Building muscle

Question: “How do I build more muscle?”

Answer: “Eat more food.”

And the answer is almost always the same. Tim Ferriss wrote a popular article about this ten years ago: “From Geek to Freak: How I Gained 34 lbs. of Muscle in 4 Weeks.” It’s worth noting that Ferriss used an involved supplement regimen to accomplish this in such little time, but the principles still apply.

Understanding how to build muscle is easy: lift weights, eat food. Eating enough to do so is difficult. A story from Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Body might help (p. 193):

“I was sitting on my surfboard 20 feet to the side of Neil Strauss, bestselling author of The Game.

The afternoon sun was shimmering off the rolling sets of blue water, and he was catching wave after wave. Me, not so much. In between bouts of falling into whitewash like an injured seal, I mentioned that my next book was a hacker’s guide to the human body. Might he be interested in gaining 10 or more pounds of muscle in four weeks?

He stopped catching waves and turned to look at me:

“Count me in. I’m so in.” Neil weighed 124 pounds.

The work started four months later. I was now watching Neil take 45 minutes to eat a small seafood entree at the Hawaiian-themed Paradise Cove restaurant. His fork would pause a few inches in front of his mouth as thoughts occurred to him, and there it would remain for minutes at a time. It drove me nuts.


Given no choice, I resorted to feeding Neil spoonfuls of brown rice in between sentences. Neighboring tables looked on in confusion. The enormous colorful umbrellas sticking out of our coconut-shell “Cocoladas” made the scene even more questionable. It was very bromantic.

Neil had been punished as a kid for taking “Neil bites” and keeping his parents waiting at the dinner table. Not eager to be sent to his room, he developed the habit of stuffing all of the food in his mouth, which often backfired with projectile vomiting across the table.


Pausing to sip his Cocolada, Neil said he felt sick. I told him to keep eating. He looked down at his plate and repeated:

“Dude, I really feel sick.”

So I once again repeated:

“No, you just don’t want to eat. Take bigger bites. You’ll adapt.” Then, just to be safe, I inched out of vomit range.

Despite the bickering couple routine, I had complete faith: we were, after all, only 48 hours into the protocol.

Then things began to work as planned. Five days later, I received the following text message from Neil:

“Gotta tell you: you’re turning me into a ravenous food-devouring machine. And, mentally and physically, between the healthy food, exercise, and Malibu air and surf, I feel frigging great.”

The text was prompted by a turning point. He had demolished an entire plate of steak in half the time as his girlfriend’s entire family, proceeded to eat what remained of her food, and then continued to vacuum up the steak leftovers. Tapeworm? No, his digestive enzymes and other internal flora had just adapted to the increased food intake, and now he was primed for processing.”

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