Have you ever been told you look to skinny, need to put on weight or you need to eat a sandwich? A lot of people have and they’re usually well aware of it. Most of the time they’re actually trying to gain weight put they’re scared of getting fat or they just don’t know how to gain weight in a healthy way. Gaining weight doesn’t have to be scary or difficult. If you know how to do it, gaining weight can be as simple as tweaking your diet and resistance training program.
How much you way is a simple equation of the calories you take in opposed to the calories you burn. If you take in more calories than you burn, you have a calorie surplus. Those extra calories will be used in one of two ways. Stored as fat or used to build tissue. This is why so many people are scared to try and gain weight. They have tried before and only put on fat weight not lean body mass. Knowing how to gain weight in a healthy way will negate the storing of fat and optimize the building of muscle.
Let’s start with what type of calories its takes to build muscle. First, protein. The amino acids that come from protein are the building blocks of the body. Your body will use these amino acids to repair tissues. Bone, ligaments, skin cells and yes muscle. About 20-30% for your diet should be made up of high quality protein. When I say high quality I mean a protein source that contains essential amino acids. There are two types of amino acids essential and non-essential. Non-essential amino acids are actually made by your body, so it has an abundance of those. Essential amino acids are not made by the body and need to be added from another source. Lean meats, eggs and cheeses contain essential amino acids. Plants based proteins do not contain high levels of essential amino acids.
So, we have the building blocks but who is going to do the building? Carbohydrates are the main fuel source for the body. 50-70% of your caloric intake should be a form of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates will fuel your muscles for the workouts as well as perform the rebuilding process of the muscles using the amino acids as the building blocks. There are two forms of carbohydrates, complex and simple. Complex carbohydrates are no refined, meaning they have not been processed. Vegetables, some fruits, whole grain breads, rice and beans are all sources of complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are also high in fiber. Simple carbohydrates are a more refined carbohydrate. Some fruits, white bread and rice as well as anything that has been processed for a longer shelf life would be a simple carbohydrate. Simple carbohydrates are usually referred to as sugars. Complex carbohydrates should be used pre workout for a long chain of energy. Simple carbohydrates should be used post workout to refuel the body quickly and start the muscle rebuilding process. Ingestion of simple carbohydrates should happen within 90 minutes of workout. The remaining 20-30% of your diet should be from fat. Digestion and other essential body functions require fat.
You should spread these calories out over 5-7 meals thought the day. The total number of calories you need to ingest will be determined on your current body weight and the amount of activity you perform each day. A good number to start with is to take your current weight and multiply it by 20. This is a starting point for a calorie surplus. Of course to convince your body to use these excess calories to build bigger, stronger muscles we need to traumatize those muscles first. A consistent resistance training program is also essential for gain weight in a healthy way. When you perform resistance training you’re actually breaking small weak muscles fibers. Your body will then rebuild those muscles fibers using protein and carbohydrates to make bigger stronger muscles fibers. This will increase your lean body mass, ultimately gaining weight! Yet, you can’t just perform any old resistance training. To build optimal muscle you need to force your muscles to use all of their motor units. Your muscle has different bundles of muscles fibers, each controlled by a motor unit. Your muscle will only use as many motor units as it needs to produce enough force to move the joint. So to build excess muscle you must force your muscle to use all of its motor units. This is done by using heavy weight with medium to low repetitions and multiple sets. This will tire the regularly use motor units and force the muscle to use all of its motor units. So, we’ve fueled the body, traumatized the muscle, and refueled the body with the excess calories now all it needs is rest. This is where most people drop the ball. Your muscle needs 48-72 hours of rest before being traumatized again. If you don’t allow that muscle to rebuild the damaged fibers it will never get bigger or stronger. Over training the muscle will actually decrease strength and size of the muscle. So, if that muscle is still sore from a previous workout, let it rest!
Calories, resistance training and rest. That’s all it really takes to gain weight in a healthy way. The right percentages of carbohydrates, protein and fat will give your body the energy and building materials to gain muscle. Performing the right type of resistance training with the correct amount of weight and the right number of sets trigger your body to build muscle. 48-72 hours of rest after you workout will allow your body the it needs time to repair and rebuild the muscle fibers so you can gain weight in a healthy way. So follow these steps, tweak those diets and resistance training programs and never again be told you look to skinny, need to put on weight or you need to eat a sandwich![stextbox id=”grey” caption=”About the Author”]Josh Morrison is the owner of Optimum Performance Training in Mt Zion, IL. He has a M.S. in Performance Enhancement, B.A. in Physical Education, certified as an NASM-PES, NASE-CSSE, NASM-CPT, NESTA-CPT, Human Kinetics-Advanced Exercise Nutrition and APEX-FitPro. Josh played football at Blackburn College as a four year starting defensive back and has been training for over 8 years. With his wealth of experience and education Josh can deal with any fitness, nutrition and performance needs. [/stextbox]