Project Mass is a groundbreaking fusion of bodybuilding’s past and future, and not just in the gym! Learn how to time your nutrient intake to use fat as fuel and give your muscles what they need to thrive during brutal training.
In the Project Mass training overview, I talked about how training impacts overall skeletal muscle mass and strength. But in my lab, we don’t just study training. We study the interaction between training, nutrition, and supplementation, pinpointing how the three come together to form a new you.
Nutrition plays an absolutely essential role in Project Mass. In fact, countless labs have shown that a lack of nutrients will impair both your recovery and your ability to “supercompensate” (gain muscle). Ultimately, without proper nutrition, you’re not going to be successful in any program, but especially this one. With the brutal training you’ll be undertaking during the strategic overreach weeks, you’ll need quality calories, and plenty of them.
But the goal of the Project Mass nutrition program is to do more than just give you the calories you need. It also aims to utilize the latest research in performance nutrition—from our lab and others.
By taking in nutrients at the ideal time, and in ideal combinations, you maximize your body’s ability to utilize those nutrients to build muscle.
PROJECT MASS TRAINER NUTRITION
PROJECT MASS 4 KEYS FOR A LEAN BULK
A lot of people decide to add mass and they say, “You know what? I’m going to eat whatever I want. I can always lean out later!” The goal of the nutrition plan for Project Mass, on the other hand, is to help you gain mass with as little extra fat gain as possible. This is what you’d usually call a “clean bulk,” but we’re calling it a “lean bulk.” Follow it, and you can expect slow and steady—but consistent—gains for the next 14 weeks.
We’ve incorporated a number of cutting-edge nutrition techniques in Project Mass that may be familiar to you if you’ve read my Bodybuilding.com column, Ask the Muscle Prof, or watched the nutrition episode of Mass Class or my Expert Panel interview. They include:
CARB-TO-FIBER RATIO OF 5:1 OR LESS
People talk about complex carbohydrates and simple carbohydrates, but in my opinion, those categories can get too tricky in application. Luckily, there’s a way to make the same principles far easier to digest, so to speak. Instead of thinking of “complex,” just focus on the amount of fiber your carb sources contain relative to their total carb content.
Say you’ve got a piece of bread that contains 20 grams of carbs and 2 grams of fiber. That’s a 10-to-1 ratio. That’s pretty steep, which means it’ll spike your blood sugar and then send it crashing down.
Compare that to another piece of bread that has 25 g of carbs and 5 g of fiber. That’s a 5-to-1 ratio, which is the line we use to determine acceptable carb sources in this program. It’s OK to have more fiber than that ratio, but not less.
As I said in the nutrition installment of Mass Class, I’m not someone who is going to say, “Eat this much protein in a single day.” My focus is on individual meals. Research has shown that somewhere between 20-40 g of quality protein per meal will maximize protein synthesis and skeletal muscle growth.
Because this is a mass-building program with a high-intensity training regimen, I recommend you stay in the upper range, so between like 30-40 g of protein per meal, distributed every few hours, or between 3-4 full meals.
Then, between meals, you’re going to take branched-chain amino acids to maintain protein synthesis, as discussed in the supplement overview.
What you eat matters; that much is obvious. But research shows that how you combine your macronutrients matters, too! For instance, if you separate your fats from your carbohydrates, you’ll metabolize more fat and gain more lean mass relative to fat mass over the course of the day.
IDEALLY, WHEN YOU USE CARBOHYDRATES, YOU TAKE THEM INTO YOUR MUSCLE, WHERE THEY HELP YOU HAVE GOOD WORKOUTS AND RECOVER WELL.
Back in 1996, Dr. Robert Wolfe’s lab performed a really cool experiment, where they took fats and simply infused them into subjects’ blood. They found that individuals just burned the fats off and used them as fuel. However, when the researchers infused fat and then infused carbohydrates, the subjects stopped using fat as fuel. In fact, they became insulin-resistant, which means they had an impaired ability to use carbohydrates.
Ideally, when you use carbohydrates, you take them into your muscle, where they help you have good workouts and recover well. But if you’re insulin-resistant, carbohydrates essentially float around in the blood, because your muscle doesn’t take them up.
What does that mean to you during training? Your pumps are going to be less, and you’re going to have subpar recovery. But you can avoid this by taking in fats at the right time and carbohydrates at the right time. That’s where our fourth strategy comes in.
This is probably the most revolutionary technique in the Project Mass nutrition program. I discussed it previously in the column, “What are the ideal macros for my breakfast?” The upshot is that what you eat at certain times of the day can actually program your metabolism for the rest of the day.
Research from Dr. Molly Bray’s lab at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and more recently, Ryan Lowery in our lab, has actually looked at how you can program your metabolism to use fat preferentially. We found that if you wake up in the morning and have a lower-carb, higher-fat breakfast, you can use fat as fuel at a higher percentage throughout the day.
Conversely, if you wake up in the morning and have a very high-carb breakfast, the rest of the day you’ll be fixed to using carbohydrates as fuel, which means you’re more likely to store fat.
In Project Mass, you can expect to start your day with delicious breakfasts that give you plenty of both fats and protein. You’re welcome!
PROJECT MASS THE BREAKDOWN
There’s a meal plan on every one of the 114 days making up this trainer. That’s right! I really want to eliminate confusion as much as possible and make sure you’re getting the nutrients you need to get measurable results.
Even if you don’t follow every meal to the letter, though, it’s crucial that you check in each day to look at the caloric and macronutrient breakdown. The nutrition in Project Mass is periodized, just like the training is, so don’t wing it and expect optimal results.
The calorie and macronutrient breakdown you’ll see on each day’s page is based on a 180-pound man. If you’re far above or below that, you’ll need to adjust accordingly. In our lab, we recommend the Mifflin St. Jeor equation, which can be customized for both specific body dimensions and gender. You can use the calculator below to dial in your specific numbers. Since this is Project Mass, I suggest choosing “moderate activity,” or more, to keep you in a slight caloric surplus.
Of course, even the best calorie calculators and formulas deliver an estimate, so don’t hesitate to tinker by adjusting your calories based on progress and recovery.
Here’s how the breakdown works in terms of macronutrients.
As I mentioned in Mass Class nutrition, one of the key variables I’m interested in is protein quality. Quality protein is going to be from sources like meat, dairy, and egg-based proteins.
All of those are high in the amino acids that turn on the trigger for protein synthesis, and you’ll consume them regularly throughout the day.
If you’re not able to follow a day’s meal plan precisely, feel free to make substitutes from this approved protein list.
PROJECT MASS ACCEPTABLE PROTEIN SOURCES
– Skinless poultry
– Ground meats
– Game meats
– Sardines and other small canned fish
– Ricotta cheese (whey)
– Cottage cheese (casein)
– Greek yogurt
– Egg whites
– Whole eggs
– Protein supplements
You’re going to take in adequate but not excessive carbs during Project Mass, to the tune of 3-5 g/kg of bodyweight each day. Why this number? Well, research has shown that even as much as 20 or more sets per body part results in the depletion of only around 15-40 percent of your carbohydrate stores in your muscles. So, even if you did a hardcore leg workout, you’d still have somewhere between 60-80 percent of your glycogen stores left.
You don’t need much to replenish those carbs. In fact, research from Dr. Burke and his lab has shown that just 3-5 g/kg of carbohydrates can replenish your muscles within 24-48 hours.
Research from our lab has also shown that anything over this won’t increase your muscle mass, but instead, will only increase your fat mass—which is the complete opposite of what we want for this program.
I’ve already discussed the importance of the carb-to-fiber ratio in whatever carb source you choose. Along those lines, you’ll see things like brown rice, whole oats, and corn tortillas in your meal plan.
You can also sub out high-fiber carb sources like:
PROJECT MASS ACCEPTABLE CARBOHYDRATE SOURCES
– Whole grains like bulgur or spelt
– Raw or cooked vegetables
– Whole, raw fruit
– High-fiber bread
– Low- or non-sugar granola
– Seeds like flax or chia
TWO QUICK NOTES
1 – On Timing: Remember, the idea of “nutrient programming” dictates that you take in very few carbs at breakfast. Start the day as often as possible with protein and fats, and save your carbs for later in the day. Check out any day in the program to see an example of how this works.
2 – On Greens: You also can’t go wrong with leafy green vegetables and broccoli, so include them whenever you can. You could even include a small salad or serving of vegetables with every meal. They’re important because they’re not just high in fiber or carbohydrates; they also give you crucial micronutrients like minerals and vitamins. They’re also great at helping keep you full and satisfied. Take them into account in your macros as much as possible, but don’t sweat it if you occasionally just toss them in on top of the macros. They’re that good.
Fats have historically been misunderstood, but their importance is becoming more recognized all the time. That said, as I pointed out when talking about nutrient pairing above, I still think they deserve a caveat. Namely, fats are far better on their own than they are with carbs.
Looking for one fat in particular to emphasize for the next 14 weeks? Consider the coconut. One of the things our lab has been really interested in, and has done a lot of research on, is a particular type of fat called medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which is found in high levels in extra-virgin coconut oil.
Like the name suggests, MCTs are lot shorter than the long-chain triglycerides you find in most food. What we’ve found is that MCTs get preferentially used as fuel. They get turned to energy, and they get turned to a special kind of energy source known as ketones, which give you an extra source of fuel for the brain on top of carbohydrates.
Consider cooking with coconut oil regularly throughout Project Mass. Dairy fat is also high in MCTs, so eat your cheese and yogurt without reservation.
On top of that, I want you to take in a lot of healthy fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, from both animal and plant sources. These will improve your insulin sensitivity as well as improve recovery by helping control inflammation.
PROJECT MASS ACCEPTABLE FAT SOURCES
– Extra-virgin coconut oil
– Coconut butter
– Cheese and other dairy
– Olive oil
– Canola oil
– Avocados and avocado oil
– Nuts and seeds
– Fatty fish
PROJECT MASS THIS IS HOW YOU EAT TO GROW
This program is going to be intense. There are going to be times when you will wonder if you’re going to survive. But I can tell you this: You’re not going to make it all the way to the end without adequate nutrition. So consider bookmarking this page for reference, and pay just as much attention to each day’s nutrition protocol as you do for the training.
Got that? Now make sure that you’ve watch the program overview, the training overview, and the supplement overview. When you’ve done that, you’re ready to fire off the starting gun and get growing!