What is a healthy guideline for gaining weight?
Weight gain, like weight loss, is difficult to do in an effective healthy manner (just ask any weight trainers about training to gain pure muscle). However, there is one key similarity: the quicker the gain, the less healthy and long term the gains can be expected to be.
The guideline to gaining weight is similar to weight loss in that permanent healthy gains typically require an adjustment of no more than 0.5 to one kilogram per week in order to gradually adjust the body’s set point (the level the body’s homeostatic systems work towards maintaining). Therefore, in order to gain weight, the Daily Energy Requirement (DER) must be calculated (Basal Metabolic Rate multiplied by the daily Active Metabolic Rate). Once the amount of energy the body requires to sustain itself is determined, an additional 500 calories must be added for a gradual weight gain.
The choice of where these calories come from is important. Additional calories should be nutritious and have “valued” calories (i.e., include vitamins and minerals) rather than fried foods and foods with high sugar content. Also remember that although two different food sources may be eaten to provide the same calorie content, 500 calories of deep fried food will bring with it associated health concerns.
Some quick general tips include:
- Rather than drinking tea, coffee or fizzy drinks, go for the milk or better yet healthy milkshakes.
- Add healthy calories to your current meals (add nuts/seeds to cereals, a stir fry or salad, sprinkle powdered milk to mash potatoes or egg to the home made pizza).
- Carry “ready to go” snacks for during the day like sports and/or muesli bars (watch the sugar and fat content).
- Rather than the few big meals, eat more often and even include a healthy (but easily digestible) meal before retiring for the night.
- Supplements are also an alternative you may wish to explore. However, be aware of the hype and over commercialization (e.g., see a dietician or doctor rather than taking advice from testimonials and reading advertisements).
During the weight gaining period, physical training and exercise is likewise important. Resistance training exercise should be favored over but not replace aerobic exercises that utilize calories. The resistance training exercises should utilize large muscle groups (stimulating the neuron-hormonal systems) and exercises in the hypertrophy (muscle building) range:
- Eight to 12 repetitions at around two to four seconds per repetition
- Two to four sets per muscle group for novices
- Rest of between 30 seconds to two minutes between sets
- Muscle recovery of between 48 to 72 hours
Too few repetitions will reduce the duration of stimulus to the type II fibers whereas too many will limit the recruitment of these larger fibers. With this in mind, periodization and progressing the program to stimulate the muscles as they adapt is crucial, otherwise the muscles may be under stimulated as the systems of the body adapt.
The lifestyle of the client should also be considered. Stress can suppress appetite, late nights and lack of sleep means that energy levels for exercise will decrease, the body’s engines must keep working for longer consuming more calories and the recovery and anabolic state of recovery (the building phase) is reduced.
Finally, it is also important that medical concerns be considered. Is the client suffering weight loss while still eating the same amount and conducting the same exercise regime? Is he or she losing weight rapidly? If so, a potential medical red flag is raised (cancer, hormonal dysfunctions, digestive diseases), and the client should be encouraged to see a medical professional.
- Akima, J., Takahashi, H., Kuno, S-Y., Masuda, K., Masuda, T., Shimojo, H., Anno, I., Itai Y. & Katsuta, S. (1999). Early phase adaptations of muscle use and strength to isokinetic training. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 31,pp. 588 – 594.
- Bompa, T.O., (1999). Theory and Methodology of Training. Fourth Edition. Dubuque,Iowa ; Kendall / Hunt Publishing Company.
- Farmer, G (1994).Pass the Calories Please! The American Dietetic Association.
- Fleck, S.J. & Kraemer, W.J., (1997). Designing resistance training programs 2nd Edition. Champaign,IL : Human Kinetics.
- Harris, J.A. & Benedict, (1919) A Biometric Study of Basal Metabolism in Man. Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington DC.
- IDECG (1994) Energy and Protein requirements, Proceedings of an IDECG workshop; London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Pub: United Nations University
- Mifflin, M.D., St Jeor, S.T., Hill, L.A., Scott, B.J., Daugherty, S.A. & Koy, Y.O. (1990). A new predictive equation for resting energy expenditure in health individuals. Am J Clin Nutr, 51: 241 – 247.
- Mc Ardle, W.D., Katch, F.I. & Katch, V.I., (1996). Exercise Physiology 4th Edition. Malvern PA: Lea & Febiger.
- Sherwood, L. (2001). Human Physiology. From Cells to Systems, 4th Edition. Brooks/Cole Publishing.
- Shofield W.N. (1985). ‘Predicting basal metabolic rate, new standards and review of previous works.’ Hum Nutr Clin Nutr, 39: 5 – 41.
- Wilmore, J.H. & Costill, D.L., (1994) Physiology of Sport and Exercise. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Zatsiorsky, V.M., (1995). Science and practice of strength training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.