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Hey Glen: I Need to Gain Weight!

“I don’t need to lose weight, I need to gain weight. How can I do that? I need advice!”

In my writings I talk a lot about weight loss because, well, a lot of people want and need to lose weight. But there are those among us that struggle with putting weight on. I feel your pain. When I started lifting weights I would lift darn near what some of the bodybuilders were lifting and it seemed like I was half the size of them. So how do we go from lean to muscular? Here we go…

Here are the basics:

Lift heavy weights with a rep count of 6 to 12 on most exercises.

Eat an adequate amount of protein.

Eat a surplus of total calories.

Take a couple of scientifically proven supplements.

That is the general breakdown. Let me explain each one.

Lifting heavy weights with a rep count of 6 to 12 is the formula at which hypertrophy (muscle growth) is best achieved. “Heavy” is a very subjective and relative term. What is heavy for me might not be heavy for you and vice versa. So when picking weights you need to find something that fits you. When lifting weights if you can go beyond 12 reps, the weight you picked is too light. If you are struggling and starting to lose good form on your 3rd or 4th rep, you are lifting too heavy.

When it comes to reps it’s a good idea to shoot for 6 to 10. If you are able to crank out a couple more reps, great. If you happen to only get 5 reps on a set or two, that’s fine too. Just remember to keep good form. After a couple of workout sessions and you know what is heavy for you, a good method to use is pyramid sets, which goes like this:

Set 1 – Heavy weight, 6 reps

Set 2 – Slightly lighter weight than 1st set, 8 reps

Set 3 – Slightly lighter weight than 2nd set, 10 reps

Rest about 1 minute between each set.

Eating an adequate amount of protein is a key to building muscle. For gaining muscle you need about .5 to .8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. If you have a hard time gaining weight/muscle you can go slightly higher, but most research suggests that going over 1.0 grams is excessive and unnecessary.

Here is an example equation:

Body weight X 0.8 = grams of protein needed.

For a 150 pound person, 150 X 0.8 = 120 grams

Eating a surplus of total calories will help you gain weight. This is best done by increasing your total calorie intake progressively. Going from a 2500 calorie diet to a 6000 calorie diet will not work out too well. To find out how much food you should be eating to gain weight, first we need to find your daily caloric needs by using a fairly simple equation to find your Resting Metabolic Rate (the amount of calories your body needs to live) and multiplying it by your Activity Factor (a number used to estimate your caloric needs based on your lifestyle) to find your Total Energy Expenditure. For people that are very active and do planned vigorous exercise such as weightlifting, the activity factor is 2.1 on the high end. So here is the equation:

Step 1: Weight in lbs. X 10 = RMR

Step 2: RMR X 2.1 = TEE

Example for a 150 pound man lifting weights frequently:

150 X 10 = 1500

1500 X 2.1 = 3150

To gain lean muscle mass it is suggested to eat an additional 200 to 400 calories per day. It is also a good idea to consume some protein and carbohydrates immediately following a workout, but no longer than 60 minutes after. This can be done with a recovery drink supplement, a meal replacement drink, or whey protein mixed fruit juice. The drinks mentioned work well here because they are digested quickly by the body, fueling the muscles you just worked.

When eating to gain muscle mass it is a good idea to space these meals evenly throughout the day. If you were looking to consume 3400 calories per day, 6 meals between 500 – 600 calories would do the trick.

Supplements are a great tool to compliment a balanced diet, when used as directed and properly. There are a lot of supplements out there that promise all kinds of miracles and this and that. I touched on this subject here and here.

To gain muscle, there are two supplements that stand out that have been around for years and are generally regarded as safe. The first is whey protein, which I mentioned earlier makes for a great after workout shake. The second is Creatine Monohydrate, which has been found to support lean muscle mass. Beyond these two, you might want to take a multivitamin as well.

Here are a few more tips:

The calculations above are only estimations. You will have to listen to your body. Try the formula for 3 weeks or so, and see what happens. If you are still stuck, try increasing daily calorie intake by another 200 – 400 calories. Think of gaining weight as a marathon task. Not something done overnight or in a few weeks. As you begin to put on muscle, continue to eat more to gain more.

Also when trying to gain weight, watch for excessive fat gain. To “bulk up” you might experience a little fat gain, but watch it so it does not get out of control. Like I said, gaining muscle doesn’t happen overnight. But if you are quickly eating an excess of calories and the calories cannot be used to build muscle or burn off through physical activity, they will turn to fat.

Drink plenty of water. You may have heard 8 cups a day. 13 cups is what I recommend for men, and 9 for women. Of course everyone is different, so be sure to listen to your body here too.

Try using a website such as My Fitness Pal to track calorie intake and carb/protein/fat levels. My Fitness Pal has the protein recommendation low, but you can still track the totals of everything. Here are some guidelines for daily nutrient intake:

Protein 10% to 35%

Carbs 45% to 65%

Fats 20% to 35%

Okay, hope this helps those looking to gain weight and muscle mass out there.

Have a question for me? Ask away by sending a comment or email my way.

Sources for article:

Clark, Michael, Scott Lucett, Brain Sutton ed. “NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training, 4th Edition”. 2012 Lippincott Williams, and Wilkins.

United States Department of Health and Human Services, US Department of Agriculture. ‘2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans”. 2010, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.

Antonio J., Cicconce V. “The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength”. J Int. Sports Nutr. 2013.

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