Like many things in life, gaining weight is simple but not necessarily easy.
While some of us are able to gain weight with little effort, there are those who just can’t seem to do it no matter how hard they try.
If you’re struggling to gain weight, despite “doing everything right”, I’ve got some good news and some bad news.
Bad news first? Okay…
- The bad news is that you’re actually not “doing everything right”.
- The good news is that it’s not that hard once you know what you should be doing.
Once you take the time to understand the underlying factors that dictate your body composition, you can easily manipulate them in your favor and gain as much weight as you want.
There is no such thing as “hard-gainers”. There are people who know how to gain weight and people who don’t. That’s all.
By the end of this article, you’ll know exactly how to gain weight.
So let’s get started…
Why You Can’t Seem To Gain Weight
I’ve heard all the excuses for not being able to gain weight:
- “It’s genetic.”
- “I’m a hard-gainer.”
- “I have a fast metabolism.”
The list goes on, but the reality is most of these excuses are nonsense.
If you have some kind of condition characterized by weight-loss (like cancer or hypothyroidism), then you’re going to be at a disadvantage trying to gain weight.
But if you’re just skinny and you want to put on muscle, it’s not that hard.
In order to gain weight, you need to consistently eat more calories than you burn.
In other words...
It is physically impossible for you to NOT GAIN WEIGHT if you are consistently consuming more calories (energy) than you are burning (energy expenditure).
This is called energy balance.
It's not just a workout principle or even a fitness principal.
It's a physical law.
Understanding Energy Balance (The Science)
Energy Balance is simply another way of saying calories in vs calories out.
It’s the relationship between how much you take in (in the form of calories from food) and how much you burn off (total calories burned).
When you take in more than you burn off, you’re in a positive energy balance.
When you burn off more than you take in, you’re in a negative energy balance.
You take in calories from the food you eat:
- Protein (4 calories/gram
- Fat (9 calories/gram)
- Carbs (4 calories/gram)
You burn calories a few ways:
- Daily Activities
- Resting Metabolism
The term resting metabolism simply refers to the normal bodily functions that you’re body performs on it’s own.
Everything you do–even things you don’t think about like breathing or making your heart beat–burns calories.
Now, if you want to gain weight, you need to consistently achieve a positive energy balance.
That is, you need to eat more calories than you burn, consistently over time.
If you Google around for a while, you’ll find a bunch of virtual “calorie calculators” that ballpark how many calories you’re probably burning a day, based on a few inputs that you provide.
Some of these are fairly accurate, but there’s also a much easier way to tell how may calories you’re burning each day.
Simply track your calories on a daily basis by looking at the nutrition facts on the food you eat. Even if you eat out, a lot of restaurants put the amount of calories on the menu these days.
If your body weight remains the same, you know you’re burning the same amount of calories as you’re taking in.
So, if you’re eating 2500 calories a day for say, 2 weeks, and you’re body weight hasn’t fluctuated, you know you’re burning about 2500 calories a day in total.
It’s really that simple…
How To Gain Weight, No Matter What
Now that we’ve gone over energy balance and established the fact that you cannot gain weight unless you eat more calories than you burn, let’s talk about how to actually do that.
Gaining weight boils down to 3 things:
- Eating More
- Training Smarter
If you execute on all 3, you’ll be able to gain as much weight (and muscle) as you want, guaranteed.
Even if you just do 2 of these things diligently, you’ll make some progress. Of course, it’s best to try your best to maximize all 3.
So let’s go through each of these aspects and discuss how exactly to optimize them for weight gain.
Eating For Maximum Weight Gain
We’ve already established that you need to eat more if you want to gain weight.
“But Matt, I already eat as much as a want and I still can’t gain weight”
Maybe think you eat a lot, but if you’re not gaining weight, clearly you’re not eating as much as you think.
If you don’t want to get fat, however, you don’t want to suddenly increase your caloric intake too much.
Upping your calorie intake by around 10%-20% is a great way to steadily gain more weight without getting too fat and giving your body a fair chance to build some muscle.
Next, you’ll need to structure you’re diet in a way that supports muscle growth.
- High Protein
- High Carbs
Fat is definitely you’re friend if you want to gain weight, but research shows that the amount of fat you eat doesn’t have as much of an impact on muscle growth as the amount of protein and/or carbs you eat.
That’s why you should structure your diet around protein and carbs, taking in a normal amount of fat, but not way too much.
Although there is no one optimal macronutrient profile for gaining weight, you do want to structure your diet so that it’s conducive to muscle growth.
- Carbs: 55-60%
- Protein: 25-30%
- Fat: 15-20%
If you really don’t care about maximizing muscle growth and just want to get huge, there’s nothing wrong with eating a bunch of fatty foods.
When it comes to bulking, protein and carbs are your friend.
If you want to gain as much muscle as possible (which you do if you want to gain weight), you should shoot for around 1.-1.4 gram of protein per pound of body weight.
So, if you’re 150 pounds, you would shoot for around 150-200 grams of protein per day, or 600-800 calories from protein.
As far as carbs, go crazy. Again, carbs are your friend when you’re bulking.
Training For Maximum Weight Gain
If gaining weight is your primary goal, you may think of exercise as counter-productive.
While it’s definitely true that too much exercise is not conducive to losing weight, building muscle is the best way to gain weight.
So you need to lift.
Sit around eating all day and you’ll surely get fat. Add regular exercise into the mix and you’ll just get bigger and stronger.
What type of exercise you’re doing is probably the most important factor here.
Too much cardio will impede muscle growth. Stick with heavy, compound weight-lifting.
- Bench Press
- Military Press
- Bent Over Rows
These kinds of movements incorporate more muscle groups than isolated movements like curls and extensions.
Compound exercises are ideal for muscle growth, and if you want to gain weight, you want to maximize muscle growth.
The aim of your training should be to increase strength.
The stronger you get, the more muscular you get. The more muscular you get, the bigger you’ll be.
Of course, lifting heavy weights also has two other benefits that make it worthwhile.
- It increases the amount of fat you burn even when you’re not in exercising
- It increases your appetite so you’ll naturally be able to eat more calories.
In fact, research shows that heavy resistance training can increase resting energy expenditure for up to 22 hours after your workout! That means you can train hard for a hour or so and be burning excess fat around the clock.
An increase in appetite is also beneficial if you’re trying to gain weight.
If you’re used to eating the same amount of calories everyday, you’ll probably have a hard time trying to eat more.
Throw some heavy compound weight-lifting in there though, and you’ll be hungry enough to hit your calorie intake goals.
Resting For Maximum Weight Gain
Okay so weight lifting is important. We’ve established that. But you know what’s equally important when it comes to gaining weight?
There are two kinds of rest that you should be concerned with:
- Off Days
You don’t build muscle in the gym. You build it when you’re not in the gym.
When you lift weights, you break down muscle tissue. It’s not until after you leave the gym, eat a meal, and rest that you begin to repair and rebuild.
While the amount of sleep you require depends on a lot of factors, research has proven that 7-8 hours is ideal for most people. Maybe even 9.
If you’re lifting weights regularly, you need to do your best to ensure you’re sleeping the right amount.
Of course, off days also offer an opportunity to rest, even while you’re awake.
You’ve probably heard that you need to lift weights almost every day if you want to gain muscle. While it’s definitely try that lifting weights on a regular basis is essential for building muscle over time, lifting every day can actually be counter-productive.
Ideally, you should workout 5 days a week with 2 off days.
Less than 3 days, and you’ll have a hard time building muscle.
More than 5 days and the problem is two-fold:
- You won’t be getting enough rest and repair time
- You may be burning too many calories
If you’re trying to gain weight, rest is you’re friend. It’s the third piece of the puzzle, right up there with diet and exercise. Unfortunately, rest is what most people tend to neglect.
If you’re having trouble gaining weight, try getting a good nights sleep every night and see if that doesn’t help your situation.
Clean Bulking Vs Doing Whatever It Takes
When it comes to gaining weight, you have two options:
- Clean Bulk Method – You want to gain muscle without getting too fat.
- Dirty Bulk – You don’t care whether it’s muscle or fat. You just want to gain weight.
If you choose to go with more of a clean bulk, you won’t gain as much weight but the weight you do gain will be mostly muscle.
If you go the other route–eating as much as you can of whatever–you’ll gain weight a lot faster but you’ll pack on some fat.
Which method you should choose really depends on your personal priorities…
If you care about staying relatively lean, you should go clean. If you just want to gain weight and get as strong as possible, then don’t worry about keeping it clean.
You can always cut fat later, once you have all that muscle you’re trying to gain.
In my personal experience, dirty bulking is easier. You just eat whatever you want.
When I was younger (around 16-17), I decided I wanted to get as big as possible, so that’s what I did. I just ate everything I could. I would eat every meal until I was so full I thought I would throw up, and then I’d drink a bunch of milk just to top it off.
And it worked. I went from a little 150 lb teenager to 205. And yeah, I was a little chubby, but it gave me something to work with. Over the years, I chiseled away at my physique, getting leaner and leaner, without ever dropping below 200 lbs.
These days, I would have to literally starve myself or take some type of drugs to drop below 200 lbs and it’s all because I stuffed my face at every meal for a year when I was 16.
So, you can try to be clean about it, but if you’re a long term thinker, you may just want to go all out and worry about losing fat later. Totally up to you…just saying.
Are There Supplements That can help you gain weight?
Here’s the thing…
Supplements won’t help you build muscle or size if you don’t first take care of diet and exercise.
When I was building SuppWithThat.com, I received a ton of emails from people who were frustrated because they just bought some expensive weight-gainer or mass-builder and it didn’t work.
Most of the time, I’d come to find out that these people weren’t eating enough. Some of them weren’t even working out!
The truth is, you can take all the supplements in the world, but if your diet sucks and you don’t work out correctly, you’ll never be able to put on muscle and size.
There is no magic pill that will make you gain weight without eating or exercising. Even on steroids, you can’t physically gain weight if you don’t eat more than you take in and do at least some kind of exercise.
The laws of energy balance are insurmountable.
That said, there are some supplements which can help give you an edge when it comes to gaining muscle and size.
Creatine is one of the oldest bodybuilding supplements, and for good reason. Literally hundreds of studies have looked out the impact of Creatine on muscle-building and the results have been pretty unanimous.
Creatine has been proven to:
- Increase strength, power, and endurance
- Increase muscle mass
- Enhance recovery from exercise
It works by increases the availability of ATP (cellular energy) during exercise. This directly increases muscular strength and endurance.
Creatine also acts as an Osmolyte, meaning it draws water into cells and quickly increase muscle size.
The clinical dose for Creatine is around 5g/day. It doesn’t really matter when you take it, but post-workout may be slightly favorable. Taking your Creatine with carbs will maximize absorption as well.
That’s why many people toss some Creatine in their post-workout shake with some protein and simple carbs.
Leucine is one of the 3 branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), but it’s actually the only one which has any kind of direct impact on muscle protein synthesis. In fact, Leucine isn’t just the most important BCAA for building muscle. It’s the most important amino acid, period.
Leucine directly stimulates mTOR, a signaling molecule which tells the body to start synthesizing proteins. Of course, you still need all 20 proteinogenic amino acids to build muscle, but Leucine is the undisputed muscle-building king.
A common criticism of Leucine is that you don’t need to supplement with it if you’re already getting enough protein. That’s definitely true, but ask yourself…
Are you getting enough protein?
If you’re having trouble building muscle and gaining weight, it’s pretty likely that you’re not getting enough protein. If that’s the case, supplementing with Leucine can definitely help you build muscle.
Supplementing with Leucine isn’t going to miraculously make up for a poor diet, but it can definitely help.
Take around 5g of Leucine before you workout or toss some in your post-workout shake to maximize muscle protein synthesis.
Pre-Workouts are often packed with stimulants, but the right ingredients can give you the upper hand in the gym that--over time--can make an actual different in terms of muscle and size.
Alpha GPC - Still in the early stages of research but has so far been shown to increase muscular power output with just one dose. More research is necessary, but looks promising across an even wider range of benefits, from potentially helping burn fat to being used as a nootropic (brain enhancer)
Caffeine - Again, Caffeine burns fat but it does far more than just that. It not only provides the mental energy and focus to help you acheive you're goals in the gym, but it has been proven to physically make you stronger.
The ultimate Weight Gain Checklist
Gaining weight boils down to eating more calories than you burn off, but if that seems vague, this checklist will help you out.
If you’re doing every single one of these things (or even just most of them), you should have no problem gaining weight. Go through this list, item by item, and ask yourself if you’re really doing each one.
Track Calorie Intake – Figure out how many calories you burn in a day by tracking your calorie intake at a set body weight.
Increase Calorie Intake – Once you know how much you burn, increase your intake by 10% or so.
High Protein/High Carb Diet – Make sure you’re eating at least 1g of protein per pound of body weight and plenty of carbs
Mostly Whole Foods – Make sure the majority of your calories come from nutritious whole foods, as opposed to those that are highly processed.
Workout 3-5 Days A Week – Make sure you’re working out enough to build muscle but not so much that it becomes counter-productive.
Heavy Compound Weight-Lifting – Do exercises like deadlifts, squats, and presses, rather than isolated movements, and go heavy!
7-8 Hours Of Sleep Every Night – Don’t neglect your sleep. Get a good night’s sleep every night, not just some nights.
Take Rest Days From The Gym – Take at least a couple off days a week from lifting. Just rest and eat.
Supplement Smart – Only use supplements that actually work and keep in mind that diet and exercise are far more important.
If you’re doing each one of these things (correctly), then congratulations, you’re going to gain weight!
If you’re reading this article though, you’re probably missing a few of them. In order to gain weight safely and efficiently, you’ll have to make some changes.
The Bottom Line On Gaining Weight
If you’re having trouble gaining weight, don’t worry. It’s actually not that hard. All you need to do is:
- Eat More
- Exercise Smart
And you’ll be able to gain as much weight as you want. You can sit around and make excuses for why you’re not big and strong, but guess what? Nobody is born big and strong!
Remember…Even that 300 lb bodybuilder at your gym was 150 lbs at some point in his life.