For some, gaining weight by way of muscle growth is every bit as difficult as losing weight can be. For starters, just as you must be at a caloric deficit in order to lose weight, you must be at a caloric surplus in order to gain weight. Sounds easy, right? However, putting on muscle weight takes a careful balance of quality nutrition and physical exercise.
While high-protein foods play a great role in helping you gain muscle, fats and carbohydrates are also important sources of energy necessary for the higher intensity exercises required for muscle strength. We’ve created a handy guide for things to be eating to help you gain muscle weight in a healthy way.
Eat Unprocessed Foods
Unprocessed foods are those that are as close to their natural state as possible upon consumption. For example, things like fresh produce, fresh meats and fish, and whole grains are all unprocessed food sources that look just as they did when harvested for consumption. The further a food looks from its natural state, the more processed it generally is. A fresh apple is clearly unprocessed, whereas apple flavored jelly is a highly processed product that contains some small amount of apple or none at all. Unprocessed foods allow you much better control over the calories that go into your body so you can more effectively gain muscle mass.
Unprocessed foods that are great for gaining muscle:
- Fresh meat
- Frozen meals
- Frozen pizza
- Non whole-grain cereals
- Fruit bars
The goal should be to have the majority of your caloric intake come from un (or minimally) processed sources. Look for limited ingredient lists and descriptions that include phrases like “whole grain” as opposed to “multi-grain” which simply means several highly processed grains (8 Fit).
Eat Protein at Each Meal
If you exercise regularly, protein is important for muscle gain. Without enough protein, it will be hard for you to enjoy fast recovery and proper progress. Additionally, protein aids in fat loss and helps to keep you feeling fuller for longer after meals.
Fortunately, you don't a lot of protein to gain muscle mass. Your body needs just 0.8g of protein per kg of body weight (0.36g per pound) any given day to gain muscle tissue (Healthline).
Here are some great protein choices to include in any meal:
- Dairy: Whey, yogurt, quark, cottage cheese, cheese, milk
- Fish: mackerel, sardines, salmon, tuna, etc
- Poultry: Duck, turkey, chicken
- Red meat: buffalo, deer, lamb, pork, beef, etc
Increase Your Carbohydrate Intake
Though this may sound counterintuitive, your body needs the rich energy supplies of carbohydrates to perform exercises for gaining muscle. Just 100g of rice or pasta offers about 400kcal. The trick is to stick to quality carbohydrates like the ones we’ve listed below (Live Strong):
Eat Good Fats
Because you’re going to lift heavy weights several times a week and eat unprocessed foods most of the time, a little bit of cholesterol and saturated fat won't be bad for your heart. Therefore, it's perfectly ok for you to opt for full-fat yogurt, whole eggs, and real butter so long as you do not eat these things in excess.
You can also consume omega-3 fatty acid rich foods, such as fatty fish like sardines, mackerel, tuna, and salmon to name a few (healthline).
Exercising can cause dehydration. Dehydrated muscles are poor performers when it comes to weight training and have a tendency to get and stay sore. Staying properly hydrated will ensure that your muscles and joints are prepared for workouts.
Generally, you should aim for drinking about half your weight in ounces of water per day. Minimally, drink water anytime you feel thirsty or hungry. On your workout days, be sure to increase your water intake both during your workout and in the hours following (8 Fit).