When you are looking to gain weight, your efforts can be just as frustrating as for those looking to lose fat.
You may be looking to gain weight for different reasons but overall, your end goal is probably the same. You would prefer to gain healthy muscle mass than fat.
Easy, but unhealthy
Gaining fat is easy for many people – we just need to overeat. If we take out the health concerns, gaining fat is as simple as eating highly calorific foods in larger proportions. This is unhealthy, as, among other things, it puts your cardiovascular system under stress, causes visceral fat to accumulate around your organs and raises insulin sensitivity and cholesterol levels. All bad health.
So gaining healthy weight needs to be a long term goal in much the same way as losing weight should be.
How to gain the right kind of weight.
In order to gain muscle mass, we need to grow our muscles. We achieve this through muscle hypertrophy.
In order to grow our muscles we need to provide the building blocks to grow them in the form of protein.
We need to lift heavy weight and progressively overload that weight over time.
We need to have enough energy to lift the weights and take us through each workout so we need a calorie surplus. This can either come from your food, or if you get the balance right, you can use your exercise to cut excess body fat -see Weight loss plateau? Tips for getting over the final hurdle.
Putting it all into practice
An everyday guide for the protein requirements of an average person is 1g per kg of bodyweight, so if you weigh 60kg, then 60g of protein per day. You will require a little more if you are lifting weights though. Boost your intake to between 1.2g-1.6g per kg of body weight.
Lift heavy weights for fewer reps. This means selecting a weight that causes you to fail quite quickly. If you can do 8 reps for 3 sets and still feel like you can lift it more, you are in more of a muscle endurance routine, which will build strength, but not larger muscles. Instead, aim for a weight that you can lift for 3 reps and 3 sets. You should be failing at the last lift (meaning you cannot lift the weight in form).
Progressive overload means you are constantly adding weight to reach failure. If you have been lifting the same heavy weights for a couple of weeks and are now at a point where you can complete all sets and reps with ease, its time to up the weight. Always aim to fail.
Eat more food. Nutrition is key here. You need more energy to fuel the workouts and the recovery of your muscles so avoid junk food. Up your calorie intake by about 15% but include your additional protein in this and use the rest for high-quality whole grain carbs.
When you eat matters too.
Eat carbohydrates 3 hours before a workout for fuel and aim to have your protein and a little carbohydrate within 45 minutes of a workout to aid recovery.
Make sure you allow for rest days.
If you have worked a group of muscles one day. Let them rest the next day. Muscle building happens during rest. The work you do in the gym is actually breaking muscle tissue down. When muscle is damaged, as we do in a workout, it will heal itself stronger by building more tissue.
Take your time
Building muscle takes time and work. You do not gain more muscle by eating more protein. You just need to make sure you have enough protein. You will also fail to build more muscle by over-exercising, in fact, you will do the opposite.
Muscle growth requires a balance in the key points above and time for adaptation to occur, so expect results gradually and enjoy the process.