Are you trying to put on some muscle but you can’t gain weight no matter what you eat? Are you blaming your genetics, fast metabolism, or insufficient appetite? These factors play a role but there are three surprising things that prevent most people from gaining healthy weight successfully.

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Even though counting calories is most often used for weight loss, there are a lot of people trying to do the opposite. This is especially common with young athletes that live a really active life and can’t seem to gain any weight. But no matter the age, people might want to put on muscle, regain their strength after an illness, or just fill out to look good at the beach. They all report stagnating despite eating everything in sight. If you’re one of those people, here is what you should do to progress.

In theory, if you eat 1000 kcal more than you need every day for 8 weeks, you should gain about 7,4 kg (16 pounds) of total body weight. In reality, your metabolism increases as a reaction to a higher calorie intake and you gain much less.

Increase your food intake – gradually

It’s very common that people who decide to gain weight start by overeating a LOT on the first day. Let’s say you go all out and binge on pizza, soda, cakes, chocolate, and chips and take in 4000 kcal instead of your usual 2000 kcal a day. The problem is that the human body is not a machine, it immediately starts adapting. How? The following day or two you will feel substantially less hungry and you are likely to end up eating way below your norm, perhaps 1500 kcal. This will negate the surplus you’ve created. If you want to have a chance of sustaining a calorie surplus you shouldn’t binge, rather increase your intake gradually and sustainably.

Be aware of your activity levels

Another thing your body will do if you increase your calories is that it will try to burn them off with increased activity. You might find yourself full of energy and wanting to exercise more often and push harder, pace walk while on the phone, fidget, or take the stairs. The problem is most of these changes are subconscious and hard to notice unless you are aware of this effect. So, make sure increased activity is not sneaking up on you and if it happens, keep increasing your food intake to account for it.

Watch out for those small subconscious changes. © Profimedia

Choose foods that are nutrient & calorie dense

If you are to successfully increase your food intake in a sustainable way, you need to bypass your satiety a little bit. Foods that are very calorie dense, yet low in water and fibre, will be the best option. This is why people often go for cakes, ice cream, pizza, sodas, and other junk food. But if you want to put on weight in a healthy way, make sure the calorie-dense foods are also rich in nutrients. Your best bet is to add nuts or nut butters, fattier cuts of meat and fish, grains, if you tolerate them well, and increase your usage of oils for salads and cooking.

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