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Scrawny to Brawny: Paul Valiulis

Here’s the truth: When you want to accomplish something – build muscle, make money, write a book, whatever – it’s better to have one specific action step you can start practicing today than it is to have a long list of to-dos.

That’s because doing one thing is easy. And doing two or more things is hard. (Yeah, it ain’t rocket science.)

Try to do too much at once — a common flaw of ambitious people — and you’ll fail. Do one thing — even if it’s ridiculously simple — and you’ll build confidence to get the ball rolling toward your big goal. And once you master that one thing, whether after two weeks or two months, it’s easy to add another habit right on top of it to keep the momentum going.

The caveat, of course, is that your one action step better be worth it. It better make a big impact. And it better be something you can do consistently, without fail, every day.

Precision Nutrition coach Paul Valiulis knows this well.

He gained over 70 pounds and completely transformed his life in just 18 months by focusing on building one habit at a time. So whenever a scrawny guy asks him how to gain muscle, Paul starts ’em off with one thing and one thing only. 

In this post he introduces the one habit that kick-started his scrawny to brawny journey, and how it can help you gain muscle.

Enter Paul.

Paul at 133.

Paul, 18 months later, at 210 pounds.

Picture this: You’re a 130-pound marathon runner.

Depressed. Anorexic. Screwed.

You look in the mirror. (sigh)

Another day of wishing you weren’t alive.

You go to the gym for the only thing that makes you feel good anymore: running.

Sore from the marathon you did just a couple of days ago, you hop on the treadmill and start jogging. Two hours later, you step off. Somehow, you injured yourself while running indoors.

This is rock bottom.

A few years ago, I was in a pretty rough place, addicted to running, eating about as much as a 12-year old girl, and completely oblivious to the laws of muscle-building.

After a few shitty things happened (like the injury mentioned above), I was forced to re-evaluate my methods and change all of my habits.


I wanted to be different. I wanted to be better. I wanted to turn my scrawny frame into a brawny physique. A physique that would match how I felt inside. A physique that would let my zest for life really shine through.

So I decided to do something about it. Well, one thing really. But that one thing — what I'll share with you below — led to a snowball effect that changed my life.

The Difference Between Scrawny and Brawny

Here’s a snapshot of how I ate and trained when I was scrawny, back in 2005.

  • 130 pounds
  • Calorie Intake = 2,400 per day
  • Daily meals = 3 meals per day
  • Cardio (jogging) = 22 miles per week
  • Weight Training: 1x per week (abs and arms)
  • Reactive (get injured, go to physical therapy)

And here’s a snapshot of how I eat and train now.

  • 200 pounds
  • Calorie Intake = 5,000 per day
  • Daily meals = 6 or 7 meals and snacks per day
  • Cardio (sprints) = 6-10 minutes per week
  • Weight Training: 4x per week (2x per week legs)
  • Proactive (foam rolling, yoga, ART, etc.)

We’re all a product of our habits. And if you don’t have the body you want, your habits just plain suck.
Now, let’s be clear. It’s not a personal flaw or a lack of knowledge. It’s not your genetics or some other crappy excuse. It’s because the things you do on a daily basis are not conducive to building muscle.

And here’s the good news. Your habits are the easiest thing to change. That’s why I want to help. But I’m not gonna write you a complex training program or tell you how many calories you need to eat. That stuff is irrelevant right now.

Instead, I’m gonna give you one habit — the same habit that helped one of the guys in our Scrawny to Brawny coaching program gain 18 pounds in one single month.

Your New Habit: Drink 3 Super Shakes Every Day

Look, if you’re a scrawny guy who needs to gain muscle,you need to start eating more. You don’t need to count calories, and you don’t need to balance your macronutrients. You need to put more food into your mouth.

How do you get those calories? The stupid way is to eat a bunch of crap. The smart way is to drink what we at Precision Nutrition call a “Super Shake.”

Enough with the plain ol’ water and protein. A Super Shake combines high-quality protein, fiber, muscle-building fats, antioxidants, and more in a tasty formula that ensures muscle-producing anabolism. (That’s science-speak for getting huge.)

When done consistently, drinking 3 Super Shakes every day may help you gain more muscle in the next couple of months than you have in the past year.

Here’s how to make your Super Shakes.

For optimal mixing, flavor, and consistency, follow the steps in order. (Trust me, I’ve done enough experimenting for the both of us.)

Step 1: Start with Ice

  • Use 1-4 cubes for a thin, chilled shake
  • Use 5-10 cubes for a thicker, pudding-like shake

Step 2: Pick a Fruit

If you like a thick shake, go with frozen over fresh.

  • Apple, orange, banana, pineapple
  • Strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, blackberry

Step 3: Throw in a Veggie

Yeah I know it sounds gross to put veggies in a shake, but if you use the right ones, you’ll barely taste them. Plus, you get the added benefit of extra nutrients.

  • Spinach or powdered greens

Step 4: Scoop Some Protein

One or two scoops should be all you need. I use Metabolic Drive by Biotest.

Step 5: Select a Nut or Seed

Aim for 1/4 cup of nuts per shake.

  • Walnuts, cashews, almonds, nut butter
  • Flax, hemp, or chia seeds

Step 6: Pour Some Liquid

How much depends on how thick or thin you want it. If you have a weak blender, more liquid makes it easier to blend.

  • Water
  • Chilled green tea
  • Unsweetened almond milk

Step 7: Choose Your Topper

This step is optional, but it nicely finishes off any shake.

  • Dark chocolate, ground coffee beans, coconut, oats, granola, cinnamon, vanilla extract

Putting It All Together

Here are two of my favorite Super Shakes (although I do experiment a lot and try a ton of different combos).

“Berry Blast”

  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 scoops vanilla protein powder
  • 1 cup frozen, mixed berries
  • 1/2 cup fresh spinach
  • 1 tbsp ground flax seeds
  • 1 tbsp raw, mixed nuts

“Chocolate Peanut Butter Bomb”

  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 scoops chocolate protein powder
  • 2 tbsp natural peanut butter
  • 1 tbsp ground flax seeds
  • 1 tbsp raw, mixed nuts

What To Do Next

Drink 3 Super Shakes every day.

If you’re having trouble gaining muscle, three Super Shakes a day will give you a much-needed kick in the ass.

Think it’s too simple or (gasp!) too easy?

That’s the whole point.

The trick to making real change — like, say, building 70 pounds of muscle — is to focus on one thing at a time and ignore all the other shit that’s constantly coming at you.

Drink three Super Shakes today. Do the same thing tomorrow. Keep doing it for the next two weeks.

Then let’s talk about what else you can do.


Need Some More Muscle-Building Recipes? How ’Bout A Free Gourmet Nutrition Cookbook?

Paul and John Berardi over at Precision Nutrition have generously donated 2 free Gourmet Nutrition Cookbooks. And here’s how you can win one. Simply answer the following questions:

Have you tried to gain muscle before? If you succeeded, what did you do? If you failed, what can you do better next time?

Let us know in the comments. On Friday we’ll pick two people to win a free copy of the Gourmet Nutrition cookbook, just for sharing their thoughts.

Want more help gaining muscle?

On May 4th, the Scrawny to Brawny coaching program is going live. Over $20,000 in prize money, world-class coaches (like JB and Paul), and individual daily lessons written by yours truly.

Last year’s group gained over 1,600 pounds of muscle in six months. This year’s program is slated for a full year and is guaranteed to sell out within a few hours. If you’re a skinny guy who’s interested in building muscle, I highly recommend you check out 5 Muscle-Building Transformation Stories, an article I wrote profiling 5 regular guys who went through the program.