One for the Weight Gainers…
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Obesity is an epidemic and because of this, most of the research out there focuses on weight loss. However I wanted to provide a shout out to those who have trouble gaining weight. While many of us may view “hard gainers” (the title given to those who need to work to gain weight) as people with a “good” problem, talk to any of them and you will find out that they have just as many frustrations involved in gaining 15 to 20 pounds as those of us who want to shed those same 15 to 20. Too bad we can’t make a direct trade.
The crucial factor to remember is that these hard gainers do not just want to gain weight…they want to gain lean body mass (i.e. bone, muscle, etc.). Few, if any, people really want to gain fat! Building lean body mass also helps overweight people lose weight by improving their metabolism (muscle burns more calories per day than fat). Turns out weight gainers and losers have more in common than we think. There’s one fundamental difference:
Weight gainers want to promote lean body mass gain in the presence of eating more calories than they burn
Weight losers (those looking to lose weight) want to maintain lean body mass in the presence of eating less calories than they burn.
Both populations need to be physically active, particularly through resistance training. Those looking to gain weight may perform a bit less (but not eliminate) cardiovascular activity to minimize excess calorie burn. Both populations need to eat high quality foods with lots of nutrients like fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. However weight gainers need to increase their intake of high-nutrient, high-calorie foods like whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats compared to those focused on weight loss.
Here is a summary of what the literature (aka scientific researchers) currently says about gaining weight:
Overall, the most effective way to increase strength and bulk is to:
Perform sport-specific (or large muscle group) resistance exercise training.
Gradual weight gain is essential (just like gradual weight loss) to maximize lean mass gain and minimize fat gain, with calorie intakes aiming to gain ½ to 1 pound per week.
When sufficient protein is consumed (as little as 1.0 g/kg/day, but typically 1.2-1.6 g/kg/day in active individuals and athletes), adequate energy intake becomes the most important factor in promoting lean body mass growth. “High energy intakes necessary to support strength training will provide ample protein for increased muscle mass.” [From Kevin Tipton]. In other words, in our protein-laden American diets, we do not necessarily need lots of extra protein and supplements to gain weight.
More protein is not always better if it comes at the expense of other nutrients required to optimally fuel our activity (i.e. carbohydrates).
Eating small frequent meals that include a balanced variety of carbohydrates, protein and fat at each meal is key to promoting a positive nitrogen balance throughout the day.
The body is primed for growth before/after a workout. A small snack including protein about an hour or two before training may benefit anabolism. Adequate fueling after training (carbohydrates + protein) ideally within 30 minutes after training is also crucial. Low-fat chocolate milk is a popular option, though a sandwich or fruit + low-fat string cheese or smoothies are all great as well.
While some supplements may improve strength and bulk (creatine) or muscle protein signaling (leucine), the gains made through these routes are much less significant than an optimal dietary pattern. These are for the “last 2 to 3% of results…not the first 95%.”
Protein in foods is just as effective as supplements for building muscle.
When providing adequate energy for muscle building, focus should be placed on high-nutrient, high calorie foods such as nuts, seeds, whole grains, healthy fats and lean protein as opposed to low-nutrient, high calorie foods such as fast food and candy. Of course, fruits and veggies are important too!
Every person is unique. Tailor all recommendations to the individual and adjust based on the results achieved.
My motto: “Train and eat like you mean it!”
Here’s some other good resources for tips on gaining weight healthfully: