How to Gain Weight and Build More Muscle Mass
In the health, fitness, and nutrition world, achieving optimal or desired body weight is dominated by a single theme: losing weight. The vast majority of products and services available on the market proclaim to achieve weight loss goals, and even the (often discordant) medical community is in general harmony when it comes to promoting weight loss options, including drugs and some surgeries.
Overall, this is not a negative thing; especially with the Center for Disease Control predicting that obesity (which is already considered an epidemic among US youth) will soon become the number one preventable killer in the US, overtaking cigarette smoking. Yet lost within this maze, and haze, of weight-loss drive are naturally thin people who face a different challenge: they want to gain weight; not lose it.
The Problem of Gaining Weight
The saying "a little information is a dangerous thing" applies quite dramatically to the problem of gaining weight. The information available - anecdotes on the web, ignorant health care "experts" who have not actually researched the problem of losing weight - is generally of poor quality. In fact, the strategy "just eat more to gain weight" is far too often the well-meaning -- but woefully incompetent -- advice prescribed to naturally thing people who want to gain weight.
The impact of this ignorance is a cycle that involves two concepts: misinformation and misunderstanding. At first glance, these two words may seem synonymous. Yet, as briefly described below, they both have their separate roles to play in the problem of gaining weight.
* Misinformation stems from poor quality information, including anecdotal data that has no scientific basis, which leads people to attempt implausible and sometimes dangerous weight gain programs.
* Misunderstanding stems from the lack of results due to the misinformation phase noted above, and leads to the erroneous conclusion that a naturally thin individual "cannot gain weight".
Despite this dramatic problem, correcting this knowledge gap is possible, and involves three strategies:
1. Appropriate Nutrition
2. A Complete Training Program
3. Intrinsic Motivation and Keeping Up Progress
Each of these key aspects are discussed below, but it is essential to note that they are integrated; no element is more important than another, and they work in a holistic, reinforcing system.
Gaining Weight via Appropriate Nutrition
In the weight loss world, the word "calorie" is one of the more dreaded terms; and it's not uncommon to find self-proclaimed diet foods that promise to help eaters burn more calories than they consume. For naturally thin people who wish to gain weight, however, the challenge is reversed: you need to ingest more calories than you burn.
Unfortunately, that simple phrase - "you need to ingest more calories than you burn" - represents the totality of most anecdotal (and inept) advice provided to naturally thin people. True, while the end of gaining weight is to ingest more calories than one burns, there is so much more information that must be conveyed. You could just eat ice cream all day. That has plenty of calories, right? But you would simply get fat. Why? Because all calories are not created equal.
Yes you must eat more food, but not more junk. Otherwise, the end result of ingesting "junk foods" (those that contain high amount of saturate fat, trans-fat, sugar and processed carbohydrates) is that an individual may "feel" physically bigger, but that increase will be simply an increase in unwanted fat. Even worse, is that the desired weight gain will not be concurrent to this increase in body fat, since fat tissue weighs so much less than muscle tissue.
The most stunning visual pointer of this biological reality is looking at Sumo wrestlers. Indeed, while these powerful men possess a great deal of muscle, unlike bodybuilders or heavyweight boxers, they are often best characterized by their enormous stores of fat; and all of that fat tissue comes from a steady diet of calories from fat (many Sumo wrestlers ingest startlingly unhealthy amounts of junk food).
On the other hand, calories derived from high quality sources of protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats are unarguably more beneficial for adding lean muscular weight.
Foods that are high in protein include: whey protein, lean beef, poultry, eggs, fish and dairy products.
Calories from protein are efficiently converted into muscle when supported by an exercise plan (which will be discussed below), and the general rule of thumb while strength training is to ingest 1 gram of protein for every pound of body weight. This is typically more than the USFDA Recommended Dietary Intake, which suggests about 50 grams of protein per day for adult males. However, this recommended amount is intended for moderately active adult males who do not need (or want) to gain weight.
Complex carbs are found in potatoes, rice, whole grain breads and beans. Healthy fats are found in olive oil, flaxseed oil, avocadoes and raw nuts.
Another general rule is that you should consume protein as a part of every meal, and meals should be eaten in small portions throughout the day as opposed to large meals 1 or 2 times a day. Calories from protein can help ward off a dramatic insulin spike that would otherwise greet fat calories (such as after one eats a candy bar or piece of cake).
Avoiding this insulin spike, or at least preventing some of its damage, is critical for gaining the right kind of weight (muscle) and avoiding the wrong kind of weight (fat).
A Complete Training Program
There are more training programs available than can be catalogued; and this is, in itself, not negative. It simply means that different people, with different strength training goals, can follow a program that most effectively reaches their goals. What can be negative, however, is when someone focusing on gaining weight is provided with a training program that is either incomplete, or completely meant for someone else; such as someone who wants to lose weight, or convert existing excess fat into muscle. Find a program that is "specifically" designed for your goal.
The most effective kind of strength training for "our" needs, involves free weights. True, machines and other exercises are better than nothing at all but free weights cause the most stress on muscle fibers, and that is precisely how muscle is built (through the tearing and repairing of minuscule muscle fibers).
A typical strength training program for weight gain all almost always includes compound free weight lifts like squats, bench press, shoulder press, pull-ups (wide grip), and dips. The amount of weight used for each, the amount of reps, and the frequency of training, will obviously be customized to suit your body type, current strength, and strength training goals.
It's also important to note is that training too often is both dangerous and counter-productive. More training does not equal more muscle. The body does not become stronger during exercise; it actually becomes stronger during the repair period between exercising. This is rather non-intuitive, but it's a basic scientific fact. As such, it's critically important for people to avoid over-training, and to build in appropriate rest periods between reps, sets, and workouts.
Intrinsic Motivation and Keeping Up Progress
This may be the most neglected component of an effective weight-gain system, yet it's easily as important as the other two noted above.
The problem of motivation is typically not one of starting. Many people have the will and desire to start a weight gain program; at least, they do for the first few times. Where motivation makes - or breaks - a weight gain program is when it comes to monitoring progress and maintaining muscle gain.
This doesn't imply that people are weak or uninterested in progress; actually, it's rather more complex than that. Though 1,000 people may focus, on the same day and at the same time, on gaining weight effectively and with measurable muscular results, it's not an exaggeration to say that each of these people will experience something different. Some of those differences will be profound and visible; other differences will be subtle and difficult to put into words. The dilemma here is that people may start doubting the validity of their program when their progress (or lack of progress) does not mirror the results achieved by someone else. Or worse, some people may truly start doubting their own ability to "ever gain weight" when they see someone else making apparent progress towards their weight gain goals.
The remedy to this dilemma is contained in the term "follow-through". The key to successful weight gain lies fundamentally in one's ability to follow-through with a program, and to stick with it, while at the same time making appropriate adjustments to exploit gains, and avoid disappointment. Ultimately, if the nutrition and strength training components are in place, achieving weight gain goals are merely a matter of time and effort; and that is where motivation plays it's most important role.
Typical proven strategies to ensure motivation remains high and continuous include: adjusting workouts to add some variety and avoid boredom; using visuals (such as a before and after picture, or a video) to monitor progress; writing down (realistic!) goals; measuring physical improvements on a bi-weekly basis; measuring mental/psychological improvements on a bi-weekly basis; staying focused, and of course, taking breaks when necessary.
Putting it All Into Place and Taking Action
As noted earlier, there is a disconcerting amount of poor quality (or no quality) information available that purports to help naturally thin people gain weight. The majority of this harmful information revolves around "eating more"; which, if it works, simply leads to the creation of permanent fat cells. Unfortunately, for naturally thin people stuck in this cycle of misinformation and misunderstanding, their choices are to either remain thinner than they'd like, or put on fat pounds and risk a high body fat ratio or even obesity.
Thankfully, however, nothing needs to be created in order to help naturally thin people succeed in their weight gain goals; scientific advancements or miracle cures are not required. Simply, what is required is action based on what is already available, and what has been noted above: proper nutrition, effective strength training and self-motivation.
Ensuring that these three elements are present is the unifying theme that is common to almost every successful weight gain story that has ever been written, applauded, and admired.