In a conversation with a trainer at my gym (the Jack3d guy), I was reminded of Tim Ferris’ “4-Hour Body,” a book mostly about Ferris’ self-experimentation with things from ice baths to libido-enhancing supplement regimens. It’s a fun read because Ferris is a master at drawing you in, making you want to read the next page even if in your mind you’re calling “bullshit.”
I was reminded specifically of the “From Geek to Freak” chapter in which Ferris explains to the reader how he gained 34 pounds in 28 days. You can decide for yourself what you think about the validity of his claims, I don’t really care to go into that here. After all, this isn’t T-Nation.com and it doesn’t say “evidence-based hyooogeness” on our header. What I want to discuss is a little bit about how much protein you might need to eat to gain a few pounds of muscle.
Ferris talks about the Colorado Experiment, where Casey Viator gained something like 63 lbs of muscle in 28 days. On page 181, he comments “First, it is physiologically possible to synthesize enough protein to produce 63.21 pounds of lean mass in 28 days. This shows that one counterargument (“you’d have to eat 20,000 calories a day!”) is flawed. There are mechanisms involved that the simplistic caloric argument doesn’t account for.”
In a footnote, he explains that Casey would have had to eat 39,000 calories a day and relates that to a bunch of McDonalds Cheeseburgers. (I haven’t eaten yet today and that just made me hungry. I used to get those on $.49 Wednesdays in college)
I wish he explained the other mechanisms further, because I think this is something people who are concerned with their weight need to understand, whether they’re losing fat or gaining muscle or both. So let’s just shed a little light on this; this is by no means an exhaustive investigation into the subject.
You must understand that when you gain or lose weight, you gain or lose some real tissue and some fluid. For instance, when you gain five pounds of lean mass due to intense workouts and meticulous dietary adherence, you are not gaining 5 lbs of real muscle tissue. You’re gaining some muscle tissue and some water that gets stored inside the muscle tissue. In fact, a study by Campbell, et al. shows that in older men, a gain of 2 lbs of lean tissue was entirely due to an increase in water retention, and not at all to an increase in actual muscle tissue. So you can see that you don’t actually need to synthesize 5 lbs of muscle tissue to gain 5 lbs of lean mass because water is included in lean mass measurements.
Skeletal muscle contains about 4 times as much water as it contains proteins. (Houston) “This suggests that in order to increase the mass of skeletal muscle by 1 kg, there must be an increase in approximately 200 grams of skeletal muscle protein.” Casey gained 28.7 kg of lean tissue, or 28,700 grams. 80% of this, or 22,960 grams, would have been water weight which leaves 5,740 grams of proteins. Now that’s still a lot of extra protein to synthesize, but it’s at least a little easier to swallow (Get it, swallow? Because he had to eat so much? Huh? Get it?). This equates to an extra 22,960 calories over the 28-day period or 820 calories/day. Even if Casey was normally consuming 5,000 calories/day, this addition is a far cry from Ferris’ claimed counter-argument that you’d have to eat 20,000 calories/day.
So, what’s my point? My point is easily made by quoting a vegetarian friend of mine. “The body is, like, 90 percent water, or something.” The body is not 90 percent water, but the real number is above 50% and depends on how much lean tissue you’re carrying around. When you gain weight, you’re most likely gaining some water. When you lose weight, you’re most likely losing some water. Water weight fluctuations are going to happen for a variety of reasons and when they do they’ll cause little ups and downs in the long-term weight trend. But, real tissue gain or loss brought about by caloric surplus or deficit, will affect the chart the most, driving it in the direction your goals states it will go.
Campbell, W., Crim, M., Young, V. and Evans, W. Increased energy requirements and changes in body compositionwith resistance training in older adults. Am J Clin Nut. 1994; 60:167-175.
Houston ME. Gaining Weight: The Scientific Basis of Increasing Skeletal Muscle Mass. Can J Appl Physiol. 1999;24(4):305-316
Scoot-e-booger MS, Tippitoes JR. Nobody Ever Reads These. Unread J Appl BS. 2011;2(1):10000-20000.
Ferris, T. The 4-Hour Body: An uncommon guide to rapid fat-loss, incredible sex, and becoming superhuman. Crown Archetype. New York