I've been wanting to write more opinionated, personal articles for quite some time. Sure I love bringing you guys all sorts of healthy foods to try out, but rambling off nutrition facts gets old after a while. So I'll bring this post to the other side of the blogging spectrum and give you an inside look on some of the struggles I've had with dieting, weight goals, and how they affect the big picture. Sit back and grab a bowl of air popped popcorn, this is about to get deep.
So as you may or may not know, I'm a weightlifter. No, that's not what you think, I don't just go to the gym and lift weights like everyone else, trying to target specific muscles and get the "big guns." A weightlifter is technically someone who lifts weight in the Olympic style, focusing on two main lifts, the clean and jerk, and the snatch. I won't go nuts trying to explain those two lifts, look them up on youtube if you're curious. Let me just tell you that they're far different and far more total body intensive than your traditional bicep curl. Anyway, being a competitive weightlifter means I'm in the gym 9 times a week, squatting, snatching, cleaning, and jerking as much weight as possible for high volume. Because this sport is judged solely on how much weight is lifted successfully, I need as much muscle as possible packed into as little space as possible. I need dense, explosive, muscle tissue that's very flexible and ready to work at a moment's notice. Sounds easy to get, right? Just load up the steaks on the grill, mix a few protein shakes, and train hard as hell.
But there's a catch.
This sport is also judged in weight classes. What this means is that everyone who competes falls into a class depending on their body weight, which more accurately pits athletes against each other and can really determine who is stronger, has better technique, or in general a better combination of both. It wouldn't really be fair to pit the scrawny, short, 63 kg dude against Mr. big and brutish weighing in at 150 kg, would it? This means weightlifters, while being able to eat a LOT depending on their training, need to watch their diet and make sure it's the most effective combination of foods that will give them both enough energy to complete workouts, and enough excess calories to rebuild torn muscle fiber. Diet is extremely important in Olympic weightlifting.
And there's one more catch too. Every lifter has an optimal weight to lift at, usually based on their height and build. To lift optimally at a body weight of 77 kg, you should be about 5'7". And here's where my struggle comes in. I'm 5'11", which means I should weight around 200-230 lbs to lift at my optimal capacity. I currently weight 162 lbs, which puts me in the lower end of the 77 kg class. I knew I needed to gain weight, and believe me, my coach has been yelling that fact in my face for the longest time.
Maybe you're thinking "so what the heck are you waiting for!?! You get to EAT A LOT OF FOOD! NICE!!!!" But not so fast. I'm not too keen to get big and fat quickly, as I considered myself pretty fit and trim at 158-160 lbs. I had visible abs, pretty decent build, and felt good. Purposely trying to gain weight, no matter how cleanly, might mean I need to sacrifice a good looking build for the sake of added muscle. This, to me, was a little bit depressing (and honestly, it still is.) Sure, putting on weight by eating a lot of clean food and training your butt off ensures that MOST of the weight you put on will be muscle, especially if you're not in a huge caloric excess. But there's absolutely zero percent chance of gaining weight and having it be 100% muscle. In fact, no matter how clean you do it, the percentage usually isn't even close to that number. And purposely putting on fat, to me, didn't sound like fun.
But I changed my diet anyway. I added about 500 calories more initially, and when I plateaued around 161 for a week or two, I added a couple hundred more. I eat all the clean food I can, and don't pay attention to calories quite as much as I used to when I was merely trying to maintain my weight. Roughly I'm around 3200-3300 calories a day now, but when I get up to above 170 lbs, I'm sure this figure will have to increase by another 20% at least. My training is hard enough that I need to eat a LOT of food to maintain my weight. And, resembling more the ectomorph build, I have a pretty fast metabolism as it is.
Honestly, while I love food like no one else, it makes my heart sink a little to know that I have to keep shoveling in the food to the point where I force my body to gain weight one way or another. I don't like seeing the little bits of fat showing up around my midsection (though at this point they're very very small, and I doubt anyone would really notice), but I do like looking in the mirror and seeing a more full, muscular, stronger me. So how do I get through it? How do I keep a positive spin on the weight gain process?
Well, firstly, the way you look can depend a lot on the clothes you wear, the amount of water you're retaining, and the mirror you're looking in, not to mention a million other variables. What I know in my head is that when I see myself in my dorm room mirror, and I think quietly that I look big enough as it is, and maybe I should stop trying to gain, I remind myself that this view is skewed. I'm close to the mirror, and have my own mental image of myself that warps reality a bit. Anyone around me would tell me I look like a rail. I know that. I don't look big to others, and therefore I tell myself I shouldn't look big to my own eyes either. I only weigh 162 for goodness sake. 162 lbs ISN'T big, especially if you're 5'11".
I also keep looking at pictures of my weightlifting idols. Klokov, Chigishev, Ilin, Dolega, all 105 kg or 105+kg lifters. They are huge, with ginormous amounts of USEFUL muscle. I tell myself I need to look and perform like them, and I won't stop training or eating until I do. I tell myself every bite and every squat will bring me one step closer to glory, and when I achieve that, I won't look half bad regardless. How could I? Tons of healthy food, tons of exercise, what could go wrong? So what if my abs aren't quite visible. When I throw 230 kg over my head, I don't think anyone will care, and I don't think I will either.
|Dmitry Klokov, probably my favorite lifter (my height too)|
|Evgeny Chigishev, the pure essence of POWER|
So my friends, if you're on a journey to get bigger, and are second guessing the weight gain, remember to take a deep breath, realize that abs aren't all that matters in the world, and grab a sweet potato. Train hard, eat big, get strong, grab glory. I won't stop until I do...that's for sure.