Do people even know you lift weights? I'm not counting your wife or anyone else who sees you naked. I'm talking about the people who see you in hopefully normal-fitting clothes on a daily basis. Do your friends refer to you as "the big guy"? Does your mom? Do the guys at the gym call you by a nickname like "Mad Dog" or "Ape"? Do your girlfriends?

Or do people only know you work out because you wear a tank top in the winter, which exposes your vascular, tanned, 13-inch arms.

If you fall into the second group, what's the difference between you and the really big guys in the muscle magazines, besides about a hundred pounds of lean mass? What's that you say? That is the difference? Let me rephrase my question. What did these guys do differently to earn those hundred pounds?

Is it genetics? Some people are naturally more mesomorphic than others, but for every Vic Richards who was over 200 pounds before he ever picked up a weight, there's a Milos Sarcev who looked like a spaghetti noodle when he started out, but somehow got pretty damn big.

Is it training? With a few exceptions, the pros work out with dedication and intensity. But don't you give your workouts everything you've got? Chances are, if you're reading Testosterone, you're not pussy-footing around at the gym. Do they really train that much smarter than you? Not to question the IQ level of your average IFBB professional, but I doubt these guys are exactly Ian King's colleagues.

Supplements? Sure, they may help, but there are no magic bullets to beefdom.

Sure, steroids and physique-enhancement drugs play a huge role, but not everybody who sticks a needle in their ass gets a pro card. We've all seen some guys shoot up thirty pounds with a cycle or two, while other guys stay virtually unchanged.

All that's left is diet. Do you think those giants eat nothing but chicken and rice, even in the off-season? Well, that's what FLEX would have you believe. Sure, and magical catabolic elves that live inside your scale are holding the needle at 135.

Let me ask you a question. Have you gotten big by maintaining 7% body fat year round? Do you think the train ride from ripped at 160 to ripped at 225 involves whistle stops at ripped at 165, ripped at 170 and so forth? NO! It involves a big fat detour to the town of beefy 250 before we reach our final destination. Do you want to reach your final destination? Do you want to finally gain some freaking weight?

Okay, I'll dispense with the motivational talk. If you want to see a diet in T-mag that will get you big, keep reading. On the other hand, if you like spending a hundred bucks a month on supplements to maintain that buffed jogger look, check out MuscleMedia.com.

I'd recommend the following diet to hardgainers who have been training for at least six months. If you can't see more than one ab right now, no matter how intense the light is, this isn't for you. If your nickname is "Puffy" or "Hamhock," I wouldn't try it. If you have some sort of heart or cholesterol problem, you should know better.

Allow me to present the Pound O' Week Diet, abbreviated POW for those of you that look more like a prisoner of war. It's my version of the see-food diet (you know, see-food, eat-it). This diet has helped me to reach my current weight of 200 pounds at 5'6". I'm no colossus, but I started at 125 pounds five years ago. How many of you have increased your bodyweight by 75 pounds naturally? In fact, during one twenty-eight-week cycle, I took my bodyweight from 169 to 197 pounds. True, my body fat increased from 12 to 14%, but it was pretty easy to diet the fat off. I'd rather have to lose a few extra pounds of body fat than fret about being skinny all my life.

It's a little more complicated than taking a fork and cramming things into your piehole, but not much. I've developed a series of guidelines that will help you eat what you need to get big without getting so fat that you're flown over football stadiums. You won't need to spend all day in a kitchen or on the toilet. You won't need a private cook, or to quit your day job. You won't need to obsess all day about calorie counts and macronutrient ratios. I've listed some supplements and foods that should be in every gainer's cupboard. And, I've given four sample diets that work with a variety of lifestyles. I've done everything I could do besides strapping steaks to you to add "lean mass."

The Basics

Record Keeping

How many calories should you consume on this diet? There's only one way to determine this, and this is by what the scale is telling you. Everybody has a different metabolism, different lifestyle, etc. Why would I bother making a complicated equation and table for you to calculate your base metabolic state when the number might be inadequate? The same is true of protein. How much do you need? At least one gram per pound of bodyweight, but probably more.

Not scientific enough for you? I urge you to take an 8 1/2" by 11" sheet of paper and on one side write the following at the top: 5 Day Log. Underneath, make two columns: Calorie Intake and Protein Intake. Underneath, write, in large block letters "NOT ENOUGH" and "MORE." Keep this log with you and refer to it when planning your meals.

Keeping traditional records is pretty ineffective. First of all, any calculation of your daily calorie needs is going to be flawed and dependent on what activities you're doing that day. Second, it's hard to guess exactly how many calories are in each piece of food you eat. If you pack your lunch in Tupperware and eat the same things every day, you'll be fine, but what are you going to do when you go to dinner at your Aunt Tilly's house? Weigh the quiche and ask her how many grams of protein are in it? Are you going to keep tracking your food for 20 weeks? I don't know about you, but if I have a choice between obsessively logging what I eat and just shoveling it in, I'll choose the latter. Gaining weight is hard enough without turning it into a science project.
 

Timing of Calories

You should be eating every two or three hours throughout the day. This means at least six meals. This is the key to success. Maybe you're superhuman and can eat 6,000 calories in two meals. But that doesn't mean you'll be able to digest them.

Get this through your head. A big day at China Buffet is not going to get you huge. A big week at the China Buffet, a big month, having a booth named after you, now that's something.

Big meals are usually not a good idea. Why? Every Thanksgiving, I go to my parent's house for dinner. I get passed everything last and just finish it off. Even the cat stays a respectful distance away, fearing that in the cloud of smoke he might be mistaken for an appetizer. Three hours later, am I fixing myself a protein shake? No, I'm on the couch, too bloated to move, watching the Lions game. Despite a world-record meal, my total caloric intake on Thanksgiving and Christmas is probably a lot lower than usual.

People should not say "Gee, you can eat a lot." They should say, "Gee, you're always eating."

Should you eat before bed? Yes. Before training? Yes. After training? Yes and yes. A shake and a meal. Even a shake during training if you can. Breakfast? Of course. But not everyone is able to eat a giant breakfast upon rising. One trick is to take a shower first. I still find myself nauseated by food unless I have an hour or so to wake up. So if I have to go somewhere immediately, I'll just have a couple slices of buttered toast and some OJ. Two hours later I'll be ravenous for a high-protein, high-fat meal.

Many diet experts recommend that dieters not watch television or read while they eat because they'll eat more. Take some advice from the experts and if you're eating by yourself, get some reading done or watch Teletubbies; you'll find yourself consuming more without being bored by it.

Is the POW diet healthy?

Everybody knows that eating high-fat foods all day isn't healthy. Or do most studies correlate heart disease with being fat? Since most people who are fat eat too much fat, in many cases, the connection is just assumed. Where would the researchers find a population who ate tons of fat and yet were lean and muscular? Whether or not this kind of fat consumption is good for you is a moot point. Trying a diet like this for several months isn't going to kill you.

Twenty foods that should be staples of your diet, in no particular order.

Junk Foods and Fast Foods

As you can see by the above list, just about anything is allowed on the POW diet. However, a word of caution. The nutritional junk you eat should only follow the nutritious foods in your diet. If you fill up on soda and chips, you'll feel like crap. But don't worry about eating a few potato chips with your steak, veggies, potato and apple pie.

You may have also noticed that on this diet you pretty much do the opposite of what you were taught at Weight Watchers, with the exception of eating frequently throughout the day. Most diets don't allow you to eat fast food. On the POW diet, you must eat some fast food every day. I'm kidding, of course, but those 7000-calorie days are damn near impossible without becoming a regular at McDonalds, like Norm at Cheers.

Some items are, of course, better than others. Skip the fries. Some of these burger joints have a 99-cent menu that you can order from. Pick up four of their cheapest burgers and three of those half-pints of milk. At Taco Bell, try six soft tacos, beef or chicken or a bean burrito and a giant iced tea. The chicken and potato wedges at KFC have worked wonders for me. At a diner, enjoy some corned beef hash with your eggs. Remember to get your money's worth at restaurants by choosing high-protein items.

Water

You call yourself a bodybuilder? Where's your gallon jug of water? Don't they issue those with gym memberships? Water definitely has its place in the POW diet. Keep yourself hydrated. After a meal and during your workout are the best times to drink water. Of course most of the day qualifies as "after a meal," so you'll want to drink a lot of water. I find it aids my digestion. One thing to avoid is filling up on water right before you're supposed to eat. Fill your stomach with nutrients and protein instead. Drink water after the meal, jug boy!

Supplements

Over-Extending Yourself

Okay, you did it. You didn't listen and you became too enthusiastic. You practically doubled your calorie intake this week and now you feel like garbage. In fact, you just puked on my new shoes! What you had better do is take some time off. Don't eat for four hours. Take some ECA and do a little bit of cardio. Go to the mall and walk around. Now start again, slowly. Remember, small meals, don't fill yourself up, and include a little fat so that everything tastes good, but not so much that you get that "larded up to the gills" feeling.

Sample Diets

I try to eat the same things on non-training days. Note that these are advanced diets that are designed for someone who weighs about 200 pounds. If you weigh less than this, you'll probably require less food. Weigh more than 200, you'll need more. Many of these diets call for a large amount of milk. If this causes digestive problems, you'll need an alternative, like Lactaid.

The Professional – for someone who does actual work for a living

College Student – where the only real meals to be found are at a dining hall with limited hours

The Hardgainer – for the people like me

This is what I ate to gain those twenty-eight pounds. Do not attempt this at home unless you have a lightning-fast metabolism. Then again, this might be just what you need.

The Clean Eater Diet – for those who don't like eating fat, and have a decent appetite

This will show you how tough it will be to eat even reasonably clean.

Protein Shake Recipes

This system is a tried and true way of gaining muscular weight. Yes, you'll put on some fat weight. And don't worry. Your girl won't notice that two of your abs are missing. She'll be too impressed with the two inches you put on your arms. If you're skinny and ripped, give it a try. Maybe after the POW diet and a cutting phase, you'll qualify as medium-big and ripped instead of skinny and ripped.

What have you got to lose? Remember the movie "Coneheads" and start "consuming mass quantities."