“Why can’t I gain any weight?”
A question I receive regularly and I would like to try to help everyone out with this article. I’m going to go over some reasons why you aren’t gaining weight, how to gain some weight, helpful supplementation, training, and conditioning you will need to obtain your goals.
Why You Aren’t Gaining Weight
Check out some of the reasons why you might not be gaining any weight. I can almost promise you that everyone does at least one of the reasons listed below.
Eating Too Clean
Eating too clean can be detrimental to your weight gain progress for many reasons including cost and simply how much food you have to consume. To me, eating clean is having freshly prepared meats and vegetables, healthy grains and carbs, and just generally foods you prepare from real ingredients. Chicken McNuggets don’t fall into this category.
How is eating healthy foods a bad thing when I state to do so in other articles? 1 pound of boneless skinless chicken breast is about 500 calories. A pound of broccoli is something like 160 calories. Everybody’s calorie needs are different but if you eat only chicken and broccoli and try to hit 2500 calories, you are going to have to eat 4 pounds of chicken and 2.5 pounds of broccoli a day. Not only is that expensive but your diet lacks variety and you need more in your diet than just chicken and broccoli.The point I am trying to make here is if you eat only lean meats and fresh vegetables, you are going to have a hard time hitting your calorie and macro needs without being miserably full. Try eating 3 pounds of chicken and 3 pounds of broccoli in a day and tell me how you feel. It’s terrible and I’m speaking from experience here. Keep 85% of your diet healthy foods and indulge in the other 15% and you will be a much happier individual.
Not Eating as Much as You Think
So you don’t eat super strict clean foods and you have your pizza and ice cream; this is okay, keep it up. You seem to eat a lot of food but don’t understand why you aren’t gaining weight. I hate to break it to you, but you aren’t eating as much as you think you are.
Thinking you “eat like a horse” and finding out you only eat 2400 calories a day is awfully discouraging when you find out you need at least 3000 or more if you really want to gain some mass. Write down everything you eat for 4 weeks, everything that enters your mouth you need to log and be precise about it, every ounce of meat and every tablespoon of butter. You are going to find out that you probably aren’t eating as many calories as you may think.
Until you write down everything you eat every single day for 4 weeks straight and don’t skip writing anything, I don’t want to hear about how you are eating so much but still can’t gain weight. I’m just as guilty as everyone here.
Not Consistent with Training OR Food
Consistency is key, if you aren’t being consistent with how you train and what you eat, don’t be surprised when the progress doesn’t come. You can run a crappy program and if you are consistent and strive to progress daily on the program, you will be leaps and bounds ahead of someone using a “perfect program” and doesn’t make it to the gym consistently.
It’s very important to log everything you do and to make everything you do habit. This means setting your alarm every day and doing what you need to do in order to succeed. Too many excuses get thrown around by people who don’t want their goals enough. If you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way.
The thing to take from this section is you need to be consistent with what you do. You can make better progress training 2 days a week consistently instead of trying to go for 4-5 days a week and missing most of your workouts because of your schedule. Know your schedule and work around it.
Too Much Activity/Cardio for Food You Eat
Activity and movement is an important part of a healthy lifestyle so don’t read this and get lazy on me. Be aware of the fact that everything you do burns calories. I’ve had some cases where someone who took the time to look up approximately how many calories it would take to maintain their bodyweight and started eating excess calories to start gaining weight. To their surprise, they didn’t gain any weight and actually started to lose weight.
There are a couple of parts to this equation missing, one is that unless you go to a doctor you will never know exactly how many calories your body needs to maintain weight, and two you need to use the correct equation to get an idea of the amount of calories you burn. A lot of this is trial and error and isn’t exactly scientific, but there is some points you have to be aware about.
Your activity level will determine how many calories your body burns throughout the day. Think about this, how many calories would someone need to maintain their weight if they sit and work at a desk all day compared to a warehouse worker that is on their feet all day moving heavy boxes? Be aware of your activity level and you will be able to get closer to the amount of calories you need to maintain weight.
This is why consistency is key and being able to test to see what works and what doesn’t. The lesson from this is to be aware of how many calories you really burn during the day when you are planning your bulking regimen.
Scared of Getting Fat
Being scared of getting fat is a concern I hear a lot of people talk about and if you do not tackle this fear head on, you may never get to the point you want to reach. If you have been in somewhat decent shape your whole life, stay moderately active, and go to the gym regularly to train then I will tell you that it is harder to get fat than you think. In order to get to the point of being so fat that you will have to deal with health concerns takes a lot of reckless eating and being somewhat lazy.
Before I go on, I’m fat and have problems losing weight so this is in no way bashing anyone that’s fat or skinny. Your metabolism doesn’t just automatically store fat once you start eating more calories than you burn during the day. In order for you to build muscle you need to eat excess calories so your body has something extra to build with. Your body can repair itself when you eat maintenance calories, but in order to start building and getting bigger you must eat more calories than you burn.
When bulking, you are going to gain some fat but it won’t make you have a “beer belly” and unable to tie your shoes. Remember the more recklessly you bulk the more weight you will gain. This means you can get pretty big and strong eating 800+ calories a day, but you’re going to pack the fat on quite fast. A slow and steady bulk is best to keep the fat gain to a minimum.
How To Gain Weight
Okay, I went over some of the more common reasons why many have a hard time gaining weight and now it’s time to go over some fun subjects like eating and the types of food to eat.
Log All Food Intake
Write down everything you eat and make sure you’re eating as much as you need to. There are plenty of phone apps and good old-fashioned paper to write down everything you eat. Find what you will use consistently and stick with it, eventually it becomes habit.
Assess Caloric Needs
Accurately calculating your caloric needs is extremely important. Using the Harris Benedict Equation seems to be a good equation to use that actually takes into account activity level. If you have any suggestions for other equations, please leave them in the comments below. Once you get your caloric needs calculated, you have a good start point. Consistently eat the calories for 2 weeks and record what the scale says. If you maintain weight then you know you found your sweet spot. If you gained or lost weight after two weeks, calculate how many calories you’ve had too many of or not enough over those two weeks.
Example: If you lost 2 pounds over two weeks, you’ve burned an extra 7000 calories. This means that over 14 days you’ve had 500 fewer calories than you need to maintain the weight. Now you have the next point in your experiment to work with. The point here is that you will need to experiment and figure out how your body responds. Not everyone that is your height, your weight, your age, and your activity level will burn the same amount of calories. This isn’t rocket science but it does take some effort.
I lost count of how many times I’ve said to be consistent, but you need to be able to do what you need to do day in and day out every day in order to achieve your goals.
As I type this section, my mouth is watering and I’m fighting not going and killing some more food.
Foods to Eat
If you already eat pretty clean, adding calorie dense foods to your diet such as fats and heavy creams will be beneficial to your ability to gain weight. Meats that aren’t so lean such as steaks, ground beef, and bacon need to be a staple in your diet.
Carbohydrates are going to be your best friend while you are trying to gain weight. White rice, brown rice, oatmeal, cereal, and breads are all going to need to be added to your diet. This is going to help you up the calories and will also help you have more energy and some added performance in the gym.
Fats such as cheese, dairy, and oils like butter, coconut oil and olive oil will be something you should use in your diets. These are all very healthy and will make foods taste so much better.
Easy Ways to Add Calories
- Eat fatty meats like ground beef, bacon, pork, etc.
- Don’t be afraid to have some fried chicken or some chicken fried steak.
- Pasta is such an easy way to get a lot of calories
- Sugars such as candy and soda
- Heavy Cream
- Sour Cream
- Olive Oil
- Coconut Oil
Not All Foods Are Created Equal
All of the foods I mention in this section is to give you some ideas on food choices that will help support you in a bigger, stronger, healthier you. I am a fan of indulging in foods you like, but you also need to eat nutritious foods and work hard to make sure your diet is balanced and full of nutritious foods.
With that in mind, I want to stress that any foods you do eat to add calories should be done with control and purpose. There is no need to add in too many calorie dense foods in your diet and forget that you need to eat nutritious foods to build muscle. A little avocado or cheese can go a long way in getting some easy extra calories into your diet.
Save money by buying in bulk! Buying meats, eggs, and vegetables in bulk will help you on your grocery bill and will make your calories per dollar go up. Frozen veggies are great and an economical way to get vegetables in your diet.
If you are at the store, check frequently in the meat section for short-sale meats. There is nothing wrong with this meat, it just needs to be sold soon or they will have to discard it. Buying meat like this can give 50%-75% or more off on meat you can cook that day.
Watch for sales and coupons! I am not a coupon clipper, but if you pay attention to ads of what is on sale, you usually can save a good chunk of money by buying salmon this week instead of tilapia. If you decide to eat fast food, a great way to give you more bang for your buck is to order off of the dollar menu.
I don’t believe at all that supplements are needed in order to gain weight but there are some supplements I believe that could assist in your journey.
Weight gainer shakes are usually a high sugar, high calorie protein shake that literally is just there to help you put on mass. It’s all about liquid calories here. Buyer beware, they can taste horrible and can add too many calories way too fast to your diet.
Regular protein shakes are very healthy for you because you get some easy digesting protein, amino acids, sometimes fat and carbs, and is very easy to get these calories down. All proteins are not created equal so check the labels and do your research to make sure you get the kind that fit the bill of what you’re trying to do.
Protein bars are a great source of protein. They usually have a lot of carbs and sugars in them which can be great for energy. Most bars don’t taste horrible, and they are a healthy snack compared to a burrito from Taco Bell. A lot of protein bars sit heavy with me, so try many different kinds of you are wanting to have an easy snack.
A few other supplements worth having around would be creatine, BCAAs, and Pre-Workouts.
Creatine is a tried and true supplement proven to increase energy and stamina during workouts, help recovery, and give a slight performance enhancement. I’ve used a few different types of creatine and I would recommend any creatine monohydrate.
BCAAs are branch chain amino acids. These are basically essential and non-essential amino acids that help retain muscle mass during the day and help promote a healthy lifestyle. Honestly I mostly drink these because they taste great. Try some different brands and see how you like them. They have their purpose and I believe they are a great supplement to invest in.
Pre-Workouts are simply a supplement that helps kick you in the pants for a workout. Some tout they give you more of a pump, more energy and focus, and more strength during your sessions. There are many different kinds out there and if you decide to give them a try, see if you can score some free samples from your supplement shop to find one you like without spending your life savings.
I have a supplement review section of my site that I give unbiased, unpaid supplement reviews. If I ever have any paid supplement reviews, I will tell you up front it is a paid review. I’ve tried quite a few different supplements and brands so far and I just want to share with you my findings. If you’ve ever looked online or walked into a Vitamin Shoppe you see they aren’t cheap.
If I can save you the mistakes that I made and keep you from purchasing bogus products, I will. In all honesty, buying nutritious food is worth spending your money on than the latest “N.O. Boosting, Muscle Bursting” formula out there, keep that in mind.
A big part of this program is to get you training hard so you can build some serious strength and muscle. There are many different types of workouts on my site, and I would recommend doing what works best for you.
Some of my most popular workouts are:
- 2 Day Workouts
- 3 Day Workouts
- 4 Day Workouts
- 5 Day Workouts
- Misc Day Workouts
For these routines, pick one that seems interesting and fits into your schedule. Be realistic, if you know you can only get 2 days a week to consistently workout, don’t try to do the 5 day routine. You can get a lot of gains and hit your goals working out 2 days a week compared to 5.
While you are doing these routines, check out on the right side of the website for my menu labeled Build a Bigger Series. These are links to my build a bigger series that will give you tips and cues to build a bigger bench, squat, deadlift, barbell row, and military press.
Conditioning and Mobility
Conditioning and mobility are two things you should never go without. Conditioning is going to be your friend as you gain weight and increase your work capacity.
What good is all of this strength and muscle if you get severely winded going up a flight of stairs? What good is being super strong if you have a hard time getting set up in the deadlift because you are as flexible as a cement pillar?
Find some conditioning work that is fun like sports, walking, jogging, circuit training, or HIIT training. If you find something you enjoy doing you are going to be able to progress much faster than if you force yourself to run on a treadmill.
Stretching and mobility can help fix bad posture, help fix muscle imbalances, and make simple things like tying your shoes easier. Strength athletes are susceptible to poor flexibility and lack mobility in places such as their ankles, shoulders, and hips. Mobility work can help you achieve better performance, less pain, and can help prevent injuries.
A lot of information has been thrown at you here and I will recap it here.
You’re not gaining weight because you probably aren’t eating enough at all, you are eating too clean, you think you’re eating more than you are, you do more activity than you have planned your calories for, or you are scared to get fat.
Some ways to gain weight are to log everything you eat so you know exactly how much you are getting, consistently eat enough and train, assess and test to find your caloric needs.
You need to eat more foods, add nutritious, calorie dense foods to your diet, and indulge in some of your favorite foods.
Supplements aren’t needed, but weight gainers, protein shakes, and protein bars are great choices for supplementation. Creatine, BCAAs and pre-workouts are also a great supplements to help get you through your workouts and help build the body you want.
Train hard and stick with a program. It doesn’t matter what program, just pick one and sell your soul to it.
Lastly, be sure to keep your conditioning levels high and stretch.
Now is the time to take action. Never again say that you can’t gain weight, lift some heavy ass weights, and hit your goals.
Leave any comments or questions below.