Follow these 6 simple steps and you WILL gain lean muscle mass.
In simplest terms, weight gain is caused by your body storing excess calories (or more calories than your body needs for metabolic purposes). Weight loss is caused by a deficit in calories (not supplying your body with sufficient calories to maintain current bodyweight).
And a constant bodyweight would mean that you are supplying your body with neither too many, nor too little calories, but a sufficient energy intake to maintain your current bodyweight.
Now in order to make sure that weight gain is mostly lean body mass and not fat mass you need to provide an anabolic stimulus (a.k.a. a proper resistance training program) along with sufficient calories to support these anabolic processes.
1 - Consume More Calories
Regardless of whether my new clients want to gain or lose weight, I have them first and foremost perform a 3 to 5-day food record. This is a tedious process and will take a few minutes after every meal or at the end of your day, but the information that it will give you will be crucial in meeting your weight gain goals.
The purpose of this is to give you an idea of how many calories, carbohydrate, fat, and protein you consume on average as well as to increase your awareness of the caloric content of different foods you eat. You can then take this information and build upon it.
So, if you're steadily maintaining your bodyweight although your trying to gain, you would obviously need to make a concerted effort to increase your caloric intake above what you have normally been consuming.
You need to record EVERYTHING you eat and make a note of how much - and if you are ambitious you can record how many ounces of water you consume as well. You need to record the macronutrient profile (carbohydrates, fats, protein) and calories for everything.
You can get most of this information from the nutrition panel listed on the product, but food items that aren't labeled can be found on the internet at sites like www.caloriecountercharts.com or www.ast-ss.com. It is important not to necessarily measure what you are eating because this will tend to under or over exaggerate your normal amounts.
It's also important not to change the kinds of foods you normally eat. Just eat the same foods and the amounts that you would if you weren't doing a food record, except make an estimation or rough measurement of how much it is. For instance how close is it to a cup, how many ounces is it, or how many servings is it?
It's not rocket science but the more accurate you are with your measurements and recording the more accurate your daily totals will be. After you are finished getting a daily total for at least 3 or 5 consecutive days then you need to find the average. For instance, if my daily calories were 3000, 2900, and 3100 for 3 consecutive days then my average daily caloric consumption would be 3000.
You need to do this with the macronutrients as well, so in the end, you should finish with an average daily PROTEIN, FAT, CARBOHYDRATE, and CALORIE consumption - This is the important information that you went through this process for.
A sample chart may look like this:
So, if your daily average is 3,000 calories for instance, and you haven't been gaining any bodyweight, then obviously you need to increase your daily intake beyond 3,000. You may want to start by adding another small meal (consisting of 250-500 calories) into your day to bump up your total to 3,250 or 3,500.
The important thing is to listen to your body and see how it responds. If you begin adding unwanted bodyfat then cut back a little, if you still aren't gaining any weight then add another 250-500 meal to your day or make the meals you're already consuming a little bigger. Consistency is the key to progress.
2 - Carbohydrates
Many beginners or "hardgainers" get carried away with the importance of protein. Your focus should be on consuming complex carbohydrates to fuel your workouts. At least 60% of your total calories should be from carbohydrates.
If your focus is on protein and you are not consuming enough carbohydrate to fuel your brain, metabolism, and workouts then your body will take that expensive protein that you are consuming and it will eventually turn it into glucose for energy.
An even worse scenario is the fact that your body will rob your muscles of glycogen (the muscles stored form of carbohydrate) and may also actually break down your hard earned muscle tissue in order to convert it to glucose for energy. So the bottom line is to consume plenty of carbohydrates, with most being the complex variety.
Complex carbohydrates are cheap and a little more convenient in comparison to protein sources. But if you still have trouble consuming enough from whole food sources or are looking for something a little more convenient, www.bodybuilding.com has a wide selection of weight gainers.
Just make sure you choose one that is low in saturated fat and sugar. I wouldn't worry much about how many calories per serving the label says, because you can always divide or even split the serving in thirds in order to meet your needs. You could even add some more protein powder to this in order to make it a complete "meal".
3 - Two Meal Rule Of Thumb (My Own Personal Philosophy)
When I go through weight gain or even maintenance cycles I have a rule of thumb to never train before I get at least Two meals in my body. The reasoning is, as I said before, your glycogen levels are depleted in the morning and your body is in a catabolic state.
Having Two high carbohydrate and protein rich meals in your system prior to heavy weight training ensures that your glycogen levels are fuller, thus giving you a stronger workout, thus allowing for progressive overload which will lead to muscle growth. Try this if it fits into your schedule and notice your strength and gains increase.