The Skinny on Healthy Weight Gain

With so many folks trying to lose weight—those who are actually attempting to gain weight are often not given the proper attention and information. That doesn’t stop hoards of skinny teenagers from using misinformation to pack on pounds. As with losing weight, we recommend an informed approach to weight gain that focuses on building lean muscle—by incorporating healthy nutrition and regular exercise…

1. All Weight is Not Measured Equally

Just like there are healthy fats (unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids) and bad fats (trans and saturated fats), good cholesterol (LDL) and bad cholesterol (HDL), Web MD reminds us that weight gain can also be designated into varying degrees of healthy and unhealthy.

Bulking up with a healthy perspective on weight gain is more than just acknowledging skinny vs. fat. Healthy weight gain is all about gaining healthy composition in the form of muscle, which the Mayo Clinic claims looks more toned, and adds to the health and functionality of your entire body (i.e., muscle gain increases metabolism and energy, and also counteracts aging-related muscle loss).

2. Focus on Quality Not Quantity

Just as cutting food intake mixed with regular exercise won’t yield ideal weight loss goals—increasing caloric and fat intake and strength training won’t produce positive fat increases unless you’re eating healthy food sources.

To get the best bang for your buck with weight gain, place your focus on nutrient-rich, healthy foods—such as lean proteins, whole grain dietary fiber, and heart healthy fats. According to research from Harvard Public School of Health, the goal shouldn’t be just to increase your caloric and fat intake, but to increase food intake gradually (to prevent digestive upset) with 3 meals and 2 snacks daily, while reaching for calorie-dense foods with high nutrient value.

3. Knowledge of Caloric Surplus

So what’s all this mumbo-jumbo about caloric surplus? The concept of caloric surplus lies in taking in excess calories to get above the number of calories it takes to maintain your body weight currently. That means consuming more than is burned through normal physiological functions, activities, and exercise.

However, you don’t want to increase your caloric intake too excessively to spur fat weight gain vs. muscle weight gain, and you don’t want to upset your digestive system by eating too much, too fast. Experts from Men’s Health magazine recommend a good balance of lean protein, heart-healthy fats, and low-glycemic carbohydrates (i.e., whole grains, fruits, and sweet potatoes) for best results.

4. Combine Endurance and Strength Exercises

For muscle-specific weight gain, performing just any old exercise will be as much of a waste as eating everything in sight. To stimulate healthy weight gain—and by that I mean muscle—studies show that a combination of resistance and endurance training will serve you best.

For instance, a Finish study conducted by the Research Institute for Olympic Sports discovered that synchronized endurance and strength training yields better muscle-building results than strength-only training. In the end researchers concluded that resistance training mixed with endurance training enhances physique-buffing results.

5. Rest, Recover, and Repeat

Body transformation—be it weight loss or weight gain—requires adequate rest and sleep for success. While muscle injury (or tearing, as strange as that sounds) occurs with resistance training, muscle building actually takes place during resting periods.

According to Len Kravitz, exercise scientist and Ph.D. at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, use your weight training sessions as the tool to breaking down the proteins in your body and the rest periods as the restoration, where muscles repair and growth until your next workout. Without sufficient workouts, rest, and sleep muscle gain will not occur.

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6. Take Advice from Expert Sources

If you’re taking inspiration from the bodybuilding world, I caution you to do so with extreme caution. There are many ways to gain weight and many folks who can easily pack on pounds. Some do by using anabolic drugs or training in ways that leave their bodies prone to injury.

Instead, seek out like-minded folks who do not gain muscle easily through exercise. They’re often referred to as “hardgainers,” in the fitness world. Choose expert sources that choose the path of realistic, gradual muscle gain via healthy nutrition (drug-free), non-injury prone forms of exercise, and adequate recuperation periods.

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