Eat more food, lift more often, gain more weight. Sounds easy, right? But if it was, a lot more people would be walking around looking like Greek statues. News flash: They’re not.
Luckily there are tricks and habits that can help you gain weight a little faster and easier. They aren’t huge, groundbreaking solutions, but they’ll allow you to fine-tune your plan and maybe stick with it a little longer—and that can definitely pay off big over the long term.
1. Never train while hungry. Going into a workout without fueling your body beforehand will limit the intensity you bring to a workout. It can also force your body to get energy by tapping into muscle tissue. You won’t gain much weight when that’s going on.
2. If you train in the morning, make the biggest meal of your day the one you have immediately after your morning workout. When you finish a workout, your body is in a state where it will suck up any calories you supply it with. If there is one time of day you want to slam back a higher calorie shake, this is it.
3. Ideally, eat every 3-4 hours. No, you don’t have to go full bro eating eight or more meals a day, but never go more than 5 hours without eating. Spread your calories throughout the day, especially protein.
4. Don’t leave the house unprepared. Keep wholesome snacks on hand, like trail mix and peanut butter sandwiches—seriously! This old classic is a weight-gain miracle. Always carry a shaker bottle (maybe even a big one) with protein or weight-gain powder in it in case you’re caught without food.
5. Remember that you don’t have to follow the usual no-salt, no-butter, no-flavor rules. They can all have a place, within reason. You need to eat more, and if your food doesn’t taste good, it’s simply not going to happen.
6. Consider a post-workout protein shake to be a requirement. Why? It digests quickly and takes up little space in your stomach, so you can eat soon after.
7. Resist the urge to follow any popular diet like intermittent fasting, keto, or paleo. These all have their place, but they are all better suited to weight loss than weight gain. Focus on your goal now—you can always come back to them later!
8. At home, eat from bigger dishes than usual so you serve yourself larger portions without even realizing it. Same with your glassware: Put away those 8-ounce glasses and pull out those 16-ounce tumblers and fill ’em up with milk and protein shakes!
9. Gain with someone! If a friend is training and gaining alongside you, it becomes sort of a competition and a group project. It also puts “eating a lot” into a perspective when you can see how much other people eat in comparison.
10. Follow a workout program designed to increase muscle or strength gains. A little light lifting and cardio isn’t going to cut it. To build muscle, you need to give your muscles the signal to grow. If you don’t, all those extra calories are just extra calories—not fuel for growth.
11. Make sleep a high priority—almost as high as eating and training. Your muscles don’t grow when you’re in the gym, they grow when you’re resting! Old-school bodybuilders were famous for napping—because it worked. If your sleep sucks, you won’t gain the way you would otherwise.
Sleep is restorative, allows you to train harder, and helps your anabolic hormones stay at high levels. Lack of sleep over time can also increase your cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone produced by your adrenal glands that can stimulate muscle breakdown, which leads to loss of muscle mass—and weight.
12. Pay attention to details in a way that you think is better suited for someone who is losing weight, not gaining it. That means log your food, track your workouts, measure your weight, note the changes you see in the mirror, and keep track of how you feel. You might not be into counting calories, but that may be why you haven’t been able to gain so far. During a dedicated gaining phase, it’s worth the hassle to make sure you’re on track.
13. Find your motivation. Why are you going down this path? Is there a specific strength goal that you need more muscle mass to achieve? Did a loved one or health professional tell you you’re underweight? Do you want to feel stronger and be more active and need more bulk to add more muscle? Maybe you just want to look bigger—or less skinny. Whatever your reason, think about what your ideal weight should be for you to meet your goals. Having a specific weight goal will make it easier for you to track your progress and stay motivated.
14. Keep in mind that increasing the calories you eat to add muscle will also bring along some extra fat mass. Don’t panic! As long as you’re lifting regularly and keeping a little cardio in the mix, your fat gain can be minimal. And the more muscle you put on, the easier it will be to lean out and look defined later! Remember, if you’ve been struggling to gain weight, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll put on 20 pure pounds of unwanted fat as long as you’re training hard a few times a week.
15. Be patient. Healthy weight gain takes time. If you understand that going in, you’ll be much less likely to get frustrated and quit before your body has time to respond to your new way of eating and training.
16. Last but not least, use this as a way to build a positive relationship with food. Learn to cook your own meals, enjoy your food, and eat meals with others as often as possible. Far too often, people get so caught up in what their food means that they forget to savor the food before them. Enjoy the whole process of nourishing yourself! Eat with friends and family when you can. And be sure to invite those friends who aren’t afraid to say yes to second—or even third—helpings!