If you’re underweight or simply looking to beef up and add some muscle mass, you need to know how to gain weight in a safe and healthy way.
There’s a lot of focus on people wanting to lose weight, but a good number of people are not happy with their weight because they feel they’re underweight. If you feel you’d like to be heavier, you need to ask yourself if you:
Whichever of the above you’re looking to do, you will need to consume more calories than you’re burning up during the day; if you want to build muscle, you will need to do some weight training too.
Basically, to increase weight, you need to consume more calories than your body uses. When your body doesn't have enough calories for energy, it uses the energy stored as glycogen in your muscle first, then your fat stores. You need to eat enough to cover these requirements. But how long does it take to gain weight? If you want to gain some body fat, then to increase by 1lb per week you need to consume a surplus of 500kcal per day.
The amount of calories you need depends on your gender, age, height, weight and activity. Use this calorie calculator to calculate the amount of calories you need per day. For a rough guide on how much weight you can gain in a week, add 500kcal to gain 1lb per week.
Most foods today have the calories printed on them so you can keep a running total during the day. There are also some apps out there to help, such as myfitnesspal, which makes tracking calories over the day a bit easier. Huel makes it even easier by providing all the nutrients in one product, and you can easily see what you’re getting.
It’s important that you get all the nutrients you need; don’t just stick to a few high calorie foods. There’s more information about what each nutrient does and what you need in our article The Beginner’s Guide to Nutrition. But what foods help to gain weight? You need to consume a balance of protein, fat, carbs and all 26 essential vitamins and minerals. Include some protein and carb foods at each meal and snack. Fats, as long as they’re healthy fats, are more calorie dense than other nutrients, so can be a great way to obtain more energy in a smaller volume of food.
We advise you to drink plenty of fluid every day. This can be in the form of water, tea, coffee, green tea, diet sodas or sugar-free cordial. Include at least seven or eight cups of fluid per day.
If you’re trying to gain weight, you may have to eat quite a bit of food. This can be hard to take in at one sitting. It’s therefore useful to spread your eating over 5-6 smaller meals and snacks per day, rather than three huge meals. Don’t miss meals; get a meal plan and stick to it. Eat your planned meal even if you’re not hungry.
Often when people refer to ‘gaining weight’, they are actually referring to building more muscle. To do this, a good nutrition program should be accompanied by a suitable weight training program. If you’re new to weight training, a routine doesn’t have to be complicated, and you can grow muscle training with just 2-3 weights sessions per week. There are plenty of weight training routines for beginners on the internet; here’s one: Initial Basic Hypertrophy Guide.
Building muscle through exercise does, however, burn calories, so you’ll need to eat more to compensate for calories burned. This basic principle of having more calories than you burn also applies to fat too. It’s also useful to stay active and keep fit, so some cardiovascular exercise is advised.
Gaining muscle is a process that takes a number of weeks. If you’re doing strength training, eating enough protein-rich food and resting well, you should see visible results in as little as 3 weeks, with real results after around 12 weeks. You can increase gains by working out specific body parts during each workout which increases the intensity, while also giving that area a chance to rest, repair and grow while you exercise another body part in your next workout. Between 30 and 60 minutes per session is sufficient to build muscle and strength.
Protein is essential when it comes to building muscle. It’s the building block of the body, and is a key component in muscle, tendons, skin, our organs, plus hormones and important molecules that support functions in the body.
The Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) for protein for adults is 0.75g protein per kg body weight per day; this equates to 56g/day and 45g/day for men and women of average body weights (75 and 60kg respectively). However, the RNI is based on meeting the minimum needs for sedentary individuals. It is not an optimal amount for gaining muscle. To gain muscle, studies have shown that around 1.6g-2.2g protein per kg body weight per day is an ideal amount which looks more like 96g-132g/day for a 60kg individual.
It’s also important to consider that the body can utilise around 30-40g of protein per meal for muscle building. For a 60kg person to hit their optimal daily protein intake this translates to 33g of protein in meals.
However, just eating more protein isn’t enough. The body needs a stimulus to build muscle, that stimulus is exercise.
One study showed that an extra 1,000 calories per day over a month, with 20% of calories coming from protein, resulted in weight gain of which just 2.5 pounds was fat. This was compared to a group that also consumed an extra 1,000 calories a day, but only 10% of calories came from protein – this group also gained weight, but more of it was fat – 4.5 pounds. This shows that increased protein consumption can lead to weight gain which constitutes more lean muscle than fat.
Huel is high in protein with good amounts of fat and carbs, so can be a convenient way of helping you build muscle through an increased calorie intake, especially as it also contains all essential vitamins and minerals.
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