How to Get BIG: My Journey to Adding 50 Pounds of Mass

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Let me cast my mind back to when I left University… At that point I was around 125lbs/56kg wet. That’s around 9 stone! How light is that?! Anyway I started work in the “real world” and eventually turned my thoughts to my general health… And how to get big!

It didn’t take long to realise all the years of drinking, smoking, eating rubbish food & partying had taken a pretty heavy toll on my general health – I started playing 5-a-side football and promptly was struggling to breath!

From playing football I knew I needed to change a few things:

  1. I needed to bulk out a bit so I was stronger on the ball
  2. I had to improve my aerobic fitness
  3. I needed to be better at football(!)

For this article I’m going to hone in on the first point – my process of bulking up in order to improve my game (and then how this flowed through to a passion for weight training.)

Here’s a shot of me before… Please ignore my [lack of] fashion sense..!

Ridiculously skinny - neck and arms in particular here!
Ridiculously skinny – neck and arms in particular here!

Let me show you how I added 50lbs and now weigh 175lbs @ 5’7″… (with plenty more to come)

Lean bulking or Dirty Bulking – lets separate the lies and reality!

So I have heard WAY too much banter around dirty bulking, clean bulking, lean mass, dense mass and all sorts…

The reality is:

  • If you are bulking you will gain lean weight and fat
  • If you are cutting you will lose fat and lean mass

Nothing you say or do can stop this from being true!

What we can do is skew the gains and losses to be heavily weighted towards our goal (for example gaining mainly muscle size and minimal fat).

We do this primarily through manipulating the blend of nutrients we eat eating enough protein, fat and carbohydrate to recover from our weight training & encourage muscle growth, but so much we gain a huge layer of fat.

Now as a serious athlete we should all be tracking our calorie intake… Are you?

If not then grab MyfitnessPal on your mobile phone (an app) and track what you eat – it’s a HUGE aid to achieving our weight & body composition goals being able to see our intake broken down into fat/protein/carbohydrates.

How you need to eat for size

What is absolutely paramount to getting big is eating… A lot!

Eat Big... Get Big... Prosper...
Eat Big… Get Big… Prosper…

Depending on your body composition you might take a number of options here to vary the rate we add mass at to try and keep it as lean as possible (i.e. avoid fat gain).

Those who are thinner like I was (traditionally known as ectomorphs online – not that these body styles are necessarily valid) can get away with a more aggressive weight gain regime. We can gain faster as we have low bodyfat anyway so a little fat won’t hurt our overall composition.

Those who are a bit fluffy to start with (who sometimes like to call themselves mesomorphs/endomorphs) will want to be more stringent on calories to avoid fat gain. We will focus on the skinny novice for now – coming back to the fluffy guys in a later blog post once I have a bit more data to share 🙂

I’ve been down both these paths going from 120lbs and around 13% bodyfat I was able to gain weight pretty aggressively, but these days I’m around 175lbs at somewhere about 19% bodyfat so I need to be careful to keep myself from looking chubby!

(That’s a lean body mass gain of 37lbs to save you calculating it…)

So if I could go back in time and give my young, very skinny self some advice… What would I say?

But First… My Results Are In!

So why should you listen to me? Well you saw my before… Now you can check my ACTUAL results over the past year:

My Weight Gain Results...
My Weight Gain Results…

As you can see I have piled up from 148lbs (just off the chart) to over 175lbs earlier this week. A pretty good gain I think you will agree?

You will see I did a “cut” at the start of the year… That’s a discussion for another day… 🙂

Macros for “Ectomorph” Bulking

We can be a little more aggressive bulking given our body composition at this stage – we can really throw ourselves into food and weights!

Our bodies need calories… And these calories are made up of 3 types of macronutrients – protein, fat and carbohydrate. We need protein to build & repair muscle tissue, fat to make sure our body absorbs vitamins & minerals and carbohydrates to provide energy to accomplish things.

How much of each do you need? Let me show you one was of estimating it:

  • Protein 0.82g per pound of bodyweight
  • Fat 0.45g per pound of bodyweight
  • Carbohydrate 3g per pound of bodyweight
  • Overall calories = 19cal per pound of bodyweight

This set up sits us nicely in a surplus – enough to encourage great size growth.

What you can eat to hit your macros...
What you can eat to hit your macros…

For a 120lb trainee this would mean an intake of:

  • Protein = 0.82 * 120 = 100g (100g * 4cals each = 400cals of protein)
  • Fat = 0.45 * 120 = 55g (55g of 9cals each = 495cals of fat)
  • Carbohydrate = 360g (360g of 4g each = 1,440cals of carbs)
  • Total calories = 2,335cals

For a transition diet this will be a shock to the system – you probably had a really carb heavy diet before so the move towards protein will be strange. Keep with it – protein is what repairs your muscles so is CRITICAL to growing muscle size.

We can go into more detail and explore the science of dieting to gain muscle – but if you’re like I was you will first want to get started and actually SEE some results before you get swamped into detail.

What Does IIFYM Mean and Why Should I Care?

IIFYM = If It Fits Your Macros

This is a diet theory which proposes that as long as you reach the protein and fat goals we set out above as a MINIMUM, you can split your remaining calories however you like…

For our 120lb lifter for instance could hit their calories using any of the following macronutrient profiles:

  • 100g Protein; 55g Fat; 360g Carbohydrate; 2,335 cals (recommended)
  • 120g Protein; 70g Fat; 305g Carbohydrate; 2,330 cals
  • 160g Protein; 70g Fat; 265g Carbohydrate; 2,330 cals

This gives you artistic licence to eat whatever you like, so long as you hit your protein and fat goals…


Having tried a bunch of diets before, this is the easiest way to break yourself into eating for size and it allows you to treat yourself as and when you see fit. Plenty of time for more complications in future…

Lifting Weights… Programming for Mass Gain

So we have covered eating… The diet is SO important for muscle gain that I can’t stress enough, please, please, please track your macros! You will be astonished at the results if you do.

Anyway – onto workout programming (the fun bit!)

If you want to slap on lean mass, how do you go about doing it in the gym? Well lets start with the most point:

The key to success in the weight room is consistency.

As long as you are not being totally ridiculous a consistent approach to working out will get you there. Some methods will take longer than others, and no route is perfect, but as long as you keep grinding away you WILL see gains!

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I’m lucky/unlucky enough to have tried a handful of different programs, so I can share with you what I found that works for me… I will stress that I was eating correctly when doing these!!!

Stronglifts 5×5: I loved this program when I first got serious about lifting. The format is a simple A/B rotating workout with heavy squats every day hitting the gym 3x a week. Keep this up, adding 2.5kg to each lift each time you successfully complete a workout day, until you can squat around bodyweight to 1.5x bodyweight for 5×5.

Starting Strength: This is my favourite way to pack on lean mass and increase lifts. Pick up from where Stronglifts left you, and with the reduced number of sets we will be able to keep packing weight on the bar. Quite similar to Stronglifts (or should that be, Stronglifts is similar to SS) it focuses on a 3x a week full body template with squats done every day.

The number of sets is reduced from 5x to 3x on the main lifts, and power cleans are now introduced. I also added the chin up as an accessory aimed at arm size doing 2 sets at the end of each workout. Everyone loves arm day…

How to get big: Stronglifts vs Starting Strength
Stronglifts vs Starting Strength Routine Format

Texas Method: Eventually linear progress on the above will be exhausted… Then we move onto phase 3 – Texas Method. This employs more advanced programming to vary intensity, volume and recovery in the routines. This is a bit too advanced for this article so we will skip over it for now…

So, To Conclude

Eat well, hitting the recommended protein (0.82g/lb of bodyweight) and fat (0.45g/lb of bodyweight) levels as a minimum. Eat around 19-20cals per lb of bodyweight total each day.

Lift weights consistently following a great beginner routine & recover between workouts… Focus on the core lifts – do not get distracted when you are just getting started!

Rest, recover and repeat.


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