How to Gain Weight and Build Muscle
We can all pile on the pounds, just stay in the fast food lane, but it’s a nutrient-dense healthy diet, that will promote lean muscle development and size. In truth, muscular growth and building that brick house frame, can be harder to achieve than losing weight, and very frustrating. But we are here to help - follow our top 8 tips and you'll pack on lean muscle and size far more easily and be well on your way to achieving that physique you want.
1. Eat enough calories
Most people who struggle to gain weight misunderstand the most basic principle - 'the body will only grow if you provide it with surplus of high-quality calories each day'. In other words, you need to consume more calories than you burn each day! Here's a handy meal plan to get you started
Start with a 20% increase in your current daily calorie intake. Try this pound builder - Aim to consume at least 20 calories per pound of bodyweight you weigh to gain muscle mass.
Many people eat two or three meals a day and the occasional protein shake (when they remember), and then wonder why they're not putting on weight. To increase muscle mass, you have to have excess energy (calories and protein) in your system - supplied by regular small meals throughout the day. Most people have no idea how many calories they need. Do you? You may find that eating until you're full is not enough, especially if you're eating the wrong sort of calories (i.e. all carbs and no protein!). Protein is the priority followed by carbs then fat, but all are important and play a part in building mass and size.
Most people require around 20 calories per pound (or 44 kcal / kg) of bodyweight to gain muscle mass. Using a 180-pound (82kg) male as an example, the required daily calorie intake is 3600 calories (20 kcal x 180 lb = 3600 kcal). When it comes to gaining weight, it is likely that you may put on a few pounds of fat along the way, but if you do find your body fat increasing, either increase the amount of aerobic exercise (moderatpae intensity) you are doing or slightly reduce the total number of calories you are consuming. Remember you can’t force feed muscle gain!
2. Eat sufficient high-quality protein
Consuming sufficient high-quality protein is essential for building muscle. Current recommendations are to consume a minimum of 0.8g of protein for each kg of body weight, however, this is really only applicable to the average sedentary individual. Current evidence shows that to support muscle development, protein intake is the key, therefore the recommended 0.8g per kg should be increased to 1.5-2.0g of protein per kg of body weight. For an 80 kg individual, that would equate to 120-160 grams of protein per day.
We need sufficient high-quality protein to build muscle, protein experts have stated that we need between 1.5-2.0g
However, not all proteins are created equal in the muscle building stakes. Always remember the better the quality (biological value) of protein consumed, the more of it will be used for muscle building. To maximise muscle growth, stick to high-quality proteins, such as whey, milk, eggs, fish or lean meats. However, combining lower quality or incomplete protein from plant-based sources, such as nuts and beans, can still be a valuable protein source for muscle building.
Unfortunately, some people are intolerant to milk, due to the casein (one of the proteins in dairy) and have trouble digesting the sugar in milk, called lactose. If this is the case, stick to whey-only protein shakes. For example, Maximuscle uses Biomax Whey True Protein - a unique blend of whey proteins including whey protein concentrate, isolate and hydrolysate, which are lower in lactose.
3. Don't let the 'low fat' myth ruin your goals
In the contrary to popular belief, fat is in fact a very important nutrient in your diet, it is important for a number of essential processes in the body that help to make us healthy, for example some of the essential fats found in oily fish, e.g. EPA and DHA have been shown to have positive effects on our brain, vision and heart health.
Total dietary fat should supply approximately 25-30% of your daily calorie intake.
So, to keep the body’s normal processes functioning as they should, make sure you include some fat in your diet, especially the ‘good’ fats, otherwise known as polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats. The trick is to eat the right fats and avoid the wrong ones (namely saturated and trans fats), found in cakes, biscuits and chocolate.
Healthy sources of fat include: cold water oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines), extra-virgin olive oil, peanuts (unsalted), avocado, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts or flaxseed. Nuts (any sort, just make sure they are unsalted) are a great food to snack on if you're having trouble gaining weight, as they are not only high in calories, but they contain monounsaturated fats, a good source of protein, fibre and contain a number of essential minerals that are needed for health. For those not consuming any oily fish, you may want to consider taking a fish oil supplement, such as cod liver oil or flaxseeds.
4. Fuel your workouts with carbohydrate and creatine
Eating the right carbs is important too. Carbohydrate is stored in your body in the form of glycogen. Glycogen in the muscles is an important fuel reserve during intense physical exercise or in times of energy restriction – protein sparing. It is best to restrict or to keep away from junk carbohydrates such as sweets, cakes, and biscuits, and stick to foods like porridge, pasta (wholemeal), rice (brown), bread (wholegrain), and cereals (try to choose the versions with low or reduced sugar and salt). For more on carbohydrate and the effect of sugar on the body, click here.
Creatine is a proven ingredient for increasing strength, building muscle size and supporting training intensity.
Progain contains an easily digested source of carbohydrate, providing much needed carbohydrate to fuel your workout before or after. By adding creatine to your diet, in a shake, in food or in capsules, is proven to increase strength, build muscle size and support training intensity.
5. Be at your best with more sleep and less stress.
You may not know it, but stress kills muscle gains dead. Catabolic hormones such as cortisol, which are released during times of stress, can quickly put the brakes on muscle growth. In fact, stress can be the number one progress killer. Arguments at home, long stressful hours at work, missed meals, lack of sleep, and general chaos all contribute to stress and cortisol release. Not good, if you want those all-important gains!
Try and make sure you get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
So, if you want to get results from your nutrition and exercise programme, it's vital that you sort out your stress levels and ensure that you stay as calm as possible. If you aren't sleeping 7-9 hours, try and go to bed earlier or create an effective pre-bed routine. If time permits, try getting a massage or sit in the spa after your workout. Do anything to help you relax. Check this out for more ‘better sleep’ ideas.
6. Be Smart And Choose The Most Effective Muscle Building Exercises
Choosing the right muscle building exercises can make the difference between endless frustration and achieving the physique of your dreams. Build your routine around basic compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts, bench press, lat pull downs (or chins) and shoulder press. Performed correctly, these core exercises will stimulate muscle growth and strength like no others, due to the stress they place on your muscles, and the nervous and hormonal responses they produce.
To maximise strength and mass gains stick to compound exercises.
Avoid endless isolation exercises (such as tricep kickbacks and leg extensions) which are poor muscle and strength builders. For best results combine a sensible and progressive training routine (2-3 times weekly) with the nutritional advice mentioned.
7. Don't Burn Away Your Muscle Gains With Too Much Cardio
Cardio has some great health benefits. However, it can become too much of a good thing if you're looking to gain weight. If you're burning too many calories during your cardio sessions, then you risk doing so at the expense of muscle and strength gains.
Limit your cardio sessions - Cardio exercise actually blunts the natural biochemistry to build muscle.
If you're 100% focused on gaining muscle and size, then consider cutting down your cardio to a couple of light sessions per week. Light aerobic exercise should be carried out regularly to help keep you active and healthy, and also to make sure you don’t end up letting your fitness suffer as you gain weight. In fact, the fitter you are the more productive your workout will be and also you may find your overall recovery is improved as well.
After a cardio workout make sure protein and carbs are consumed soon after.
If you are doing any cardio exercise and are worried about potential muscle loss, just watch the frequency and intensity of your exercise. To help off-set this, ensure you consume some carbohydrates and a fast-absorbing protein such as Promax straight after your cardio session.
8. Take Advantage Of The Vital Post-Workout Muscle-Building Period
Fuelling your body correctly after training is critical in your quest for more muscle - so be sure to consume a suitable recovery drink as soon as possible following your workout. A combination of carbs and fast digesting proteins (such as whey protein) is the ideal post workout nutrition. Providing protein after your exercise session will help to support gains in muscle mass.
Building muscle isn’t easy and needs to be fuelled. Keep your protein level up throughout the day, combined with an excess of carbohydrate and healthy fats. Resistance exercise is the key, but you don’t have to give up cardio completely, especially if you enjoy it. Set some short-term goals and tick them off as you grow!
Maximuscle's Gainer, Progain and Progain Extreme are all suitable to help you take advantage of this post-training period. We would also recommend consuming a meal of complex carbohydrates and protein about 90 minutes post training.
Article written by Paul Olima
Paul Olima is an influential personal trainer with a specialism in deadlifts. Paul has been an ambassador for Maximuscle since 2015. As an ex-professional football and rugby player, Paul has a broad array of experience including being body doubles for Mario Balotelli and Usain Bolt. Paul Olima's sporting hero is Jonah Lomu.