Effective Weight and Muscle Gain – Nutritional Guide

“Originally this post was addressed to hardgainers only i.e. people who are struggling with gaining weight in general but then I thought who wants to gain weight WITHOUT building muscle mass? So thus I put together a complete nutritional guide for aspiring and dedicated bodybuilders.

There’s also beginner guides on how to build muscle mass and proper beginner workouts, where you’ll find everything you need to know about exercises, workouts, training and much more. Make sure you check it out”

When looking through forums you often read posts like “I can eat anything without gaining weight”, “How to gain weight” or “My metabolism is so fast which makes gaining weight impossible”, probably as often as posts on weight loss. Persons fitting the last category often read stuff like that and wonder why they’re not “blessed” with a fast metabolism. Truth is no healthy person “suffers” from such a fast metabolism that makes weight gain impossible. These people just eat too little to gain weight even though they eat all that junk stuff. It’s not healthy at all but you won’t get fat by eating under your caloric needs even if it’s junk. I know lots of persons who thought they’d never gain weight but after following these guidelines they got bigger, more muscular and stronger. Of course they gained a bit of body fat but if you’re a skinny 165 lbs at 6” a little fat won’t hurt at all.

1 Nutrition to Make Those Muscles Grow

Probably the most neglected factor by beginners because they just don’t know what to eat to support muscle growth. Although nutrition isn’t as important as lots of people claim, it’s crucial to get enough calories because you’ll only gain weight i.e. muscle mass when being in a caloric surplus. Protein intake should always be quite high while calories are cycled through carbs and fat. This means you increase your carbs on workout days because you’ll burn lots of calories while working out and on free days you decrease carbs while increasing fats slightly to meet your caloric needs.

Stick to “clean food” most of the time and avoid junk crap like donuts, pies, cookies, chocolate, sugared drinks, alcohol, ice cream, fried food and fast food etc.

Protein: The most important macronutrient and necessary in every diet regardless if your focus is on losing fat or building muscle. Make sure your protein intake is high enough to support your muscles with amino acids needed for muscle recovery. Protein is the bodies construction material for new cells, muscle tissue etc. so you know about the importance of protein in your diet. Recommended protein intake is about 1 – 1.5g per pound of lean body weight. Stick to protein from animal sources like meat, eggs, cottage cheese, chicken breast, protein powder etc. as these are of higher quality than vegetable protein. Soy is a high quality vegetable protein source compared with other vegetables.

Carbohydrates: Carbs are the bodies’ main energy source and are stored in muscles and liver as glycogen. Glycogen is the primary energy source for weight training and other high intensity exercises and if you don’t replenish them your workouts will suffer because you lack of energy. Depending on your body type you have to be careful with carbs because you’ll easily gain fat but if you’re a hardgainer you shouldn’t worry about this. People who tend to gain fat quickly should consume most of their carbs around workout time.

Fat: Fats, saturated as well as unsaturated, are extremely important because they are responsible for maintaining and regulating hormones like testosterone, insulin sensitivity, increasing energy levels and fat burning processes etc. Fish oil (capsules), flax seed oil, almonds, olive oil and walnuts are popular healthy fat sources. Fish oil, flax oil and walnuts contain high amounts of omega 3 fatty acids which have amazing benefits on our cardiovascular system. Fat from red meat won’t hurt at all as saturated fat has lots of benefits like increasing testosterone levels, vitamins and more. They also help your tissue retain omega 3 and convert it to the body’s usable form DHA more efficient. Just make sure your fat intake is balanced and use different fat sources. Also you don’t have to worry about egg yolks because its cholesterol won’t influence your body’s cholesterol levels, so it’s no problem at all to have several yolks a day. Saturated fats are important as well and don’t affect your health in a negative way since trans fats are the reason for heart diseases.

Stay Hydrated: Drink lots of water and calorie free drinks like green tea, water and diet drinks though I recommend drinking mostly water and green tea. Avoid sugared drinks and teas except it’s artificial sweetener. Our bodies are made of 70% water and even being slightly dehydrated will cause lack of energy which means your workouts will suffer. Make sure to drink about 1 liter per 45 pound (20kg) of body weight or 1 gallon per 165 pound of body weight. For every hour of intense training add liter water. Just by the way, a 3% loss of water can result in a 10 – 15% drop in strength and performance.

Vegetables and Fruits: Make sure to include vegetables and fruits into your daily nutrition for the simple fact that vegetables and fruits are full of important vitamins, minerals and fiber. I personally like apples, grapefruits, bananas, kiwi fruits, strawberries and other kinds of berries the most because they are lower in carbs than most other fruits, well except for the banana. For vegetables I like to eat of broccoli, cauliflower, green peas, carrots, tomatoes and mixed salad. Spinach is also a great vegetable source but I don’t like it very much. Although I’ve started eating vegetables first in summer 2010 because I never liked it very much, I’ve never felt like I’m lacking of vitamins or something like that.

Recommended Nutrient Intake:

–       Protein 1 – 1.5g per pound of body weight

–       Carbs 2 – 3g per pound of body weight

–       Fat 0.5 – 0.7g per pound of body weight

These are basic recommendations that have been proved over and over for millions of bodybuilders all over the world. For a 70kg (150 lbs) individual this would be about 200g protein, 350g carbs, 90g fat and a total of roughly 3000 calories.

Excellent Food Choices Are:

  • Carbs: Oats, rice, pasta, grits, potatoes (e.g. homemade French fries), bread and bagels. Just avoid processed junk food which is full of simple sugars and fat. Vegetables and fruits also contain carbs but except for some fruits, only a little amount which can be neglected. Honey and jam are fine when spread on bread after working out and taste great. I highly recommend oats every day because they’re full of vitamins and minerals.
  • Protein: Lean red meat, turkey breast, chicken breast, lean cold cuts and ham, protein powder, low fat (cottage) cheese, eggs, milk, tuna, salmon and other fish as well. Seafood is also fine.
  • Fat: Omega 3 (capsules), flax seeds, flax oil, walnuts, almonds, olive oil, fish (e.g. salmon) and are convenient unsaturated fat sources. Saturated fat like in yolks (2 – 3 a day), meat, butter, coconut oil and whole milk etc. is also important for several reasons so make sure to include it into your daily diet.

2. Eat Every 3-4 Hours

Eating every 3 hours (3 big meals, 2 – 3 small meals a day) makes sure you eat more often which means more calories. Most people eat 2 – 3 times a day, no wonder they’re not gaining weight. Start with a big breakfast because skipping breakfast is one of the worst things you can do if you want to gain weight. Prepare your meals in advance to make sure you don’t forget to eat. When going to school or work just take your food with you in a food container. There are lots of meals you can prepare in advance and nowadays most schools and companies offer a microwave to warm up your food. Contrary to popular belief eating smaller meals more often does NOT increase metabolism.

–       Breakfast: Eating breakfast makes sure you get in calories from the beginning of the day and you’re used to eat over the day. You’ll find it much easier to eat more during the day by eating a complete breakfast rich in nutrients and calories.

–       Snacks: Eat snacks high in calories during the day for example almonds and walnuts which include lots of healthy fats. Adding some cheese or a protein shake makes sure you get your protein. Self made weight gainer shakes are also a great way to increase calories. Oh yeah, dry fruits are another nice way to up your calorie intake. Or what about a nice sandwich? Be creative but stick to the rules (no junk). By the way, a toast with some butter and honey isn’t considered junk as long as it fits in your diet and you don’t overdo it.

–       Post-Workout-Nutrition: After an intense workout your body your muscles need nutrients for optimal recovery. Fast carbs and protein are absolutely necessary for proper muscle recovery. An optimal post-workout-nutrition would be a shake that includes dextrose or maltodextrin, whey protein, glutamine and bcaa. Creatine is optional for people who hit a plateau and have a hard time progressing. About 1 – 1.5 hours later a solid meal made of complex carbs, protein and some healthy fats is appropriate.

–       Dinner: I recommend having your last meal 2-3 hours before going to bed because your insulin level decreases; also our body doesn’t need much nutrients during sleep as it takes care of recovery by using nutrients we’ve eaten over the day. Your last meal should be low in carbs (except you work out in the late evening), high in protein and like usual moderate in fats.

3. Weight Lifting

You want to get muscular and not fat, right? So therefore you should work out 3 – 4 times a week to gain mostly muscles instead of a big belly. Depending if you’re just starting to work out or you’ve been working out for some time you should have a suited training schedule to build muscle mass.

–       Free weights: Free weights are great because they force your body to use more assisting muscle groups and allow for a more natural movement than machines. Technique is always more important than weight but if you start light with a proper technique you’ll soon be able to lift a lot heavier with good form.

–       Compound movements: Make sure you do squats, barbell rows, chin ups, bench press, dips and overhead press on a regular basis, especially if you’re a beginner because these exercises are responsible for a solid muscular basis.

–       Recovery: Muscles grow when resting not when working out so don’t hit the gym every day if you want muscle gains. Enough sleep is also quite important but varies from person to person but you should get at least 6-8 hours of sleep a night. There are also supplements like glutamine which aids recovery.

4. Supplements

I’m pretty sure you’ve seen those commercials for muscle building and fat loss products which make ridiculous claims like “Gain 20 pounds of lean muscle mass in 8 weeks” and so on. Well, even though those supplements might work you’ll never be able to get the “promised” results and most of such supplements are pretty expensive. Fortunately there are some “classic supplements” proven to work for anyone, beginner or advanced. But keep in mind that supplements are no magic products; they are just nutritional supplements which can help you achieve results faster if your diet and training are in order. You still have to eat right and train hard to get desired results. More information in this post supplements for hardgainers.

Protein Powder: The most popular supplement is with no doubt protein powder as it’s an easy and comfortable way to increase your daily protein intake. There are hundreds of different protein products so don’t get confused if you don’t know which one is right f or you. Just go with a whey protein and you’ll be fine. There are also protein blends available consisting of different protein components like whey, casein and egg. While whey protein is best used after workout, a protein blend is a fine way to increase protein intake during the day.

Glutamine: Glutamine is the most common amino acid in the body and if your body is stressed by intense workouts then you’ll benefit from supplementing glutamine because it improves recovery and strengthens the immune system. It also has anti-catabolic effects on your muscles which is quite important when dieting.

BCAA: Branched chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) are three essential amino acids you have to take in through nutrition or supplements. BCAA are metabolized directly in the muscle so they’re used preferably pre, during and post-workout to improve recovery while creating an anabolic environment. You won’t induce protein synthesis with whole foods due to reasons like digestion time etc. BCAA will help you keeping up your strength and energy so you’ll be able to train with high intensity. I use BCAA pre and post workout and I also recognized a bigger muscle pump due to more blood flow which supports recovery after working out.

5. Calorie Tracking

Not gaining weight is always a matter of calories so start tracking your daily calorie intake. You’ll need to know how many calories and nutrients your food has, get a calorie counter book to quickly look up calories and nutrients of different foods. There’s also a free online calorie counter but I’d recommend a book since it’s more convenient and comprehensive. Weigh your food on a food scale and then just do the math. Write down your daily total calories and nutrients for a week and check if you gained, lost or maintained body weight.

Another way of tracking your calories is by using a software called Fitday, I think it’s the best way to keep track of your calorie intake and progress because you can monitor everything and don’t have to write it down by hand. Multiply your bodyweight in lbs x 20 (in kg x 40) to get a rough estimate of how many calories you need to gain weight. A 150 lbs person doing intense weight training would have to eat about 3000 calories to gain weight quick. Working a physical demanding job and you’ll need even more calories.

  • Caloric value: Fat 9 kcal/g; protein 4 kcal/g; carbs 4 kcal/g
  • 3000 kcal example: 200g protein (800 kcal), 350g carbs (1400 kcal), 90g fat (810 kcal)
  • Calories from sauces and dips have to be considered too

6. Track Your Progress

It’s important to keep track of your progressions because it shows you what’s happening with your body. Take pictures once a month and weigh yourself once in a week at the same time, preferable after waking up and morning toilette. A mirror isn’t really useful as you see yourself every day in a mirror. You’re gaining weight? Great, never change a running system. Not gaining? Increase your daily calorie intake by 300 kcal. Also keep a log of your training progress to see what weight you lifted in your last workout, how many reps etc. Try to beat your personal best but never sacrifice form for weight.

7. Quick Tips for Successful Weight Gain

  • The more weight i.e. muscle mass you gain the more calories you need
  • Liquid meals (self made weight gainer shakes) are easier and quicker to consume than solid meals
  • Do cardio about 30-45 minutes a week (2-3 times after working out)
  • Beware of gaining too much body fat, weight gains of 1-2 pounds a week are common if you’ve just started working out
  • Always have a snack on hand like some mixed nuts
  • Keep a positive mental attitude and stay motivated

4 Responses to Effective Weight and Muscle Gain – Nutritional Guide

  • Aubrey de guzman says:

    this article is very useful.. I’d like to ask a diet which suits my schedule.. i work at night.. and i dont normally eat breakfast.. i always have brunch.. so in a day i have 2 meals only.. please help me.. i want to gain weight.. im only 42 kls, 5’2″ tall. i checked my BMI and im underweight, according to the book i read i must weigh atleast 50kls.. i badly need your help.. thanks

  • Phil says:

    Hi Aubrey,

    if you want to gain weight you have to eat more calories than you consume. It’s really that simple. Having only 2 meals a day obviously puts you in a caloric deficit so you need to make bigger meals and eat more often. Working at night is no excuse since you can prepare meals in advance and take it with you. Have a meal after waking up, before going to work, at work and after work and you already have 4 meals ramping up your calorie intake.

    Cheers Phil

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