How to Gain Weight Quickly: 12 Tips On What to Eat & How to Train

So you want to gain weight fast (and safely)? 

You’ve come to the right place, because this is what we do!

This guide covers the exact weight gain strategies I’ve used to go from my “before” (on the left above) to reach my “after” (on the right above). Believe it or not, that “before” photo is me after a DECADE of strength training and trying to get bigger.

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It’s the stuff in this guide that finally allowed me to actually get results (the after).

Oh, and if you sign up in any of the yellow email boxes throughout, you can download our “Gain Weight and Build Muscle” Shopping List and Cheat Sheet to hang on your fridge!

Let’s start putting on weight right NOW.

These are the 12 lessons I wish I knew when I started trying to get bigger (click to jump right to that lesson):

NUTRITION

STRENGTH TRAINING

RECOVERY

Let’s get to it!

“If you’re not gaining weight, you’re not eating enough food.”

It’s science and thermodynamics.

Allow me to explain: depending on your current size and level of activity, your body burns 1200-2500+ calories every day just doing all of its daily processes:

And dozens of other things. We burn a lot of calories just keeping the lights turned on.

Here’s the problem: because your body efficiently uses up all of the calories you consume every day, there are no calories left over to build muscle (or get stored as fat).

Note: we have used The Mifflin-St Jeor Equation to create this calculator! [1]

Hooray! You now know estimates of your Basal Metabolic Rate (calories you burn existing) and TDEE (calories you burn while moving throughout the day)![2]

So, in order to get bigger, you need to eat ABOVE this TDEE number consistently.

That’s it.

We think we have an overly fast metabolism.

Although there is SOME variation regarding metabolism variability, it’s insignificant when compared to the effect of the more important part of the equation:

We overestimate how many calories we’re eating each day, we don’t account for the calories we burn through movement or exercise, and there aren’t enough calories left over to create a “caloric surplus.”

And without that surplus, we’ll never gain weight or get bigger. 

MY STORY: I had been training in a gym for 6 years without gaining size.

I thought he was out of his mind.

Until I did it…and it worked.

I put on 18 pounds in 30 days [3], and I realized I had been severely undereating for my goals:

In order to gain weight, target an additional 300-500 calories above your Total Daily Energy Expenditure[4]:

Want to gain weight even faster? As long as you know you’ll also be gaining lots of fat, you can target 800-1000 calories above your TDEE.

Question: What about meal timing?

Does it matter WHEN I eat my meals?

“Can I eat now?”

Answer: “WHEN” you eat doesn’t matter nearly as much as “HOW MUCH” you eat.

Your body will process all calories efficiently[5], so focus on total calories consumed.

Depending on your schedule, you can:

It comes down to your personal preference. You might struggle to eat 3000 calories in 3 meals, so having 6 500-calorie meals throughout the day might make you feel less bloated and full.

Your results may vary! 

See the next section for tips and tricks on WHAT foods you should eat to gain weight.

HERE’S HOW TO EAT TO GAIN HEALTHY WEIGHT:

We’re going to start building a Balanced Plate, like so:

The most important macro we’re going to focus on is protein.[6]. Studies show you’re more likely to put on the right kind of weight with a high-protein diet compared to a low-protein diet.

So that’s where we’ll start.

Protein can come from any number of sources, including:

Also, here’s how much protein is in a serving of food:

In order for you to gain weight, you need to consume plenty of calories, so the remainder of those calories will come from carbs and/or fats.

Here are whole foods full of carbohydrates:

To help you get better at eyeballing serving sizes:

1 serving of a starchy carbohydrate is 1 cupped hand (uncooked), or your two hands forming a cup (cooked).

In addition to consuming carbohydrates from these sources, it’s okay to consume plenty of fruit while trying to bulk up!

Fat is a macronutrient that can help reach your surplus goals, as fat can be higher in calories. Plus, you can eat lots of it without feeling full.

Healthy fat can be found in foods like:

Saturated fats[8] can come from things like:

To help you gauge: a serving size of fat is roughly the size of your thumb!

As you can see, you can eat an extra 500 calories of “healthy fats” by eating lots of “heart-healthy” fats like nuts or adding more olive oil to your meals.

Last but not least, you need vegetables in your diet.

If you start to eat a lot more food, your “indoor plumbing” is going to really benefit from eating some high-fiber veggies with each meal:

A serving of veggies is about the size of your fist:

Here’s a quick, non-complete list of veggies that you can choose:

“BUT STEVE, I REALLY STRUGGLE TO EAT ENOUGH CALORIES FROM WHOLE FOODS EVERY DAY!

I do as well. It’s why I consume a good portion of liquid calories every day too.

It’s a surefire way to make sure you hit your calorie goals.

Also, download our Skinny Guy Guide which has both lessons and a shopping list you can use to prioritize eating the right high calorie, high-quality foods!

The current international Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.4g per pound of body weight (0.8 g per kg of body weight):[9].

In our opinion, and as pointed out by this study[10] the RDA # for protein is too low and should be higher regardless of your body composition.

But you don’t care about that. You just want me to know how much protein to eat, right?

I figured.

Here is our recommendation[12]:

If you’re going to be strength training while getting bigger, intakes up to 1.50 g/lb (3.3 g/kg) may help you minimize fat gain.[13]

Let me simplify it for you: target at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight (2.2 grams per kg). 

Provided you’re a healthy individual with a healthy liver, you don’t need to worry about eating too much protein[14] – you should be more concerned with eating too little protein.

Long story short: studies suggest you will not put on the right kind of weight without consuming enough protein!

Okay, so let’s talk portions. Here’s how much protein is in a palm-sized serving of food:

EXAMPLE TIME!

Let’s say you weigh 150 pounds (68 kg).

That would mean a day of eating could be:

Creating a high-calorie protein shake with foods like frozen fruit, oats, milk, and a scoop of protein can be huge.

It’s how I hit my goals every day! 

Total protein intake for me: 244 grams. Adjust to fit YOUR goals!

RECAP ON PROTEIN INTAKE: Target 1-1.5g per lb of bodyweight (2.2-3.3g per kg) while trying to gain weight. When in doubt, eat more.

If you are trying to put on a lot of weight, then carbs and fats are your friends.

They have a high-calorie count and you can eat lots of them without getting as full as some other things (like protein-rich foods).

Here are foods full of carbohydrates you can prioritize for bulking up:

Healthy fat can be found in foods like:

Want even simpler info?

Target 2 portions of carbs, and 2 portions of fat in your meals.

Remember, our portions look like so:

If you’re not gaining weight, increase those numbers even more.

This is all about math! Not getting bigger = need MOAR food.

What about other foods like pizza, pasta, candy soda? Sure, you can get away with consuming less healthy things ON OCCASION (pizza, subs, etc.) but avoid fueling yourself with ONLY junk food.

If you’re not sure specifically what you should be eating for protein, carbs, and fats, download our “Get Bigger” Shopping List by putting your email in the box below:

Everybody’s results will vary, and thoughts are mixed on how quickly we can build muscle:

Now, depending on how thin you are currently, you might WANT to gain weight even faster and put on a bit of fat.

If you target 500 calories above your Calorie Expenditure every day, you’ll gain a pound a week.

If you target 1000 calories above your TDEE, you’ll gain 2 pounds per week:

My advice: Rather than chasing massive weight gain over a month, you’d be much better off gaining .5-1.5 lbs. (.25-.75 kg) a week, every week, for six months…and keeping the weight on!

So, how do you know if your efforts are working? Simple.

If the scale is moving UP, keep doing what you’re doing.

If the scale is NOT moving: EAT MORE.

If you’re ever unsure if you’ve eaten enough that day, eat more.

Once you start to get a good feel for how many calories you eat each day, try to eat the same meals to keep it easy.

Up until this point, we’ve only talked about the weight gain portion.

Do Steps 1-5 above, and you’ll put on plenty of weight.

HOWEVER, if you’re not also training correctly, you’ll just be getting fat, and not building muscle!

Get as strong as possible with these exercises while eating enough calories and protein, and you will gain the right kind of weight! It’s how I bulked up correctly:)

WEIGHT GAIN MONDAY WORKOUT:

WEIGHT GAIN WEDNESDAY WORKOUT:

WEIGHT GAIN FRIDAY WORKOUT:

Here are some resources to help make heads or tails of the above:

Important point: don’t worry about isolation exercises like triceps extensions, shoulder shrugs, bicep curls, or crunches.

You can certainly do them, but only AFTER you’ve done your heavy lifts for the day!

Every time you train, your muscles break down and have to rebuild themselves.

You are teaching them to say “I must get bigger and stronger in case I have to do that again!”[16]

So how do you progressively overload your muscles?

If you did 3 sets of 5 reps of squats at 95 pounds last week, go for 3 sets of 5 reps at 100 pounds this week!

Did knee push-ups last month?

Great, try to do regular push-ups this month.

Coach Jim breaks down the ins and outs of progressive overload for you in this video:

Write down how you train, so that way you know exactly how to get stronger next time. I use Evernote on my phone, but you can use an old school notebook or whatever floats your boat.

Write down exactly:

And then next time?

Pick up more.

If you don’t want to build your own workout routine, or you’re not sure how and when to scale up your workouts for the best results, let us build a routine for you!

Our coaches will build a workout program for your goals, and every day you can check your coaching app and know exactly what to do:

Muscles are made in the kitchen and while sleeping, NOT in the gym.

When you train, you are essentially ripping apart and breaking down your muscles.

Then, during the next 48 hours, as you are eating a caloric surplus and recovering, your muscles get rebuilt bigger and stronger.

For this reason, never exercise the same muscle before it’s ready.

In other words, try not to exercise the same muscle on two consecutive days.

Long story short: pick up a heavy weight in the gym 3-4 days a week for an hour.

Go HARD, go HEAVY.

Skinny people usually don’t need to train more, they need to eat and rest more!

You should get at least 6 hours of sleep to function as a human, but getting 7-8 hours of sleep will help aid in building more muscle.[17]

This study[18] also found:

“Inadequate sleep impairs maximal muscle strength in compound movements when performed without specific interventions designed to increase motivation.”

Think of it this way:

Building muscle is hard work, your body can use all the help (and calories) it can get. Your body is doing nothing but lying there and building muscle while you’re sleeping. [19]

If you are only getting 6 hours or less, you’re not going to get all the benefits of your exercising and diet, and not giving yourself the best chance to gain weight and grow bigger.

We often spend quite a bit of time with our coaching clients working with them on their sleep and environmental habits! From turning off the TV an hour earlier to even becoming a morning person, we build fun missions and challenges for our clients around stuff like this to get results.

Depending on how you currently feel about running, this next sentence will either make you happy or miserable:

“Running might work against your efforts to gain weight and build muscle.”

When you run, your body uses up calories to fuel your runs. This leaves fewer calories left over to build muscle.

In addition, a 2016 study[20] showed that doing endurance training AND strength training actually created larger muscle hypertrophy in untrained subjects than just resistance training alone.

What this means:

If you’re somebody that runs and enjoys it, great!

If you’re trying to get bigger, here’s what I would recommend:

Is your SOLE focus on getting bigger? Do 3 things:

Interested in giving your heart a workout without steady cardio?:

Want to incorporate cardio the RIGHT way into your life, along with strength training, to start gaining weight?

With all of this eating, you will probably put on some fat along with your muscle.

That’s okay!

You might even be skinny enough that a bit of extra “cushion” on you is a good thing!

If you are trying to put on MOSTLY muscle and minimal fat gain:

And then fine-tune it from there:

You’re trying to thread the needle of “only build muscle, don’t add fat” which is fairly advanced and challenging.

As this 2017 study points out[21], “Protein overfeeding or the consumption of a high protein diet may not result in a gain in body weight or fat mass despite consuming calories that exceed one’s normal or habitual intake.

This is incredibly challenging, and you do run the risk of not eating enough to build muscle. In addition, you might build less muscle than had you consumed a larger surplus of calories.

Now, what if you’re “skinny fat?”

What if you have a gut/belly, and thin arms? 

IF YOU ARE “SKINNY FAT”:

These are the 11 rules I’ve followed multiple times in my life whenever I have decided to gain weight. 

There’s a 12th rule I want to share with you too:

It comes down to two things:

So do whatever you need to do to make those things happen!

Here’s my final piece of advice: If you want permanent success, stop thinking in terms of “How fast can I gain weight?” and instead think:

“What can I do today that feels sustainable enough that I can stick with it for a year?”

This is how I get results, and how you can use the tools and tips in this article to get results too. Build small habits that become permanent parts of your life, and the results you’ll get will be permanent too.

Now, if you’re somebody that wants even MORE guidance, and specific instructions to follow, I got you:

2) Exercising at home and need a plan to follow? Check out Nerd Fitness Journey!

Our fun habit-building app helps you exercise more frequently, eat healthier, and level up your life (literally).

Try your free trial right here:

3) Sign up for our free email list, the Nerd Fitness Rebellion! Join a few hundred thousand rebels just like you and I’ll send you a bunch of free guides too. I’m nice like that.

To recap our full article, here are the “12 Rules To Gain Weight Quickly”:

If you have more questions, please leave them in the comments below and I’ll gladly answer them when I get a chance!

You can do this.

Go eat something.

And then eat some more.

-Steve

PS: If you want to read more about this stuff, make sure you check out the following in-depth resources too:

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