Since working with John Meadows at Mountain Dog Diet, I've designed a large number of diet plans for clients. By far the most common goal has been some variant of the classic “I want to gain muscle.”

This being elitefts™, I'm assuming that anyone reading this is of the “bigger/stronger” mindset, so I wanted to pass on some actionable dietary tactics that can readily be applied and incorporated into someone’s own training and nutrition.

Now, for anyone who is familiar with the Mountain Dog Diet methodology, John is generally not a proponent of “dirty bulking” and indiscriminate calorie increases. In turn, when designing a diet, we generally want caloric increases to be as “clean” as possible. Quality food sources, digestive health, and micronutrient content are all cornerstones of Mountain Dog dieting. You'll see these themes hit upon in all the following suggestions.

Instant Oatmeal

I could probably write an entire article about instant oatmeal, but I'll list its almost innumerable advantages:

  • Each packet contains anywhere from 30–40 grams of carbs, 2–3 grams of fat, and 2–5 grams of protein. Typically, each packet is about 150–180 calories, depending on if you get the highly flavored kind.
  • It comes in packets! The convenience of this can't be understated.
  • You know the exact macros. There isn't any need to guess or even weigh anything.
  • It has dozens of flavors. You'll never get bored.
  • It can be readily mixed into any shake. Just drop it in with warm water and shake it up.
  • It adds fiber to a diet because we need something to help digest all the protein we're having.
  • It's cheap. Seriously, you can gets boxes of the stuff for less than $20.

So how do we go about bulking with instant oatmeal? Simple. Add it to any protein shake that you have throughout the day. Simply mix with very warm water and slam them back. You can mix it with peanut butter (another gaining staple) for a carb and fat mix that will give you some excellent energy. Or you can go for the trifecta and mix whey protein powder and peanut butter into the instant oatmeal. This is very easy to prepare and tastes damn good.

instant oatmeal mountain dog alexander 082514













Having two packets of instant oatmeal a day gives you an extra 300 calories and over 50 grams of fairly clean carbs, and you have some solid micronutrient content as well. If you have a job where you can only bring shakes and you don’t have a fridge or microwave, instant oatmeal is perfect. All you need is a shaker bottle and a sink with potable water and you're good to go.

Processed Cereal and Whey Post-Training

Why would I suggest such a thing? It's fairly simple. Processed cereal is almost purely processed carbs that digest quickly and minimal fat to slow absorption. It's quick to digest, it's easy to measure, and dropping it into whey protein powder mixed with water or some almond milk gives any trainee a bit of a “cheat” while still staying within their macros.

That said, I am not advising that you immediately start downing Fruity Pebbles every time you train. But for someone who is very carb tolerant or a big guy who is trying to get in a lot of calories (say upward of 3,500–4,000), throwing in some Coco Krispies on leg or back days isn’t such a bad idea.

Process cereal is affordable. You can purchase generic brand cereal in jumbo bags for only a few dollars. For someone trying to gain size on a budget, white rice and cereal go a long way. Similar to instant oatmeal, you can scoop cereal into a shaker cup with protein powder, add warm water later on when you're done training, and drink it straight up. Most cereals will have about 25 grams of carbs per cup (some of the more sugar-loaded ones are higher), so two cups of cereal plus 1–2 scoops of protein give you approximately 50 grams of carbs along with 50 grams protein.

Raw Honey

Honey is just pure sugar, right? Yea, it's sugar, but it's also remarkably health sugar.

The glycemic index of honey is 10, less than that of a banana and far lower than that of conventional white sugar. It contains numerous trace minerals including vitamin B6, iron, zinc, magnesium, selenium, phosphorus, calcium, potassium, and pantothenic acid.

Considering that the average American consumes over 150 pounds of white sugar and high fructose corn syrup a year, honey seems to be a far better alternative as a sweetener. One tablespoon contains about 17 grams of carbohydrates. For being an intense sweetener, that’s only 68 calories. Pretty manageable as a part of any diet.


So, again, I'm not advising that everyone start pouring jars of raw honey over their food, but as a way to sneak calories into a diet, especially carbs, raw honey is often a go-to source. Simply add a teaspoon or two to any shake and you’ve injected an extra 100 calories into your daily intake along with a decent smattering of micronutrients.

Higher Fat Protein Sources

Simple, isn't it? All you do is take whatever animal protein you're consuming, say chicken breasts for example, and switch it out with a higher fat cut of meat, such as chicken thighs. What are the advantages to this?

  • The fattier cuts of red meat and chicken meat are often cheaper and more affordable than the leaner cuts.
  • The increased fat intake (keeping it within reason) can have a positive effect on testosterone levels as well as on hair, skin, and nail health.
  • Satiety often increases with meals as well as flavor.
  • Food volume can remain relatively the same (8 ounces of 85/15 beef versus 8 ounces of flank, but the calories are now increased by 20–30%).
  • Lean protein is notorious for being dry and tough to eat. On the other hand, fatty protein tastes far better, is more tender, and doesn’t need to be seasoned as much to be made edible.


Unfortunately, fruit gets a bad rap as being “nothing but sugar” or “nature's candy” and people are discouraged from eating it. Aside from the hypocrisy of avoiding fruit but then spending hundreds of dollars a month on highly processed supplements, fruit is a cheap and easy carbohydrate source that is easy to implement.

  • Most fruits are high in micronutrients and antioxidants.
  • Fruit is often very filling, and contains soluble fiber.
  • For people with a sweet tooth, this is an easy fix that can prevent binging and cravings.
  • Fruit is portable, cheap, and easy to snack on and can easily be blended into most shakes.

shredded coconut flakes

Shredded Coconut

I add this into shakes a lot and it goes well with any flavor of protein powder. Coconut contains medium-chain triglycerides, a fatty acid molecule that gets digested quickly with minimal impact on insulin levels. It also has antimicrobial properties and contains lauric acid, which is excellent for digestive health and maintaining a healthy gut.

Coconut has a potential cardiovascular benefit. Saturated fat and heart health are hot topics, but coconut is generally regarded as having the healthiest and most beneficial form of cholesterol that one can consume.

Flavor diets can get boring, and anything that breaks up the monotony of the same vanilla protein shake is always a plus. Three tablespoons of coconut has about 110 calories, the majority from fat. Shredded coconut is easy to measure and easy to manage.

Overall, you can see that adding calories doesn’t necessarily mean dramatically increasing food intake. Making additions to shakes, buying different cuts of meat, and manipulating the food that we're already eating can go a long way before we increase our food volume. For someone on a budget who's already eating a lot, the suggestions above are cost effective ways to keep yourself from getting hungry. Or for someone who has seemingly maxed out his six meals a day, adding in 2–3 of the above could get him past his current sticking point with weight.

At the end of the day, calories count and you need more of them the bigger that you want to be. Adding in “healthy” calories will benefit you far more in the long run than spending money on the dollar menu at Mickey Ds on chicken sandwiches and apple pies. If you're on a first name basis with your cardiologist, he’ll probably be much happier with you going the healthier route toward your next weight class (but then he doesn’t even lift, so what does he know anyways?).