An important part of fitness that’s covered much less than weight loss, is weight gain. Gaining weight takes strategy, consistency, and work. It might seem foreign to some people who have differing goals, but saying “just eat more!” to someone who is trying to gain weight is not unlike saying “just eat less!” to someone who needs to lose weight. Relationships with food can be complicated.
How to eat to gain weight and muscle the healthy way
Eat often - Try to eat 6 times a day; 3 meals and 3 snacks. Try to not let more than 2-3 hours pass in between eating. Related: What should you eat before your workout? Best pre-work out snacks
Eat more - Adding an additional 500-1000 extra calories to daily intake would make for an increase of 1-2 lbs a week, though these variables will be impacted by the individual’s level of activity. It may seem a little intimidating to someone who is trying to eat more to gain weight but you can break the additional calories up over your meals & snacks in order to have a less noticeable bump in the intake across all of your eating times.
Eat for health - A plant based diet with lots of vegetables and fruits is ideal for vitamin and mineral content and is generally important for a healthy body. Adapting this eating style with special attention towards calorie dense foods can help a person gain weight healthily. It’s not unlike what we recommend in general for a healthy diet and it includes all macronutrients.
- Heart healthy fats: nuts, nut butters, full fat yogurt, avocado, seeds, cooking oils (olive oil, avocado oil, sesame oil, etc), dark chocolate, and so on. These calorie dense foods take up minimal volume and may help you drive up your calorie intake without feeling completely stuffed.
- Protein*: meat, eggs, dairy, or food combinations & possibly supplementation for animal free diets. Choose options that are as minimally processed as possible.
- Carbohydrates - rice, beans, pasta, whole wheat bread & wraps, potatoes, yams, fruit, quinoa, oatmeal, couscous, etc
*Complete proteins & suggested intake - You don’t necessarily need supplements in order to gain weight or muscle - most of the time you can get what you need from real food. Many studies have shown that the average American gets more protein than they actually need. Omnivores can get complete proteins from meat and eggs. If you are vegan or vegetarian, make sure you’re being mindful of food pairings and supplementation in order to get all amino acids and full b vitamin complex. Studies range from suggesting 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, all the way to 1+ grams per lb of bodyweight. I am not going to suggest a range because each of our needs are different, however, it’s important to realize than too much of anything can put strain on the body. As always, I highly recommend talking to your doctor, a nutritionist, etc - someone who has your personal healthcare information & history.
Save heavy water drinking for outside of mealtimes - I don’t ever recommend cutting out water, at all, ever, for any reason - simply save your heaviest water drinking for ~40 minutes before or after meal time in order to save room in your stomach for food
Trick your brain by eating on a larger plate; by comparison, it will make the amount you’re eating look like less food. Sometimes a little brain trick can go a long ways.
How to workout to gain weight
Use your warm ups and HIIT for cardio - Regardless of your specific fitness goals, you don’t want to neglect your cardiovascular health. Avoid longer cardio sessions but keep a small amount of cardio in your routine in the form of your warms ups (before your lifting sessions) and high intensity interval training (HIIT), which is the only kind of cardio that has been proven to actually build muscle.
- Another strategy to reduce actual cardio training without negatively impacting your cardiovascular health is to use to cut down on the rest periods between your lifting sets, increasing the challenge on your lungs, while you build muscle - essentially, structure your strength workouts so that they feel like a cardio workout as well.
Strength Training - When strength training to gain weight is to do low reps, with a heavy weight. Aim for perfect form & a weight that challenges you at rep 5-8.
- It’s important to note that strength training can be very good for burning fat and losing weight - you will need to take into consideration the expenditure of your workouts, and eat more to help negate calories burned during training sessions.
Building shape and curves with strength training - Strength training can be used to build muscle that creates the look of shape and the appearance of “curves”. Specifically, building up muscle mass in the upper and lower body can help create more contrast and a smaller looking waist. With time and consistency, it is very possible to build up size in the glutes, thighs, and upper body.
Rest is important - let your muscles heal entirely in between workouts; more is definitely not always better. Think quality over quantity when it comes to workouts.
Make sure that you’re getting enough sleep - Make sure your body has what it needs in order to be able to repair itself and build muscle. Shoot for 8 hours a night.
On a more personal note, this actually closely mimics the way I eat & train - the same reason why you might have noticed my body change over the years. Watch: My Before and After Story. It’s not that I set out for any physical “goal shape”, I just really feel the best when I eat often, eat a lot of healthy fats, do workouts favoring strength training, etc. I don’t have a gym membership; the only equipment I use is dumbbells. I don’t take any “muscle building” supplements. I have been able to put on a fair amount of muscle with just whole foods, home workouts and consistency.
It's important to remember that fitness looks different on each body - try not to compare yourself to others. Also, something different works for each of us; as always, I highly recommend talking to your doctor, a nutritionist, etc - someone who has your personal healthcare information & history, in order to get more information for your specific situation.
I hope these tips are helpful! Let us know what you would like to see me cover next.