Muscle Up - The Primal Diet Mass Building Experiment: Weeks 3 and 4, "Counting Calories Doesn't Add Up"

I'm glad it didn't come to this.
After three weeks of heavy lifting, increased sleep, supplements (BCAA, whey protein, and glutamine) and binging on as much cheese, heavy cream, nuts, meat, cheese and green vegetables as I could stomach, I had gained an impressive (drum-roll please) three pounds.

Since I started my mass building experiment with the intention of actually building mass, three pounds, an amount of weight easily attributable to water weight fluctuations and other variables, is not exactly what I considered a success.

Fortunately, a natural experiment presented itself in that I was planning on a ten day vacation that would involve sufficient opportunities to engorge myself on not only high calorie, but high carbohydrate foods.  The carbohydrate variable is significant because for the previous three weeks I had dramatically increased my calorie consumption (see recipes such as Coco Cocoa Butter, Primal Chocolate Pudding, and Roast Beast for examples of my daily fare) and had experienced only a negligible increase in body weight.

I had suspected that my high-calorie, high-protein, high-fat, low-carbohydrate regiment might prove less than adequate for adding significant body weight, but wanted to try this approach anyway.  Old ideas die hard, and I needed to shake the latent indoctrination of "a calorie is a calorie".  Reading "Good Calories Bad Calories" by Gary Taubes was a start, case in point, this passage from the chapter called Unconventional Diets (pg. 339.)

"Accepting that high-calorie diets can lead to greater weight loss than semi-starvation diets requires overturning certain common assumptions. One is that a calorie is a calorie, which is typically said to be all we need to know about the relationship between eating and weight.  "calories are all alike," said the Harvard nutritionist Fred Stare, "whether they come from beef or bourbon, from sugar or starch, or from cheese and crackers.  Too many  calories are too many calories."  But if a calorie is a calorie, why is it that a diet restricted in carbohydrates __ eat cheese, but not crackers __ leads to weight loss, largely if not completely independent of calories?  If significant weight can be lost on all these carbohydrate-restricted diets, even when subjects eat twenty-seven hundred or more calories a day, how important can calories be to weight regulation?  Wouldn't this imply that the quantity of carbohydrates is at least a critical factor, in which case there must be something unique about these nutrients that affects weight but falls outside the context of energy content?  Isn't it possible, as Max Rubner suggested a century ago, that "the effect of specific nutritional substances upon the glands": might be a factor when it comes to weight regulation, and perhaps the more relevant one?"

Although specifically addressing weight loss, this passage illustrates how carbohydrate content, not calorie content, is the primary variable in determining whether or not a person will experience weight loss or weight gain.

It is possible, therefore, that the popular GOMAD (Gallon Of Milk A Day) method of weight gain derives much of it's benefit from the fact that a gallon of 2% milk supplies 192 grams of sugar (in the form of lactose) in addition to copious amounts of protein and fat.  Additionally, milk has been shown to have a even more pronounced effect on insulin levels than would be predicted by looking at it's value on the glycemic index alone.  Tim Ferris mentions this particular quality of dairy in a passage from his book "The 4-Hour Body" found in the chapter "The Slow-Carb Diet II" (pg. 83.)

"It's true that milk has a low glycemic index (GI) and a low glycemic load (GL).  For the latter, whole milk clocks in at an attractive 27.  Unfortunately, dairy products paradoxically have a high insulinemic response on the insulinemic index (II or InIn) scale.  Researchers from Lund University in Sweden have examined this surprising finding:

Despite low glycemic indexes of 15-30, all of the milk products produced high insulinemic indexes of 90-90, which were not significantly different from the insulinemic index of the reference bread (generally white bread)...Consclusions: Milk products appear insulinotropic as judged from 3-fold to 6-fold higher insulinemic indexes than expected from the corresponding glycemic indexes."

So, for 10 days, I continued my normal exercise routine (hotel fitness centers, parks, and bodyweight exercises proved more than adequate) but with the addition of one to two high carbohydrate meals per day.  It is also worth noting that during this 10 day period, I did not consume more total calories than I normally do.  I simply substituted a portion of what would normally be fat and protein for the carbohydrate foods. The carbohydrates came in the form of home-made brownies, ice-cream, Boba Tea, white bread, and beer.  The result?  One pound per day for a total gain of 10 pounds.

While I will most definitely NOT be continuing to eat bread, beer, and sugary foods, I will continue to experiment with adding starch in the form of potatoes and other vegetables to my standard dietary regiment to see if I can solidify these gains and continue to add muscle mass.

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About Tony Fed

Tony is the host of the Paleo Magazine Radio podcast, author of "Paleo Grilling: A Modern Caveman's Guide to Cooking with Fire", and Cofounder of Powerful PT, an innovative information resource for Fitness Professionals. He has appeared on numerous local and national television and radio broadcasts and regularly hosts healthy cooking workshops and informational lectures. He is also a full-time Personal Trainer and Wellness Consultant who lives in Jacksonville Florida with his wife Jamie.
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