Scrawny to brawny: Skinny guy will try to gain 30 pounds
I know. You hate me already. That makes two of us.
I don't really hate myself, but just look at this photo it's not easy being lean and relatively weak. Most people who pose almost naked for a newspaper are worried about showing too much. I worried about not showing enough.
I am 44 years old, stand 5-foot-8 and weigh about 133 pounds. Despite my being a big eater, it's always seemed impossible to add those 30 pounds that would put me in a "fighting fit" category. But I'm on a mission to change that over the next year.
Think of my journey as a cross between Morgan Spurlock's "Supersize Me" film and a Bridget Jones diary for skinny guys trying to add weight. Like any body transformation, it all comes down to diet and exercise. Half the battle will be won in the kitchen given that, under the plan I've chosen, I have to eat upward of 4,500 calories a day. I must prepare food from scratch, which means a massive omelet for breakfast (mostly egg whites), a salad for lunch with two medium pieces of chicken or fish, and a stir-fry for dinner with the same amount of animal- or fish-based proteins.
In addition, I have to drink three big shakes daily, which combine protein powder with fruit, nuts and spinach. The last ingredient makes this concoction look like something Shrek would drink. I store these "super shakes" in a large silver Thermos flask, which looks scarily like a canister for weaponized plutonium for which "24's" Jack Bauer was often on the hunt.
Always skinny • As a boy in Dublin, I despised wearing shorts. I was a skinny teen with chicken legs who got my share of jibes in high school. The ribbing (ahem) didn't stop in college. When I set out for the States in 1993, I thought I was leaving all that behind me. Not so.
Even in the heart of the American West I worked as a copy editor for The Salt Lake Tribune from 1996 to 2005 a former colleague dubbed me "the 9-stone cowboy," each stone being the equivalent of 14 pounds. You do the math; it's too depressing.
You're probably thinking I should be happy to be thin. But it's difficult for people who have never been skinny to know what it's like to be that person.
I'm not looking to be the Michelin Man, and everything I do in this quest is done naturally (i.e. no steroids).
I realize I'm in a minority, but I'm hoping my Trojan, er Spartan, efforts may inspire others to make similar changes, whether they're going up or down in weight.
The program • A few years ago, I stumbled across a potential solution to my problem. I returned to Ireland in 2005 and joined the Trinity College Dublin Sports Centre as a postgrad member. Around the same time, I happened upon a book called Scrawny to Brawny, but I left it on the shelf as if having the book would be enough to magically grow muscle.
Months later, I happened upon the Scrawny to Brawny website and remembered I already had the book. After reading it cover to cover, it just made a lot of sense. I decided to join the 12-month Internet-only version of Scrawny to Brawny or S2B along with 200 other guys from around the globe.
The program is run by Toronto-based Precision Nutrition and founder John Berardi and his team, who also help heavy people lose weight.
I could have hired a personal trainer a lot closer to home to provide specially tailored workouts, but I doubt there are many people who turned themselves from whippets into huskies as the three coaches on the S2B program did. The team includes Berardi, Paul Valiulis and Chuck Dertinger. They get an assist from Built for Show author Nate Green.
"The truth is most guys never do anything with the [fitness program] products they buy," Green says on his fitness and lifestyle blog. "Most of the time, their typical results are zero. The biggest factor is you."
Berardi, who is the same height and starting weight as I am, went from 135 pounds to 205 pounds in more than two years.
"Being scrawny isn't just about how your body looks. It's about how your body performs and how you see the world," said Berardi when asked why people should care about skinny guys trying to put on weight. "Over the years, in working with thousands of skinny guys, I've realized that gaining muscle size and strength isn't about vanity. It's about living the life that you want to live. About moving, eating and living better. Becoming your own hero. And that's something everyone can benefit from."
I actually started the Scrawny to Brawny program last summer but had to stop after four months due to a family health crisis. Happily, things have settled down now and I'm ready to give it my all again starting in May.
As preparation, I've been trying to sort out muscle imbalances where one side of my body is noticeably stronger than the other. If a stronger muscle has to overcompensate for its "mirror" weaker one, it becomes overstressed and can lead to injury. My pointman is John Connor (yes, that's his real name) of the Irish Strength Institute and one of the nation's top trainers.
My next update for The Tribune will be in six months. But if you want to follow my progress, check out briansbigproject.com.
In the meantime, whatever you do, don't tell Jack about my flask.
The Scrawny to Brawny project
Former Salt Lake Tribune copy editor Brian Mac Intyre will spend the next 12 months trying to add 30 pounds to his 5-foot-8 frame. Follow his progress at briansbigproject.com.