How I Put on 20lbs of Lean Muscle in a Year

The theme of my life has always been self-improvement – constantly striving towards becoming my best self.

A year ago I just moved back to America after living a few years overseas. I immediately go into my routine of working 12+ hours a day and noticed I was constantly tired and out of energy. I looked in the mirror and realized I was completely out of shape compared to what I looked like in college.

Most of my goals were usually business related or trying to improve my mind, but I realized that I had been neglecting my body for a few years. My fitness was becoming more and more important considering I’m in front of the computer all day and I’m getting older.

I decided to set an ambitious goal of gaining 20lbs of lean muscle within a year.

I had been going to the gym on and off for a few years, but this time I wanted to make a total lifestyle commitment. You guys know I love studying habits and routines, and I was quite curious to see if I could develop the discipline to consistently go to the gym and stick to a diet plan.

The Transformation


2013-09-13 21.12.10

Strength Gains:

Before at 135lbs:

Bench: 135 x 5
Deadlift: 245 x 1
Squat: 185 x 5 (below parallel)

After at 155lbs:

Bench: 225 x 6
Deadlift: 385 x 1
Squat: 285 x 5 (below parallel)

1 year of hard work. I went to the gym 250 times. I counted my calories everyday. I slept 7+ hours a day.

This is my basic guide to putting on muscle for anyone that wants to do the same. There’s tons of workout routines and diet plans out there, but I’ve done a bunch of research and want to share what worked for me.

Everyone kinda knows what it takes to lose weight: you eat healthier and do some cardio. If you want to gain muscle then you lift heavy weights and eat tons of food. However, 3 weeks into January then everyone’s already back into their old routines.

Not only do I wanna share my workout plan, diet, and supplements, but I also wanna share how I developed the discipline and motivation to stick to my plan for over a year.

The Mental Game

Going to the gym consistently

An important part about developing a new habit is removing barriers to entry and limiting the amount of decisions you have to make.

  • I worked out at a gym that was only 5 minutes away. The closer you are to the gym, the more you’ll be able to go.
  • I worked out at the same time every single day. My ritual was to eat my pre-workout meal 5pm, watch some youtube fitness videos, drink my pre-workout, and get to the gym by 5:45pm. Once I started doing it enough it became as automatic as brushing my teeth in the morning.
  • I tracked how often I was going to the gym. Use Lift, Fitocracy, 42goals, etc. I turned it into a game.
  • There were days I didn’t feel like going to the gym, and I would force myself to shift my focus. Instead of thinking about how sore or tired I was, I’d focus on how good I’d feel after the workou. Anyone can hit the gym when they’re motivated; what’s more important is being able to go to the gym even if you don’t feel like it.

One Step at a Time

I follow the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen when I want to make changes in my life. They believe in making tiny, tiny adjustments and slowly building momentum.

The first thing I focused on was just going to the gym consistently. I didn’t worry about supplements, my diet, or anything else. The goal was initially 3x a week, and then I increased it to 5x a week.

Once I started going to the gym, I started researching my diet. Normally I ate 3 times a day, so I focused on eating 4 times a day, then 5, then 6. I wasn’t counting calories yet or weighing my food, I just gradually worked on increasing the # of meals a day.

Once I ate 6 times I day, I started planning my meals ahead of time and counting my calories.

It’s easy to get overexcited when you first start something. What happens is you try to do too much at once and you overwhelmed yourself. A few weeks later you’re back to square one. Conquer one part at a time.

Effort Over Results

I’m a huge fan of process-based goals vs. result-based goals. What’s the difference? Result-oriented goals would mean I’m focused on gaining 3 pounds this week. Process-based goals means I focused on the effort: going to the gym 5x this week, eating 6 meals a day, & sleeping a minimum of 7 hours a day.

People feel demotivated because they look in the mirror and aren’t getting results fast enough. I felt more motivated because I was keeping up with the plan, and wasn’t too concerned about the results. They would come as long as I was consistent.

Trust the process.

Workout Programs

There are tons of workout programs out there. A mistake people make is they don’t really have a set plan. The workouts I did laid everything out for me so I’d walk into the gym and I’d know exactly what to do each day. I got programs from guys who had years of knowledge and experience.

0-3 Months:

Kris Gethin’s 12 Week Trainer - This is the program that got me started. What I liked about this program is there’s a video every single day and that definitely helped keep me motivated in the beginning.

3-6 Months:

Lyle MacDonald’s Generic Bulking Routine – It introduced the principle of working out each bodypart twice a week and focuses on compound movements.

6-12 months:

Layne Norton’s PHAT – An advanced program that combines strength and hypertrophy training. I made tons of strength gains on this program.

Other Good Routines:

Push / Pull / Legs – Amazing program with a lot of flexibility. You can do a 3 day split as a beginning, and a 5 day split when you’re more advanced.

5 / 3 / 1 – A 4 day a week training programming that focuses on increasing the strength of four main lifts: deadlift, bench, overhead press, and squat. I think this is better for intermediate / advanced. The weight increases are too slow for a beginner.

Random Workout Tips

  • Huge fan of training each body part twice a week. I think this is works best for anyone that’s a natural bodybuilder
  • Focus on compound exercises that work more than one bodypart: bench press, deadlift, squats, barbell rows, overhead presses, etc.
  • Work your muscle, don’t just move the weight.
  • Focus on increasing the weight aka progressive overload. To gain muscle, you need to get stronger.
  • Work out your entire body. Don’t be the guy that only works out their chest and arms. That produces an unbalanced body
  • Don’t skip leg day
  • Even when I was bulking I would do cardio three times a week for 10 – 15 minutes. The heart’s a muscle too that should be healthy.

Diet / Nutrition

Your diet is 90% of the battle. It’s a simple numbers game, your body needs a calorie surplus in order to build muscle. If you’re not gaining weight, you’re simply not eating enough. 

Skinny guys will claim they eat a lot and not gain weight. What’s happening is they’re not pushing themselves enough. If he is use to eating 1,000 calories a day, and increases it to 1,500 calories, he feels as if he’s eating a lot because he increased his instake by 50%. However, his body might require a minimum of 2,000 calories in order to grow.

That’s why it’s important to weigh you food and track your macros (fat, carb, and protein intake). Protein is how your body repairs and grows new muscle. Carbs give you energy. Fat helps your hormonal balance and stores energy for the future.

To calculate how much calories you need, use the IIFYM calculator


Sample Bulking Diet

Artofleads s Food Diary

Artofleads s Food Diary 2

Good Foods


  • Chicken breasts / chicken thighs
  • Turkey breasts
  • Lean steak
  • Eggs
  • Protein Powder
  • Cottage Cheese


  • Sweet potatoes (poke holes with a fork, and microwave for 5 minutes)
  • Brown rice (get a rice cooker)
  • Oatmeal (microwave it)
  • Beans
  • Wheat Bread


  • Broccoli
  • Spinach


  • Avocado
  • Natural Peanut butter
  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil



Grocery Shopping on a cut

Meal prepping my lunch for a few days


You don’t need supplements. The industry preys on making newbies spend hundreds of dollars on “magic bullets” that don’t exist. If you’re on a budget then it’s better to spend that money on more food. However, the right supplements can definitely help.

Here’s the four basic supplements you should take:

- Protein powder: Syntha-6 was the best tasting protein I tried, but it contains more calories than necessary. Some other recommendations include Trutein, and customizing your own protein at TrueProtein. Whey protein is just the leftover product of cheese production. You need protein to build muscle, and protein shakes makes it easier for you to hit your daily protein requirements.
- Creatine: Any brand will do. Can’t go wrong with Optimum Nutrition. Make sure you drink tons of water if you’re taking creatine.
- Fish oil pills: I just used Costco brand. Fish oil’s for better health, enhances muscle anabolism, and promotes fat loss.
- Multivitamin: Orange Triad.

That’s all you really need.

There’s some other supplements I bought that I found helpful.

- ZMA helped me get deeper sleep at night
- Pre-workout – I was a huge fan of Craze…it works but it contains DMAA. I’m currently taking Totalis since they show their formula. The cheapest pre-workout that works is just a caffeine pill.
- BCAA’sXtend SciVation. You drink this during your workout.I found that it helped with muscle recovery.

The Benefits

  • I have so much more energy than before
  • My discipline and productivity is at an all-time high
  • I feel happier, less stressed
  • I enjoy working at home so going to the gym made sure I got out the house each day and saw people
  • Aesthetics

Hope this helps! I’m happy with what I’ve achieved so far, but I’m going to continue lifting and trying to improve.

P.S. u aware?


About the Author

Charles Ngo

My name’s Charles Ngo and I’m a 29 year old internet marketer from Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve been in the internet marketing industry since 2007. Through relentless hard work, I’ve been able to earn millions of dollars in profit in internet marketing. It’s also allowed me to design a lifestyle of freedom and constant travel.

  • Charles Ngo's Website
    • Jamie

      Awesome results!!

      Great tip (and the reason most people fail): “I’m a huge fan of process-based goals vs. result-based goals.”

      My two tips:

      #1 Train with a (stronger) partner. Keeps discipline and ensures you always turn up. Forces you to train harder if you’re feeling weak/tired and your partner is pushing you on.

      #2 If you want to get stronger, always push out that last rep – no matter what.

      • drngo

        #1′s really tough. I know the ideal situation is to have a good workout partner, but they are hard as fuck to find. They’re always 30 minutes late, always skip leg days, etc.

    • Josh

      Lol looks exactly the same except you got a tan / are flexing in the second one…

    • Andrew

      That’s exactly the same way I got started. TONS of information in the bodybuilding industry and most is fluff aimed at desperate people looking for the quick fix when its really a lifestyle change. All the same principles that apply to affiliate marketing apply to physical fitness as well. When I first started studying bodybuilding and nutrition it was so overwhelming just like AM is to me right now. What got me started in the right direction was I had to make 1 simple commitment to myself and that was that I had to go to the gym everyday for 1 hour. It didnt matter if I sat and creeped on other people because I didn’t feel up to working out, or just being insecure and affraid of looking like an idiot to the people who I was sure knew I didnt know what I was doing. I had to get in the habit of going everyday. In a few months I lost so about 50lbs and I was 6’1 and 175 lbs. The problem was I had no muscle mass because I didn’t know the science behind building it. I made another habit and it was that I had to eat 10 egg omelet every morning. Didn’t matter if I was hungry or not science doesn’t doesn’t give a shit if you’re hungry (everyone that says “I’m just not a breakfast kind of person”) After stuffing myself with 40g of protein, vitamin and glass of water for about 3 weeks. Its second nature now. Another habit I forced on myself was dextrose/whey protein shake within 30min of the end of your workout at a 2:1 ratio of simple carbs/ protein for much more efficient protein synthesis, add another meal about an hour after that and a good snack/meal before bed and I had gained that 50lbs back a lot of muscle and some fat but now I was equiped with the knowledge. Instead of having an unconscious competence I was starting to have control over what I wanted to do with my body. Gaining muscle is the hard part but once you build the habits to consistently break down tissue and supply your body with the right tools it needs to repair that muscle its a walk in the park. Personally I prefer to bulk bulk bulk and then hit cardio 3-4 times a week for 1 hour in the morning on an empty stomach at about 60-75% of your max heart rate. After 30 min your body dips into fat storage and you’ll actually continuing burning calories for about 45 min after your cardio session.

      The principles used to build habits are the same ones you have to use in AM. I’m still really new even though I spent the last 5 years lurking in the industry. I’ve made a commitment to sit at my computer every night for 3 hours and all I can do is work on campaigns. Unlike the gym where all you can do is sit there its easy to get distracted and browse facebook, reddit, stumbleupon so those are blocked until my 3 hours are up. If I didnt do anything to my campaigns then that means I sat there for 3 hours thinking about them at least. Just like building muscle you have to build up your data so can cut (optimize). Once you get something working and you’re seeing the results you want you just scale it as in lifting more weight, ingesting more calories (buying more traffic).

      TLDR: Bodybuilding = Affiliate marketing

      • Andrew

        Removing barriers to entry is another very important step in habit building. Systematize everything you can. I prefer a certain outfit when working out so I went out and bought about 10 pairs (Albert einstein and Obama follow this method as well) I don’t have to worry about something being clean or matching and I can focus on what really matters (my workout) Some people might think im not really concerned with my hygiene since you tend to see the same people at the gym day after day. Its crazy how even the simplest things optimized add up over time. I’ve even gone as far as trying to design a automatic omelet maker on a timer so that I didn’t have to go to the kitchen to manually make my food.

        • Andrew

          Last thing. haha. DO NOT WEAR GLOVES. Its a handicap. You’ll grow dependent on them and the day you forget to bring them, they rip, or smell terrible you’ll have a shitty workout.

      • drngo

        Thanks man.

        I didn’t talk about it in the post (because it would get too long), but this is actually my second transformation. I went from 105lbs at 18 to 140lbs a year later. I actually took some of the lessons from bodybuilding and used them towards my AM such as hard work, effort, consistency, trusting the process, etc.

        But it was my initial success in bodybuilding that gave me the confidence the next 10 years for other areas of my life

    • lenstrom

      Great post, dude!

      • drngo

        Thanks bro for stopping by

    • HolyDicks

      A lot of absolute gold in here. I am in the same position you were in a year ago, and I wish I had known this stuff when I was younger.

      • drngo

        Thanks. Hope the info helps, already did the research for you

    • Craig

      You have crazy tiny nipples.

      • nah cuzz

        I scrolled up to check on his nipples after reading this

    • Daniel

      10/10 post would read again. OP is definitely not a phaggot. Will rep.

      • drngo


    • Milton

      What did you do when you hit a plateau?

      • drngo

        Every few weeks I’d take a break and do 50% of the weight for all exercises to let my body take extra rest. Your tendons, joints, etc. need to rest.

        There were two weeks I skipped working out completely to rest up, mainly during travel / conferences.

    • Li


      1. Any advice/video recs for meal prep? Did you hire a chef? Cook an entire week’s worth of meals (for Kris Gethin specifically) on Sundays? How long did it take you?

      This is the one area I struggle the most with – the workouts and everything else I have down but I suck in the kitchen and meal prepping is such a pain in the butt and so time consuming and the food I make just tastes terribly

      2. I recommend checking out the MusclePharm supps, specifically Assault, their preworkout

      • drngo

        1) No chef.

        I don’t like cooking an entire’s week worth at a time. I meal prep on Wednesday / Sundays. I dont wanna eat 6 day old food, also I like a little variety.

        Read this guy’s video for cooking.

        My advice is to watch youtube videos and learn how to be a better cook. Basically it’s easier to eat healthy if you can cook well. Don’t overcook your food and learn how to spice the meats.

        2. Ya II’ve taken assault. Plenty of good supps out there.

    • James

      I like how you include “below parallel”. That is so important and I feel 95% of people don’t do that. I’ve also never seen someone almost completely sum up the world of fitness in such a short article. I’ve spent 5 years learning everything you’ve outlined here. Excellent job.

      • drngo

        Yea it’s always been a pet peeve of mine to see someone loading up 3 plates, and only going down 3 inches. Too many guys are more concerned about pushing “big weight” than actually getting a proper workout in.

        There’s plenty of muscle building guides out there, but I just wanted to condense the multitude of information out there into a simple guide.

        Thanks for commenting.

      • lenstrom

        All you really need is to get that hip crease, aka @ parallel. Powerlifting requires a deeper squat. All that said, it really comes down to ankle and hip mobility.

        • Dr_Ngo

          Easier said than done for guys that spend 12+ hrs a day on the computer.

          I’m working tons on my mobility with foam rollers, yoga, and deep stretches. What really helped for squats was getting some weightlifting shoes with an elevated heel.

    • Doan

      Dude, you’re huge ! Great advices.

      • Dr_Ngo

        haha thanks, I wouldn’t say 155lbs is huge, but I’m happy with my progress

    • John

      just curious, what’s your bmi?

    • Day

      Nice article, thanks for the motivation. The mental tips are really great!

      Is eating 6 times a day your preference or a thing where you think that you have to do it in order to gain weight?

      If it´s the latter (and you don´t particularly like it), I would recommend you the leangains approach to intermittent fasting. I didn´t try it myself yet, but it´s worth a thought.