Most of the people who see me about their weight want to lose it, not gain it. (If you’re one of them, you’re reading the wrong article. Read this one instead.)
If you do want to gain weight (muscle), the process is actually fairly intuitive, although not necessarily quick…
1) Figure out how many calories you need to consume to maintain your weight. You do burn some calories just sitting on the couch: this is your basal metabolic rate. Use this calculator to find what yours should be.
2) Multiply your BMR by your activity level to determine how many calories you burn in a given day.
- If you are sedentary: BMR x 1.2
- If you do light exercise 1-3 days/week: BMR x 1.375
- If you do moderate exercise 3-5 days/week: BMR x 1.55
- If you do hard exercise 6-7 days a week: BMR x 1.725
- If you do very hard exercise and a physical job, or work out twice daily: BMR x 1.9
- For example, a 5’4, 125 lb, 32 yo woman would have a BMR of 1,262. If she exercises 6-7 days per week, she would need to consume 2177 calories daily to maintain her current weight.
3) Calculate how many more calories you will need to consume to pack on the pounds safely — aim for 1-2 pounds per week. 1 lb = 3500 calories, so in order to gain a pound in a week, you would need to consume 500 extra calories per day.
- So in our example above, the woman would need to consume 2677 calories daily to gain a pound in a week.
4) Eat FREQUENTLY and add condiments and spreads to your normal intake. Make sure you are eating small, frequent meals (shoot for 6 times per day), and that you are adding high quality calories to places where there usually weren’t any. Do not overdo the sugar in order to do this—too much sugar will make you gain weight, but the wrong kind. It’s not worth sacrificing your health to gain weight! The best time for sugar is right before a workout, as this will give you a boost of energy and will make your workout that much more effective.
5) Increase protein. Muscle is made of protein, and this is the reason why protein shakes are often recommended to increase muscle mass. You have to give your body the building blocks before it can create what you want. However, if you just consume protein and don’t exercise, the 4 calories per gram of protein you consume will turn into fat also. (However, it won’t turn into fat as fast as sugar or white carbs will, because those hit your bloodstream quicker than protein does.) It’s best to eat your protein shortly after you exercise, as this is when your body will be repairing and building more muscle. If you go the protein shake route, make sure you choose protein shakes that do not have a lot of additives in them. Pure whey, non-GMO soy, hemp, pea, or rice protein are all good choices, with no added sugar or artificial sweeteners.
6) Increase healthy fat intake. While both protein and carbs confer only 4 calories per gram, fat provides 9 calories per gram, making fat intake the more efficient method of weight gain. Make sure you are choosing healthy fats, though (i.e. those that are nutrient dense, and not simply calorically dense, and those that are real food, not processed crap.)
7) Weight train! Cardio exercise is important for your health, but it won’t help you bulk up.