Putting on weight is a much less common quest than losing it, and it's not something everyone understands. It's why your friends and relatives scoff if you ever whine about not being able to bulk up your frame. "Just wait," they say. "When you're older, you'll have no trouble!"
The thing is, you don't want to wait. And you certainly don't want any ol' kind of mass. You're looking for hard, dense, well-developed muscle, but it's not easy to achieve. It takes time, effort, and planning.
Luckily for you, you landed here for answers. Here are the five nutritional adjustments needed to catch your runaway metabolism and start turning your efforts into considerable gains. Couple them with a smart training plan like the one found at the end of this article and you've got a winning strategy to add quality size.
Create a calorie surplus
To build size, the math is deceptively simple: You need more calories coming in than going out, or being burned on a daily basis. What makes up those calories is important, and we'll get to that in a moment, but you want to begin by doing a little back-of-the-napkin calculation. You can use various equations to hit your total daily calorie target, but this method is simple and effective: Take your weight in pounds, and multiply it by 20.
So if you weigh 170 pounds now and multiply that by 20, you get 3,400. That's your target goal for daily calorie intake. It doesn't mean it's a "magic number," but it is a starting point—aiming for 3,400 calories per day and monitoring your weight and development for about two weeks will give you an idea of whether you need to bump it up (or down).
If you add more than 1-2 pounds a week, you may want to dial the numbers back to your weight multiplied by 19. If the scale isn't budging and you're not seeing the gains you want, try multiplying by 21. Keep nudging the total either way—giving yourself at least a week, ideally two, to see results before making a change.
You'll have to keep close tabs on what you're eating, but before long, you'll learn to eyeball the macronutrient makeup—or total protein, carbs, and fats—of foods you commonly eat, and doing the math will become second nature.
Increase your daily protein intake
Your daily calories can't come from just anywhere. Otherwise, Twinkies would be the ultimate bodybuilding superfood. (Sorry to those of you who were hoping.) That calorie intake should be divided among protein at 1.5 grams per pound per day; carbohydrates at roughly 2.5 grams per pound; and fats, which should make up the remainder. So, returning to our sample 170-pounder, he'd shoot for about 255 grams of protein, 425 grams of carbs, and about 75 grams of primarily unsaturated fats like those found in fatty fish, flaxseed, and olive oils.
If your protein intake is usually lower than that, try increasing the number of meals you eat during the day to 6-8, spacing them a few hours apart. While this frequency won't necessarily "stoke the metabolism" as was once suggested, it can help you maximize muscle protein synthesis throughout the day for the best overall muscle-building effects.
While you can get your protein entirely from whole-food sources, supplements can make your life easier—and your protein sources more delicious and versatile! Whey protein is a low-calorie, fast-digesting source of protein that is especially beneficial around your workouts, while casein protein is a slower-digesting protein that works well before bed or during long stretches without food. Protein bars are another great option for on-the-go nutrition, and they can help you stave off nutritionally bankrupt runs through the drive-thru.
Drink in the dark
Having trouble getting all your necessary protein during your waking hours? One oft-used trick of extreme hardgainers—and, indeed, advanced bodybuilders—is to set the alarm for a point about four hours after you go to bed so you can get up and sleepily down a 20- to 30-gram protein shake. This breaks your overnight fast in half, meaning you don't go eight hours or more without this vital muscle-building nutrient.
You don't want to continue this habit indefinitely, as it's disruptive to sleep, which is also vital to growth. This trick is also unnecessary if your physical improvements are otherwise tracking in the right direction. But as a shock technique to nudge your body into the growth zone, overnight protein is an effective remedy.
Fuel up before, during, and after workouts
In the nutrition game, timing makes a difference to your performance, and the most important window for growth is around your workouts. Keep in mind that you won't "lose all your gains" if you miss a day's worth of workout nutrition, but every little bit helps in your quest for size, so commit to fueling properly before and after a training session as best you can.
Start 60 minutes pre-workout with a whey protein shake, and then consider taking free-form supplements like caffeine for focus, citrulline for a better pump, BCAAs for muscular energy, and creatine for muscular strength and endurance 30 minutes before your session. As an alternative, you can consider an all-in-one pre-workout supplement that includes several of these ingredients in one blend. These ingredients can impact your short- and long-term performance.
During your workout, stay hydrated with plain water for shorter workouts, and use a sports drink diluted with water for longer endurance sessions. Within 30-60 minutes after your workouts, drink a protein shake that includes both casein and whey in equal amounts (15-20 grams each), as well as quick-digesting carbohydrates from pure dextrose powder, white bread, or even a "cheat" food like gummy bears.
A fast-acting carb source will help you recover glycogen quickly, which is essential if you're training again soon or want to optimize recovery as effectively as possible.
Add a weight gainer
I get it: Not everyone appreciates having to constantly shove food down their gullets to keep pace with a high-horsepower metabolism. That's where a high-calorie supplement like a quality weight-gain powder can make a difference, providing nutrients in liquid form.
Good gainers include complex carbohydrates, not just simple sugars; ample protein per serving; a relatively small amount of healthful fat; and additional vitamins and minerals to support your overall well-being. Look for at least 30 grams of protein and up to twice that amount of carbohydrates or, if you’re really hurting for calories, hunt for something with several hundred calories and 50 grams of protein or more.
If you really want to grow, don’t replace a meal with a gainer, just add a shake in the morning or evening to easily increase your total calories.
The Plus-15 Training Plan
You've got the basics of mass nutrition on lock, but to add muscle, you need to be efficient in the gym. In other words, you don't want to needlessly burn precious calories with marathon training sessions.
This workout plan is built with intensity, strength, and muscle gain in mind. You'll work out three days per week, limiting yourself to 45-60 minutes max, and you'll add weight each set. A rest day is scheduled between each workout.
On your working sets of 8 and 6 reps, choose a weight that'll cause failure right around that rep target, and add partials or negatives on the last set of every exercise.
Also, if you're really having difficulty adding size, shelve cardio completely. In your case, the less activity you do outside of the gym, the better.