A common goal amongst weight trainers is to be able to put on lean body mass without gaining fat. However, you don’t have to be a seasoned lifting professional to set goals for weight gain. Some people need to put on healthy weight due to eating disorders, thyroid issues, Celiac disease, infections, and more. 

In this article, we’ll discuss the general steps you can take in order to gain healthy weight in a safe manner. 

  1. Increase your calories

In order to gain a significant amount of weight, you have to- you guessed it- eat more! You can’t be in a calorie-deficit, meaning you’re eating less than your body is burning. Check out this tool to help you gage how many calories you need to be eating. 

As a note, it’s not good to hyper focus on the number, as our bodies are truly our best calculators and obsessing over numbers can lead to very unhealthy habits. However, a good range to keep in mind if you want to slowly gain weight is increasing your calories by 300-500 per day. To gain weight faster, aim for 700-1000 more than you normally eat. 

Try focusing on dense foods that are rounded with fats, proteins, and carbs, such as nut butters, whole grains like rice, and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts. Of course, these foods don’t necessarily equal weight gain, but when you focus on bringing most of your food intake from calorie dense foods, it will greatly assist you in your weight grain process.

However, increasing your calories, while it seems like a dream come true in theory, can also be physically uncomfortable if your body isn’t used to eating large quantities of food or eating past satiation. To ease this discomfort, try breaking your meals up into quantities you’re more used to eating, and have them throughout the day rather than all at one sitting. This will help your metabolism keep humming and also aid in relieving any physical discomfort you may experience!

2.…But limit processed food

Most, if not all, of your food should be as unprocessed as possible. That means knix the protein shakes, any junk food, or foods high in added refined sugar and processed fats. While these foods will help you gain weight, they ultimately won’t lead to optimal health. What we want is a win-win situation: you gain the weight you want while also feeling your best.  Not one or the other. 

Instead, focus on filling your plate with proteins, vegetables, and healthy fats and carbs. A meal could look like a grilled burger with a side of roasted sweet potato, and sauteed vegetables dressed in 2 tbsp of olive oil. Of course, the portions will be different depending on your own body type and goals. But basically, focus on eating foods as close to their natural form as possible!

3. Aim for 40/30/30

That is, aim for 40% of your intake coming from protein, 30% from carbs, and 30% coming from fat. While you may not want to gain fat while you’re gaining weight, you do need to consume some amount of fat while you’re training. Fat is a vital macronutrient, as are the other two, and playing around with ratios can greatly help you find the sweet spot for your own body.

With 40% of your intake coming from protein, you’ll want to focus on healthy sources of protein. This can include:

  • White meat, such as chicken and turkey
  • Red meat, such as ground beef
  • Eggs (a complete source of protein!)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Dairy, such as whole milk and Greek yogurt
  • Whole grains, such as oats (while not a main source of protein, you’d be surprised at how much a bowl of overnight oats can pack in!)
  • Pea protein*

*While this is technically a protein powder, and slightly processed from its original form, it’s a great option for vegans and vegetarians who don’t eat meat.

4. Increase strength training

In order to put on muscle, you’ll need to incorporate a strength training routine into your weekly schedule. Focusing on lifting heavy weight and high reps 2-4 times a week can greatly assist you in your bulking goals.

However, please consult a doctor if you have bone issues. While weight training is great for building bone strength as well as muscle mass, it’s best to make sure you’re choosing the best program that suits your needs. 

Also not that as you build muscle, your metabolism will increase. This will mean that in order to keep gaining muscle, let alone maintain your current muscle mass, you’ll need to increase your intake potentially! 

5. …But tone down cardio

Cardio is a great way to keep your heart healthy and also help you slim down, but it’s not great for when you want to put on weight! Now this doesn’t mean to stop doing cardio entirely. In fact, it’s good to keep about 2-3 days a week as light cardio days, meaning going for a walk or an easy jog. 

This simply means make sure that you’re not training for a half marathon while trying to gain 20 lbs. It would be pretty difficult to say the least! 

6. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep!

In order for your muscles to grow, they need to rest. And the best time for rest (other than a rest day of course) is when you sleep. Studies show that when you skimp on sleep, and quality sleep at that, the process of repairing muscles in order for them to continue to grow is completely hindered.  

Aim for quality sleep each night, not only to keep your muscles strong, but also to promote good mental health, keep your metabolism healthy, and enable you to feel powerful and strong through not just your workouts, but everyday life!

Remember that gaining weight, just like losing weight, can be hard. Our bodies resist change, so it may start to fight you at first. Aim for long term goals rather than setting hefty short term. Keep the end goal in mind, and don’t let a setback deter you from your overall health goals. Though we aren’t doing much cardio here, this is a marathon not a sprint!