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Gaining Weight the Right Way


QUESTION:

I am trying to gain weight.  Can you give me some tips on how to do this the best way?  I want to gain muscle, not fat.

ANSWER:

The best way to ensure that you are gaining lean muscle mass and not fat is to incorporate regular strength training into your fitness routine, while ensuring that your caloric and protein intake are sufficient.  As in weight loss, the same holds true for weight gain — slow is best!  Aim for about one-half pound weight gain a week.

Dietary Intake

You will need to increase your caloric intake by 250-500 calories per day, possibly even more depending on how much you are currently exercising.  If adding a strength-training component to your routine is a significant increase in your daily caloric expenditure, aim for about a 500 kcal per day increase and adjust as necessary, keeping in mind the half-pound a week goal.  If you are already strength training, then start with the 250 calorie per day increase and adjust as necessary.

Protein intake in the typical American diet is usually quite adequate and most individuals actually consume more than is necessary.  The majority of foods have at least some protein and this all adds up by the end of the day.  Protein requirements for strength training athletes are 1.6-1.7 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight.  This amount of protein can usually be met through diet alone and there is no need to consume expensive protein shakes or amino acid supplements.  However, your overall caloric intake must be adequate or your body will burn protein calories for fuel instead of using them to build muscle, so make sure that your total energy needs are being met.  Refer to the tables below for protein need and food examples.

Body Weight
(Kilograms)
Body Weight
(Pounds)
Daily Protein
Needs (Grams)
50 110 83
55 121 90
60 132 99
65 143 107
70 154 115
75 165 124

Protein needs for strength training athletes (1.6-1.7 g/kg)

Food Item Protein (Grams)
Fish, 4 oz 28
Roast Beef, 3 oz 21
Tofu ~ Raw, ½ cup 20
Turkey, 2 oz 14
Oat Bran Bagel, 3.5 oz 11
Dry Milk Powder, ¼ cup †† 11
Oatmeal, 1.5 cups 9
Pinto Beans ~ Canned, 6 oz 8
Milk ~ 1%, 8 oz 8
2 Large Egg Whites 7
Cheddar Cheese, 1 oz 7
Roasted Almonds, 1 oz 7

††
Adding dry milk powder is an excellent way to increase the protein content of fruit smoothies, shakes or baked goods.


Strength Training

Incorporate strength training into your regimen, targeting each major muscle group 2-3 times per week.  For instance, if you have a routine that trains all muscle groups in one workout, perform this 2-3 times per week.  If you prefer a split routine in which you train upper body one day and lower body the next day, you will train 4 or 6 days per week.  There is not sufficient research to claim that one is better than the other, it's simply a personal preference.  Always allow at least one day's rest in between working a particular muscle group.  There is some controversy concerning the optimum number of repetitions and sets to increase hypertrophy (i.e., muscle building).  A conservative assessment of the research reveals that 8-10 repetitions of 1-2 sets in each targeted area is more than adequate to induce muscle hypertrophy.  Use a resistance that will enable you to perform each exercise to volitional fatigue (i.e., it should be difficult to complete that 8-10th repetition) while maintaining good form.

You may want to have your body composition measured and monitor this over time to ensure that you are gaining lean body mass.  Know that some methods of body composition assessment are better than others, and be aware that all have a margin of error.  Good luck!

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Our expert, Dr. Sharon E. Griffin, holds a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in the areas of exercise science/physiology.  She also holds a second M.S. degree in Nutrition and is a licensed nutritionist and an ACSM certified health and fitness instructor.

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