Gaining muscle mass: A lean bulk or a dirty bulk?

By Fleur van Griensven

Spring has just begun and some have probably already started cutting. The winter is the perfect moment for gaining muscle mass, right? Temperatures below zero, Christmas and New Year with a lot of delicious food. Also way too cold to wear tank tops, so you can hide the gains or a little winter fluff with comfortable sweaters. This is also the reason why most people tend to use this season for bulking and start a cut before summer to see what they have built up. What should you do once you have decided that it is time to improve your physique and start a bulking period: a lean bulk or a dirty bulk (one in which you eat as much as you can)? Which one is more optimal for gaining muscle mass whilst keeping fat gain to a minimum? Read the answer here.


To optimally gain muscle mass you need to be in a caloric surplus, hence eat more calories than you burn. This means that to optimize muscle growth you need to be in a weekly caloric surplus. Those extra calories can then be used for protein synthesis and recovery. If you also apply progressive overload in the gym, you will give your body a stimulus to adapt to and grow stronger and bigger (=supercompensation). Progressive overload can be accomplished in many ways: lifting more weight, doing more reps/sets, training more frequent so you can get in more volume per muscle group etcetera. When your skeletal muscles grow bigger and stronger upon a training stimulus, you need to continue making greater demands, so they can make further adaptations. I will not go into detail about what you should do with your training during a bulk, but I briefly wanted to get you familiar with the concept of progressive overload if you have not heard of it already. I will come back to it later when I discuss the downsides of implementing a dirty bulk.

Lean bulking

If you choose to go for a lean bulk, you are going to be in a small caloric surplus every day (+/- 200-300 calories above maintenance). You will probably keep yourself accountable that things do not get out of hand: you will weigh yourself, take pictures and make sure that you can see the progress being made. A lean bulk does not give you permission to go all-out and eat as much as you can, since the main purpose of a well-executed lean bulk is like the name implies: staying relatively lean whilst putting on muscle mass. Therefore, slow and steady wins the race when we talk about a lean bulk. Next to that, there is the misconception that lean might imply that you can only eat ‘healthy’ foods. Healthy is a concept which in my opinion is made very black and white. Sure, some foods are considered more nutrient-dense and thus contain more vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats than others. Where it goes wrong is by claiming that certain foods are bad or good, but you should always look at the diet as a whole. If you do care about your health, get in enough nutrient dense foods, then do not say that your diet is unhealthy simply because you have eaten one meal which does not contribute as much to your health. Look at the big picture: the diet as a whole.

How long you can lean bulk depends on a few factors:

  • the level of leanness you start with. No need to make this one more complicated: the leaner you are the longer you can lean bulk for (provided of course you eat at a small surplus and monitor your weight so that you gain weight slowly). Being lean enough to start with provides you with more time which you can spend lean bulking.
  • your daily/weekly caloric surplus. If you keep the caloric surplus small, most of this excess of calories will contribute to building muscle mass and you will be able to lean bulk for longer since you will stay in a relatively lean shape. You will inevitably gain fat, because even in a small caloric surplus you are eating more calories than your body needs to maintain its current weight (=maintenance calories). You are basically still overfeeding your body, but doing it in a controlled way so that the fat gain will be minimal.


Dirty bulk

If you choose to go for a dirty bulk, you are going to be in a big caloric surplus every day. The term dirty bulk might also be a bit confusing. What is not meant with it is that you eat junk food all day long. Sure there are people who do this and it is possible in a dirty bulk, but dirty refers to the big caloric surplus that you are in. Dirty or unhealthy foods are often energy dense and thus contain more calories per gram. This makes it easier to end up in a big caloric surplus at the end of every day.

During a dirty bulk you create a big caloric surplus (500 calories or more above maintenance). This is an easy way to gain weight, because if you eat more and more the number on the scale will also go up rapidly. I am not implying that all this weight gain will be muscle and you will see your body fat percentage probably rise quickly too. The downside is that a long cut is waiting for you to bring your bodyfat percentage back to a point from where you can start another period of gaining muscle mass if wanted.

A common mistake is that the bigger the caloric surplus or the more you eat the more muscle mass you will gain. Seems like the perfect world, right? Eat as much as possible, get stronger and it will all be used for building muscle. In the beginning you will probably stimulate muscle growth quicker because you are 100% sure that you are eating enough to end up in a caloric surplus at the end of the week. What if you got fat after 2/3 months and need to cut already? On the long term you will lose this advantage, because you will be able to bulk for only a short period.

Another downside of a dirty bulk is that nutrient partitioning gets worse with a higher body fat percentage. For this one I have to explain something else first, namely the P-ratio, which scientists use when talking about the partitioning of calories. It represents the amount of protein gained/lost during over- or underfeeding. A high P-ratio during overfeeding means that you gained a lot of protein and very little fat, just what you ideally want if your goal is to gain as much muscle mass as possible. The P-ratio is mostly genetically determined for every individual and we can maybe control 15-20% by some other factors that control the P-ratio. The primary other predictor of the P-ratio during overfeeding is your body fat percentage. There are some implications that fatter individuals gain more fat and less muscle when overfeeding, thus the P-ratio tends to get less favorable in terms of building muscle compared to gaining fat[1]. However keep in mind that body fat percentage only plays a very small role in controlling P-ratio and it is mostly genetically determined.

Then there also is the question which comes up next: How quickly can you gain muscle mass if you are a natural and do not use anabolic steroids?

There are different opinions about the rate of muscle gain per year depending on the years of training or on your level of training (beginner, intermediate, advanced). Keep in mind that these data I am going to present in a bit apply to male lifters, since data on females are much harder to find. Most research indicates that women can gain the same percentage of muscle mass compared to men during strength training [2+3]. This still is a bit of a controversial topic and the research is ongoing. More often or not women have a different body composition to start with, so less muscle mass and more fat mass compared to men. I have addressed this topic in the article ‘Do women naturally have less muscle building potential than men?’. If you want to know more about it, check out this link

Lyle McDonald came up with a model that considers the years of proper training. In the first year of training the potential to build muscle mass is the highest and it decreases with the years. You have to take into account that this is an average which you can expect with proper training. There are other factors such as age which interfere with it. Older individuals may gain more slowly than younger ones

Table 1: Lyle McDonald model for rate of muscle gain [4].

Years of Proper Training Potential Rate of Muscle Gain per Year
1 20-25 pounds (2 pounds per month)
2 10-12 pounds (1 pound per month)
3 5-6 pounds (0.5 pound per month)
4+ 2-3 pounds (not worth calculating)


Alan Aragon came up with a model in which he considers the level of training (beginner, intermediate and advanced). The results end up being pretty similar to the ones from Lyle McDonald presented above.

Table 2: Alan Aragon model for rate of muscle gain [4].

Category Rate of Muscle Gain
Beginner 1-1.5% total body weight per month
Intermediate 0.5-1% total body weight per month
Advanced 0.25-0.5% total body weight per month


Concluding here: gaining muscle mass takes time, you can not force-feed muscle gains and the potential rate of muscle gain decreases with the years. Beginners can probably get away with a dirty bulk, since they can gain 9-11 kilograms in their first year of training [3]. The closer you get to your genetic potential the less muscle mass you will be able to build and it is not smart to do a dirty bulk, since the potential for muscle growth is low and you will gain a significant amount of body fat.


There are different ways to set up your own bulk. The dirty bulk is on the long term less effective, because your body fat percentage will go up quick in comparison to the amount of muscle mass you will be able to build. Also, you will not be able to bulk long and thus limit the amount of time spend in a caloric surplus building muscle. Next to that, if you carry a higher body fat percentage nutrient partitioning probably gets worse. There are implications that fatter individuals gain more fat and less muscle when overfeeding, even though for the biggest part the P-ratio is genetically determined for every individual.

An optimal bulk is one in which most of the gained body weight is muscle mass and one in which you keep fat gain to a minimum. For most individuals this will be a lean bulk in which you eat a controlled small caloric surplus to stay in a relatively lean shape whilst putting on muscle mass and improving your physique.

Don’t end up spinning your wheels between short bulk and cycles. Get progressively stronger, enjoy more food and more flexibility during a lean bulk and you will be happily living the bulk life for a long time!

My own experience

I myself have done both a dirty bulk and just finished a very long lean bulk (13 months). I learned my lesson during the first time that I decided to do a bulk. I just started training and lacked the knowledge that I do have today. I started eating as much as I could. In the beginning it all went fine: the weight on the scale went up, i gained strength like crazy and I saw some improvements in my physique. However, it did not take long before I started to lose the motivation to hit the gym, because I saw myself getting fatter and I did not feel 100% comfortable looking at myself in the mirror or wearing gym clothes. After bulking for around 4 months I gained a total of 10 kilograms. Safe to say I just got fat. It was a real eye-opener when a friend of mine told me straight in my face that I have let this bulk gone way too far. I did not want to believe it myself up until that point, but I knew this was not the way (at least for me) to gain muscle mass. I gained a lot of  body fat and little to no muscle mass. I started cutting at 72 kilograms and got back to 60 kilograms only to conclude that I was at the same point where is started bulking earlier. Not to mention the cut was long and demotivating having to lose quite a significant amount of weight.

After I finished my cut at 60 kilograms in February 2017 I started a lean bulk. I had a proper plan and promised myself two things: I wanted to be in a caloric surplus for at least one year and gain a maximum of 10 kilograms whilst being happy with my shape at the end of the lean bulk. By now I am still happy with my shape even though I gained those 10 kilograms. I can see the progress that I have made and even though I am really curious to start a cut to see what I’ve built up, I also know that I have been able to keep the body fat gain during this lean bulk to a very minimum. This is how I will always set up a bulk for myself. I know a smallfat gain is inevitable and I do feel a little bit more ‘fluffy’ from time to time. I remember then that there is a huge difference between getting fat and gaining a little bit of fat whilst being in a caloric surplus for quite some time already. I prefer the last one because I would rather feel good in my own skin year-round whilst being able to put on muscle mass, than getting fat during the winter only to conclude next summer that I did not make any improvements.



[1] McDonald, L (2008). Calorie Partitioning part 1. Retrieved from:

[2] Roth, SM (2001). Muscle size responses to strength training in young and older men and women. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 49(11), 1428-33.

[3] Smith, I (2012). Similar muscle protein synthesis rates in young men and women: men aren’t from Mars and women aren’t from Venus. Journal of Applied Physiology, 112(11), 1803-1804.

[4] McDonald, L (2008). What’s my genetic muscular potential? Retrieved from: Https://Www.Bodyrecomposition.Com/Muscle-Gain/Whats-My-Genetic-Muscular-Potential.Html/


White Chocolate & Cranberry Cookies

By Jasmijn de Gijt

Wanna make a move on that girl/boy you like? Are you desperate to raise your mark for an exam? Or are you just looking for a bad-baker-friendly recipe? These cookies are the perfect man for the job (and they made me forever famous because of my 2nd place at the Beast Bake-off 2018)!


Ingredients (for 12 pcs):

  • 225g of flour
  • 125g of soft butter
  • 120g of brown sugar
  • 1 tsp of baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1 packet of vanilla sugar
  • 60g of white chocolate
  • 40g of dried cranberries
  • Pinch of salt


The baking process:

  • Heat the oven at 170 degrees (hot air).
  • Mix the butter, brown sugar and vanilla sugar into a light batter with help of the food processor (or by hand). Do not over whisk it!
  • Add the egg and mix it shortly together.
  • Add the flour, baking powder and salt, and make it into a coherent mass.
  • Chop the white chocolate and the cranberries into small pieces.
  • Knead the white chocolate and the cranberries into the dough.
  • Put baking paper on a baking tray.
  • Form 12 balls (size of a golf ball) of the dough and put them on the baking tray. Flatten them a bit.
  • Bake the cookies in circa 15 minutes until they are nice golden and delicious!
  Whole recipe Per cookie
Kcal 2757 230
Protein (g) 39.1 3.3
Carbs (g) 349.4 29.1
Fat (g) 132.5 11.0

Common Posture Problems and how to fix them

by Patrick Flege

We live in very comfortable times – sitting in a nice, air-conditioned room all day, driving home, enjoying our favourite show on TV! Yet, this comfy lifestyle has a price – the once heroic posture of our forefathers (and foremothers) is gone, and we’re doomed to live our lives as nerdy hunchbacks! Well, not quite. As common as those posture problems are, there are effortless ways to correct it, and get a real power-posture!

Expansive postures are pretty cool things! They do a lot for your overall sense of control [1]. Changing your posture, i.e. sitting upright for example, has a range of additional benefits: in a 2015 study, published in Health Psychology, researchers exposed subjects sitting either in a slouched, or straight, upright position to speech and stress tests. The results were crystal clear: ”Adopting an upright seated posture in the face of stress can maintain self-esteem, reduce negative mood, and increase positive mood compared to a slumped posture. Furthermore, sitting upright increases rate of speech and reduces self-focus. Sitting upright may be a simple behavioral strategy to help build resilience to stress” (Nair et al., 2015). Interestingly, an exaggerated self-focus is at the root of many psychological diseases, such as depression, and high stress levels reduce your sex-drive! So, sitting upright could spice up your sex-life! In an interview with the BBC, physiotherapist Sammy Margo pointed out that standing up straight makes you more awake, improves digestion, and ups your circulation and general energy levels [2] Needless to say, an upright posture makes a much better impression during interviews for jobs, and makes you appear more confident, and thus more trustworthy! A good posture is also essential for your joints and muscles – it minimizes the amount of excess force that they need to absorb, according to Eric Robertson, spokesperson of the American Physical Therapy Association (

For women especially, an upright posture eases pressure on the bladder and pelvic floor muscles – continuous pressure wears out the bladder and those muscles, which makes it more likely for you to accidently leak urine during laughter or coughing. A nice posture strengthens the pelvic floor muscles, and makes for more and better orgasms, says Margo [3]! if that is not motivation enough, I don’t know what is!

If posture has such an amazing effect on our wellbeing, why don’t we all stand up straight like Superman and Wonder Woman? Well, you probably already know the answer – once upon a time, our forefathers spent all day searching the Savannah for big game, then hunting it down and carrying it home. You see that in the way our body is shaped – compare, for example, the amount of muscle we have in our legs (and buttocks) compared to the rest of the body. For a primate standing upright to scout the savannah in search for prey and predator, and quickly running towards (or, in the latter case, better away from) those threats, it is quite useful to have strong legs. Compared to them, our upper body is actually pretty weak! You can run for 4 hours, but not do push-ups for that long – and why would you? By diverting the heavy job of movement to the legs, the upper body became free for low-intensity, precise object manipulation. Your legs make you hunt down that gazelle, your hands make you craft the spear you thrust into it. But to run well on your legs, you need to stand upright!

Our whole body is adapted for being in an active, upright position, shaped throughout millennia of evolution. Even after the dawn of agriculture, most work was done standing upright, or involved lots of walking (imagine soldiers marching through vast lands or messengers walking for days and weeks)! Even during the industrial revolution, most work was done standing!

Today, we live a very different lifestyle. Gone are the days where our grandparents laboured on the fields or the mines, today we sit, from 9 to 5, on our desks, study, check facebook in between, eat, study and work some more, drive home (okay, in The Netherlands we cycle, but you get the gist!), sit in front of the television and watch Game of Thrones.

From this lifestyle, some common posture problems emerge, because we’re basically still adapted for the high-intensity environment of the past – evolution is pretty slow catching up with the speed of change of our modern economy, so don’t count on your selfish genes suddenly re-arranging your whole physiology! We’re basically mismatched to our environment, and our genes think we’re still in the grasslands chasing gazelles.

According to the British National Health Service (NHS), [4] there are 8 common posture problems: the aforementioned slouching in a chair, your bottom sticking out, standing with a flat back, leaning on one leg, hunchback and ‘text neck’, poking your chin, rounded shoulders, and cradling your phone.

Each of these posture problems is quite common. Let’s go through them step by step.


It might not cause you immediate discomfort, but it can pressure soft tissues and muscles, and in the long run cause severe muscle pain. Get in the habit of sitting up straight. This might feel uncomfortable at first, given that you’re probably not used to a new position, and your muscles need to ‘train’ first to eventually support this position. Exercises which help with this problem are those that strengthen your core and your butt. Deep squats are perfect for this! Planking is also pretty great!

Sticking your bottom out, or “Donald Duck posture”

while we all think Mr Duck is funny, you shouldn’t walk like him. Your lower back has a pronounced inward curvature, and often this is caused by wearing high heels, excessive amounts of belly fat, or pregnancy. Imagine a string which lifts you up slightly- that is the proper posture. Here again, a strong butt and core are key for getting a better posture, so squat and plank a bit more often. Also, hip flexor and thigh stretches help!

Flat back:

your pelvis is tucked inwards, and your lower spine is straight instead of slightly curved. Often, your neck and head also lean forward. This stance makes it quite hard to stand for long, and the tilted neck and head cause muscle strain. Sitting long hours and muscle imbalances are frequently the cause. Once again, train your butt and core, but don’t stop here. Pull-ups, rowing, and exercises strengthening the rear shoulders(so the back part of your shoulders) help.

Leaning on one leg:

This posture might not look so bad, but places extensive pressure on one side of your lower back and hips, instead of core and buttocks. This posture, while it might be seductive especially if you stood for a long time already, might cause muscle imbalances and strain in the pelvis, and pain in your lower back and butt. Anything that causes uneven pressure (like holding your backpack on just one shoulder) can contribute to these imbalances. Try to stand on both of your legs evenly, and train your butt, your core, and do some planks!

The hunchback:

pretty common nowadays, and here, our mobile devices and “hunching” over our computer keyboard carry a lot of the blame. It is quite tempting to sit in this (slightly Gollum-like) posture during work, but don’t! Often, this posture deficiency is due to a weak upper back and a tight chest. Strengthen your upper back, your rear shoulders and your neck, extend and stretch your chest, and pay attention on how you sit!

A poking chin:

this can be caused by a lot of things, but probably it comes from you sitting too low, or your computer-screen standing too high. A hunchback might carry part of the blame as well. To handle this, first adjust your seating, so that your screen is in front of you and not above your eyeline, so you don’t have to poke up your chin. Tuck your chin down, so that the back of your head is lengthened upwards. Pull your shoulder blades together while sitting, towards your spine, and pull in your tummy so that your spine regains its natural curvature.

Rounded shoulders:

If your knuckles face forward once you let your arms hang sloppily on your side, chances are you got rounded shoulders. Those are often caused by a weak upper back and a tight chest – frequently also from muscle imbalances, if you get super enthusiastic about benching twice your bodyweight, but never even think of pull ups or rowing, it’s time to re-do your workout schedule. A weak upper back compared to your chest might be involved! Strengthen your core with planks and bridges, train your upper back, and stretch your chest!

Cradling the phone:

common in modern offices and desk jobs, we tend to cramp our phone between our ear and shoulder. This however places undue pressure on muscles and causes muscular imbalances. Here, the start of the cure is to avoid doing it. Hold your phone with your hand! It is quite easy to fix, just stretch your chest, and do some exercises which stretch and rotate the neck.

The common core disciplines of powerlifting (deadlift, squats, and bench-press) are quite neat for implementing these tips, as executing them properly demands that your back is straight and tight, and they work a substantial number of your muscles.

Perhaps the greatest benefit from consciously working on and improving your posture is non-medical: fixing your posture every time you think of it improves your capacity for self-regulation, commonly known as willpower, according to psychologist Roy Baumeister. [5] Plainly speaking, willpower helps you to do those things you know you should do but just don’t want to, like working on that boring term paper even though you’d rather play World of Warcraft. Willpower and intelligence are the two prime determinants of success in almost every aspect of life, and unlike the latter, the former is easy to train (for example with the conscious efforts for standing straight), according to Baumeister and John Tierney, authors of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.

To sum it up, working on your posture offers several benefits for both your mood and your sex life. While a bad posture is an unlucky side-effect of our modern environment, to which our good old hunter-gatherer genes just did not have time to adapt to, there are plenty of ways to fix this circumstance. A few nice exercises can do a great deal for fixing your posture and your fitness, and working consciously and constantly on your posture increases your ability for self-regulation, an essential pre-requisite for success in life. So, time to stand up straight!

To finish it up, here are the 5 best ways to quickly improve your posture:

  1. Be consci ous! Not quite what you expected? Well, until a good posture becomes a habit (i.e. you do it automatically), it takes time! Get up frequently, make it a walk around a bit (like ten minutes) after 50 minutes of work, sit up straight every time you think about it! It will also improve your performance in front of the laptop. Every time you notice you slouch, consciously go into an active posture!
  2. Play! Don’t just lift for health (although this is great obviously), but perhaps get an additional motivation for it. Do competitive powerlifting or weightlifting, climb, play soccer, you name it. All this will strengthen your body, and better your posture by strengthening your lower body.
  3. Squat! My favourite exercise, deep, gluteus maximus heavy squats (after which you’ll feel your butt) are great for your posture! Strong glutes serve as a firm basis for your spine, keeping it in a proper position.
  4. Pull-up! As mentioned above, balance your chest work-out with an upper back workout (they are antagonists after all). This will counteract imbalances for over-zealous benching!
  5. Core-up (Yeah not the best abbreviation, but it fits well with pull-up 😉)! Your abdominal muscles keep your body from collapsing inwards (towards your belly), and they are always working when you are in an erect (i.e. not lying) position. Strenghten this region and your posture will benefit!






[5] Baumeister, R. F., & Tierney, J. (2012). Willpower: Rediscovering the greatest human strength. New York: Penguin Books.

Risotto with mushrooms

This is a very nice (vegetarian) recipe, especially if you are bulking.


Ingredients (for 4 people):

1 litre (vegetable) broth

2 onions

75-100g Parmesan cheese (grated/flakes)

Olive oil

(Unsalted) Butter

400 gr risotto rice

250 ml white wine

2 spring onions

600 gr chestnut mushrooms (kastanjechampignons)


How to make the risotto

  1. Put the broth on a small flame so it stays warm
  2. Cut the mushrooms in slices and finely chop the onion
  3. Put a little bit of olive oil in one pan and add the mushrooms, fry them until they are done and slightly brown
  4. Put a little bit of olive oil in another pan and fry the onions until they’re soft and look “glassy”
  5. Add the risotto rice to the onions and fry for about 1 minute until they turn slightly
    translucent, then put the stove on a low heat.
  6. Add the white wine to the rice and onions and let it evaporate
  7. Add the broth 2 ladles at time to the rice and onions and let evaporate/be absorbed until adding the next ladles of broth.
  8. When the rice is almost cooked (after about 30-40 minutes) add (Italian) herbs and spices to taste.
  9. Turn the stove off and stir the Parmesan cheese through the rice.
  10. Add the mushrooms and a small clump of butter to the rice. Stir it through and put the lid on the pan to let it rest for about 2-5 minutes.
  11. In the meantime, cut the spring onions in small slices.
  12. Sprinkle the spring onion over the risotto before or after serving.

Eat with some salad if you want some extra vegetables.

  Whole dish Per serving
Kcal 3042 761
Protein (g) 112 28
Carbs (g) 340 85
Fat (g) 108 27




Is exercise an addiction? An opinion article

By Wietse In het Panhuis

We probably all know the good feeling during exercise. Either we are in the gym lifting weights to become stronger, bigger and fitter, or we are running or cycling outside or practicing any performance sport. All of us who are very dedicated to training a lot experience this positive feeling during our training and a feeling of satisfaction afterwards. Exercise makes you feel confident in your body and makes you stress free. For those who train every (other) day of the week probably also know the feeling of not exercising for a couple of days in a row. This gives a feeling of restlessness, perhaps makes you a bit down, while being impatient to train again. For some people not training for three days in a row can be stressful. Is this a sign that exercise may be addictive? It isn’t, because training a lot is healthy, right? If it’s an addiction it’s a healthy addiction , and nothing compared to a substance addiction such as alcohol. It is better than going out, drinking a lot or unhealthy snacking. Of course, these things are much different when they are compared with each other, but does that mean that exercise is not an addiction nonetheless?

What defines addiction?   
Like any other term, phenomenon or condition there are countless definitions. Thus, while one definition may refer to addiction, another might not. Therefore it is always difficult to come to a conclusion and reach consensus. However, a distinguishment can be made between dictionary definitions and clinical definitions. Where dictionary definitions shortly and broadly describe something, clinical definitions are elaborate and detailed. Hence, in a clinical situation such definitions are needed to establish whether a certain disease is present or not. Hereby, there may be a difference in what the public refers to as an addiction compared to what a clinician would refer to.

Let’s start off with the following definition regarding addiction by the Cambridge dictionary: “The need or strong desire to do or to have something, or a very strong liking for something”. By means of this definition, exercise could be an addiction. The word addiction has quite a negative undertone, but when looking at this definition, is it really? Is it bad to have a strong desire for and liking of exercise? No, probably not. An exercise addiction in light of this definition seems neither negative nor positive. It’s just a matter of liking.

Another definition states addiction to be “a persistent compulsive use of a substance or action known by the user to be harmful”. Knowing that exercise is beneficial for human health, exercise would not be an addiction according to this definition. This definition mainly implies addiction to substances like drugs.

A medical definition, from the American Society of Addiction Medicine, regarding addiction states the following: “Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry[…] This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors. Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response […]”[1] Note that all of those definitions acknowledge that behaviours, in addition to substances, potentially lead to addiction! Still, only gambling is officially recognized as a behavioural addiction as of yet, though internet and food addiction are vivid areas of research [2,3]. A clinician would hereby be careful to diagnose an excessive exerciser as an addict. Some aspects of this definition – such as the pursue of reward, inability to abstain (or stop) exercising, craving and possibly more – might hold true for exercise, but these are much less severe than when compared to a substance (or gambling) addiction. These aspects translate to a physical or mental dependency on exercise. This would mean that when the use of for example a substance would stop, the addict would suffer physical or mental consequences, also referred to as withdrawal symptoms. So when someone is used to exercising very often and suddenly stops doing this, he or she would probably experience some negative withdrawal symptoms. These are different for every person. While some may not experience these symptoms at all, others might become depressed, and everything within that spectrum.

During exercise, dopamine and many other chemicals such as endorphins are released in the brain. All these hormones and neurotransmitters lead to increased euphoria (happiness), reduction of anxiety and increases in pain threshold. Dopamine and endorphins are the feel-good neurotransmitter that play a role in the reward center of the brain. From eating delicious foods to winning a game and taking certain drugs, dopamine is the chemical that make us want it, and endorphins the one that makes us enjoy it. Without dopamine, you wouldn’t be stimulated to eat dessert after you are already satiated once you finished a two-course meal. Dopamine makes us repeat the actions that lead to its release in order to get the feeling of happiness again. Endorphins inhibit pain signals and could give a feeling of euphoria (a well-known example of this is the runner’s high). Endorphins act on opioid receptors. The opioid receptor works like any other receptor: it is plastic, meaning that it can change. Receptors can adapt to a changing environment by increasing or decreasing in number and also by becoming more or less sensitive, depending on the amount of substrate (in this case endorphins) that is present. We probably all recognize this in caffeine: when you hardly ever drink caffeine, you get very energetic after drinking one cup of coffee, but when you drink it more often you need more cups to get the same effect. This receptor desensitization (becoming less sensitive to stimuli and needing more of a stimuli to reach the same effect) also occurs with the opioid receptor. When one exercises very often, more endorphins are released on a daily basis than without the exercise. One becomes used to these higher levels of endorphins. Suddenly stopping with exercising daily would thereby result in a ‘blue Monday’: a lack of ‘happy hormones’ that makes you feel down. This could cause a physical dependence of exercise.

However, like stated before, an exercise addiction is not the same as an alcohol addiction. Where exercise is healthy for the body, excess alcohol is detrimental. So according to the definitions of liking or dependency as a criterion of addiction exercise can be an addiction, but not according to the clinical definition, nor is exercise harmful to the user. So is any dependency on something by definition an addiction? Are the things that stimulate dopamine and endorphin release in the reward center of the brain addictive? If you love listening to music and would suddenly stop having music in your life, would that be considered an addiction? Probably not. Or if you would have problems with abstaining from the toilet which results in a bit more than minor discomfort… 😉 The same goes for reading a good book, enjoying good company, dancing, fishing, and so on. These are the many simple things in life that we enjoy doing. If we can’t have those simple things we would be disappointed, but that does not mean we are addicted. Like mentioned before, the brain simply functions in this way in order to stimulate behavior that is considered beneficial. These little things make us happy and make us enjoy our lives. Without them, there would be no happiness in this world, therefore we must be allowed to enjoy them. It is only when these things become too important that they bring you physically or mentally out of balance, that it could become a problem.

One might say that in general something is not an addiction as long as there are no negative consequences. Does this mean that as long as one just exercises frequently without any adverse mental or physical effects, exercise is not an addiction? We already know that clinically speaking, exercise is probably not an addiction. However, if at any point exercise has adverse mental of physical effects, can it be considered a sort of addiction or compulsive behavior? One review that looked at people who are exercise dependent found that compulsive exercise is associated with eating disorder pathology, perfectionism, neuroticism, narcissism, and obsessive compulsive traits[4]. This doesn’t mean that anyone who exercises a lot will get these problems or traits, but it means that these problems or traits occur more often in an exercise dependent person that in an exercise independent person. It might be that people who are more likely to get these traits become exercise dependent more often than other people. It might also be that an extreme form of exercise triggers these problems or traits. However, this topic of research is still behind, due to the lack of research and methodological problems. If these problems or traits are not present we probably tend to conclude that exercise is not harmful, but is that true? Would there be a realistic situation that could occur in any of us where an exercise dependency becomes harmful?

When the consequences of exercise become negative   
There seems one possible and logical situation where exercise dependency has negative consequences: when one is not able to exercise anymore, of which injuries are the most common cause.

There are two problems regarding injuries with exercising a lot. First of all, exercising a lot could lead to training too much and thereby an increased risk of overuse injuries. Knowing how to train safe and smart could help a great deal with injury prevention, but there is always a chance on an accident. Secondly, exercise dependency makes one want to train often without skipping a training. It is therefore difficult to get enough rest to recover and to rehabilitate steadily without overtraining. One study that nicely illustrates this looked at interviews with physiotherapists, who had treated injured people with an exercise dependency [5]. These therapists stated that the largest problem in treating these people was the low compliance when they asked them to exercise less. In other words, recovery from their injuries was hampered by the fact that they were not able to abstain from exercising.

Mainly this last aspect complicates the whole injury situation. Rationally one knows to take it easy in order to recover, but often this is too difficult. One ends up doing too much, resulting in a worsening of the injury, leaving you at the end and beginning of a vicious circle. One could stay within this circle for quite a while during which the situation keeps spiraling downward, until one finally realizes: it can’t go on like this. Meanwhile, the situation has hit rock bottom, where exercising (daily) has become impossible. In addition, daily life has become a struggle: walking, standing, even sitting causes pain. The feeling of missing a normal training becomes stronger and stronger. The body starts to become weaker and less muscular, stress increases, and one misses its most important outlet. Feelings of stress, anxiety and depression increase. At this point one wonders how much he would give to get out of this situation. Looking jealously how others are exercising like ever before, wondering why they can while you can’t. At this point you realize: I show signs of addiction. Which is just like what happened to me.

My personal experience   
I wrote this article because I found out for myself how addicted I was to exercise while I had been injured for a very long time. I suffered from a back injury for three years. The paragraph above roughly describes the development of my injury. I was in this downward spiral where I tried to train, ending up worsening the injury and the situation, after which the circle started again from the beginning. I quickly started to notice the injury in my daily life. I couldn’t walk for 20 minutes without noticing it, the same went for sitting. Standing was even worse. It caused me stress. There were moments I felt depressed (depression is a condition from which I did not suffer and I don’t want to speak lightly of it, but you get the point). I couldn’t enjoy the simple things anymore, because I was too distracted by the injury. I had been to six different physiotherapists. All of them were able to help me in the beginning, but after ending up in another downward spiral, they did not succeed in lifting me up from it again. At one point, it was so bad I couldn’t even go to the supermarket and do groceries anymore. It was the first year of my master, and it started halfway the first year of my bachelor. At this point I was often thinking about doing an internship in the next year, requiring 9 to 5 attendance. How would that on earth be possible, when I was laying down in bed half of the day? Let alone getting a job after my internship?

In the meantime I had been to so many physiotherapists, I started losing something much more important than my strength, fitness and muscle mass I had been working on for years. I started losing hope. I always thought at some point in my life I must recover from the injury, naturally. It made sense that this was a temporary thing and that it must go over at some point, but now I started to lose that confidence. If it had to end at some point, it first should be preceded by change or improvement, but improvement was not coming. Therefore, I gained the mentality to try anything that would give a slight chance of improvement. Someone recommended a physiotherapist who had helped him before. I did not have much confidence that it would help, but I went anyway.

At the beginning of every first session with a physiotherapist, the therapist will ask you to explain the situation and the symptoms of the injury. Like any other time, I explained in a mere 10 minutes what was going on. To explain the whole situation I would need about a day or write a whole book, but I did the best I could to give a good depiction of the situation. I told about all the advice I had been given by previous therapists and that I took all their advice to heart by doing all the required exercises, stretches, and any other possible beneficial action on a daily basis. Somewhere in the middle of my story he interrupted me and said “what exactly is the problem? You are not in great pain, your back can make all movements without problems, nothing seems to be wrong with your back. All you seem to have is some feeling in your back. You know, I think all those physiotherapists have driven you crazy: “Pay attention to this, pay attention to that, keep this straight, don’t forget that”. Just let it go. Just move on.” And so his speech continued for a while. Within half an hour I stood outside of his practice. After three years I found out that the problem had grown in my head. I was so intensely focused on my injury that anything I felt in my back caused me anxiety. Any stimulus would tell me something was wrong, that I was exhausting my back, that I had to lay down. This pattern had caused me to become so inactive and not used to moving, that it made sense that any movement would result in some feeling in my back. It made sense that when I would walk for 20 minutes I would start feeling my back, because I was not used to it anymore. I misinterpreted the stimuli since I didn’t know the reaction of my own body anymore. The day prior to the visit to this therapist I was not able to go to the supermarket and do groceries. This day I went cycling and walked for over half an hour. The week after I started exercising. I could again go out on a trip, visit family, go on a weekend trip. All things I couldn’t do before without having stress and anxiety, without enjoying them, I could now do again. It felt like my life has stood still for three years and I could start living again. Nowadays I am no more limited by my injury and I am doing my internship from 9 to 5.

In conclusion   
I experienced for myself the huge impact of restraining from training after exercise dependence. From physically feeling down and stressed to mentally seeing everything I worked for disappear. If I would have to answer the question “Is exercise addictive?” I would say that it can be considered a small addiction, even though clinically it is not recognized as an addiction. However, the purpose of the article was not to quarrel about definitions or only show scientific articles, but I wanted to show the human perspective, hence I called this an opinion article. I would say that if exercise would be considered addictive, it doesn’t have to be a problem. Like anything or any activity that brings us joy, exercise can brighten our lives as long as it doesn’t get out of proportion. If your whole world does not evolve around exercise, it wouldn’t be unbearable when suddenly exercising wouldn’t be possible anymore.

I would just advise to sometimes stand still and think about the transience of life. One day we will be old and our exercise performance will decline, so it should not happen that we lose our happiness when we get older. Realizing this from time to time will bring us perspective on what is important in life. Similarly, something detrimental could happen to us at any moment in life. When we are aware of this, we will be prepared and able to deal with it when it happens.

Always wanting to lift more weight, to get stronger, to be fitter, to look better is something you strive for when you are training passionately. However, at some point we must be satisfied with where we are. Enjoying what we have without always wanting more is an undervalued capacity nowadays. When we think in light of this about the endorphin story again, we know that exposure to more endorphins desensitizes the receptor. Always wanting more does therefore not work. When you get more, the next time you need even more to stay happy. Finally you would end up drinking 10 cups of coffee a day. A man who wins the lottery is thrilled of excitement one day, but this effect slowly wears off and in the end the money didn’t buy long-lasting happiness. It becomes boring. Similarly, this can be compared to a phenomenon called muscle dysmorphia (or in bro terms ‘bigorexia’), during which people feel like they are not muscular or can only see their shortcomings, even though these people are very ripped. It’s programmed in our brains and society to want more, but wanting more is not possible every single day. Happiness without sadness doesn’t give happiness. You can’t be happy every moment of the day during every day of the year. In our current society we have the idea that we should always be happy and when this doesn’t happen we are afraid that we don’t enjoy our lives.

Maybe our opioid receptors need a day off every now and then. Just once in awhile, a single day to not experience much joy. To stay inactive. To rest and sensitize. So the next time they get a glimpse of happiness, they take the opportunity to enjoy it to the fullest. And maybe so should we.


[1] ASAM Board of Directors, American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2011, April 19). Retrieved December 08, 2017, from
[2] O’Brien, Charles. “Addiction and dependence in DSM-V.” Addiction 106: 866–867 (2011): 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.03144.x
[3] Potenza, Marc N. “Non-Substance Addictive Behaviors in the Context of DSM-5.” Addictive behaviors 39.1 (2014): 10.1016/j.addbeh.2013.09.004. PMC. Web. 8 Dec. 2017.
[4] Lichtenstein, Mia Beck et al. “Compulsive Exercise: Links, Risks and Challenges Faced.” Psychology Research and Behavior Management 10 (2017): 10.2147/PRBM.S113093. 85–95. PMC. Web. 8 Dec. 2017.
[5] Adams, J., & Kirkby, R. (1997). Exercise dependence: A problem for sports physiotherapists. Australian journal of physiotherapy, 43(1), 53-58.

Bulking advice for hardgainers

By Fleur van Griensven 

Stuffing your face all day long without getting fat seems like the ultimate dream for most people, right? For some people however, eating a lot with the purpose of gaining weight can be difficult. They have probably tried many things to get more calories in, but this resulted in a smaller amount of weight gain than they had hoped for. If you are one of those people, keep on reading here to find out which foods and tricks you can use to make your bulk a bit easier and more enjoyable: ….



This article might be a bit more practical than you are used to. I am not going to tell you what bulking is, the best way to do so in my opinion or whether you should bulk or cut. I might write a series of articles about bulking in the future if there is interest. For now, I just want to help by giving tips on how to make eating a lot of food easier if you are struggling to get your daily bulking calories in.


What is a hardgainer?

The term hardgainer is often used for people who find it difficult to gain weight and eat a lot of food. Sometimes there is confusion about the term hardgainer: it is thought that these people can’t gain as much weight as ‘normal’ people and are thus in a metabolic disadvantage for weight gain. This is not what is meant when someone is a hardgainer. These people can gain as much weight as everyone else. They just have more difficulty eating all the food they need to eat in order to gain weight. Often it is a lack of discipline to sustain a caloric surplus, so it is a psychological problem instead of a physiological one. That is also where the solution to this very simple problem seems to be: just eat more food and you will gain weight!


Why and when can bulking be difficult?

Simply saying eat more food to someone who is a hardgainer might not be the proper answer. There are many reasons why bulking can be more difficult for some than for others, thus recognizing them can help to counteract them.

I have listed down a few things that people encounter. This especially holds true when you bulk for a long period. Since the purpose of a bulk is to gain muscle (whilst keeping fat gain to a minimum), you will gain weight. This means that as you bulk longer your body needs more calories to simply maintain its increased weight as a result of the bulk. On top of that, you need to eat above maintenance calories or in a caloric surplus to gain muscle. So, as your weight increases you need to adjust your calories upward to maintain a caloric surplus and to continue gaining muscle.

Look below if you have encountered one of these problems whilst bulking yourself:

  • Feeling full or not hungry. As said before, you are basically ‘overfeeding’ your body whilst bulking. You are eating more calories than you need in order to use the extra calories for the process of muscle building and recovery. However, physiologically you can run into some struggles: not hungry, feeling full all day and as a result not wanting to eat all the food you should eat in order to be in a caloric surplus.


  • Busy all day, no time to make food or forgetting to eat. The number one answer you will get when you ask: ‘Why do you find bulking difficult?’ is going to be ‘I don’t have the time to prepare all the food’. Seriously? We live in a society where food is basically everywhere. No need to hunt for your own protein or bake your own bread. The next time you hear someone saying that they don’t have the time to make food, you just tell them to run to the nearest supermarket! Okay, no nonsense, but everyone is busy these days so it’s more a matter of making time to buy groceries or prepare meals if this helps you to keep up with a busy schedule.


  • High activity levels. There are also people with a very physically active job. Compare two men: one has a 9-5 job at the office and one works in the construction sector. They both have the same weight, height and age but completely different activity levels. The daily activity, or also called PAL (=Physical Activity Level), is taken into account when calculating maintenance calories. To calculate maintenance calories the BMR (=Basal Metabolic Rate) is multiplied by the PAL. This PAL will be anywhere between 1.40-1.69 for the man working at the office, since he is considered to live a sedentary lifestyle. The construction worker can have a PAL anywhere between 1.70-1.99 [1]. If their BMR is 1800 kcals, it gives a minimum maintenance calories of 2520 kcals for the man working at the office and 3060 kcals for the construction worker. This is a difference of 540 kcals. Making use of PAL for calculating maintenance calories will probably be a good starting point, but it might needs some tweaks here and there to find out your own true maintenance calories. To get back to the point, high activity levels can result in an increased energy expenditure and therefore require a higher food intake. This can lead to a lot of extra food that needs to be eaten, which can be difficult if you’re extremely active at work.


  • Unconsciously being more active. Maybe you have noticed it yourself during a bulk: pace up and down (in Dutch: ijsberen) whilst waiting for the train and not being able to sit still for a second. Even small movements with your hands/feets, that you probably aren’t conscious of, are part of this. These movements and all the energy expended for every action that does not belong to sleeping, eating or exercise are called NEAT (=Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis). Physiological studies demonstrate that NEAT is modulated with changes in energy balance: NEAT increases with overfeeding and decreases with underfeeding [2].

A study done by Levine et al. concluded that an unconscious increase in NEAT explains why some individuals can purposely increase daily energy intake above maintenance (1000 caloric surplus for 8 weeks in this study) and still experience a lack of weight gain. Without them knowing they get more active during the day and thus partly cancel the targeted caloric surplus [3].

Which foods make bulking easier?

  • Lower volume or foods with a high energy density. Energy density, that is the calories in a given weight of food, could affect satiety by influencing the rate at which nutrients reach receptors involved in satiety [4]. Eating foods with a high energy density, that contain a lot of calories per 100 g of product, helps reducing the amount of food consumption required for a given level of energy intake [5]. This comes in handy for hardgainers who can make use of eating high energy dense foods. Most of these high-energy dense foods are considered not to be rich in nutrients like minerals, vitamins and fibers and thus considered to contain ‘empty calories’. Realize that it is not so black and white and that not all energy-dense foods are bad for you. Even though one particular food might not be the healthiest option or contain a lot of nutrients, you still have to look at the diet as a whole. A few high energy dense foods are: deep-fried foods, pasta, full fat cheese, nuts and seeds.


  • Making foods liquid or making shakes. There are weight gainers on the market these days, but it is also simple to make shakes high in calories yourself. These homemade shakes can be full of nutrients, among which complex carbs, healthy fats and fiber. For example, you can use oats, (full)milk, whey protein as a basis and additionally add fruits, avocado, peanut butter or even olive oil if you are a real diehard. The evidence that liquids are truly less satiating than solid foods remains inconclusive, so more research is needed [6]. You can find out for yourself if you feel less satiated when consuming liquid calories instead of solid foods.


  • Foods high in (healthy) fat. As a macronutrient, fats are relatively energy dense with 9 kcals per gram in comparison to 4 kcals per gram for both carbs and protein. They therefore are a great addition to your bulking diet. A few foods high in (healthy) fat are listed below:

– Full dairy products. These products often contain a high amount of saturated fatty acids, also called SFA’s. Those SFA’s do have a bad reputation these days. However, saturated fats are probably not as bad for our health as thought. A review performed by Lawrence and colleagues revealed that dietary saturated fatty acids (SFAs) are not associated with CAD (=Coronary Artery disease, which could result in heart failure) and other adverse health effects. At worst saturated fats are weakly associated in some analyses when other contributing factors may be overlooked. Several recent analyses indicate that SFAs, particularly in dairy products and coconut oil, can improve health [7]. We can’t conclude that saturated fats are 100% sure not bad for our health because there still is a lot of research going on. It seems that saturated fat in dairy products isn’t so bad, but no recommendations can be made yet.

More foods which are high in (healthy) fat:

-Nuts or nut butters.


-Coconut/coconut oil.

-Olive oil.

-More than 70% cacoa chocolate.

-Fatty fish.



  • Carbohydrates. They are the main energy source of a diet [8]. How many carbohydrates you can consume before it becomes not that healthy is dependent on the situation. A diet which is high in sugar is probably not beneficial for your health [7]. Some key points to keep in mind whilst bulking: limit the amount of sugar, consume enough fibre and don’t overshoot on calories.

Next to this, research indicated that carbohydrates are less satiating than protein [9]. Consuming extra protein when protein requirements are fulfilled is thus not smart. You are probably better of eating these calories in the form of carbohydrates or fats. Another argument for not consuming excessive protein is that the TEF (=Thermic Effect of Food) is the highest for protein. This is the amount of energy needed to digest and absorb food. Since the TEF is the highest for protein, they are the hardest to digest [10].

There are way too many carbohydrates to sum up here, but one thing that I really like to eat when bulking are dried fruits. Raisins, figs, dates and apricots can be a great addition to your diet. Next to containing a lot of calories they do contain lots of vitamins (B1&B6), minerals (magnesium, iron, potassium, folic acid) and fiber.


Any other tips

As I said before, unconsciously being more active and thus burning a part or your whole caloric surplus can be easily tackled. Make yourself conscious of doing this and don’t get your energy expended on NEAT if you have a hard time getting a lot of calories in.

The same goes for doing cardio whilst bulking. True, numerous studies have shown that moderate to high levels of physical activity are protective against cardiovascular disease [11]. However, cardio also burns calories depending on the time/duration/intensity and type of cardio performed. Hardgainers, who already struggle, are making it even harder for themselves. They thus need to eat the extra calories burned in order to be in the same caloric surplus at the end of the day.

Combining different products makes you able to eat more food [12]. For example, when going out for a fancy 10 course dinner. After course 7 you are already full, but still got room for a dessert and coffee/tea with chocolate. Because you have been eating savory things, you can still eat a sweet dessert. You can also use this yourself, by making meals or even shakes where you combine sweet/savory/bitter products.

Next to that, the faster you eat the more you can eat before you will be satiated [13]. There is a small delay in experiencing satiation. If you eat a soup half an hour before dinner, you will eat less of that meal compared to when you would only eat dinner. Thus when bulking, stop snacking just before having a meal!

There are hardgainers who think that they are gaining a lot of weight just because once in awhile they go all out and stuff their face with an enormous surplus of calories. They believe that they have consumed such an amount of food on this one day, that they also eat this much on a daily basis. It is something psychological which they are convinced of. Consuming occasionally an enormous surplus, also called binge eating, isn’t as effective as consuming a (small) daily caloric surplus. Have you ever tried drinking 5 protein shakes consecutively and 10 minutes later you find yourself on the toilet for the next hour? Still convinced that you have absorbed it all?



After reading this article, i hope you got some insight into why bulking can be more difficult for some than for others. Yes, eating a lot of food isn’t always easy. It is often more a psychological than a physiological problem which causes people not to gain the amount of weight they had hoped for during a bulk. I have listed some foods and gave some tips which will hopefully make your next bulk a piece of cake. Oh wait, with icecream and whipped cream of course, all for those extra calories which are more than welcome if you believe you are a hardgainer!



[1] Physical Activity level. Retrieved on 4-11-2017.

[2] Levine, JA (2002). Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). Best Practice&Research Clinical Endocrinology&Metabolism. 16(4), 679-702

[3] Levine, JA et all. (1999). Role of non-exercise activity thermogenesis in resistance to fat gain in humans. Science. 283(5399), 212-4.

[4] Kissileff, H.R. et all. (1984). The satiating efficiency of foods. Physiology of Behavior. 32, 319–332.

[5] Rolls, B. (1995). Effects of food quality, quantity and variety on intake. Not eating enough: overcoming under consumption of military operational ration

[6] Almiron-Roig, E (2003). Liquid calories and the failure of satiety: how good is the evidence? Obes Rev. 4(4), 201-212.

[7] Lawrence, G (2013). Dietary fats and health: dietary recommendations in the context of scientific evidence. Adv. Nutr. 4, 294-302

[8] Jequier, E (1994). Carbohydrates as a source of energy. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 59(3), 682-685.

[9] Bertenshaw, E (2008). Satiating effects of protein but not carbohydrate consumed in a between-meal beverage context. Physiology of Behavior. 93(3), 427-436

[10] Westerterp, K. (2004). Diet induced thermogenis. Nutrition&Metabolism.

[11] Joyner, M (2009). Exercise protects the cardiovascular system: effects beyond traditional risk factors. Journal of Physiology. 587(23), 5551-5558

[12] McCrory, MA (2012). Dietary (sensory) variety and energy balance. Physiology of Behaviour. 107(4), 576-583

[13] College Regulatie van honger en verzadiging, WUR HNE-20306 Nutritional Behaviour.

Restaurant Review: H41

Restaurant Review: H41 in the city center of Wageningen
by Danique Haas

Last Tuesday we went out for dinner with the beasts. This year we went to H41 for a
three course meal. H41 is a very cozy restaurant located in an old wood-sawmaker
in the city center and is one of Wageningen’s most visited restaurants.

You have different three course menu’s you can choose from but we choose menu
3, which costs € 24.95. For the menu you could choose what kind of appetizer, main
course and dessert.


Soup of the day
Fried shrimps with oriental sauce
Salad with smoked chicken & almonds
Combination with steak of venison & fillet of kangaroo with H41 sauce
Steak with a mushroom cream sauce
Salmon prepared in the oven with white wine
Giant mushrooms, stuffed with nuts and Roquefort

Dame blanche
Plate H41 (vanilla ice cream with banana, egg nogg, chocolate sauce & whipped
Chocolate trio with homemade brownie, ice cream and mousse

I chose the salad with smoked chicken & almonds as the appetizer while almost
everybody else chose for the fried shrimps with oriental sauce. The portions were
relatively big for an appetizer I must say so we were all very pleased. I also really
liked the ratio chicken vs salad which was about 50/50 since I am not much of a
salad person.


For the main course we all had something different. Again the portions did not
disappoint us. I had the salmon and it was cooked really nicely. We also got salads
and French fries with mayonnaise with it. Where you would normally get a small
basket of French fries in a restaurant we now got a big bowl of fries.


For the dessert we were all same minded, almost everybody chose the chocolate
trio. If you are a chocolate addict like me it is the perfect dessert. I also really liked
the different textures in the dessert.


We really enjoyed the food and I would definitely go back another time. I thought the
prize was really good for the quality and amount of food that we got. I would rate the
food with a 8,5, service gets a 8 and the total ambiance gets a 9.


The FoodCie

Recipe: Healthy banana pancakes

This is a nice and easy recipe to make for breakfast or lunch.

Ingredients (for 3 small pancakes):

  • 1 banana
  • 1 egg
  • 1 table spoon of flour
  • Oil


How to make the pancakes

  1. Mash the banana with a fork and put it in a bowl
  2. Add the egg to the banana and mix it, then also add the flour and mix it so you have no lumps in the mixture
  3. You can also add more flour if you like your pancakes to be more firm
  4. Heat up a pan with some oil and pour the mixture in the pan, divide the mixture into three small pancakes
  5. Bake the pancakes first om one side till they are golden brown on the bottom and the batter is solid on top (so you can turn them).
  6. Bake the pancakes on the other side thill they have a nice golden brown color


Serve the pancakes with some syrup or with some fresh fruit, or both.

Per portion Per pancake
Kcal 312 104
Proteins 10.4 g 3.5 g
Carbs 30 g 10 g
Fat 16.4 g 5.5 g



Restaurant review: ‘De Kater’

Last Saturday, our FoodCie member Koen had the spontaneous idea to go out for dinner with the FoodCie. So we did! The choice of restaurant was determined very quickly. The burgers from ‘De Kater’ were calling for us!

We arrived without a reservation on a busy Saturday night, so we obviously had to wait a little bit at the bar. Our fellow beast and bartender at de Kater, Sven, made us some nice drinks and cocktails and soon a table became available!


Koen and Ricky ordered the chicken burger, me (Eva) and Nacari ordered the bacon and cheese burger, Jasmijn had a beef skewer and Kevin was just there for the fun (and alcohol)!


It all tasted very nice, and the amount that was supplied was sufficient.

Our meat was cooked medium (the way we wanted it) and seasoned nicely. Koen got a cute salad on the side instead of fries. The chicken burger had a different seasoning than last time, and Koen thought that the previous seasoning was a bit better!


Unfortunately we had to go to a festival after this dinner, so we did not get a dessert.


The final score for this restaurant:

Service: 8+

The service was great, everything was arranged quickly and efficiently.

Atmosphere: 7

We are giving the general atmosphere of the restaurant a 7, this is because of the old fashioned style that they went for. Some of us liked it very much, some of us did not.

Food: 9

The burgers are wonderful, just like the other dishes. The price-quality ratio is great, good food for a small price.


We would definitely recommend to everybody to eat at ‘De Kater’!  



Do women naturally have less muscle building potential than men?

By Fleur van Griensven

When a girl tells people she just started lifting, they often think that she will wake up as a Hulk the next day. They think that lifting makes women look bulky, so they shouldn’t train like men. Another thing you often hear, is that women can never get as big as men, but is that true? Do women naturally have less muscular potential than men? Or can we finally acknowledge the fact that women should train heavy too and that a lot of girls are not living up to their potential by lifting 2 kg pink dumbbells?


The natural muscular potential of women.

Popular opinion is that men have more muscular potential than women and thus can gain more muscle. However, some research indicates that women naturally have roughly the same muscle building potential. A prospective intervention study examined the influences of gender on muscle size responses to strength training. The results were that women can gain the same percentage of muscle mass compared to men during strength training [1].

Studies on protein synthesis came also to the same conclusion. Women have similar muscle protein synthesis rates and thus seem to build the same amount of muscle protein after training compared to men [2]. This is however the conclusion of only a few studies, so more research is definitely needed to be 100% clear that women do naturally have the same muscle building potential. However, this is difficult because these studies take a long time and need to be well-controlled.

When women start training they do have a different body composition. Most of the times, women have less muscle mass and more fat mass compared to men. Women have +/- 12% essential body fat compared to just +/- 3% fat in men [3]. Essential body fat is all the fat which we can not lose without it negatively affecting our physiological functions. It surrounds our organs and nerve tissues. Men and women do have a different starting point when it comes to muscle mass, but they seem to be gaining muscle mass at the same rate. Keep in mind that for the rest of this article I always compare men with a starting point to women with the same starting point, so a same body composition.

How about testosterone?

Testosterone is the most important male sex hormone. Women however do also produce testosterone, even though they have 15 times less active testosterone than men, under normal circumstances [4]. Besides the known functions of testosterone in our body, like development of primary/secondary sexual characteristics and production of sperm, it also plays a positive role in muscle building. Testosterone is an anabolic hormone, which means that it stimulates muscle protein synthesis and thus muscle growth.

Is it then true, because women have less testosterone they also have less potential to build muscle mass? No, this is probably not the case. The testosterone functions are different in men and women. What comes next might be a bit of a complicated story with terms you never heard about, but do not worry about that and try to see the big picture in why having less testosterone as a woman is not that bad at all.

It seems that testosterone is not needed for muscle development in women because growth factors like IGF-1 and growth hormone take over the anabolic role that testosterone plays in men [5]. This has been found in an animal study done with mice, so more studies are necessary to test if this is the case in humans too. However since women can gain muscle with lower testosterone levels, it can be safely assumed that other hormones besides testosterone are involved in this muscle building process.

Women have just as much IGF-1 and produce +/- 3 times as much growth hormone as men [6]. This study shows that despite the fact that women have lower testosterone levels than men, they do have higher growth hormone levels. It could be possible that in women growth hormone partly takes over the role of testosterone. This explains why having less testosterone does probably not limit how much muscle women can build. People think that testosterone is the most important hormone, but there are more hormones that play a role in muscle growth.

The other (sex)hormones combined with the advantages/disadvantages women have.


Where testosterone is the most important male sex hormone, estrogen is the most important female sex hormone. Estrogen is commonly seen as the hormone that makes you fat and frail. However, its positive effects should not be disregarded. Some of these positive physiological effects are:

  • It is anti-catabolic, which means that it prevents muscle loss [7].
  • It aids in muscle repair [8].
  • It is good for connective tissue (bones, ligaments etc.).

The bad reputation of estrogen is based on nothing more than the assumption that if testosterone is anabolic, estrogen must be catabolic. There is a lot of ongoing research and there are indications that it plays a role in muscle growth and the well-being of skeletal muscle. However, more research is needed in the future.


One big disadvantage for a lot of women these days is the use of the anti-contraceptive pill. This holds especially true for the ones containing a lot of progesterone. They do have a negative effect on muscle growth compared to not using an anti-contraceptive pill, because progesterone competes with testosterone for the androgen receptor. Basically, this comes down to less active testosterone when you take in an anti-contraceptive pill with a lot of progesterone [9]. How much of a negative effect occurs is hard to tell, because it is very difficult to study.

Here is a practical tip which you can use to take advantage of the benefit we have being a woman. Hopefully this and more research in the future about some other topics relating the effects of hormones on muscle growth will help you get the most out of your training sessions!

  • We can use a higher rep range.

There are two types of muscle fibres: Type I&II. Type I muscle fibers are known as slow-twitch muscle fibers, which makes them able to contract for a long period of time and more resistant to fatigue. Being able to contract for a long period of time could mean that women can benefit from a higher rep range. This could mean that for women to grow to their full potential, more reps per set need to be done to benefit from the type I fibres which are more  resistant to fatigue and can contract longer. One study came to the conclusion that during exercise in women, a potential conversion to type I muscle fibers or no conversion at all takes place [10]. This study looked at the muscle fibre adaptations during execution of a knee-extension exercise in both young men and women. They found a significant increase in percentage of type I fibres in young women. The study has its limitations: if the muscle fibres had been splitted into type Ia, IIa, IIb etcetera, no significant result would have been found. This also is anecdotal evidence and more research needs to be done.

Conclusion, do women naturally have less muscle building potential than men?

There is some research which indicates that women can gain the same percentage of muscle mass compared to men during strength training [1,2]. However more research is needed.

Why you see more men with a significant amount of muscle mass compared to women and why women aren’t 100% living up to their potential can be contributed to a lot of factors:

  • Mostly social-cultural. There are not as many women compared to men training with weights. If they do train, some of them just do not want to build as much mass as possible. Everyone has their own goal and idea of how they want to look. That is okay, as long as you do what makes you happy and never have someone telling you what you shouldn’t or can’t achieve.
  • If women go to the gym, they spend countless hours on the treadmill or playing around with pink dumbbells, that is for sure not 100% optimal if you want to build as much muscle mass as possible.
  • Oral-contraceptives, which have a negative effect on muscle growth. Part of the anabolic role of testosterone will be taken over by other hormones in women, so testosterone production probably does not limit how much muscle women can build.

More information about this topic for sure will come available in the future as more and more studies are being done on this interesting topic. When that time comes we will update this article and bring you the latest conclusions.

One take home message for all the women out there busting their ass off (or on) in the gym: you probably are not less capable of putting on muscle mass than men, and the only limitations you have are the ones you put on yourself!


[1] Roth, SM (2001). Muscle size responses to strength training in young and older men and women. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 49(11), 1428-33.

[2] O’Hagan, FT (1995). Response to resistance training in young women and men. International journal of sports medicine, 16(5), 314-21.

[3] Vehrs, P (2013). Assessment and interpretation of body composition in physical education. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 46-51

[4] Wisse, B (2016, 2 March). Testosterone. Retrieved from

[5] MacLean, HE (2008). Impaired skeletal muscle development and function in male, but not female, genomic androgen receptor knockout mice. FASEB journal, 22(8), 2676-89.

[6] Van den Berg, G (1996). An amplitude-specific divergence in the pulsatile mode of growth hormone (GH) secretion underlies the gender difference in mean GH concentrations in men and premenopausal women. Journal Clinical endocrinal Metab, 81(7), 2460-2467

[7] Hansen, Mette (2014). Influence of Sex and Estrogen on Musculotendinous Protein Turnover at Rest and after exercise. Exercise & Sport Sciences Reviews, 42(4), 183-192.

[8] Velders, M (2013). How Sex hormones promote skeletal muscle regeneration. Sports Medicine, 43(11), 1089-1100.

[9] Woock, C (2009). Oral Contraceptive use impairs muscle gains in young women. The FASEB Journal, 23(1).

[10] Martel, G (2006). Age and sex affect human muscle fibre adaptations to heavy resistance strength training. Experimental Physiology, 91(2), 457-464