Recently, some readers asked BuzzFeed Life for advice on how to gain weight in a healthy way.
So we spoke with Albert Matheny, C.S.C.S., co-founder of Soho Strength Lab and advisor at Naked Nutrition to come up with general ways you can improve your exercise and eating habits to healthily put on more weight.
Before we get into it, a disclaimer! Weight gain, like weight loss, is a personal thing that can be different for everybody. All the stuff we talk about in this story should be taken as a general suggestion — which means it might not work for you personally. There are many reasons for why some people have a harder time gaining weight, which can range from simple things like having a higher metabolism to more serious conditions like Hyperthyroidism. If you’re hoping to put on weight, you should work with your doctor to figure out what’s best for you and your needs.
OK, so. Here are some things you might want to keep in mind.
1. It’s not a matter of just eating anything and everything to get more calories.
“The first thing you need to understand is that when you gain weight you’re either gaining muscle or you’re gaining fat,” Matheny says. “So the healthiest way to gain weight is by putting on lean muscle, which means while you’re going to be eating more, you need to be conscious of what you’re eating.”
Matheny suggests sticking to foods foods high in protein, fat, and carbs (carbs on days you’re working out) and trying to stay away from foods high in sugar, especially added sugar. This being because a lot of the sugar we eat gets metabolized into fat, and high-blood sugar levels have been linked to metabolic syndrome, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss, and even premature aging. Here are 14 ways you can watch your sugar intake.
2. The amount of calories you eat must be significantly more than the calories you’re burning.
“You need to take into account how many calories you eat, how much your body likely burns on its own, and how much you’re losing from working out,” Matheny says. “You want to eat for the total calories you’ve lost plus an extra 500 calories a day.”
Matheny recommends these calorie numbers (keep in mind that these numbers are an estimate and that you should definitely check with your doctor to see what’s right for you):
For inactive women: 1,600 + 500 + the calories you burned working out
For active women: 2,100 + 500 + the calories you burned working out
For inactive men: 2,200 + 500 + the calories you burned working out
For fairly active men: 2,600 + 500 + the calories you burned working out
For extremely active men with: 3,000 + 500 + the calories you burned working out
The amount of calories burned in a workout can range anywhere from 250 calories (a low-intensity Pilates class) to 800 (a high-intensity interval class.) You can use apps like My Fitness Pal to get a general sense for how many calories your workouts are burning.
Wondering where those 1,600, 2,100, 2,200 calories-numbers came from? That’s an estimate of how many calories you generally burn in a given day, based on how active you are typically. To get a slightly more specific sense of what that number is for you, you can enter your stats in this calculator. (You should know, though, that these are all estimates — read more about calories and total energy expenditure here.)
3. You should be eating every three hours.
Matheny recommends eating every three hours, whether it’s just a snack or a full meal. “If you go for six hours or more without eating, your body could start storing the food you eat as fat,” he says.
Here are some healthy portable snack options to keep you energized throughout the day.
4. Getting enough protein is extremely important.
“Some people think its really high but an active person [someone who works out around three to five times per week] should be having one gram of protein per pound of body weight,” Matheny says. “Getting enough protein in your daily diet is crucial because building muscle is the goal, and you can’t build muscle if you’re not getting enough protein.”
Important to eat protein as soon as you wake up, because you haven’t eaten anything in around 8-10 hours. If you’re trying to gain weight it’s not a bad thing to eat a big meal late. Make sure it’s full of protein so that the amino acids are being released in your sleep.
Here are 22 high-protein meals if you need ideas!
5. Try to eat the right amounts of protein, carbs, and fat.
While getting enough protein in your diet is a huge priority, you also have to make sure you’re getting the right amount of carbs and fat.
Matheny recommends the average person try to make their daily calorie intake 30 percent protein, 40 percent fat, and 30 percent carbs and work their way up towards it being 30 percent protein, 40-50 percent fat, and 20-30 percent carbs.
Here are 51 healthy dinner ideas for when you’re stuck.
6. The type of exercise you’re doing is either really going to help or hinder your weight gain.
“If you’re trying to put on muscle running 6 miles a day is going to be counterproductive to you gaining weight,” Matheny says. “Cardio is great, but it’s going to burn a lot of calories that you’ll have to make up for.”
Instead of just going on long runs, try these quick total-body workouts instead. They’ll burn a ton of calories also, but they have the added bonus of helping you build muscle, too.
7. Lifting heavy is the best way to put on muscle, which is the healthiest way to gain weight.
“Lifting heavy weight along with eating more is definitely the key to helping you put on healthy weight,” Matheny says. “You need both, because just increasing your calorie intake could make you bigger, but it won’t be a healthy bigger.”
Keep in mind that just lifting any weights isn’t going to do the trick. You have to actually be challenging your muscles in your workouts in order to see progress. Here are some great tips on how to build more muscle faster.
8. Make sure you have enough energy going into your workouts.
Being energized before hitting the gym is key to having a successful workout. If you’re tired and hungry you’re not going to be able to work as hard or for as long as you want to, which will hurt your results. Matheny says that’s why it’s important to get your blood sugar levels up before starting your workout.
Matheny recommends drinking coffee or having a carb-loaded snack (like a chocolate croissant) 20-30 minutes before starting your workout. He also says taking breaks in between sets will help. This allows your body to rest so that it can be at its best before going into another exercise. Also make sure to switch up your exercises so that the muscle groups you were working in the previous exercise can take a break. If you’re not lifting as much weight as you can you’re not going to see progress.
9. And you HAVE to refuel post-workout.
To get the max benefits of your workout you need to eat a high-protein snack (around 25 grams of protein) within 30 minutes of exercising and a full meal within 2.5 hours of exercising. Lifting weights seriously breaks down muscle tissue and your body depends on protein in order to build that muscle back up.
Here are 17 high-protein snacks you can try out.
10. The way you refuel is going to depend on what type of exercise you’re doing.
“If you specifically do cardio during a workout you have to replenish the calories with with up to 50-75 grams of carbohydrates, and a much lower amount for a lifting workout,” Matheny says. “Good options would be a burger, or whole milk Greek Yogurt which gives protein, carbs, and fat. Drinking coconut water is also great because it replenishes sugar levels.”
Here are some healthy carb recipes for high-cardio days.
11. Drinking alcohol will seriously mess with your progress.
Matheny says the worst thing you can do to mess with your progress is hit the bars right after a great workout.
“Your body is still trying to process the workout and then process the alcohol at the same time and it can’t do both,” he says. “Your next workout probably won’t be as effective. So if you’re going to drink, the best thing to do is give your body time to recover by having a post workout snack and some food before going out for a little.”
12. If you’re still not gaining weight eat an extra 500 calories per day.
If you’re still not gaining weight after trying everything above, Matheny recommends eating an extra 500 calories per day (while keeping in mind the percentages of protein, carbs, and fat.)
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