When it comes to gaining weight—particularly for naturally skinny guys who are just getting into weightlifting—it’s actually quite simple: eat more calories than you burn.
And so I typically recommend that you (1) multiply your bodyweight by 16, (2) eat that many calories for two weeks, (3) track your weight each morning, and then (4) adjust your calories according to whether your average weight for the week is trending up or down.
Scratching your head yet?
If that wasn’t enough, now you’ve got to make the adjustments, distribute those calories into the right macronutrient ratio, and then you’ve got to weigh your food and track every single macronutrient you consume to ensure you’re hitting your numbers, accurately.
To someone who’s been in the game for a while, that sounds pretty standard. But for someone who’s just starting out and doesn’t even know what a macronutrient is, it could be a bit overwhelming.
Lucky for you, however, a naturally skinny guy who’s new to weight training isn’t going to have to be as meticulous about his calories. There is no better time to eat way your big than right now. Due to the rapid adaptations and growth in muscle mass, eating above the recommended surplus is probably not going to do too much damage. In fact, perhaps none at all.
So if you’re as impatient for gains as I am, then skip all of the confusing calculations and, instead, apply one of these three diet strategies.
1. The Ballpark Method
Multiply your bodyweight (in lbs) by 20 and, viola, you’ve got your target intake.
For example, if you’re 125 pounds, you’d simply multiply that (125) by 20.
125 x 20 = 2,500kcal Simple enough, right?
Now that you have your goal intake for the day, it’s time to hit your numbers.
Say your goal for the day is 2500 calories; every time you sit down to eat a meal, you’ll go over the total calories on the nutrition label and add those together (assuming you’re having more than one food source). For example, if you’re having 2 whole eggs, 2 slices of toast, and 1 packet of oatmeal, then look at the total calories for each item—keep in mind serving sizes—and add them up. Let’s say your breakfast meal came out to be, roughly, 600 calories; this means you’ve got 1900 calories left for the day. Each time you sit down to have a meal, repeat the process of adding up the nutrition labels, and continue subtracting from the remaining calories until you’ve reached 0.
In the event that you’re faced with consuming foods that don’t have a nutrition label—or where the serving sizes require some measuring—guesstimate! That’s why we call this The Ballpark Method.
2. The See Food Diet
The See Food Diet: You see food, you eat it!
Researchers found that participants who left cereal on the counter (similar to how one would leave a bowl of fruits) weighed an average of 20 lbs. more than participants who didn’t keep cereal in plain sight.
That said, it may not be a bad idea to leave higher calorie, nutrient dense foods lying around the kitchen. Perhaps having a jar of mixed nuts that you could snack on throughout the day would help get in those additional calories.
You see, you’re already eating enough calories to maintain your weight, naturally—it’s why our weight hovers around the same number despite us not calculating our intake. Thus, adding an additional 200-400kcal by simply snacking on something throughout the day would be an effortless way to go from maintaining your weight to gaining, instead.
But the see food diet doesn’t end there. As it implies, you should aim to eat food whenever you set your sights on it. So whether it’s bagels lying around the breakroom or left over pizza on the kitchen counter, if you see it, eat it.
And before you assume that this strategy is the fast lane to Fatville, understand this: guys who struggle to gain weight do not have the stomach capacity to eat their way fat; especially once they’re following an intensive training program.
3. Progressive Overfeeding
Right now, chances are, you’re eating 2-3 meals per day. In most cases, it’s 2 actual meals—breakfast and dinner or lunch and dinner—with 1 or 2 small snacks in between. Unfortunately, that’s just not cutting it. Fortunately, however, the changes needed in order to move the scale are quite minimal.
- Start aiming to eat 3 full meals, per day, with 1 small snack at some point in the day.
- Track your weight, daily, and get an average weigh-in at the end of each week.
- Once that average is no longer increasing, it’s time to add another meal.
Week 1-4: 3 meals per day + 1 snack
Week 5-8: 4 meals per day + 1 snack
Week 9 – 12: 5 meals per day + 1 snack
Week 13-16: 6 meals per day
week 17-20: 6 meals per day + 1 snack
And so on.
If you’re consistent, and meal choices are constant, you should be able to ride this wave for a while. In fact, by the time you’ve reached 6-7 meals per day, you will have likely exhausted your newbie gains and be ready to take a more calculated approach. But, you will have built a solid foundation without have had to track a single calorie.
To be clear, these strategies are for naturally skinny guys whom are just getting into weightlifting, only. Also, depending on progress, one should aim to transition into a more calculated approach at about the 6-12 month mark of their training—once they’ve exhausted their newbie gains.
Although these strategies aren’t the most accurate in terms of calorie intake and macronutrient breakdown, they do provide a simple, stress-free solution for anyone who struggles to gain weight and is new to bodybuilding.
The idea behind these diet strategies is simple: The simplicity of these methods will yield better adherence, and, ultimately, better results due to consistency. Period.