By Leo Babauta
As we do the Lean-Out Diet course, it’s natural that not everyone will want to lose weight. In fact, there are many people who really want to gain weight … but gaining lean weight (rather than just putting on fat) is probably what most people would prefer.
So how do we gain lean weight, instead of losing fat or gaining fat?
Well, some important things to remember about gaining weight:
- You have to eat more calories than you burn. It’s that simple. If you’re not gaining weight, you’re not eating enough calories.
- If you gain, you will inevitably gain some muscle and some fat. It’s impossible to gain all lean mass (which usually means muscle, but also includes bones, organs and connective tissue) or all fat … it’s always some blend of both. However … we can try to have the weight gain be more muscle and less fat.
How do we try to ensure that the weight gained is more lean mass and less fat? That brings us to some other important ideas:
- Strength training is important. If you do strength training, you’re putting demands on your muscle that require that they grow. Your body will take whatever excess calories it gets and shunt most of them to the muscle for building. What kind of strength training? Bodyweight exercises are good for those who don’t already do strength training. But using weights of some kind is probably ideal, especially if you already lift weights. The fundamentals are all you need: the basic compound barbell exercises like bench press, squats, deadlifts, shoulderpress, plus chinups and dips as accessories.
- Don’t eat too much extra calories. If you eat 1,000 calories above your maintenance, and you’re lifting weights, you’ll definitely gain muscle. But also a ton of extra fat. I recommend just 250 calories above maintenance at first (if your maintenance level of calories is 2,500, shoot for around 2,750). If that works for you for a couple weeks but you want to try to go above that, try 500 calories above maintenance. If you don’t gain too much fat at that level, it’s probably good. If you’re lifting heavy weights 5-6 days a week, you can probably eventually go to 750 calories above maintenance.
- A little more protein is probably a good idea. You don’t have to go crazy like the bodybuilders do, but .6 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight is probably a good figure to shoot for if you’re lifting weights (i.e. 180lbs. x .6 grams = 108 grams). Less carbs on the days you don’t lift weights, more carbs around your workout days. This isn’t an exact science, no matter what you might read on the Internet.
So that outlines a basic plan. Some additional ideas:
- If you have trouble eating enough, add olive or coconut oil to your dishes. That increases calories a lot.
- Other good options for healthy fats to increase calories: nuts, nut butters, avocados, coconut, and dairy (though I don’t eat dairy for ethical reasons).
- I like to do a protein shake to get my protein. It’s just easier. As a vegan, I use soymilk with PlantFusion protein and some creatine.
- If you normally do a lot of cardio, cut back a little bit. Do sprints instead (including sprints on the bike, or really fast swimming laps). They will get you a good strong workout without burning all your excess calories.
- Smoothies with peanut or almond butter, ground flaxseeds and coconut oil are good. Throw in some bananas, greens, and whatever kind of milk or non-dairy milk you like, maybe some other fruits. Yumm!
A Good Plan
So putting that all together, here’s a plan that I might try:
- Put together a meal plan, just like in Lesson 1. But be sure to start with 250 calories above maintenance, and have a decent amount of protein. Try to stick to this eating plan daily. It might be hard for you to eat so much at first, if you are thin and don’t eat much, so you might progress to it over the course of a week.
- Lift weights or do bodyweight exercises 3x a week. If you do bodyweight exercises, maybe alternate between days where you do 3-5 sets of squats and lunges for Workout A, pushups and pullups for Workout B. If you lift weights, maybe do squats and shoulder press for Workout A, bench press and dips for Workout B, and deadlifts and chinups for Workout C. Three sets of five reps each exercise. Be sure to get a trainer for form if you haven’t learned form yet, or watch some Youtube videos on the proper form of each, because form is especially important for squats and deadlifts.
- Add some sprints if you want. If you want to work out on the non-strength training days, do sprint intervals in whatever endurance sport you like: running, biking, swimming, rowing, etc. Only do this if your body is recovering well from the strength training â€” if the strength training is tough on your body, skip the intervals and rest, rest, rest!
After a week or two, if all is going well, feel free to try to adjust your meal plan to increase to 500 calories above maintenance, and test that out.
Adjust as needed.
Be warned: if you’re not already doing strength training, you’ll be pretty sore. It’s a tough thing to add to your life, so ease into it by doing fewer reps (for bodyweight) or lighter weights (for barbell) to start out. Take an extra rest day if you’re super sore. Eat a lot, rest a lot, and your body will recover.