In the health and fitness world, it seems like all you ever hear about is losing weight and the health-related concerns associated with carrying around extra pounds. Just as being overweight comes with its own set of health hurdles, being underweight can be just as unhealthy. Whether you have a high metabolism, have suffered from illness, have trouble getting enough food in during the day, or want to gain muscle mass, we’ll guide you through the do’s and don’ts of how to gain weight fast, and in a wholesome way.
Before diving deep into high-calorie healthy foods and habits, let’s be clear on one thing: if you’re asking how to gain weight fast, know that “fast” isn’t always maintainable. There’s a lot to consider when approaching weight gain such as:
- Your body shape and weight range as an adult.
- Your genetics, look at your parents’ shape and height; you are directly impacted by the amazing genes they’ve passed on.
- Think of your highest and lowest weight and where you felt your personal best.
Keep in mind that making changes in your body should be slow and steady. Drastic changes to body shape and weight usually result in unhealthy side effects or a yo-yo in your weight that can result in metabolic damage.
How To Gain Weight: The 3 Simple Steps
While the concept of weight gain is really simple, actually making it happen (and happen properly) is hard for many people. Like I said before, I know this first hand. My genetics are that of the typical ectomorph, which is the “skinny body type” with the thin bone structure and super fast metabolism that makes gaining weight even harder.
However, I’ve still managed to gain weight just fine. How? Well, all it takes are 3 simple steps…
- Eat enough calories.
- Get the rest of your diet right (protein, fat, carbs, supplements, etc.).
- Use a proper workout routine.
In the most basic sense, that’s all it takes. Simple, isn’t it? All we need to do now is get each step just right. Here’s how…
Step 1: Eat Enough Calories
Just like with any type of diet, the most important part of all is always calories.
Yes, protein, fat and carbs all matter as do the types of foods you get each nutrient from. But, above all else, calories are BY FAR the most important aspect of a weight gain diet. Here’s why…
Basically, there is a certain number of calories that you need to eat each day in order to maintain your current weight. This is known as your calorie maintenance level. If you eat less calories than this amount, you lose weight. However, guess what happens if you eat more calories than this amount?
You create what’s called a caloric surplus… and you gain weight.
So, if you want to know how to gain weight, you simply need to eat more calories than you’re currently eating. That’s honestly all it takes, and that’s honestly the one true requirement of a weight gain diet.
Which means, if you’re not gaining weight now (or in the future), the problem 100% of the time is that you just aren’t eating enough. Simple as that.
How Many Calories Should I Eat Per Day?
This brings us to the most important question of all… how many calories do you need to eat per day for weight gain to happen as fast as it should?
To answer this question, you just need to figure out what your calorie maintenance level is and then eat more than that amount each day.
There are quite a few ways to do this, but the easiest is to multiply your current body weight in pounds by 13 and 16. Somewhere between those 2 amounts will usually be your maintenance level.
Women, people who are less active, or people who think they have a slower metabolism should use the lower end of their range. Men, people who are more active, or people who think they have a faster metabolism should use the higher end of their range. People who are unsure should just pick a number in the middle.
In order to gain weight, you need to eat MORE calories than this amount.
How much more? Well, in most cases, you should eat 300-500 additional calories per day.
Since most people want the weight they gain to be muscle and NOT fat, this is the ideal amount of calories that I would recommend. Any less and you won’t be gaining anything. Any more and you’ll end up gaining way more fat than muscle.
So, whatever maintenance level you came up with, just add 300-500 more to it and start eating that many calories each day from now on. For example, if your estimated maintenance level was 2500 calories (just an example), you’d now start eating between 2800-3000 calories per day.
If your calorie intake is indeed accurate, you should end up gaining between 0.5-1 pound per week.
To make sure this is happening correctly, weigh yourself at least once per week (always first thing in the morning on an empty stomach) and make sure weight gain is taking place as fast as it should be.
- If it is, then you’re perfect.
- If you’re gaining weight slower than you should be (or just not at all), you need to add an additional 300 calories to your weight gain diet and see what your weight does then.
- If you’re gaining faster than you should be (which would mean too much fat is being gained), you need to reduce your calorie intake by 300 calories and see what your weight does then.
Whenever you end up gaining weight in that ideal range of 0.5-1 pound per week, you’re perfect. Keep eating that amount of calories.
Now, while most men and women who want to gain weight want that weight to be muscle instead of fat, there are some people who just want to know how to gain weight of any kind as fast as they can (even if it is fat).
In these rarer cases when you don’t care if you gain fat, muscle or both, a more aggressive weight gain diet can be used. Specifically, eat 500-1000 additional calories per day (which would cause you to gain 1-2lbs per week).
However, since most of us want to avoid gaining fat and only gain lean muscle instead, 300-500 extra calories per day is definitely the maximum I’d recommend for most people.
Step 2: The Rest Of Your Weight Gain Diet
Now that your calorie intake is all figured out, you already know the big secret of how to gain weight… just eat more. Simple as that. That’s literally the one and only thing you need to do.
Of course, you probably still have a bunch of questions about the rest of your weight gain diet. Let’s quickly cover them all right now…
- Eat enough protein. Specifically, eat between 0.8-1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So, if you weigh 170lbs, you’d eat between 136-204 grams of protein per day. Common high protein foods include chicken, fish, turkey, meat, eggs and of course protein supplements.
- Eat enough fat, especially the essential fatty acids. About 25-30% of your calorie intake should come from fat, with the majority of it coming from healthy sources like fish, nuts and olive oil. Even more importantly, make sure are getting enough of the Omega-3 fatty acid found mostly in fish oil supplements.
- Get the rest of your calories from carbs. After you’re getting enough protein and fat, the rest of your diet will be comprised of carbs. The majority of your carb intake should come from natural, nutrient-rich foods like fruits and vegetables, brown rice, beans, potatoes, and most whole wheat/whole grain products. Of course, since weight gain is your goal, foods like white rice and pasta can be eaten as needed to reach your ideal calorie intake.
- Don’t waste your money on useless supplements. No matter what they claim, 99% of supplements are pure crap. The only supplements that I’d recommend are protein powder, fish oil, multivitamin and creatine.
- Eat a proper post workout meal. How you organize the meals in your weight gain diet is entirely up to your own preferences. However, the one important tip worth mentioning is to eat a proper post workout meal… which is the meal directly after your workout. I explain how to do that here: Post Workout Meal
2. Don’t Just Build Fat, Build Muscle
Okay. Now that you’re eating more food than you need, and you keep it up, where does all this extra energy go?
Well, if the closest you get to lifting weights is sitting here reading about them on this blog, that energy is going to be stored as fat.
If you’re see-your-rib-cage kind of skinny, like we were, you might not care if you gain fat. In fact, if you’re under 10% body fat, gaining some fat could even be healthy for you.
But if your goal is to take up more space, look better, stand taller, and be stronger, you’ll still want to build mostly muscle with all that extra energy. Even if you’re starting out at 8% body fat, wouldn’t it be great if you gained 20 pounds of muscle before you hit a nice, healthy 10%?
So how do you tell your body to take that extra energy and turn it into muscle instead of fat?
The answer is by lifting weights and eating enough protein to support muscle growth.
HEADS UP: It’s important to remember that you shouldn’t increase the amount of food you’re eating until after you start working out. If you start eating big before you start lifting, you’ll be gaining mostly fat until you start up your lifting program.
The simplest way of putting it is, lifting weights helps you build muscle because when you stress your muscles enough, your body thinks that it must need bigger muscles to better handle that kind of stress.
The complicated answer, well, get’s quite complicated. We could talk about how stressing your muscles by focusing on mechanical tension is superior to focusing on just muscle damage. Or how without a solid workout program, you could fail to stress your muscles enough and gain more fat than you need to. And not just gain fat but also injure yourself.
There’s a lot of science available now about how to build muscle optimally. And we integrated and considered all of it when putting together our program. You just do it and know that it works.
If you’re a curious fellow, Shane’s written an excellent article titled “The Skinny on Just Lift Heavy.” It covers all the popular methods of working out and gives their pros and cons.
We would highly recommend that you do not make your own workout. There’s a lot to consider regarding movement patterns, volume, intensity, injury prevention, progression, picking exercises to match your skill level and mobility, and even scientific behavioral tricks to make working out more addictive.
If you haven’t studied how to design workout programs you could injure yourself, get terrible results (just gain fat), build an unbalanced physique that is more prone to injuries down the road, and just waste time that you could have been used to build muscle. If you’re a personal trainer, you probably aren’t reading this, but even the smartest coaches we know get other trainers to program their workouts. It’s the only way to get what you need instead of what you want to do.
Lifting is not so unlike eating. Your body will usually get tired or lazy at the homeostasis point. If you wing it, you’ll probably stop your workout at the exact moment that will have you perfectly maintaining your results. Automatic plateau.
Eating Enough Protein
Muscle requires protein. To build new muscle, you’ll need more protein in your diet than someone who isn’t trying to build muscle. And the average guy under-eats protein anyway. So you probably need to eat more.
But eating enough protein is hard for a couple of reasons.
The first issue is that protein is incredibly filling. Try eating three chicken breasts and tell me you’re still hungry. Having a protein shake like whey makes this a lot easier as it uses the tricks from earlier (no chewing and no fibre). If you want to see what protein powders we recommend, see our supplement guide.
The second issue is that protein is expensive. Whey protein powder tends to be cheaper per gram than eating chicken, so it’s possible that protein supplements could be helpful in keeping your costs down. Keep in mind that not all your protein needs to come from animal sources. There’s a little bit of protein in beans and nuts, which will get automatically tracked in your tracking app. If you’re eating lots of food in general, and you will be, then all those little bits of extra protein will help you reach your goals.
But what should your daily protein goal be?
Make sure to get at least 1 gram of protein per pound bodyweight (2.2 grams per kilo).
3. Rest Well
When you stress your body, your body uses sleep to recover from that stress. Without proper rest, your hormones get bent all out of shape. When that happens, your body is more likely to store the extra energy you’re eating as fat (study, study).
Being sleep deprived is catabolic, which is a sciencey way of saying it puts you into a state where you break down more muscle mass.
Sleeping well is anabolic, meaning you’ll be building more muscle and storing less fat.
If gaining weight and building muscle is important to you, you should make an effort to improve your sleep.
Some extra bonuses from sleeping enough are:
- You’ll look better
- You’ll be smarter
How do you rest well? You’ll need to sleep enough and also get good sleep. So the quantity and the quality matters.
Most of the research says that if you’re one of the overwhelming majority, you’ll need at least 7.25 hours, and probably closer to 8 hours, of sleep every single night.
Okay, so how do you improve the quality of your sleep?
- Sleep in a quiet bedroom. If you live in the city, use a noise machine to cover up startling sounds (loud drunk people, sirens, dogs barking)
- Sleep in a dark bedroom. Get blackout curtains to block out streetlights or be thankful that you live in the country-side.
- Sleep in a climate-controlled room. Keep it cool enough that you can use at least one blanket. Having a blanket will prevent rapid heat changes that can disrupt your sleep.
- Avoid screens 1–2 hours before you go to bed. I know it’s the 21st century, and this is incredibly hard, so just get F.lux to reduce the effect. Or make baby steps and listen to podcasts/radio pre-bed.
- Try not to eat within 30 minutes of going to bed. If you’re trying to gain weight, this might mean cramming calories in right until you go to bed. But if you can do it a bit earlier, your sleep may be better.
4. Measure & Pivot
The masses often paraphrase Peter Drucker as having written, “What get’s measured, gets managed.” And he’s 100% right.
If we want to gain weight as naturally skinny guys, we can’t just do what we naturally do… because we’re naturally skinny. But the good news is that once we gain weight, that becomes the new natural. (Remember that homoeostasis effect? It will help you stay big and muscular too.)
So if you want to gain weight, you’ll need to measure your weight each week. Make sense?
Buy a digital scale; they’re more accurate out of the box than a mechanical one.
Weigh yourself once a week right after you wake up and use the washroom. Alternatively, you can also weigh yourself daily and then divide the number by 7 at the end of the week. It’s normal for your weight to fluctuate a bit depending on water retention, food in your system, etc. Measuring yourself every day and then taking an average can help deal with that. So can waiting for a week’s worth of muscle gain to add up before weighing yourself.
If after your first week, the scale did not budge, here how to get back to gaining weight:
- Increase your daily energy intake by 250 calories (to create the surplus that was missing)
- Improve your daily and weekly calorie consistency (to actually hit your targets)
You can use an app on your phone or computer like MyFitnessPal to make tracking a lot easier (member’s guide here).
5. Make It Easy & Bet On Yourself
It’s going to take a lot of smart planning, effort, and consistency for quite a while in order to gain a significant amount of weight and muscle.
It doesn’t matter if what you’re doing is 100% optimal for gaining weight if the routine isn’t sustainable.
While your motivation is high, it’s easy to force yourself through the tougher parts of a plan. But eventually some stressor will come into your life. If the routine isn’t easy to maintain, you’ll stop doing it. So your plan should not have parts that are too tough.
Getting a cold, work downsizing, breaking up a long-term relationship—things like this can totally throw your routine out the window. Even good things like vacations or holidays can replace a weight-gain routine with higher priorities like spending time with family. It’s not realistic to think that you’ll never have something knock you off your plan. So your plan needs to be able to survive a good punch.
Focus on the 20% of what you’re doing that’s giving you 80% of your results.
- Eat enough food consistently
- Eat enough protein consistently
- Lift weights 3x a week consistently (and follow a good program!)
How can you do that?
The way to do that is by making all these things into habits so that you do them instinctively. If you want to know more about the science behind building a habit, check out our habit article. Here’s a quick breakdown:
- Goal-setting: Pick one tangible and realistic goal, such as gaining 5 pounds in 5 weeks.
- Make it easy to stick to the plan: Pick a program that’s designed well, change things in your environment to make it easier to stick to your goal (cook food and freeze it in advance, build a home gym if the gym is too far away, make small gradual changes to your diet, etc.), eat foods that are easy to eat lots of (liquids, dried fruits, etc.).
- Improve your willpower: Get enough sleep (which will also make your gains leaner.)
- Use willpower to get started: It takes 18-66 days to build a habit so consider using accountability as a failsafe such as betting with a friend to help you last that long. We recommend 5 weeks to start.
- A reward is part of habit building: Celebrate every milestone you reach. A milestones is something that is measurable and important in your progress. Not just regular ol’ stones a few feet ahead of you along the road.
If you’ve previously struggled with gaining weight, you now have the 5-step action plan of what you need to do. Here’s how it’d look with everything together.
- Get an evidence-based training program that will help you build muscle leanly (like ours)
- Go to the gym 3x a week
- Hit your energy goals daily, weekly, monthly (we have a guides on making this easier in our program)
- Hit your protein goals daily, weekly, monthly
- Work on improving your sleep quantity and then quality (member’s guide by DoctorB here)
- Measure your progress weekly and adjust what you’re doing if it’s not working
- Use accountability to help you stick to the plan long term (that’s why we have the Beastly community)
Have you gained weight before? And what worked well for you? Do you have any questions we can help to answer? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Gaining weight naturally without supplements
“Muscle building” foods and protein supplements are notorious for being marketed as a quick-fix magic potion for fast weight gain. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! Rather than spending your money on processed products, focus on fueling your body with high-calorie and nutrient-rich foods. If you are recovering from illness, have chronic digestive issues, or haven’t been able to get enough nutrients from food, you may want to consider supplements. Otherwise, always aim for whole foods.
There are many easy options out there such fast food, candy, and sodas that will deliver quick calories, so you’re weight gain will be served up with a side of health ailments. In excess, these processed foods lead to inflammation, belly fat, slowed muscle repair and growth, and poor healing. Focus on nutritious meals to get you to your weight gain goals — remember, slow and steady wins the race.
The key to your weight gain journey is understanding the correct balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Protein forms the building blocks of your muscles, and you’ll really need this if your goal is to gain muscle. Fat contains the most significant amount of calories per gram (9 kcal per gram, compared to 4 kcal per gram for protein and carb) so start incorporating more of those healthy fats into your diet. High-carb, high-fat foods will increase cravings and appetite, encouraging you to eat more, so here are a few healthy high-carb, high-fat options we recommend:
- Guacamole with baked tortilla chips
- Fruit smoothies blended with coconut milk, avocado, or full-fat yogurt
- Trail mix with nuts and fruit
- Hummus with pita and starchy vegetables like carrot
How many calories do I need to gain weight?
Visualize a scale when you think of the calories you take in, versus the calories-out. In general, when you take in more than your body is burning, you will gain weight. Keep in mind that this all depends on your metabolism and other associated factors such as hormones and gut bacteria.
As a rule of thumb, aim for an extra 250-500 kcal per day for slow and steady gain. For more drastic weight gain, aim for an extra 500-1,000 kcal per day. Take calorie calculators as a guide because calories in food can vary as well as the way your body uses up those calories. Your needs may vary by several hundred calories per day. To gain weight fast, focus on adding calorie dense foods to your meals and snacks.
Here are some high-calorie healthy foods to pack some healthy calorie punch to your day:
- Nuts — almonds, walnuts, cashews, etc.: Sprinkle on salads, cereal, yogurt, or smoothies
- Nut butter — peanut, almond, cashew: Add to smoothies, sauces, or oatmeal
- Oils: Add as desired when cooking or seasoning
- Dried fruits: Snack on them throughout the day or sprinkle on salads, cereal, and yogurt
- Avocado: Add to smoothies, baked goods, sandwiches, or salads
- Wheat germ, flax, or seeds: Sprinkle on salads, roasted vegetables, popcorn, or oatmeal
- Milk, cream, coconut milk: Add to coffee, tea, oatmeal, mashed potatoes, or grains
- Cheese: sprinkle on salads, pasta, or vegetables. Add to sandwiches, tacos, or wraps
How quickly can you gain weight
Everybody is different and responds in different ways. The rate you gain weight can depend on your metabolism, fitness level, genetics, daily activities, among other factors. Start by checking if your weight is in a healthy range, according to the BMI calculator but keep in mind that this is one of many biometrics to consider for overall wellness.
It’s important to talk to your doctor before beginning any new fitness or nutrition plan. They can check for any health conditions that may have caused you to lose weight initially. It can be dangerous to increase weight too quickly, such as with conditions like eating disorders. The type of food and amount that you’ll need can depend on what’s been preventing you from gaining weight in the first place.
A realistic, average rate of muscle gain would be about 0.5-1 pound (0.25-0.5 kg) per week, with any extra being fat. Keep in mind that some weight gain may be due to water weight, so it’s normal to see fluctuations. This is why we don’t recommend that you weigh yourself more than once per week.
We’ve got some tips and tricks how to gain weight fast:
- Eat more frequently: Eating five to six smaller meals during the day rather than two or three large meals.
- Drink liquids between meals: Liquids can create a sense of fullness so enjoy them between meals.
- Smoothies: Enjoy as a snack or meal if you aren’t hungry or they can accompany a meal for those extra calories.
- Use big plates: Small plates make will have your brain register you are fuller quicker, so use a big plate to trick yourself into eating more.
- Eat a bedtime snack: Eat an easily digestible and healthy snack before bed.
11. Get enough rest
Your body requires at least 7-8 hours of sleep per day to sustain its energy and prevent it from losing the amount of calories it has gained.
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