Muscle Gain Mistake #4: Underfeeding

By

Vince Del Monte, WBFF Pro Fitness Model, Certified Fitness Trainer
and Nutritionist and author of No Nonsense Muscle
Building.

Aside from poorly designed workouts, not consuming enough calories (i.e underfeeding) is the number one dietary mistake I see skinny guys make who desire to gain muscle. I think it’s common knowledge that the only way to add a dramatic amount of muscle mass to your body is to consume sufficient calories and nutrients to support muscle growth. If you’re consuming enough calories and nutrients, your body will not be in an optimal muscle-building environment. In fact, if you fail to consume enough calories, you might get skinnier and smaller by losing muscle, despite your heroic weight training workouts.

Hang on now, I know what you’re thinking:

“But I eat so much — at least 5,000 calories a day — and I still don’t grow!”

Sure you do!

Why am I being sarcastic? Because if it was enough then the tale of the scale would prove otherwise! Your false perception of eating so much is inaccurate.  Just like overweight individuals tend to underestimate how much they consume, skinny guys tend to overestimate how much they are actually consuming over the course of a given day and week. In short, your problem is underfeeding. 

The Reality of an Underfeeder… 

Take a moment and think about how good your nutrition was this past month, I don’t care how good it was this past 7 days.  Lets examine your nutrition intake with a satellite lenses for a moment, not a zoom lenses. Did you follow your meal plan 30% of the time? 60% of the time? 90% of the time? It’s amazing how skinny guys will fool themselves into thinking they are “eating so much food” because of that crazy high-calorie buffet last Sunday but easily forget they ate nothing else for the rest of the day because they were so full.   Sure, you’re great at putting back a few huge-ass meals through the course of the week but what is happening the rest of the time?  

Gaining Muscle Is An Outcome-Based Pursuit 

This is a key lesson you must grasp. It means that you must alter your current setting (i.e increase your calories), measure the outcome of the alternation, and use the outcome to determine if changes are necessary. Just following a “5,000 calorie meal plan” is what dummies do. Following a program beyond it’s effectiveness is also dumb too. I suggest a different approach.

Are you eating more than you ever have in your entire life and still not growing? Eat more! Think you’re eating more than you need but still not growing? Eat even more, again!

Let’s say you want to learn a new language and the language course you bought said you only need to practice one hour a day. However, you are not grasping the language. Would you continue to only practice one hour a day because the course said so? Heck no, you would practice 2 hours a day or maybe even 3 hours a day. You wouldn’t stop practising until you learn that darn language!

Use this same practice in your nutrition. Becoming self aware of the reality of the situation is half the battle. If you’re in fact consuming 3,500 calories a day and not growing then it’s time to go to 3,750 and if that doesn’t work 4,000 calories. Your success is directly related to knowing exactly how much you need to grow.

In my book, No Nonsense Muscle Building, I provide a calorie calculator that dictates exactly how many calories you should be consuming based on your level of leanness and activity level. It’s a great starting point and then you can make alternations based on what happens.

Use the K.I.S.S. Principle 

Keep It Simple Skinny!  

It boggles my mind at how complicated skinny guys make gaining weight. If you’re less than 10% bodyfat than you have zero business inquiring about these dietary strategies to build muscle:

  • Lower calorie days on non-training days
  • Higher calorie days on training days
  • Carb cycling
  • Intermittent fasting
  • One large meal after the workouts

What’s The Problem With These Methods?

These are nutritional strategies more appropriate for fat loss — not muscle building! Sure, they’ll help you experience a cleaner bulk — by the year 2030!

I teach my skinny guys to bulk up without losing their four pack. That’s the benchmark you strive for. For most guys this works out to overshooting their goal ripped look by anywhere from 10-25 pounds. Lets say you’re 150 pounds and want to be a shredded 175 pounds, you could bulk up to 185 pounds and then you would focus on cutting the 10 lbs of excess fat to reveal a shredded 175 lbs with 25 more pounds of muscle!

The Simplest Muscle Gain Diet Ever...

When I gained 41 pounds of muscle in a record-breaking 24 weeks I followed the simplest eating system in the world – I ate balanced!  You can follow the same style meal plans I used by picking up a copy of No Nonsense Muscle Building.  Every single meal utilized proteins, low-glycemic carbohydrates and essential fats. I consumed a big breakfast, a big lunch and a big dinner and I consumed two or three high-calorie nutrient dense shakes with an elite protein powder in between those meals.

In all honestly, it was the easiest 41 pounds of muscle I’ve ever gained.  I ate the same every single day whether I trained or didn’t train. I pre cooked my meals when I traveled. I trained hard and earned my calories. Ten years ago, I don’t even think the word “organic” existed so I just ate the same foods you can find in your local grocery store. If I was full or didn’t have an appetite, I forced my meals down. No excuses. No crying. No whining.  I was 100% committed to my goals.  My metabolism and genetics didn’t stand a chance. I smacked them both in the face.

If you haven’t had a dramatic skinny-to-muscular transformation like I did, I recommend you put to rest all the fancy nutrition strategies and stick to the basics – eat balanced every single meal and every single day.  Once you master this habit, I have plenty of advanced muscle building programs to introduce the concepts of food combining and nutrient timing, next.

50 Comments & I’ll Post Muscle Gain Mistake #5! 

What is the hardest part about consuming all your goal calories? Were you an underfeeder? How did you fix it?  Share your comments and questions below!

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Muscle Gain Mistake #4: Underfeeding, 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating

Comments

39 thoughts on “Muscle Gain Mistake #4: Underfeeding

  1. Hi What I know you are advising taking cold shower? I was taking it for about 10 years I look very young thanks to it but it’s not good for gain weight -hot shower stimulate growth hormone cold allowing faster regeneration, but GH is most important IMO, what u think about it?

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  2. I’m 28 and an ectomorph, Been skinny all my life. Vince you’re an inspiration to me. I got into weight training when I was 23 when I was a puny 135 lbs. It was then and there I wanted to build up my body/transform it. I ate HORRIBLE then, I never once counted my calories during that time now I’m addicted to counting my calories every single day. Since then I’ve gained 20 lbs of muscle, it was hard work but the gains were so freakin slow but I stayed consistant and never gave up. I wanna get up to 200 lbs since I’m about 6’2. Right now I only notice I grow on close to 4000 calories a day. Oh Vince I’m also following that 21 day mass building by Lee Hayward. Did you hate the low calorie week on that like I did? Thank for your blogs man, its better then the info from thsoe so called youtube fitness trainers who give bullshit info. I trust yours 100% bro because you got the results to prove it.

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  3. Good article Vince!

    My 3 biggest problems are not being hungry enough due to the meds I take, and being lazy with eating/cooking enough (which, as it turns out, is quite expensive!) And finally, being a picky eater (trying to get better about that and try more foods). These together are killing me! I wanna make sure I can take in enough calories before I start the Upside-down training. I’ll have to take another look at your meal plans and maybe start adding in a shake or 3 a day. Lol.
    Any other tips?

    Jeremy
    Tempe, AZ

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    • Some of you people are too full of excuses- take responsibility and make the changes needed. Get off the drugs (aka “meds”)! Cut the soft drinks. Get a blood test done to id any nutritional deficiencies or hormonal imbalances. Eat 5+ whole food meals a day and limit the liquid meals (protein shakes).

      One trick to help you get in your meals is to eat a lot of fibrous vegetables and take additional fiber. Also most people need additional digestive enzymes and betaine hcl to aid in digestion.

      Best of luck and set your goals high!

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  4. Sorry but that is complete bulls*it..it’s not possible to gain 41 in 5 months unless you are dosing crazy on AAS and even then I can’t see it happening and yes I am taking into consideration that at the beginning of weight training you see rapid results.

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    • …apart from that I agree with everything else you had to say..

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    • I gained, on average, less than 7 pounds a month. Normal rate of gains is about 4 pounds a month. Keep in mind I did this as a newbie, with excellent coaching, dedication, I re hauled my eating habits and went from running 60+ miles a week to no running. If you step back for a moment and see all the pieces that were aligned, it becomes easier to understand how I changed so dramatically. My results are not the norm, but certainly not impossible. Thanks for stopping by.

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  5. My only problem is I’m 5’5 at 146 and just have stubborn belly fat and I’m not an ectomorph nor quite endomorph either, I don’t know what I am. I just know 2700 calories make me loose weight. I got up to 151 in about 6 weeks and went back to 146.

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  6. Yoo vince thanx once again for inspiring me to achieve my goals. Great advice, and greetings from Bolivia, south america!

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  7. Are the three shakes you mentioned just straight whey? Should we mix it up with full fat milk for the calories? Would an olive oil “chaser” add suitable good fats and calories?

    I’m just thinking on my feet whilst I’m working on my appetite!

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  8. Hey vince , i just wanted to ask can u get big without any protein shakes at all,, I am allergic to whey protein supplements and on 2 occasions have had very nasty reaction to them so i just wanted to know can it be done without taking any, thanks Steve

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    • hey Steve,

      Why not try egg protein drinks or something else? There are many different types of powders out there that you can try. Some are even all raw ingredients and dairy, soy, and gluten free. They even taste good. Do some browsing and check out a few.

      It just might be tough eating so many calories all in food. Ive done it and its tough.

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  9. I like how you equate under eating perception to how overweight people underestimate calories consumed.

    It’s important to mention type of food to eat. I stick to whole foods as much as possible. I’m not a fanatic, but stick to it quite well. It takes a lot of eating, but at the end of the day, you’ll get a much bigger bang for your buck.

    Take cereal for instance. The stuff in boxes is a waste. It’s loaded with sugar and other garbage. Instead, make your own muesli with oats, a grain blend, dried fruit and nuts. Simple, inexpensive and loaded with fuel.

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  10. Already own No Nonsense Muscle Building. I love the ebook and the tools provided! If only I could keep up on my eating… but I have made substantial gains in a short amount of time (compared to the years I’ve worked out without calorie counting) when I do push myself to maintain the 4500 calories I need.

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  11. wow this was truly amazing! This is exactly the problem i am having! i overcomplicate things!

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  12. It is so freaking hard to eat enough!!! I eat all day long, and really really struggle still. It makes it worse when you eat too much in the evening, and aren’t hungry in the mornings cause of it. Thanks for the article!

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  13. Hi one of the biggest problems that i have is inconsistency as i will eat sufficient calories and then will not eat very good the next day and this means me from achieving weight gain. Thanks for your article it was very informative.

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  14. This was a real eye opener. I’m definitely guilty of overcomplicating things.

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  15. I am at this stage in my training now. . . I am definetely under feeding. . . Will definetely start eating more. . . I do get a feeling that i am eating a lot. . . But i need to uppp my calories. . . Thanks for the advice. . . . . Lee. . .

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  16. Excellent article(as usual). Listen, if you’re lucky enough to have trouble gaining muscle that means that you can eat tons of food without gaining a lot of fat. Ever thought of it that way? For guys like me with slower metabolism, sure, we can put on mass easier, but we have to eat super-clean to stay lean. Like Vince says, keep it simple: three meals a day that emphasize quality protein, essential fats, and low-glycemic carbs. Take a protein supplement before and after training and before bed. Joel and Josh’s BioTrust is a bold and exciting endeavor. However, it too expensive for most of us. I recommend Syntrax Matrix at under $30 for 30 servings. For more info on building muscle with ease, check out my site http://www.slackermuscle.com.

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  17. I have problems eating eggs and meats.I eat one or the other once daily only.
    And the protein powder you mentioned is extremely expensive,$50. for 14 portions.
    On the other hand,I like the training,very well done

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  18. Wow the beast christian thibadeu in the forum.

    Good Work Vince.

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  19. I fall into the trap of not eating as much on non-workout days. I think, eh, its okay if I dont reach my calorie goal today, because I’m not training. Gotta get out of that mindset. Thanks for the reminder!

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  20. Any advice for the non-skinny people? The people who have always had to watch every microgram of food they put in their mouth or they will gain weight. I wish I had the problem of underfeeding!

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  21. Damn you for hitting the nail of truth right on the head. Yep, what you described is exactly what this skinny guy has been doing for way too long. Time to “smack in the face” my lousy commitment on this. Thanks once again. And keep the tough comments coming. They are working for me.

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  22. Iam 47 and weigh around 195 at 5’10” and 12 % bodyfat. Have been through several bulking cycles since I first started training seriously at age 31. I was under 130lbs when started. In one month I gained 35 lbs mostly mucsle. I was eating 3-4 regular large meals with lots of carbs, protein and fats plus 3-4 large weight gainer shakes mixed with yougurt for extra calories. At one point I was eating or drinking a shake every one and half hours. Over the years my weight increased by maybe 8-10 lbs but each time I complete a bulking cycle my muscle to fat ratio improves and continues to improve. My arms went from 13.5 to 16.5 inches, neck from 14.5 to 17, chest from 38 to 47, thighs 26. My goal at 50 is 8% bodyfat and a 200 lbs bodyweight. Lot of supplements but never any steroids.

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    • Cool story, bro.

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    • Hey, that is nice, I’am 48 now and I want to add some weight too. Can you tell me which brand of weight gainer are you taking?

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  23. i have a roommate who is also a ripped bodybuilder at 240 pounds and yet he complains about how much I eat when I’m only 160 lbs. While thats annoying I still persist at eating, but it’s still really hard to make a ‘dramatic’ transformation. Anyway, I think it is also important to mention that overeating with only proteins can cause u to lose calcium and bone density. Veggies are very important

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  24. isso mesmo cara! valeo

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  25. Vince how much fat is too much when highcarb each meal? I’ve heard 13,15,20 grams from multiple sources. Do I need to cut out simple census like bananas later in day?

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  26. It’s amazing how the simplest thing about gaining weight can be so difficult…

    Thanks for the reminder, Vince.

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  27. Christian Thibadeau August 29, 2012 at 5:13 am - Reply

    It really is all about getting in all your macros.

    1)Overall Caloric Intake will dictate anabolism / metabolism benefits

    2)Eating multiple meals a day for a relatively “skinny” trainee isn’t optimal and is missing out on the anabolic effects of a intermittent fasting or a back load eating protocol

    3)Get in your daily macro’s period. No excuses.

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    • Hey Christian!

      Is this the one and only Christian Thibadeau from T-Nation ?

      Thanks for stopping by big man and keep up the inspiring work!

      Vince

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  28. It’s all about the macros.

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