The most common question I get from skinny guys is, "Dude, I can't gain any weight. What do I do?" When I tell them the simplest solution to their problem is to eat more, I'm thrown back the same two excuses over and over: "I already eat so much," or "I don't have time to cook and eat."
I'm inclined to think that these excuses are invalid. The plain truth is that building muscle takes a lot of work and a lot of food. Most people just don't want to deal with it. However, I also think I can make my "just eat more" advice a little more detailed and effective.
So, here's some more usable advice for you hardgainers. It's true that each of these tips works along the "just eat more" theme, but they also provide more concrete guidance so you know what to eat, how to eat, and when to eat.
Worry less about "clean" eating
Sticking to the classic, "clean" bodybuilding food, like rice, sweet potatoes, chicken breast, and egg whites, is all well and good if you're trying to get really lean or lose a lot of excess body fat. But, if you're trying to gain weight, you need to expand your horizons!
Although eating healthful, whole foods should still be the primary foundation of your meal plan, you don't need to be so strict. Pile on necessary calories with extra fats and dense carbs. You should even allow some treats, and not just once in a while!
Don't worry, if you've been having an insanely hard time gaining any weight at all, whether muscle or fat, you won't get fat from eating some ice cream or cookies a few times per week.
Fat is your friend! Carbs and protein have only four calories per gram, but a gram of fat provides a whopping nine calories per gram. Fat helps you pack in a lot of extra calories without filling yourself to the brim. Plus, most fats and fatty foods are tasty and easy to eat. Do your best to fill up on unsaturated fats while keeping saturated fats to about 10 percent of your daily caloric intake.
If you need some extra calories on the double, throw back a few spoonfuls of peanut butter, butter your toast or potatoes, and cook with extra olive oil or butter. A little bit of volume goes a long way! In a pinch, you can even add a little olive oil or coconut oil to your protein shakes. This will quickly increase your calorie count.
Carbs, carbs, carbs
You are not going to put on weight if you watch your carbs like an Atkins dieter. Carbs are critical for fueling high-intensity workouts and building and repairing muscle.
I'm not just talking about "clean" carbs like potatoes, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, or brown rice—although you should eat them, along with plenty of added fats. I'm talking about denser sources of starch and even sugar. Cookies, ice cream, pizzas, and other "dirty" foods shouldn't be off-limits. These foods can help increase your calories.
You won't hear this advice often, but I'd also suggest against eating too much fiber. Of course you need the healthy amounts you'll get from oatmeal, broccoli, and other veggies and grains, but tons of fiber will just make you feel fuller for longer, which isn't good when you're eating on the clock!
Although eating six or eight meals isn't absolutely necessary to gain weight, it can be a helpful schedule if you're trying to pack in a lot of calories and protein throughout the day.
Schedule a meal every 2-3 hours to harness the anabolic powers of food. You may have to eat even if you don't feel like it, but you won't get big unless you eat big!
If you're too busy to get in an entire meal, then grab a mass-gainer shake. Mass-gainers are your friend because they include everything you need to grow: protein, carbs, fat, and of course, ample total calories. Keep a tub at your desk at work or in your pantry at home so you can have easy access to calories when you need them!
Track your intake!
Most skinny guys dramatically overestimate how much they're actually consuming. You're going to need hard numbers to make sure you stay on track. You don't need to go crazy and count every macronutrient as if you were dieting, but you do need to roughly measure portion sizes, track overall calories, and at least account for everything you do or don't eat.
The easiest way to successfully track your nutrition intake is to estimate how much protein and how many total calories you need and then do your best to hit those numbers every day. As a starting point, I recommend you eat 22-25 calories per pound of body weight, with a protein intake of about 1 gram per pound of body weight.1
Don't worry about the incidental amounts of carbs and fats you eat. Hit your daily protein requirement, fill in the rest of your calories with a mix of carbs and fats—adjust upward if necessary—and you'll be on the right track!
- Kleiner, S. (2013). Power Eating- 4th Edition. Human Kinetics.