Physical Culture / Primal Nutrition

Primal Bodybuilding: The Results

Well, I’ve finally managed to get reliable access to the internet outside of work hours.  For all those concerned, Fort Worth is beautiful and I’m really enjoying it here.  All in all its not so great a change from Florida, although it is colder here, at least for now.  Now, on to the subject of today’s post:

I tend to get on “kicks” in terms of fitness.  I get obsessed with a particular goal or area of fitness and stick with it for several months to a year and then shift my focus.  As of early December of last year I felt like it was time to take a break from “functional” (buzzword alert!) training and give bodybuilding-type workouts another shot.  I’ve never had a ton of success at gaining mass the bodybuilder way, but then again I have never been so lean since starting the Primal diet, so maybe now would be different?  In any event, I definitely needed a change of pace, mentally.  The goal was to gain 5 lbs of mass by the end of January, without sacrificing explosiveness, speed, wellness, etc.  Oh, and my diet had to remain Primal/Paleo.  No eating tons of carbs to reach my caloric goals.

I started off the experiment at a weight of 132 lbs, in full work clothes (button down shirt, khakis, loafers, etc.).  Today, I weighed in at 140 lbs in gym shorts, a tanktop, and Asics.  So in roughly two months I’ve gained 8+ lbs, while staying roughly just as lean.  I say roughly because I subscribe to the “mirror method.”  Most methods of analyzing bodyfat percentages vary so wildly that its kind of useless to use as a measuring tool.    Here’s the breakdown of what I did, when, and why.

First Month

My first month of the experiment, I went to a 3-day split :

Day 1 – Chest and Back

Day 2 – Deads and Arms

Day 3 – Squats and Presses

I did roughly two exercises per bodypart.  The focus of the workout was on the “big” movements, Deadlift, Squat, and Barbell Press (overhead).  The split may seem a little strange, but heavy deads would take so much out of me that I had no energy for much else.  Arms aren’t too taxing so they fit well in that day.  Chest and back is a good push/pull pairing, and squats and barbell presses seemed to go well together too since my arms were fresh after squatting.  I performed 5-7 sets of 5-3 reps on the big movements with heavy weights.  I wanted to gain mass but I also had strength goals I wanted to meet on these three lifts.  For all other movements (and ALL of Day 1) I did a Vince Gironda style 6 sets of 6 rep scheme with 30 seconds of rest between sets.  I also did several Vince Gironda-style exercises such as the Gironda Dip, Gironda Neck Press, Hack squat,  Sternum Pullup, etc.

Diet wise I stayed Primal and just concentrated on trying to eat at least one or two more meals a day than I usually would.  No science behind it, just gut feeling.  Right away I gained 3 lbs, reaching 135 lbs, and also gained a lot of strength in those three big lifts.  However, soon my progress on lifts stalled and my weight stayed at 135 for several weeks, sometimes fluctuating to 134.  I realized it was time for a change…

Month 2

For most of my training history I’ve stuck with low reps and heavy weight, and I’ve never spent much time in the 12-15 rep range in my life.  I figured the strangeness of it (to my body at least) might result in some gains.  I worried about a lack of strength gains, but in reality, one measures progress by weight added to the bar.  If one week a person performs 15 reps of backsquat with 195 lbs, and then the next week they can do 15 reps at 205 lbs, he/she is stronger, isn’t he/she? 

I went to a four day split on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday:

Day 1 – Chest + Shoulders

Day 2 – Back

Day 3 – Legs

Day 4 – Arms

Three exercises per muscle, the first two is usually some sort of compound movement pyramiding up in weight with rep ranges of 12-15, 10-12, and finally 8-10.  In other words I should reach positive failure in 12 to 15 reps the first set, raise the weight and reach failure in 10-12, and then raise the weight one final time reaching failure in 8-10 reps.  When I can do 15, 12, and 10 reps with the weights I’m using, I increase everything by 5-10 lbs.  The third exercise per bodypart is usually a slow, controlled isolation movement in the 8-15 rep range, straight sets with a single weight.  Please leave a comment if you’d like the EXACT workout I followed, I’d be happy to share it, but I won’t clutter up this post with it otherwise.

Diet-wise, I decided to track exactly what I was putting in my mouth just to understand exactly why I wasn’t gaining anymore weight.  I used’s MyPlate to track my diet (this is a fantastic tool with an exhaustive database of foods…almost anything you could eat will be found here).  I discovered that even when I thought I was eating tons of food, I was really only getting about 1600 calories.  If 1600 or so calories kept me at my current weight of 135, then clearly this was my “maintenance” weight, so I decided (somewhat arbitrarily) to shoot for 2,000.  This seemed to do the trick.  Number one, I find eating this much food odd.  I have to plan ahead in order to eat enough meals to reach it, especially staying Primal.  You can run through tons of calories if you eat bread and sugars, but sticking with meat, veggies, nuts, and some fruit makes it difficult.  But since making the switch to higher volume training and eating 2,000+ calories per day, my mass has increased quit a bit.  Five of the eight pounds I’ve gained have come while eating this much and training in the high volume fashion, and I’m actually only on Week 3 of this phase.  Five pounds in three weeks seems too good to be true, and I can’t honestly say for certain that every pound gained has been a lean pound, but I still look roughly as lean. 

I would call what I”m on a “Sustainable Bulk.”  I’m sticking with the Primal diet, I’m healthy and happy, and at any moment I could take my shirt off and head to the pool and not feel ashamed.  In other words, I’m not cramming myself full of food and getting fat in an attempt to put on slabs of muscle all at once with the plan of dieting down later.  I’m gaining mass and I’m in the kind of shape I could live with.  Theoretically I could keep this up indefinitely, with adjustments made along the way to keep on progressing, of course.

What’s Next?

Well, I blasted past my goal of five lbs and I’m nowhere near bored with my training, so I think I’ll keep it up.  I’m pushing my goal out to 145-150 lbs.  Who knows, I may even make a run at a bodybuilding competition!  There is a 143 lbs class I would probably fit into. 

Where’s the proof?

Well I’m still using my work computer for updating my blog until my computer comes out of storage and I get internet/cable hooked up.  I don’t really want to put shirtless pics of myself on my work computer for OBVIOUS reasons, so the proof will have to wait.  Stay tuned though, I’ll post before and after pictures soon enough, I think differences can be seen.


12 thoughts on “Primal Bodybuilding: The Results

  1. Grok On! Those results are amazing. I am eager to get my bodyfat down to around 10% so I can start the mass action. I’m looking to do the 5X5 Stronglifts program, perhaps not much different from your 6X6 (save for the extra 11 reps!)

    • Why not start right away? Extra muscle mass will increase your metabolic rate and help you burn off fat quicker.

      Vigorous exercise also depletes the muscles of glycogen which provides a home for the glucose in your blood so that less of it needs to be stored as fat. In the (excellent) book Body By Science, the author compared fat in the body as water in a stoppered sink. Eating right turns off the faucet, lifting opens up the drain.

      I bet if you jumped right into that 5×5 program and kept up with the Primal diet your body composition goals would come even quicker!

      Lastly, don’t be afraid to tinker around with what you’re doing. Keep track of strength gains, weight fluctuation, how you look in the mirror, total number of calories eaten per day, and modify your approach accordingly.

  2. Great job man!

    Always amazes me when I see people saying they have “trouble eating X,X00 amount of calories.” I only weight 30-40lbs more than you on average, but seriously have to move a coma & add one more zero to your daily caloric intake number to have “trouble” with intake.

    • When I think how many calories I could comfortably eat and feel fine with its scary. I could probably eat around 1200 calories in a day and feel perfectly satiated.

      Part of the reason I think my mass gain has been so easy is because my body is so unused to this level of calories! The fact that its GOOD Primal stuff and the fact that I’m working so hard in the gym keeps me from just becoming a blimp instead, lol.

  3. OK, so you are working to put on weight … any advice on how to loose 10 pounds gained in two months thanks to medically being put on steriods?

    • Robin, first of all I think your blog is wonderful, and you look absolutely lovely with your Madmen style. I’m also glad to hear you’ve recovered and are off medication.

      Steroids alter our hormonal balance and can cause lots of unwanted changes to our body composition, not to mention the few months of being sedentary. The good news is our bodies always strive towards an equilibrium and now that you’re back to your old ways your body should respond accordingly.

      To nudge it in the correct direction and hurry it along, I recommend giving the Primal diet a shot for a few weeks to a month. Limit yourself to meat, veggies, fruits, and nuts with no grains, sugar, etc. This is going to naturally result in a decrease in overall calories eaten without any measurements having to be taken. Based on your background as a track athlete I’m hazarding a guess that you are usually fairly active in the gym, etc. Get back into the swing of things, but spend more time lifting weights than running or any other sort of steadystate cardio.

      You’ll lose those 10 lbs in no time. If you want to talk about it more in depth, please shoot me an email at

      • Thanks, Jerry. Great advice about the diet and to focus more on lifting than cardio. I’ll let you know how it goes! And I appreciate the visit back to my blog!! I’ll soon be adding a feature to focus on men and fashion! So keep checking in …

  4. Hey, I got here from a link on Mark’s Daily Apple. Congrats on your progress thus far.

    I’ve got the same goals in mind and I’m wondering what exactly you are eating to get those 2000 plus calories? I usually top out at around 1700 when I eat strictly Paleo.

    • Hey Aaron,

      I was in the same boat, and it really isn’t so much a question of eating different things as much as just eating more meals.

      Fat is your friend in this instance, so things like Fage Total or a nice steak are an important part of getting those cals in. I also eat nuts as snacks between meals, etc. I track my cals online and plan ahead to see how many more meals I’ll need in order to reach 2,000.

      My last ditch effort if I need those last few calories is a meal replacement shake with raw egg (brown, from happy chickens), organic half-and-half, and a scoop of whey protein powder. The protein powder isn’t strictly Primal but its a concession to convenience. Depending on how many calories I need, I adjust by adding more whole raw eggs, and I match the number of eggs with the number of oz of half-and-half. Two raw eggs = two oz of half-and-half, for example, but the protein powder always remains at one scoop. Then I fill the rest up with cold water and blend it in one of those shaker bottles. It doesn’t taste bad, although it tastes a good bit better with chocolate protein compared to vanilla.

      I’ve never gotten sick eating raw eggs and from what I read the instances of this are rare especially with healthy, ethically maintained chickens. However, I’m not responsible for anyone who reads this and goes and gets salmonella poisoning, haha.

      If you are at 1700 cals, a two egg shake like the one above would push you over 2000.

  5. Pingback: Weekend Link Love - Edition 83 | Mark's Daily Apple

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