Can You Gain Weight in Your Arms by Eating?

Young man with tattoos stretching arm
Combine a calorie surplus with strength training to get big, fit arms. (Image: Terri Lee-Shield Photography/Cultura/Getty Images)

When you're trying to gain weight -- whether it's to avoid the health risks of being underweight or for aesthetic reasons -- your eating habits can make or break your results. To gain weight in your arms -- especially the lean mass that gives you a fit appearance -- you'll need to eat more than you need to maintain your weight, and combine your weight gain diet with strength-training exercise. Other lifestyle changes, like adjusting your sleep habits, can help you get the best results from your training.

Increase Your Calorie Intake to Gain

Adding bulk to your arms -- and your body in general -- involves creating a calorie surplus by eating more. Exactly how many calories you should eat will depend on a few factors -- like body size -- and vary from person to person, but you'll generally want to eat enough calories to maintain your weight, plus eat 250 to 500 extra calories daily. Use an online calculator, plugging in your age, height, weight and activity level, and it will output the calories you need to maintain your current weight. Simply add the 250 or 500 calories to that number.

For example, a 23-year-old man who weighs 165 pounds, is 6 feet, 2 inches tall and lives a sedentary lifestyle needs about 2,650 calories to simply maintain weight. On a weight gain diet, he would eat 2,900 to 3,150 calories a day, which would allow him to gain 0.5 to 1 pound weekly, respectively.

Pick Bulking-Friendly Foods

Eating more food than you burn will cause weight gain, no matter which foods you choose. But selecting the right foods will support muscle gain, so you can add lean mass to your body and arms, not just fat. You'll want to fill your diet with high-quality protein sources, such as eggs, egg whites, chicken, turkey, fish, beans and lean red meats. Multiply your body weight in pounds by 0.8 to get your recommended daily grams of protein for bulking. For example, the 165-pound man in the example would require 132 grams of protein daily. This higher-than-average protein intake ensures you're getting lots of amino acids, which your body can use to grow new muscle tissue after each workout.

Fuel your muscles with high-quality carbs, like the natural sugars found in fruit and the beneficial starch in sweet potatoes and whole grains. Add in healthy fats -- like olive oil, fatty fish and nuts -- along with plenty of vegetables for antioxidants, minerals and vitamins.

Gain Weight in Your Arms With Weights

While eating more provides the extra energy you need to gain weight, which will add pounds all over your body, targeted workouts ensure that some of that extra weight comes from muscle growth in your arms. To build your arm muscles, you'll need to perform strength training. Work your arms with a variety of different exercises -- for example, rows, bench presses, pushups, tricep extensions, shoulder raises, overhead presses and bicep curls -- to target each of the muscles in your arms from a few different angles.

Don't forget about the rest of your body, though; you'll look more fit if you develop a balanced physique. Try squats and deadlifts to strengthen and tone your shoulders and back, abs and lower body, along with planks and crunches to tighten up your core. Aim for a full-body workout two or three times each week, and include cardiovascular exercise and flexibility training into your workouts for a well-rounded exercise routine.

Tweak Your Sleep Style for Weight Gain

Gaining lean mass in your arms isn't all about diet and exercise; other aspects of your lifestyle play a role too. Getting enough sleep, which, for most people, is 8 hours a night, is important for healthy weight gain. Adequate sleep helps manage your stress levels, gives your body "time off" to repair your muscles, and prevents mental fatigue so you can feel motivated to stick to your diet and exercise program.

If you have trouble sleeping, create a routine that involves getting up and going to bed at the same time and -- if you need more sleep -- take short 15- to 30-minute naps during the day, recommends Baylor College. Stay away from caffeine-containing foods and beverages for at least 3 to 4 hours before you hit the sheets, and make your room a dark, cool environment before bed to help you sleep.

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