Muscular Development: Getting Enough Protein to Build Muscle, by PJ Braun



The Following Article was originally published in Muscular Development Magazine in November 2022. It is the second in a series of articles written while PJ Braun was in prison. You can find previous and future articles in this series here. At the end of this article, you will find an addendum not included in the original publication where PJ reflects on his diet during the first phase of his training while incarcerated.

I am punishing my body daily, and feeding myself HARD. You got to eat big to get big.

PJ Braun

For those of you who missed my first article since being incarcerated, I went over my trials and tribulations of transportation from prison to prison until I got to my current and final BOP [Federal Bureau of Prisons] destination in Montgomery, Alabama. I went from 230 lbs lean to 210 “skinny fat,” but I managed, through an incredible amount of eating and hard work, to put back on another 20 lbs, despite not having access to any real weights or equipment. The commissary is essential for bodybuilding at the camp and in this article I will explain how it works and how I was able to use it to course correct after my long journey to Montgomery.

The prison provides you with three meals a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast is Bran Flakes, milk and a piece of fruit. Lunch and dinner vary, but each will have roughly 20-25 grams of protein per meal. With a diet like that, even with the right training, gains are going to be next to impossible. This is where the commissary comes in. 

The commissary is available for inmates to shop once per week. However, there is a catch. The monthly spending limit is $360. It does not matter if you’re ballin’ on the outside or if your family and loved ones want to dump money in your account over and over; you can’t spend more than $360 per month. Items at the commissary include what might be described as “luxury goods:” cheese, meats, crackers, rice, beans, chips, sauces, spreads, juices, coffee, soups, oatmeal, cereal, nuts, cookies, candy, as well as hygiene products; from laundry detergent to deodorant, soap, hair and skin care, etc.

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Cost efficiency is the key to success here, so I have broken my diet down into “bang for your buck:” protein per dollar. Everyone in prison raves over the mackerel, so much so that it was once used as currency in the past. When reading the label, I found that mackerel only had 18 grams of protein per serving. The chunk tuna, however, was 31 grams per serving and was only slightly more expensive. I stock up, big time. The next best option is the health shake packet, which comes with 24 grams of whey concentrate per serving. Unfortunately, the health shakes also have 20 grams of carbs (mostly from sugar), so when I double them up I get 48 grams of protein at the cost of spiking my blood sugar.

I decided to break my sentence down into three phases so I could best approach my diet while I am here. Phase one is my building phase; focused on signaling muscle memory. Because I was out of the gym for so long and my access to HRT growth hormone was cut, I went through quite a shrinking phase. In order to get my muscles to not only stop atrophying but also wake up from the hibernation they’ve been in, I have to train as heavy as possible and consume as much protein as I can while making up for the rest of the calories with a combo of carbs and fats to fuel my efforts.

Since it is very difficult to get more than 180-200 grams of protein daily, I’ve been forced to keep carbs and fats moderately high to compensate and train as hard as I can; 90 minutes, every morning. Remember, I must make do with what I have, so before I worry about how lean and appealing I can look in the mirror, serious work has to be done to get the muscle back. I have 29 years of weight training experience so the protocol I follow is much different than someone who is starting from scratch. 

My Prison Diet

______ ContentsMacros
Meal 1Chow line: This meal varies, but examples include a chicken patty sandwich, a hamburger, or a quarter chicken with either a sandwich bun or rice and beans on the “bird day;” everyone’s favorite day in the BOP. Average 20g protein, 50g Carbs, 15g Fat. Add 20-25g Carbs for a piece of fruit sometimes included
Meal 22 Health Shakes48g Protein, 40g Carbs (mostly sugar), no fat
Meal 31 packet of tuna, one package of ramen noodles mixed with a tablespoon of mayonnaise and a tablespoon of peanut butter.39g Protein (including 8g from the peanut butter), 60g carbs, 20g fat
Meal 4Chow line dinner; this meal is usually some sort of chicken and rice meal or chicken and noodles. We always have beans and some sort of vegetable like green beans. Similar to Meal 1
Meal 5Usually I repeat the tuna meal Same as Meal 3
Meal 62 Health ShakesSame as Meal 2

Between meals I have the occasional banana, when they are available, and if one of the inmates is cooking something fancy I will indulge. It’s amazing how well these guys cook with basic ingredients from the commissary. I have never had better Stromboli in my life; ha-ha.

On top of my aggressive eating, I have access to a basic multivitamin as well as vitamin C, E and B complex. I double the dosage, doing one in the morning and one in the evening. I was having some issues with digestion, which I strongly suspect is from being off daily probiotics and Glycolog. I have always praised Glycolog as the most important supplement I have ever released. 

The removal of these two important supplements from my routine has really affected me. I am often bloated and tired. My bowel movements have been regular, but my stomach does not feel the way it used to and I have some distention. I have decided to get back into intermittent fasting again like I did on the streets, hoping it will help. I’ve gained a little over 40 lbs since I started training again. I feel big and strong. I have more body fat than I need but, right now, the focus is on eating big and training hard. I can work on everything else later. The results are coming, but it’s much different than when I was on Test and GH.

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I want to share something that was said to me a very long time ago. This was from a very intelligent man and original mentor of mine named Rene Abreu; Do not make the jump to injectable testosterone until you can accept that it’s something you will do for life. You will never be the same, mentally or physically. When you are used to feeling like a superhuman 20-year-old, even if you stop and are perfectly healthy at 40 years old, you’re still 40 and going to feel 40 and hate it. Right now I have no choice but to suffer with the crash and low T for the rest of my entire sentence. I have accepted that the gains are going to come slow and steady, which makes the training aspect that much more important.

I learned over the last few years how to train smarter but not quite as hard because, at the time, I did not need to. I learned to squeeze and feel; get the pump and leave. That style of training won’t work now so I am punishing my body daily, requiring me to feed myself HARD. You gotta eat big to get big.

In the next issue, I am excited to share my workout routine! This will be one of the most bizarre and unorthodox routines you will ever read, but I have been loving it. Until next time, thank you loyal readers. 

Peace out; bye.

Instagram @pjbraunfitness


Editor’s Note (May 2024): Prior to posting this article, PJ Braun was requested for comment and asked to reflect on the content of this article. This was his response. It has been edited for clarity.

Looking back at my early days at the camp, I wish I had not been so aggressive with the food. I was so starved from being in 23-hour lockdowns that I thought I would just eat my way back up. I had dropped to 215 lbs from an already lean 232 lbs the day of my sentencing. However, my body fought back in a number of ways: I suffered from constant gastrointestinal issues and high blood pressure. 

The plan of forcing down food was a poor one. In a few short months, you will see a huge adjustment to my diet. Still, I was pleased with how I managed my food budget. The max you could spend at the commissary per month was 360 bucks. That was the limit, so I studied my options and found the best bang for my buck, perfecting a budget meal plan that allowed for 30 protein shakes, 30 packs of tuna, 30 servings of shredded beef, 4 jars of peanut butter, rice, and Metamucil (so that I could eat my refined diet every day without issues). Many guys would break the bank, getting caught up in the specialty, limited edition and/or seasonal items, only to go around begging for soup or crackers to get by after the good stuff dried up. Not me. A bodybuilder to the core, I never missed my meals and I skipped out on all those treats because I wanted to get whatever possible from my body as I trained every morning. 

When I think back to the way I used to over indulge before prison with fancy restaurants and door dashing dinner instead of prepping my food, it makes me shake my head. I’ve found that since coming home I’ve become quite frugal, but there is no shame in my game because the foods that I really need to thrive are the same ones I was eating when I was a broke bodybuilder in my 20’s, following sales and living on coupons. 

I guess you could say I found my roots again. 

PJ Braun