Most people struggle with excess weight and find the process of losing weight slow and difficult. But there are people that struggle with the complete opposite problem. They try hard to gain muscle mass and some weight, but they keep struggling without success or a visible result.
This article targets people who have a hard time building muscle and gaining weight. The problem can be summed up in just a few words: They don’t eat enough. And they don’t keep track of the food. It is impossible to keep track of the food (on paper) and wonder why the arrow on the scale doesn’t move.
The article is intended for people who either cannot handle the needed amount of calories, or simply do not follow the plan and don’t eat enough.
There are basically two approaches to solving this problem. Eating higher amount of calories or limiting your energy expenditure so that you can get in calorie surplus.
What the math looks like on paper
If you eat less or equal amount of calories to your daily basal calorie needs, it is absolutely impossible to gain weight. And it doesn’t matter whether your diet consists of meat and broccoli or waffles and sweets.
Why is it so hard to gain muscle?
1. The body’s self regulating mechanism
The body has its own mechanisms for self-regulation of weight. It tends to stay at approximately the same weight. If at lunch time you eat a lot of calories, then your body will make sure that you lose your appetite for a long time after lunch.
Everyone has a friend who has hard time gaining some muscle. They usually will explain how much they ate at lunch. But if you ask them that same day how much they ate at dinner, I’m sure you’ll get the answer: “Well … I was not very hungry and I ate a small meal for dinner ” or “I ate just a salad”. Bottom line is – one big meal doesn’t mean you ate “a lot” the whole day.
The same thing can be observed in the long term. Come the holidays and even the skinny people begin to overeat. But that only lasts for two to three days. Those few days are usually followed by a sharp decline in appetite and the caloric intake decreases over the next week. Eventually you are back where at the starting line.
2. Not knowing the exact number of calories you eat
Another problem is that the definition of “lots of food” means a different thing depending on the person you ask. Many skinny people believe they are eating large amounts of food, which is far from reality. The same can be said for overweight people who can swear they “eat almost nothing” and still can’t lose weight. If you really want to gain muscle or lose fat, it’s time to start tracking your calorie and macronutrient intake seriously.
3. Increase in unintended physical activity
The third issue is the phenomenon of short term correspondence between the increased food consumption and the increase in unintended physical activity. When a skinny person overeats repeatedly, you may notice how their physical activity increases unconsciously.
They become very energetic, nervous and usually desire to do some sort of physical activity. You can observe the totally opposite case in a person on a diet who limits their calories. They usually become lazy and unwilling to do any sort of physical activity (think of bodybuilders before a competition).
4. Evolutionary adaptation
From a survival point of view, carrying higher amounts of muscle mass like today’s bodybuilders do is a bad idea. More muscle means you need more calories to sustain that muscle mass, and you are not as agile and fast as a human with less muscle mass is.
What the math looks like in reality
Like we mentioned before – you need to start tracking your daily food intake. If you know how many calories you eat and how many you spend during the day, you won’t be wondering why you are not gaining weight. A simple way to start is to increase your daily calories by 10%.
Here are some direct guidelines:
– You eat too much dietary fiber: Fibers induce satiety. They increase the volume of food in the stomach and make you feel full. Of course, dietary fiber is useful and are absolutely required for a healthy lifestyle, but if you overeat it, you may lose your appetite . About 10-12g of fibers per 1,000 calories is enough. More than that will cause additional loss of appetite, and there are no significant additional health benefits.
– Add liquid meals. Skip the mineral water, and add some juice or milk. In the race for gaining muscle, some athletes go to those lengths that they even process their hard meals (meat, eggs) with some water, fruits and vegetables.
– Supplements: drink 1-3 protein shakes during the day. Blend some fruits and honey in them too, so you can get a greater amount of calories quickly and conveniently. Dextrose before and after exercise is also a good idea. It will provide you with energy for more intense workouts and will you with extra calories.
– Sweets right after the workout: everyone loves sweets. This is the easiest way for extra calories. A Snickers or KitKat will bring you 230 calories in less than a minute. Another wafer or biscuit with filling are not bad ideas. Combine that with 50g of whey protein right after the workout and that’s an additional 450-500 calories.
– Peanut butter: delicious, smooth and a great source of fats and calories. You can add it to your sandwiches, smoothies and protein shakes.
– Small snacks between the meals: add something to eat here and there between large meals. Something between breakfast and lunch or a couple of hours before dinner.
– Add salad dressing. You can buy it ready and add it to your salads. For some extra calories you can also add some olive oil.
– Limit your cardio. We don’t recommend you to stop doing cardio because cardio exercise is essential to our cardiovascular system health, our physical endurance and even food digestion. But some people sometimes overdo the cardio. Limit your cardio to 3 sessions a week of 30 minutes, max. Limiting your energy expenditure will put you in a calorie surplus.
The main reason you can’t gain muscle mass is most likely because you don’t eat enough. In the majority of cases it is as simple as that.
Use the guidelines listed above to increase the consumption of food. Try not to include low fiber foods, junk foods and sweets with more than 20-30% of your total caloric intake. This will help to increase the calories while minimizing the negative effect on your health or the ability to workout.
We may be boring, but try to keep track of your food. Count your macros and calories. Make a plan of how many calories you need to consume on a daily basis and stick to it. And remember don’t skip your cardio, but don’t overdo it either.