Quality weight gain is not impossible. Even if you were at the end of the line when the good bodybuilding genetics were handed out, disciplined diet and training can do wonders your physique.
Whether you're a seasoned bodybuilder trying to pack on more mass or an ectomorph tired of carrying rocks in your pockets on windy days to stay earthbound, chances are I'll be able to help you. However, while it may be necessary for an extreme hardgainer to drink whole milk, eat the eggs with the yolks, and consciously go for the high-fat products in the store, that's obviously not what way to go for the endomorph looking to gain a few pounds lean mass.
Therefore, I have divided this page into two sections aimed at calorie-conscious trainers. Feel free to check both out, but you'll have to make a judgment call depending on your situation.
If you are not sure what body type you have, take this quiz first!
When we talk about weight gain, I think it's safe to assume that what you want is muscle, not fat. Gaining 10 lbs of fat and no muscle is hardly what you're picturing when you think about next summer at the beach, right? Good news! Even though it may seem like you're doomed to be scrawny for the rest of your life, take comfort in that you WILL gain weight (trust me on this), and that the majority of it will be muscle!
To make it simple, your body simply isn't wired for being fat. It's not wired for being the next Arnold Schwarzenegger either, but that you can change through a combination of smart eating, training, and—sleeping! Granted, you probably will never have those huge pectorals of Arnold, but you can take it to the limits of your genetics. I can assure you that you'll feel pretty good in the end even if you don't have a sandow over your fireplace.
As for the part about fat, this is hardly even a concern to you at this point. That doesn't mean that you can take on a diet of peanut butter, but it means that you don't have to compromise with your muscle gain-goals in order to dodge the dreaded love handles, like many other people have to. Or to put it simple: While they have to take two cautious steps forward and then one back, you can happily leap three steps forward, time and time again.
The mechanism behind weight gain is just as simple as weight loss. If you consistently make sure to eat more calories than you burn, you WILL gain weight. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it - it works, just like I can be sure about people losing weight if they eat 500 calories less per day, I can assure you that you will GAIN weight from consistently eating 500 calories MORE. The problem, as you probably know yourself, is that your metabolism seems to be stuck in high gear. There's not all that much you can do about that, except counteract it by eating more and working out with weights.
It is obvious that weight training is your choice of workout if you wish to gain muscle mass. Likewise, as you want to use the calories you eat to gain weight, keep the cardiovascular training to a minimum. That means enough to keep your heart, lungs, and circulation system in shape, but not more than necessary to achieve just that. The training will burn extra calories, so you will have to eat enough to not only support your body, but also the added drain of strenuous training AND the calories necessary to allow muscle growth!
I imagine that you're rolling your eyes at this point. If it was only a matter of eating more, then you'd have succeeded long ago by yourself, right? Well, yes and no. You need to apply a certain strategy to make the most of the calories you eat. Your first step is to establish your base metabolism. Read how in the Nutrition Basics section. I have a crude but perfectly functional diet log on this site your can download for free.
Then, knowing your metabolism, you can start planning your weight gain strategy! Aim to take in AT LEAST 500 calories more than your base metabolism each day. On the days that you work out, make that another 200-300 calories to offset the extra calories burned. This gives you low-limit numbers for each day, and the more you exceed it, the better. Now, here are some tried-and-true tricks to boost your calorie intake and make the calories come to full use:
Gainer Protein Powders
The gainer drinks are different from the all-protein drinks by containing a majority of carbohydrates and some fat. A single gainer drink can boost your daily intake by up to 800 calories!
Eat Lots Of Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates stimulate the release of insulin, and insulin is the king of weight gain! Eat lots of carbohydrate-dense foods, preferably in the mid-zone between simple and complex carbohydrates as determined by the Workouts further down on this page.
Get Plenty Of Sleep
Get at least 8 hours of sleep per night. It's when you sleep that your natural growth hormones are released, so if you want to get big, you have to let your body do what it needs. It's not a bad idea to get a nap during the day either. You won't see the same rush of natural growth hormones, but you'll at least get a quick recharge of the batteries before the gym.
Eat At Least 1 Gram Of Protein Per Pound Per Day
Keeping the protein intake up will help you gain muscle mass. Going skimpy on the protein will make it harder grow, but here's the good news: 2-3 gainer drinks per day will give you the extra protein AND the carbohydrates you need!
(The Personal Protein Calculator uses the same numbers.)
|Lifestyle/Training Goal||Daily Protein Needs||Lifestyle/Training Goal||Daily Protein Needs|
|Bodybuilding||1.0 - 1.6g/lb bodyweight||Endurance||0.7 - 0.9g/lb bodyweight|
|Power & Speed||0.9 - 1.1g/lb bodyweight||Trauma Recovery||0.9 - 1.4g/lb bodyweight|
|Dieting||0.35 - 1.0g/lb bodyweight||Stressed||0.45 - 0.7g/lb bodyweight|
For example, a person who weighs 200 pounds with 15% body fat needs at least 170 grams of protein. 200 pounds multiplied by 15% equals 30 pounds of fat weight. 30 minus 200 equals 170 pounds of muscle weight. Meals should be spaced out every 2 and a half to 3 hours throughout the day. To get the most out of your training and after eat a protein meal one hour before training!
Never, ever go hungry. Eat as much as you can throughout the day. Carry meal-replacement bars with you when you need to snack but can't find the time to do so. Snacking is not a sin for you - it's a necessity and a virtue.
Water makes sure that your stomach can digest the food you eat at an optimal rate. That in turn makes you able to eat again sooner, allowing you to up the total calorie intake for the day. Don't drink so much that you get all filled up by it, but enough to stay well-hydrated. Besides, it's good for you in a variety of ways, from skin to internal organs.
When you pump iron, give it all you've got! Even if you're only in the gym for 30-45 minutes, chances are good you'll work up quite an appetite. Use the appetite to your advantage - stuff yourself! It's just what your body needs after a tough workout!
Go For The Fat
Needless to say, avoid the low-calorie foods. If you buy milk, buy whole milk. If you buy gravy, go for the non-light stuff. Be generous with the olive oil on the salad. Don't be afraid to smother the sandwich with peanut butter if you like it. There's no need to stuff yourself with grease (that's not healthy - even for you!), but you have no reason to worry about ignoring the light-products.
Creatine monohydrate has dual functions—it makes you stronger in the gym, and it pumps up your muscles and your bodyweight up by 5-8 lbs in a matter of days. From a psychological standpoint, this can be a great motivational advantage. Granted, some of the weight will come off when you finish the cycle, but during the 4-6 weeks you used it you most likely both trained harder and ate more than you would have otherwise. That's good for starters. Next we'll talk about how you should structure your workouts that go with your weight gain plan, so jump to Workouts.
You can get a lot of good tips from the section about Ectomorphs above, but the fundamental difference is of course that you can't enjoy quite the same freedom. You must still count the calories, and you must make sure never to exceed the 500- calorie limit. Likewise, the principle of stuffing yourself to the brink around clock will make you look more like a Sumo wrestler than a bodybuilder.
Your key goal is to keep the protein intake up and making sure that there is protein available for muscle growth at all times. Go for a 5 to 6 meals-a-day schedule if you're not already doing so.
Like with the Ectomorphs, sleep is a good friend and ally in your quest for quality weight gain. It's when you sleep that you grow, and the harder you train, the more important it is to get your minimum of 8 hours a night. Personally, I regularly aim for 9 hours—it makes a big difference both physically and mentally! The downside with really sleeping in is that you are, in fact, starving yourself. When I was a teenager I'd regularly sleep for 12 hours or more in a stretch on the weekends, but bear in mind that we're talking about 12 hours without food here.
That inevitably means your body will have to look into other sources of energy to sustain itself, and muscle mass is high on the menu. There's a fine balance between too much and too little sleep.
One obvious thing you should pay attention to is the fat content of your food. While Ectomorphs can get away with whole eggs, you should still separate out at least some of the yolks for example. You want the increased calories to be primarily from protein and carbohydrates, with a possible extra dash of healthier fat sources, such as fish or olive oil. Animal fat is still to be avoided during a weight-gain phase.
Last but not least, as a mesomorph/endomorph, you have to expect as certain amount of increase in bodyfat. It's very hard to avoid gaining a little fat along with the muscle, as the very same hormones that work in building your muscles are the very same ones that helps packing on fat. The trick is to keep a close eye on it without losing your head. A few pounds of excess fat can be worked off in a few weeks, so as long as the fat gain is modest you have nothing to worry about. Stop the weight gain schedule if you see a sudden, substantial gain, or if the 'few pounds' starts getting out of hand.
Now, let's talk briefly about the workouts. Weight training should be relatively heavy. Stick to the basics, like deadlifts, squats, chins, dips, military presses, and bicep curls. Carving out the details with fancy machines can wait until you have the muscles to begin carving on. Your only priority at this point is to stimulate as much of a growth response as possible.
If you are new to weight training, take the part about 'heavy' training with a grain a salt. As a beginner, you must first of all learn the movements properly. Jumping into the big weights too early could bring you injury instead of weight gain, so take your time. Consult a local Personal Trainer to get a jump start!
If you're more experienced, take this opportunity to bone up on those least-favorite exercises. They are generally not fun because they're hard, but that's also what makes them so effective. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dorian Yates, Ronnie Coleman, and all other bodybuilding greats relied heavily on this kind of heavy, basic training build their foundation of raw power.
Why, you may ask, is it so important for an Ectomorphs in particular to train heavy? Since exercise burns calories, shouldn't the Ectomorph try to conserve all the calories he or she can? Not quite. It all depends on the end result you want.
If and Ectomorph succeeds in just putting on weight, as in fat, that's hardly what I would can a success. On the other hand, and Ectomorph who packs on 15-20 lbs of gets a whole different physical profile and stature—a true improvement indeed. That said, heavy but brief weight training sessions are a good solution for getting results with a minimum calorie "expense."
Measuring Your Progress
When you're on a diet, you want to be sure you're actually making progress. Using a scale is Ok—as long as it is not your sole source of feedback. First of all, only weigh yourself once a week. Monday mornings before breakfast is a good time, so make it the rule. Write down your weight immediately so you don't conveniently "forget" that you gained half an inch around the waist over the weekend.
Next, it's time to bring out the measuring tape. Flex your abs without sucking your gut in. Measure at the thinnest as well as the thickest part of your waist. The repeat the measuring around your shoulders/chest, biceps (flexed) and your thighs (flexed.) If you do this in conjunction with weighing yourself on Monday mornings, you'll quickly develop a pretty darn reliable development curve of your progress. It will also enable you to spot bad trends so that you can nip problems in the bud.
Blood Sugar And Insulin
Another issue you'll have to take into consideration is your blood sugar levels. As I mentioned in the basics section, there are two types of carbohydrates: Simple and complex. The simple carbs dissolve quickly and virtually explode out into the bloodstream all at once, while the complex carbs takes a while to grind down and therefore trickle out into the blood little by little. Why should you care? Because when all that sugar (which is what the carbs become once they're digested) explodes into the blood, it obviously creates a big jolt in the blood sugar levels of your body.
This is dangerous, so to protect itself from damage the body releases insulin. Insulin whacks the bloodsugar levels down by "force feeding" the muscles and liver with extra sugar. The muscles and liver are used to having sugar fed to them (heck, they're among the primary consumers in the body!) but the insulin force feeding kind of like someone shoving a firehose into your mouth. Even if you're thirsty, it's a bit too much of a good thing.
Insulin is prone to overkill and often end up clobbering the blood sugar levels down below its original level, creating the classic afternoon blood sugar blues with people who had bad lunch. But that's not the main reason I'm talking about Insulin. See, here's the kicker: Insulin is a key player in the processes of building muscle as well as losing fat. Getting a jolt of insulin is highly anabolic—it tells the body it can go ahead and build muscle. Unfortunately, it also says it can go ahead and pack on some more fat, too.
When a large burst of insulin goes into your bloodstream, you're effectively slamming on the brakes of whatever fatburn you had going. However, you're also jumpstarting the process of building new muscle, so it is truly a double-edged sword. While it is not healthy to try and manipulate the body to build more muscle through repeated bursts of sugar, it is downright counterproductive for anyone trying to lose fat. In that scenario, or if you're an endomorph prone to gaining fat, you want to avoid insulin as much as possible. The way to do this is simple: Eat lots of fiber with your meals and consciously go for complex carbs whenever you can.
There is ONE exception to all this, however. Immediately after a workout, you have depleted the body's stored energy supplies (sugar.) If you hurry and slam down 50-100 grams of sugary things after your workout, you can get away with calming your sweet tooth, stop the catabolism of your muscles that inevitably takes place following a workout, AND avoid the big insulin release! The reason for this is that since the muscles are already depleted, there is no need to have the insulin force-feed the muscles with sugar—they suck up the sugar like a sponge all by themselves, and the body knows it!