Do you want to gain weight? Given how most nutrition articles focus on fat loss, maybe you feel in a minority there.
The usual advice for weight gain is to eat a higher amount of carbohydrates to “bulk up” and adopt an exercise program. Unfortunately it often results in mainly gaining fat mass, and is not necessarily healthy.
Low-carb for weight gain?
While most people see a low-carb diet as a weight-loss diet, this is not necessarily true. Low carb tends to lead to weight loss for people with excess weight, due to increased satiety and fat burning.
However, low-carb foods are very nutrient dense, and can assist lean weight gain in people who are underweight. Eating low carb, and eating when hungry, can be considered a weight-normalizing diet (or lifestyle).
How to gain weight the healthy way
Now that we have looked into some of the reasons we may want to gain weight, how can we do it in a healthy way? Diet predominantly determines weight gain, but the food we eat isn’t the only factor that plays a part. Additional factors to consider are:
- Exercise – especially resistance training and heavy weights.
- Sleep – proper sleep is essential for optimal hormone function, which impacts body composition
- Stress – hormones released as a response to stress also negatively affect our bodies
- Drugs – nicotine and caffeine often results in weight loss. Quitting smoking is clearly great If you want to gain weight, you might also want to switch to decaf
In this section, we’ll focus on non-exercise strategies to gain in a healthy manner.
What is the fastest way to gain weight?
First of all, although wanting to gain weight fast is understandable, it subtracts from gaining weight in a healthy sustainable manner. Slow and steady wins the race.
Ultra-high calorie bulking diets are very common and do work very well for quick weight gain in some people. But usually, these people are extremely active bodybuilders/athletes who don’t mind gaining fat in addition to the muscle. With this kind of diet, people tend to load up on hundreds of extra grams of calories/carbohydrates per day and dramatically increase their protein intake. It works, and many people grow like weeds, but it usually comes with a varying amount of fat gain. And for some people this additional fat tissue can be difficult to lose.
There’s an even worse fast way: Eat ice cream and cookies constantly between meals, and wash it down with soda (in fact never drink anything other than soda). While this is highly likely to result in weight gain even for underweight people, you’ll gain mostly fat around your abdomen, making you “skinny fat”. That’s not a great look. Furthermore, it will increase your risk of type 2 diabetes and all kinds of health problems.
There’s a difference between gaining weight in the fastest way, and increasing in size in the healthiest way possible. The next few sections explain how we can progressively gain weight on a low-carb diet that is rich in healthy fats. The aim is to emphasize lean mass; in other words, maximize muscle gain and minimize additional fat.
Optimal nutrition to support lean weight gain
To gain lean weight in a healthy way, you need to emphasize food quality first of all.
Nutrient density refers to how nutritious our foods are and the amount of beneficial proteins, vitamins and minerals present in them. There’s far too much focus on calorie counting and not enough focus on counting nutrients.
As an example, 500 calories from white rice and 500 calories from an avocado and a few eggs are entirely different. Yes, they have the same amount of energy, but the nutrients found in avocado and eggs completely destroy the minuscule amount of nutrients that white rice can offer. While rice provides lots of rapidly digested simple carbohydrates and not much else, an egg contains all the many nutrients needed to build lean body mass.
To lose weight, one of the most effective ways is to eat less often – also called intermittent fasting.
Not surprisingly, if you want to gain lean weight and find it hard, you should NOT do intermittent fasting. In fact you should aim to do the opposite. Eat often.
Try to eat at least every three hours, if possible even more often. Snack, but choose healthy options.
Do sleep and stress affect weight gain?
Since our muscles recover and grow during sleep, it’s essential to make sure we spend enough time asleep. In fact, sleep and stress share an intrinsic connection; if you are sleep-deprived, you are much more likely to be stressed. As a result, we want to avoid both of them.
It’s well-known that lack of sleep and stress raises cortisol levels. Unfortunately, higher cortisol levels have a negative impact on gaining weight in a healthy way. It may help you gain FAT mass, but at the same time reduce muscle mass (not good).
Higher cortisol levels both directly and indirectly influence weight gain (through overeating and the tendency to crave junk food).
Cortisol is catabolic for muscle, the opposite of anabolic – in other words, it breaks down muscle tissue rather than building it.
- Sleeping 7-9 hours per night
- Finding time to relax and enjoy our lives
- Socializing rather than remaining isolated
- Ensuring we don’t overtrain (exercise too much)