2017-03-29T17:18:13-04:00September 19th, 2013/Personal/By /

Personal: How I Put on 20lbs of Lean Muscle in a Year

The theme of my life has always been self-improvement – constantly striving towards becoming my best self.

A year ago I just moved back to America after living a few years overseas. I immediately go into my routine of working 12+ hours a day and noticed I was constantly tired and out of energy. I looked in the mirror and realized I was completely out of shape compared to what I looked like in college.

Most of my goals were usually business related or trying to improve my mind, but I realized that I had been neglecting my body for a few years. My fitness was becoming more and more important considering I’m in front of the computer all day and I’m getting older.

I decided to set an ambitious goal of gaining 20lbs of lean muscle within a year.

I had been going to the gym on and off for a few years, but this time I wanted to make a total lifestyle commitment. You guys know I love studying habits and routines, and I was quite curious to see if I could develop the discipline to consistently go to the gym and stick to a diet plan.

The Transformation


2013-09-13 21.12.10

Strength Gains:

Before at 135lbs:

Bench: 135 x 5
Deadlift: 245 x 1
Squat: 185 x 5 (below parallel)

After at 155lbs:

Bench: 225 x 6
Deadlift: 385 x 1
Squat: 285 x 5 (below parallel)

1 year of hard work. I went to the gym 250 times. I counted my calories everyday. I slept 7+ hours a day.

This is my basic guide to putting on muscle for anyone that wants to do the same. There’s tons of workout routines and diet plans out there, but I’ve done a bunch of research and want to share what worked for me.

Everyone kinda knows what it takes to lose weight: you eat healthier and do some cardio. If you want to gain muscle then you lift heavy weights and eat tons of food. However, 3 weeks into January then everyone’s already back into their old routines.

Not only do I wanna share my workout plan, diet, and supplements, but I also wanna share how I developed the discipline and motivation to stick to my plan for over a year.

The Mental Game of Putting on Muscle

Going to the gym consistently

An important part about developing a new habit is removing barriers to entry and limiting the amount of decisions you have to make.

  • I worked out at a gym that was only 5 minutes away. The closer you are to the gym, the more you’ll be able to go.
  • I worked out at the same time every single day. My ritual was to eat my pre-workout meal 5pm, watch some youtube fitness videos, drink my pre-workout, and get to the gym by 5:45pm. Once I started doing it enough it became as automatic as brushing my teeth in the morning.
  • I tracked how often I was going to the gym. Use Lift, Fitocracy, 42goals, etc. I turned it into a game.
  • There were days I didn’t feel like going to the gym, and I would force myself to shift my focus. Instead of thinking about how sore or tired I was, I’d focus on how good I’d feel after the workou. Anyone can hit the gym when they’re motivated; what’s more important is being able to go to the gym even if you don’t feel like it.

One Step at a Time

I follow the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen when I want to make changes in my life. They believe in making tiny, tiny adjustments and slowly building momentum.

The first thing I focused on was just going to the gym consistently. I didn’t worry about supplements, my diet, or anything else. The goal was initially 3x a week, and then I increased it to 5x a week.

Once I started going to the gym, I started researching my diet. Normally I ate 3 times a day, so I focused on eating 4 times a day, then 5, then 6. I wasn’t counting calories yet or weighing my food, I just gradually worked on increasing the # of meals a day.

Once I ate 6 times I day, I started planning my meals ahead of time and counting my calories.

It’s easy to get overexcited when you first start something. What happens is you try to do too much at once and you overwhelmed yourself. A few weeks later you’re back to square one. Conquer one part at a time.

Effort Over Results

I’m a huge fan of process-based goals vs. result-based goals. What’s the difference? Result-oriented goals would mean I’m focused on gaining 3 pounds this week. Process-based goals means I focused on the effort: going to the gym 5x this week, eating 6 meals a day, & sleeping a minimum of 7 hours a day.

People feel demotivated because they look in the mirror and aren’t getting results fast enough. I felt more motivated because I was keeping up with the plan, and wasn’t too concerned about the results. They would come as long as I was consistent.

Trust the process.

Workout Programs

There are tons of workout programs out there. A mistake people make is they don’t really have a set plan. The workouts I did laid everything out for me so I’d walk into the gym and I’d know exactly what to do each day. I got programs from guys who had years of knowledge and experience.

0-3 Months:

Kris Gethin’s 12 Week Trainer – This is the program that got me started. What I liked about this program is there’s a video every single day and that definitely helped keep me motivated in the beginning.

3-6 Months:

Lyle MacDonald’s Generic Bulking Routine – It introduced the principle of working out each bodypart twice a week and focuses on compound movements.

6-12 months:

Layne Norton’s PHAT – An advanced program that combines strength and hypertrophy training. I made tons of strength gains on this program.

Other Good Routines:

Push / Pull / Legs – Amazing program with a lot of flexibility. You can do a 3 day split as a beginning, and a 5 day split when you’re more advanced.

5 / 3 / 1 – A 4 day a week training programming that focuses on increasing the strength of four main lifts: deadlift, bench, overhead press, and squat. I think this is better for intermediate / advanced. The weight increases are too slow for a beginner.

Random Workout Tips

  • Huge fan of training each body part twice a week. I think this is works best for anyone that’s a natural bodybuilder
  • Focus on compound exercises that work more than one bodypart: bench press, deadlift, squats, barbell rows, overhead presses, etc.
  • Work your muscle, don’t just move the weight.
  • Focus on increasing the weight aka progressive overload. To gain muscle, you need to get stronger.
  • Work out your entire body. Don’t be the guy that only works out their chest and arms. That produces an unbalanced body
  • Don’t skip leg day
  • Even when I was bulking I would do cardio three times a week for 10 – 15 minutes. The heart’s a muscle too that should be healthy.

Diet / Nutrition

Your diet is 90% of the battle. It’s a simple numbers game, your body needs a calorie surplus in order to build muscle. If you’re not gaining weight, you’re simply not eating enough. 

Skinny guys will claim they eat a lot and not gain weight. What’s happening is they’re not pushing themselves enough. If he is use to eating 1,000 calories a day, and increases it to 1,500 calories, he feels as if he’s eating a lot because he increased his instake by 50%. However, his body might require a minimum of 2,000 calories in order to grow.

That’s why it’s important to weigh you food and track your macros (fat, carb, and protein intake). Protein is how your body repairs and grows new muscle. Carbs give you energy. Fat helps your hormonal balance and stores energy for the future.

To calculate how much calories you need, use the IIFYM calculator


Sample Bulking Diet

Artofleads s Food Diary MyFitnessPal.com

Artofleads s Food Diary 2 MyFitnessPal.com

Good Foods


  • Chicken breasts / chicken thighs
  • Turkey breasts
  • Lean steak
  • Eggs
  • Protein Powder
  • Cottage Cheese


  • Sweet potatoes (poke holes with a fork, and microwave for 5 minutes)
  • Brown rice (get a rice cooker)
  • Oatmeal (microwave it)
  • Beans
  • Wheat Bread


  • Broccoli
  • Spinach


  • Avocado
  • Natural Peanut butter
  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil



Grocery Shopping on a cut

Meal prepping my lunch for a few days


You don’t need supplements. The industry preys on making newbies spend hundreds of dollars on “magic bullets” that don’t exist. If you’re on a budget then it’s better to spend that money on more food. However, the right supplements can definitely help.

Here’s the four basic supplements you should take:

– Protein powder: Syntha-6 was the best tasting protein I tried, but it contains more calories than necessary. Some other recommendations include Trutein, and customizing your own protein at TrueProtein. Whey protein is just the leftover product of cheese production. You need protein to build muscle, and protein shakes makes it easier for you to hit your daily protein requirements.
– Creatine: Any brand will do. Can’t go wrong with Optimum Nutrition. Make sure you drink tons of water if you’re taking creatine.
– Fish oil pills: I just used Costco brand. Fish oil’s for better health, enhances muscle anabolism, and promotes fat loss.
– Multivitamin: Orange Triad.

That’s all you really need.

There’s some other supplements I bought that I found helpful.

ZMA helped me get deeper sleep at night
Pre-workout – I was a huge fan of Craze…it works but it contains DMAA. I’m currently taking Totalis since they show their formula. The cheapest pre-workout that works is just a caffeine pill.
BCAA’sXtend SciVation. You drink this during your workout.I found that it helped with muscle recovery.

The Benefits

  • I have so much more energy than before
  • My discipline and productivity is at an all-time high
  • I feel happier, less stressed
  • I enjoy working at home so going to the gym made sure I got out the house each day and saw people
  • Aesthetics

Hope this helps! I’m happy with what I’ve achieved so far, but I’m going to continue lifting and trying to improve.

P.S. u aware?