Having trouble gaining some muscle mass?
Well, you’re not alone. Type in “how to gain muscle” in Google and you’re going to get several million results. Fortunately, there are some very simple strategies that you can start today in order to get this process moving.
But first, I have to tell you that this is almost always a result of people just simply not eating enough. We have known within 4+ decades of research that calories regulate bodyweight, period.
Not protein supplements, not creatine, not pre-workouts, not weight training, not anything else.
Your personal calories in (via food and drink) vs. calories out (via metabolic processes and physical energy expenditure) equation at the end of the day determines whether you are going to maintain, lose, or gain weight. Knowing this, our job is to try and hack the body into allowing you to accept storing more calories per day so that you can put those calories to storage which are going to add up as weight on the scale.
Often times it’s simply a matter of utilizing different strategies towards weight gain that are going to cope with people’s appetite. In many cases baseball players will say “I eat SO MUCH food and I just can’t gain weight.”
Then when you do the real calculations on their daily intake, it’s not much food (hence why their scale weight never increases) and it’s more of a perception of a large intake, in that, they do truly feel “full”, but they haven’t eaten that many calories.
This is the heart and soul of how we get these hard gainers to throw some mass on, we need to find a way to work with their appetite and utilize strategies that will allow them to take in more calories than they currently are without there being a drastic change in overall lifestyle.
Before moving on to the strategies, I want to make the quick note that in order to maintain speed, agility, quickness, and overall athletic ability; you do not want to put on a drastic amount of weight in a short time frame.
Large weight fluctuations can cause two main problems:
1. Anytime you gain a large amount of weight in a short timeframe it is highly likely your ratio of fat gain to muscle gain is skewed a little too far in proportion to fat gain. Muscle can only grow so fast, even in the most genetically gifted athletes. It’s important to understand that weight on the scale doesn’t mean muscle mass gain, it simply means weight on the scale. Stay smart and ensure the weight you are gaining is quality weight. You can do this with weekly or monthly body fat percentage measurements, these will keep you in check and allow you to course correct if you’re gaining too much body fat.
2. Anytime you can a large amount of weight in a short timeframe you can throw off your movement mechanics. If you have been 160lbs for 3 years and then you bulk up to 180lbs over the course of a couple months, the odds are high that your technical movement ability and efficiency will have dramatically changed. It takes time to get used to a new body, but I have found with experience that if you keep the rate of weight gain modest that your technical ability grows along with the process, instead of being surprised at the massive shift.
Take heed with these warnings and get your weight/body fat percentage checked regularly, although, a safe recommendation (provided you’re training properly on a baseball-specific training program) for athletes would be in the 0.5-1lb gained per week ballpark. If you’re in that zone, you’re doing a good job and you’re not going too fast.
The first strategy you can use to put some quality mass on is to actively incorporate what is known as “calorically dense” food options. Put very simply, this is just the amount of calories you get per square unit of food. You’re measuring a food’s calorie content relative to its size and/or volume.
For example, a great weight gaining food is raw nuts as a ¼ cup of raw nuts (normal size handful) yields over 150 calories, but, a ¼ cup of beets is only 15 calories. So in essence, you’re getting literally 15X as many weight gaining nutrients in your body per squat unit of volume with the nuts then you are the beets. This, repeated throughout the day each and every day will result in a much bigger weight gaining outcome over time.
Some of my favorite calorically dense foods to work within my athlete’s meal plan design are:
• Extra virgin olive oil
• Organic butter
• Raw nuts and seeds
• Natural nut butter
• Fatty meats
• Dried fruit
• Whole eggs
Trying to have these in some form in every meal of your day will go a long way to throwing some muscle on.
The water content of food is very similar to the above-mentioned caloric density rule, but, seen through a different light. In that, avoiding very high water volume foods are ideal when trying to gain weight.
When the stomach is full, there are stretch mechanisms in place on the walls of the stomach that send the signal of satiety (feelings of fullness) to the brain so that you stop eating. The stretch effect is seen much sooner in meals that contain plenty of water than in meals that do not.
Because they take up a lot of room in the stomach without providing any calories.
For example, 4oz of watermelon only has 28 calories. That’s a lot of food for almost no calories. Keeping away from high water volume foods will keep you feeling less-full throughout the day which will naturally allow you to eat more calorically dense foods which will result in weight gain.
Some high-water volume foods include:
Avoiding these foods in large amounts in your daily intake will play a great role in your long-term adherence towards eating more than you can expend each and every day.
There is such a thing known in recent science as the food reward hypothesis, in that, if you eat a food you perceive to be as delicious that your appetite centers of the brain will be less likely to send satiety signals throughout the body causing you to eat less.
Essentially, if it’s delicious than you can eat more of it.
A problem I see with lots of athletes is they believe that for whatever reason that they have to eat things they don’t enjoy.
No, you don’t “need” tuna to hit your protein goals, you don’t “need” chicken breast, and you also don’t “need” protein powder. If any of these things don’t agree with your pallet, then don’t use them.
Utilizing foods that you love are going to not only be more likely to contain more calories, but they will also allow you to eat more of that food.
For example, many athletes believe they need to eat chicken breast and brown rice. Sure this is a good meal, but it’s really not that high in calories.
How about you switch out your chicken breast and brown rice for a steak with potatoes and butter on the potatoes?
Both meals contain excellent sources of protein and carbohydrates, but, the second meal sounds a whole lot more delicious and also contains way more “bang for your buck” calories due to the density.
This is the food reward hypothesis, use it to your advantage. You’re not stuck within the walls of traditional bodybuilding food options.
I’m really not a fan of store bought weight gainers. Most of them contain poor quality sources of protein, way too much sugar, and not nearly the amount of vitamins and minerals that you would get from just eating whole foods.
You have to eat solid food to be solid. There is no way around this.
How many guys do you know that buy weight gainers and never end up gaining weight or getting jacked? My guess is that you know quite a few. These products just don’t get the job done, I never incorporate them into my coaching practice.
If you want to make a gainer, make it yourself. Use whole foods to make your own gainer so that you can get the convenience of a store-bought gainer, but, use actual food to make it. Best of both worlds. Here’s my favorite homemade weight gainer:
Vanilla Peanut Butter Weight Gainer:
1 heaping tablespoon ground flax
1 cup cottage cheese
2 tablespoons organic peanut butter
3 tablespoons oats
1 scoop Vanilla whey isolate
1 pinch of cinnamon
5-6 ice cubes
Also feel free to throw 5g of creatine monohydrate in there to kick the process into another gear.
Last but not least, your total weekly training volume. Training volume is defined simply as the total amount of sets, reps, and weight you move around each and every single week in your training programming.
In many cases, more is not better. ESPECIALLY for you hard gainers out there. Hard gainers have a tough time holding on to their calories to gain weight, so it makes much more sense to burn fewer calories in the gym so that you can use the food you are eating to add weight to your body, and not burn them in the gym.
Many guys out there are training 5-6 days per week and not getting anywhere in their weight gaining journey.
Dial this back to 3-4 days per week and allow your body the time it needs to recover, and allow your body those rest days of anabolism so you can use those days to get jacked and not to burn everything that you’re eating.