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What to Eat to Gain Weight

What to Eat to Gain Weight

Are you frustrated with your inability to gain weight and increase your muscle mass despite pushing yourself through countless workouts training hard and heavy? Well, if you have an extremely high metabolism you may be considered a “hardgainer,” which is a fairly common problem. Ask any bodybuilder you see in your gym what to focus on to achieve any physique goal and I guarantee they will say diet. Without changing your diet, you can lift weights day in and day out and you will never make significant progress. There is a huge amount of weight loss information available, but knowing what to eat to gain weight safely is rarely discussed. This can leave hardgainers feeling lost and blaming lack of progress on genetics simply because they haven’t followed the right guidelines. In this article I will take you through the basics you need to know to gain weight safely and improve your physique. However, keep in mind that the nutrition advice given in this article is provided with the expectation that you are following an appropriate workout program with the goals of increasing strength and muscle size.

Eat More

The most important step, by far, is eating enough food to create a calorie surplus. Most people are simply awful at estimating how many calories they eat and this is usually the reason people fail to gain weight. Weight gain and fat loss is primarily governed by the first law of thermodynamics which states that the change in internal energy of a system (the body) is equal to the heat added to the system (calories in) minus the work done by the system (calories out).

If the change in energy is negative, meaning a calorie deficit, our body does not have access to enough energy to effectively run the body. Thus, you force your body to burn fat stores, muscle tissue, and decrease metabolism in order to function and operate.

If the change in energy is positive, meaning a calorie surplus, our body has access to more energy than it needs to maintain the body, refill glycogen stores and run metabolic processes among many other things. If there is an excess of energy, our body will redirect that energy towards repairing muscle fibers (after a workout), promoting muscle growth (releasing proper hormones) and saving it as fat for later use.

So, the first concern when deciding what to eat to gain weight is actually not what, but how much. The first step is to determine what your basal metabolic rate (BMR). BMR is the number of calories your body needs in one day to just maintain itself. However, this number does not include how many calories you burn during daily physical activity. Ideally, you would figure out how many calories you burn during the day, add that to your BMR, and maintain a 500 calorie per day surplus. This would allow you to add one pound per week, which is about what you should be aiming for if your goal is to minimize fat gain. However, this method can be difficult to establish, so I suggest starting with a calorie intake between 18 and 20 calories per pound depending of daily activity level. Therefore, for an active hardgainer male starting at 160 pounds, he would want to eat 3200 calories per day. If you find you are gaining weight too quickly or too slowly simply adjust this number up or down by about 5%.

For most people, just constantly thinking about eating a lot of food will make them gain weight. However, when your goal is putting on muscle and improving your overall physique, the next step beyond a simple calorie surplus is determining what types of macronutrients we need to include in our diets and what types of foods we can get them from.



Protein is the foundation of muscle building. Protein provides your body with different amino acids, all of which have their own purposes, that are needed in order to maintain good health. Of all these purposes, repairing and building new muscle tissue are the most important ones when it comes to gaining weight. If you don’t supply your body with enough protein, these processes will not occur.

You should consume1-1.5g/lb of protein each day. Therefore, a 200 lb athlete should consume a minimum of 200 grams and up to 300 grams of protein each day. Since a gram of protein contains four calories, this means the 200 lb lifter would be taking in 800-1200 calories from protein each day. When designing a meal plan, this is the most important value and you should always start here.

High Protein Foods

Most people already know that the easiest way to get protein in your system is by consuming protein and weight gainer shakes. However, with the exception of immediately after a workout it is generally preferable to get your protein from whole foods. I suggest making sure you’re getting at least 30 grams of protein with each meal (for at least five meals a day) and then supplementing with protein shakes in between if you are still low. The only people, in my opinion, that should rely on shakes as their primary source of protein should be vegetarians. The rest of us have options!

The majority of your protein intake should come from the following sources:
Lean Meat Sources:
Dairy Sources:
Reduced Fat Cheese
Cottage Cheese
Plant Sources:
Nuts (particularly almonds)


There is definitely a negative perception about dietary fats. However, fat is a necessary part of a diet and can be extremely beneficial for mass building since each gram of fat contains nine calories. Nevertheless, it is important to understand the different types of fat to assure that you do not put on a lot of body fat along with your new muscle. Fats can be broken down into the following categories:

Trans Fat: These are man-made partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and are extremely unhealthy. They should not be consumed on any diet.

Saturated Fat: This type of fat is typically found in animal sources although many meats also contain a large percentage of unsaturated fat. In the media, saturated fat has gotten a particularly bad rap, but it is a necessary part of a diet. On a mass building diet, as long as your meat sources are lean and your overall fat intake is in check, including saturated fat is perfectly fine.

Unsaturated Fat: These are typically found in vegetable sources such as vegetable oil although many meats have a large amount of unsaturated fat. On a mass building diet, the majority of your fat intake will be unsaturated fat.

Polyunsaturated Fat: A specific type of unsaturated fat that comprise the essential fatty acids. They are often found in vegetable sources or fish, which contain omega-3 fatty acids. This specific type of fat has the greatest health benefits and should be consumed on any diet. Omega-3 fatty acids are particularly beneficial and I highly recommend supplementation with fish oils.

Although fat intake should remain relatively low on a mass building diet, many lifters make the mistake of trying to minimize all fat intake, which can be counterproductive. I recommend consuming 0.4-0.5 g/lb of fat. This equates to around 20%-25% of daily calories.

Healthy Fat Foods
Oils (fish oil, olive oil, flaxseed oil)
Lean meats
Natural Peanut Butter


When attempting to put on mass, carbohydrates are particularly important. The body breaks down dietary carbohydrates into glucose, which is the body’s primary source of energy. Excess glucose can be stored as glycogen in the muscles, which is the primary energy source for lifting weights. Therefore, without adequate glycogen stores, your weight lifting abilities and results will be quite underwhelming.

However, excess dietary carbohydrates will eventually be converted to body fat, which is why it is so important to train hard in the gym on a mass building diet to minimize body fat storage. Ideally, you should consume between 2-3g/lb of carbohydrates daily. This equates to around between 45-60% of daily caloric intake. Although this is a relative large range, different people will have greater success with different carbohydrate values. However, it is important that protein intake remain the same and any decrease in carbohydrate calories be compensated with an increase in fat calories or visa-versa.

Healthy Carbohydrates
For carbohydrate intake, you should focus primarily on complex carbs lower on the glycemic index. Avoid processed starches (basically all “white” food) and reduce sugar intake to the absolute minimum. The majority of carbohydrates should come from sources such as the following:

Whole Wheat Pasta
Whole Wheat Bread
Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Yams
Brown Rice

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