What Can Teenage Boys Teach Us about Body Building?

I'll admit this title is a bit outrageous but will become clearer as I go along. One day I was researching for any evidence of people who had achieved outstanding increases in lean muscle mass when it dawned on me...the local high school!

You: WHAT??

Me: Who puts on more muscle and size faster than a teenager going through puberty? Think about it! Nobody!

So, I ask the ridiculous follow-up question, "What can teenage boys teach us about getting huge fast?" The answers will surprise you since they can't tell you a single thing about hypertrophy 1, rep maxes, burnout sets, or how to isolate a given muscle group.

So, why the heck do I mention them? Well, It isn't uncommon for teenagers to put on the same amount of muscle in a summer that it takes an adult male 2-4 consistent years to achieve. See where I'm going with this? If we can pick out some of the things they do differently than the rest of the world, then we might be able to replicate their once in a lifetime growth spurt phenomenon.

2011-07-26_Tri GamesPlaying at Tri Games on campus.

Case Study Time!

So what do they do differently?

  1. They eat like MACHINES.
  2. They have favorable increases in 'male hormones.'
  3. They are usually active.

I know what you're thinking... DUH! But, last time I checked my 'goods' already dropped and my voice doesn't squeak like a mouse! So this case study warrants a further breakdown on how to grow like a teenager...again!

Observation 1: Eat Like Machines

There's a reason why every mother of a teenage boy has a story about doubling her food bills, mysteriously 'disappearing' food items from the pantry, and never having any milk left in the fridge. Teenagers are growing and that growth is accompanied by lots of food.

Guiding Teenager Principle To Body Building:
If you want to get bigger you have to EAT for a BIGGER YOU. Want to Gain 10 lbs? Eat for a person 10lbs bigger than you! 

My Twist on Optimizing this Principle:
While increasing your food sounds easy, it's not. It takes a few days (on average 5) of feeling 'uncomfortably' full before your digestive enzymes, stomach acid, and gut flora adapt to the increase in caloric intake. Once they do, you will become a food-processing machine. However, make sure you keep it low carb, higher fat/protein to optimize how much insulin your body secretes and therefore how much muscle/fat you pack on.

When I gained 20 lbs of muscle and lost 7 lbs of fat during my one-month experiment, I ate 60% fat, 23% protein, 17% carbs. While the ratios don't have to be exact, the simple rule is the more carbs, the fatter you'll get. The more protein and fat, the more muscle you'll put on. It's not much more complicated than that.

Observation 2: Favorable Increases in 'Male Hormones'

When teenagers go through puberty their hypothalamus produces GnRH (gonadotrophin-releasing hormones), which triggers the anterior pituitary to release LH (luteinizing hormone), which then travels in the blood and tells the cells in the testes (males) to produce testosterone via the Leydig cells. In some studies they've recorded puberty levels of testosterone surge 50x higher than the minute amounts pre-puberty. The effects of testosterone, such as increased lean muscle mass, increased bone density and decreased fat mass are largely responsible for the incredible growth many male teenagers experience. Other hormones such as growth hormone, IGF-1 (insulin like growth factor 1), and DHEA also elevate in this phase of development and no doubt play a role as well.

Guiding Teenager Principle To Body Building:

To get bigger, you should optimize (and likely increase) your testosterone levels. Think that's impossible? Read on.

My Twist on Optimizing this Principle:
DISCLAIMER: First of all you should to go to your doctor and get your blood tested. Messing with hormone levels can be a serious thing and if you have a medical condition you should discuss it with your doctor.

Luckily, I don't recommend doing anything crazy like steroid injections or topical creams. My testosterone levels started at 615 and after a month plummeted to 298. Hardly someone you should take advice from! However, I was overeating flax seed oil, thinking the omega 3s would increase protein synthesis and decrease recovery time as a number of reputable studies suggest. Little did I realize the estrogenic effects of flax have been grossly under reported. Three weeks of no flax and the recommendations below later: I doubled my testosterone back to 612. Happy days for my manhood.

  • DIET: I recommend getting off your low fat diet and getting onto a high fat diet. Grossly oversimplifying that recommendation, remember hormones are made from fat and cholesterol and without exogenous intake of them it's harder to increase your endogenous production of vital hormones. Does that mean you'll get heart disease chasing increased muscle tone? As long as you aren't eating high-sugar/starch junk the whole time... no.
  • SLEEP: A number of studies have shown getting good sleep and more importantly falling asleep before midnight as ways of increasing growth hormone production.
  • SUPPLEMENTS: I took cod liver oil (vitamin A & D), grass fed butter (vitamin K), almonds (vitamin E), zinc, and selenium. Zinc and Selenium are instrumental in their co-factor responsibilities for biosynthesis of hormones. Also, the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K taken together have been shown to have favorable anabolic effects on the body. Vitamin D, many people don't realize, is actually a hormone - a cancer-preventive one at that.

Observation 3: They are Usually Active

This is the easiest of all of the principles to understand. Teenagers are usually extremely active despite numerous eyewitness accounts of Mountain Dew fueled Halo 2 all-nighters. Between sports, friends, and chasing girls without a game plan, teenage boys get enough exercise to support their growth spurts. 

Guiding Teenager Principle To Body Building:
Get exercise. Duh! 

My Twist on Optimizing this Principle:
After reading plenty of research, 'broscience,' and my own experiences, I can confidently conclude that you can do more to optimize your lean mass growth than simply exercising.

What is the best type of exercise for inducing teenager-like growth? High Intensity, Short Duration Workouts. This will increase both a hormonal and neurologic adaptation that studies have shown to increase testosterone levels and muscle mass better than longer duration 75% of max type workouts. In other words, do 1-2 sets of 4 multi-joint exercises (squat, bench, etc.) with the heaviest weights you can lift. After that go home, eat, rest, and repeat.

Hope you enjoyed it!
- CC