Should I Workout if I Want to Gain Weight?

You absolutely, 100% should work out if you want to gain weight. But how? Let’s talk about muscle hypertrophy, resistance training, and diet changes to help you gain muscle and reach your weight goals.

Key takeaways:
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    Muscle hypertrophy occurs when your muscles tear and heal, stronger than they were before.
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    Add resistance training to your routine two to three times a week.
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    Focus on your diet by adding more protein and nutrient dense, high calorie foods.
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    Weight gain takes time. Be patient with yourself.
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    Consult a doctor or dietician for further advice and personalized plans.

Before we hop in, a note. Always consult a physician before starting a new exercise routine. If you are underweight, consider further evaluation. There may be underlying issues you need to be aware of before starting a workout.

What is muscle hypertrophy?

The healthiest way to gain weight is by building muscle mass, also known as hypertrophy.

Per M. Krysztofik et al., muscle hypertrophy “occurs when muscle protein synthesis exceeds muscle protein breakdown and results in positive net protein balance in cumulative periods.” Basically, as you exercise, your muscle tissue will tear. As they heal, they become larger.

Let’s get scientific!

According to the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, this trauma triggers an acute inflammatory response. Neutrophils, a type of white blood cell, go to the damaged area and release agents to the fibers that need healing. These agents attract macrophages that remove cellular debris.

This will preserve the structure and “produce cytokines that activate myoblasts, macrophages, and lymphocytes.” This releases various growth factors. Cool, right?

With a combination of the process above, rest, and a higher protein intake, these muscles will get stronger than they were before.

But it’s not an overnight fix. Muscle mass takes time to build. Brad J. Schenfeld goes on to say, “In untrained subjects, muscle hypertrophy is virtually nonexistent during the initial stages of resistance training… Within a couple of months of training, however, hypertrophy begins to become the dominant factor…”

Don’t lose patience with yourself. There are many other factors that go into building muscle, such as genetics, hormones, and metabolism.

There are quite a few other benefits of gaining muscle mass. These include an increase in your bone mineral density, enhanced physical function, and improved mental health.

So how do you achieve muscle hypertrophy? With resistance training!

Resistance training

So what is resistance training? It is defined by the National Academy of Sports Medicine as “a form of exercise that increases muscular strength and endurance by exercising a muscle or muscle group against external resistance.”

Resistance training can be performed with just your body weight. This means it can be done anywhere! But you can also use:

  • Resistance bands
  • Dumbbells
  • Free weights
  • Kettlebells

Here are a few examples of each type! Note that these lists are nowhere near comprehensive; they are there to give you an idea of your options. Choose which is best for your current athletic ability, availability of equipment, and weight gain goals.

For bodyweight resistance exercises, you can perform push-ups, squats, and planks. To progress from here, add equipment. A few examples of exercises you can perform with equipment are tricep kickbacks, bicep curls, and overhead pull-aparts. Lunges and squats are also adaptable.

Add resistance training two to three times a week. Your muscles will need time to recover in between sessions.

It’s not just about exercise. Diet also plays an important factor.

Focus on your diet

Gaining weight is more than just adding resistance training to your routine to build muscle mass. You also need to focus on your overall nutrition.

It is imperative to add more protein to your diet.

According to Exercise, Protein Metabolism, and Muscle Growth by Kevin D. Tipton and Robert R. Wolfe, “Resistance exercise improves muscle protein balance, but, in the absence of food intake, the balance remains negative.”

The food consumed 24 - 48 hours after resistance training will have an impact on muscle hypertrophy. So what do you eat, and how can you eat more?

The first tip is to eat more frequently. Instead of consuming three large meals a day, break them up into many small meals throughout the day, think 5 or 6. Another tip is to not drink liquids while eating. Liquids will take up space in your stomach that you could be filling with food.

The quality of the food that you eat is also important

You want to choose foods that are rich in nutrients such as whole grain bread, pasta, and lean protein. Consider adding calorie-dense foods such as avocado, cheese, and nuts.

Another great option is drinking smoothies and protein shakes to get your fill of fruits and vegetables. With these, you can easily add more protein and other essential nutrients.

There are also foods and drinks that you should consume in moderation or avoid altogether. Skip the alcoholic beverages and foods with added sugars. Examples of these are candy, baked goods, and sodas. While they are high in calories, they are missing key nutrients.

Adding an extra 500 calories a day can get you an extra pound a week of weight.

Consider consulting with a dietician for an individualized plan for your specific needs.

To gain weight in a healthy manner, you want to exercise with the goal of muscle hypertrophy. This is the healing of the tiny tears in your muscle fibers from exercise. As your muscles heal, they will be stronger and larger. To heal, your body needs protein and rest.

The best way to reach muscle hypertrophy is through resistance training. According to the NASM, resistance training is defined as “a form of exercise that increases muscular strength and endurance by exercising a muscle or muscle group against external resistance.”

Resistance training can be completed with just your body weight or you can add equipment such as resistance bands, dumbbells, kettlebells, or free weights. Add two to three sessions per week.

Lastly, turn your focus to your diet. Add more meals, and consume nutrient dense foods and protein for muscle growth.

There is no quick fix. Gaining weight takes time and patience. But with a good plan and reasonable goals, you will get there!

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