Bigger, Faster, Stronger: A Guide to Gaining Weight Safely
So much of the conversation about health and weight surrounds losing weight and slimming down, but for a whole host of reasons, gaining weight is sometimes critical for a person’s health. Whether you’ve lost weight after injury or illness, are coping with mental health issues, or are trying to put on weight in a healthy way before a triathlon, there are ways to help your body put on muscle and fat in balanced proportion and at a safe pace. It’s important to remember that if you have concerns about your weight to talk to a medical professional before making any major changes.
Calories In, Calories Out
For a huge majority of people, gaining and losing weight is a simple function of burning calories and consuming them in different amounts. The rule of thumb is that 3,500 calories equals a pound, so your weekly calorie intake should be adjusted accordingly. This is a little simplistic, because the quality of the calories you consume is important to your overall health, and your exercise level effects if you’re gaining fat or muscle, but ultimately, weight gain is a mathematical function. Use a website calculator to better understand how your unique lifestyle causes your body to burn calories each day, especially when training, and make sure to eat more than that amount, plus those used up in any exercise. Safely gaining weight can be easy if you take it slow and keep in touch with your body's specific needs.
If you’re trying to adjust to new health habits, the first few weeks can be really difficult, especially if you’re set in a routine or training schedule. If you suddenly double the amount of food you eat, you can have stomach cramps, acid reflux, and shock your system into an unsafe reaction. Consuming more calories without hurting yourself is made much easier when you drink as many of them as possible. It’s reverse weight loss logic, because calorific drinks are considered ‘empty calories’ but if you add fruit juice, milk, or protein-rich drinks to your diet a few times a day, you can easily add a few hundred calories without hurting yourself or feeling overfull. Don’t just go for the sugariest soda or electrolyte drink you can find, though. All the health warnings still apply to sugary drinks, and you should focus on getting liquid calories from healthy sources. It’s particularly important for athletes to stay hydrated, so all the extra liquid in your system will have other benefits as well.
If you’re tracking your calorie intake, it’s important that the numbers you’re putting in accurately reflect the amount of food you’re eating. Make sure you eat an even portion by looking at the measurement on the back of the package, or using your hand as a rough guide for portion sizes: an open hand for carbohydrates like bread and pasta, a closed fist for protein like meat and beans, and a thumb for fats like peanut butter or oil. Not only will this help you better understand the nutrients you get from your food, but it can also help encourage you to eat more.
It might seem counterintuitive to burn calories while you’re trying to put on weight, but it’s important to your mental, cardiovascular, and musculoskeletal health to move your body every day. Track how many calories you burn, and make those up with food, but make sure you get a range of cardio and strength exercises to make sure you don’t lose muscle mass, or gain muscle more slowly than fat. It’s also important to move consistently. If you have a training schedule with rest days, try to do some bodyweight exercises or stretching to keep your body active. Yo-yoing between running or swimming long distances and then staying relatively still will cause your daily calorie needs to spike and then drop, which can affect your appetite and weight severely. Exercising daily will help you build a healthy natural appetite, and sleep better, which helps stabilize your blood sugar and thus, your weight.
It’s hard to visualize gaining weight as healthy sometimes, but it’s important to remember that the only healthy way to live is the one that’s healthiest for you. If that means putting on weight before an athletic event, recovering from a bad flu, or just trying to fill out your clothes a little, it can be done in a healthy and productive way. Talk to a doctor if you have any concerns about whether you should be putting on weight for your health.