Staying in shape matters now more than ever, and being too skinny or too weak comes with its own set of complications — one of the most significant problems being the fact that your immune system is weakened. This raises the question: how exactly does one go from skinny to muscular?
Odds are, if you’re underweight, you aren’t eating enough, which means that your body lacks the energy it needs to fight off viruses and diseases. This is usually brought about by a lack of protein. The less protein you consume, the less amino acids your body produces, and these acids play a crucial role in creating virus and bacteria-fighting antibodies.
With that said, let’s delve into the nitty-gritty of how you can bolster your weight gain and get into the groove of building some much-needed muscle mass!
Calories and You: The Necessities for Growth
What are calories?
If you’re interested in transforming your build from skinny to muscular, then you’ve likely seen the word “calorie” being thrown around before. Simply put, calories are a unit of measurement that you can use to estimate precisely how much energy a certain type of food has.
Foods that are high in calories aren’t necessarily bad for you as they can help you gain weight and provide your body with the energy it needs to move. The tricky part is discerning which meals to eat and which meals to avoid. After all, there are good and bad calories, as some food simply has more nutritional value than others.
Are all calories useful?
Certain types of food such as fast food, processed food, or desserts are high in calories but lack the nutrients necessary to provide your body with any health benefits. These are also known as “empty calories.”
How much should I eat?
To gain weight, you have to make sure you consume a lot of calories every day. Since you’ll be exercising a lot to bulk up, a lot of these calories will be burned, meaning you’ll need to eat significantly more than usual.
Now you might be thinking: “how much do I need to eat to gain weight anyway?”
The truth is, there’s no simple answer. If you’re serious about gaining weight and building muscle, you’ll have to go the extra mile to reach the caloric surplus: a state that refers to when the number of calories you consume exceeds the number of calories you burn via exercise. This state must be reached for those keen on bulking up.
Under-eating is a surefire way to ruin your bulk-up plan as not having enough calories means your overall energy levels will be lower, meaning your body won’t be able to repair itself and add muscle. Your testosterone levels will also decrease, meaning exercise will be even less likely to build muscle.
The Best Meals for Maximizing Weight and Muscle Gain
Other staple foods for increasing body weight and gaining muscle mass include carbohydrates like oats and quinoa. One important factor to consider when examining carbohydrates and their nutritional properties is the glycaemic index (GI). This is a rating system for meals with carbs used to determine how quickly they raise the glucose level of your blood.
Oats, in particular, are low in fat and high in fiber, and rich in nutrients and minerals necessary for building muscle mass. They are also low in GI, making them an excellent choice for pre-workout food as it is slow to digest and absorb. Consuming oats can prolong both your endurance and your exercise performance.
Quinoa, on the other hand, makes for an excellent post workout food as it is high in protein, carbohydrates, fiber, as well as magnesium and iron — both of which facilitate protein synthesis, which revolves around the creation of new proteins in the body. Quinoa is also a superfood, which means it offers maximum health benefits for minimal calories.
Protein from meat
Lean meat contains higher ratios of protein to fat. Food such as chicken, fish, and non-fatty beef or pork serves as an excellent means of providing the body with the nutrients necessary for bulking up. Proteins play a crucial role in building lean muscle. It serves as a crucial component for building muscles, bones, cartilage, skin, hair, and blood while fighting infections, preventing blood clots, and forming scars.
Fatty fish like salmon and trout are rich in nutrients that offer a wide range of health benefits, making them perfectly viable means of providing your body with what’s necessary to grow and strengthen itself.
One important thing to note is that fatty fish, or more specifically the oil found in fatty fish, is rich in omega-3 fatty acids like eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These omega-3s fight inflammation and support muscle recovery after exercise, reducing muscle soreness and counteracting the ill effects of heart disease and arthritis.
What you’ll want is a balanced diet of lean meat and fatty fish. Skinny people, in particular, will benefit as these meals can provide them with the means of gaining muscle mass and healthy fats, not to mention EPA and DHA — both of which the human body cannot generate on its own.
Fruits, nuts, and vegetables
A staple for health enthusiasts, bananas are rich in carbohydrates and potassium — two nutrients that are essential for building muscle. Bananas can help you increase glycogen levels, which serve as potent fuel for the muscles during exercise. Potassium helps your muscles tighten, shorten, and lengthen as electrolytes assist with muscular contraction.
On the other hand, those looking for high concentrations of protein can always count on almonds to get the job done. Almonds are effective pre-workout snacks that fuel your body with protein and healthy fats. They are also vegan-friendly.
As for post-workout meals, sweet potatoes are an excellent option as they are rich in copper, which helps keep muscle tissue healthy whilst simultaneously replenishing energy levels. They also contain vitamin C, which actively prevents muscle catabolism — the breakdown of muscle tissue.
Building the Ideal Workout Plan
Monday: Chest Exercises
- Bench Press – 3 Sets of 6-8 reps
- Incline Dumbbell Bench Press – 3 Sets of 8-12 reps
- Cable Crossovers – 3 Sets of 8-12 reps
- Decline Dumbbell Bench Press – 3 Sets of 8-12 reps
- Push ups – 3 Sets of 8-12 reps
Tuesday: Back Exercises
- Deadlift – 3 Sets of 8-12 reps
- Seated Cable Row – 3 Sets of 8-12 reps
- Lat Pulldown – 3 Sets of 8-12 reps
- Bent Over Barbell Row – 3 Sets of 8-12 reps
- Back Hyperextension – 3 Sets of 8-12 reps
- Pull ups – 3 Sets of 8-12 reps or as many as you can
Wednesday: Leg Exercises
- Squat Barbell – 3 Sets of 8-12 reps
- Leg Press – 3 Sets of 8-12 reps
- Leg Extension – 3 Sets of 8-12 reps
- Hamstring Curls – 3 Sets of 8-12 reps
- Standing Calf Raises – 3 Sets of 8-12 reps
Thursday: Rest Day
Friday: Shoulders + Core Exercises
- Overhead Barbell Press – 3 Sets of 8-12 reps
- Lateral Raises – 3 Sets of 8-12 reps
- Front Raises – 3 Sets of 8-12 reps
- Dumbbell Shrugs – 3 Sets of 8-12 reps
- Planks – 3 Sets for 30-60 seconds
- Sit ups – 3 Sets for 10-20 reps
- V ups – 3 Sets for 10-20 reps
Saturday: Arm Exercises
- Bicep EZ Bar Curls – 3 Sets of 8-12 reps
- Hammer Curls – 3 Sets of 8-12 reps
- Triceps Rope Pushdown – 3 Sets of 8-12 reps
- Triceps Dumbbell Extensions – 3 Sets of 8-12 reps
- Skull Crushers – 3 Sets of 8-12 reps
Sunday: Rest Day
Tracking and measuring progress
Doing the same workouts every week without changing the weights or the number of reps will not help your muscles get stronger.
Now you might be wondering: when is it time to change weights?
Over time, your body will get used to your workout plan. Performing each set will become significantly easier, and you’ll find yourself thinking you can get away with more reps per set.
Once the exercise starts feeling “easy” and you can finish all three sets without feeling any fatigue at all, then that is when it’s time to move on to heavier weights. If you ever find yourself getting winded before finishing all three of your sets per exercise, you are not yet ready to increase your weights for that particular exercise.
It’s advisable to keep track of the exercises you do each day recording the number of reps you do per set, as well as the weights of the dumbbells used if applicable. It’s also important to keep track of how much food you eat to gauge how many calories you consume per day. Calorie tracking can help you measure how much weight you gain — or lose if you aren’t eating enough.
Fortunately, there are free health apps that can help you do exactly that.
Common Pitfalls to Avoid when Bulking Up
Not resting enough
To the unaware, overworking yourself might seem like a good idea for building muscle. After all, the harder you work, the better the payoff, right? This is true, but not exactly in the way you’re thinking.
As mentioned before, muscle gain and bulking up don’t come while you’re working out. What working out actually does is give your muscles micro-tears, which will then be mended and improved the next time you rest.
During those windows where you give yourself time to settle down and relax, your catabolic hormones recede, and your muscles begin to reconstruct themselves. You must give your muscles time to rest, or else they will not grow.
Not eating before exercising
No matter how hard you train your muscles and relax to let them recover, resting alone is insufficient. For your muscles to mend themselves and grow, you will need the nutrients necessary for their development.
Without eating, you’ll find that your body becomes sluggish and much more unresponsive the more you exercise. You might also find yourself getting exhausted mid-workout, growing dizzy, and much more easily fatigued—usual signs that your body is beginning to run out of energy.
Because of this, it’s important to eat at least 30 minutes before exercising to give your body the fuel it needs to endure a full workout session. The nutrients you receive from your snack will be used as energy, sparing your muscles from having to expend the energy it needs to grow. Pre-workout snacks also facilitate the post-workout anabolic processes of your body; in other words, the growth and construction of your muscles.
Inconsistent dieting and exercise
Though it’s advisable to reach the caloric surplus, it is still possible to overeat. Likewise, it is entirely possible to undereat. You’ll need to construct a meal plan that works for you and stick to it.
Even if you’re skinny and the idea of eating in excess to gain weight appeals to you, it’s important to keep in mind that eating the wrong things can only do more harm to your body than good. You must exercise caution with what you eat. Stick to a healthy and balanced diet while avoiding meals with empty calories such as fast food or soda.
Much like dieting, it’s possible to overtrain your body and undertrain it. Working yourself to exhaustion is just as counterproductive as simply not working out; the former uses up too many nutrients that your muscles fail to develop. The latter means your muscles will fail to develop at all.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much effort you put into one singular workout session. What matters is maintaining a level of consistency that allows you to train all your muscles while simultaneously eating steady amounts of food to give your muscles the nutrients they need to grow and develop over the course of weeks, months, and years.
Mass gainers – yay or nay?
The suitability of weight gain shakes depends entirely on the sort of body you want.
If you’re not just looking to build muscle but to gain overall weight and increase your overall body fat percentage, then supplements like these are your best friend. Protein shakes, also known as mass gainers, contain generous amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and fats in powder form for quick and easy consumption. A single shake could provide your body with over a thousand calories.
On the other hand, if you wish for a body that consists of pure lean muscle without the extra pounds, then mass gainers must be avoided at all costs. Get your protein from lean meat instead if you want to avoid the extreme amounts of calories you can get from the added carbs and fats.
For those with dietary restrictions that bar you from consuming meat like chicken, beef, or pork, a viable alternative beyond weight gain shakes includes whey protein. This supplement provides your body with protein and only a few carbs and fats, helping you build lean muscle without increasing the levels of fat in your body.
From Skinny to Muscular: The Final Takeaway
The key to gaining weight and building muscle mass lies in one’s willingness to commit to it. Nobody ever said bulking up was easy, and achieving your ideal body type requires a lot of consistency and sacrifice. Even if it means pushing your body beyond its limits daily, or giving up fast food for good.