Counting Calories and a PPL Split Helped Me Gain 48 Pounds of Muscle

Jennifer E. Engen

Sakhile Mgitywa is a 20 year-old entrepreneur and graphic designer living in Johannesburg, South Africa. Fueled by a desire to gain muscle and an even stronger desire to be strong, this is how he upped his food intake and built hard gains.

I knew I always wanted to be strong and muscular despite doing everything everything I could think of to get into shape like home workouts and joining a sports team. It wasn’t until I joined a gym four years ago that I was able truly change my body.

Realizing that I burned so many calories from walking six to 10 miles a day on average, I centered my gym work around hypertrophy workouts to build muscle. I did a “bro-split” routine where each day of the week I trained an individual body part. For example, Monday was chest day, Tuesday was back day, etc.

I made sure to befriend the bigger and more muscular guys at my gym, and it was through them that I was able to take the knowledge I had gained from researching online and being able to put it into practice the most effective way possible.

More recently, I switched to a “push-pull-legs” (PPL) routine which I found to be more effective in muscle-building for me. I trained most of my muscle groups twice in a week (compared to one muscle set once a week), in order to get more benefits and work on that muscle. I knew I wanted to gain as much muscle as possible and that objective has not changed one bit over the years.

As the years progressed I gained a lot of knowledge and experience from research as well as training with people more experienced than I was, leading to me eventually cherry-picking the best of everything that I had learnt and creating my very own personal workout program.

My body really grew in size during this journey, but the body parts that saw the most growth I would say are my genetic strong points which are my chest, back, shoulders and traps.

Before my fitness journey, I ate like a typical teenager—a lot of fast food or whatever my mom cooked for me. Once I became independent, I was able to really take charge of my diet and take note of where my calories were coming from and going.

I doubled my protein intake, adding an extra chicken breast or extra deli meat slices to each meal. Walking my 6-10 to miles daily helped me in the sense that i did not gain much fat mass, but it wasn’t until I started counting calories did I see a drastic improvement in my physique. I made sure hit my daily calorie limit of 2,400 calories to maintain my weight and 1,900 calories when I wanted to lean out.

Tracking my calories allowed me to feel satiated compared to when I wasn’t. Now that I’m more conscious of the food I eat, I avoid low-volume calorie-dense foods like nuts and oils, and focus on high-volume low-calorie foods like lean meats and crunchy vegetables to get more out of my meals.

Unsurprisingly this has been the best my physique has ever looked, which has shown me the importance of a good diet.

Seeing my results and how the gym positively impacted my life kept me motivated to stick to my 5-6 days a week workout goal. I did have months where I didn’t go to the gym but I believe that those periods throughout my journey were very necessary. I was able to get physical and mental rest, as well as fall in love with weightlifting all over again.

Within the first couple of months of my journey I gained a considerable amount of weight whilst staying relatively lean. My starting weight was 105 pounds and after 6 months I was weighed 125 pounds. Over the 4 years of training I’ve gained around 48 pounds of mass, weighing in at 154 pounds at five-foot-four.

My biggest challenge was and still is a mental one—dealing with body dysmorphia. I’m rarely ever satisfied with how I look and it’s quite an ironic feeling to have when many people have stated that my physique is their dream physique. Overall the journey as a whole has been life changing and has molded me into the person that I am today. I am eternally grateful to the younger me for getting into the gym and adopting this lifestyle. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My friends and family have always encouraged me throughout this journey, I am extremely grateful to have them in my life. All were extremely impressed and shocked at how quickly I progressed. Now almost everyone in my life calls me “Mr. Fitness” but every now and then I receive the occasional compliment from a friend informing me of my excellent progression.

I’m more disciplined, have a lot more confidence, a new found purpose in life and a deeper appreciation for the power of consistency. My advice to anyone wanting to start or having just started would be to find your why. This journey is filled with ups and downs, sacrifices and pain, without a strong enough driving force it will seem as if it is not worth it . The next piece of advice I would give is to compete with no one else but yourself. Comparing yourself to others is a sure-fire way to bring about disappointment and steal your joy. My final and most important piece of advice is to stay consistent. Pay your dues consistently if you want results.

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