Recently I have gone over the importance of a weight gain/muscle gain phase, especially if you have been trying to lose weight and are not happy with your appearance.
While losing weight is tough and more of a problem for most people, gaining weight can also be an issue for many, but there is not as much help out there for people who are struggling to gain weight.
In this article, I go over simple and practical ways to gain weight if you have been stuck at the same weight or even losing more weight than normal.
Eat more calorie-dense foods.
This is the opposite of what you would tell someone who is trying to lose weight. The longer you gain weight and the more you eat, the more your hunger levels go down, making eating chicken, rice, and broccoli much tougher.
So add in more tasty options.
By doing this you add in extra calories that are much easier to eat.
It’s important to note that you can overdo it. This doesn’t mean you should go and eat an entire pizza each and every meal.
What it does mean, is that instead of adding in more things like vegetables or plain rice to try and gain weight, you add in more things like cereals, pop tarts, bread etc. on top of your well-balanced whole food diet.
With online clients who are trying/struggling to gain weight, we focus more on a 70/30 approach instead of an 80/20 approach.
Cut back on protein.
Again, the opposite of trying to lose weight. Protein (the kind you should be eating most of the time) is very filling. So if you are struggling to gain weight and your first thought is to add in more chicken or fish (or any other lean protein), stop.
Chances are since you are eating more than normal you don’t have to worry about losing muscle, so we can focus on a lower protein intake when trying to gain weight, especially if hunger is low.
With online clients, we make sure they are getting the minimum amount of protein still but look at lowering protein to help reduce feelings of fullness. For most this is about .6-.8g per pound of bodyweight.
Add in liquid calories.
This is a very simple tool that you can use to help with gaining weight. If low hunger is an issue and you aren’t gaining weight, look no further than liquid calories. They are easy to consume and you can add in hundreds of extra calories without having any effect on your fullness levels.
With online clients, we look at increasing liquid calories through things like Gatorade (during your workout) or homemade protein shakes. Mass gainers are acceptable too, but I would look at adding in something like Gatorade or a homemade shake first.
Cut back on caffeine
Caffeine can suppress your appetite. If you are already feeling full and struggling to gain weight then cutting back on your caffeine can help with this.
Things that have caffeine in them:
- Energy drinks
- 5 Hour energy
This doesn’t mean you need to completely give up caffeine, but instead of 2 energy drinks per day drop to 1, instead of 3 cups of coffee per day go to 2. If an online client’s hunger doesn’t increase over a week or two, then we continue to slowly decrease caffeine.
In order to gain weight, you need to be in a positive energy balance (burn fewer calories than you take in). Too much activity can put you into a neutral energy balance or worse, even in a negative energy balance (a negative energy balance all but ensures muscle is NOT being built).
One thing we have online clients do to help them gain weight is lowering their activity levels.
Just like a step tracker can be helpful for losing weight, it can be useful for gaining as well. If they normally do 8-10k steps per day, then we look at lowering that to around 6-7k.
If they do 2 runs per week, then we just do 1.
It is still good to get movement in for recovery and overall health, but if you are getting 10k + steps per day and doing multiple runs per week while trying to gain weight, then you are shooting yourself in the foot.
If you want more information on how to make adjustments during a building phase read HERE.
Avoid intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting (IF) can be a potential tool you use for fat loss read HERE, but if you are trying to gain weight, IF is a bad idea.
The amount of food you would need to eat to be in a positive energy balance would be tough to squeeze into a small eating window. Your body can only handle so much food in a short period of time before you run into fullness issues.
If you are doing IF and not gaining weight, increase your eating window. This will allow your body to digest and make space for extra meals. Avoid any eating window that is less than 10-12 hours.
Also, going long periods of time without protein isn’t great for building muscle.
While this seems like a “well duh” tip, you would be surprised how many people try to build muscle and do IF. If someone argues with you about this and says they build muscle with IF, its likely they are:
- Leaning out which gives them the appearance that they are building muscle, but they are just getting leaner.
- New to training
- Just got back from a long lay off of not training
Again, it’s fine to do IF, but if you want to change your body and build MORE muscle you need to gain weight at some point, and IF is not something I would recommend.
Avoid limiting an entire macro group
What are macros?
Carbs, fats, and protein.
Earlier we talked about reducing protein intake. But this is just to slightly lower levels. If you completely cut out or severely reduce a macro group, you are shooting yourself in the foot for building muscle/gaining weight.
Completely cutting out your carbs will all but ensure weight gain/building muscle will NOT happen.
Same with fats, when fats get very low it can mess with your hormones, particularly testosterone, which is SUPER important for building muscle.
And protein goes without saying.
With online clients we find a good balance of all 3 macro groups.
Minimums: .8g protein, 1.5g carb, .3g fat.
Lets take a 150lb male and see what that comes out to as an example:
Protein: .8 x 150lbs= 120g per day
Carbs: 1.5 x 150=225g per day
Fats: .3 x 150= 45g per day.
Remember, these are your MINIMUMS. From there, add in macros based on preference and whatever amount of calories you need to gain weight.
For me, I like my carbs. So I try to keep fat and protein fairly lower and increase my carbs when trying to gain weight, but I always make sure to hit my minimums.
Whenever I give advice on how to lose weight, one of the first things we talk about is slowing down when eating. If you are having trouble gaining weight, eating faster can help you get more food in before you feel full.
It takes some time for your brain to get the signal that you are full. We can override this by eating faster.
Just dont choke on your food.
Hope this helps you gain some weight. If you need more information on how much weight to gain without adding tons of fat, read this article.
If you are ready to run a building phase or you need more guidance/structure with your building phase then fill out the application here, and let’s get rolling.