How to Gain Weight the Right Way


Conversations about weight typically revolve around losing it. But there is a real subset of people out there wondering how to gain weight. The guys who struggle to find a dress shirt that doesn’t fit them like a poncho? A watch that doesn’t hang off their wrist on both sides? We see you. 

Otherwise known as hardgainers or ectomorphs, these are men who feel like they can’t bulk up even after hitting the gym regularly. But they can gain weight and add muscle mass, provided they’re willing to take the time to do so.

“Americans just want a quick fix,” says Christen Cooper, registered dietician and founding director of the Nutrition and Dietetics Program at Pace University. “The first thing I tell people, especially guys shooting for these huge muscles, is that to do it right, you need to have a little more patience.”

In other words, don’t expect to coast your way to beefier biceps simply by chugging whey protein and cranking out a few sets on the bench press and calling it a day. Getting bigger is a lifestyle change, one that encompasses what you eat, how you get and stay fit, and a set of realistic expectations.

Eat. Then Eat Some More.

You don’t need a degree in nutrition to know that gaining weight is a function of eating more. But what you eat is just as important as how much more you are eating.

“The bottom line for weight gain is increasing total calories from a mixture of nutrient-rich protein, fat, and carbohydrates,” says Cynthia Sass, a registered dietician and virtual private-practice sports and performance nutritionist who has consulted for the New York Yankees.

If the goal is to also gain weight and build muscle, then amplifying the diet in a discerning way is especially key. This isn’t your opportunity to wolf down handfuls of potato chips and guzzle soda, which are just empty calories without the nutrients you need. 

You need carbs for the energy you’re going to be using—presumably you’re working out more as you’re eating more—and you need proteins and fats to provide the raw materials necessary to build new tissue. So you might consider adding a bowl of cereal with low-fat milk and granola. Maybe a peanut butter sandwich. Maybe scrambled eggs on top of a bagel. No matter what, start slowly: anywhere from 250 to 500 extra calories a day.

In Particular, Eat More Protein. 

Muscles are built out of proteins, not fats or carbohydrates, so eating enough protein to encourage muscle synthesis is crucial. Fortunately, you can do this a variety of ways if beef isn’t your thing. Whey protein, lamb, and seafood are all options. So, too, is plant-based protein like soy. What it comes down to is portion size: Do you want to eat a three-ounce piece of steak every few hours, or five cups of broccoli?

Sass also says to not let four hours go by without eating something, and you can do that with well-chosen snacks. An energy bar made of dates (carbs), plant proteins, and nuts or seeds (healthy fat) is one item she suggests. Even a big slice of avocado on top of turkey slices on an English muffin is good.

“An easy option for one extra meal can be a smoothie made with greens, banana and berries, plant protein powder, and nut butter,” she says. “But it’s important to be sure that an extra meal truly is an addition to your diet, and that it doesn’t displace other foods.”

Can’t I Just Drink Milk?

The GOMAD diet—drinking a gallon of milk every day—comes up in every discussion or Google search about how to gain weight. It is certainly aggressive, and its adherents make several caveats. You should be working out heavy weights three times a week if you take this approach, and if you’re worried about gaining fat, the GOMAD method probably isn’t for you. Many people can’t process that much lactose. 



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