Training and Nutrition For Muscle Size

An Interview with Dr John M Berardi, CSCS

Whenever Dr Berardi gives an interview, you're bound to learn a thing or two. Here are a few choice questions and answers Dr Berardi provided for an interview with Craig Ballentyne of

CB: John, you've truly advanced the science of "getting big" without getting fat. Can you give a synopsis of your philosophy?

JB: Thanks for being so generous with your words. While I wouldn’t be so dramatic as to say I’ve “truly advanced the science,” I think one thing I have been able to do is reach a lot of individuals and help them understand the science and art of “getting big”. My nutritional philosophy (whether you’re after weight gain or weight loss) is made up of 3 central tenets:

1. The human body best responds to structure. You’ll successfully gain weight or lose weight only when you learn to structure your training and nutritional intake in such a way that your eating and training behaviors are consistent from one day to the next.

2. Reaching your goals requires an integrated approach. Training programs, nutrition programs, and supplement programs should be highly integrated in such a way that they all work well together. If there is no integration, it’s a case of the left arm not knowing what the right is doing. This component of success is the hardest for most people to grasp because expertise in all 3 areas is rare. A fully integrated approach usually requires a coach.

3. It’s true that managing total calorie balance is critical to success. Both exercise and nutritional intake affect total energy balance (energy spent vs. energy ingested). It’s true that if you want to gain weight, you simply have to eat more and/or train less. And if you want to lose weight, you simply have to train more and/or eat less. But since we’re not interested in weight gain or loss but the gain of lean mass and the loss of fat mass, we can improve this relationship by paying close attention to the types of foods we eat and the timing of this ingestion.

CB: Briefly, what are your thoughts on training for muscle mass?

JB: Wow, it’s hard to describe my entire training philosophy “briefly” but I’ll try. As most experts would agree, there is not a single type of program that’s effective for increasing muscle mass. In my clients, I’ve found that some guys gain mass rapidly on the conventional 3 sets of 10 reps, “bodybuilding” style programs. Others do much better on more conventional 5 sets of 5 reps, strength type programs. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to know who will respond to each type of program without some trial and error.

With most clients, I find that their muscle strength and power is a major limiting factor in their quest for bigger muscles. As a result, we usually start them out on hybrid strength and power program incorporating exercises like cleans, snatches, push and drop presses, and speed dead lifts for power and squats, bench presses, dead lifts for max strength. After their muscle strength and power improves tremendously (and it always does), we re-assess their goals. If they want to continue working on strength and power (most guys LOVE this type of training), we continue on this path. If they want to focus on size exclusively, we then begin to incorporate programs that are 25-50% devoted to strength and power, and 50-75% devoted to “bodybuilding” training. We rarely ever drop the strength and power movements entirely. Take, for example, a client of mine who just competed in the Canadian National Bodybuilding Championships. I had this guy doing cleans and snatches right up to the week before the show.

In the end, though, you can have your training optimized but if you aren’t eating properly, you won’t gain a pound.

CB: Okay, now for the good stuff. What are some of the secrets that you have uncovered in the lab and over the years "in the trenches" when it comes to optimal muscle hypertrophy gains?

JB: After optimizing your training program, the next step is optimizing your nutritional plan. While conventional dietetics suggests that all one needs to do is focus on total energy intake, that idea is far too simplistic. Sure, most athletes chronically under eat – to their detriment – but it’s no surprise why they under eat. Conventional nutritional strategies ensure that when an athlete eats enough, fat gain will go hand in hand with the muscle gain. I’ve tried to discover ways of allowing an athlete to eat enough without promoting a lot of fat gain. Here are a few strategies I’ve used with great success.

1. Try to avoid meals that are high in both fat and carbohydrate. In other words, meals that contain combinations like steak, eggs, home fries, and toast are not the way to maximize your lean gain to fat gain ratio. Of course, eEach daily meal should be rich in protein.

2. Eat most of your carbohydrates within 3 hours of training. One of the best ways to gain lean mass while avoiding fat gain is to eat most of your dietary carbohydrates during the 3 hours after training. During the rest of the day, the diet high in protein and good fats. Veggies are also a must during this time. A small amount of fruit is acceptable during this time as well.

3. Workout Nutrition! Sip a drink containing whey protein and carbohydrate during training. Also sip a drink of the same composition after training. A good starting point is to consume 0.4g/kg protein and 0.8g/kg carbohydrate during the workout and another 0.4g/kg protein and 0.8kg carbohydrate directly after. Then, 1 hour later, eat a meal containing the same nutritional breakdown. For a 180lb guy, that’s about 32g protein and 64g carbohydrate.

CB: How can the typical Men's Health-type reader apply your knowledge to his everyday routine, considering he might be "chained" to his phone and desk for 10-12 hours each day, and a 2 hour round trip commute? What are his top snack options and post-workout meal options?

JB: While this lifestyle presents a challenge, it’s not impossible to eat properly, train hard, and balance work and family. One strategy is to hire a food preparation service. In most cities, if you look hard enough, you can find a caterer who will provide made-to-order meals for health conscious individuals. While many people balk at the cost, I propose this question – how much is your health worth to you? Forget muscle mass, most guys in situations similar to what you’ve described aren’t even eating well enough to prevent disease.

Beyond this scenario, protein drinks do come in handy although I prefer it if people can eat mostly real food. If you absolutely refuse to find a way, though, most people can find time to prepare and eat 3 meals per day. In addition to these meals, 3-5 additional liquid meals can round out one’s muscle gain strategy as follows:

* Breakfast

* Snack: 2 scoops protein + ½ cup yogurt + 1 serving greens + 1 tbsp flax seeds + 1 tbsp mixed nuts

* Lunch

* Snack: 2 scoops protein + ½ cup yogurt + 1 serving greens + 1 tbsp flax seeds + 1 tbsp mixed nuts

* Workout Drink: 1 serving recovery drink

* Post-Workout Drink: 1 serving recovery drink

* Dinner

* Snack: 2 scoops protein + ½ cup yogurt + 1 serving greens + 1 tbsp flax seeds + 1 tbsp mixed nuts

CB: Let's look at another scenario. The massive bodybuilder that still wants to add another 10 pounds to his frame prior to starting his pre-contest preparation. However, this guy thinks he's stuck; he's tried all avenues. What approach do you have him take?

JB: Massive juicing. Ok – I’m just kidding! Actually, check out this scenario. One of my competitive bodybuilders hired me after winning a provincial bodybuilding championship in Ontario. Since he had about 10 weeks to prepare for Canadian Nationals he wanted me to help him get leaner for the next show. But since I knew his main weakness was muscle mass, I convinced him that we would spend the first 6 weeks getting him bigger and the last 4 getting him shredded. Upon hearing this and then seeing his first program, I think he was re-thinking his decision to hire me. However, after some encouragement, he bought into my strategy. The result - he entered his show noticeably leaner, drier, and 3 lbs heavier than his last show, only 10 weeks prior.

So, what did we do? Well, I immediately switched his routine to a strength and power program including all the exercises discussed above. The first week was comical, as he had never done a clean or a snatch before. However, he was a fast learner. In addition, rather than conventional cardio, I had him doing high intensity interval sprints on a bike and a rowing machine. Furthermore, I added the workout nutrition strategies from above. The first 6 weeks were very successful as he gained about 10-12 lbs.

With 4 weeks to go, he was a little worried about his conditioning so, at this point, we dropped the workout nutrition (to eliminate extra calories), we put him on a low carbohydrate diet, and we increased his workout frequency to 2x per day (higher volume lower intensity). This worked wonders and he entered the show in the best shape of his life, with a net muscle gain of at least 5-7 lbs in 10 weeks of contest dieting! And for the record, no drugs were used during this process!

CB: And our final scenario, the University athlete and in-season post-workout nutrition. Can these athletes still gain muscle while playing once a week and practicing 4 times per week? What approach do they take, and where do they load up on cost-effective calories? Any pre-game or game time tips for performance nutrition?

JB: Yes, they can still gain muscle. In fact, as you may have noticed, many of them can certainly gain fat during the season. With training volumes reduced from pre-season, many athletes actually detrain a bit and spend some of the season in positive energy balance. Since the season is hectic, their diet is usually crappy and therefore they gain fat. By focusing on good food selections, appropriate meal timing, and supplemental workouts in the gym, these athletes can easily improve throughout the season.

Getting into a full program is probably beyond the scope of this interview, but simply, if they follow the strategies from above (i.e. not eating lots of carbs and fats together, eating most carbs during the 6 hours post-workout, and using proper workout nutrition), they will be on the right track. Furthermore, I usually have my athletes add 3-5 gym workouts in per week. Two of these workouts are strength workouts while the rest are cardio work designed to maintain fitness and keep body fat low. This strategy is unique to the athlete and his/her needs, though.

As far as pre-game strategies, there isn’t anything magical there. It takes a consistent eating program to ensure good performance on game day – no magic elixirs can remedy a week of poor training and nutrition.

CB: Thanks for the great interview!