A man gains weight by eating more calories than he burns daily. While any extra calories will make you pack on pounds, getting your calories from sugar and unhealthy fats will cause you to gain fat, which does nothing for your health or appearance.
You're also still vulnerable to the health complications that come from too much sugar, refined grains and saturated fats, even if you're not technically overweight. Eating healthy protein, dairy, whole grains and starchy vegetables will help you look and feel healthier when you need to put on pounds.
Weight Gain Goals for Men
If you're currently eating enough to maintain your weight, add 250 to 500 additional calories per day to gain 1/2 to 1 pound per week. Muscle is harder to gain than fat, so adding more than 500 calories is likely to just raise your body fat, not make you stronger and more solid.
If your body has the characteristics of an endomorph — a tendency to carry more body fat, especially in the abdomen — add just 250 calories, because you gain fat weight easily. If you're more of an ectomorph — long, lanky and unable to gain a lot of weight — aim for the 500-calorie daily surplus to see results.
You may need to play around a little with adding calories as you observe how your body reacts — don't get fixated on an exact number. Also remember that some body types won't bulk up as readily as others; you can still get healthier and stronger even if you're naturally thin.
If you're gaining weight as recovery from trauma, surgery or a serious illness, talk to your doctor about your calorie goals.
Foods to Choose for Healthy Weight Gain
Extra calories from a bag of chips, soda, cookies and fast food may not faze you when you feel you're too thin. But these foods have little in the way of nutrition and are actually contrary to your goal of gaining muscle mass.
Lean proteins should be front and center at every meal. Flank steak, beans or legumes, poultry and fatty fish — such as salmon — contain the amino acids you need to support muscle growth and recovery from workouts. Aim to consume about 0.55 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily to support your workouts and boost calories. For a 160-pound man, this is at least 88 grams per day — or about 22 grams at each of four meals.
Enjoy liberal servings of vegetables and whole grains at meals, even a second helping, to boost your calorie intake. Fresh vegetables provide phytonutrients to support your health and muscle-building process.
While you need the fiber and nutrients from watery varieties, such as lettuce and broccoli, serve yourself higher-calorie, starchy varieties such as sweet potatoes, corn and winter squash too. Whole grains, such as brown rice or dense, whole-grain breads, are superior to white varieties — they contain calories, but also feature optimal amounts of fiber and naturally occurring nutrients.
If your appetite is slight, add calorie density to meals by topping chili with cheese, spreading guacamole on sandwiches or adding nuts to cereal.
Snacking for Weight Gain
A skipped meal or snack is a missed opportunity to take in calories. Along with your three meals per day, have two to three snacks — one between breakfast and lunch, another between lunch and dinner and something just before bed or after a workout.
Optimal snacks contain nutrients and calories. A turkey or peanut butter sandwich on whole-wheat bread; cottage cheese with raisins; a bowl of granola with milk; or a smoothie made with a banana, berries, protein powder and milk are all options.
If you need portable choices, carry trail mix, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, and fruit and nut snack bars. Drinks with calories, such as milk or 100 percent fruit juice, are other possibilities.
Exercise to Gain Muscle
A consistent weight-training program assists your nutritional efforts to gain weight. Target all the major muscle groups, which include the chest, back, triceps, biceps, shoulders, quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and abs.
Do a minimum of one exercise for each of these areas at least twice per week. Target them with two to three sets of four to eight repetitions, using weight that feels heavy in the last two to three reps.
Once you can crank out eight reps fairly easily, it's time to increase the weight so your muscles stay challenged to grow. Don't train the same body part on consecutive days, but you can hit the weight floor one day to train the legs and abs and the next to work arms, chest and back.
Even if you don't want the calorie burn from long cardiovascular exercise sessions, some is necessary to boost heart and respiratory health. Go for at least 20 to 30 minutes several times per week. Even mild cardiovascular exercise, such as brisk walking or cycling, helps boost your appetite so you can take in all the calories you need.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Healthy Weight Gain
- McKinley Health Center: Gaining Weight the Healthy Way
- CNN: How Should I Eat to Gain Muscle Mass?
- Today's Dietitian: Underweight: A Heavy Concern
- American Council on Exercise: How to Eat and Train for an Endomorph Body Type
- American Council on Exercise: How to Eat and Train for an Ectomorph Body Type