Gaining lean muscle mass can be just as difficult or harder than losing weight. “Just eat more” sounds like a simple solution to some, but it’s about as ineffective as “just eat less” for the obese. Unless you’ve taken up sumo wrestling as a hobby or are attending the casting call of a Nutty Professor sequel, you’re going to want the weight you gain to look good and improve your performance. If you’re trying to be The Incredible Hulk this Halloween, these tips are for you.
Seriously, it’s what you need to do in order to gain weight since weight gain only happens in a caloric surplus. Junk food, while often high in calories is not nutrient dense and balanced. Foods like meat, rice, potatoes, fruit, animal fat, coconut oil, and olive oil need to be staples in your diet. If you’re having a hard time eating so much food, try increasing your calories by incorporating low volume, calorie dense items like honey, whole milk, and nut butters. This is also a good time to incorporate higher calorie protein shakes. Years ago Johnny Pain, owner of Greyskull Barbell Club in Pennsylvania introduced me to a 1,000+ protein shake that I’ve since nicknamed the “Skeletor Shake” and have used successfully with weight gaining clients.
8oz Whole Milk
50g Whey Protein (protein grams, not weight)
1 cup Dry Oats
4 Tbsp Peanut Butter
Add all of the above ingredients in the listed order to a blender and blend until smooth. You can also substitute the PB for Coconut Oil to reduce the overall volume of the shake as it’s extremely dense and may be hard to drink at first.
Turn Up the Volume
If gaining is the goal things like running or CrossFit, while useful in their own ways aren’t going to be of much benefit. You need to lift for hypertrophy which is best done at moderate to heavy weight at higher reps with time under tension. It’s also economic to start your workout with multi-joint lifts such as the Squat, Deadlift, and Bench Press to hit multiple muscle groups at the same time. Find ways to challenge your muscles- You can do this by slowing down reps, changing grips, contracting muscles, pause sets, resistance bands, etc.
When you sleep, you recover. When you recover, you can grow. Really, if you come to me with any aesthetic goal I’m going to tell you that you need to sleep more but the more drastic a change you’re trying to make, the more important it becomes. As mentioned in my previous article on sleep, not getting enough of it can make you weaker. If size is the goal, there’s no time for weakness. If you’re unable to get 8 hours of sleep per night, you should do your best to increase your weekly average to 8 hours. For instance, if only 7 hours is possible Thursday and Friday, shoot for 9 hours on Saturday and Sunday. Napping can also be of benefit and while not as beneficial as a full night of uninterrupted sleep, it can still mitigate some of the issues with sleep deprivation and add to your weekly average.
Consistency is Key
Eating big during the week only to sleep in and hit 2-3 meals on Saturday and Sunday isn’t going to cut it. Following a bodybuilding routine for 6 weeks before you start skipping workouts isn’t going to get you there. Like weight loss, you should be chasing slow and steady progress rather than drastic change if you want it to last. If you’ve stayed on path for weeks without seeing a change, simply increase calories a bit further, be honest with yourself about whether or not you’ve been sleeping and training as you should, and stay the course.
Gaining weight isn’t as easy as eating more pizza. If you want to gain it right, you need to do it right. Eat in a caloric surplus so you have the energy balance to grow. Lift in a way that forces your muscles to hypertrophy. Make sleep a priority so you can recovery and maintain your strength throughout what is sure to be a challenge. It won’t be easy. If you want to gain weight and look good doing it, it’s going to take constant effort. Dedicate the time and energy needed for your goal and look forward to shopping for larger clothes soon.