For some people, gaining weight in the form of muscle rather than fat can be a frustrating task. If you follow our top 8 tips, however, you'll pack on lean muscle and size far more easily and be well on your way to achieving your physique goals.
1. Eat enough calories
Most people who struggle to gain weight misunderstand the most basic principle - 'the body will only grow if you provide it with sufficient high quality calories each day'. In other words, you need to consume more calories than you burn each day!
Most people require around 20 calories per pound of bodyweight to gain muscle mass. Using a 180-pound male as an example, we end up with a daily calorie requirement of 3600 calories (20 x 180 = 3600 calories). When it comes to gaining weight, it is likely that you may put on a few pounds of fat along the way, but if you do find your body fat increasing, either increase the amount of aerobic exercise (moderate intensity) you are doing or reduce the total number of calories you are consuming slightly. Remember you can’t force feed muscle gain!
Many people eat two or three meals a day and a protein drink now and again (when they remember), and then wonder why they're not putting on any weight. You'll only build new muscle tissue and put on weight if you have an abundant amount of protein and calories in your system, supplied by regular small meals throughout the day. Most people have no idea how many calories they need. You may find that eating until you're full is not enough, especially if you're eating the wrong sort of calories (i.e. all carbs and no protein!)
2. Eat sufficient high-quality protein
Consuming sufficient high quality protein is essential for building muscle. Current recommendations are to consume a minimum of 1g of protein for each kg of body weight, however, this is really only applicable to the average sedentary individual. Current evidence shows that as we get more active our protein requirements increase. We need sufficient protein to build muscle, protein experts have stated that we need between 1.5-2.0g of protein per kg of body weight. So if you weigh 80kgs, you'll need to consume between 120 and 160 grams of protein each day.
However, not all proteins are created equal in the muscle building stakes. Always remember the better the quality (biological value) of protein consumed, the more of it will be used for muscle building. To maximise muscle growth, stick to high quality proteins, such as whey, milk, eggs, fish or lean meats. However, lower quality proteins can also be used for muscle building.
Unfortunately, some people are intolerant to milk, due to the casein (one of the proteins in dairy) and have trouble digesting the sugar in milk, called lactose. If this is the case, stick to whey-only protein shakes.
3. Don't let the 'low fat' myth ruin your goals
Fat is in fact a very important nutrient in your diet, it is important for a number of essential processes in the body that help to make us healthy, for example some of the essential fats found in oily fish, e.g. EPA and DHA have been shown to have positive effects on our brain, vision and heart health. Some studies have also suggested that a very low fat diet can actually lower our testosterone level over time.
So to keep the body’s normal processes functioning make sure you include some fat in your diet, and especially the ‘good’ fats, otherwise known as polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats. The trick is to eat the right fats and avoid the wrong ones (namely saturated and trans fats).
Healthy sources of fat include cold water oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines), extra-virgin olive oil, peanuts (unsalted), avocado, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts or flaxseed. Nuts (any sort, just make sure they are unsalted) are a great food to snack on if you're having trouble gaining weight, as they are not only high in calories, but they are actually composed of good quality calories. They contain monounsaturated fats, they are also a good source of protein, fibre and contain a number of essential minerals that are needed for health. For those not consuming any oily fish, you may want to consider taking a fish oil supplement daily. Remember that total dietary fat should supply approximately 30% of your daily calorie intake.
4. Fuel your workouts with carbohydrate and creatine
Eating the right carbs is important too. Carbohydrate is stored in your body in the form of glycogen.
Glycogen in the muscles is an important fuel reserve during intense physical exercise and topping up your glycogen stores with carbohydrate will make sure you have the fuel to perform. It is best to restrict or to keep away from junk carbohydrates such as sweets, cakes, and biscuits, and stick to foods like porridge, pasta (wholemeal), rice (brown), bread (wholegrain), and cereals (try to choose the versions with low or reduced sugar and salt).
Creatine is a proven ingredient for increasing strength, building muscle size and training intensity.
5. Don't let stress ruin your muscle-building goals!
You may not know it, but stress kills muscle gains dead. Catabolic hormones such as cortisol, which are released during times of stress, can quickly put the brakes on muscle growth. In fact, stress can be the number one progress killer. Arguments at home, long stressful hours at work, missed meals, lack of sleep, and general chaos all contribute to stress and cortisol release.
Try and make sure you get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
So, if you want to get results from your nutrition and exercise programme, it's vital that you sort out your stress levels and ensure that you stay as calm as possible. If you hate your job, get a new one. If you aren't sleeping 7-8 hours, go to bed earlier or see a doctor. Have a massage or sit in the spa after your workout. Do anything to help you relax.
6. Be smart and choose the most effective muscle building exercises
Choosing the right muscle building exercises can make the difference between endless frustration and achieving the physique of your dreams. Build your routine around basic compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses, lat pull downs (or chins) and shoulder presses. Performed correctly, these core exercises will stimulate muscle growth and strength like no others, due to the stress they place on your muscles, and the nervous and hormonal responses they produce.
To maximise strength and mass gains stick to compound exercises.
Avoid endless isolation exercises (such as tricep kickbacks and leg extensions) which are poor muscle and strength builders. For best results combine a sensible and progressive training routine (2-3 times weekly) with the nutritional advice mentioned.
7. Don't burn away your muscle gains with too much cardio
Cardio has some great health benefits. However it can become too much of a good thing if you're looking to gain weight. If you're burning too many calories during your cardio sessions, then you risk doing so at the expense of muscle and strength gains.
If you're 100% focused on gaining weight, then consider cutting down your cardio to a couple of light sessions per week. Light aerobic exercise should be carried out regularly to help keep you active and healthy, and also to make sure you don’t end up letting your fitness suffer as you gain weight. In fact, the fitter you are the more productive your workout will be and also you may find your overall recovery is improved as well.
If you are doing any cardio exercise and are worried about potential muscle loss, just watch the frequency and intensity of your exercise. To help off-set this, ensure you consume some carbohydrates and a fast-absorbing protein straight after your cardio session.
8. Take advantage of the vital post-workout muscle-building period
Fuelling your body correctly after training is critical in your quest for more muscle - so be sure to consume a suitable recovery drink as soon as possible following your workout. A combination of carbs and fast digesting proteins (such as whey protein) is the ideal post workout nutrition. Providing protein after your exercise session will help to support gains in muscle mass.
- June 01, 2016
- Jonathan Kay