Gaining weight, and more importantly, muscle mass is dependent on eating more calories than you burn. This calorie surplus coupled with a strength training routine is what leads to lean (muscle rather than fat) weight gain. Unfortunately, increasing your calorie intake is not as easy as eating everything in sight. Junk food will lead to junk results. Here are a few ways you can responsibly increase your calorie intake.
1. Post Workout Protein Shakes. The best part of a post workout protein shake is that your body needs a lot of calories (mainly sugar and protein) to help start the recovery process. This allows you to indulge (a bit) while moving closer to your goal. If you are already using a post workout shake but need to increase your overall calorie intake, consider making your shake bigger. You can add more ingredients such as: frozen and/or fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries, pineapples, bananas...), frozen yogurt/low fat ice cream, chocolate milk, honey, yogurt and more protein powder. Each of these ingredients adds sugar or protein (plus many other nutrients) which are both key ingredients in the recovery process.
2. Bigger Meals. Add calories to your day by increasing the size of your meals. By adding 100-200 calories to each of your three main meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner), you can increase your daily consumption by 300-600 calories which will help you gain weight. Adding a small amount of calories to each meal is as easy as: drinking a glass of milk, eating 2 pieces of fruit, 1-2 tablespoons of peanut butter, 1 serving of nuts or 2-4oz of lean meat (chicken, turkey, fish).
3. Snacks. In addition to making meals bigger, another strategy that can help you increase your calorie intake is eating small snacks between meals. Snacks perfect for gaining lean muscle mass are moderately high in calories while also high in nutrients. Some good examples of snacks include (but not limited to): peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, yogurt, fruits, lean meats, tuna and oatmeal.
4. Pre-Bed Meal. If you're already eating plenty of snacks and can't fit any more food into your meals, consider eating a small pre-bedtime meal that's high in protein. Your body needs protein to repair damage that exercise causes to your muscle tissue. It's this repair process that makes you bigger and stronger. A good chunk of this repair/recovery process happens at night during sleep. A misconception is that eating at night will make you fat. It's not the timing of your meals that will make you fat but excessive calories eaten throughout the day. Eating a small protein rich meal before bed will give your body the nutrients it needs to full recover from a strength training workout. Good nighttime meals include a can of tuna, small protein shake, small serving of a lean meat, glass of milk or cottage cheese.
5. Count Calories. Gaining weight requires combining a strength training routine with a calorie surplus. The strength training routine causes damage to your muscle tissue that is repaired during rest with energy from your calorie surplus. Thinking you're eating enough food is not always sufficient. If you're not gaining weight, the problem might be that you're overestimating how many calories you're taking in. This would result in not eating enough. First, check your daily calorie needs by using the calorie calculator. This calculator estimates your calorie needs for weight maintenance using your size, gender, age and physical activity. Once you get an estimation of your daily calorie needs, add 500-750 calories to your needs and measure your intake on a regular basis. Apps such as MyFitnessPal make it ridiculously easy to count your calories. Counting your calories on a regular basis will ensure you're eating an adequate amount of nutrients to allow your body to grow.
The Bottom Line
Gaining weight requires working out, diet and consistency. If you practice good exercise and eating habits over a long enough period of time, you will gain weight. Remember to drink your post workout protein shake (or other form of post workout meal), eat healthy meals filled with complex carbs, unsaturated fats and lean proteins, eat snacks throughout the day and count your calories.