Log In

Muscle Hypertrophy: Your Complete Guide to Building Muscle Fast

Everything you need to know about how the body responds to diet and training to add muscle mass, and how you can capitalize on these processes to build more muscle.

muscle hypertrophy guide

We've all experienced it: The intense muscle pain from delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) that comes on a day or two after an intense workout.

Those new to working out are particularly susceptible to DOMS because their muscles are not accustomed to the strain that the weight placed on their weak muscles. But you may have noticed that as your training became more and more consistent, those days of not being able to comb your hair or walk up a flight of stairs without difficulty due to severe DOMS have gotten few and far between. These days you really have to train like a maniac to get just the slightest DOMS in your pecs or biceps.

Some of you may be worried about this lack of muscle soreness with your training.

Maybe you're not doing it right. After all, if you've read anything about hypertrophy, you know that muscles grow by being damaged and then rebuilt bigger and stronger than they originally were. Right? While muscle damage does definitely lead to muscle growth and strength gains, there is some debate over whether or not it's absolutely critical for long-term muscle growth. Get out your microscopes. In this article, I'll take you deep into the muscle cells to look at how a muscle grows and investigate whether or not muscle damage is completely critical for muscle hypertrophy.

There's a lot of research that's been done on muscle damage and its effects on muscle growth, and we now know a great deal about the processes involved between the two. Muscle damage can happen from mechanical or chemical stress, and the body responds to that damage in a number of ways. Here's a thorough rundown on what we currently know.

Muscle Damage Makes for Muscle Growth

In simple terms, muscle fibers contract by a ratchet mechanism. A specific protein called myosin connects to another protein actin and pulls the actin closer. Thousands and thousands of actin and myosin connections are occurring in each muscle fiber when you lift a weight. This action shortens the muscle and is basically how a muscle contracts to lift a weight.

Consider the shortening of your biceps muscles as your arms flex at the elbows to curl a barbell. Then, when you lower the weight back down, the muscle must lengthen. To do this, the myosin allows the actin to slide back to its original position and then disconnects. However, when the weight is extremely heavy, the muscle fiber often cannot resist the weight back down and the force of the weight literally tears the myosin right off of the actin. This shearing force also damages other critical structures of the muscle fiber.

Even when you're not using heavy weight, similar muscle damage can occur. When the muscles become fatigued from performing too many reps, again they have difficulty resisting the weight when the muscle fiber is lengthening. And again, the actin and myosin are forcibly ripped apart, causing damage.

Inflammatory Response

This type of damage is similar to a wound that you get anywhere on your body, and immediately following the damage ensues an inflammatory response that eventually leads to healing of the muscle fiber, but even bigger and stronger than it previously was. The cell swelling that comes with the inflammation from damaged muscle can also help encourage muscle hypertrophy.

When a muscle cell fills with fluid, it places a stretch on the muscle cell membrane. This stretch signals the cell to increase the size and strength of its structure to prevent the swelling from literally popping the cell. To do so, the muscle cell increases muscle protein synthesis and simultaneously decreases muscle protein breakdown. This is one reason why supplements such as creatine, taurine, and glutamine—which can pull more fluid into the muscle cells—can help to increase long-term muscle growth. This inflammatory response is a long cascade of events involving many different white blood cells, cellular signaling messengers, chemicals, fluid, growth factors, and special cells known as satellite cells.

Once damage happens, the first cells to arrive on the scene are neutrophils. These specialized white blood cells secrete chemicals, such as enzymes and toxic chemicals, that further break down the damaged tissue. Following on the heels of the neutrophils are another type of white blood cells, macrophages. Once the tissues are adequately decomposed, the neutrophils and macrophages literally consume them and remove them from the site in an effort to clear it out and prepare for the makeover. Think of this as if your house caught fire. You would have to rip out all of the damaged structure, appliances and furniture before you could rebuild and replace them. While all this breaking down and gobbling up is going on within the muscle cell, large amounts of fluid are filling it up, as well as the surrounding area, causing swelling.

Chemical Stress

During exercise, especially aerobic exercise, such as cardio, or during high rep sets, when you are using more oxygen, reactive oxygen species (ROS) or free radicals form. These ROS can damage muscle fibers and instigate a similar cascade as mechanical damage discussed above. There is even some belief that the high acidity levels that develop inside muscle cells during intense workouts can damage muscle fibers.

Regardless of whether the damage is mechanical or chemical, there are several ways that muscle damage leads to increased muscle growth.

Once the damaged tissue has been cleaned up and removed, it's time to rebuild the house, er muscle cell. The macrophages that helped to clean up and remove the damaged tissue also secrete chemicals that attract cytokines and growth factors, such as interleukin-6, (IL-6), IL-7, IL-8, IL-10, IL-15, and fibroblast growth factor (FGF), to name a few. These all play a small, but critical role in numerous processes that eventually lead to the activation and growth of satellite cells.

Satellite Cells

Satellite cells are specialized muscle stem cells. These cells sit dormant in a muscle but then migrate to the area of damage, bringing their nuclei into the muscle cell. When the muscle fiber is damaged, such as during an intense workout, the satellite cells fuse into the existing muscle fiber and mature, growing bigger and stronger, as well as typically becoming one cell. Since they are actual cells, they each contain a nucleus, and so they bring along new nuclei to the muscle fiber. Because the nuclei are where the process of muscle protein synthesis (i.e. muscle building) is initiated, the more nuclei a muscle has the bigger it can become. The greater amount of nuclei in muscle has recently been found to be the reason for "muscle memory", or the ability of someone who has previously trained consistently and built up muscle mass, to gain it back rapidly after a layoff. Since the nuclei of muscle cells are the headquarters where muscle building originates, the more nuclei that a muscle cell contains, the bigger and stronger it can grow. And over time the muscle grows bigger and stronger.

Studies confirm that weight-trained subjects with greater muscle mass have more nuclei per muscle fiber/cell. The higher nuclei content has also been shown to be responsible for the phenomenon known as "muscle memory", where a previously trained person can rebuild muscle that they lost faster than someone who never had the muscle mass to begin with. That's because the extra nuclei build up more muscle protein quicker than can occur with fewer nuclei.

Insulin-Like Growth Factor-1

As the name implies, insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-I) is a protein that has a similar structure to insulin. Its presence in the body was first discovered in 1957 when scientists realized that growth hormone (GH) appeared to have another chemical that mediated its anabolic effects—somatomedin C, or as it is now known, insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-I).

IGF-I was originally found to be produced in the liver. GH stimulates its production and release from the liver. From there, IGF-I is carried in the blood by one of its binding proteins to various tissues, such as muscle cells, where it instigates growth. While there are a host of IGF-I binding proteins (IGFBPs) the two most important ones are IGFBP-1 and IGFBP-3. Most of the IGF-I released from the liver is bound to IGFBP-3. This binding protein appears to facilitate IGF-I's anabolic actions. IGFBP-1, on the other hand, appears to negate IGF-I's anabolic actions.

It was later realized that IGF-I is also expressed (i.e. produced) in the muscle cells themselves.

Muscle actually produces three different kinds of IGF-I: 1) IGF-IEa, IGFIEb, and IGFIEc. IGFIE a is similar to the IGF-I produced by the liver, while IGF-IEc is better known as mechano-growth factor (MGF) due to the fact that it is expressed in muscle following mechanical stress, such as that from weight lifting. While the exact mechanism behind how these growth factors are produced in the muscle is still debatable, both circulating GH and testosterone levels may play a key in increasing their expression in muscle.

The main way that circulating IGF-I is believed to instigate muscle hypertrophy is by binding to its receptor found on the membrane of muscle cells.

Once it binds to the receptor it sets off a cascade of events that leads to an increase in muscle protein synthesis. That is a build-up of the protein that makes muscle and therefore results in muscle growth. Binding of IGF-I to its receptor also decreases muscle protein breakdown. Muscle protein is constantly being broken down and built up. A decrease in muscle protein breakdown with an increase in muscle protein build up (synthesis) leads to muscle growth. Circulating IGF-I even has been found to provide a brain-boosting effect, which may be the link between exercise and better brain function.

MGF, which is produced locally in the muscle cells appears to stimulate muscle growth through an entirely different process than circulating IGF-I. It does so by also stimulating satellite cells. IGF-IEa produced locally in muscle fibers, on the other hand, appears to act in a similar manner to the IGF-I produced by the liver. That means it also instigates the process of muscle protein synthesis and decreases muscle breakdown.

The point to remember here is that the MGF version of IGF-I helps the muscle gain more nuclei, while the IGF-IEa produced in the muscle and circulating IGF-I increase the muscle protein synthesis that occurs from those nuclei while also decreasing muscle protein breakdown.

Some recent research on IGF-I suggests that circulating IGF-I is not critical for muscle growth.

And some bodybuilding experts out there are latching on to these few and limited studies, stating that circulating IGF-I is inconsequential to muscle growth and that only locally expressed IGF-Is from the muscle is important. As one of the few bodybuilding experts who has actually worked with both circulating IGF-I and muscle IGF-Is in the laboratories at the University of Connecticut and Yale University School of Medicine, I feel that I am well qualified to tell you that it is just too early to discount circulating IGF-I.

The Hard Truth About Muscle Hypertrophy

The surprising fact of the matter on muscle hypertrophy and growth factors is that no one knows with certainty how muscle grows.

NO ONE. Not me, not any scientist at Yale University or Harvard, or any bodybuilding expert or guru out there. What is known is that the IGF-Is appear to be a player in the process of muscle growth. Locally produced MGF and IGF-IEa likely play a very important role in muscle hypertrophy. After all, if your muscle fibers are limited in nuclei number, they can only grow so big. The more nuclei the muscle fiber has the greater its growth potential. A few limited studies done in either untrained individuals or in animals might suggest that circulating IGF-I does not play an important role in muscle growth. But other studies suggest that circulating IGF-I levels may be important—especially for trained lifters.

Medical research shows that patients with GH insensitivity (Laron syndrome) increase muscle mass when their circulating IGF-I levels are increased. It is still way too early to interpret these data, so don't disregard circulating IGF-I just yet. Currently, both circulating IGF-I and the IGF-Is produced in the muscle seem to play a role in building muscle. While MGF brings more nuclei into the muscle fiber, circulating IGF-I and IGF-IEa can increase the protein synthesis that occurs from those nuclei, not to mention decrease muscle break down. This tag-team effort can lead to bigger and stronger muscles.

Clearly, muscle damage is a good thing when it comes to building muscle. After all, the only way to maximize muscle size is to increase the number of nuclei in the muscle cells to as many as possible. Yet causing muscle damage is a difficult thing the more training experience you have.

Bodybuilders with at least a few years of consistent training under their belt can tell you that they rarely get sore unless they really take on severely intense training with unique intensity techniques that they haven't done in a while. That's because the muscle builds up a protective mechanism against muscle damage. Exercise scientists refer to this as the "repeated bout effect". Although scientists are unsure of precisely why this happens, the fact is that once you damage a muscle fiber, it is next to impossible to damage it again, at least for several months.

Luckily muscle cells have more than one trick up their sleeve to grow. In addition to adding new nuclei to damaged muscle fibers, muscle also grows by increasing the amount of protein it contains. A muscle is composed primarily of protein—at least the structural components of it are. So another way that hypertrophy occurs is by synthesizing more muscle protein, through a process termed muscle protein synthesis.

Muscle protein synthesis is the build-up of muscle protein one amino acid at a time. This takes place in and around the nuclei of the muscle cell. In the nuclei, the DNA house the genes which encode the sequence of each specific protein a muscle contains. When the nuclei receive a signal to activate certain genes to build more protein, it replicates the sequence of the proteins with messenger RNA (mRNA). The mRNA then leaves the nuclei and single amino acids are brought together to form a long chain that makes up the protein that builds up the muscle. Of course, this is a very simplified recount of what actually takes place.

One major way that the nuclei receive the signal to activate genes and synthesize more muscle protein is from working out.

Both the mechanical stress from the weight being lifted and the chemical stress produced inside the muscle from generating energy to contract, activate genes to increase muscle protein synthesis. Numerous chemicals and biochemical pathways are involved in creating these signals, but some of the major players include mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin), MAPK (mitogen-activated protein kinase), testosterone, growth hormone, IGF-I, cytokines, and insulin.

As long as adequate amino acids are supplied to the muscles during and after the workout (hence, be sure to get in your pre and post-workout shakes), muscle protein synthesis following workouts will produce significant increases in muscle growth. Yet, muscle protein synthesis from one nuclei can only produce so much muscle growth. So the best strategy is to not only train to maximize muscle protein synthesis, but to also increase muscle cell nuclei number. With more muscle cell nuclei you get greater muscle protein synthesis in each muscle cell and that leads to the greatest muscle growth.

So how do you maximize both muscle protein synthesis and muscle cell nuclei content when muscle damage becomes more and more difficult to achieve with the more training experience you gain? See my strategies below.

The key to continuing muscle growth despite a greater difficulty in incurring muscle damage is to cycle your training to induce muscle damage through a number of different training techniques and utilize techniques to encourage greater muscle protein synthesis. Try using these steps below in your long-term training plan to keep on growing, and growing, and growing…

8 Steps to Bigger Muscles

Step 1: Perform Heavy Negative Reps

Muscle damage is important to activate dormant muscle satellite cells. And that instigates an increase in the production of MGF in the muscle. This will get you more muscle nuclei in your muscle fibers and that equates to more muscle growth that you keep for the long haul. In fact, UK researchers reported that men performing an eccentric (negative rep) leg workout experienced significant increases in muscle expression of MGF. Another study, from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, reported that subjects performing eight sets of eight eccentric reps using 110% of their one-rep-max weight increased muscle expression of IGF-I by over 60%. Yet when they performed only positive reps the increase in expression was only 40%.

Every 4-6 weeks perform a negative-rep training workout for each muscle group. Do three sets of 5-8 negative reps on two to three exercises per muscle group. Use a weight that is about 110-120% heavier than your one-rep max on that exercise. Have a spotter assist you through the positive part of the rep and you lower the weight on your own through the negative part of the rep. Each negative rep should last for 3-5 seconds. Follow the three sets of negatives with 2-3 sets of regular reps for 6-8 reps. Train solo? You can still do negatives. Use machines or the Smith machine to do negative reps. Use both arms to move the weight through the positive portion of the rep and then resist the weight on the negative part of the rep with just one arm or leg. Switch limbs each rep until you have completed 5-8 negative reps on each side. When you come back to the next negative rep training workout try to choose different exercises than the previous week to ensure that you are damaging muscle fibers in different areas of the target muscle.

Step 2: Switch to High-Rep, Light-Weight Training

The week following your negative rep training, keep weights light and reps high at about 15-20 per set. Not only do you want to train light because your muscles will be sore and weaker following the negative rep training, but the higher rep range will cause more metabolic stress in the muscle fibers, which will encourage greater muscle protein synthesis. You can repeat this week one or two more weeks in a row if you prefer.

Step 3: Increase Training Frequency

As discussed above, increasing muscle protein synthesis occurs by activating genes that encode for specific proteins in the muscle. Genes are turned on in the muscles trained, leading to higher protein synthesis and muscle growth. Some genes are turned on for only hours, others are turned on and stay on for several days. If you train a muscle group once per week, then when you train you increase the activity of these genes by a certain percent. By the time you train that muscle again a week later, the activity of those genes is back to previous levels. And when you train that muscle group again you increase the activity by about the same percent. If the normal resting level of gene activity was 0% and the activity increased by 100% after a workout, then each time you worked that muscle once a week you increased gene activity by 100%. But if you worked out before gene activity dropped to 0% you might be able to boost gene activity by more than 100%.

Say you worked out again 2 days later, and gene activity was still up to 50%. Training again might allow you to increase that gene activity to 150%, which could lead to greater muscle growth. This is called the staircase effect. For 2-3 weeks, train each muscle group a minimum of twice per week and preferably 3 times per week. Your best bet is to use a two-day split that trains all the muscle groups over two workouts. Repeat the workouts three times each week. Of course, total sets per muscle group will have to drop to allow time to train so many muscle groups each workout. But remember that you will be hitting that muscle group again in two days. By the end of the week, you would still have completed more total sets for that muscle group than you would have with the one workout per week.

Step 4: Go Beyond Failure

You've already damaged your muscles with mechanical stress from negative rep training. That increased the nuclei content of your muscles. Then you used high rep training followed by high-frequency training to increase the muscle protein synthesis from those nuclei. Going back to negative training won't likely provide further damage for another month or so. So how can you encourage a further increase in muscle nuclei content? With chemical muscle damage. Now is the time to truly exhaust your muscle fibers and take them to the point of true muscle failure and beyond. For the next 2-3 weeks keep reps in the sweet spot for muscle growth, 8-12 reps per set, and do 3-4 forced reps at the end of every working set.

It's no secret that training with a weight that allows you to complete about 10-12 reps is best for muscle growth. It's what decades of experienced bodybuilders have found in their laboratories known as gyms, and it's what strength scientists have confirmed in the real lab. This rep range has also been shown in the lab to better boost expression of local IGFs from the muscle, as well as boost circulating GH and IGF-I levels. Researchers from Finland reported robust increases in both IGF-IEa and MGF following a leg workout that consisted of 5 sets of leg presses for 10 reps per set and 4 sets of Smith machine squats for 10 reps per set.

Research from Finland shows that the reason that forced reps work is because they boost GH levels higher than when you end a set at muscle failure. Although they did not measure IGF-I levels, higher GH levels typically mean higher IGF-I levels in the circulation and/or in the muscles. The researchers reported that when subjects performed a workout using forced reps, their GH levels were three times higher than when they did a normal workout where each set ended upon reaching muscle failure.

In a follow-up study, the same research team found that trained men using forced reps recruited more fast-twitch muscle fibers, as well as more total muscle fibers during a workout as compared to when they used normal sets taken just to muscle failure. The forced reps also led to higher fatigue of both their muscle fibers and their nervous systems. The researchers suggested that this greater increase in muscle fiber use and greater fatigue would likely result in greater muscle growth over time due to the greater mechanical stress placed on the muscle fibers and the higher release of anabolic hormones and growth factors induced by the greater fatigue.

If you train alone, you can do forced reps on single limb exercises such as dumbbell concentration curls by assisting with the non-working arm. For bilateral exercises such as the bench press, use drop sets instead. Going past muscle failure will produce metabolic waste products that can lead to chemical-induced muscle damage and help to bring more nuclei into the muscle cells. Going past failure will also place mechanical stress and metabolic stress on the muscle fibers to increase growth through muscle protein synthesis.

To do forced reps—take the set to muscle failure, then have a partner (or your non-working limb) help you perform 3-4 more reps by supplying just enough help to get you through the rep.

To do drop sets—take the set to muscle failure, then immediately remove 20-30% of the weight and continue until reaching muscle failure again.

Step 5: Lighten Up Even More

Now that you've incurred some muscle damage through chemical means and hopefully increased your muscle nuclei content again, it's time to allow your muscles to recover and focus on boosting muscle protein synthesis. For the next 1-2 weeks keep your rep range at 25-30 per set. Several recent studies have shown that using a very lightweight for very high reps increases muscle protein synthesis better than using very heavy weight for low reps.

Step 6: Periodize

For the next four weeks, follow a workout schedule where you train each muscle group once per week and each week the weight gets heavier and reps get fewer. Consider using the rep ranges in my Micro Muscle program for each of the four weeks: week 1 = 12-15 reps, week 2 = 9-11 reps, week 3 = 6-8 reps, and week 4 = 3-5 reps. Weeks 1 and 2, and even week 3 will help to increase muscle protein synthesis. Weeks 3 and 4 work to maximize muscle strength, which is also important for encouraging muscle growth. The stronger you are the more overload you can place on a muscle. And that overload can help to increase muscle growth and it can increase muscle damage, leading to further muscle growth. This strength will be important when it's time to cause some mechanical damage again, as the more weight you can handle the more muscle damage you can incur. Feel free to follow the Micro Muscle program and repeat these four-week cycles two more times.

Step 7: Reduce Your Rest

If you look around your gym you'll notice that most guys do a set and rest a solid 2-3 minutes before doing the next set. This is a common weightlifting prescription that does work well for increasing muscle strength. After all, the better recovered the muscles are the more weight they can lift and the more reps they can complete on the next set. But when it comes to muscle growth, fatigue appears to be important. Fatigue sets off a cascade of chemical events in the muscle that encourage muscle growth.

In fact, a recent study reported that subjects reducing the rest between sets by 15 seconds each week until they were resting just 30 seconds between sets in the final week gained more muscle than those resting a steady 2 minutes between sets. (For more details on this study see On Trial: The Best Rest on page TK. Although they didn't measure IGF-I levels in this study, it may be one of the reasons why the subjects decreasing their rest time were able to build more muscle. Researchers reported at the 6th European Sports Medicine Congress that only when subjects rested one-minute between sets of bench presses did they experience a boost in circulating IGF-I levels as compared to when they rested 90 seconds or 2 minutes between sets. One-minute rest periods have also been shown to better boost GH levels, which may be involved in stimulating the expression of the IGF-Is in muscle fibers.

Set a four-week training program that starts with rest at two minutes per set. Each week reduce rest periods by 30 seconds so that in week 4 you are resting just 30 seconds per week. A recent study found that subjects reducing their rest time between sets over an 8-week training period increased muscle mass better than those keeping their rest periods steady at 2 minutes. The constant dropping of rest between sets produces metabolic stress on the muscles, which encourages an increase in muscle protein synthesis. Like one of the key players in this strategy is locally produced IGF-I in the muscle fibers.

Step 8: Repeat

By now at least three months should have elapsed since you last trained with negative reps. The protection of the repeated bout effect should have elapsed and you can finally enjoy some negative-rep induced muscle damage, along with the DOMS and satisfaction of knowing that you're increasing muscle nuclei content, and that is going to help you maximize your muscle growth.


Supporting Research

Schoenfeld, B. Does exercise-induced muscle damage play a role in skeletal muscle hypertrophy? J Strength Cond Res, in press, 2012.

Tidball, J. G. Inflammatory processes in muscle injury and repair. Am. J. Physiol. Regul. Integr. Comp. Physiol. 288: 345-353, 2005.

Koh, T. J. and Pizza, F. X. Do inflammatory cells influence skeletal muscle hypertrophy? Front. Biosci. (Elite Ed) 1: 60-71, 2009.

Nielsen, A. R. and Pedersen, B. K. The biological roles of exercise-induced cytokines: IL-6, IL-8, and IL-15. Appl. Physiol. Nutr. Metab. 32: 833-839, 2007.

Quinn, L. S. Interleukin-15: a muscle-derived cytokine regulating fat-to-lean body composition. J. Anim. Sci. 86: E75-83, 2008.

Serrano, A. L., et al. Interleukin-6 is an essential regulator of satellite cell-mediated skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Cell. Metab. 7: 33-44, 2008.

Aoi, W., et al. Oxidative stress and delayed-onset muscle damage after exercise. Free Radic Biol Med. 2004 Aug 15;37(4):480-7.

Handayaningsih, A., et al. Reactive oxygen species play an essential role in IGF-I signaling and IGF-I-induced myocyte hypertrophy in C2C12 myocytes. Endocrinology 152: 912-921, 2011.

Clarke, M.S. and Feeback, D. L. Mechanical load induces sarcoplasmic wounding and FGF release in differentiated human skeletal muscle cultures. FASEB J. 10: 502-509, 1996.

Bruusgaard, J. C., et al. Myonuclei acquired by overload exercise precede hypertrophy and are not lost on detraining. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Aug 24;107(34):15111-6.

Dangott, B., et al. Dietary creatine monohydrate supplementation increases satellite cell mitotic activity during compensatory hypertrophy. Int. J. Sports Med. 21: 13-16, 2000.

Haussinger, D. The role of cellular hydration in the regulation of cell function. Biochem. J. 313 ( Pt 3): 697-710, 1996.

Lang, F. Mechanisms and significance of cell volume regulation. J. Am. Coll. Nutr. 26:613S-623S, 2007.

Low, S. Y., et al. Signaling elements involved in amino acid transport responses to altered muscle cell volume. FASEB J. 11: 1111-1117, 1997.

McHugh, M. P. Recent advances in the understanding of the repeated bout effect: the protective effect against muscle damage from a single bout of eccentric exercise. Scand. J. Med. Sci. Sports 13: 88-97, 2003.

Tee, J. C., et al. Metabolic consequences of exercise-induced muscle damage. Sports Med. 37: 827-836, 2007.

Goldspink, G. Gene expression in skeletal muscle. Biochem Soc Trans 30: 285–290, 2002.

Hornberger, T. A. and Chien, S. Mechanical stimuli and nutrients regulate rapamycin-sensitive signaling through distinct mechanisms in skeletal muscle. J Cell Biochem 97: 1207–1216, 2006.

Vandenburgh, H. H. Motion into mass: How does tension stimulate muscle growth? Med Sci Sport Exerc 19(5 Suppl.): S142–S149, 1987.

Rooney, K. J., et al. Fatigue contributes to the strength training stimulus. Med Sci Sport Exerc 26: 1160–1164, 1994.

Schott, J. et al. The role of metabolites in strength training. II. Short versus long isometric contractions. Eur J Appl Physiol 71: 337–341, 1995.

Smith,R. C. and Rutherford,O. M. The role of metabolites in strength training. I. A comparison of eccentric and concentric contractions. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 71: 332–336, 1995.

Schoenfeld, B. J. The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Oct;24(10):2857-72.

Booth, F.W. and Neufer, P.D. Exercise controls gene expression. American Scientist. 93: 28-35, 2005.

Pilegaard, H., et al. Transcriptional regulation of gene expression in human skeletal muscle during recovery from exercise. American Journal of Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism 279:E806–E814, 2000.

Williams, R. S., and P. D. Neufer. 1996. Regulation of gene expression in skeletal muscle by contractile activity. In: Handbook of Physiology: Section 12: Integration of Motor, Circulatory, Respiratory, and Metabolic Control during Exercise, ed. L. B. Rowell and J. T. Shepherd. Oxford University Press: New York. pp. 1124–1150.

Souza-Junior, T. P., et al. Strength and hypertrophy responses to constant and decreasing rest intervals in trained men using creatine supplementation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2011, 8:17.

Sacheck, J. M., et al. IGF-I stimulates muscle growth by suppressing protein breakdown and expression of atrophy-related ubiquitin ligases, atrogin-1 and MuRF1. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2004 Oct;287(4):E591-601.

Carro, E., et al. Brain repair and neuroprotection by serum insulin-like growth factor I. Mol Neurobiol. 2003 Apr;27(2):153-62.

Hill, M. and Goldspink, G. Expression and splicing of the insulin-like growth factor gene in rodent muscle is associated with muscle satellite (stem) cell activation following local tissue damage. J Physiol (2003), 549.2, pp. 409–418.

Frystyk, J. Exercise and the growth hormone-insulin-like growth factor axis. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 Jan;42(1):58-66.

Hameed, M., et al. Expression of IGF-I splice variants in young and old human skeletal muscle after high resistance exercise. Journal of Physiology 547(1):247-254, 2003.

Hameed, M., et al. Effects of eccentric cycling exercise on IGF-I splice variant expression in the muscles of young and elderly people. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports 18(4): 447–452, 2008.

Bamman, M.M., et al., Mechanical Load Increases Muscle IGF-I and Androgen Receptor mRNA Concentrations in Humans. American Journal of Physiology, 280: E383–E390, 2001.

Ahtiainen, J. P., et al. Recovery after heavy resistance exercise and skeletal muscle androgen receptor and insulin-like growth factor-I isoform expression in strength trained men. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Mar;25(3):767-77.

Kraemer, W. J. and Ratamess, N. A. Hormonal responses and adaptations to resistance exercise and training. Sports Med. 2005;35(4):339-61.

Rahimi, R., et al. Effect of different rest during resistance training on insulin-like growth factor-1, cortisol, creatine kinase and blood lactate. 6th European Sports Medicine Congress, 2009.

Rahimi, R., et al. Effects of very short rest periods on hormonal responses to resistance exercise in men. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Jul;24(7):1851-9.

Izquierdo, M. J., et al. Differential effects of strength training leading to failure versus not to failure on hormonal responses, strength and muscle power. Journal of Applied Physiology 100: 1647-1656, 2006.

Muscle-Building Genetics

We've all had those training partners who seem to grow just by looking at a weight. Many of us also have had those training partners who can't seem to grow any amount of decent muscle no matter how hard they train. While it's tough to say precisely what separates someone who grows like crazy from weight training and someone who barely grows at all, it is safe to say that it resides somewhere in the genes.

Every time you lift weights you actually activate genes located on the DNA in the nuclei of your muscle cells.

These genes encode for certain proteins that make up the structure of the muscle fibers and perform certain functions, like muscle contractions. When a gene is activated, a copy of it is made in the form of messenger RNA (mRNA). The mRNA is used to build the specific protein that that gene encodes for, one amino acid at a time via the process known as protein synthesis. Of course, there are many actions along the way that allow lifting a weight to turn on muscle protein synthesis. But scientists believe that they are getting closer to understanding why some people have greater muscle protein synthesis and therefore better muscle growth than others.

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) may be involved in allowing some people to respond like crazy to weightlifting and others to hardly respond at all. These are small RNA molecules that bind to mRNA molecules and typically stop them from generating proteins. So guys who do not build muscle as easy as others may have more of certain miRNAs.

Collaborating on a recent study on miRNAs, researchers from McMaster University in Canada, the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, and the University of London in the UK placed subjects on a 12-week weight-training program. Those who gained about 2 pounds or less of lean mass were grouped in the "low-responders" group. Those who gained 10 pounds or more were placed in the "high-responders" group. They took muscle biopsies from the subjects to analyze specific miRNAs in their muscle cells to see if any differed between the low responders and the high responders.

They reported in the Journal of Physiology that the miRNA known as miR-378 was lower in the low-responders than the high-responders. Lower levels of this miRNA were associated with lower levels of mRNA for the muscle growth factor IGF-I. They also found that the lower the levels of miR-378, the less muscle mass the subjects gained. They also discovered that the low-responders had higher levels of the miRNA known as miR-451.

Jim's Take-Home Point

Since miRNAs usually inhibit mRNAs from doing their job to produce proteins, having lower levels of certain miRNAs would benefit muscle growth. This appears to be the case for miR-451, although it is uncertain at this point, which mRNA it targets in muscle cells to inhibit muscle growth. But given the fact that it was higher in the low responders does suggest that it inhibits something. However, in the case of miR-378, having lower levels of this miRNA appears to interfere with the production of the important muscle growth factor IGF-I and ultimately lowers muscle growth.

Although it is still way too early in the process, and more research needs to be done on these specific miRNAs, the future of maximizing muscle growth may lie in finding foods and supplements and maybe even training programs that decrease certain miRNAs, such as miR-451 and increase others, like miR-378 to better stimulate muscle growth. As a matter of fact, numerous miRNAs from plants have been identified. One from rice, known as miR168a can affect LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Only time will tell, but you can count on me to keep you updated on any progress that we make on miRNAs and muscle growth.


Davidsen, P. K., et al. High responders to resistance exercise training demonstrate differential regulation of skeletal muscle microRNA expression. Journal of Applied Physiology 110:309-317, 2011.

Vaucheret, H. and Chupeau, Y. Ingested plant miRNAs regulate gene expression in animals. Cell Res. 2012 Jan;22(1):3-5.

Zhang, L., et al. Exogenous plant MIR168a specifically targets mammalian LDLRAP1: evidence of cross-kingdom regulation by microRNA. Cell Res. 2012 Jan;22(1):107-26.

Eating and Supplementing for Hypertrophy

Although the foods we eat are often thought of as just a means to getting the proper macronutrients—protein, carbs, and fat—into our bodies, food has a powerful impact on our body's physiology and biochemistry.

For example, some nutrients—such as omega-3 fats—have been found to turn on and turn off certain genes, so it should come as no surprise that the diet you follow can impact your levels of IGF-I as well. While you may learn a thing or two about exactly how your diet affects your IGF-I levels, chances are these recommendations are familiar to anyone who’s read my Muscle Building Nutrition Rules. Use these four feeding strategies to help keep your IGF-I levels on the high side.

Eat Meat

Research confirms that a diet high in protein is associated with higher circulating IGF-I levels. Particularly, diets higher in animal proteins have been shown to increase circulating IGF-I levels. Researchers from the UK have reported that vegans have IGF-I levels that are about 15% lower than meat eaters and have IGFBP-1 and IGFBP-2 (two IGF binding proteins that inhibit IGF-I's anabolic actions) levels that are 20-40% higher than meat eaters. Numerous other studies also support this contention and show that those who consume higher amounts of animal proteins have higher IGF-I levels.

How to apply: As I have always recommended, you should be consuming a minimum of 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight each day. The majority of that protein should come from animal meats, such as beef, poultry, and fish.

Drink Milk

In addition to animal meats, I have always recommended dairy as another animal protein that is very high quality. Mainly this quality stems from the fact that dairy contains two types of proteins—whey and casein, which are both well established as beneficial for muscle growth. Yet another reason why dairy may be beneficial for muscle growth is due to the fact that it can raise IGF-I levels. Several studies have shown that milk consumption significantly increases circulating IGF-I levels, as well as levels of IGFBP-3 (an IGF-I binding protein that increases IGF-I's anabolic actions). The exact reason for how milk boosts IGF-I levels is not conclusive, but several possibilities exist. It may be due to milk's high protein content, as higher overall protein intake is associated with higher IGF-I levels. The protein in milk is composed of both whey and casein. Both of these proteins have been shown to individually increase IGF-I levels (see below for more info on this). A third way that milk may increase IGF-I levels is due to its calcium content. Higher calcium intake is associated with higher IGF-I levels. And yet another reason, and a more direct one, is the fact that milk contains bovine IGF-I, which has the same structure as human IGF-I. While raw milk is highest in IGF-I levels, research shows that pasteurization of milk does not lower the levels of IGF-I significantly.

How to apply: Most of the studies on dairy were done with milk, and not dairy products such as cottage cheese and Greek or plain yogurt. So to ensure the biggest IGF-I boost, you should consider a few glasses of milk per day in addition to dairy products. Since milk provides 8 grams of protein per cup, with 80% of that being casein protein (about 6 grams of casein per cup), mixing your post-workout whey protein with about 2 cups of milk is a good way to get a mixed protein for better muscle growth. Also, consider adding some milk to your in-between meal shakes.

Don't Forego Fat

I’ve long recommended that bodybuilders eat about 0.5 grams of fat per pound of body weight, or about 100 grams of fat for a 200-pound bodybuilder. That typically equates to about 30% of the total daily calories. This is a moderate amount of fat and is the amount that has been found to keep testosterone levels highest in hard-training athletes. But in addition to keeping test levels high, a higher fat diet may also help to keep IGF-I levels high. Studies show a correlation between a higher intake of dietary fat and IGF-I levels. And low-fat diets are shown to lower IGF-I levels. In fact, Research from the University of California (Los Angeles) has reported that when subjects are placed on a low-fat diet for just 11 days, IGF-I levels drop by 20% and IGFBP-1 levels increase by 53%. Subjects who were followed for almost 2 years on the low-fat diet had IGF-I levels that were 55% higher and IGFBP-1 levels that were 150% higher than baseline.

How to apply: Be sure that you are eating about half of a gram of fat for every pound you weigh. Choose from sources such as salmon, walnuts, mixed nuts, olive oil, and avocado. Also don't be afraid of saturated fat, which is essential for keeping testosterone levels high and may also be essential for keeping IGF-I levels high. As long as carbs are on the moderate to low side, saturated fat will not increase your risk of heart disease or cancer. Get saturated fat from beef, dairy, poultry, pork, and egg yolks.

Consider Quinoa

Although studies suggest that higher carb intake is associated with lower IGF-I levels, one carbohydrate that you may want to consider eating more of as a side to your protein is quinoa. This pseudograin is actually a seed and not a grain like rice, oats or wheat. Because of this, quinoa is actually a complete protein, containing all essential amino acids. So it's a great way to boost the protein content, not just carb content of your meals. Another great reason to have quinoa as a side dish is that it may actually help to boost IGF-I levels. One study from the University of Lund reported that children eating a formula created from cooked quinoa for two weeks had a significant increase in their levels of IGF-I.

How to apply: Consider replacing those sides of rice or potatoes with quinoa. One cup of cooked quinoa provides about 220 calories, 8 grams of protein, 40 grams of carbs (4 grams of fiber), and 4 grams of healthy fats.

In addition to whole foods, using certain supplements can further help you boost both circulating IGF-I levels and the amount of IGF-I that your muscles produce. These six supplements are supported by science for their ability to raise IGF-I levels.

Whey Protein for Faster Muscle Protein Synthesis

Of course, whey protein is a popular muscle builder. That's due to its ability to rapidly deliver its amino acids to your muscles. And those amino acids happen to be high in the branched-chain amino acid leucine. Leucine is critical for stimulating muscle protein synthesis, which is one mechanism that leads to muscle growth. Yet another reason why whey is so effective for boosting muscle growth may be due to the fact that Whey can also boost IGF-I levels. Australian scientists recently reported that older women taking a 30-gram whey protein shake every day for 2 years had significantly higher IGF-I levels than those taking a placebo.

Sure, they were little old ladies and it could have simply been the additional protein intake that helped to raise IGF-I. But other research suggests that whey taken around workouts may increase IGF-I levels produced in the muscle, which may be the most critical IGF-I of all for muscle growth. Baylor University (Waco, TX) researchers gave men either 40 grams of carbs or 40 grams of protein (mainly whey protein) before and after workouts for 10 weeks. They reported that the guys getting the whey protein shake not only had a greater increase in muscle strength and muscle mass than the guys taking just carbs, but their circulating levels of IGF-I increased by more than twice as much, and their levels of IGF-I produced in the muscle fibers increased by more than three times as much as the guys taking carbs.

How to Apply: As I have long recommended, be sure to take a minimum of 20 grams of whey protein within 30 minutes of workouts and about 40 grams of whey protein immediately after workouts to maximize IGF-I levels in both the circulation and the muscle fibers.

Casein Protein for Longer Muscle Protein Synthesis

I have long recommended taking a casein shake before bed as a means of stopping the breakdown of muscle while you fast during sleep. This is due to casein's very slow digestion rate. We now also recommend adding casein to your post-workout whey shake, as research confirms that this can help to further promote hypertrophy better than whey alone. One reason for casein's ability to boost muscle growth may be due to its ability to increase IGF-I levels. Research from the University of Copenhagen suggests that when you compare just whey to just casein, it's the casein that seems to boost circulating levels of IGF-I, as well as IGFBP-3, better than whey. And truth be told, while the Baylor University study above used mainly whey protein the pre and post-workout shakes, there was about 6 grams of casein protein per shake. And an earlier study from South Dakota State University reported that subjects taking a mixed protein (mainly whey and casein) and carbohydrate shake (in the form of EAS Myoplex) after workouts experienced significantly greater circulating IGF-I levels than those consuming just carbs.

How to apply: If you follow my typical recommendations for adding casein to your diet then you'll have all your bases covered. Replace about 10-20 grams of your post-workout whey with casein protein and also have 20-40 grams of casein right before bed.


I bet you know a lot about creatine, like the fact that it may help boost muscle strength and size. And you may even know that one of the main ways that it works is to provide the quick energy muscles need during weight workouts. And another way that it works is to pull more water into the muscle cells. But I bet you didn't know that research has also shown that supplementing with creatine can increase the amount of IGF-I produced by the muscles. Belgian researchers at the Catholic University of Louvain (Louvain-la-Neuve) discovered that subjects who loaded creatine for 5 days had higher expression of insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) levels in their muscle fibers. University of Copenhagen researchers reported that men taking creatine for 16 weeks while following a strength-training program had an increase in the number of nuclei in their muscle fibers. Although they did not measure IGF-I levels in the muscle fibers, an increase in the variant of IGF-I known as mechano-growth factor (MGF), could be responsible for the increased nuclei number, which is one way that muscles grow. 

How to apply: Be sure to take 2-5 grams of creatine before and after every workout and with a morning protein shake on days you don't train.


ZMA is a patented form of zinc and magnesium aspartate along with vitamin B6 to enhance the absorption and utilization of these two minerals. Although minerals aren't what you typically think of as critical supplements for building serious muscle size and strength, these two have a plethora of research confirming their effectiveness. A study by researchers at Western Washington University (Bellingham) found that NCAA football players taking ZMA nightly during an eight-week spring-training program had an increase in both IGF-I levels and testosterone, while those taking a placebo had a drop in both. In addition to improvements in anabolic hormone levels, the ZMA-supplemented athletes made significantly greater gains in strength and power. Other research has also shown a positive relationship between magnesium intake and IGF0I levels.

How to apply: Take one dose of ZMA (30 mg zinc, 450 mg magnesium, 11 mg vitamin B6) 30-60 minutes before bed without food.


In addition to zinc and magnesium, another important mineral for muscle growth is calcium. And while you likely are familiar with calcium's role in helping you stay lean, you probably don't realize that calcium is critical for muscle contraction. But that's just one way that it can help you get bigger and stronger. Like magnesium, calcium is another mineral that has a positive relationship with IGF-I levels. That is the higher the intake of calcium, the higher the levels of IGF-I in the blood. Calcium has also been shown to boost testosterone levels in men.

How to apply: Calcium can help you stay lean, as well as boost IGF-I and testosterone levels. So why aren't you taking 500-600 mg twice a day? Take it with 1000-3000 IU of vitamin D to help your body absorb the calcium.


Colostrum, like milk, comes from cows. The major difference between regular milk and colostrum is the time that it is produced by the cow. Colostrum is produced by cows only shortly before and shortly after giving birth. Colostrum is essentially a form of milk that is much higher in IGF-I and immune-enhancing compounds. Research studies on the effect of colostrum in athletes have reported that it can help to increase muscle mass and strength, as well as prevent fatigue by buffering levels of acidity that rise during exercise. Its mass- and strength-producing effects are likely due to its high IGF-I content, which has been shown to rise during colostrum supplementation.

How to apply: Take about 5 grams of colostrum with your pre and post-workout shakes, as well as your morning and nighttime shakes.

IGF-I and the Cancer Connection

It's interesting to note that to the guy focused on building more muscle and strength, studies showing an increase in circulating IGF-I levels is a very good thing. However, some of you may be surprised to find out that in almost every study published on diet and IGF-I levels, the scientists were not investigating potential methods to increase muscle size and strength. They actually viewed high IGF-I levels as a negative thing, due to its association with certain cancers, and were looking for potential methods to lower IGF-I levels and the risk of cancer. Research suggests that high levels of IGF-I is associated with a higher risk of colorectal and prostate cancer. Then again, high testosterone levels are also suggested to be a risk for prostate cancer.

Seems that the only way to prevent cancer is to be weak and skinny! The good news is that newer research suggests that high IGF-I levels may not increase your risk for developing these cancers, but might increase the progression of them if you have them. Either way, when boosting IGF-I, it is always a good idea to reduce your risk of the potential for these cancers. What can you do? Well, two things that also boost IGF-I levels—drinking milk and taking calcium. Research suggests that milk consumption and calcium intake are associated with a lower risk of these cancers. Another thing to do is to be sure to get in ample amounts of lycopene. Lycopene is an antioxidant in tomatoes that prevents IGF-I-stimulated tumor growth and has been shown to reduce the risk of prostate and colorectal cancer. Cooked tomato products, such a tomato sauce, tomato soup, tomato juice, and even ketchup, and/or supplement with 20-40 mg of lycopene per day.


Supporting Research

Heald, A., et al. The influence of dietary intake on the insulin-like growth factor (IGF) system across three ethnic groups: a population-based study. Public Health Nutr 2003 Apr;6(2):175-181.

Allen, N. E., et al. Binding Proteins in 292 Women Meat-Eaters, Vegetarians, and Vegans. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2002 Nov;11(11):1441-8.

Hoppe, C., et al. High intakes of skimmed milk, but not meat, increase serum IGF-I and IGFBP-3 in eight-year-old boys. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2004

Ma, J., et al. Milk intake, circulating levels of insulin-like growth factor-I, and risk of colorectal cancer in men. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2001 Sep 5;93(17):1330-6.

Qin, L-Q., et al. Milk consumption and circulating insulin-like growth factor-I level: a systematic literature review. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2009;60 Suppl 7:330-40.

Honegger, A and Humbel, R. E. Insulin-like growth factors I and II in fetal and adult bovine serum. Purification, primary structures, and immunological cross-reactivities. J Biol Chem. 1986 Jan 15;261(2):569-75.

Collier, R. J., et al. Factors affecting insulin-like growth factor-I concentration in bovine milk. J Dairy Sci. 1991 Sep;74(9):2905-11.

Kang, S. H., et al. The effects of dairy processes and storage on insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) content in milk and in model IGF-I-fortified dairy products. J Dairy Sci. 2006 Feb;89(2):402-9.

Wiley, A. S. Cow milk consumption, insulin-like growth factor-I, and human biology: A life history approach. Am J Hum Biol. In press, 2011.

Vega-Galvez, A., et al. Nutrition facts and functional potential of quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa willd.), an ancient Andean grain: a review. J Sci Food Agric. 2010 Dec;90(15):2541-7.

Ruales, J., et al. The nutritional quality of an infant food from quinoa and its effect on the plasma level of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-I) in undernourished children. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2002 Mar;53(2):143-54.

Rosen CJ. 2003. Insulin-like growth factor I and calcium balance: Evolving concepts of an evolutionary process. Endocrinology 144:4679-4681.

Zhu, K., et al. The effects of a two-year randomized, controlled trial of whey protein supplementation on bone structure, IGF-I, and urinary calcium excretion in older postmenopausal women. J Bone Miner Res. 2011 Sep;26(9):2298-306.

Willoughby, D. S., et al. Effects of resistance training and protein plus amino acid supplementation on muscle anabolism, mass, and strength. Amino Acids, 32(4):467-477, 2007.

Ballard TL, Effect of protein supplementation during a 6-mo strength and conditioning program on insulin-like growth factor I and markers of bone turnover in young adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Jun;81(6):1442-8.

Hoppe, C., et al. Differential effects of casein versus whey on fasting plasma levels of insulin, IGF-I and IGF-I/IGFBP-3: results from a randomized 7-day supplementation study in prepubertal boys. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009 Sep;63(9):1076-83.

Deldicque, L., et al. Increased IGF mRNA in human skeletal muscle after creatine supplementation. Medicine Science in Sports Exercise. 37(5):731-736, 2005.

Olsen, et al. Creatine supplementation augments the increase in satellite cell and myonuclei number in human skeletal muscle induced by strength training. J Physiol 573.2 (2006) pp 525–534 525.

Brilla, L. R. and Conte, V. Effects of a Novel Zinc-Magnesium Formulation on Hormones and Strength, Journal of Exercise Physiology online. 3(4): 2000.

Norat, T., et al. Diet, serum insulin-like growth factor-I and IGF-binding protein-3 in European women. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2007 Jan;61(1):91-8.

Colangelo, L. A., et al. IGF-I, IGFBP-3, and nutritional factors in young black and white men: the CARDIA Male Hormone Study. Nutr Cancer. 2005;53(1):57-64.

Rowlands, M. A., et al. Circulating Insulin-Like Growth Factors and IGF-Binding Proteins in PSA-Detected Prostate Cancer: The Large Case-Control Study ProtecT. Cancer Res. 2012 Jan 15;72(2):503-15. Epub 2011 Nov 21.

Kuklinski, A., et al. Relationships between insulin-like growth factor i and selected clinico-morphological parameters in colorectal cancer patients. Pol Przegl Chir. 2011 May;83(5):250-7.

Pereira-Fantini, P. M., et al. Colostrum supplementation restores insulin-like growth factor -1 levels and alters muscle morphology following massive small bowel resection. JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 2008 May-Jun;32(3):266-75.

Antonio, J. et al. The effects of bovine colostrum supplementation on body composition and exercise performance in active men and women. Nutrition. 2001 Mar;17(3):243-7.

Brinkworth, G. et al. Oral bovine colostrum supplementation enhances buffer capacity but not rowing performance in elite female rowers. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2002 Sep;12(3):349-65.

Hofman, Z., et al. The effect of bovine colostrum supplementation on exercise performance in elite field hockey players. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2002 Dec;12(4):461-9.

Eat Frequently to Maximize Muscle Growth

If you follow my meal plans for maximizing muscle growth, you know two things: (1) My diets have you eating protein every 2-3 hours, and (2) my diets work! In fact, most of my diets utilize as many as 9 meals per day on workout days, and up to 8 meals on rest days. That's because the research supports that frequent eating is the best way to build muscle and lose body fat

Recently, however, a few so-called nutrition "experts" have suggested that eating every few hours is NOT the best way to build muscle. They've actually suggested waiting 5-6 hours between meals! And get this: They have science to support their recommendations. This is based on research showing that if you consume a protein meal (or essential amino acids), it boosts muscle protein synthesis for only about two hours without another boost in protein synthesis coming for at least another six hours even when adequate amino acids are present.

Okay, so this theory is suggesting that if you consume a protein meal (let's say a protein shake), it will boost protein synthesis. If you then consume more protein (say, another protein shake) two hours later, there would be no additional boost in muscle protein synthesis. However, if you wait about six hours or longer to consume that second protein shake, you would get another big increase in muscle protein synthesis. So it makes sense that to maximize muscle hypertrophy, you should wait a good six hours between meals so that every meal you eat boosts muscle protein synthesis. Sounds solid, right? No, not solid at all.

Granted, protein synthesis is very important. I'm not debating that. However, just because you have a boost in muscle protein synthesis does NOT mean you get an increase in muscle growth. Muscle growth is a balance between muscle protein synthesis (the build-up of muscle protein) and muscle protein breakdown (the breaking down of muscle protein). To get an increase in muscle growth means that muscle protein synthesis must be greater than muscle protein breakdown. And guess what? Muscle protein breakdown is happening all the time. It's especially happening when you go several hours without providing your muscles a source of protein with all the essential amino acids.

What the aforementioned experts are missing by suggesting that you should wait up to six hours between meals is that, while protein synthesis may be maximized, so is muscle protein breakdown, which minimizes any gains you would get in muscle growth.

Just to be clear, I'm not saying that you can't build muscle eating every six hours. I'm just saying that you can't really maximize muscle growth this way. The best way to maximize muscle growth is to eat a high protein meal (at least 30-40 grams of protein, depending on the protein source) every 2-3 hours. How do I know this? It's based on three things:

1) Watch a newborn eat and you'll see that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM eats every 2-3 hours. The first year of life is the most critical for rapidly gaining mass. And to ensure that this happens, we have evolved to eat every 2-3 hours. If it didn't work, infants would be eating every six hours or so and parents would be getting much more sleep during the first year of their child's life! It's not until later on in the child's life that we start imposing the three-meals-per-day schedule on them, which has more social significance than anything to do with fueling the body in the best way possible.

2) I've been prescribing this style of frequent eating for over two decades and have seen it work for thousands and thousands, if not millions, of men and women who were previously struggling to gain muscle mass. As soon as they step up their meal frequency they also step up their muscle mass and strength gains. Just with my Micro Muscle/Shortcut To Size program, which employs frequent meals eaten every 2-3 hours, I've received feedback from hundreds of thousands of men and women who have been able to build adequate muscle mass by following this diet and training program.

3) There is actually research, courtesy of a fairly recent study from Australia, suggesting that eating protein every three hours trumps eating it every six hours. And that's what I'll be focusing on in this article.

The Aussie researchers had subjects perform a leg workout and then fed them a total of 80 grams of whey protein over the next 12 hours in three different methods: (1) eight 10-gram doses of whey protein every 1.5 hours; (2) four 20-gram doses of whey every three hours; and (3) two 40-gram doses of whey every 6 hours. They reported in a 2012 issue of the journal Nutrition & Metabolism that protein net balance, which is essentially muscle protein synthesis minus muscle protein breakdown, was significantly greater when they consumed the four 20-gram doses of whey every three hours as compared to the other two methods.

Greater protein net balance essentially means more muscle growth.

Jim's Take-Home Points

There are a couple of key points from this study to consider. The first has to do with protein amounts. The fact that the 10-gram doses of whey every 1.5 hours didn't lead to greater protein net balance than the 20-gram doses every three hours is more a message about protein quantity than frequency. Simply put, you need to get an adequate dose of protein at each meal, and the minimum appears to be right around 20 grams.

The researchers didn't look at higher doses, but I would suggest (as I always have) shooting for 30-40 grams of protein per meal, depending on the source. Concentrated protein sources that are rich in BCAAs, such as whey and casein protein (both of which are ingredients in Pro JYM), can be on the lower side of this range. But if we're talking about whole food sources like chicken or beef, which are a little lower in BCAAs, I would shoot for a good 40, 50, or even 60 grams of protein per meal based on your size (bigger guys go for 60 grams, smaller individuals 40).

The key is getting adequate amounts of leucine at each meal, which is the real key for turning on muscle protein synthesis. There are some suggestions that you need close to 4-5 grams of leucine, depending on your size, to adequately kick-start muscle protein synthesis. While whey and casein, as well as other dairy products, will deliver that in about 30 grams worth of protein, most whole food sources will require 40+ grams of protein to hit that amount of leucine.

The second take-home message here is that you should not go any longer than three hours between meals to maximize muscle growth. Any longer than this appears to increase protein breakdown too much so that any major boost in protein synthesis you get is just making up for the breakdown and not maximizing the potential for muscle growth. This should help to shed more light on why I'm adamant about consuming a very slow-digesting protein before bed. When you sleep, you're going anywhere from 6-8 hours without a meal. So yes, muscle protein breakdown will likely be increased during this time.

A protein powder containing casein (Pro JYM) or other rich sources of casein such as cottage cheese or Greek yogurt will provide your body a slow, steady source of essential amino acids for close to seven hours. It's as if you're eating protein while you sleep! This will help to minimize any muscle protein breakdown during the night.

And I always recommend getting in some fast-digesting whey protein as soon as you wake. (Again, Pro JYM would work here because it contains whey.) This way, you immediately kick-start muscle protein synthesis and stop the protein breakdown to get you in an anabolic state at the start of the day.


Bohe J, Low JF, Wolfe RR, Rennie MJ. Latency and duration of stimulation of human muscle protein synthesis during continuous infusion of amino acids. J Physiol. 2001 Apr 15;532(Pt 2):575-9.

Moore, D. R., et al. Daytime pattern of post-exercise protein intake affects whole-body protein turnover in resistance-trained males. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2012 Oct 16;9(1):91.

Further Evidence Supporting More Frequent Meals

The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) has published their position stand on eating more frequent meals. They analyzed all the studies done on this topic and their conclusions are very similar to my stand. They reported the following when it came to eating more frequently throughout the day as opposed to the typical three-meal deal that we have all been raised on:

1) Eating a higher meal frequency does help to maintain and build more muscle in athletes. This is obviously due to the fact that more frequent meals prevents muscle breakdown and specifically frequent high-protein meals keeps muscle protein synthesis up, which leads to more muscle growth.

2) Eating more frequent meals also helps athletes and those who workout to lose more body fat. They proposed that this may be due to the reduced hunger that comes with eating more frequently. That means you are better able to stick with your diet and not overeat or cheat.

3) They did not conclude that eating more frequently aids fat loss by increasing metabolic rate. This was the only conclusion that I disagree with. I feel that they were being way too cautious here. They did admit that several studies have shown that eating more frequent meals does raise metabolisms. However, they also found that several studies did not find an elevation in metabolic rate with more frequent foods. My take on this is that the studies that failed to show a higher metabolic rate with more frequent meals did not provide meals that were high enough in protein. Protein raises metabolic rate significantly higher than carbs or fat. Since all my meals are high protein meals, I KNOW that if you follow my diets and are eating 7-9 high-protein meals a day, you are DEFINITELY going to have a boost in your metabolic rate and that will aid fat loss.

4) They discovered that eating more frequent meals also leads to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, total cholesterol, and insulin levels, which may also enhance fat loss.

Jim's Take-Home Message

So do as I've always recommended and eat at least 7 high-protein meals per day. It will help you build muscle, lose fat, and stay healthy.


La Bounty, P. M., et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: meal frequency. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition Nutrition 8:4, 2011.

Eat Right to Grow at Night

Getting your day off to a good start with a proper breakfast is important, but finishing strong is just as crucial to size and strength gains. Those who follow my nutrition and supplement advice end their day with a protein shake consisting of a good dose of casein before hitting the hay. As a result, they typically see great results in the muscle-growth department. I’ve been giving this protein-before-bed advice for close to two decades now for one simple reason: It works!

Why is it important to get a protein shake in right before you go to sleep at night? Simply put, when you sleep for seven or eight hours (or more), you’re essentially fasting. When you fast for that long, your body must maintain a steady source of glucose to your brain and the rest of your nervous system, as nerve fibers can’t utilize fat or protein for fuel.

For a good portion of the night, your liver supplies the glucose that the brain so badly needs. The liver stores glycogen (the storage form of glucose) and releases it as glucose into your bloodstream when food is not being provided. But once liver glycogen levels get too low during the night, the body turns to amino acids to create the glucose the brain needs and those aminos come mainly from muscle protein. In other words, your body starts breaking down muscle for fuel. This is not a good thing if muscle growth is a high priority.

By consuming a protein shake that’s high in casein before bed, you can stop the breakdown of muscle during the night and further promote muscle growth. Casein, particularly micellar casein, is the slowest-digesting protein you can consume, due to its structure. In the stomach, casein essentially forms clots, much like an onion with layers upon layers. The digestive enzymes in the gastrointestinal tract digest these layers one at a time. This process can take up to seven hours to fully digest the casein, which basically means that for seven hours during the night, you have a slow, steady supply of amino acids entering the bloodstream. These amino acids are used to create the glucose your brain needs instead of the amino acids coming from muscle tissue. In essence, it stops muscle-tissue breakdown and even instigates muscle-protein synthesis, which can lead to greater muscle growth.

Now, a new study confirms this. Researchers from the Netherlands had 40 male subjects follow a 12-week resistance-training program. One group consumed a protein shake before bed every night during the 12 weeks, while a second group consumed a placebo shake. Both groups consumed an equal amount of total daily protein. The protein shake consisted of about 27 grams of protein, with half being micellar casein and the other half hydrolyzed casein. Micellar casein is the very slow-digesting form of casein. Hydrolyzed casein is pre-digested, so it absorbs very rapidly, much like whey. So basically, the subjects consumed a fast- and slow-digesting protein blend.

The Netherlands researchers reported in a 2015 issue of the Journal of Nutrition that the subjects consuming the nighttime protein shake had a roughly twofold increase in leg muscle size, particularly the size of their fast-twitch muscle fibers, compared to the placebo group. The protein group also showed a significant increase in overall muscle strength relative to the placebo group. These results led the researchers to conclude that consuming a nightly protein shake with a good amount of slow-digesting casein can be an effective way to increase muscle mass and strength gains.

Jim’s Take-Home Points

Most of you reading this probably aren’t surprised by these findings, which further support what I’ve been recommending for many years and are likely consistent with what you’ve experienced yourself when consistently chugging a shake before bedtime.

Although the researchers used hydrolyzed casein for the fast-digesting protein in the shake, whey would have been a far better protein source. And although the protein ratio was 50% fast to 50% slow digesting, they would have likely seen even better results with a bit lower ratio of fast-digesting protein along with a small amount of medium-digesting protein, such as egg white or soy protein; this is why my Pro JYM formula is 50% micellar casein, 40% whey protein isolate, and 10% medium-digesting egg white protein. This is also why so many people are reporting unreal results with Pro JYM.

So stick with what you know works, making sure to get a blended protein with about 50% slow-digesting micellar casein before going to bed every night. It’s the best way to stay anabolic throughout the night and maximize both muscle mass and strength gains. Brand-new research says so and so do I!


Snijders, T., et al. Protein ingestion before sleep increases muscle mass and strength gains during prolonged resistance-type exercise training in healthy young men. The Journal of Nutrition. In press, 2015.

Machine-Made Muscle

Trainers these days love to bash machines for not being “functional.” Leg presses, machine curls, lat pulldowns, standing calf raises, the Smith machine… pretty much all of them deemed worthless by a growing segment of the fitness industry.

You know what I think of that? I think it’s ridiculous. (And that’s putting it lightly.)  You want functional? How does building muscle, getting stronger and working on weak areas of your physique sound? Sounds pretty functional to me. And this is exactly what machines can help you accomplish.

Machines offer numerous benefits that free weights can’t. And no, I’m not suggesting you nix (or even reduce) barbell and dumbbell work from your program; rather, it’s in your best interest to complement your free weight training with regular use of selectorized machines, the cable crossover station, Hammer Strength equipment, a Smith machine, and other such contraptions. And here are a handful of reasons why:   

Machine Benefit #1: Safety

First and foremost, weight machines generally afford more safety than free weight exercises, which is especially helpful for beginners. No exercise is 100% safe, but you won’t have to worry about losing control of a dumbbell when doing machine overhead presses or getting trapped under a bar while benching in a Smith machine.

Machine Benefit #2: Maximum Overload

With barbells and dumbbells, part of the work you do during a set is balancing the weight to dictate the path of motion, which somewhat limits how much you can lift. Machines, on the other hand, balance the weight for you along a fixed, secure path of motion. All you have to do is push (or pull) the weight, which allows you to pile on more weight and overload your muscles is a safe manner. That said, machines don’t need to be pushed back to the end of your workout after free weights. Compound exercises like Smith machine bench press, lat pulldowns, and leg presses, for example, are great to do early in your routine when you want to load up with maximum weight while your muscles are fresh.

Machine Benefit #3: Intensity-Boosting Techniques

When you want to put a beating on a particular muscle group, machines are often more practical than free weights. The best example of this is drop sets, where you extend a given set past muscle failure by decreasing the load one or more times without resting and continuing to rep out. You can easily do drop sets with dumbbells by “running the rack” on exercises like curls and lateral raises, but most other free weight moves aren’t quite so conducive to the technique. Cable and selectorized machines, on the other hand, are tailor-made for drop sets. When you reach failure with a given weight, lightening the load is as simple as moving the pin down the stack one or more slots; in most cases, you can do this in literally a couple seconds.

Another key element here is exercise form. When muscles are heavily fatigued (as they’ll be in the middle of a grueling drop set) technique often suffers. Machines can help with this. Not only is the path of motion fixed, but on many machines, you’re seated and thus in a less compromised position for injury. The stress is primarily focused on the target muscles, not on vulnerable joints like the lower back.  

Other intensity-boosting techniques that lend themselves to machines are partial reps, where you work through just a short distance within a full range of motion; negatives, which you’re often able to do on machines without needing a spotter; unilateral negatives, where on a Smith machine, for example, you lower a heavy weight through the eccentric portion of the rep with one arm and lift it back up with both arms; angle-specific isometrics, where you press against an immovable load at as many angles as possible; and reverse movements, where you begin the lift from the bottom of the rep (as with most chest and shoulder press machines) without the help of the built-up elastic energy of the eccentric component of the rep.

Machine Benefit #4: Constant Tension

Machine exercises provide guaranteed constant tension through the full of motion of every rep; free weights can’t offer this. The reason why? Gravity. Free weights rely on it to ensure tension, machines don’t.

The best example of this is the dumbbell flye. There’s tension on your pecs as you lift the dumbbells up (against gravity), but that tension is removed just as your hands come directly over your shoulders. Those last 6-12 inches or so of the range of motion, where the dumbbells are coming together, are essentially useless because you’re not moving the weight against the force of gravity. This is a wasted opportunity to torch the inner pec muscle fibers, which is why I prefer to do cable flyes or cable crossovers instead. With cables, those final inches of the range of motion are the most painful, as the inner pecs take over to finish off the movement.

Choose the Right Machine Exercises

When it comes to balancing out a training program with the right mix of free weight and machine exercises, below are some of my favorite machine moves for building mass from head to toe. Sprinkle these into your existing routine the same way you do with barbell and dumbbell exercises.


  • Smith Machine Squat
  • Smith Machine Front Squat
  • Hack Squat Machine
  • Leg Press
  • Lying or Seated Leg Curl (hamstrings)
  • Standing Calf Raise
  • Seated Calf Raise


  • Smith Machine Bench Press
  • Smith Machine Incline Press
  • Hammer Strength Chest Press
  • Incline Cable Flye
  • Cable Crossover


  • Smith Machine Bent-Over Row
  • Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown
  • Seated Cable Row
  • Hammer Strength Low Row
  • Assisted Pull-Up


  • Machine Overhead Press
  • Machine Lateral Raise
  • Machine Shrug


  • Cable Pressdown
  • Seated Overhead Cable Extension
  • Lying Incline Cable Extension
  • Assisted Dip


  • Machine Preacher Curl
  • Smith Machine Drag Curl
  • Standing Cable Curl
  • High Cable Curl
  • Lying Cable Curl


  • Machine Crunch
  • Cable Crunch
  • Cable Oblique Crunch

Best Rest Periods for Muscle Growth

Most of you realize that to keep making constant gains and not stagnate it's important to frequently change up your training variables, such as the amount of weight used, the number of reps completed per set, and the exercises used. Yet many forget about changing up the rest period they take between sets and stick with the typical 2-3 minutes of rest between sets. A recent study highlights the importance of changing up your rest period. Sure, using longer rest periods allows your muscles to recover better, which allows you to complete more reps on successive sets.

The more reps you can do with a given weight the stronger you become and the more muscle growth you can stimulate. In fact, one study comparing a 2.5-minute rest period versus a 1-minute rest period between sets reported that novice lifters using the 2.5 minute rest period between sets for 10 weeks increased their biceps size by 12% while the group resting just 1 minute had just a 5% increase. However, novice lifters' muscles respond much differently to training than those with consistent training experience. So this study may hold water for those of you who are newbies in the gym, but not the rest of you.

While being more fully recovered between sets may be important for muscle strength gains, when it comes to muscle growth other factors come into play, such as the biochemical changes in muscle that occur from being fatigued.

For example, this can lead to higher growth hormone and IGF-I levels, which can encourage better gains in muscle growth. one group train for eight weeks using a 2-minute rest period between sets. The other group started week 1 using a two-minute rest period but reduced rest by 15 seconds each successive week until they were down to 30 seconds of rest between sets in the eighth week. They found that the guys dropping their rest time increased their arm size by 21% and their leg size by 28% while the group keeping rest at 2 minutes between sets only increased arm size by 14% and leg size by 19%.

Just like the linear periodization technique of gradually increasing weight each week, as found in my Micro Muscle eBook, has been shown to boost muscle size, gradually decreasing rest periods can have a similar positive effect on muscle growth.

Consider doing an 8-week periodized program that starts with 2 minutes of rest between sets. Each week reduce the rest period between sets by 15 seconds until you are resting just 30 seconds between sets in the final two weeks. The gradual reduction in rest periods trains the muscle to recover quicker between sets. That ability to do more work in less time also instigates changes in the muscle that encourage muscle growth.

The periodized rest program would look like this:

Week Rest periods between sets
1 2 min.
2 1 min 45 sec.
3 1 min 30 sec.
4 1 min 15 sec.
5 1 min.
6 45 sec.
7 30 sec.
8 30 sec.

My HIIT 100 program uses a similar format. However, this workout program is a bit more extreme in that it starts with 1-minutes rest periods and decreases rest by 10 seconds each week until you are literally not resting at all.


Buresh, R., et al. The effect of resistive exercise rest interval on hormonal response, strength, and hypertrophy with training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 23(1): 62-71, 2009.

Muscle-Building Cardio

Many guys fear that cardio will somehow cause them to lose muscle. Sure, if you burn more calories than you consume and don't eat ample protein—and don't use the proper pre- and post-workout supplements—then yes, maybe you will lose muscle. But cardio is NOT the muscle-melting activity that many people make it out to be.

Actually cardio—especially the right kind of cardio, such as HIIT—can help you build muscle.

And research from McMaster University in Canada suggests that even the slow and boring steady-state cardio may help you build more muscle when you do it right after weight lifting. The Canadian researchers had men perform one of the three following workouts:

1) 8 sets of 8 reps of leg extensions,

2) 40 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio on a stationary bike, or

3) or a combo of weights followed by cardio that included: 4 sets of 8 reps of leg extensions followed by 20 minutes of moderate cardio on the stationary bike.

They reported in the Journal of Applied Physiology that while the cycling only workout did not increase muscle protein synthesis, both the leg extension workout and the combined leg extension and cycling workout did. In fact, despite the fact that the combined workout only consisted of half as many sets of leg extensions, it increased some markers of muscle growth better than the leg extension-only workout did.

Jim's Take Home Point

So there's really no reason to fear cardio. In fact, here is yet another reason why you may want to end each weight workout with cardio. Not only will it allow you to burn more fat, but it may allow you to build more muscle. Of course, I suggest using HIIT or my Power HIIT, or Tabatas. As in my Super Shredded 8 and Show Time programs, you can even work these forms of cardio in between muscle groups. Or of course, you can also use my other favorite way to do cardio, cardioacceleration, which also puts the cardio within the weight workout, like in my Shortcut To Shred aka 1-2-3 Lean. Millions of people have already proven that adding cardio during their weight training sessions with these programs not only aids fat loss but also enhances strength and muscle mass gains. Hard to argue with those numbers!


Donges, C. E., et al. Concurrent resistance and aerobic exercise stimulates both myofibrillar and mitochondrial protein synthesis in sedentary middle-aged men. Journal of Applied Physiology 112(12):1992-2001, 2012.

Lose Fat to Build Muscle

A question I get asked a lot from people who need to lose a large amount of body fat but also want to build muscle is whether they should focus first on fat loss or hypertrophy. I typically recommend focusing on both. And while my advice stays the same—work on building muscle and losing fat—brand new research now has me thinking that it may be better to skew slightly more toward fat loss, as that may also help you build more muscle in the long run.

University of Illinois researchers had young adult males consume a high-protein meal, and then they measured the increase in muscle protein synthesis (the anabolic response) following that meal. They broke the subjects into three different groups: (1) healthy-weight individuals (BMI = 18-24); (2) overweight individuals (BMI = 25-29); and (3) obese individuals (BMI > 30). As published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition earlier this month (September 2016), the UI researchers discovered that the healthy-weight men had a much higher boost in muscle protein synthesis than both the overweight and obese guys. In other words, the leaner guys were able to put more protein towards muscle growth.

Jim's Take-Home Points

Having more body fat appears to blunt your body's anabolic response to protein. This may mean the more fat you have, the less muscle you can build, perhaps due to a cytokine (specific protein) in the body called TNF-alpha. This protein is known to be higher in people with higher amounts of body fat, and TNF-alpha also appears to be involved with inflammation in the body.

Based on the research, it seems that a smart strategy for maximizing muscle growth is to minimize body fat. That's right—staying lean can help you stay more anabolic, which can help you build more muscle and strength.

So if you can't decide between my Super Shredded 8 (SS8) and Down And Up Mass programs, you may want to start with the fat loss plan (SS8) to drop some body fat before trying to maximize muscle mass. As with all of my training programs (regardless of the primary goal), SS8's training volume, set/rep schemes and HIIT cardio are very conducive to hypertrophy (building muscle), so you certainly don't have to worry about sacrificing any muscle when following it.

This also supports the strategy of using Shred JYM even while focusing on mass gaining. Remember, the ingredients in Shred JYM don't inhibit muscle growth; they actually promote it, both directly via ingredients like acetyl-L-carnitine and green tea extract, and indirectly by aiding fat loss (which, based off the of the University of Illinois study, may further promote muscle mass gain.)

So again, you don't have to choose one exclusively over the other in the mass gain vs. fat loss dilemma, but if you have a substantial amount of fat to shed, you may want to take the "backdoor" to muscle-gaining by leaning out first.


Beals JW, et. al,. Anabolic sensitivity of postprandial muscle protein synthesis to the ingestion of a protein-dense food is reduced in overweight and obese young adults. Am J Clin Nutr, First published online September 7, 2016.

Complete Mass Nutrition Plan

Anyone with experience in the mass-gain department—and I don't mean the kind that accumulates around your midsection—knows the biggest obstacle to getting big isn't always in the gym. No one is saying heaving heavy weights is easy, but what's even harder is making sure all that work isn't for naught. That means eating, then eating the same thing again, day after day.

Many mass-gain meal plans—or any diet for that matter—seem to drag on with no end in sight as you cut into another chicken breast, masticate the last spoonful of your 47th bowl of oatmeal and chug yet another protein shake on the 60th day of your 12-week get-big sentence.

My strategy, on the other hand, gives you options and changes things up in Month 2 and again in Month 3, depending on your progress, which is the key to this plan. Because nothing beats an eternally drab diet like seeing bona fide results.

The Fundamentals

Here are some foods I highly recommend you eat every day during this program. For one, three whole eggs and three egg whites for breakfast are critical to mass gains. One study from Texas A&M (College Station) found that subjects who ate three whole eggs per day for 12 weeks while weight training almost doubled their muscle mass gains and more than doubled their strength gains, compared to those who ate no more than one egg per day. That's right. Research shows a green salad with a meal can enhance blood flow to muscles during exercise.

Of course, you can't do without your whey and casein proteins—optimally taken together, in the form of Pro JYM. Researchers at Baylor University (Waco, Texas) found that this combination better stimulates muscle growth than whey alone. Before bed, a blend with casein protein is a must, as it can take up to seven hours to digest. That means your body gets a slow and steady source of amino acids through most of the night, preventing it from breaking down your muscles for their amino acids, which are then converted to fuel for your brain during sleep.

Walnuts, peanut butter, mixed nuts, avocados, salmon and olive oil are all important as well because they provide healthy fats that help your joints recover after grueling workouts. Keep unhealthy fats to a minimum.

We're not breaking new ground here; the foundation of this plan is a fairly typical mass-gain diet, and of course follows the recommendations in my Muscle Building Nutrition Rules, adjusted for serious mass gains. 

After the first month, you'll assess your progress and either stay the course with the original meal plan (Mass Plan A) or switch to option B or C, depending on how much you're gaining and where. Before you start, however, you'll need to take measurements of your biceps, thighs, and waist. Gains in these areas will be the basis for your dietary changes each month.

Month 1

With this plan, you'll consume more carbs and protein, as well as more overall calories, on workout days than on rest days. Your fat intake, however, will be slightly lower on workout days since fat can interfere with the flow of blood to your muscles. Specifically, you'll eat 20-21 calories per pound of body weight, or about 3,700 calories, per day. (Note: These diets are designed for a 180-pound guy but should suffice for those between 160 and 200 pounds. If you're above or below this range, use relative amounts to adjust the food intake for your bodyweight.) Your protein will hit almost 2 grams per pound of body weight or about 360 grams, and your carbohydrate numbers will match this. Your fat intake, on the other hand, will be about 0.5 gram per pound of body weight, or about 90 grams.

Rest Day Meal Plan

On rest days, your calorie consumption will drop as you throttle back on carbs protein. Your fat intake, however, will go up, specifically healthy fat, which is important for joint recovery. Moreover, when you're trying to add mass and drop body fat at the same time, you have to trick your body into getting bigger. These variable-calorie days do just that, preventing the body from adjusting to the same intake levels. On these days, you'll eat about 16 calories per pound of bodyweight or just less than 3,000 calories. Your protein numbers will be slightly more than 1.5 grams per pound of body weight, or about 300 grams, while your carb intake will plummet to less than 1 gram per pound of body weight, or about 170 grams. Fat levels rise to just more than 0.5 gram per pound of body weight or slightly more than 100 grams.

Month 2

Assessment time. Take your waist, arm and thigh measurements again and compare them to your starting numbers. While the diet is designed to work well for the average 160-200-pounder, you may need to do a little tweaking to accommodate your personal physiology and biochemistry. Regardless of which meal plan you follow on workout days, keep your rest-day diet the same. With your new measurements, use the following criteria to guide you during the second month:

  • If your biceps and thighs have increased in size but your waist has stayed the same, keep following the diet outlined for the first month.
  • If your biceps and thighs have increased in size but your waist has decreased, switch to Mass Plan B.
  • If your biceps and thighs have stayed the same but your waist has decreased or stayed the same, switch to Mass Plan B.
  • If your biceps, thighs, and waist have all increased, switch to Mass Plan C.

Month 3

Time to assess your progress again. Get out that tape measure - you know the drill. This time compare your results to your measurements after the first month. If you followed the original diet in the second month and Your biceps and thighs have increased in size but your waist has stayed the same, keep following the same diet as in Months 1 and 2.

  • Your biceps and thighs have increased in size but your waist has decreased, switch to Mass Plan B.
  • Your biceps, thighs, and waist have all stayed the same, switch to Mass Plan B.
  • Your biceps, thighs, and waist have all increased in size, switch to Mass Plan C.

If you followed Mass Plan B in the second month and:

  • Your biceps and thighs have increased in size or stayed the same and your waist has stayed the same or decreased in size, keep following Mass Plan B.

Your biceps, thighs, and waist have all increased in size, switch to Mass Plan C. If you followed Mass Plan C in the second month and:

  • Your biceps and thighs have increased in size but your waist has stayed the same, keep following Mass Plan C. Your biceps and thighs have increased in size or stayed the same but your waist has decreased, switch back to Mass Plan A.

Complete Mass Nutrition Sample Meal Plans

Mass Plan A

This plan follows the fundamentals of my Complete Mass Nutrition plan as outlined above. Follow it for the first month and then assess whether or not a change to Meal Plans B or C is necessary.


TOTALS: 3,731 calories, 359 g protein, 380 g carbs, 86 g fat



  • 3 whole eggs + 3 egg whites
  • 2 cups cooked oatmeal
  • 4 capsules Omega JYM fish oil


  • 8 oz. low-fat cottage cheese + 1 cup sliced pineapple
  • 6 whole-wheat crackers + 1 Tbsp. peanut butter


  • 8 oz. turkey deli meat
  • 4 slices whole-wheat bread (make sandwiches; feel free to add low-fat mayo and/or mustard)
  • 2 cups green salad + 2 Tbsp. low-fat balsamic vinaigrette
  • 1 dose Vita JYM multivitamin


  • 1 scoop Pre JYM
  • 1 scoop Pro JYM
  • 1 large apple



  • 8 oz. top sirloin
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 1 cup chopped broccoli
  • 2 cups green salad +2 Tbsp. salad dressing (olive oil and vinegar)


  • 1 dose ZMA JYM (females take 2/3 dose)


  • 1 oz. English walnuts
  • 2 scoops casein protein or Pro JYM (mix in water)

Mass Plan B

This meal plan increases your caloric intake to just more than 22 calories per pound of body weight or slightly more than 4,000 calories for the day. Protein goes up to a little more than 2 grams per pound of body weight per day, while carbs peak at just over 2.25 grams per pound. Fat stays the same at about 0.5 gram per pound. Most of these gains can be accomplished by adding an extra scoop of Pro JYM to your before-breakfast meal, a few extra whole-wheat crackers to your midday snack, and a cup of cooked oatmeal to your bedtime meal. The extra calories from the protein and carbs will keep you growing in the next month.


TOTALS: 4,017 calories, 386 g protein, 415 g carbs, 90 g fat.


  • 2 scoops Pro JYM
  • 1 medium banana


  • 3 whole eggs + 3 egg whites
  • 2 cups cooked oatmeal
  • 4 capsules Omega JYM fish oil


  • 8 oz. low-fat cottage cheese + 1 cup sliced pineapple
  • 9 whole-wheat crackers + 1 Tbsp. peanut butter


  • 8 oz. turkey deli meat
  • 4 slices whole-wheat bread(make sandwiches; feel free to add low-fat mayo and/or mustard)
  • 2 cups green salad + 2 Tbsp. low-fat balsamic vinaigrette
  • 1 dose Vita JYM multivitamin


  • 1 scoop Pre JYM
  • 1 scoop Pro JYM
  • 1 large apple


  • 2 scoops Pro JYM
  • 1 scoop Post JYM Active Matrix
  • 1 scoop Post JYM Fast Carbs –or– 1 medium plain bagel + 2 Tbsp. jelly


  • 8 oz. top sirloin
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 1 cup chopped broccoli
  • 2 cups green salad + 2 Tbsp. salad dressing (olive oil and vinegar)


  • 1 dose ZMA JYM (females take 2/3 dose)


  • 1 oz. English walnuts
  • 1 cup cooked oatmeal
  • 2 scoops casein protein or Pro JYM (mix in water)

Mass Plan C

If your body fat levels tend to rise easily, then Mass Plan C will help lean you out without compromising your muscle gains. This plan drops your daily calorie count to about 18 per pound of body weight, while keeping protein at about 2 grams per pound and dropping carbohydrates to about 1.75 grams per pound. Your daily fat numbers will dip below 0.5 gram per pound of bodyweight. Removing some bread from your lunchtime meal, cutting out carbs at dinner, and dropping the walnuts before bed can achieve these reductions.


TOTALS: 3,246 calories, 345 g protein, 313 g carbs, 66 g fat.


  • 1 scoop Pro JYM
  • 1 medium banana


  • 3 whole eggs + 3 egg whites
  • 2 cups cooked oatmeal
  • 4 capsules Omega JYM fish oil


  • 8 oz. low-fat cottage cheese + 1 cup sliced pineapple
  • 6 whole-wheat crackers +1 Tbsp. peanut butter


  • 8 oz. turkey deli meat
  • 2 slices whole-wheat bread (make sandwich; feel free to add low-fat mayo and/or mustard)
  • 2 cups green salad +
  • 2 Tbsp. low-fat balsamic vinaigrette
  • 1 dose Vita JYM multivitamin


  • 1 scoop Pre JYM
  • 1 scoop Pro JYM
  • 1 large apple


  • 2 scoops Pro JYM
  • 1 scoop Post JYM Active Matrix
  • 1 scoop Post JYM Fast Carbs –or– 1 medium plain bagel + 2 Tbsp. jelly


  • 8 oz. top sirloin
  • 1 cup chopped broccoli
  • 2 cups green salad +2 Tbsp. salad dressing (olive oil and vinegar)


  • 1 dose ZMA JYM (females take 2/3 dose)


  • 2 scoops Pro JYM (mix in water)


TOTALS: 2,941 calories, 303 g protein, 172 g carbs, 113 g fat


  • 1 medium banana
  • 1 scoop Pro JYM


  • 3 whole eggs + 3 egg whites
  • 1 cup cooked oatmeal
  • 4 capsules Omega JYM fish oil


  • 1 scoop Pro JYM


  • 1 can white tuna + 1-2 cup cottage cheese
  • 2 cups green salad + 1 Tbsp. salad dressing (olive oil and vinegar) 1-2 cup granola


  • 1 scoop Pro JYM


  • 9 oz. salmon
  • 2 cups chopped broccoli
  • 2 cups green salad + 1-2 avocado + 1 Tbsp. salad dressing olive oil and vinegar)
  • 1 dose Vita JYM multivitamin


  • 1 dose ZMA JYM (females take 2/3 dose)


  • 1 oz. mixed nuts
  • 2 scoops casein protein or Pro JYM (mix in water)

Food For Thought

Our three-month mass-gain program, with its Plans A, B, and C, may seem complicated, but make the commitment to follow it and you'll be much more likely to see positive results. The alternative: Taking a one-size-fits-all approach for three months and not allowing for adjustments - can leave you spinning your wheels. Nothing is more frustrating than working hard and eating right, only to see no results. If you prefer not to settle for that, you've come to the right place.

Related Articles