Whether you've lost weight due to an illness or surgery, or you just have a rapid metabolism, gaining weight requires you to consume more calories than you burn. Where that weight goes when you gain isn't entirely up to you. Your body will put on the pounds in a predetermined genetic pattern; for example, if your body has a thin pear shape, you'll grow into a more voluptuous pear. You can, however, control whether most of the weight you gain is fat or healthy muscle. Weight training can help you direct muscle development to certain areas, too.
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Weight Gain for Your Physique
The "right" places for you to gain weight depend on your personal aesthetic and gender. Women, for example, may want a rounder behind and a bigger bosom, while men might seek broader shoulders and a wider back. Whatever your focus for weight gain, make sure it is attainable. A woman who expects to gain weight to change from an A-cup to a D-cup, for example, has to realize it's just not possible with diet and exercise. A man who is naturally lean and lanky but wants to create a physique like Mr. Universe may also be reaching for an impossible goal.
Whether or not you end up looking like a magazine image of the ideal body isn't as important as gaining weight to improve your fitness, strength and health.
Shape Your Body with Exercise
Simply eating an excess of calories, especially from junk food sources like processed snacks and fast food, will cause you to gain weight, but predominantly in the form of fat. Ideally, you should gain weight in the form of lean muscle. This doesn't mean you'll turn into a body builder, but you will look healthier and firmer, rather than soft.
A training program that targets all the major muscle groups, including the chest, back, shoulders, arms, abs, legs and buttocks, not just the ones you want to see in the mirror, is essential. Aim for at least one set of four to eight repetitions of an exercise for each muscle group twice per week. Use weights heavy enough to induce fatigue by the last few repetitions in each set.
Once you've established a strong total-body routine, perform additional exercises for any muscle groups once you'd like more filled out. For example, if you want a rounder butt, do step-ups, lunges and squats in addition to your pulls and presses for the upper body. If a bulked-up chest is on your wish list, do barbell presses, push-ups and flyes for this muscle group. Work specific muscle groups on non-consecutive days so you leave at least 48 hours between workouts for muscles to repair and grow.
A Diet for Weight Gain
No food has the power to direct weight gain to a specific area of your body. But a surplus of calories from quality sources encourages muscle growth and a healthy addition of pounds proportionally. Add just 250 to 500 calories to the number of calories you need to maintain your weight daily to gain 1/2 to 1 pound per week. If you gain weight at a faster rate, you'll likely pile on body fat that may not be aesthetically pleasing or supportive of good health.
It doesn't take a lot of extra food to boost your calorie intake by this amount. For example, a total daily increase of 555 calories includes an extra cup of brown rice with dinner for 216 calories; 2 tablespoons of peanut butter at breakfast for 190 calories; and a glass of whole milk with lunch for 149 calories.
Another way to raise your calorie intake is by increasing your daily protein intake to support your strength-training efforts. Aim for an intake equal to about 0.5 gram per pound of body weight per day; for a 150-pound person, that's 75 grams per day or about 15 to 20 grams at each of four meals. Good sources of protein include cottage cheese, yogurt, tofu, lean steak, poultry and fish. A post-lifting session meal consisting of a scoop of whey protein blended with milk, a banana and frozen berries is an easy way to boost your calorie intake while simultaneously encouraging your muscles to repair and grow more efficiently.
Fuel for Sleep
When you sleep, muscle building and repair occurs as your body releases growth hormone and other compounds essential to brain and body health. Aim for between seven and nine hours per night.
A bedtime snack is another time to add calories for weight gain. A combination of protein and carbohydrates offer the calories and nutrients you need for muscle repair and regeneration. A small serving of roast chicken, green beans and rice; steamed vegetables with black beans and a bit of shredded cheese; or cottage cheese mixed with raisins and slivered almonds are pre-slumber snack options.