13 Tips For Guaranteed Weight Gain: Which Exercises to Do & How to Eat

So you’re skinny.

People tell you “What are you complaining about? It must be nice to have a fast metabolism.”

You’re trying to put on weight and “eating so much” and “eating all the time” and yet the scale never goes up.

Are you doomed to live life with a rail thin physique?

I know this EXACT mentality, because that was me.

I spent the first 26 years of my life – and a decade of training – desperately trying to get bigger too, absolutely CONVINCED I could never gain weight.

My “before” picture on the left above?

That was after a DECADE of dutifully strength training, chugging protein shakes, and actively trying to get bigger.

It wasn’t until I changed my mentality and made smarter decisions that I finally got to the “after (the pic on the right):” strong and confident.

These are the 13 lessons I wish I knew a decade ago (click to jump right to that lesson):

NUTRITION

  1. Eat more. Duh.
  2. Eat mostly good things.
  3. Eat enough protein.
  4. Carbs are your friend.
  5. Keep track of everything you eat.

STRENGTH TRAINING

  1. Weight gain exercises: compound movements
  2. Progressive overload is your friend.
  3. Appearance is a consequence of fitness.

RECOVERY

  1. Let your muscles rest.
  2. Sleep is your friend.
  3. Cardio is your enemy.
  4. Make this part of your routine.
  5. Realize you’ll put on fat. That’s okay.

Rule #1) Eat More. Duh.

As we cover in our “Ultimate Skinny Guy’s Guide to Bulking Up Fast,” If you’re not getting bigger, you’re not eating enough.

Jim is shocked to learn he isn't eating enough to gain weight.

Your body is burning all of the calories you eat every day just handling all of your daily processes (breathing, keeping your heart beating, movement, etc.). This means there are no calories left over to build muscle or get stored as fat.

If you are going to get bigger, you need to eat a caloric surplus or you will never gain weight.

When I first started exercising and trying to get bigger, the personal trainer in my gym had me DOUBLE the amount of food I was eating.

I thought he was crazy…until I did it and it worked.

18 pounds in 30 days later, I realized I was severely undereating before:

I a

You might eat 3 MONSTER meals, 6 big meals, or any combination of whatever works for your schedule.

It doesn’t matter WHEN you eat, just HOW MUCH you eat.

Now, because your body isn’t used to eating this much food, which means you’ll have to force yourself to eat even when you’re not hungry.

500 extra calories a day = 1 extra pound gained per week.

Whatever you’re eating now, add an additional 250-500 calories spread throughout the day.

If you are not getting bigger, then you need to eat more than that.

This is the NUMBER ONE mistake skinny people make trying to get bigger.

It’s not because you have a fast metabolism.

It’s because you are overestimating how many calories you’re eating each day, and you need to eat more!

BIGGEST WEIGHT GAIN HACK: adding liquid calories to your diet is a surefire way to make sure you hit your calorie goals.

As I lay out in our massive Protein Shake Guide, creating high calorie protein shakes to eat between meals can be the game changer (make sure you check the recipe in that article for my “Powerbomb Shake!”).

Rule #2 Eat MOstly good things.

If you want to gain weight and be healthy, a steak might just be what you need.

You need to eat a ridiculous amount of calories if you want to gain a lot of weight (depending on how skinny you are). When possible, try to have those calories mostly come from quality sources.

You could easily get 3500 calories eating Taco Bell and Twinkies and candy and drinking Mountain Dew, but your body will hate you, your plumbing will hate you, and it’s not a good long term solution to keeping weight on and building a good physique (goodbye health).

If you want to build muscle, you want to eat healthy calories that come from high quality sources if possible:

  • Good protein sources like chicken, meat, fish.
  • Good carbs like rice, legumes, potatoes and quinoa
  • Healthy fats like peanut butter, almonds, avocado, olive oil.
  • Plenty of vegetables (hate vegetables? read our “make vegetables taste good” guide) to help provide nutrients and move all that food through your internal plumbing.

Sure, you can gain weight and build muscle while eating a “see food” diet. I put on 18 pounds in 30 days by eating foot long meatball subs from Subway, drinking whole milk, and eating McDonald’s.

I certainly wasn’t healthy, but it taught me a valuable lesson about bulking up.

Our bodies can process most calories fairly efficiently, and will use our excess calories to help us gain weight. And if you need to eat poorly to start seeing results to start, that’s fine.

As you start to get more knowledgable and your budget increases, you can adjust the dial to eating more and more healthy bulk foods.

(Want to make sure that weight gained is muscle and not fat? Keep reading)

Rule #3) Eat Enough Protein.

Protein = building blocks for your muscles.

This means prioritizing:

  • Chicken
  • Meat
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Almonds
  • Quinoa
  • Legumes

How much protein do you need every day? As we lay out in our “Newbies Guide to Protein Shakes,” aim for 1-1.5 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight (2.2-3g per kg of bodyweight).

As that article points out, provided you’re a healthy individual with a healthy liver, you don’t need to worry about eating too much protein – you should be more concerned with eating too little protein.

Rule #4: Carbs are your friend when you need to put on weight.

This LEGO knows that if you want to gain weight and muscle, carbs will be your friend.

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

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

These are my favorite quality sources of high calorie carbohydrates:

  • Rice – either white or brown.
  • Quinoa.
  • Sweet potatoes.
  • Mini potatoes.
  • Regular potatoes.
  • Oatmeal

If money is tight, or you are struggling to find enough calories from those sources, you can also consider food like:

  • Pasta
  • Bread
  • Cereal
  • Pastries

You can get away with eating less healthy things ON OCCASION, but try to avoid fueling yourself with just junk food.

Also, as previously stated, every meal should have vegetables so your body can properly manage all those calories as they move through your body.

If you hate veggies, here’s how to make vegetables taste good.

In addition to carbs, eating lots of nuts (high calorie, high fat), as well as using healthy oils in your cooking and eating (coconut oil, olive oil) can easily help you reach your caloric goals too.

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:

Rule #5: Keep track of everything you eat and what the scale says.

This pencil is a perfect tool to track your fitness progress.

For the next month, I want you to track everything you eat.

Every single calorie.

The only way to know if you’re eating enough calories, enough protein, and enough carbs is if you track your calories and your progress by taking measurements:

  • Take front and side photos every Monday.
  • Track your meals every day.
  • Weigh yourself every other day.

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

If the scale isn’t 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.

You can always scale back the calories later if needed. YOU WILL NOT GET TOO BULKY. Trust me. That should not even be a concern in your mind.

Remove “I don’t want to get too bulky” from your vocabulary.

Rule #6: WEight Gain Exercises: Compound Movements for the win!

storm troopers hit the gym to gain weight and bulk up

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

Do the above, and you’ll put on weight.

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

Crap.

That’s where training comes in! If you want to bulk up correctly, you need to be strength training with heavy weight and compound body movements.

Concentrate on complex, compound exercises that recruit as many muscles as possible:

Do these exercises, and concentrate on getting as strong as possible with each of them.

Here’s a sample workout to gain weight

MONDAY TRAINING DAY:

  1. Squats (4×5)
  2. Benchpress (3×8)
  3. Wide Grip Pull Ups (3×10)
  4. Planks (3x 30 seconds)

WEDNESDAY TRAINING DAY: 

  1. Deadlift (3×5)
  2. Overhead Press (3×8)
  3. Inverted Rows (3×8)
  4. Hanging Knee Raises (3×10)

FRIDAY TRAINING DAY: 

  • Front Squats (3×6)
  • Dips (3×10)
  • Chin Ups (3×10)
  • Reverse Crunches

(Not sure what those numbers mean? Read our article on sets and reps).

Don’t worry about isolation exercises like triceps extensions, shoulder shrugs, bicep curls or crunches right now.

All of the compound exercises listed here use every muscle in your body, and when you overload your body with calories and protein, those muscles will grow.

If you have extra time in the gym and you want to throw in some bicep curls or overhead tricep extensions, go nuts.

Just only after your big lifts are done!

  • Want more workouts to follow? Read through our Strength Training 101 series that will answer all your questions!
  • Terrified to even step foot into a gym? We understand! Check out our Beginner’s Guide to the Gym article for some basic strategies and workouts.
  • Not sure where to start or what to do? We’ve put together an assessment quiz, as well as numerous progressive workouts – for both the gym or home – in our comprehensive Nerd Fitness Academy.
  • Want somebody to tell you EXACTLY how to exercise and how to eat? Check out our 1-on-1 Coaching Program.

Your NF Coach Can Help you build a workout

Rule #7: Progressive Overload Is Your Friend.

If you are going to get bigger, you need to constantly increase the amount of weight your muscles are required to lift.

Every time you train, your muscles are being taught “I must get bigger and stronger in case I have to do that again!”

And then you push your muscles even farther by picking up SLIGHTLY heavier things, and they have to adapt yet again by getting even bigger and stronger.

This is called “progressive overload,” and it is a CRUCIAL part of strength training and building muscle.

So how do you progressively overload your muscles?

  • Lift more weight than last time
  • Do more reps than last time

Just like tracking your eating is important, so is tracking your workouts! 

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 oldschool notebook or whatever floats your boat.

Write down exactly how much you lifted, how many sets, how many reps, and how you felt.

And then next time?

Pick up more.

In addition to the protein shakes mentioned back in Rule #3, consider a creatine supplement – it allows your muscles to store more water – which will both help you ‘bulk up’ and improve your performance in the gym!

Rule #8: Appearance is a consequence of fitness.

This is the mantra of the actors of who trained for the movie 300 – would you be okay looking like a Spartan?

do the 300 circuit training workout to get strong like King Leonidas

Concentrate on getting really strong and lifting heavy weights, and your body will follow suit.

Don’t concern yourself with sculpting muscles or finding isolation exercises.

It doesn’t matter if you can only bench press 10 lb dumbbells right now and can’t do a single pull-up.

Wherever you’re starting out, concentrate on being stronger each and every time you exercise.

Hit the gym 3x per week, pick up a barbell. Repeat.

Push yourself, get stronger, lift more, and before you know it you’ll be big and strong.

If you eat enough calories, and focus on getting stronger, you WILL get big.

Rule #9: Let your muscles rest!

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

Never exercise the same muscle on two consecutive days in a row.

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.

Training 3-4 days a week with a day off in between each (and plenty of calories) is plenty of training.

Skinny guys often don’t need to train more, they need to eat and rest more!

Rule #10: Sleep is A Requirement.

Of course this dog gets enough sleep, because he is trying to gain weight.

You need to be getting at least 7 hours of sleep to function as a human, but you should be trying to get 8-9 hours of sleep as often as possible for maximum gains to get bigger!

Building muscle is hard work, and your body can use all the help it can get.

Your body is doing nothing but lying there and building muscle while you’re sleeping.

If you are only getting 6 hours or less, you’re not going to get all the benefits of your exercising and diet.

I know it’s tough, but those 3AM raids in WoW or matches in Overwatch will need to wait – you can come back to them after you get big and strong.

So don’t make these sleep mistakes.

Rule #11: Cardio is your enemy.

Running long distances isn’t going to help you get bigger.

When you run, your body will take all of the excess calories you’re eating and use them as fuel for your runs.

As we know now, running won't help this lizard go from skinny to bulky.

This leaves no calories left over to build muscle. Crap!

This means while you are trying to get bigger, you should be doing 3 things if you want the fastest results for weight gain:

  • Eat (a lot).
  • Lift (heavier).
  • Sleep (a lot).

Anything beyond that is a distraction and working against your goal.

If you’re going to run, do quick sprints or run up a hill.

You know what my favorite form of exercise is while bulking up? Walking to Mordor.

If you love to run, that’s fine, but understand you’ll need to eat even more calories and the running is actively working against your muscles that want to get bigger.

Keep your distance cardio to a minimum if you want to put on some pounds.

Rule #12: Make it part of your routine.

It’s okay to skip a workout here and there, but it’s not okay for you to skip a meal if you’re serious about weight gain.

You need to prioritize your eating.

It sucks, it’s practically a full time job, but it’s what you have to do.

Eat.

And if you still aren’t getting bigger, then you are not eating as much as you think you are eating.

Go back to basics, and track your calories again.

Check serving sizes, count portions, and so on.

And be honest with yourself: are you actually skipping lunch a few times a week when work gets busy, or skipping breakfast on the weekends when you sleep in?

SKINNY GUY HACK: Follow each big meal with by a calorie bomb protein shake. You can eat massive amounts of calories this way. Liquid calories don’t fill me up nearly as much as solid food.

This is the strategy I used to go from 170 pounds to 196 pounds, or from “Steve Rogers to Captain America.”

Rule #13: Realize you will put on some fat, and that’s okay.

This LEGO knows if he follows the tips in this article, he'll gain weight successfully.

With all of this eating, you are going to be putting on some fat along with your muscle.

That’s okay! You might be skinny enough that a bit of extra “cushion” on you is a good thing!

But what if you’re somewhere in the middle?

If you are skinny fat: we’d actually recommend a slight caloric deficit with LOTS of protein and heavy strength training to build muscle AND burn fat at the same time.

Then, once you get to a low enough body fat percentage that you can see some abdominal muscle definition, you can get back to bulking up.

If you are skinny and looking to bulk up: decide what what your goal weight is, and then aim for 5-10 lbs on top of it.

As you start to approach that weight, decide if you want to get bigger, or leaner, or simply maintain your weight!

To recap, here are the “13 Rules of Guaranteed Weight Gain”:

  1. Eat more. Duh.
  2. Eat mostly good things.
  3. Eat enough protein.
  4. Carbs are your friend.
  5. Keep track of everything you eat.
  6. Weight gain exercises: compound movements
  7. Progressive overload is your friend.
  8. Appearance is a consequence of fitness.
  9. Let your muscles rest.
  10. Sleep is your friend.
  11. Cardio is your enemy
  12. Make this part of your routine.
  13. Realize you’ll put on fat. That’s okay.

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

-Steve

PS: Read all of that, and still overwhelmed? Afraid you’re gonna spend 10 years like I did training in the gym with no results?

I hear ya!

It sucked.

It’s why we started our 1-on-1 online coaching program, so you can work with a member of Team Nerd Fitness that gets to know you and your situation and you’ll interact with regularly as you complete your personalized workout and eating strategy!

Your Nerd Fitness Coach can help you build muscle

###

photo credit: steaklego bread and carbs, pencilW_Minshull Hardcore Stormies Hit The GymSpeed

Get The Rebel Starter Kit

Enter your email and we’ll send it right over.

  • The 15 mistakes you don’t want to make.
  • The most effective diet and why it works.
  • Complete your first workout today, no gym required.
  • These are the tools you need to start your quest.
Woman
Man