calories and carbs and gain muscle just by training hard. Others need to really increase their calories and carbohydrates in order to add muscle and gain solid bodyweight.

I had a very fast metabolism when I was younger, and I was really at a sticking point when I got to more than 200 pounds bodyweight. Although I was eating a lot of food and training very heavy using the basic exercises, my weight wouldn’t budge no matter how hard I tried. I had to drastically increase my calorie and carb intake in order to get my body to start gaining.

The foods you want to concentrate on are both protein and carbohydrate. The protein foods I chose were high in both protein and fats because the fats gave me additional calories I needed to help me gain weight. Foods like whole eggs, turkey and beef were mainstays of my diet.

For carbohydrate foods I would always choose complex carbs that were high in fiber so they’d be digested slowly and stored as glycogen in muscles and not stored as bodyfat. I ate lots of oatmeal, whole-wheat bread, brown rice, oat bran, sweet potatoes, baked potatoes and whole-wheat pasta when I was bulking up.

You could add a high-quality protein powder with extra carbs to help you gain weight and put on size. A supplement like Optimum Nutrition’s Pro Complex Gainer would be perfect because it supplies 60 grams of protein and 85 grams of carbs in one serving. Having a couple of protein drinks made with a high-protein, high-carbohydrate weight gainer would help you get in more of the calories and nutrients you need for gaining size.

It’s true that I don’t believe in doing a lot of cardio to get ripped for a contest. I like losing fat with my diet first and then adding cardio later to help speed up the fat loss. I think the key to losing fat is diet. When I was competing, as you mentioned in your question, I’d sometimes diet for as long as 20 weeks to slowly lose the fat and maintain my muscle tissue as I was getting cut. Your muscles need a certain number of calories as well as protein, carbs and fats in order to retain their size. Going too low on calories will inevitably sacrifice muscle tissue.

I found that I needed to eat approximately 3,000 calories a day in order to lose fat slowly. Even if I was eating 4,500 to 5,000 calories in the off-season, I wouldn’t lose bodyweight or fat until my calories went down to at least 3,000 per day. Your plan to cut just 500 calories from what you’re eating in the off-season may or may not work, depending on how many calories you’re eating now. Begin by figuring out the exact count of calories, protein, carb and fat you are taking in now and then go from there. You’ll get a much better understanding of how much you need to eat in order to both gain weight and lose fat once you write it all down and analyze your diet.

The ’10 ABA Natural North America Bodybuilding, Fitness and Figure Championships

For the fourth year in a row, I produced the ABA Natural North America Bodybuilding, Fitness and Figure Championships. This year’s competition took place on Saturday, August 7, 2010, at the beautiful Bolingbrook High School in Bolingbrook, Illinois. A very enthusiastic and appreciative crowd cheered nearly 60 drug-free athletes on that warm summer evening.

To show you how special the bodybuilding event was, there were an incredible four standing ovations during the evening. I’ve been attending bodybuilding competitions since 1976, and I can honestly state that I’ve never seen an audience rise to its feet and cheer the competitors more than they did at that contest—with the exception of the ’77 Mr. Olympia, where the crowd went nuts for the benefit of “ABC’s Wide World of Sports” cameras.

The Natural North America Championships was sanctioned by the ABA/INBA. It was a pro qualifier for the overall winners of the men’s and women’s bodybuilding and figure open competitions. Many of those athletes will travel to Las Vegas on September 25 to be a part of Team USA and become eligible to compete in the prestigious Natural Olympia contest in Reno, Nevada, on November 13.

In the men’s open division James Ward Jr. from Knoxville, Tennessee, surprised everyone by coming in as a relative dark horse and sweeping the show. James was much bigger and harder than anyone in the lineup, and he scored easy victories in the tall class and the overall. Vince Robbins, the ’07 Natural North America champ, returned after a three-year layoff to win the short class, and medium-class winner Larry Montgomery scored his third first-place victory of the night, having previously taken the novice men’s medium class and the masters overall.

Diane Mueller from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, won the women’s open bodybuilding crown over a tenacious Laurie Ellis, who took the masters women’s title as well as the Best Poser award. Laurie had the size and shape, but Diane was ripped and ready for victory.

The novice men’s division was the most competitive of the night. First-timer Brook Wilkerling scored a unanimous decision in the short class with his thick and muscular physique. Larry Montgomery was in very hard condition to take first in the medium class. Tall-class topper Mohsin Khan, at only 20 years old, was very impressive, with good size and shape and a very lean physique. He won the novice overall in a close decision over Larry Montgomery.

The masters men was one of the most competitive divisions in the contest. Larry Montgomery scored another decisive first place in the 40-to-49 class. Ultraripped 57-year-old Sam Langston won the 50-to-59-year-old division, and the incredible 69-year-old Murrell Hall won the over-60 class with abs that would shame “The Situation” from “Jersey Shore.”

When the masters overall was being decided, Larry approached his older competitors and bowed in respect before the judge called for the mandatory poses. Murrell and Sam pushed Larry for the overall, and any one of them would have made a worthy winner.

The teenage men’s title was won by a dramatically improved Wali Khan. It was his third consecutive year entering the show, and he was ripped to the bone to take first place this year.

Newcomer Alaina Ravens won both the bikini and sports model divisions in her very first contest. With a perfect physique for bikini, a radiant smile and a joyful attitude onstage, Alaina is a star in the making. Maria Annunziata won the figure overall with her lean physique and beautiful appearance. Tina Kohl from Bourbonnais, Illinois, won the masters figure division.

The first standing ovation of the evening came when Matt Geraghty won the Physically Challenged Wheelchair division. Matt was in a severe car accident nine years ago, incurring brain damage and obvious physical impairment. After seven years of working out with a trainer, he braved the contest stage for the first time and went through his poses in his wheelchair. What a great moment!

Top natural pro bodybuilder Philip Ricardo was rewarded with a standing ovation after a magnificent posing routine, highlighting one of the best natural physiques in the world. To the music from “Rocky IV,” which was used by the awesome Lee Haney in his ’88 Mr. Olympia win, Philip amazed the crowd with his shredded physique and incredible muscle control.

Murrell Hall was responsible for the other two standing ovations. The crowd went crazy after seeing his body of a 30-year-old at the unbelievable age of 69. By the time he finished posing, the crowd was on its feet. Later in the evening Murrell won the first John Hansen Natural Bodybuilding Lifetime Achievement Award for a career spanning more than three decades and a lifestyle devoted to fitness and superior nutrition. Murrell hasn’t had a slice of pizza or any alcohol in more than 30 years.

The ’10 ABA Natural North America was a great show with spectacular physiques and a very supportive audience. I’m looking forward to hosting the ’11 ABA Natural Illinois next May.

Men’s Open: James Ward Jr.

Women’s Open: Diane Mueller

Figure Open: Maria Annunziata

Fitness: April Slapa

Men’s Novice: Mohsin Khan

Masters Men: Larry Montgomery

Teenage Men: Wali Khan

Masters Women Bodybuilding: Laurie Ellis

Bikini Diva: Alaina Ravens

Masters Figure: Tina Kohl

Sports Model: Alaina Ravens

Natural Bodybuilding Lifetime Achievement Award:

Murrell Hall

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, or send questions or comments to him via e-mail at [email protected]. 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, Listen to John’s new radio show, “Natural Bodybuilding Radio,” at Send written correspondence to John Hansen, P.O. Box 3003, Darien, IL 60561.  IM

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