If you're looking how to gain weight, the average internet search will throw up a staggering six billion or so results, covering everything from quick-fix unhealthy solutions, a high-protein diet, late night takeaway-eating, and exercise regimes with muscle-building supplements. With a lot of misinformation available at the stroke of a key, how can you safely build muscle and put on weight in a healthy way?
Gaining weight and muscle can be quite a slow process for some. Especially if you haven’t got the right lifestyle factors in place, such as a diet balanced with sufficient calories, combined with appropriate physical activity. For weight gain, that's a healthy variety of food including lots of protein (including some of our best protein powder for women) and workouts using some of the best resistance bands and best adjustable dumbbells.
Whether you are struggling to gain weight due to a fast metabolism or have just recovered from a medical condition such as cancer, diabetes, an eating disorder, coeliac disease, hyperthyroidism, or if you have suddenly found yourself losing a drastic amount of weight, we would always advise consulting a doctor before setting out on any weight-gain journey.
The strategy to use when it comes to gaining weight is to do so in a balanced, healthy way. It is so crucial and important to do it right, so if you think overloading on sugary treats and takeaways is a quick fix, then yes it will make you gain weight, but you will play havoc with your health by doing so. This type of binge eating on unhealthy foods will mostly end up depositing fat around your belly, which puts you at risk for diabetes and heart disease. Instead, opt for healthy food choices that build muscle, according to a report from the Cleveland Clinic (opens in new tab).
Stuart Jack, a personal trainer, nutritionist and co-founder of MuscleMary (opens in new tab) explains more about gaining weight in a healthy way. ‘For many gaining weight and putting on muscle can be a real challenge. Although there are some general guidelines that can help, genetics, sex and age will dictate that everyone’s capacity will be unique. The most important thing to note is that gaining both muscle and weight, in general, should be done with a safe, healthy and patient approach. There are no quick fixes and consuming large quantities of high calorie processed foods will just lead to further health issues.’
So, without further ado, let's explore the best way to gain weight, build muscle and put on weight in a healthy way.
You may have stepped away from the gym when trying to build weight, but this is when lifting weights becomes your new best friend to stimulate the muscle for development. ‘As a high-level approach for hypertrophy (muscle growth) aim for about 8-14 reps to generate sufficient time under tension.
It is also recommended to perform compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, and pull-ups. These can all be modified to suit your current fitness level,’ says Jack. Need somewhere to start? Check out our guide on how to deadlift with dumbbells to get some practice with this key muscle-building move at home.
Increase protein consumption
And we don’t mean bingeing on boiled eggs 24/7. When performing resistance training the muscle fibers need to be sufficiently repaired post workout. ‘Through a process called muscle protein synthesis, the body will do so. To ensure that this is as efficient as possible it is estimated that optimal consumption is around 1.5-2.2gs of protein per kg of bodyweight.
Sources such as chicken, meat, eggs or if vegan lentils and legumes contain a good level of protein, adds Jack.’ This fact is backed up by a study in the National Library of Medicine (opens in new tab). ‘In addition, a protein shake might be a good option to give you a quick and easy boost.'
Have realistic expectations
At the end of the day, you don’t get a six-pack overnight, progression is key and gaining muscle is a slow and gradual process.
‘Don’t expect to gain a huge amount of mass in a short period of time and don’t be fooled by quick schemes that will often be trying to sell supplements that you don’t need. Take your time and enjoy the process,’ says Jack.
Prioritise your sleep
Don’t underestimate the power of sleep, seven hours of sleep a night is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (opens in new tab) (CDC) for adults.
‘The body will recover and repair while asleep. Lack of sleep will also negatively impact your hunger hormones and cortisol levels. Therefore, if looking to build muscle make sure that your sleep routine is optimized and consistent,’ Jack adds.
Consume More Calories
Pretty straight forward, but if you still aren’t gaining weight, then you need to consume more nutritious foods more often, at least every 2-3 hours. Rosie Millen, author and nutritionist for KIN (opens in new tab), explains more on this simple, but highly effective tip.
‘You’d be surprised how overlooked this is! It’s imperative that you document your calorific intake every day with either a spreadsheet or an app such as myfitnesspal. You need to be eating between 300-500 calories more per day in order to see results.’
Shop and cook in bulk
Save time, energy, and money by shopping and cooking in bulk for the week ahead. ‘For example: set aside an hour each week (Sunday evening) to cook and prepare your meals. Cooking up a batch of 12 eggs is a good idea, or four chicken breasts instead of two and always having protein powders and milk for shakes on standby helps. When cooking your meals pop leftovers into a container and freeze for the days when you are short on time,’ Millen explains.
Drink your calories
Don’t have time to rustle up numerous nutritious meals throughout the day? Fear not, smoothies and super shakes are a great way to consume more calories quickly and effectively.
‘You can add more calories in the form of healthy fats such as avocados, nuts, and coconut yogurt. You can also add additional fruits and oats for extra carbohydrates,’ says Millen.
‘Getting in adequate protein is a must for muscle mass! Amino acids are the building blocks for muscle growth - you need roughly 1.5 grams of protein per kilo of bodyweight to gain muscle,’ Millen goes on to add.
Kirsty is an accomplished journalist specialising in the wellness industry. She has previously written for titles including Grazia, Popsugar, Metro.co.uk, Elle UK and the Sunday Telegraph. You’ll find her running around Windsor Great Park at 6am most mornings (before her toddler, Clementine Lilac, wakes up), followed by a virtual barre class with the team at Psycle London – where that barre burn is just so addictive. Kirsty loves to stock up on new activewear; because, let’s face it, you can never have too many pairs of sculpting leggings. She's always keen to try/endure the latest workouts to come to London. Kirsty also enjoys rustling up nutritious family meals and indulging in her newfound hobby: flower pressing.
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