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Fitness and Health

Fitness and health go hand in hand, and this section of our health library is devoted to exploring the relationship between these two very important aspects of life.

How to Gain Weight and Build Muscle the Healthy Way

Dietitians, personal trainers, and doctors all hear the same question... "How do you build muscle?" While the answer varies for each person, there are consistencies to remember and implement for the best way to gain weight and muscle.

How to Gain Weight and Build Muscle the Healthy Way

How to Gain Weight and Muscle Mass

1. Be Patient: It takes time and consistency to build muscle, hang in there!
2. Increase Calories: A hyper-caloric diet of the right nutrients is essential to gain weight the healthy way.
3. Consume Ample Protein: Protein is the building block for muscle growth.
4. Don't Skimp Out On Carbs: Carbs assist protein utilization and provide working energy to the body.
5. And Don't Fear the Fat. Complementing the diet with healthy fats supports fat loss and muscle gain.
6. Lift Weights: Muscle protein synthesis is stimulated by resistance training.
7. Allow Rest and Recovery: The muscles require recovery for growth and allowing rest days is vital to your progress.

The Best Way to Gain Weight and Muscle

1. Be Patient
The best way to gain weight and muscle mass is slowly overtime, as overdoing it on calories and training increases the risk of fat gain and injury, respectively.

Ultimately, be patient with the process detailed below and stay consistent! Though it takes time to gain healthy weight, it is nothing short of worth it!

2. Increase Calories
If cutting calories in worry of gaining fat, you are doing yourself a disservice. In fact, undereating can lead to many undesirable consequences, including loss of muscle mass, a plummeted metabolic rate and immune system, and possible disruption of menstrual cycle and reproductive functions related to hormone imbalances.

So disclosure: The only way to gain weight and build muscle is being in a caloric surplus.

Think of it like this: If you want to build a strong house, you need enough materials to build it. Not giving the body the supplies (calories) it needs.

How Many Calories Do You Need?

Calorie needs based on gender, age, activity levels, and other factors. To figure out how to gain healthy weight, you first need to determine your basal metabolic rate (BMR), or an approximated amount of calories the body burns if you were idle for 24 hours.

You then need to multiply an estimated BMR by an activity factor:

•BMR x 1.2 if you are sedentary (low-intensity and leisurely activities)
•BMR x 1.375 if you are lightly active (light exercise and sports 1 to 3 days/week)
•BMR x 1.55 if you are moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3 to 5 days/week)
•BMR x 1.725 if you are very active (moderate- to high-intensity exercise/sports 6 to 7 days/week)
•BMR x 1.9 if you are extremely active (very hard exercise/sports for 6 to 7 days/week and a physical job)

To this new number, add an approximate 250 to 500 calories to your day to be in a caloric surplus and add muscle.

Keep track of calories consumed and weight patterns. If you do not see any weight gain, increase calorie needs by 250 calories a day and track progress. A Registered Dietitian can also help determine calorie needs.

Based on this BMR calculator, a 30 year old male weighing 150 pounds and standing tall at 6'1" would need about 1724 calories/day purely to sustain himself. If he participates in moderate exercise three to five times per week, his BMR would be multiplied by the activity factor 1.55 and raise calorie needs to 2,672 a day. For weight gain and muscle growth, a range of 2,947 and 3,172 on a daily basis.

3. Consume Ample Protein
Protein is the building block for muscle synthesis and can be thought as the bricks to the house. Lean meats, poultry, dairy products, beans, nuts and seeds are all valuable protein options to include in the diet.

Whereas athletes' protein needs are greater than non-athletes, they are not as high as commonly perceived. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine, athletes should consume between 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (g/kg) per day.

There is also supporting evidence that the timing of protein intake may be more beneficial for building lean muscle mass rather than quantity, as body can only absorb about 30 grams of protein at a time.

Ultimately, protein intake should be spaced throughout the day and consumed within an hour or two following workouts.

4. Don't Skimp Out on Carbs
While protein is often thought to be the sole driver of muscle growth, we must not undermine the impact of carbs.

Carbs help deliver a steady dose of glucose to the working muscles while exercising and help stabilize blood sugars, as the muscles uptake available energy during and following exercise. They also spare glycogen (stored glucose) in the muscle cells, helping to prevent muscle fatigue that tends to follow as muscle glycogen begins to fall.

Focus attention on healthy complex carbs such as whole grains, cereals, pasta, rice, potatoes, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products that are rich in nutrients. Also pair with protein sources following a workout, which may include Greek yogurt and berries and cottage cheese and pineapple chunks.

5. And Don't Fear the Fat
Fearing the fat in worry to gain it can be harmful to your progress. Those so-called "healthy fats," including monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, can assist processes used for muscle growth and recovery, including immune and hormonal functions.

Complement protein and carb sources with healthy fats, including fatty fish, avocado, walnuts, almonds, olive and canola oils. Furthermore, limit the consumption of saturated and trans fats, including processed meats and convenience snack foods.

But since fats supply nine calories per gram (compared to four from carb and protein sources), their inclusion can help increase caloric needs if struggling to sustain a caloric surplus consistently.

6. Lift Weights
Muscle protein synthesis is stimulated by resistance activity and requires time in the gym. Not only can a hyper-caloric diet without such training simply promote weight gain, but result to fat gain.

Include weight and strength training at least twice a week and focus on the major muscle groups, including the back, chest, arms, and legs. As a general reference, complete two or three sets of eight to 12 repetitions, with a minute or two worth's of rest between sets.

But especially if a beginner with weights, it is imperative to start slow and consider a personal trainer. They can help create an effective and individualized exercise plan to meet personal needs, along with demonstrating proper form and technique to ensure safety and lower the risk of injury.

7. Rest and Recovery
"Work hard" is often the name of the game when it comes to gaining weight and muscle mass. But eager drives and motivations can cause us to sleep on an integral component of muscle growth.

Resistance training breaks down body tissues and causes microscopic tears within the muscle. Rest days allow your muscles, nerves, bones, and connective tissue time to rebuild itself, especially when pairing with a nutritious diet.

An effective and safe workout regimen strategizes rest days, as recovery is just as critical as the workout itself and lowers the risk of injury. So along with training each major muscle group two or three days per week, allot at least 48 hours for recovery between each training session and aim for seven to nine hours of adequate sleep on a nightly basis.

Christy Zagarella's Photo
Written By Christy Zagarella, MS, RDN. Published on November 07, 2012. Updated on July 06, 2018.


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