I've hit a plateau in strength and mass gain, what's the deal?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created April 24, 2013 at 7:57 AM

I apologize for my wall of text in advance :)

This is my first post here at paleohacks, although I've probably spent a few cumulative weeks here trying to find answers for all of my questions from the most basic, "Is insert random food item here paleo?" all the way to different methods of working out and all the styles of caloric intake (read: when and how much to eat). I've lurked and lurked and for all of this effort I'm proud to say I went from about 220 lbs. at what I can only guess at as a 20-40% body fat, to an awesome 175 lbs. over the course of about two months. While this is really awesome and I will never go back to eating SAD style, as my question states, I've hit a plateau.

With all that rapid weight loss, I now have an excess amount of skin and this results in a flabby, toneless body. I'm grateful for the weight loss and improved sense of well being, but I'm ready to move on to bigger(stronger) and better(stronger) things.

I'm a 5'7" 175 lb. (saying that still hasn't gotten old) 18 year old guy finishing his first year in college. I used to be a little stud before quitting martial arts around the age of eight, but then I gained and kept gaining weight. For the next ten years I ate horribly and mostly read books and did the super smart nerd thing. I'm ready to be a beefy nerd.

I decided this December to go full paleo, no corners cut. It worked. The weight melted off even with a high carbohydrate intake in the form of lots of fruits. I still ate plenty of meat and whatnot, and I gradually curbed my carb intake to almost zero after the first two months. After that I stopped losing.

My main problem is this: I haven't made any increases in strength or muscle mass since starting, even though I spend about 30 hours a week walking as a host at IHOP, and workout lifting as heavy as I can every two days (about 30 minutes on average). Some weeks I end up too busy with work and class of course, but I'm always at least walking many miles a day. I have some seriously pitiful lifting stats. I'm not ashamed, just frustrated that I can't increase them.

I have a few questions that may hold the key to my success.

How much meat do I need to eat in order to hit 100g of protein? I find that I usually eat a pound of meat in a meal, along with a bag of steamed veggies. I usually cook with either coconut oil or just plain old Whole Foods butter. The good stuff.

Is a protein powder ok? It certainly isn't "paleo." I don't think cavemen could get their hands on that... If I'm not able to eat/afford that much meat, is this an acceptable route to getting enough protein? I feel my current intake is too low and I'm atrophying because of it.

I'm hoping I just answered my own question and all that, but some input is really needed.

Also, I know it has been asked but I can't seem to come to my own little consensus. Is a VLC/Zero Carb diet even remotely a good idea if I'm looking to fill in my new skin suit?

Thanks everyone!

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2 Answers



on April 24, 2013
at 08:48 AM

Have a look at http://www.cronometer.com which will help in working out the protein content of actual foods.


This was my day yesterday and the eggs, salmon, steak on their own came to around 136g of protein. The only reasons I can think someone would want to use protein powder over actual food is price, and ease of use if you wouldn't be actually eating a meal post-workout. Unless you can't handle eggs, they really are an excellent protein source.

In terms of the strength question; I am not sure but I would think the best place to start is to record numbers (reps, weights, sets, etc) and unless you have an actual routine/plan in place, find a tried and tested one (e.g. Starting Strength: http://bit.ly/ZM1Dig). I would think that getting a progressive routine and tracking it would be the best means. (Though I would love to start lifting one day, currently I just do interval body-weight and kettlebell training).

In terms of your body, in my mind and from all I have read, VLC and trying to build muscle is a waste of time (unless you cycle). Personally I tried this and "cycling" and got super trim, but was fighting to hold onto muscle. Now like I mentioned I don't lift, and so most of my training is conditioning (which doesn't help). Would it have been different with VLC and lifting? I don't know, but carbohydrate and insulin are anabolic (kind of their very purpose). This article is a great read: The Diet to End All Diets: http://bit.ly/XFf1aH but personally I am not cycling anything for 30 days and just eating pretty much the above graphic (and more) every day.

The main point being (which I never did before) is to pick something and stick to it for a decent amount of time. I am now just doing this and tracking my weight every day. Having the same meals makes it pretty easy to gauge food amounts. If my lean body-weight is increasing then I am on the right track, if not then I need to eat more.

Also have a look at the answer I posted yesterday: http://paleohacks.com/questions/192712/pre-post-workout-meals/192754#192754



on April 24, 2013
at 03:39 PM

Eating 100g is relatively easy, and even if you didn't hit that target precisely, it isn't the problem. You probably need some post-workout carbs.
You may also need more rest time, rather than more workout time. After six months, I've finally put some weight on- only 10 or so pounds, and I am already worried about how much of it is fat versus muscle and/or water. The water I am actually thankful for because, apparently, I was pretty dehydrated for a while. But, anyway, there are strength gains, so I know at least some of it is muscle. I just let myself buy the dates, figs, bananas, etc... all the really sweet fruit. I am actually backing away from that now and trying a little white rice. It isn't necessarily ideal but it is cheaper and easier to have around the house. If there is fruit in the house, I will probably eat it.

Essentially, you have to overeat. You have to put yourself under enough tension to signal your body to grow. Once you have the signal and the extra calories, it is probably a good idea to lay on the couch and let the body go about doing the job you want done. You don't want a lot of other signals that confuse the body about what the priorities should be. Sleep. Sleep is really important.

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