For some people, being able to gain weight and in particular muscle, can be quite a hard task. But it doesn’t have to be. You just need to know a few things:
You might need to consume a boat load of calories just to gain 0.5 – 1 pound per week.
You might not be eating as many calories as you think.
If you want to gain muscle and not merely fat. You need to be getting stronger as well as putting on weight.
So before I deep dive into those 4 points. I’ll quickly talk a bit about energy balance.
Putting Yourself In A Positive Energy Balance To Gain More Muscle And Strength
Energy balance is the amount of calories you need to maintain, lose, or gain weight. To gain weight you need to find out your total daily energy expenditure (tdee) and then simply add 10-15% to your daily calories.
For a total daily energy expenditure of 2000 calories you would need to consume 2200 – 2300 calories to gain weight.
Over time you will gain weight with this calorie surplus. And as soon as you can’t gain any more weight you simply put your calories up by 100.
Working Out Your Total Daily Energy Expenditure To Gain Muscle And Strength
The formula for working out your tdee. Which is called the Katch McArdle formula is below.
Your basal metabolic rate (which is the amount of calories you burn when you do absolutely nothing at all) is calculated using the katch Mcardle formula which is as follows- BMR (men and women) = 370 + (21.6 × lean mass in kilograms) For example : You weigh 180 pounds (180lbs/81.64kilograms). Say your body fat percentage is 20 per cent (36 pounds of fat, 144 pounds lean). Your lean mass is 144 pounds (65kg). Your BMR = 370 + (21.6 × 65) = 1,774 calories.
You then multiply your basal metabolic rate by one of the activity multipliers below. This simply is an activity chart from a sedentary lifestyle to an extremely active lifestyle.
So say the example, that I’ve just gave of the 180 pound male, had a moderate activity level.
You would simply do the following calculation 1774x 1.55= 2749 calories used daily.
Now we need to add 10% to the total daily energy expenditure (tdee) which is 2749 + 275 = 3024 calories per day to gain weight.
This should be enough to gain 0.5 – 1 pound per week.
Protein, Carbs And Fat Recommendations To Gain Muscle And Strength
Firstly, protein is the king of macronutrients. Proteins are the building blocks of your body. You should be prioritising protein first. You should be aiming to consume at least 0.8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
For the rest of your calories you should consume a ratio of carbs and fats that you enjoy the most. What I’ve found works best is just tracking your calories and protein. The reason being is that most people love carbs. So the carbs and fats just fall into place by themselves.
And carbs benefit you greatly when building muscle.
At the minimum you should be getting 20-30% of your calories from fat. And the majority of your calories from carbohydrates. If you like a higher fat diet then I’d a least get 0.5 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight every day.
The Key To Being Able To Gain Muscle And Strength
So now that you’ve worked out your calories to build muscle. The key to actually being able to gain muscle and strength is to engage in a good resistance training program. The one below should help you.
Lifting relatively heavy weights while in a calorie surplus, allows you to build muscle at a 1:1 ratio.
You need to know that you will gain a bit of fat. But it’s just part of the process. If you use this small calorie surplus. Fat gain will be at a minimum. For every pound of fat gained you will gain a pound of muscle.
But if you don’t engage in resistance training you will just put on fat.
And who wants that.
Who Should Be Eating In A Calorie Surplus?
If your body fat is at 12% or under and you have access to a gym and you want to get stronger and build muscle. It makes sense to eat in a calorie surplus.
If you’re unsure what your body fat percentage is. Look at the table below.
And for females.
If you want to gain weight as a woman you should be at roughly 20% body fat first. Before you go in a calorie surplus. The reason for this is simple. You want to be at a healthy body fat percentage before you start to gain fat. Because being at a high body fat percentage can be bad for your health for reasons such as:
Poor insulin sensitivity (which is your bodies ability to use nutrients efficiently).
Type 2 Diabetes which is linked to poor insulin sensitivity.
High blood pressure.
But if you stay in a range of 10-20% for males and 20-30% for females and go no higher than the upper ranges. You will avoid the negative effects of a high body fat percentage.
You Might Have To Consume A Lot Of Food Just To Gain A Small Amount Of Weight
This is just part of the process. You put yourself in a calorie surplus. And as you gain muscle and strength your metabolism adapts and you need to consume more caloreies just to keep gaining weight.
Most people won’t need to eat tons of calories. It just depends what your goals are.
If you want to get as big and as strong as possible theres a chance that your calories could rise pretty high.
For instance Hafthor Bjornsson the worlds strongest man consumes 10,000 calories every single day.
It’s highly unlikely that you will be competing for the worlds strongest man. But this just shows that the more muscle and strength you have. And the more muscle and strength you want to build theres a higher chance that you will need to consume lots and lots of calories.
But as you now know. How many calories you need to consume is highly individual to you. And some people will need to consume many more calories than others.
Are You A Hardgainer?
Although people can be mixture of somatotypes (which are ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph) you can usually tell if you’re a hard gainer. Which is classed as an ectomorph. Look below to see the different somatotypes.
And for Females.
If you’re an ectomorph then generally speaking you’re a hard gainer and you need to consume many calories to put on weight. Or you’re just severely under eating. It could be a mixture of both.
Whether you’re an ectomorph, mesomorph or endomorph or a mixture of a couple of them ( an ectomesomorph for example). The key is to find out how many calories your body burns everyday and adjust your calories accordingly. But if you’re an endomorph/ mesomorph and your body fat is in the 15-20% range for males and the 25-30% range for females It makes sense for you to get to 10% body fat for males and 20% body fat for females.
Track , Track , Track
The only way to really understand how many calories you burn daily. And to understand if you’re gaining weight and particularly muscle is to track the different variables such as:
Body fat percentage (using a body fat calliper)
Calorie intake ( so that you can make sure you’re eating enough. The my fitness pal app is great for this)
Pictures ( they can be a good indicator to tell if you’re gaining fat or not.)
Waist measurements ( this is a good indicator to see if you’re gaining fat or not. Because when you gain fat you tend to store a lot of subcutaneous fat on your stomach and abdominal region)
Are you getting stronger? (if you’re putting weight on at the appropriate rate which is 0.5-1 pound per week. And not adding reps/ weight to your exercises to get stronger you’re probably not gaining muscle)
If you’re getting stronger you probably are building muscle. As Mark Rippetoe said in the book strong enough.
“The fact is that aesthetics are best obtained from training for performance. In both architecture and human beauty, form follows function.”
I highly recommend this book
I think the single message here is that you should focus first and fore most on getting stronger and the aesthetics will come.
And to go against conventional wisdom. This is also true for women. If you want to look toned and athletic. Male or female your primary goal should be getting stronger. Adding weight and reps every workout. It’s the only way.
You want to particularly be focusing on the barbell squat, bench press, deadlift , and overhead press.
If You’re A Hardgainer Don’t Be Scared To Eat “Fun Foods”
Fun foods is a term I’ve came across quite a lot recently regarding foods such as, chocolate, pizza , cheese, biscuits etc. If you’re consuming a lot of calories don’t be afraid of eating some these.
I know the general guidelines are to eat 80% whole foods, 20% fun foods. But from my experience when gaining weight and in a calorie surplus you can easily eat 70% whole foods, 30% fun foods.
Because it can be hard to eat 4000 – 5000 calories per day.
So if you’re consuming 4000 calories per day don’t be scared to consume 1200 worth of foods like these, just try to keep your saturated fat under 10% to be on the safe side. When bulking I tend to consume lots of bread. And high carbohydrate foods like cereal to get the extra calories.
Dried fruit can also be a great option. Because dried fruits are full of calories.
If you were trying to lose fat I would say do the opposite but they are two totally conflicting goals.
Once you get down to a low enough body fat percentage you can build muscle and start eating more food. But not if you’re already at 15-20% body fat for a male and 25-30% for a female. You want to get down 10-12% for a male and 20-22% for a female before you start to gain weight.
You Need To Train Hard
Building muscle isn’t easy. You need to train hard. For most of your lifts you should be training to a RIR of 1-2. This means leaving 1-2 reps in the tank every set. If you do this you will be training hard enough to keep getting stronger, and building muscle.
You Should Be Bulking And Cutting At A Ratio Of 4:1
I first found this recommendation from Eric Helms’s book the muscle and strength building pyramids – Nutrition.
I highly recommend that your read it. It’s linked below.
This means for every 4 months in a calorie surplus you should spend 1 month in a calorie deficit.
Or you could do it like this. For every 8 months you could spend 2 months in a calorie deficit.
Or like this . For every 12 months or a year you could spend 3 months in a calorie deficit.
I would say that the last option isn’t a good way to do it. Because spending 3 months in a calorie deficit isn’t great ( I’d advise you not to spend this long in a calorie deficit unless you absolutely need to. For instance if you’re at a high body fat percentage already.)
The Bottom Line
- Firstly you need to work out your own individual calorie surplus. Using the information in this post.
- Secondly you need to be consistently making sure that you reach your calorie surplus through a meal plan. You can track your calories on my fitness pal.
- Lastly you need to strength train. And make sure that you gain 0.5 – 1 pound per week. Furthermore you must be training hard and getting stronger every week at the barbell squat, bench press, deadlift and overhead press.
Finally, thanks for reading. If you have any questions about this article. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org