Bill Starr, Gaining Weight The Natural Way (1993 article)


It was the first really warm day of spring. The trees and shrubs displayed tiny buds, but the insects and crawling creatures were not yet out in force and, best of all, the poison ivy was still dormant. It was the ideal time to hike through the woodlands of the Susquehanna State Park. I tracked down the source of a small stream, watched a six-foot blacksnake slither up the limbs of a sapling in order to do some serious sunbathing, and observed a dozen adventuresome canoeists guide their crafts over the white water of Deer Creek.

Now I was idly driving around, looking for something else to capture my interest when I saw a number of cars pulled off the side of the road and a group of people clustered near a wooden fence, all with binoculars or camera in hand. I knew the resident American bald eagle must be showing himself, so I pulled in behind the 1st car, grabbed my binoculars and joined the bird watchers. Poppa eagle was standing guard over the huge nest, which I knew was called an eyrie. The eyrie was located at the top of a tall tree in a pasture, and I guessed it to be ten feet wide and almost that tall. Mama eagle’s head could be seen inside the nest. I reasoned aloud that she was most likely sitting on some eggs, and the lady closest to me agreed, adding that bald eagles usually lay two or three eggs and both birds take turns warming them for 34 to 35 days.

Thanking her for the information. I asked how soon the young tykes could fly, for I wanted to be around when this happened. “After 10 to 13 weeks the young birds are ready to fly,” she replied cordially.

“Great,” I mumbled., fixing my binoculars on the magnificent bird, thinking that for once I was happy that Ben Franklin hadn’t gotten his way. He had promoted the wild turkey as the national bird. The bald eagle is a more fitting symbol in my opinion.

I heard a car door slam and presently someone moved in close beside me. When I put down my binoculars to see who it was, I recognized an old training mate, Mike. Grinning at me, he offered “I didn’t know you were into bird watching.”

“Wow! he uttered softly, “He’s huge. the farmers around here had better start putting their chickens inside. Their small calves too.” I laughed, “You’re right.” Returning my binoculars, he said, “Glad I spotted you. I tried to call you a couple of times last week, but you were either at school or off training or running.”

“I’m not home much. What’s up?”

“Well, you remember I work with a bunch of kids in my garage gym. Last week Jimmy found out he got a full ride to James Madison — for football and maybe track. The football coach wants him to put on twenty pounds before he reports for summer practice, so I thought I’d get some advice from you on how he could do it.”

“Tell him to eat a lot.”

“Now why didn’t I think of that?” he responded sarcastically. “And the coach said he wants the weight to be muscle, not fat.”

“Let me guess. He also wants him to increase his strength by 200 to 300 percent and cut his time in the forty by two seconds.”

“Yeah, something like that. So? Can he do it? naturally I mean? Steroids are completely of the the question. If his folks didn’t kill him I most certainly would.”

“I agree. Steroids are dead-end street. Even if they didn’t harm him physically, the way the NCAA is starting to test for them, he could easily wreck not only his athletic career, but the rest of his life. He can put on functional bodyweight without them if he’s disciplined enough to follow a very regimented routine.”

“He’ll do whatever I tell him. The coach says he a has a very good chance to start his freshman year.”

“I hope you’re right because in truth it’s much more difficult to gain functional bodyweight than it is to lose it. When someone is trying to lose weight, all he really has to do is skip a few meals, avoid certain foods and increase activity levels. This does take some willpower, but little else .anyone trying to gain weight must have food with virtually all day, and this takes planning and a great deal of discipline because if he skips the routine even for one day, he’ll lose weight. Add in the fact that he’s at that age where gaining is especially difficult, plus the additional problem to trying to gain with the summer coming up, and you can see what he’s up against. What sort of work will he be doing this summer?”

“He’ll be working with his father at their hardware store — some physical work, moving stuff around — but he’ll be indoors in an air-conditioned building. But,.” he added quickly, “I have two other kids, high schoolers, mainly interested in bodybuilding, who also want to gain some weight this summer, and they’re going to be working outside mowing lawns.”

“They’ll have a few different needs than Jimmy because of the heat and humidity. Remind me about them in case I forget. It’s a bit easier for someone to gain weight if he works in a situation where he can get to food whenever he wants to or works at a job where he can eat whenever he likes. There are some situations where a person can’t eat whenever he chooses, like summer students during classes. The ideal situation is to have a refrigerator and and maybe even to have or hotplate to cook food. If a person has to carry everything he’s going to eat, more planning is required.”

“As I said, the boys will do what I tell them. If they have to take a cooler filled with food with the, they’ll do it.”

“That’s what they’re gong to have to do, for I wasn’t kidding earlier when I said they’re going to have to eat a lot. Lots of small meals are better than a few big ones. The body can assimilate smaller amounts of food much easier than large ones.”

“Are you talking protein?”

“Protein and carbohydrates. Protein is necessary to help them build and rebuild muscles, but the carbs are essential for energy, mental as well as physical.”

“I always thought increasing protein intake was the trick to gaining useful bodyweight.”

“Protein is very important,” I said assertively, “but, like everything in nature, it has to be keep in balance. A diet which is disproportionately high in protein will throw the body out of balance. One negative that happens when a person eats too much protein without sufficient carbohydrates is that his body begins excreting the excess protein in his urine. What makes this so harmful is the fact that calcium is also excreted in this process.”

“I see. So what’s the ratio of protein to carbs that is healthy?”

“Authorities state that no more than 15 percent of the diet should be in the form of protein, but I think this is a bit too low for hard-training athletes. I thing the best ratio is 20 percent protein and 60 percent carbohydrates, which leaves the remaining 20 percent for fats.”

“I thought fats were taboo.”

“No, certain forms of fat are essential. Fats promote healthy skin, hair, nails, nerves, brain cells, hormones for the adrenal cortex, sex glands and must be available to provide valuable bacteria in the intestinal tract. Ad there’ really no way to avoid some fat in any diet unless a person sits at home and regulates absolutely every calorie he eats. But this isn’t how real people live. Real people go out and party with friends every so often. There’s nothing wrong with the boys having pizza or burger, but you should caution them against eating too much fatty foods. For example, encourage them to soft boil, hard boil or poach their eggs rather than fry them. Have grilled burgers whenever possible rather that fried ones, and skip some of those greasy items at fast-food joints, like the french fries. They will easily obtain their fat requirements from the protein foods they eat so they don’t have to be concerned about getting enough. Their main focus should be on getting enough protein and carbohydrates.”

The sun dropped behind some clouds and a chilly breeze swept over us. “I’ve got a thermos of coffee in my car,” Mike offered. “You can watch your bird from there.”

The coffee tasted great, and after Mike found my favorite tape of Patsy Cline and plugged it into his tape deck, he asked, “When you say carbs, are you talking whole grain breads and cereals?”

I nodded “And fruits and vegetables. Fruits are especially useful, for they are easy to carry anywhere and won’t spoil. YOu can eat three of four bananas a day easily. Veggies should be eaten raw, juiced or steamed. Sandwiches are good. A couple made from chicken breast with lettuce on whole wheat bread contain all the needed ingredients. Throw in a couple of hard-boiled eggs and some milk and you have a nice meal.”

“You’re big on eggs, aren’t you?”

“I am. I think eggs are absolutely great for anyone trying to put on pounds. They are not at all expensive, can be easily prepared and, like fruits, can be carried and eaten all day. Before the days of the convenient amino acid tablets, may top bodybuilders maintained their positive nitrogen balance by eating lots and lots of hard-boiled eggs throughout the day. Some would eat as many as three dozen a day.”

“What about cholesterol? Wouldn’t eating so many eggs raise their cholesterol levels?”

“Cholesterol is in the doghouse again. It seems to go in the dumper every twenty years or so. That same thing happed in the early seventies. Then authorities came back in the eighties and admitted that the body needs choler sterol. Briefly, there’s a good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. Amino fat is an example of the bad kind while the cholesterol found in eggs is the good kind.”

“Alright. For breakfast, he eats three poached eggs with some toast, a bowl of cereal with a banana and milk.” He looked over at me and I nodded in agreement, trying to hear the words to ‘Crazy’, “A couple of hard-boiled eggs, a piece of fruit and more milk mid-morning. For lunch a couple of sandwiches, fruits, more eggs and milk,. Mid-afternoon, more fruit, eggs and milk.”

“If he plans o training around four-thirty or five that would be perfect. The eggs and milk will help him maintain a positive nitrogen balance throughout the day, and the fruit and bread will ensure him of having plenty of energy. I would caution him from eating too much too close to training time, however. Some people can get away with this, but most can’t because the the digestive system takes priority over the muscular system except in times of stress. I need at least two hours, and three is even better.”

“He trains; then how soon after that should he eat again?”

“As soon as possible. This really the most critical time for anyone wanting to grow, for the exercise has depleted the body of both protein and carbs. Those of us who lifted at the York Barbell Gym in the late sixties picked this little lesson up form the European Olympic lifters. They found that it they supplied their bodies with a meal containing carbohydrates and protein within twenty minutes after a training session, they recovered much faster than if they waited for a longer period of time. At York, following our noon training, we would shower and go directly to the dairy bar and drink a protein milks hate. About an hour later we would eat our lunches, usually a sandwich and some fruit. This enabled us to recover sufficiently so that we were able to come back at four and train again.”

“What was in the milkshake?”

“Protein powder, yogurt, milk and ice cream. I still use the same formula although I substitute dried milk, solids for commercial protein because it’s more economical. I don’t’ use them to gain weight, but they really do help my recovery.”

“Which reminds me –Jimmy has been asking me about ordering some of those products advertised in the magazines. What’s your opinion of Hot Stuff, Cybergenics, Weight Gain or aminos? Do they work?

“I think they work, mostly because if a person invests some money in a product he is more prone to use it than he might over something ordinary like extra eggs or fruit. Certainly if anyone takes any of those regularly he is going to be getting extra protein and carbs. The bottom line is really economics. If a person can afford these products, by all means use them. Not all of them work for everyone though. I’ve had some of my athletes take Hot Stuff and put on twenty pounds while others contended that it did absolutely nothing for them.

“I’ve also found that many individuals or parents will spring for the first can of something they see advertised, but are much more reluctant to lay out money for the second can. That’s why I always tell them about dried milk. While a can of protein powder will run anywhere from twenty to thirty bucks, a four-pound box of dried milk will be about five dollars.”
I think he can afford to buy whatever he needs, but I’ll be sure to tell all the boys about the dried milk idea. A protein milk shake as soon as he gets home following training. Or better yet. I’ll make them right here. One of them enough?”

“Actually, the more the better. Two minimum. One after training and another just before going to bed. This is another trick to gaining weight — eating before bedtime. A protein milkshake with a sandwich will help him pack on the weight.”

“It does take a lot of time, doesn’t it?”

:”It really does and it has to be done religiously. One of the things that anyone who is trying to gain weight learns quickly is that he can’t skip the routine even for one day. This requires a great deal of discipline and also planning because if the fruit, eggs, milk, yogurt, and protein powder run out, the game is over. The ones who have been successful make absolutely sure that they have enough supplies on hand to last a full week.”

“I’ll help them with that. Do they need to be taking any vitamins?”

“With all the food they’ll be eating they should be getting most of what they need, but I would recommend they take a B-complex vitamin just to be on the safe side. The Bs help to assimilate and utilize the foods they eat and if there isn’t a sufficient supply available in their systems then the extra calories they ingest are passed off. A B-complex tablet at breakfast and lunch should do the trick, and I would also add 50 mg. of vitamin B6, for it has a very special function of helping to metabolize protein, For the boys who will be working outside, add in some multiple mineral tablets plus some vitamin C, for these are lost in the sweat and urine.’

“Should they modify their training?”

“How long are they training now?”

“Two and a half hours, three times a week,” he replied.

“Cut it back to an hour and a half, tops, especially when it starts getting really hot and humid. Put priority on the big muscle groups, legs, back and shoulder girdle, and drop some of the beach work for now. A couple of sets for the triceps and biceps per workout is enough.”

“They’re not going to want to drop their arm work.”

“I understand this, but make them understand that if they put on twenty pounds their arms are going to be bigger without doing extra arm work. If they are addicted to curls and such, have them do some of this on their off days, at home. Have them do their training, drink their milkshakes, and get out of the gym. The hanging around is often tiring in itself. Rest is also and important variable. The boys aren’t going to be able to spend their evening partying with their buddies if they expect to grow. They have to follow a strict routine during the week and restrict their partying to weekends. I realize this is a sacrifice, but anything worth much has to involve some deprivation. If it didn’t, every kid in America would be big and strong.”

“I think these kids are willing to do whatever’s necessary. Hate to boot your out, but I need to go.”

“As soon as Patsy finishes “I Fall to Pieces”, I responded dogmatically, checking on the eagle. “That’s my fee for the advice.”

He laughed and listened with me to her golden voice.

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