Hope for Hardgainers

kotofubukiBack in 1998, TC Luoma wrote an influential article on fat loss/muscle gain called Chanko: A Lesson From the Sumos.

In spite of its pretty tenuous connection to the original Chanko-Nabe or Sumo Stews which can be found here and here, we tried this muscle-building diet and, like countless others, found it pretty infallible.

It is based around the idea of
1) Eating six or seven times a day
2) Eating before going to bed.

More importantly, TC’s diet is based on a theory of the post-digestive process, which involves an anabolic state lasting three to four hours during which your muscles benefit from the influx of amino acids mediated by insulin. However the anabolic state is followed by a post-absorptive or catabolic state, during which the influx of amino acids into your muscles slows and eventually stops, to the point where your skeletal muscle actually reject amino acids, especially the bodybuilder’s best friend—glutamine.

In addition to this, bodybuilders tend to experience a rise in cortisol while they sleep. Cortisol is nemesis number one, because it works against the night time rise in GH (Growth hormone) and makes muscle-building almost impossible.

Or in TC’s words, “… going too long without eating during the day is at best a no-win situation. After a meal, you spend only three, or at most, four hours in the anabolic, muscle-building state. After that, the process reverses and you spend the time until the next meal in the catabolic, muscle-depleting state.”

Now while this is old news for veterans, you’d be surprised at how many times we get asked the $64,000 question:

“I want to put on 5 kgs of muscle. How much protein powder do I need?”

So, whether you’re starting out and don’t know your ass from your Anconeus or whether you’re a pro, all of us need to be reminded that there is no subsitute for sitting down with a knife, fork or blender six or seven times a day. Or as fellow T-Nation scribe Chris Shugart puts it, “It’s your diet, stupid!”

TC’s Chanko is basically rice, tuna, corn and flavouring—teriaki or sweet chilli sauce work well, alternated twice a day with MRP’s and a “normal” dinner (don’t forget that night-time shake).

The full diet can be found here , along with colleague chris shugart commentary here. The advantage to TC’s every-man-for-himself approach is that, unlike the Sumos, most bodybuilders regrettably do not have an army of diaper-clad acolytes to prep their meals while they nap.


(For trivia fans, Sumos traditionally used chicken in their Chanko, for luck. Four-legged animals (down on all fours) and fish (no hands or feet) are considered bad luck. This hasn’t stopped TC, who says he gained 6.4 kgs in two months and increased his strength “considerably” with the tuna version.)

Only problem we found with TC’s Chanko, was that by the end of the day, or the next, the rice had gone a tad dry, and along with the dryness of the tuna, the whole experience can be a little, well, dry. Especially when you try the one-pot approach, as we did, by mixing the day’s supply of tuna and veges and sauce in with the rice while it kept warm in the cooker, or taking it out and nuking it premixed later at work.

But let’s face it, not everyone has the option of juggling cans, sauces and veges throughout the day. Still, if TC’s portion-by-portion approach works for you, it’s a pretty surefire way to gain the muscle you need.

As an alternative, here’s our hyper-modified version of Chanko Nabe, more stew-like than TC’s version (you can modify the slightly higher fat content by replacing the chicken stock with water, veg or fish stock, or one of the Asian variants like Kombu* or Udon*), but a good one-pot meal that lasts for a couple of days and can be easily packed into individual containers.

1 litre Chicken, vegetable stock or fish stock (homemade or bought)

500 ml water (or half water, half sake).

1 cup rice (any kind)

150 gm sliced mushrooms (Asian or European)

500 gm turkey, chicken, fresh fish or any combination of these, cut in bite-size pieces.

1/4 cup soy sauce

500 gm mixed veges (eg frozen corn and peas, beans, broccoli)

2tbs mirrin*

250 gm chopped leafy greens like cabbage, bok choy or spinach (optional)

Bring stock, water and sake to a boil, add rice. Cover. Simmer until rice is firm-ish but no longer crunchy. Add more liquid if necessary to maintain soupy consistency. Add chicken and mushrooms and soy sauce and simmer for five to ten minutes to allow chicken to cook through (fish cooks in a quarter of the time, so add a few minutes after the fowl if using in combo). Add veges. Simmer for two minutes. Add mirrin and greens to taste and stir through.

Can be heated or eaten cold throughout the day. Add more liquid depending on preferred consistency.

*Available at Asian grocery stores.

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