If you’re naturally thin, then a proper weight gain diet becomes absolutely crucial in your endeavor to gain healthy lean muscle mass, probably far more so than your weight training program. The purpose of this article is to outline the fundamentals of a good weight gain diet and then we’ll look at specifically what and when you could eat over a sample day.
First up, is something you’ve almost certainly heard before…
Consume More Calories
The only way to gain weight whether it’s fat or muscle, is to consume more energy than you expend. There is no escaping this basic law of human anatomy regardless of how many explanations you hear to the contrary. Admittedly some of us have faster metabolisms than others but that simply means that those who do need to eat even more again.
The basis of any weight gain diet should contain nutritious, high calorie foods. If you find to hard to put on weight then the greatest challenge you face is to consume enough energy without feeling full all the time. Don’t worry it can be done… quite easily!
So how many calories should you consume? Well, there’s probably a separate formula for everyone who asks the question. Some base it solely on your weight and age, others take lean mass into account and the most complicated have you recounting every bit of activity during a typical day…
There’s a short article at the bottom of this page that has some formulas for calculating your caloric needs. It also briefly explains basal metabolism and why it’s important.
To sum up, calorie counting isn’t much fun and this is not something you have to do long term. Once you establish a quantity of food and energy that maintains your ideal weight, you will know instinctively how much to eat each day.
The issue of how much protein we should consume incites fierce debate between Nutritionists, Bodybuilders and Sports Scientists alike. We’ll leave the debate for another article dedicated to the protein issue. For now…
Just know that Federal Drug Administration (FDA) recommends 50g of protein per day for the average male adult and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 56g. But this is for the average sedentary Westerner…
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein intake is 0.8g per kg or 0.36g per lb of bodyweight. A 140lb person would need to consume about 51g to meet their RDA. Sports Scientists concede that athletes and bodybuilders need more than this and conservatively recommend up to 1.5g per kg or 0.7g per lb of bodyweight. However…
If you talk to the vast majority of bodybuilders they will advocate a much higher intake than this. And they have some convincing arguments. In fact although in the minority at the moment the anecdotal evidence from bodybuilders is being backed up by some credible research. According to many lifters, coaches and some sports nutritionists an ideal weight gain diet should contain up to 2g per kg or 0.9g per lb of protein. This might seem like a lot but don’t forget you are consuming more calories than the general population and those calories have to come from somewhere. Is it unhealthier that they come purely from carbohydrates or just from fat? It’s probably best it it comes form all three.
So why is protein important?
From a weight gain perspective protein is made up of amino acids. There are 20 in total and 8 essential amino acids must come from food. Weight training increases the demand for amino acids and will break existing muscle down if it does not get enough from a weight gain diet. Without adequate protein, and more specifically, amino acids muscle gain is unachievable.
Good sources of protein include fresh and canned fish, lean cuts of red meat, chicken, turkey, low fat milk and yogurt, low fat cottage cheese, egg whites, soy products and whey protein powder.
Any weight gain diet worth its salt will contain plenty of unrefined carbohydrates. Just because you’re increasing your protein intake does not mean you should omit or even limit your carbohydrate intake.
Carbohydrate, which is converted into glucose and glycogen in the body, is the only macronutrient that can supply your body with an immediate source of energy – essential for any type of training.
Good sources of carbohydrate for a weight gain diet include whole meal bread, potatoes, brown rice, pasta, couscous, fresh and tinned fruit and dried fruit.
Certain dietary fats are crucial to both your well being and your ability to gain weight. One gram of fat contains more than twice the number of calories than 1g or protein or 1g of carbohydrate. A tablespoon of Flaxseed Oil contains as many calories as a banana for example so it makes sense to incorporate good fats into your weight gain diet. What is good fat?
Without going into too much detail about how fat is subdivided, the fats you want to consume are monounsaturated fats found in olive oil and avocados, and polyunsaturated fats found in oily fish, flax, sunflower, safflower and cod liver oil and some raw nuts.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) are what the health care professionals love to talk about. And with good reason. EFA’s also known as Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are found in polyunsaturated fats, particularly oily fish. As well as having a numerous health benefits they also play an important role in muscle building.
In short, a weight gain diet containing fish like mackerel, tuna and salmon (to name a few) or supplemented with a product like Flaxseed oil will not only help you build muscle but will keep you alive longer too.
Finally, forget about eating 3 large meals a day with a few snacks. The best approach to an effective weight gain diet is to eat 5 or 6 small meals a day. Separate them by 3 hours so your stomach has time to digest each meal fully. If your goal is to consume 3300Kcals a day I would eat 3 larger meals of about 700kcals and 3 smaller meals of about 400kcals. You will find an example in one of the articles below.
One last point before we wrap up. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. They are the richest source of vitamins and minerals (particularly antioxidants) and have both health and weight gain implications.
The elements above have the most influence of your level and rate of weight and muscle gain. There are other important factors we haven’t touched on such as vitamins and minerals, fiber, water, alcohol and cholesterol… all very important to your health.
Now that you have a good grounding of what an effective weight gain diet should incorporate you can use this article as a starting point for reaching your weight goals.