The vast majority of diet-related articles out there are focused on weight loss, which is no real surprise. The world, in general, is getting bigger, and more people are looking to lose weight than to gain it. But what about those looking to gain weight in a healthy manner, primarily lean muscle mass?
Eating and training to gain weight has been a common thing in the bodybuilding and weight training world for a long time, typically as part of the bulk/cut cycle, which is essentially the most efficient way to change the muscle and fat makeup of your body.
The body can only do three things when it comes to weight loss and weight gain – it can drop weight, it can gain weight, or it can stay the same size. To add muscle to your frame you’re going to need to gain weight, and by getting your diet and training right you can maximise the amount of muscle you gain while minimising the amount of fat. Here we’ll outline a weight gain diet plan for men to help add muscle in the most efficient way possible.
How it Works
When you’re losing weight through diet and exercise, a certain proportion of the weight lost will be fat and some will be muscle. The same is true of gaining weight – you’ll add some muscle as well as some fat. The key when losing weight is to reduce muscle loss and increase fat loss, while a weight gaining diet plan should aim to maximise muscle gain while minimizing fat gain.
The best ways to do this are by managing calorie intake, monitoring macronutrient intake and having an effective workout routine that is focused on developing the full body.
Tracking Your Calories
The basic principle of gaining weight is to eat more calories than your body needs on a regular basis. This forces the body to adapt and grow, either by storing more fat or building more muscle, typically performing a mix of both. Our target is to eat 200-500 calories over our maintenance level while optimising our macronutrient intake and training, which will allow us to gain weight gradually and without putting on an unnecessary amount of fat.
You can estimate your daily maintenance calorie level using a number of calculators and apps, which will give you a rough idea of what to work from. Once you have this, you should begin to monitor your food intake carefully and track how much weight you’re gaining. If it’s over a pound per week while eating at 500 calories over your estimated maintenance level, cut back on calories a little and measure it again the next week. If your weight isn’t going up you need to eat more, so adjust your intake and track it again.
Optimising Your Macronutrients
Beyond your calorie intake, there are three other things we’ll need to track in your food intake – protein, fat and carbohydrate. These are known as macronutrients, and taking in the right amount of each can significantly help with muscle gain, hormone production, workout recovery and more.
Protein is key when it comes to building muscle, and without appropriate protein intake, the chances are you’ll end up spinning your wheels a little and gaining far more body fat than muscle throughout the course of your diet.
The main purpose of protein in the diet is to repair the tissue and structures of the body. It is broken down into amino acids which are then preferentially used to repair and build new tissue (ideally in the form of muscle), assuming the body is getting enough energy from food intake (meaning you’re not starving yourself).
If you’re serious about looking to add muscle, you should be aiming for at least 0.8-1g of protein per pound of body weight every day. This has been shown to be around the optimal level of intake for the building of new muscle tissue.
Some good sources of protein include:
- Lean meats
- Whey Protein
- Cottage Cheese
- Natural Peanut Butter
The main purpose of carbs in your diet is to provide energy. All carbohydrates, with the exception of fibre, are broken down as glucose in the body, which provides you with the primary fuel source your body uses for physical and mental energy.
Carbs can be categorised using the Glycemic Index (GI), which measures how quickly certain foods raise the level of glucose in the blood. A higher GI means it will be digested faster, while a lower score means it will take the body a little longer to digest.
In most situations, you’ll be looking to eat complex carbs, which have a lower GI and take the body longer to process. This will help control hunger levels and help you maintain more even energy levels throughout the day, instead of the peaks and crashed caused by simple carbs such as sugar.
There are various good quality carb sources available, including:
- Sweet Potatoes
- Wholegrain bread
Dietary fat can be used by the body as an energy source, primarily when the consumption of carbs has been restricted. Balancing your carb and fat intake is hugely important when looking to change the composition of your body, and you’ll see the best results when carb intake is reduced to less than 60% of your daily calories.
Reducing carb intake and replacing it with healthy fats has various benefits, including improved insulin sensitivity, a better hormonal balance, increased growth hormone and testosterone levels, reduced hunger levels and increased muscle gain after weight training.
Concentrate on getting most of your fat from the following sources:
- Animal Fat
- Nuts and Nut Butters
- Olive Oil
- Coconut Oil
- Grass-Fed Dairy
While a specific men’s diet plan for gaining weight could help some people, they tend to be extremely rigid and difficult to stick to. We prefer to set targets for calories, protein, fat and carbs and work within those parameters, tracking food intake with My Fitness Pal and making adjustments throughout the day.
Short on protein for the day? Throw some whey protein into some water and boost your numbers. Short on fats? Grab the peanut butter and a spoon and go for it. Just make sure to track everything accurately and you’ll be fine.
Work out what your targets are using this calculator and track your progress throughout the first couple of weeks. You should be making gradual weight gains each week – if you’re not putting on weight you should up your calories, and if you’re gaining too much then cut back a bit.
Try to keep your protein and fat intake around the recommended levels and made adjust your carbs to make up the caloric difference. It can be worthwhile to up the carbs on the days you’ll be training, to help with recovery and make up for the additional calories burned.
Gaining weight is a simple matter of taking in more calories than you burn, but for some people, this can be a real challenge. Look to add weight in a healthy way, adding muscle rather than fat, by sticking to your macronutrient and calorie goals throughout the week and you’ll soon see a huge difference in your body.