The eternal question from aspiring lifters young and old, new and wizened.
“Mr. MASSthetics, do I continue shredding, or do I kiss my abs goodbye and build some coveted MASS?”
Ultimately, the path you choose will depend on your end goal, and which first world problem you find more appealing.
- Choosing to deprive yourself of food for the sake of improving your physique.
- Or making the decision to overfeed yourself for the sake of building a bigger, stronger, more MASSthetic physique.
Neither is right, neither is wrong, nor is one more noble than the other.
Your goal is just that. Yours. Perhaps the most important part to remember is to be consistent and to fully commit to whichever route you choose. None of this irresponsible waffling back and forth between two distinctly opposing goals. You can’t effectively chase two rabbits at once, and you certainly won’t maximize your progress.
Be warned: don’t start down a MASSing season for 3 weeks before you decide it’s “not for you” and would rather keep your abs. Doing so is a surefire way to ensure you keep “bulking and cutting the same 10 pounds” for all eternity.
This is not your final form.
At the end of the day, you always have the final say.
That being said, your starting point should also dictate where you place your efforts. Your baseline, your ground zero, will also have a say in how effective your efforts in either direction end up being.
Think of it this way. If you’re already carrying a bunch of excess fat, does it make sense for you to keep piling in more calories? Chances are, you’re only going to increase systemic inflammation, further blunt an already impeded insulin sensitivity, build less muscle than you intended whilst adding more fat than you care for. Thus ending up in a worse place than when you began your quest for MASS.
And you’ll likely have shitty pumps.
Conversely, if you’re relatively lean, this means a couple things:
- You’re in a much more healthy, balanced, and “normal” state.
- You likely don’t have much, if any, inflammation – this makes progressing everything easier and your body more responsive to nutrients and training stimulus.
- Your body is (or should be) functioning optimally and humming along, soaking up any and all nutrients.
- You may or may not have been in a deficit for many months, which means it’s time to push in the other direction, and take advantage of how much more responsive you’re going to be.
Do you get the green light to MASS?
As I touched on above, if chasing optimal muscle growth is your goal, you’re better off getting nice and lean before aggressively pushing calories up.
That means that if you have little to no abdominal definition, struggle to attain and retain a pump during your sessions, and/or would describe yourself as “soft,” I’d advise you to focus on getting ‘dem cutz in order, first.
On the other hand, if you’re in a fortunate position of being a perpetually lean, shredded bastard, or fall into the classic “hardgainer” category – you’re in a great spot to begin an all out assault on growth.
If you fall into the latter description, you’ve got a green light to MASS.
7 Secrets to a Successful MASSing
1. More is not always better
Don’t add more calories just because you “can.” Despite the goal being to MASS, there is a point of diminishing returns. At which point where more isn’t always better, and shoving every crumb in sight down your throat will likely result in excess fat gain.
A proper growth phase should be structured, targeted and have a clear purpose behind every action, session and meal.
2. You must be okay with adding a little fluff
As you gradually add calories, you’re going to gradually build muscle. Such is the nature of this slow, yet rewarding process. The downside of being in a surplus however, is that you will accumulate some fat as well. If you can accept this reality before you begin your MASS season, your mental state is going to be infinitely better as the weeks and months go on.
3. Take advantage of nutrient timing to minimize fat gain
Let me explain. After you train, your muscles are much more readily accepting of glucose. In fact, after training is the only time that you can achieve preferential nutrient partitioning of glucose into your muscle cells, and not fat cells. Thanks exercise induced transient insulin sensitivity (science, Bitches). Do you see how this can be of massive benefit to building muscle without adding a ton of excess fat? Placing a large portion of your daily carbohydrate intake immediately after your session will not only minimize fat gain and promote a healthier body composition, but doing so will also help improve and speed your recovery.
4. Take full advantage of intra-workout nutrition to fuel recovery, enhance your session and build more muscle
Much of my approach to bodybuilding, and lifting is that your training sessions should focus on building muscle, and the rest of the day centred around fat loss – or minimizing fat gain. If you’re training hard, and consistently, you should be drinking an intra-workout concoction of some sort while you train. In a perfect world, something that contains a full spectrum of amino acids, healthy dose of rapidly-digesting carbohydrates, electrolytes, as well as a compound or two for promoting blood flow and creating a skin-splitting pump.
If you’re anything like me and enjoy having a degree of customization available here’re my favourite ingredients and doses to include in a MASSing intra-workout shake.
Essential Amino Acids: 10 grams
Pepto-Pro: 25 grams
Branched Chain Amino Acids: 10-15 grams
The above are listed in order of personal preference. Whatever your choice may be, you want to ensure you’re covering as much of the spectrum of amino acids as possible.
Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin: 10-60 grams
The amount here really depends on your daily carbohydrate intake, goal and preference. Personally my sweet spot is 30-45 grams (for now at least). It’s not a bad idea to up your dose on leg & back day, while dropping it down for shoulder and arm work.
You can often get these added to branched cyclic dextrin or Pepto-Pro if your order from True Nutrition. Or, you can find them as a standalone product and add a single serving to your intra workout beverage.
I love using citrulline for i’s enhancement of blood flow – it never fails to yield a fantastic pump. For the purpose of sport and lifting performance enhancement, 6-8 grams is what studies have shown to be optimal. You’ll need to experiment a little.
Quick bit of Science: Your kidneys turn Citrulline into Arginine after supplementation, which makes supplementing with citrulline a much more effective way of increasing blood Arginine levels. Reduced fatigue and improved endurance for both aerobic and aerobic exercise. Supplementing with Arginine causes an acute spike in Arginine, while using Citrulline creates a more gradual, sustained elevation.
Creatine: 5-10 grams
During your session is as good a time as any to take it.
Taurine: 1-2 grams
This plays less of a role in muscle building, but if you’re prone to cramping up during a session, supplementing taurine in conjunction with electrolytes should all but eliminate any issues there.
If you snatch up anything from True Nutrition, use the code AXM750 at checkout to save a little cash or get some extra protein on me.
5. Be honest with yourself and/or get an unbiased opinion
Be brutally honest when assessing your progress. Are you growing? Or just adding fat? Yes, you should be aiming for a one to two pound scale weight gain per week, depending how aggressive or conservative you want to be. But, don’t forget to honestly assess your progress pictures on a weekly basis as well. As I mentioned above, some fat gain is to be expected, but don’t confuse weight gain with muscle gain.
6. Pay attention to the quality of your pumps
If your pumps aren’t as “hard” as they used to be, you feel lethargic or pictures are only showing added fluff, it’s high time for a mini-diet, to dial things back for a few weeks, or even go relatively low-carb for 3-7 days to help restore some insulin sensitivity.
7. What you eat before training matters
Pre-workout nutrition is another important part of the training day that you can take advantage of to help build more muscle, faster. And no. I’m not about to suggest you take 4 scoops of whatever the latest “legal” amphetamine-laced pre-workout on the shelves is.
Instead, get into the habit of having a well-rounded, goal-supportive pre-workout meal. A small bolus of protein, enough carbs to give you some fuel for your session, and a dash of fat – just enough to blunt the release of glucose from the carbs to prevent you from crashing into puddle of hypoglycaemic drool – I’ve been there a few times, and it’s far from pleasant.
The amounts themselves will vary, but that’s the general framework you should use. As a starting point, aim for 30g of protein, 30g of carbs and 10g of fat. Obviously, you’ll have to tweak and adjust a bit based on your individual macros, but this is where I’d start. Keep in mind – more is not always better. Especially when it comes to carbohydrates. Besides, you want just enough to support your session. You don’t want to put yourself in the position of trying to digest a ton of nutrients while you train.
The final rep for a successful MASSing season
Once that first, flimsy layer of fat starts to take hold over your once-shredded abdominals – don’t be a bitch, abandon ship or back out.
If you want to get jacked, (eventually) shredded, and tanned you’re going to have to deal with getting a little fluffy.
Remember, you can always diet the fluff away later.
About the Author
Alex is a short shorts enthusiast, espresso fiend, and unapologetic meathead. When he's not training legs or learning how to better serve his clients, he can be found exploring how to further crush life, perfect his risotto recipe, or pull the perfect shot of espresso. Alex has polled 19 of the top muscle building minds for their best training tips, and gathered them into one convenient guide. Click through here to grab your FREE copy of the prestigious Hypertrophy Handbook.