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6 more tips for the mass phase

6 weitere Tipps für die Massephase

Steve was about to start a major mass building phase and wanted some advice. He had read the original article "Tips for the bulking phase" and had used many of the ideas with great success, gaining 15 pounds in just over 2 months.

But now he's ready for more. After looking at his diet and training history, I knew he was ready to take the next step towards optimizing his progress.

Here are a few things I told him:

1. reps go up, never down

One of the best aspects of a mass-building phase is that your strength will increase dramatically in combination with your mass. Who wouldn't love it when the weights feel like nothing? One potential problem with this, however, is that after a month or so your body can start to break down under the unaccustomed training loads. The continuous strain on the connective tissue can become excessive until eventually something gives way. Your joints, ligaments and tendons are much more susceptible to injury during a bulking phase than your muscles, as they seem to adapt more slowly to the new loads. This is probably due to a reduced blood supply to the connective tissue, which results in a longer adaptation phase. Even if your muscles are getting bigger and stronger from week to week, it may well be that your ligaments and tendons are still at the same level as before you started your bulking phase.

One solution to this problem is to increase the number of repetitions as your strength increases. This will help ensure that you are training with weights that your joints and connective tissue can handle. For example, let's take someone who trains squats in a 5 to 7 repetition range and has increased from 400 to 420 pounds.

Instead of increasing the weight further to 440 pounds, he might be better off staying at 420 pounds for a few weeks while his body acclimates to the heavier weight. However, to further overload the muscles, the following workouts will use a higher repetition range - for example, 8 to 10 reps at 420 pounds. Even if you don't stick with the same weight, which can be overprotective for some, you should at least resist the temptation to lower the reps to be able to move even more weight. We all want to see how much weight we can throw around, but if we're already putting a lot of stress on the connective tissue, the last thing the body needs is a reduction in reps to be able to increase the weight further.

To put it very simply and understandably, you could say that your body won't like you if you do this. If you absolutely need to find out how much your 1RM weight has increased, or if you want to train during a bulking phase with a repetition range of 2 to 3 reps, then you should make sure that you start training in this way some time before the bulking phase. If you're in a bulking phase and you can't increase the weight using the same repetition range, then something is going wrong and you need to find out what it is. Otherwise, you're probably cheating yourself if you think everything will go to plan if you lower the reps.

2. don't be stupid

When the subject of bulking comes up, I've actually heard people say that they can tell how well their bulking phase is going by how fat they get! The reasoning is that the fatter you get, the more muscle you build. I'm simply lost for words with something like that! We can build fat while we build mass, but we are not trying to get fat. The mistake in this train of thought is that we now know that building fat is not simply a matter of calorie intake and calorie expenditure. It also depends heavily on timing and nutrient composition! So if we do everything wrong, we may well get fatter without optimizing our muscle gains.

For example: even during the bulking phase, you shouldn't stuff yourself with Pop Tarts (small, pre-packaged cakes that are very popular in the USA) or other sweets right before going to bed. As wonderful as these extra calories may be, they are still likely to lead to an unnecessary increase in body fat. This is especially true because our insulin sensitivity decreases throughout the day, which means that later in the day there will be a higher insulin release from the carbohydrates we consume. In other words, we are more likely to build up fat if we eat carbohydrates late in the evening because our body will not respond as well to the hormone insulin as it did earlier in the day.

And if we really want calories before bed (which is definitely the case), then we'll get over 300 kcal from the 80 gram casein protocol and another 360 kcal in the form of 40 grams of healthy fats. That's almost 700 kcal right before bed without eating many carbohydrates. But before you panic and start restricting your carbohydrate intake, you should understand that I'm not talking about limiting the total amount of nutrients. I'm simply suggesting that we use smart nutrient timing. Carbohydrates are not a bad thing, and this is especially true during mass gain, but we can optimize our results by taking our insulin sensitivity into account.

3. understand the term nutrient density

There is sometimes some confusion when it comes to terms like nutrient density and calorie density, but during the bulking phase it is important to understand the difference between these two terms. I hear the term nutrient density most often in relation to leafy green vegetables, as these are full of "the stuff that's good for you". But the term "high nutrient density" could also be used to describe celery or lettuce, as they contain a lot of water in addition to their lower amounts of vitamins and minerals. Remember that water is also a nutrient, so a food that contains a lot of water is by definition a high nutrient density food.

Paradoxically, Pop Tarts also have a high nutrient density because they are packed with carbohydrates? Is this pure semantics? Certainly, but the term nutrient density is misused often enough that it needs clarification. In the real world, the term "high nutrient density" usually refers to fruits and vegetables because these foods are packed with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. This is great information, but has little to do with the definition of nutrient density used in the context of mass building. In the case of mass building, the nutrient density we are concerned with is based on the macronutrients: Fat, carbohydrates and protein. This is the case because these are the nutrients that contain calories, which is exactly what we are interested in.

More specifically, the term nutrient density is used to describe a large amount of something in a small package. For our purposes, this means that we want foods with a lot of calorie-providing nutrients in a small amount of food. Take Pop Tarts for example (now who didn't see that coming), which provide 200 kcal per 50 grams. That's a pretty high nutrient density! In contrast, at the other end of the spectrum, celery provides just 8 kcal per 50 grams. If you imagine that you would have to eat 1.25 kilos of celery to get the same amount of calories as a Pop Tart, then the concept of calorie density should become quite clear (and after eating 1.25 kilos of celery, even the last person should understand it).

Why do we care so much about nutrient density? Well, if we want to build mass, we have to eat so many calories that we often don't want to eat any more. But if we can keep our calorie density high, then we will need to eat less food to get the same amount of calories!

4. a fat warning

A note of caution when focusing on calorie density: look at the overall macronutrient density of foods. Choosing foods simply based on how high their nutrient density is could be a mistake, as fat as a nutrient provides more calories per gram than the other macronutrients. This means that 10 grams of fat provides more energy than the same amount of protein or carbohydrate - even more than twice as much! If a product is full of fat, then it will provide massive calories, but it may well not be ideal for your body composition - even during the mass building phase.

We have to be realistic. A jar of lard is the most calorie dense food you can find, but you're not going to want to eat pure fat by the spoonful. So focus on nutrient density and calorie density, but don't overdo it.

5. stimulants for support

Stimulants are one of the best ways to increase your strength in the gym - whether you're in a bulking phase or not. This means that no matter what phase of training you are in (apart from a recovery phase), taking some caffeine before training will help ensure that the weights you move will be heavier than your last training session. Combine this with the gains you'll make through the mass-building phase and you'll feel an amazingly powerful effect. Even though caffeine is the most commonly used stimulant, it is still the most underrated performance enhancing substance freely available. Some of the commonly overlooked effects include:

  • Increased energy
  • Increased strength
  • Increased endurance
  • Increased performance
  • Improved ability to concentrate
  • Increased use of body fat for energy supply
  • Muscle-sparing effects during a diet

In addition to this, the purchase and use of caffeine is legal*, it's readily available and it's dirt cheap (unless you prefer the Starbucks variety, in which case you'll need a credit card check and a guarantor before your caffeine kick). Okay, that's not really new information. But if everyone knows this, why do so few take advantage of it? One of the most obvious reasons is that people already consume far too much caffeine in their daily lives to benefit from optimal training effects. In addition, many people have already integrated these caffeinated drinks into their lives to such an extent that they are unwilling to give them up or look for caffeine-free alternatives.

One tip on the side for improved body composition and performance is to stop drinking coffee, tea** and cola on a regular basis. This also applies to students and anyone who can benefit from the mental performance-enhancing effects of caffeine. This again makes caffeine an optimal choice when you need a physical or mental performance boost.

An example plan based on a 12 week bulking phase might look like this:

  • Week 1-2: 2.2 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight***
  • Week 5-6: 2.2 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight
  • Week 7: 2.6 mg caffeine per kilogram of body weight
  • Week 8: 3.1 mg caffeine per kilogram of body weight

(It should be noted that the maximum dose of 4 mg per kilogram of body weight is never reached).

But let's be realistic: it is possible to use too much of a good thing. Using stimulants for too long can result in desensitization to the effect, meaning that we have to use higher and higher doses to feel the same effect.

Obviously, this is an undesirable situation that should be avoided. This is especially true when you consider that one of the best times to use stimulants is immediately after the bulking phase, as stimulants can help you keep the weights up while your calorie intake drops.

* High doses of caffeine are banned by some sports organizations, although reasonable amounts are usually allowed.

**Except green tea.

*** Consumed one hour before activity

6. use stimulants cyclically to stay muscular

Stimulants can help us increase our muscle mass through an increase in strength and through the same mechanism, stimulants can also help us maintain this increased amount of muscle mass when the bulking phase ends. Of course, if we reduce our calorie intake after the bulking phase ends, the increased stimulus for muscle growth also ends. Although this is not the end of the world, it can result in a reduction in strength, which equates to a reduction in the stimulus for muscle growth. In combination with the adjustment in nutritional intake, some people experience a rebound effect that causes them to become weaker and less muscular faster than they would like. In most cases, this rebound effect is more psychological. Ultimately, a heavy bulking phase results in a perpetual pumped up feeling because our muscles are overloaded with glycogen and even intramuscular fat. Suddenly we reduce calories, insulin levels drop and the same goes for the pumped up feeling, as well as the training weights...

Of course, we are not talking about the end of a high-dose steroid cycle here, but this is exactly how many people perceive the end of a mass phase. This is always most drastic when someone thinks they are getting too fat and decides to greatly reduce their calorie intake - essentially flipping the switch from muscle building to a dieting phase. As mentioned in the original article on tips for the bulking phase, such a rapid switch has a devastating effect on your physiology and undermines all your efforts. If we manage to maintain or even increase our strength after the mass-building phase ends, then this will give us a huge psychological boost - not to mention the obvious physiological benefits:

An example mass-building program might look like this:

  • Ideally avoid stimulants for the last 3 weeks of your mass building phase
  • Start with 2.2 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight 1 hour before training
  • Increase your caffeine dosage to 2.6 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight after 8 training sessions with the initial dose
  • Increase your caffeine dosage to 3.1 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight after 8 further training sessions

Now that we've revealed all this sexy information, it's time for a reminder: stimulants are medical agents and have side effects. Use your mind when you decide to use stimulants. Even when I present the possibility of using stimulants to my clients, I never directly recommend that they use stimulants or other pharmaceutical agents. (A caffeine addiction is not a pretty sight. One day you wake up at noon, look in the mirror, and realize you're nothing more than a shaky junkie high on Caramel Machiatos and have spent your college funding in $5 servings on another fix of this elixir of the gods. This is when you hit rock bottom).


Q: You're wrong. I got muscular through my bulking phase and my strength went up, but I reduced my reps and still didn't get injured.

A: I think what you're saying is that it's not necessary to increase the rep range when we're getting stronger during bulking and I agree with you. Of course, I never said that any of these tips are necessary - they are just ideas that might help.

IT'S great that you haven't had any problems, but keep in mind that no one does a training session with the thought in the back of their mind that they might get injured. It just happens. I've seen it too many times, unfortunately. In fact, applying this first tip could have saved dozens of people from injury.

Q: You're contradicting yourself! Didn't you just talk about being careful during mass building to protect your joints, while in another tip you show people how they can further increase their strength by using stimulants?

A: At first glance, combining these two tips seems like a contradiction, but if you understand that this article is not meant to be followed as a single plan, then it makes more sense. In other words, people will use and put into practice the parts of the article that they like and ignore the rest. These tips are not meant to be dogma that everyone must follow. To put this in perspective, I would like to mention that the first article was read by over 100,000 people! Reactions ranged from people saying it didn't provide anything new to readers saying it was the article that impacted them the most in the year it was published. Ultimately, we all have different preferences, goals and thought processes, so it makes sense that we make something different out of these tips. As for the tips in question, I would expect the safety tip to be used by those who have a history of getting injured while training, while the stimulant tip will likely be used more by exercisers who are a bit more aggressive and less cautious with their training. Live and learn, I would say.

Q: First you tell me to use stimulants and then you tell me not to use them. What's the matter now? Can't you make up your mind?

A: It's crucial that I don't want to tell anyone what to do with these tips. They merely represent an idea of ideas that can help you achieve your goals. Let's use stimulants as an example. Do I think they can help you increase strength and muscle mass? Yes, absolutely. Do I recommend their use? No, absolutely not. But also keep in mind that a lack of recommendation to use them does not mean that I discourage their use. In other words, this means that if I don't directly recommend the use of stimulants, it doesn't mean that I think it's a bad idea to use them. I simply want to make sure that it is everyone's responsibility to decide for or against the use of stimulants.

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