by Matt Reynolds
“You have to eat your way through the sticking points” – Hugh Cassidy
This is not an article on how to look good. It’s not really an article on how to be healthy either. It’s an article on how to get big and strong. I couldn’t care less if you look like a bodybuilder or a Hollister model or anything in between. I don’t care if you have abs. I don’t care what your cholesterol numbers are. What I do care about is that you’re weak. And since this is an educational website and a culture focused around getting strong, then you should care too. So let’s talk about how to eat to get strong, because strength matters. (And for those of you who still care about the way you look, 260 pounds and strong with a little extra body fat looks better to almost everyone than 160 pounds and weak anyway).
Eating to get big isn’t easy. I know. I graduated high school in 1997 at 6’1” and 155 pounds. I got married in 2000 at 170 pounds. In 2001 I competed in my first powerlifting meet in the 242-pound class, a bodyweight gain of 70 pounds in a year. Since then, I’ve competed in the 242 class, 275s, and the 308s. So I figured something out along the way about how to eat to get big and strong. I was also blessed in my journey to train with some absolute monsters of both strength and size. Here’s what many of us did along the way to add copious amounts of body-weight in order to push our PRs up – not by 5 or 10 pounds, but by hundreds and hundreds of pounds.
Last year we had a bunch of the guys at my gym preparing to compete in the same powerlifting meet. Even though there wasn’t a team competition, we still thought it would be cool to win every weight class from the 181s on up to Superheavyweights. Myself, and one other lifter (Justin Winder – pro powerlifter) were planning on competing in the 275-pound weight class when my 308 lifter (Jon Gold) herniated a disc in his back on his final heavy deadlift of the cycle. He ended up being able to bench only at the meet, so 10 days out from the meet I asked Winder if he wanted to move up to the 308s, or if he wanted me to. We both got on the scale – Winder was 274. I was 277. So I decided to move up to try and win the 308s. For 10 days I ate everything in sight. I ate McDonald’s at least twice a day where my typical meal consisted of 2 double cheeseburgers, a McChicken sandwich with mayo, large fries, a 42oz soda, a 42oz Powerade, and 2 apple pies. 10 days later at the weigh-in I tipped the scale at 304. That’s 27 pounds gained in 10 days. Guess what happened at the meet? I PRd my bench press by THIRTY pounds. My 3rd attempt, 450 pounds, shot straight to lockout and I ended up leaving at least 25 pounds on the platform that day. All because I pushed my weight up 27 pounds before the meet.
In order to get from 175 to 250 pounds in one year I ate so many crazy things, it’s almost embarrassing to mention them. I did all the normal stuff: eating 6 meals a day, drinking a gallon of whole milk a day, drinking lots of protein shakes (actually I’ve drunk a gallon of milk a day for 8 of the past 11 years now). But I did a lot of unconventional stuff too. I’d eat a large beef pizza dipped in olive oil. I’d pour oil in my protein shakes. I’d eat double cheeseburgers and eggs and peanut butter and cans of cashews like I was a starving Somali child. I’d try to get thrown out of all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets 2-3 times per week. I’d eat until I felt sick. Then I’d eat Fruity Pebbles or other cereal because no matter how full I was, it always seemed I could get down a big bowl of cereal. As soon as I felt like I wasn’t going to be sick, I’d eat again.
There is no doubt – at all – that eating this way is much, much harder than dieting. I have also dieted down from 280 pounds to 231 pounds to win my lightweight pro card in Strongman. I just cut my carbs out, except around training. That was a piece of cake compared to eating all day long to gain weight.
Speaking of cake, one of my training partners from the early 2000s, Kyle Gulledge (275-pound lifter, who deadlifted over 800 pounds as a teenager, and deadlifted 830 pounds both conventional and sumo in the same calendar year) once ate a 9"x13” pan of cake EVERY DAY for a month, from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Kyle had a meet in early February. On Thanksgiving weekend our training crew got together in Kansas City for one of our epic training days. At 265, Kyle looked a little leaner and smaller than the last time I had seen him. He worked up that day on the bench press to a slow 545 pounds (in an old time bench shirt). He then called for 600, a weight he had done several times before. I could tell he wasn’t going to get it, and sure enough, it stapled him. Kyle had this type of intense focus like no one I had ever seen in the gym, and missing the weight made him irate. He swore off losing weight and getting lean, and on the way home he invented “the cake-a-day diet.” Every day that month he ate either a 9"x13” cake or a pan of brownies equal in size, along with a gallon of milk. In that month he went from 265 pounds to 295. And at the meet a month later he benched 630 with ease.