Step 1: Increase Calorie Intake (Energy Intake)
In order to gain weight, you need to consume more energy than you burn. When energy beyond the body’s immediate needs is eaten in the form of nutrient-dense food, it will become stored energy in muscle or in fat to be used by the body as fuel when needed.
In contrast, empty calories from processed foods are typically stored as fat. The body does not necessarily recognize these calories as fuel, so sequesters it as fat.
Keep a Food Log
In order to make a healthy weight gain more successful, keep a log of the foods you eat on a daily basis. You may be consuming fewer calories than you think! If this is the case, increase calorie intake by 150-250 calories per day. However, this ultimately depends on the rate at which weight gain is desired. Rapid weight gain would require adding a higher number of calories per day while slower weight gain would require adding less.
Step 2: Eat More Frequently In Less Volume
Believe it or not, gaining weight and building muscle is a lot of work and may require a change in eating habits. I’ve written before about eating only when hungry, but this assumes your hunger cues are working the way they should.
Eating more meals of smaller size throughout the day may help in increasing overall calorie intake. Four smaller meals per day or eating healthy snacks about every 3-4 hours is ideal. It allows for more food consumed throughout the day and also provides enough time between each meal to allow for complete digestion and maximum nutrient absorption for the most gains.
Step 3: Improve Food Choices: Quality and Quantity
The quality of foods selected for safe and effective weight gain are critical. Focus on nutrient-rich foods that are going to be beneficial to the body, not harmful.
Here are the foods that are most beneficial for weight gain:
High quality protein sources should come from humanely raised animals in the form of grass-fed and free-range meats, wild game, pasture-raised chickens and eggs, collagen, grass-fed beef protein, and wild-caught fish such as salmon.
If animal products are not part of your diet, focus on protein in the form of hemp seed, soaked beans, unsweetened plain yogurt, raw nuts, seeds, and quality protein powders.
Omega-3 and omega-9 fatty acids should take the lead when increasing fat intake as they provide a large number of health benefits. Try to minimize the amount of omega-6 fatty acids as they can be inflammatory in high quantity.
Inflammation can be a major underlying factor as to why weight gain is difficult for some. Omega-3 fatty acids help to decrease inflammation in the body and repair damaged muscle. Our bodies cannot make omega-3 fatty acids, therefore we need to obtain them from our diet. Foods that contain a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids include fish oils (salmon, sardines, anchovies), chia seeds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, flax seed, hemp seeds, and egg yolks.
Carbohydrates help to fuel and build muscle strength when trying to gain weight. Focusing on complex carbohydrates rather than simple starches will help to stabilize blood sugar while providing the right amount of glucose to the body to be stored as energy. Carbohydrates are a great post-workout fuel for building muscle.
Complex sources of carbohydrates include yuca, taro root, sweet potato, plantains, spaghetti squash, butternut squash, fruit, quinoa, and even rice.
Cooking starches in good quality fats such as coconut oil, butter, or smothering them in olive oil is the perfect way to incorporate fats into a carbohydrate-rich meal. The combination creates more potential for healthy gains.
Step 4: Exercise
Just because healthy weight gain is the goal does not mean exercise should come to a halt. Exercising 4-5 days per day week is sufficient in providing significant health benefits. Focusing on exercises such as strength training, heavy lifting, CrossFit, yoga, and high intensity interval training (HIIT) will provide the most muscle and weight gain while minimizing fat gain. Weight gain benefits are increased when long duration cardiovascular exercises are kept to a minimum.
Step 5: Get Adequate Sleep
Sleep is extremely important to our overall health. This is the time during our 24 hours that our body is able to heal and repair damaged muscle tissue from the stressors of the day helping it to become stronger. Striving for a minimum of 7-8 hours of high quality deep sleep has more of a profound impact on healthy gains than you may assume.
Your turn… tell me your experience! Is gaining weight more of a concern than losing it?