I currently work with a handful of athletes, ranging from high school to college to professional.
And coincidentally (or not), they’re all trying to pack on some more muscle mass.
They all also happen to be ectomorphs, or hardgainers, and just can’t seem to move the scale in the right direction.
Of course they know the solution:
Eat more. Eat a lot more.
Like it’s their job.
One of the pros I consult with told me his team nutritionist has him on the “Eat Everything” diet.
I thought to myself: Yes, but are you on the “Absorb Everything” diet?
All of them understand they need to get as much quantity as possible, but seem to have little regard for quality. Pasta, wheat bread, cookies, etc. are a regular part of each of their diets. And while those foods are calorically dense, they are nutritionally sparse and contain potent inflammatory agents.
Yep, they have the G-word … gluten.
Whether or not you have a life-threatening allergy to gluten, it is arguably the most inflammatory food we could ingest. Even if you don’t feel any reaction from it, it still has potential to create inflammation within every tissue in your body, including your brain.
Gliadin, one of the proteins in gluten, can cross the blood-brain barrier and cause inflammation in your brain (which you can’t feel because we don’t have pain receptors in the brain). This can easily manifest as diminished focus, coordination, function, and reaction time. Sound like things you want as a competitive athlete?
But getting back to how this affects mass building …
One of the hardest hit victims of gluten is your gut – specifically the part that absorbs the nutrients from food. Inflammation erodes your microvilli and damages the integrity of your enterocytes. In less “sciencey” terms, as food passes through the small intestine, there’s less chance the nutrients will get picked up and absorbed.
It’s like playing Hungry Hungry Hippos without the hippos.
Also factor in that any source of inflammation is a stress on the body, which creates a catabolic (breaking down) environment in order to address the issue and maintain life support.
So let’s do the math on that:
You need more food to gain mass.
Inflammatory food hurts your chances of absorbing the food you eat.
You’re potentially left with a net caloric deficit because you didn’t get the food you ate, PLUS the catabolic stress of what you ingested has leached nutrients from your own body.
You’re already genetically a hard gainer, and you’re stacking the deck AGAINST you? Seems unwise.
Eat a lot more.
Eat a lot more of the right things.
At the very least, keep your diet gluten-free. There’s gluten-free everything available now. From bread to pasta to pancakes.
And hey, need a tip for something healthy and calorically dense? Olive oil. For an extra 500 calories, just add 4 tablespoons of olive oil to your day.
There’s tons of ways to get just ridiculous amounts of calories in your diet without incorporating inflammatory foods. And that way, you’ll actually absorb what you eat, build some muscle, and give genetics a roundhouse kick to the face.