Gaining muscle mass
May 18, 2004 10:02 AM   Subscribe

A fitness question re: gaining muscle mass. [more inside]

I'm skinny (upper body). My legs are in pretty good shape, since I've been a fast walker since childhood and I walk quite a bit throughout the day. I weigh 145 pounds and am 5' 11" tall. I intend to start on weight training at home. Luckily, a friend of mine, with extensive gym experience (and results), is my new roommate for the summer.

He mentioned creatine. After some Google-browsing, it seems there are plenty of products and methods to use creatine. Generally, what should I know? Specifically, which method is preferable (loading-maintenance or gradual intake)? How much water should I consume daily? Any creatine-based product or type in particular that's recommended? I've heard that creatine can also promote fat loss. Losing weight (overall) is *not* desired. Will consuming any protein shakes help? My current diet consists of a Subway meat-based sub pretty regularly, some Chinese, some Indian and some Middle-Eastern rice-based dishes.
I consume about 2 cans of regular soda daily, with no coffee or tea. I've started taking those multivitamin supplements (Equate) every other day. My other indulgences are pretty moderate (ice cream: rarely, chocolates: very occasionally..etc)

I feel *fine*. I just want to bulk up. Recommendations, please.
posted by Gyan to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you aren't training now, you don't need creatine. Creatine doesn't add muscle mass, and it really won't help a beginner very much. As a newbie, all you need to do is lift reasonably hard and eat eat eat (especially at only 145 lbs. at your height, which is quite slim). Food is the most anabolic thing there is. Get on a split you're comfortable with and stick with it for a couple months (working full-body 3 times a week isn't a terrible idea for a newbie; while the load may seem high, it gives you constant practice at the necessary form, which is vital if you want results in the long term). Check out Stumptuous for some good, solid advice on building a routine (yes, it says "for women," but it will work for dudes, too, I promise). As a beginner, you will pack on muscle very quickly, provided you work hard, eat a lot, and sleep enough (muscle is built in the bed, not at the gym).

All creatine will do is let you squeeze out a few extra reps when you've reached your limits (by giving your muscles a little more energy to work with). At first, you are more likely to be limited by your nervous system than your muscles, so I really don't think you should be looking into creatine just yet.
posted by uncleozzy at 10:16 AM on May 18, 2004 [2 favorites]

I agree with uncleozzy, creatine is more for gym rats who have reached plateaus in their training and want to get even bigger. It's generally something a beginner wouldn't need.
posted by split atom at 10:25 AM on May 18, 2004

Were I you, I wouldn't go for the hardcore (and expensive) stuff like creatine quite yet.

If you're trying to bulk up, you should eat as much as possible and lift weights aggressively. Protein intake is important becuase you want to make it easy for your body to build muscles. If your protein intake is inadequate, you'll just get fat. Isopure is a pretty well-regarded product among my in-the-know meathead friends.

Your rice-heavy diet and Subway habit (what, about four slices of meat per sandwich?) aren't doing you any favors. You've apparently (unwittingly) tried the high-carb approach and it's not getting you anywhere. Try to avoid these high-glycemic carbs before workouts especially. You may also need to increase your fat intake somewhat.
posted by Kwantsar at 10:30 AM on May 18, 2004

i dunno - im a bit of a thin guy and creatine mixed with a fairly solid lifting program (all free wieghts no machines) really added some mass and strength - another tall thin friend of mine had the same result - if you are hitting the gym and wieghts go ahead and try a little creatine and make sure you are getting plenty of water and protien.
posted by specialk420 at 10:45 AM on May 18, 2004

Don't expect to get huge, Brad Pitt style. Such lifting takes many hours and many steroids and a lot of genetics. Don't workout with someone who's been lifting for a long time. It's discouraging and you'll probably end up quitting.

That said, I take creatine because I hit my plateau and can now max out on my weight set. I have been working out for 1.5 years now, which isn't a long time but I got frusterated. I have noticed muscle gain, or at least appearance of gain in especially weird areas. Plus I feel full all the time and bloated in my stomach. That's gone down now, and I lost the baby stomach I had (not fat, just like expanded all over the place, like you just ate a huge meal). If I hadn't had lost that I would have quit as I had spent countless hours seeking the holy grail six pack that I asked about in a previous thread.

And another word of advice, you'll either get cut or big. Don't expect to get both without steroids. Ok there will be people who get both really cut and really big but generally it won't happen.

Have I discouraged you enough? Sorry, but you sound like me. Slim and unable to really to look like you've been working out. In fact expect some weight loss at first (I dropped 10 pounds working out my first two weeks, then gained it back).
posted by geoff. at 10:46 AM on May 18, 2004

"im a bit of a thin guy and creatine mixed with a fairly solid lifting program (all free wieghts no machines) really added some mass and strength"

One of the main things creatine does is make your muscles retain more water. This makes the muscle look bigger, it also gives the muscle more endurance. it's this extra endurance that is creatine's main (perhaps only) benefit. The endurance leads to more reps, which leads to both greater strength and more calories burned.

But it's empty mass. As soon as you stop taking the creatine the extra water flushes out and you get smaller. But the strength stays.

Bottomline is that creatine is a magic bullet. But also very expensive. And it works much better for those who already have huge muscles.
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:59 AM on May 18, 2004

skip the creatine. The first few months of training (assuming you train properly) will give you huge measurable gains. Have somebody take your measurements once per week or month prior to your work out. I've known a lot of people who've put on a couple inches to their chest and biceps during the initial training. I even managed to do it when I first started working out with a trainer. I went from a 48 inch chest to a 50 inch chest in a month or two. I had been working out before that but not very efficiently. Having somebody tell me one more rep, come on or Let's add another 5 pounds over last weeks bench press helped a lot.
posted by substrate at 11:50 AM on May 18, 2004

Lots of good advice here. Both the "take creatine" and the "don't take creatine" are good advice, believe it or not. You shouldn't bother with it to begin, but maybe in a year or more you can try it to see what kind of results you get. Make sure you give your body plenty of rest. The muscle actually grows 48 to 72 hours after the workout. The workout destroys muscle fiber, 24 to 48 hours later is just trauma time (soreness) then the fibers replace themselves stronger than before. If you work a muscle group two times within 72 hours you aren't helping yourself, because you never allow the muscle to grow back stronger than before. Work out a couple body parts each day, especially those that complement each other. Chest and triceps, back and biceps, shoulders and traps, legs on their own. Make sure to stretch the part you are working out at least 10 to 15 minutes, more on cold days. Stay warm in the gym. Use heavy weights and do low reps. Keep at it and you too can go from 6', 135 to 6', 215 in 16 short years.
posted by vito90 at 1:44 PM on May 18, 2004

Gyan, creatine discussion here...
posted by vito90 at 2:30 PM on May 18, 2004

Creatine works. For me, it's about two teaspoons daily as of now. Drink lots of water. Stop using immediately if you notice anything different with your heartbeat . BTW, talk to a physician and have all those cardio tests done before even thinking about creatine. If you decide to take it, either buy expensive brands or don't bother at all.
posted by 111 at 3:39 PM on May 18, 2004

Gyan, I'm 5'10", weighed 140-145 my entire life. Started lifting off and on since February (3-4x per week at least, minus pre-exam weeks and injuries). Started taking these GNC protein shakes with 40g protein, 5g creatine and branched-chain amino acids. It's now May, and I've put on 4 pounds. I'm noticeably much bigger than I've ever been before, and people have even come up to me and said so, too. No more scrawny weakling.

The key is to not eat desserts, so you'll then be motivated to go lift because the protein shakes taste really good (chocolate lover's is the way to go). Just make sure you're drinking plenty of water to give your kidneys a break.
posted by gramcracker at 3:49 PM on May 18, 2004

posted by stbalbach at 4:15 PM on May 18, 2004

Response by poster: Some fantastic answers, thanks to ALL.

Kwantsar: You may also need to increase your fat intake somewhat.

Any suggestions on food which contains good amounts of the recommended fat (polyunsaturated, is it?) and yet isn't too unhealthy overall?
posted by Gyan at 4:39 PM on May 18, 2004

Any suggestions on food which contains good amounts of the recommended fat (polyunsaturated, is it?) and yet isn't too unhealthy overall?

Nuts and nut butters. Fatty fish. Flax.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:12 PM on May 18, 2004

I've had this problem all my life as well, and after many aborted attempts to gain mass, finally came to a decent solution.

As has been mentioned before, the single most important thing you must do is eat. Eat like it's going out of style. Concentrate on protiens -- red meat, chicken, nuts, supplements if you have to. 5 bags of potato chips a day may fulfill your daily caloric requirements, but will be transferred almost entirely to fat, which doesn't help you. Your daily caloric intake should be about 15-20 times your body weight. For your 145 lbs. body, that means about 2800 calories a day. The optimum ratio of protiens/carbs/fat should be 40/30/30. This can fluctuate a bit, and be sure that you're eating the right kinds of fats (stay away from the saturated arterial-clogging kind).

You must eat a minimum of 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. For you that means 145 grams of protein a day. In case you've tried looking into this already, it's virtually impossible to ingest this much protein every day without eating an obscene amount of red meat, which is where dietary supplements can come in handy. The best way to handle eating is to spread it out over 6 meals a day. Three meals are your standards (breakfast, lunch, dinner) the other three can just be protien shakes (there are tons out on the market -- Myoplex is one).

The next most important thing is exercise. Use free weights, no machines. Machines are locked into a very specific range and motion, and thus they don't help develop the surrounding muscles of the area you're "working out" -- this is sometimes called stabalizer development. The best kinds of exercise are squats for your whole body and dumbell exercises for your upper body. They will fatigue the shit out of you, which is good. Don't overdo it, however. You shouldn't have to work out for more than 45 minutes every other day, and make sure you switch muscle groups (i.e., legs on Monday, upper-body on Wednesday, etc.)

Don't make the mistake of only working on your upper body. The body doesn't work like that, and you simply won't see very impressive gains. The leg muscles are the largest muscle group in your body -- stressing them stresses your entire skeletal structure, which spurs growth over your entire body.

Also, be sure to change your workout every couple of weeks. Most people are familiar with the 6-8 reps overloading concept (that is, pick a weight that you can only do 6-8 reps of, then increase the weight a little bit every week). The problem is that you body will get accustomed to this and you're development will plateau. The first couple of times I really tried to gain mass, I hit the plateau and became discouraged. You have to change up the way you exercise to keep your body second-guessing. There are lots of ways to do this, my favorite being the 10 by 10 system (also called the German system, I believe).

Don't overexercise. 45 minutes every other day is enough. If you work out every day, your body doesn't have enough time to heal itself (which is when the muscle development actually occurs). As for supplements -- well, creatine has it's advantages, but it's expensive. Save your dough on a good gym membership and extra Myoplex.

Get into a good sleep schedule. Speaking of which, I've written enough for a good start. If you have any other questions, feel free to email me.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:50 PM on May 18, 2004 [1 favorite]

One more thing: what I described above will put on muscle mass very quickly, but will also throw your body-fat percentages into the double-digits. The simple fact is, for a hard-gainer (someone with a fast metabolism who has difficulty putting on extra weight) you cannot gain weight and get cut. It's either/or. The first thing you need to do is gain mass -- lots of mass. Get up to about 180 or so. Then, when you are satisfied with your mass, that's the time to change everything up. Switch from pure-mass building exercise to cardio. You'll lose some muscles in the exchange, but you'll get yourself cut. Figure to lose about 10 pounds in the switch. In seven months you could be 170 lbs. with 7% body fat -- that should be enough to stop getting sand kicked in your face at the beach. :)
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:57 PM on May 18, 2004

« Older Should I buy Smallville on DVD?   |   Aggregated Wish Lists Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.