How to gain weight and muscle?
The discussion around weight is so geared towards weight loss – for obvious reasons – that knowing how to gain weight and muscle is neglected. This means that there are tons of fitness enthusiasts out there who don’t know how to bulk effectively.
Today we’re talking about how to gain weight in a healthy, productive way. By the end of this article, you’ll know how to gain weight – and muscle specifically – in a way that builds a well-rounded and well-prepared body.
Bulking and Sulking: Traditional Weight-Gain and Why it’s Inappropriate for Fitness
The traditional model of gaining weight – the classic bulk and cut cycle – comes from bodybuilding. These guys were on a strict competition schedule and needed to gain the maximum amount of muscle in a short space of time to cut down and look huge on stage.
Do you need to do that? No: the “bulk” was designed for huge guys using gear who could gain enormous amounts of muscle, train full time, and continue to build muscle while losing fat rapidly before competition.
For anyone who isn’t competing in bodybuilding, this model isn’t optimal. If you just want to look, feel, and perform better you don’t need to rush your weight gain and you can’t gain as much muscle or cut as much fat as these guys. This is why when knowing how to gain weight, the lean gain approach is better.
This means gaining weight, consistently, over a longer period of time. The goal is to gain muscle with as little fat as possible, and live a consistent lifestyle with good health, muscle gains, and very little extra bodyfat. This means you’ll stay healthier on the way, keep your definition, and gain great muscle without losing your body-confidence. This is how to gain weight sustainably.
The lean bulk is all about a slow, sustainable approach to weight gain that you can maintain for years if you’re already lean and you do it right.
Eating to Gain Muscle
Your diet decides if you’re going to gain or lose weight. Getting stronger and increasing your muscle mass requires a calorie surplus – you need to eat more than you’re burning.
This means eating around 110-120% of your ‘maintenance’ calories. This is usually going to work out at 200-700 calories more than you need on a daily basis – enough to gain weight and muscle but it’s not a huge, reckless amount. This minimises fat gains while ensuring you can train, recover, and grow.
If you want to know how to gain weight, you’re going to want to eat plenty of proteins to provide your body with the raw materials to build muscle and signal the recovery/growth processes. Carbs also play a key role in this signalling process so don’t be stingy – but focus on prioritising high-quality carbs first (like pulses and wholegrains). A few of my favourite carbs include:
- Sweet potato
- Beans, lentils, quinoa and other pulses
- Brown rice
Fats are a great way to boost your calorie intake – especially classic ‘healthy fats’ like nut butters, avocado, nuts and seeds. These provide essential fats for hormonal support, improve heart health, and contain 250% as many calories per gram as carbs or protein.
Replacements, Additions and Weight Gain
As with any diet, food-quality is important, and this is no different when knowing how to gain weight. A weight-gain diet requires you to get plenty of nutrients in – you should still be eating plenty of fruit and veg. Key nutrients like zinc, magnesium and vitamin D play a crucial role in strength, power, and muscle-building processes.
The best approach to gaining muscle is to take a healthy, balanced diet and just eat more of it. The example of a standard cutting meal – chicken breast, rice and veg – is one of the best ways to outline your options:
- Increasing: increase your portions by 25% – you’ll be eating more calories and nutrients, but you might find this challenging as you’re probably going to be full all the time.
- Replacements: swap chicken breast with thigh, replace rice with a grain and bean salad to boost your calorie intake and keep nutrient intake high.
- Addition: add a calorie-dense sauce like pesto to your food, or simply another ingredient – such as melted Emmental or sliced avocado.
- Weight-gain shakes (but better): Add a homemade protein shake with natural nut butter, Greek yoghurt, spinach banana and wholegrains. These can easily contain 500-1000 calories with plenty of quality nutrients.
Pre- and Intra-workout carbs can also be an easy way to increase your calorie intake while improving performance. Rapidly-absorbing carbohydrates like cyclic dextrin provide the energy for improved performance.
As well as improving your performance in the gym, these pre- and intra-workout carbohydrates also provide your body with the raw materials for recovery. Proper carb intake is a great way to boost your recovery and growth in response to resistance training.
Food Freedom: Balancing Calories and Health
When learning how to gain weight, if you’re still falling short of your calories, it may be a good idea to add in “luxury” foods a little more often. This doesn’t mean eating pizza all day – it means that you can enjoy a moderate amount of high-calorie foods that aren’t nutrient-dense if the rest of your diet for the day has been well-balanced and packed with nutrients.
Knowing how to gain weight is easier if you put the normal healthy foods (such as nutrient-dense fruit and veg, and lean proteins) first and then allow yourself a little freedom in the foods you use to meet your calorie goals. Don’t go straight to binge eating ice cream but allow yourself a slice of cake or a pizza every so often if your diet is health as a whole!
Training to Gain Muscle
If you’re eating right, your training doesn’t have to change much between losing weight or gaining weight and muscle. A good training routine will only experience two real changes when you start learning how to gain weight: increased overall volume, and increased volume on strength lifts, specifically.
When you’re eating a calorie surplus to gain weight and muscle, you’re going to be able to recover and grow while handling a much larger workload. Your body isn’t worried about having enough energy to recover – it can use these extra food stores and protein intake to repair and build muscle even if you’re performing lots of intense exercise.
So when learing how to gain weight take this chance to focus on strength and increase your overall work load. It’s the best time to progress your strength training – either in reps, sets, or weight. Push yourself to achieve better strength and the major muscle gains will come from the increased mechanical loading you put on your muscles.
It’s also a great time to direct some focus towards your weak areas and preparing your body for future training by conditioning the joints. Tendons and ligaments benefit from accessory work with lighter weights – often called “pump” or “show muscle” work. Increasing the weight, reps, and number of exercises here sets you up for long-term health and success.
Finishing with pump work can also bring other benefits to your training, especially when gaining weight. High-repetition work on lighter, higher-volume exercises like curls, tricep extensions, hamstring curls, or lunges can increase your recovery potential and muscle-growth if they’re used after your big, strength-focused lifts.
Focus on your absolute strength, keep it lean, and focus on your performance rather than your scale-weight for a while!
Knowing how to gain weight and muscle effectively as a natural trainee is all about sustainability and patience. A great weight gain diet and training program is all about getting the diet right and training with the right plan and intensity.
A lean bulk that prioritises eating just enough to get the maximum muscle growth is the best way to approach gaining weight. If you stick with this type of plan consistently, you’ll see big gains and you’ll actually be able to see them – unlike a traditional “eat everything and lift everything” approach to ‘bulking’.
P.S. Below is a Muscle Building Workout you can use alongside your diet plan for weight gain.