Gaining weight is seldom covered in popular fitness literature. I guess that makes sense considering most people are trying to lose weight, not gain it.
But for some people, it's a real problem.
Some people have medical issues where they need to gain weight to stay healthy. Some want to gain weight for a sports-specific gaol or to feel better about themselves. No matter the reason, gaining “clean” weight isn’t the easiest thing to do.
It’s easy to gain weight, sure, just eat a ton of junk food calories. But gaining “clean” weight, which consists of keeping body fat gain as minimal as possible while putting on lean mass, is very hard to do.
Most people would say, “just eat more” and brush this off as "case closed." This seems simple enough, right? And who doesn’t love eating more?
Unfortunately, it's not that simple.
I’ve been a skinny guy my whole life. My genetics allow me to gain weight just fine... gain fat that is. Obviously that's not the kind of weight gain I'm looking for. Trying to pack on lean muscle mass has been a life-long struggle (and still going).
There are some guys who can go to the gym a few times a week, bench press and do bicep curls, and pack on 20 pounds of “mass” in a few short weeks with relatively little fat-gain.
Life. Is. Not. Fair.
For the females, there some who can’t gain a pound no matter what they eat and there are others who can look at a cupcake and gain 5 pounds. Life isn’t fair on both ends of the spectrum and we always want what we don’t got (just full of cliches today).
That said, this post is for the “hardgainers” that want to pack on clean weight in the healthiest way possible.
Maybe you want to gain more mass and stay lean. Maybe you are too lean and need to put some fat and muscle on you frame. No matter your goal, the principles below will help you with you regulate the kind and amount of weight that you gain. And you can stay healthy doing so.
Three Rules For Clean Weight Gain:
- Consume more calories (from clean sources)
- Become best friends with fat (the right kind)
- Use a blender to make “mega shakes” (with clean ingredients)
While there are many aspects to gaining weight and being overall healthy—like sleep, water consumption, stres, etc—we won’t get into those here.
By focusing on the “big three” above, you can start developing the a mindset that will get you gaining weight. Your actions are always rooted in your beliefs, so it’s important that you learn what it's going to take. The better you understand what gaining weight actually entails, the more likely you will be able to actually gain weight. Make sense?
This seems obvious, but trust me, most fail here. They fail at the "belief" part and that keeps them from making gains.
Since you now have this guide, you will be able to create the "operating template" that will get you gaining weight the healthy way. But it's still going to be a process so it's time to strap in and get ready for some work ahead...
1. Eat More Calories
To get a general idea of the amount of calories you are currently taking in, you need to track your current calorie intake for a few days. There are some useful apps for this.
Don't Skip This: You need to know where you are at now so you can know where you need to be.
What I’ve found with people who have trouble gaining weight is they think they eat wayyyy more than they actually do. After counting calories for a few days, they realize how little they are taking in. (This is also prevalent in many things in life: we are terrible judges of ourselves.)
How To Eat More Calories:
- Track your calories for at least 3 days. Take the average.
- Set a target "daily calorie goal” that is 300-500 calories above this average.
- Spend the next week forcing yourself to eat 300-500 more calories a day to reach this goal.
This process will be a struggle for some of you. You eat what you eat because your body has been maintaining the homeostasis for a while now. This is the main reason you have trouble gaining weight.
To break free from your body’s inclination to stay the way it is through homeostasis, you need to go above and beyond, and sometimes, to the extreme.
And this is often uncomfortable.
The next steps two steps help you go “above and beyond.”
2. Become Best Friends With The "Right" Fat
Contrary to popular belief, fat is the human body’s best friend. Fat fuels your brain and body and is essential--meaning you will die if you don’t consume it (the same goes for protein but not carbohydrates—we can live just fine with zero carbs).
Fat has been demonized in our society. And ironically, we are fat because of it.
We are fat because we stopped eating fat.
It’s a bit of a paradox, I know, but such is the case with most things that are “common knowledge.”
Without going too far down this rabbit-hole (use this post), just know that fat needs to be a HUGE part of your diet. It should make up somewhere between 40-60% of your total calorie intake.
Yes. That much.
Here are some of the best Paleo-Friendly Fats:
- Fatty fish: salmon, mackerel, sardines, etc
- Pastured animals: beef, bison, game, etc
- Coconut in all forms (MCT, Oil, Milk)
- Pastured Unsalted butter. Kerrygold unsalted is my favorite
- Unheated olive oil (recommended)
- Organ meats from healthy animals
- Raw, Organic nuts/seeds (in moderation)
- Egg yolks
People always think they are eating enough fat. This is often what I hear, “I cook everything in coconut oil!”
In saying this, they are usually assuming that they have their fat “in check” and nothing further is needed.
Cooking in coconut oil, or any other clean fat, is simply not enough. Adding a few drizzles of olive oil or a teaspoon of butter to your meal is NOT ENOUGH.
Most of you just aren’t eating enough fat. Most of you aren't eating enough variety of high-quality fat, either.
Healthy levels of fat consumption can range between 30-60% of total calorie intake. This can be more than HALF of the total calories you eat. Most of you are not even close to that. Everyone should be focusing on more quality fat intake and not just the “hardgainers.”
Fat is your body’s preferred fuel source, it regulates a ton of things in your body and it is essential. Fat is hormonally neutral, meaning it doesn’t spike insulin or glucagon like protein and carbs do. It also helps “buffer” (stabilize them) your hormonal response when eating carbs or protein. Unfortunately, fat has been villainized in our society as the result of faulty research in the 60’s and it has RUINED the health of our country.
So how do we start eating more fat?
There are two techniques that you can use to start eating more clean fat. The first thing I want you to do is to start partitioning out a part of your plate just for fat. This will make up about 1/3 of your meals...
Right between your veggies and protein, drop some fat bombs until 1/3 of your plate is covered with clean, yummy, nutritious fats.
The second way to get more fat into your diet is to start focusing on having a “side” of fat with each meal. This will be a tbsp or two of extra fat that you take like a supplement.
How To Have a Side of Fat:
- Grab a small bowl, cup or tablespoon and get a scoop full of clean fat.
- Get a glass of water to chase if desired
- Take your “side” of fat in one bite or spoonful
This technique will ensure that you are always getting an extra healthy dose (pun intended) of this nutrient that your body so desperately needs (and is probably defunct in).
This is on top of having fat as a regular portion of your diet (30-60% of total calories).
Examples of a “side” of fat:
- Half avocado and sea salt
- Melt TBSP of Pastured Butter and slather it everywhere
- Tat a tbsp or two of coconut oil and honey with a spoon (I love this).
- Egg yolks - raw (at your own risk) or cooked
- Can of sardines (my fav)
- TBSP of unheated olive oil, MCT oil (link), or other
- Piece of raw, quality cheese (if you can tolerate it)
Back to the “Hardgainers”…
One gram of fat equals nine calories and one gram of protein or carbohydrate is only four calories. If you want to gain weight the “cleanest” way possible, eat lots of quality fat.
Eating plenty of fat will help you reach your daily target goal that much easier (try doing that with chicken breasts... vomit). It also has the benefit of curbing your hormone levels. As far as fat gain goes, this is one of the most important aspects of gaining clean weight.
When you eat junk, your insulin and cortisol levels are all out of whack. Not to mention the inflammation and strain on your organs to digest all the poisons moving through your system. But you can avoid this. You don't have to succumb to eating junk food or massive amounts of carbs to get lasting weight gain.
Fat + consuming more overall calories + mega-shakes is the safest way to put on clean weight in the most gradual and healthy manner.
That brings us to number 3...
3. Use a Blender to make Clean "MEGA Shakes"
I’m sure you’ve heard of using high-calorie shakes for weight gain—especially if you are a hardgainer.
And yes, shakes work…. when they are done right.
The main problems with the typical protein shake recommendations is they consist of “crappy” ingredients—peanut butter, cheap whey, milk, oats, etc—and they don’t include enough fat.
Another important tip for avoiding fat gain when using shakes that no one probably told you about is to sip the damn thing. The faster you intake calories into your system, then more fat gain you promote (due to insulin). So drink your shake gradually and keep from shocking your body with a massive flood of calories.
The typical “bodybuilding” shake is an insulin-ab-blurring disaster waiting to give you plenty of belly fat and little in the way of clean weight-gain. These are best suited for the “hormone-injecting” folks (And yes, they could totally benefit from a “cleaner” shake, as well).
Utilize high-calorie shakes using quality ingredients in intelligent portions and you have the most powerful tool in the world for gaining weight.
Below is a general “shake” template. Mix up your ingredients and always adjust to "taste." There are no hard and fast rules for making shakes other than having some combination of liquid, fat and protein.
A Template For "MEGA" Shake Making (download)
1. Include a bunch of healthy fat (2-6+ TBSP):
- Wild MCT Oil
- Grass-fed butter
- Grass-fed cream (use gradually and test how you feel afterwards)
- Raw nuts/seeds butter (use raw/organic and not roasted) (link)
- Coconut milk
- Coconut flesh
- Liquid fish oil/cod liver oil
- Raw chocolate or Cocoa Powder (link)
2. Use a high-quality grass-fed whey and/or collagen (40-60g):
3. Add 1-2 cups organic frozen fruit (always keep this in your freezer):
4. Use 4-16oz water, coffee, unsweet organic almond milk, coconut water or milk as a base:
- You need a liquid to help it blend and provide a drinkable consistency.
5. Add in random ingredients to taste:
- Yogurt from grass-fed milk
- Raw honey
- Raw eggs
- Cooked sweet potato
- Mint leaves
- Maple syrup
- Macadamia Nuts (link)
- Nut butter
Let’s Review: How To Gain Clean Weight
1. You need to consume more "clean" calories than you are now.
Consuming clean calories will give you the best chance at building lean muscle mass with the least amount of fat gain. What they don’t tell you about gaining weight is the fact that weight gain always comes with fat gain. It’s how the body works, you can’t put on weight while completely avoiding fat gain.
You can, however, mitigate how much fat you put on (And utilize fat burning techniques as well). If you take your weight gain slow and strategic, you can put on lean mass with a minimal amount of fat gain.
2. You need to become best friends with clean fat.
Adopting a “fat priority” mindset will help you in more ways than one. First, you will be consuming more essential fatty acids and this will improve your health more ways than you know. Second, you'll consume more calories and this will help you break through your body's current homeostasis that is keeping you from gaining weight.
3. Use your blender to make MEGA shakes.
The key here is using the best ingredients you can find. Don't use milk or cheap protein or cheap fat or cheap anything. Use the best.
I hope this guide helps you on your Clean Weight Gain Journey!