The History of the Gomad Diet

The GOMAD, or ‘Gallon of Milk a Day’ diet, is often the go-to option for hardgainers struggling to gain weight in an easy and relatively straightforward way. Advocated by strength coaches, the dark recesses of the internet, and the occasional big guy at the gym, there is no denying the impact the approach has had on the general lifting community.

In today’s brief post, we’re going to examine what the GOMAD diet entails, where it originated from, and, perhaps more importantly, whether or not you should consider doing it.

How Does One Do GOMAD?

A far cry from strict calorie counting or precise meal timing, the GOMAD diet is a simple and straightforward system. Consume your regular meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), and in between these meals, consume a gallon of milk.

For our European friends, the GOMAD diet often refers to the US gallon as opposed to the European standard. Far from a trivial point, the US gallon equates to 3.8 liters, whereas the European one comes out at 4.5 liters. Food, or drink, for thought!

The beauty of this approach is that it adds additional calories in one of the easiest ways possible. Gallon tubs of milk are readily available in the US, and assuming one is consuming full-fat milk, the GOMAD diet adds an additional 2,400 calories to one’s diet per day. Combine this with heavy training, and it’s said you’re on your way to weight gain. If we assume that the weight trainee is already consuming 2,000 to 3,000 calories a day from their regular meals, it’s easy to see the logic.

Who popularized the GOMAD approach?

More recently, the GOMAD approach has become synonymous with Mark Rippetoe, a Texan strength coach. In his book, Starting Strength, published in the early noughties, Rippetoe claimed that a gallon of milk a day combined with big compound movements would add mass to nearly any lifter.

Starting Strength is oftentimes a lifter’s first port of call into the gym community. Focused on the basic compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, and bench presses, the work has helped indoctrinate thousands of men and women into bona fide ‘iron addicts’. Rippetoe, whose advice is taken as near gospel by some devotees, advocated the GOMAD approach, which was thus highly important. Furthermore, the fact that he had a litany of successful transformations to underline its efficacy seemed to speak for itself.

There is just one problem, however. Rippetoe never claimed to have created the GOMAD approach; he only promoted it. Indeed, going through the annals of bodybuilding and physical culture reveals this approach’s honorable tradition.

In the first instance, one finds that the GOMAD approach was being promoted by Peary Rader, Mark Berry, and several others in the 1940s and 1950s. Coupled with an intense squatting program, trainees were advised to drink a gallon or more of milk a day. Higher in volume than Rippetoe’s programming, the Rader approach was heralded as a means of adding 15 to 20 pounds of mass in quick succession. Importantly, Rader’s systems were not for the meek, as trainees were required to perform 20 rep squats with as much weight as they could muster. One needs only to attempt such a feat to understand its difficulty.

Yet Rader himself was standing on the shoulders of giants, as it were, two decades before his GOMAD affiliation. The man known as Charles Atlas was promoting a heavily based milk diet as a means of putting on mass. Labeling milk drinking as his “special secret” for rapidly building enormous power’ (1), Atlas told his readers to:

Start at 8:00 in the morning and have a glass promptly every half hour. You can do this by taking two quart bottles in the morning, drinking a quart at noon, enjoying two more quarts in the afternoon, and another at night.

In terms of calories, five quarts of full-fat milk contain roughly 2900 calories, with 160 g fat, 255 g carbohydrates, and 155 g protein. Combined with Atlas’s exercise program, his clients certainly had the potential to put on muscle.

So is Atlas the father of the GOMAD approach? Nope, not even close.

Coming before Atlas was his mentor, Bernarr McFadden, who promoted an all-milk diet. Writing in the early 1920s, McFadden promoted milk as a means for promoting both muscular growth and the alleviation of illnesses. Strongly influenced by naturopathic and alternative medicine, McFadden’s work (available here) nevertheless had strong and long-lasting implications for the lifting community. McFadden himself had been inspired by a nineteenth-century approach that itself advocated milk in the alleviation of diseases (2). The list goes on and on.

So while the GOMAD diet may seem relatively new, we find that its origins go back at least two centuries and, most plausibly, many more.

Is the GOMAD diet for you?

old school milk photo If milk has been promoted for centuries in the pursuit of health and muscle, surely there must be something to this approach, right? The answer, it seems, depends on what you’re looking for.

For those looking for added mass in the shortest possible period, we find GOMAD to be an attractive option, with the caveat that excessive fat gain is almost always guaranteed. Indeed, one need only type ‘GOMAD fails’ into Google to find a litany of angry testimonials from former GOMADees who feel duped. The most common complaint is that while they got stronger, they also got substantially fatter (3). We also commonly see bloating and smooth muscles develop once people transition to this diet.

In our experience, the GOMAD diet is most likely a no-go for those seeking lean muscle gain. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hold some value, as its stress on simplicity is worth retaining. Rather than drink a gallon of milk a day, those seeking to slowly bulk up their weight may be better served drinking one or two glasses of milk a day on top of their regular meals. A simple and cheap bulking routine.

Ultimately, whether or not the GOMAD approach is the right one for you depends primarily on your composition goals (how you want your body to look) and your functioning (how well you can handle excessive quantities of milk). The rest, as they say, is all academic.

gallon on milk