With such a large chunk of advertising and infomercials aimed at people looking to lose weight, it seems nobody has any advice (or sympathy) for people trying to gain weight. Anyone can gain a few extra pounds around the midsection (and probably have a blast doing so), but gaining lean muscle takes a more dedicated approach that involves eating and lifting the right way.

Eating for weight gain

  • Protein: 1 gram of protein for every pound of ideal body weight, broken up into 5-6 servings throughout the day, will ensure that your muscles are constantly fueled. That probably sounds like a heck of a lot of protein, but a quality whey protein supplement can help you ease the burden. Just two servings per day add about 50 grams of protein to your total daily intake.
  • Calories: In order to gain weight, you need a surplus of calories. Technically, an extra 3,500 calories equates to one pound, but counting calories is tedious and nearly impossible to accurately calculate (and frankly, who has the time?) Instead, figure out how many daily calories you need to hit your goal weight at a site like caloriecount.com, and try to spread that number evenly over the course of a day. Figuring out precisely how many calories your body consumes and expends each day is a futile task, so think of this number as a guideline, not an ultimatum.
  • Carbs: Eat plenty of complex carbs throughout the day to help meet your caloric needs and maintain sufficient energy levels for your workouts. Post-workout, simple carbs are an effective means of getting nutrients to your depleted muscles as quickly as possible.

Exercise for weight gain

A couple hundred spare calories per day can quickly settle along your waistline unless your body uses them to repair and build muscle. Fortunately, your workouts don’t have to monopolize your life if you follow a few key guidelines.

  • Add Variety. If you follow the same weight lifting routine each and every time, your gains will plateau and you will probably give up out of sheer boredom. Force your muscles to grow with new exercises, partial-reps, eccentric lifting (focusing on slowly lowering the weight), and varying rep schemes.
  • Focus on Large Muscle Groups. Muscles tend to grow in proportion to the entire body, so it’s no secret that focusing on the largest muscle groups yields the biggest gains. Dedicate a majority of your gym time to compound moves like deadlifts, squats, and pullups. Exercises like these can recruit 50% or more of your muscles for each and every repetition. The bicep curl? About 3%.
  • Lift Hard and Recover. Technically, lifting weights doesn’t build muscles, it breaks them. Give your muscles enough time to recover (and grow) by resting each muscle group at least 48 hours between lifting sessions. Performing a full-body workout three times per week, utilizing compound exercises, is more than sufficient for adding strength and muscle. More gym time may seem tempting when you are trying to gain weight, but overtraining can actually hamper your muscle growth.
  • Limit (But Don’t Eliminate) Cardio. Looking at any power forward in the NBA should squash that notion that cardio negates muscle growth. While too much cardio can make it difficult to keep up with an increased caloric need, remember that it is working the most important muscle of all, your heart. Limit your cardio to a few sessions per week, either following your weight training or on a separate day altogether.

Sources: Men’s Health

I graduated from Rutgers University in 2004 with a degree in American Studies. Currently, I live in New Jersey and am employed as a behavior therapist at a school for individuals with autism, and a private…  View profile

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