I had coffee a few weeks back with a good friend of mine from Montreal. I had just finished a couple months of the Bony to Beastly program, and I’d put on 20ish pounds of muscle since she last saw me. She was wowed by my progress and told me I looked a Hell of a lot stronger. My physical health was obviously not a problem, but she was worried that I was headed down the road to obsession. She knows that I barely train 3 hours per week, so there’s obviously no obsessive behaviour there. But she also knows that I’m extremely fascinated by the role that nutrition plays with fat loss, health and building muscle—especially for us ectomorphs. So, despite the fact that we had just finished pouring rum into our coffees, she was concerned that I was developing an obsession with eating healthy foods and only healthy foods.
The interesting thing is that eating healthy and only healthy foods can actually hinder your results. Many people struggle to build muscle, lose fat, love life, and accomplish their goals because they place too much emphasis on “healthy” eating. The true secret to becoming superhuman isn’t to eat superfoods, it’s to eat “Clark Kent” foods—everyday foods that will give you superhuman results.
Let’s take a look at the two extremes.
I used to suffer from what I now call “apparent anorexia”, where I would dream of being more muscular but often have strangers wondering “does this guy have an eating disorder?” I was 6’2 and 130 pounds, with a body that made starving female runway models jealous. Damn ectomorph genetics. In fact, my dad was in the same skinny boat at my age, despite infamously being able to finish several entrees at a time at restaurants. Our diets may not have been the best, but we weren’t intentionally making ourselves thin—quite the opposite. This is an example of me having no idea what I was doing nutritionally, and quite obviously it wasn’t working out for me.
Now, 55 pounds of muscle heavier and with my “genetics” soundly defeated, I’ve been accused of something a little bit more flattering: orthorexia. “Orthorexia” is an unhealthy obsession with eating only extremely healthy foods. The accusation raises a very interesting point, even though I consider my interest in nutrition quite psychologically healthy. I mean, I’ve never enjoyed what I eat more than now, and I neither crave nor avoid going out for a few beers and some suicide wings with friends. I’m also extremely happy with my physique, even as I push myself for health and strength improvements.
This isn’t always the case with nutrition-loving guys though, and many dudes perpetually follow extremely strict and limited diets consisting of supplements and superfoods. Does this give them results? Of course. Does it give them the best results. Hell no.
Being a doofus when it comes to nutrition is a sure way to fail. Being obsessive and following the latest superfood superfad is often a hell of a lot better for most people, but it’s still not the ultimate solution. It’s common for people on diets to run into deficiencies. They’re consuming fewer calories, so less nutrients are coming in. That’s not all that surprising. (study)
But this is where things get wild. The health-conscious man who’s on a restrictive health diet has the highest chance of suffering from nutrient deficiencies. This is very common among athletes, bodybuilders and people with eating disorders. (study, study, study, study, study)
This is very ironic. How is it that the men who obsess the most about eating healthfully are missing more nutrients than your average guy. Athletes and bodybuilders often eat a lot of the food, so what’s going on here?
The answer to that is pretty obvious when you give these diets a look-over. Eating a “clean” bodybuilding diet, for example, is one hell of a weird way to eat. It’s usually based around just a few foods: skinless chicken breast, egg whites, lean cuts of steak, olive oil, fish oil, spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes, brown rice, tuna, oats, protein powder and creatine.
I mean, if you’re cutting out dairy, potatoes, fruits, egg yolks, fatty meat, etc … it’s no surprise that you’re going to run into some problems. You can’t pick a list of twelve “clean” foods, eat them day in and day out and expect them to add up to a balanced diet.
Most cultures have found a way of meeting their nutritional needs, and over time these practices become cultural traditions. Mexicans can’t just go Paleo and cut out beans, Northern Europeans can’t just cut out dairy because it’s an animal product, Americans can’t just cut out fruits because of the carbs/fructose, and us Canadians can’t just cut out polar bear steaks because of the saturated fat.
If you deprive it of a food group that’s commonly consumed in your culture (grains, dairy, breakfast, carbs, sugars, beaver tails, etc) you leave a nutritional hole that needs to be plugged. I’m not saying you’re stuck eating brussels sprouts even if you hate them. These holes can be plugged. If you need to (or want to) avoid a certain type of food that’s okay. I’m just saying that you need to be mindful of it.
One issue is that restrictive diets are very very common nowadays. You’ve probably heard a lot about plant-based diets (cutting out animal products), paleo diets, low-carb diets, intermittent fasting and eating every 2-3 hours. You’ve also probably heard a lot about acai berries, flax, pomegranates, red wine, goji berries, broccoli, spinach, coconut oil, chick peas, blueberries, turmeric and garlic. The interesting thing is that despite all the hype, in order to look like Superman you shouldn’t be restricting evil foods, eating “superfoods” and following trendy diets.
You should be eating Clark Kent foods—staple foods.
Trendy diets do work,
When the fundamentals are also handled.
If you eat a plant-based diet that focuses on whole unprocessed foods (and supplement with leucine) you can build a ton of muscle. Similarily, if you follow a meat-rich paleo diet, you can also achieve an incredible physique. Eating 9 times a day works. Eating 2 square meals a day works too, assuming you take in the same quantity and quality of nutrition. If you find that your lifestyle or moral code meshes well with a certain doctrine then great—you can probably make it work wonders for you. Most diet fads do work, at least in part, but probably not for the reason you think they do.
Don’t suffer any delusions though. Whether you eat 3 meals a day or 12 you’ll get comparable results if the foods you’re eating are the same. Vega’s vegan sports performance protein is awesome, but so is steak. There are many valid ways to get in the macronutrients you need to accomplish your goals.
“Superfoods” are incredibly healthy,
When incorporated into a balanced diet.
Blueberries are fiercely rich in antioxidants and polyphenols, broccoli has fat and toxin fighting properties, flax is a great source of polyunsaturated fats, and turmeric has incredible anti-inflammatory properties. If you love these foods then fantastic—eat plenty of them. Knowing about them and their benefits is great. I love trying out weird superfoods, and many of them taste fantastic.
Blueberries rock, but so do apples and oranges—everyday Clark Kent foods. Chick peas are great, but so are yams. Don’t place too much emphasis on superfoods or super supplements, because that’s not how a superhuman body is built. Chances are they won’t produce a noticeable difference in your results unless you figure out a great overall approach to eating.
Consider this study, where blueberries are being examined for their superfood-like phytochemical and antioxidant levels. The premise is that blueberries might be able to improve strength training recovery times, thus allowing you to build muscle more quickly. One group of study participants was given 2.2 pounds of blueberries between workouts, while the control group was given 2.2 pounds of regular fruits (bananas, apple juice, etc). Both were in the form of fruit smoothies, and neither group knew which type of smoothie they were drinking. The result? Eating 2.2 pounds of Blueberries sliiightly improved muscle recovery versus the control group.
Now check out this study, where participants started strength training and eating at a calorie surplus. The first group, who didn’t alter their diets at all, gained 3 pounds of muscle in 8 weeks just from the strength training. Pretty good. The second group, who consumed an extra 356g carbs and 106g protein powder, gained over 6 pounds of lean mass. More than double the muscle gains! The third group, who consumed an extra 438g carbs and just 24g protein powder, gained 7.5 pounds of lean mass!
These weren’t fancy carbs—just simple sugar and starch powders. A potato, fruit or bagel would have had the same effect. Interestingly enough, eating more bananas and potatoes, it seems, result in more muscle gains than even consuming protein powders.
The moral of the story? Superfoods can make the tiniest of differences, so if you’re looking to gain 1.1 pounds of muscle instead of 1 pound of muscle this week then go for it. How do you double your gains? Eat large amounts of staple foods. (Easier said than done, I know.) The problem is that people fall hook line and sinker for supplement ads and novel dieting strategies, when the simple truth is that a rock solid training program and whole hearty foods is where the real results are built.
The Bony to Beastly Approach
I’m not trying to say you shouldn’t learn about nutrition. In fact you absolutely should. If you don’t have the physique, strength and energy that you want then obviously some things need to change. If you’re very skinny, like I was, then you might need to change quite a bit. What I’m saying is that you don’t need to adopt any kind of extreme lifestyle. We help our members come up with radically different nutrition strategies depending on their preferences, lifestyles and budgets. Our guys in the UK are eating very different diets from our guys in Texas, and they’re eating very different diets from our guys in Australia. And they all build muscle like monsters because their fundamentals are all solid.
Bony to Beastly isn’t a fad. We don’t have a dietary angle. We aren’t vegan or paleo, and we don’t have a problem if you are. Our diet is built on solid building blocks that consist of real everyday foods that men enjoy. We can’t build your muscles entirely out of McDonalds and Pop Tarts, but we can build them out of hamburgers and chicken parmesan (especially if you prepare them like we do) and a double-helping of dessert. We may tell you to eat a side of green beans with your burgers, but we won’t be pestering you about whether you took your acai berry supplement. We will absolutely ask you if you ate enough food today to build impressive amounts of mass, but we won’t be asking you if you ate every 3 hours on the dot or not.
When it comes to eating enough food to build impressive amount of muscle, us skinny guys often struggle. That’s one of our biggest struggles, and there are a lot of reasons for it. Processed foods and desserts offer us an easy way to get more calories in. So long as we’re also getting the nutrients that we need to be healthy and build muscle from other foods, well, a dessert will sure help us hit our calorie goals.
Skinny guys trying to build muscle and gain weight are the last guys who should be restricting foods for no reason.
All this restrictive stuff is really more so for people trying to avoid foods that are easy to overeat. We’re trying to overeat, and we’re intentionally consuming a lot of calories. We’ve got a lot of room in our diets for the things that we love, even if they aren’t technically “clean” foods.
Our approach to nutrition is actually pretty wholesome and flexible. We don’t recommend obsessing over nutrition, we aren’t weird health nuts, we don’t avoid eating socially because it conflicts with our “diet”, and we place a high priority on loving life. We don’t do this because we don’t care about results—in fact our goal is to pack muscle onto you as quickly as humanly possible—we do this because this how you get results.
I’ve always found superfoods and supplements incredibly fascinating. I love reading about them. The problem is that they make it easy to forget the bigger picture. Can you build muscle and improve your health just as efficiently with a homemade hamburger as you can with chicken + broccoli. Absolutely.
What about an acai-bolic protein infused smoothie with timed release amino acids and a patent-protected muscle-building carbohydrate complex? (Hehe I love all these wild supplement ads.)
Consider this example. Lots of struggling ectomorphs are tempted to take the popular supplement branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) after hearing about its muscle-building properties. BCAAs are a low-calorie way of getting leucine, primarily, which is fantastic for building muscle. What’s another way to get BCAAs? Drinking milk, eating meat, or frying up some eggs. A decent sized steak would have 13-15g of BCAAs in it. That’s 2-3 scoops of fancy BCAA powder in every steak. And not only are these whole foods a better way for your body to absorb the BCAAs, they’re also packed full of other muscle-building and healthful nutrients—and they’re full of calories! Unless you’re on a very calorie restricted diet, which us ectomorphs aren’t, there’s no advantage to consuming extra BCAAs. (Unless you’re a vegan and don’t consume dairy, eggs or meat.)
The photo up above is of a steak cooked up with some onions and garlic, and served alongside a half-loaf of buttery bread and some broccoli. 950 calories. You could order something similar at a restaurant, or serve yourself up a dish like this at Thanksgiving. Pretty normal meal, pretty delicious. If you were trying to sell it in a supplement store you could say that the starches in the bread are reloading our muscle and liver glycogen stores, the fancy amino acids in the steak are causing some pretty fearsome protein synthesis, the broccoli is providing a vitamin boost and balancing out the acidity of the other nutrients, and the butter has monounsaturated fat and dietary cholesterol in it, which are great for testosterone production.
You can eat like a king, you just need to understand how to get results out of it.
Tips for ectomorphs looking to live healthy and build muscle:
- Eat a balanced diet that isn’t overly low or high in protein. Moderate protein intake stimulates the most muscle growth in ectomorphs.
- Eat plenty of carbohydrates, especially after training. Yams, brown rice, pasta, whole grain bread, potatoes, bananas. This is anabolic fuel for us ectomorphs.
- Eat irresponsibly large amounts of fruits and vegetables. Carrots, apples, pineapples, cherries, berries, oranges, sea cucumbers—whatever you want. All fruits and vegetables are healthy in their own way, and a variety is best. If your appetite or stomach are a limiting factor though, as they often are for us skinny dudes, you may find it helpful to stick to the ones that are high in calories though.
- Eat plenty of healthy fats. Nuts, butter, fish, coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, eggs, cheese, full fat yogurt.
- Don’t base your diet around processed foods, but don’t be scared of it either. It’s cool if your dessert has flour and sugar in it.
- Eat the right amount of food, but don’t stress about your schedule. In order to grow you need to eat enough, but don’t worry about how many meals it takes you.
- Supplements can help, but they’re a cherry on top of the cake, so treat them as such—put the bulk of your bulking focus on regular foods.
- Enjoy a drink now and then. It won’t do you any harm, and it may even help.
- If you enjoy eating superfoods don’t let me stop you! They do rock.
- Base your diet around your personal preferences and personal convictions. You can build muscle on a vegan diet. You can build muscle on a Paleo diet. You can build muscle in India, China, Greece, Mexico, etc.
- Eat foods that allow you to eat enough to build muscle. This may mean following the opposite advice that you see in most fitness magazines and on most blogs, since most of them are talking about foods that make it easier to lose weight.
Being smart about nutrition and learning how to naturally make healthy and enjoyable choices is a sure way to succeed. As ectomorphs this can sometimes take a bit more effort, as most health and diet strategies are targeted at people trying to lose weight. Being intelligent and aware when it comes to what you eat is key. Keep in mind that regular everyday manly foods are great for you too. They’re also cheaper and far easier to order in restaurants.
Flexible Dieting, by Armi Legge
We practice this approach to nutrition in our program, of course, and we’re all about using a wide variety of foods to build maximal amounts of muscle onto bony bod’s … but if you want to learn more about flexible dieting in particular (and it’s pretty fascinating!), our buddy from below the border, Armi Legge, has a great eBook on the topic. Check it out here.
(I got a chance to read and review Flexible Dieting before he released it, and you’ll see a glowing recommendation from me on his sales page. We aren’t affiliates or anything either.)
If you know someone with anxiety surrounding food, I’d say it’s a must-read.
Hope that helps! If you liked the article, give it a “like”!
Comments or questions? Drop ’em below. We read them all.