A man at the gym, sitting down and lifting a weight to perform a bicep curl.

How to gain weight and muscle

There are both health and aesthetic reasons for trying to gain weight and (or) muscle.

Aesthetically, you may be on the skinnier side of things and keen for more fullness or muscle definition.

Or it may be that you have lost weight due to an illness, and you would like to get back to your healthy self.

Why do people want to gain muscle?

People usually want to gain muscle for a boost to their overall appearance, but there are other benefits to muscle gain as well. Muscle increases your metabolic rate, which in turn encourages your body touse more energy.1

Strength training can help to prevent injuries by strengthening your bones and tendons as well as your muscles.

Being stronger can make every day activities, such as opening a well-sealed jar, or lifting a box of books, much easier.2

Your reason for wanting to gain weight or muscle will impact what strategies are best for you.

If you are healthy but skinny, however, the following advice could work.

Reasons why you are skinny

People can be underweight if they are not getting enough nutrition or food.

Taking certain prohibited drugs can also impede someone’s appetite, and some illnesses can cause people to lose weight.

But, humans also just come in a broad variety of shapes and sizes.

Many people are skinny because of genetics. What actually happens is that there are certain genes that make it likely that a person will be overweight, and skinny people often have less of these genes.3 These people manage to stay skinny despite having a sedentary lifestyle and access to abundant amounts of food.

However, it is also easier to keep the weight off (or hard to put it on) when you are young.

The amount of body fat you have tends to increase after the age of 30.4 And finally, the kind of diet you grew up on can also have an impact on how much food and exercise impacts your size as an adult.5

How to accelerate your muscle growth

A well-balanced diet and regular (every day or every two days) resistance training are the keys to muscle growth.

And while there are no shortcuts, there are some things that you can keep in mind to ensure gradual muscle build-up.

For strength exercises, you will want to start with the weights that you can manage (but not comfortably) and then increase these each week.

It is worth remembering that the muscle building happens when you hold the weights in position, rather than just quickly moving them up and down.

It doesn’t always have to involve the gym either.

You can also work with resistance bands at home, climb stairs, cycle (to strengthen your leg muscles), or do some heavy work like gardening that involves lots of digging and shovelling.6

The best weight gain tips

If you are a healthy person aiming to gain weight rather than, or along with muscle, you will want to consume more calories of energy than you use up each day. A standard diet consists of around 2,000 calories per day. This amount meets the energy and nutritional needs of most people.7

However, really active people may need some 400 calories more than this, and really small people, and older people, may need a bit less.

This means that, unless you are a male athlete, or a male farmer or construction worker, 3,000 calories a day is a good amount for gradually gaining weight. Athletes would need a bit more than that.8

A healthy rate of weight gain is around 200 to 900 grams per weeks. For people who are undernourished though, up to two kilograms can be a safe amount.

If you gain weight too quickly you may see uncomfortable side effects such as bloating, stomach issues, fluid retention, and increased triglyceride levels.9

Weight gain foods

To consume 3,000 calories a day, you will be looking at around 400 grams of carbs, around 100 grams of fat, and 75 to 263 grams of protein per day.

It is important to try to get most of this food from non-processed foods.

While processed foods will see you hit your calorie number quicker, they contain less nutrients.

So try to eat fish, chicken, turkey, eggs, plant-based proteins like tofu, whole grains like oats, rice, and quinoa, dairy products, nuts, fruits such as avocados and bananas, and a wide range of vegetables.10

Last Updated: 26th October 2020