In a society obsessed with losing weight, it can be tough to be the guy who has trouble gaining. Whether you shot up in high school and never filled out or have always been the scrawny one at the gym, putting on weight is just as much of a challenge for you as losing it is for others.
If you want to gain healthy pounds and develop good body composition, you have to pay attention to 2 important areas: diet and exercise.
1. Eat Enough Calories
One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a skinny guy is not eating enough, especially if you have a high metabolism. You can use an online calorie calculator to get an idea of how much you need to eat for maintenance every day. To put on 1 pound per week, add 500 calories to that number.
If eating that much seems impossible, start by adding liquid calories such as smoothies with protein powder as well as calorically dense foods such as nuts and nut butters. Eating 5 to 6 times per day, about every 2 to 3 hours, breaks up intake into more manageable chunks. Begin to incorporate a little more food into each meal and your stomach will acclimate over time.
2. Eat the Right Foods
To gain weight in a healthy way, you need to make smart food choices. Aim to get your protein from lean, preferably plant-based sources such as beans, legumes and whole soy foods including tofu and tempeh. Hemp protein and pea protein are both healthful supplementary choices.
When it comes to fats, go for the good stuff found in avocados, nuts, coconut and olives. Avoid simple carbohydrates from white flour products; instead, choose fresh fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains. Centering your diet on these clean foods helps you to get bigger without packing on too much fat.
3. Balance Your Macros
Eating foods in the proper proportions is also important for gaining size. Some caloric intake calculators estimate what percentage of calories you need from protein, fat and carbohydrates, but recommendations vary from source to source.
A good rule of thumb for protein intake when gaining is to eat .8 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.[1,2] Fat should comprise around 20% of calories with the rest of your calories being from complex carbohydrates.
Using these numbers, you can figure out how much of each macronutrient to incorporate into your daily diet. You don’t have to live and breathe by these numbers, but it’s a good idea to start with a baseline and make adjustments over time as necessary.
4. Track What You’re Eating
Once you’ve figured out how many calories you need and have an estimate of you macronutrient balance, it’s a good idea to keep track of what you’re eating every day. Use a tracking program or food scale to get an accurate picture of your caloric intake.
Make sure you’re hitting your goal or at least getting as close as you can each day. If you find you’re not putting on weight, it’s a sign you need to increase your caloric intake.
5. Pump Up Your Workout
Bulking up isn’t just about eating. If you want to gain healthy size, you’re going to have to put some real effort into your workouts. That means not being afraid to lift heavy and truly challenge yourself. Choose compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses and dips to work a combination of muscle groups and increase strength.
The amount of weight you use for each exercise will depend on your current fitness level. In general, you want to keep your sets between 5 and 12 reps if you’re looking to bulk up.
Focus on form before adding any more weight. When you’re ready to lift heavier, try going up by 5 pound increments, concentrating on the muscles you’re working as you lift.
Since muscle is more metabolically active than fat, getting bigger will mean needing more calories. Continue to track what you’re eating as you get stronger and add more food as necessary. If you fail to make gains, chances are you’re not eating enough.
6. Switch Up Your Routine
Changing the major muscle groups you work each day lets you really concentrate on improving strength in specific parts of your body.
It also helps prevent fatigue and injury by ensuring you’re not overworking any one area. Mix some bodyweight exercises into your weightlifting regimen to challenge your muscles in different ways. Increase the difficulty as necessary by making changes such as elevating your feet to do pushups or trying a different grip when doing pull-ups.
Incorporating 1 or 2 days of cardio during the week is fine, but keep it to a minimum to avoid burning too many calories and undermining your efforts to gain.
7. Incorporate Rest
The final part of the weight gaining equation is getting adequate rest. Lifting heavy puts strain on your muscles and they need time to recover before being worked again. Take at least 1 full day off from lifting per week and sleep as much as you need to feel rested.[1,3]
Proper recovery time will give you the energy and endurance you need to keep lifting heavier and getting bigger, so you can achieve your weight gain goals.