Scrawny to brawny: Finding the muscle to add, well, muscle
I'm not going to lie. Trying to gain weight is by far the hardest thing I've ever done.
I've been trying to add pounds to my skinny frame since I was a teenager. Last April in The Salt Lake Tribune, I wrote about how I planned to add 30 pounds of mostly lean muscle to my 5-foot-8 frame.
I'm more than eight months into a year-long online course called "Scrawny to Brawny"(S2B) and I've gained 18 pounds. At 153 pounds, I'm more robust, confident and I feel a lot healthier.
Along the way, the blog charting my progress briansbigproject.com which I write from my home in Dublin, Ireland has had more than 4,300 hits from nearly 50 countries, with half my audience in the United States.
I've also made a few new friends in the process, including Salt Laker Calvin Buhler, a recent S2B prizewinner and coach.
But while all this support is great, my success on this program, like anyone else's, depends on me doing the heavy lifting and I had no idea how much of a mind meld this would be.
Wills and won'ts, cans and cant's • The biggest enemy is myself. I'm fighting a constant battle of wills and won'ts, cans and cant's. As Muhammad Ali said: "If there is no enemy within, the enemy outside can do you no harm." Boy do I know what he means.
I have a near perfect record on my workouts (we have to fill out daily compliance forms online). But the kitchen is where this battle is won, because no amount of gym hours will make up for a poor diet. And I now have so much Tupperware that I'm considering changing my entire 401-K to plastics.
At the beginning of the program, like the rest of the 199 guys signed up for the "Scrawny to Brawny" course, I had to eat massive amounts of food: an omelete with cheese and vegetables for breakfast; a salad with 6 to 9 ounces of chicken or fish for lunch; and a similarly sized portion of meat with carbs for dinner. In addition, there were protein Super Shakes with fruit, nuts and vegetables that I was supposed to consume three times a day.
But after three months, I had only gained three pounds.
I red-flagged the problem to my coach Paul Valiulis, and asked for input from nutrition top dog John Berardi, effectively the head coach of S2B. He had been the same height and starting weight as me when he began his quest to become brawny.
Berardi sent me back a detailed email, which told me to radically change my diet. We'd be ditching the Super Shakes and instead introduce a different shake before, during and after my workout. I'd also have to eat two cups of oats with berries and protein powder along with my breakfast omelette. But, suggested Berardi, I would need to skip breakfast twice a week so I wouldn't get "too fat."
And I'd have to eat a pound of protein with a lot more carbs, vegetables and good fats for dinner.
Losing my appetite • I was eating at the time I read Berardi's email (I've had to become a professional eater under the program) and instantly lost my appetite.
How was I going to put back a pound of meat or fish twice a day?
Despite my initial hesitation, I told Berardi that it would be lame to ask for his advice and not follow it, so I was in.
Truth be told, I was actually more worried about being able to stomach the oats than the extra protein. And I was so excited about adding more carbs to the mix that I wrote a blog post titled "Carb Your Enthusiasm."
The next few weeks, I started adding on the pounds at quite the clip it appears that I do better on real food than protein shakes.
Essentially, the more fuel you add to a fire, there's no way that blaze will burn out. That's what was happening with my body. And because I'm eating healthy, there's an excellent chance that a good portion of the weight I'm adding is lean muscle.
The weight has stalled from time to time, but I know I'm on the right path.
So what have I learned? Well, most body transformations (whether adding or losing weight) are successful when people stick with them for life when they become something they can't live without.
Mind over muscle • So even if I don't put on the 30 pounds before the program ends in May, I will eventually reach my goal.
I'm sure of that because of a short trip I took to Prague in November. It was hard to eat the quantities I needed at every meal because it would mean ordering double portions when I ate out. I was soon pining for my "old" routine. I ended up losing about three pounds that week but "found" them again the following week.
Being brawnier on the inside is also a big part of what the program is about. Some days, my goal seems utterly attainable, other days I begin to doubt myself. So I'm slowly learning to stay positive, or at least on an even keel, so as I don't beat up on myself for failures or setbacks.
And that's the other half of S2B that is in many ways more valuable. Some things in the program feel so far outside of your comfort zone that it seems you'll never find your way back. But you do. And then you draw a better map for the next time.
I've reached out to others on Facebook, who have undergone inspirational body transformations. Like Christian Bok, who recently became a fitness model and booked his first major American fitness magazine shoot, and British trainer Luke Thornton, who is 6'2" and was once 140 pounds. He has since broken the 200-pound barrier.
Scott Baptie and Brandan Fokken, along with Fitness Motivation for Ordinary People, are excellent sources of motivation on Facebook for people trying to gain or lose weight.
I'll leave you with the best piece of advice I've heard so far. It's a mantra used by many weight lifters before they try to push themselves a little harder in the gym: "If you think you can, you can. If you think you can't, you can't."
'Scrawny to Brawny' project
Last April, we introduced you to Brian Mac Intyre, a former Salt Lake Tribune copy editor, who has been trying to add 30 pounds to his 5-foot-8 frame. Today he offers us an update on his "Scrawny to Brawny" quest. You can also follow his progress at briansbigproject.com.