Weight gain isn't a popular topic because most people are struggling to lose weight rather than put on pounds. Skinny men trying to add lean mass to their bodies need to do the opposite. When you're training for size, a few extra pounds can make all the difference.
Weight Gain and Energy Balance
While it seems like most people want to lose weight, it can be problematic if you feel that you want to build mass and strength. Weight gain can help if you want to be stronger, have bigger muscles or compete in a sport that requires more size, such as football or even baseball.
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Skinny men who struggle to gain weight have to focus on their diet and workout routine. Weight gain or weight loss ultimately comes down to the same thing: your energy balance. Whether you gain or lose weight depends on the amount of energy you take in versus the amount of energy you spend. If you take in more energy than you burn, you'll gain weight — and vice versa.
While it sounds simple enough, the factors that go into energy in versus energy out can be rather complex. The energy you take in is the amount of calories you eat from food. That's relatively simple. You can count the number of calories you take in by tracking your food. It's also possible to look at food labels, which display the calorie count.
Calories in Versus Calories Out
Figuring out your daily energy expenditure can be a challenge. The majority of calories burned in a day come from your resting metabolism. Their number typically totals in the thousands. Your body has to burn energy all day to give your brain power and your heart the energy to beat, regenerate cells and function optimally.
Resting metabolism is difficult to calculate without proper laboratory equipment. Some online calculators use formulas based on height, weight, age and gender to give you an estimated metabolic rate. However, these estimates can be inaccurate because resting metabolism varies from person to person.
The number of calories you burn every day from activity can number in the hundreds to thousands, depending on how active you are. For example, a 155-pound person will burn roughly 465 calories by running for 30 minutes at an eight-minute-per-mile pace. That adds to your total number of calories burned for the day.
You also have to factor in the number of calories you burn from mundane activities like washing dishes, walking and cleaning. This is called non-exercise activity thermogenesis and it makes up a smaller but still significant portion of your energy expenditure.
When you eat, your body has to work hard to digest the food. The amount of energy it takes to digest food is known as the thermic effect of food and depends on the size of the meal you eat and the amount of protein, fats and carbs.
Protein takes more energy to digest than fats and carbs, which means it can help you burn more calories, according to a small study of 24 healthy individuals published in the journal Obesity in June 2016.
Read more: Over-Exercising & Weight Gain
Increase Your Calorie Intake
To gain weight, you have to tip the scales of energy balance so that you're taking in more calories than you're burning. It's easier to focus on eating more calories than burning fewer calories because you don't have much control over your metabolism. It's also difficult to reduce your activity level because you need to work out to build muscle.
Eating more can be uncomfortable if you get full easily. Depending on how much weight you want to gain, you may need to drastically increase your daily calorie intake, perhaps even add another full meal. This also means deciding which foods to prioritize.
There are three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fat. Each plays a specific role in your body and can help you lose or gain weight. When deciding what types of food to add to your diet, you have to choose the macronutrient or macronutrients you want to prioritize.
Eat Protein for Muscle Growth
Protein is essential for building mass and size, but you shouldn't have too much of it. To gain muscle, you should aim for at least 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day, as recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine. However, more is not necessarily better if you're trying to gain weight.
Protein is more difficult to digest than carbohydrates or fat. It takes more energy to break down protein in your digestive system. In fact, it takes roughly three times more energy than carbohydrates to digest. Fat takes even less energy to digest than carbs.
Since it's so difficult to digest, protein makes you feel more full after a meal. When you're trying to lose weight, eating more protein helps you burn more calories and eat less. However, when you're trying to gain weight, protein isn't as helpful. You need to eat enough to build muscle, but beyond that, it won't help you too much.
If you eat at least 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight every day without gaining weight, it's time to add more carbs and fat to your diet. Fat is powerful as a weight gain tool because it provides 9 calories per gram, over twice the 4 calories per gram of protein and carbohydrates.
Carbs and Fats Provide Energy
Healthy, complex carbohydrates like whole-grain bread, pasta, rice and potatoes can bolster your meals. Steer clear of candy and soda, although they're tempting. They add very little nutritional value to your diet, other than sugar and calories. Bulking up isn't an excuse to binge in fries and cookies.
Dietary fats can make it easier to gain weight. Olive oil, avocados and nuts are all high in fat, calories and nutrients. These foods typically contain fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K.
If you feel like you're full throughout the day, the best place to start is with liquid calories. Adding a protein shake or weight gainer to your diet every day is simple and easy on your stomach as long as you pick the right ingredients. If you're lactose intolerant, opt for a vegetarian protein source and use water or coconut milk instead of cow's milk in your shakes.
As long as you're eating enough, you should begin to gain weight. If not, you may be burning too many calories. Remember that the number of calories you burn is a combination of resting metabolism and exercise, so you may have to change your workout plan.
Read more: How Much Water to Drink Per Day to Gain Weight
Weight Gain Workout Program
Weight gain is much easier if you exercise less. However, you need to work out to stimulate your muscles to grow. Your workouts should be more focused on lifting weights than cardiovascular exercises like running or even circuit training.
While you gain some muscle from running, swimming, cycling or other endurance activities, the amount of mass is minuscule compared to weight training. Endurance training also burns more calories than lifting weights, which is counterproductive for weight gain.
In a 30-minute weight training session, a 155-pound person only burns about 112 calories. That means that a one-hour workout burns roughly 224 calories, which you can easily replace with a snack or light meal. Limiting your workout regime to weight training will ensure that you're not burning too many calories through exercise.
If want to continue doing cardiovascular exercises, make sure you account for the extra calories in your diet. It will make gaining weight more challenging, but not impossible. However, it's easier if you cut out aerobic workouts until you're satisfied with your weight.
For your weight lifting workouts, you can focus on strength training or building size through higher repetitions and sets. According to a small study of 34 healthy, resistance-trained men published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise in January 2019, training volume is key when you're trying to gain muscle.
Training volume is a number calculated by multiplying sets, repetitions and weight lifted with one exercise. For example, if you bench press 100 pounds for three sets of 10 repetitions, your training volume is 3,000. To further stimulate your muscle to grow, you have to increase the training volume.
To increase volume, you can increase the amount of weight, sets, reps or a combination of all three. However, the study makes an important distinction between strength and muscle growth. To get stronger, it's necessary to lift heavier weights. But you can build mass with lighter weights as long as you perform enough reps and sets.
Prioritize Post-Workout Recovery
Recovery is an often-overlooked aspect of weight gain and strength training. Hard work and dedication is required to get into the weight room and lift enough to build your muscles. Sometimes, workouts are uncomfortable because your muscles burn and you want to quit. The same mentality that helps you in the weight room can be counterproductive for weight and muscle gain.
Stimulating your muscles to grow is not enough, they need time and resources to recover. Food will help your body recover from training and build new tissues, but it's important to take time away from the gym.
You should leave at least 24 hours between training sessions for muscles. That means that if you work your legs on a given day, you shouldn't train them again for at least 24 hours, but you can rest longer than that.
As long as you get in enough volume per muscle group per week, the number of workouts you do per week isn't very important. If it's easier for you to do short and intense workouts, go ahead. However, some people would find it easier to do a few long workouts.
- Journal of Sports Sciences: "How Many Times per Week Should a Muscle Be Trained to Maximize Muscle Hypertrophy? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Studies Examining the Effects of Resistance Training Frequency"
- University of New Mexico: "Recovery in Training: The Essential Ingredient"
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: "Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy but Not Strength in Trained Men"
- Colorado State University: "Fat-Soluble Vitamins: A, D, E, and K – 9.315"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Fat and Calories"
- Nutrition & Metabolism: "A High-Protein Diet for Reducing Body Fat: Mechanisms and Possible Caveats"
- American College of Sports Medicine: "Protein Intake for Optimal Muscle Maintenance"
- Obesity: "No Evidence for Metabolic Adaptation in Thermic Effect of Food by Dietary Protein"
- American Council on Exercise: "6 Things to Know About Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights"
- ACE Fitness: "Resting Metabolic Rate: Best Ways to Measure It—And Raise It, Too"
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: "Examining Variations of Resting Metabolic Rate of Adults: A Public Health Perspective"
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "Balance Food and Activity"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Overweight & Obesity Statistics"