If you have been trying to gain weight, you want that to be healthy weight. Accordingly, just because you will be eating more does not mean you should be eating junk and candy none stop.
Junk food, pastry and sweets, are going to have their place in a diet when you are trying to gain weight. But overall health is always going to be number one on your priorities, so we are going to see how to eat on a calorie surplus while maintaining the health factor.
It should go without saying, that if you have been struggling with an eating disorder you should turn to a doctor and dietitian for the required guidance. This post is about basic alterations in your daily routine that could be affecting weight gain. Health concerns should always be dealt with by your doctor first.
Having said that, let’s go through some of the things that you should not be doing and most importantly, what you should be doing!
What not to do when you are trying to gain weight
Do not focus on cardio
Cardio is a great form of exercise and you absolutely need it for things far more important than burning calories. Knowing how much cardio you need and why is important whether you have been struggling with your weight or not.
If your goal is to gain weight, you should at least take it easy on cardio. Cardio and the reason it is effective on weight loss is the fact that it is an activity that is great for burning calories.
If you are trying to eat on a calorie surplus(more calories), doing a ton of cardio will burn a ton of calories. The effect this is going to have, is that you will have to consume more calories to reach the surplus you need. Some times having to eat too much can be very uncomfortable.
For a cardio session that will burn fat and protect your muscles try this out.
Do not prioritize junk food
We get it, you want to gain weight, nothing wrong with that. But if you prioritize junk food and pay no attention to your health, the effects of an unhealthy diet are not going to be worth it.
Eating junk food is similar to smoking. You might be fine with gaining a little bit of fat here and there, but just because you don’t see or don’t feel the damage you are doing, does not mean it is not there.
Other than that, gaining weight is not about gaining fat. It is about gaining mostly muscle, along with some fat. Just as with losing weight you cannot only lose only fat, the same thing applies to gaining it. You are going to gain a little bit of both, but muscle will not be gained by eating junk all the time.
Do not wait until you are hungry
Have you heard the “Do not go three hours without food” thing? The point of doing that was that you do not let yourself go hungry until you eat. It is not necessary to be three hours though, on many occasions a busy lifestyle can have its toll on your diet.
I would recommend however that you try to eat frequently enough that you do not let yourself go hungry. It is better if you do that with a plan though as you could end up overeating some things and under-eating others.
Do not go to bed hungry
This is going to be similar to the next don’t. Have you heard of the fact that if you eat even a leaf of spinach after 6 p.m. counts for like 10.000 calories? How wonderful would that be for you to be true, a couple of leaves of spinach after 6 in the afternoon and you are there!
Well unfortunately a calorie is a calorie even after 6. That is not why you should eat something close to bedtime though. The reason is that when we sleep, our body goes into a fasted state. The fasted state means that the drop of insulin caused by not eating for 8 hours, makes the energy stored in our body in the form of fat, more accessible. That is why intermittent fasting is so effective for weight loss.
In order to avoid reaching a fasted state as long as possible, hence burn fewer calories, it is a good idea that you eat a meal of slow-digesting ingredients, which means foods rich in dietary fats and protein.
Do not fast
You know that magic unicorn that helps you lose weight? Yeah don’t do it.
The problem is that in many cases we fast without even knowing it. When you are trying to gain weight, as we said above, it is important to not wait until you are hungry in order to eat.
If you wake up and have coffee immediately, it makes sense that you might not feel hungry for some time. If you wait too long to eat something, you are prolonging the fasted state you reached when you were sleeping. You are technically doing intermittent fasting without even knowing it. IT has its benefits but definitely not if you are trying to gain weight.
Do not eat one huge meal
Oh, how many people I have heard saying they eat sooo unbelievably much, while in reality they just wait until they are starving in the middle of the day, have a huge meal which at most goes up to 1500 calories, and then eat almost nothing else for the rest of the day.
What is the result of that? The result is that, at best, you close the day having had 1800 calories. Unless you weigh 70 pounds, this is not enough.
Very big meals bloat you up and make you feel uncomfortably full. Chances are that this also makes you feel like you have had too much for the day even though you have had almost nothing else. Gaining weight is about eating more by the end of the day, it is not about eating a tone in one meal.
Avoid mass gainers
They sound cool but when it comes to what they offer, they are not so much.
A mass gainer is essentially a protein powder loaded with a tone of unnecessary calories. You do not need them, they are expensive and they are not as healthy as you could make them if you were making your own mass gainer shake.
That’s right, you can make your own mass shaker and it can be a total bad-ass. It can be healthy, loaded with super helpful ingredients, and you can make it so that it reaches your macro-nutrient values to the last gram.
Check this one for an example:
- 1.5 cups milk
- 2 scoops protein
- 1 cup of oats
- 1 Tbsp honey
- A few strawberries
- 1 banana
- 2 tbsp of peanut butter
With over 1000 calories and 60 grams of protein, I think that you are better of spending the extra cash on ingredients rather than mash gainers. The above is an example, you can do that if you want or simply make up your own. Props for the idea for the mass shaker goes to Evolve Training System.
What to do to gain weight
If you are here, you probably think that you eat ungodly amounts of food while not gaining a pound.
I am here to tell you that unless you are tracking your calories and macros and know exactly how much you are eating in a day, you are just not eating enough. I mentioned earlier that there are a few things you could be doing wrong that are making you think that you eat more than you do.
It is very difficult to know if you are eating enough and if you are taking in all of the macro-nutrients that you should if you are not tracking. Fortunately for you, I have two posts that might help you with that:
Do not be afraid to eat more, if you are eating on a surplus but have a busy lifestyle or you still don’t gain weight, eat more.
Get that protein
Carbs and fats are going to help a tone, but protein is the tool to help you build that muscle. A minimum of 0.7 grams protein per pound or 1.6 per kg will do. I personally aim at 2 grams of protein per kg as with exercise your body will be able to utilize more protein for faster recovery and results.
It will also come handy if you come up with meal combinations that will allow you to hit multiple goals at a time.
Meal example: Protein pancakes
- 4 whole eggs
- 1 cup of oats
- 1 scoop of protein
- 1 banana
- Splash of milk
- 2 tbsp of greek yoghurt (very important)
Plus topping of your choice like peanut butter, tahini with cocoa, honey or anything else that fits in your macros.
Spread your meals
When you are trying to regulate your eating, it is almost always a good idea to spread your meals.
When you have to be consuming a number of calories that is more than you are used to, it is handy to give your body smaller frequent meals that will be processed easier. Other than that, you will feel less full and less bloated if you are not stuffing yourself with every meal.
Focus on strength training
Like mentioned before, cardio should not be your focus right now. What you are going to need right now is an excuse for your body to build more muscle. In order to achieve that a strength training regime will work optimally for you.
Strength training is characterized by using big compound movements with heavy lifting and repetitions that range between 4-6 for sets of 5 to 6.
A regime that works brilliantly with this input is one that is working your entire body each time. A full-body regime will allow you to give 100% for each exercise as each exercise will target a different muscle group. It will also allow you to train each body part at least 2 to 3 times every week, which is optimal for muscle growth.
Oh no, are you trapped at home with no access to a gym? Here are some ideas that will take your fitness to the next level with no equipment:
Focus on calorie rich foods
Calorie rich foods are foods that in a small quantity have a lot of calories. These kind of foods are going to really help you to start driving the calorie count up.
An example of caloric density
- 30g peanut butter = 180 calories
- 30g lettuce 5 calories
It is generally helpful to be mixing up the things you want to be eating in order to get more with fewer meals. Let’s see some foods rich in nutrients that also have a high caloric density:
- nut butter
- dried fruit
- brown rice
To make a complete meal, pick a source of carbs, proteins and last, fats. A recipe I really enjoy, is brown rice as a base, with chopped pork and guacamole. I prepare and weigh each ingredient to be sure of my meals dietary value, and then mix it all up in a bowl. Rich in carbs, protein and good fats.
Whether it is until you can eat your goal calories or start to see progress, they both take time. It is normal that at first your diet will not be a 100% success but it does not have to. As long as you keep track of your progress and keep at it, there is no way that you will not get victorious out of this.
Building muscle and gaining a healthy weight takes time. Give yourself the time to experiment and figure out how your body works. Depending on your gender, age and activity levels, many things are going to differ to how your body will react, that is why some things you are going to figure out in time as long as you are consistent.
Taking control of your weight will always come down to how much and what you eat. Exercise is going to help you massively whether that is to lose or to gain weight.
The second thing you are going to need is two allies that when paired together, progress is inevitable. Patience and consistency will be those allies.
Get creative with your meal and mix things up. You have absolutely no excuse to have a boring diet when you are supposed to eat more, come on. Maybe this is the excuse you needed to start getting handy in the kitchen!
- Bony to Beastly, “WHY IS IT SO HARD FOR HARDGAINERS TO GAIN WEIGHT?”, By Shane Duquette and Marco Walker-Ng, BHSc, PTS