Sometimes it seems the health and fitness world is obsessed with losing weight. Endless diet programs, top ten lists for losing those pounds, low-cal food in every supermarket aisle.
And, to be fair, there’s a reason for that: we’re heading towards over 50% of the population being obese. That carries with it some hideous implications for the future, to health, to taxation and to quality of life.
So we get it – the conversation is usually about how to shed weight, not add it.
But what about the guys and girls who want to GAIN weight?
Firstly, let’s get rid of the childish comments:
“You want to gain weight? Just eat some cake!”
“You should count yourself lucky, I only have to LOOK at a biscuit and I put on a pound!”
“I wish I had your problem, I can’t lose weight no matter what I do”
Etc, etc, etc…for you folks wanting to gain weight, I get it. Yawn, right?
Some of it is true, of course. Yes, you could just pile cake and Coca Cola down your neck. You’d surely gain weight. But that’s not what you’re after is it? You’re after quality weight. Muscle – not pointless fat. To make that happen, properly, in a controlled manner, is actually FAR harder than losing weight.
Well, the human body isn’t stupid. It hasn’t evolved over millenia to just shed muscle at the drop of a hat, which is why, when you are overweight and dieting it is perfectly possible to lose body fat yet gain muscle. Even on a calorie deficit. Chances are, even if you crash-dieted, you’d have to sustain a very, very low calorie level for months to lose significant muscle mass.
That’s not true the other way around. If you’re “skinny”, you won’t grow an ounce of muscle without having a calorie excess. It doesn’t need to be a huge excess, but it needs to be an excess – and it needs to be consistent, over a LONG period of time. It needs to be coupled with pretty intense training. And here’s the kicker – no-one can tell you just how many calories you need to consume. You have to judge from scales and pictures, and you have to be very honest with yourself about whether that “filling out” is actually muscle, or just fat.
For a very skinny guy to go from skinny to muscular will take years.
Sorry, but that’s the case. It won’t, it CAN’T, happen in six months. Or a year.
I know – I’ve done it. It took me around 7 years to go from a skinny 10st to a fairly muscular, fairly lean 14st.
Anyone can gain 4 stone of fat in a year. No-one is gaining 4 stone of muscle in much less than half a decade.
So how do you do it?
Let’s get one thing out of the way – it isn’t your metabolism.
The difference, biologically, between a fast and a slow metabolism comes in at around a couple of hundred calories a day. That’s a couple of biscuits.
So no, you aren’t “skinny” because you have a super-fast metabolism and you just burn it all off too easily.
It’s in your habits.
We’ve written about this before.
From our experience, there are some commonalities with folk struggling to gain weight:
- They are pretty active people in general life
- Many walk or cycle everywhere
- They often have a lot of “nervous energy” – they don’t like to sit still
- They get pre-occupied with tasks and forget to eat
- They don’t snack
- They often don’t plan meals properly and eat on the fly
- They eat BIG once in a day, so it may look (and feel) like they eat loads, but in reality, it’s not much over 24hrs
- They rush exercise, and as a result don’t rest enough to be able to lift heavier loads
- They are usually fairly cardio-minded
Of course – not every thing applies to every person. I bet there’s a bit of head nodding going on reading that list though…
So, it’s time for habit change. You can’t address all those issues just by “wanting it”. You have to actually change how you behave.
It’s in your nutrition
From a practical point of view, someone wanting to gain weight (guys in particular) are probably going to need to eat more than they typically want to. Let’s face it, eating 3000+ kcals of “clean” food is a ball-ache. That’s a lot of chicken and broccoli. The good news is you don’t have to eat completely clean, whatever that means.
You’ve got calories to play with – and it won’t always be that way (trust me, I long for the days I struggled to eat enough!!!). Once you’ve taken care of the basics for health, i.e your protein intake, and your cliche 5-a-day, you can get inventive. You need easy-to-consume, calorie-dense, foods.
Think nuts and nut butters. Chocolate. Whole-fat milk. Cheese. You know all the stuff that someone dieting has to be very mindful of? You guys get more of a free rein to indulge in the less-nutritious-yet-calorie-packed foods. In fact, if you don’t indulge, you’ll struggle. A puritan diet in excess of 3000+ kcals is going to be very, very boring, and very very expensive.
As for that all-important weight gain? If you’re adding more than 2lbs a month to the scales, you’re almost certainly just adding excess fat. If you’re up 6 kilos in 3 months, I’m sorry – it isn’t all muscle!
It’s in your training
If you’re completely new to training, you need to learn the basics, and learn them fast.
You need to learn how to squat, deadlift, bench and row. Ideally, you need to be taught properly to avoid typical newbie injuries (backs, knees and shoulders are the usual “I’m New!” injuries).
These are big, powerful movements that recruit more muscle. We need to be working as much muscle as possible every time you train. It’s worth including things like direct arm work too, but only after the BIG movements have been done.
You need a mixture of strength (some exercises in the 4-6 rep range) and hypertrophy – optimal muscle building – range of around 8-12 reps. Workouts totalling somewhere between 140-200 reps over all exercises is about right.
And that training needs to be fairly frequent. You’re going to struggle gaining much muscle training less than 3 times a week. It’ll just take you forever to get anywhere – but you don’t need to be spending 3hrs a night in the gym. Three training sessions lasting around a hour are plenty for most people, regardless of training goals. It really depends how you spend those 3hrs…!
Want some help?
Remember – you’re not alone. Yours might not the most common problem people face in the gym, but it’s one of the more complicated ones. If you want some professional guidance with it – get in touch. We don’t just help people lose weight – we help them gain *quality* weight too!