Unfortunately, eating to gain weight has a side effect other than muscle growth – you’ll likely add a little body fat along the way.
This is natural and should be viewed as part of the process.
Weight gain diets aren’t a permanent nutrition plan (unless your goal is to sumo wrestle). They are short term plans used to bulk up.
If your overall goal is the common one, to end up with a body big on muscle and low in body fat, your weight gain program is phase one.
Phase two will be your cutting phase. The good news is that the body fat you put on while eating to gain weight will come off quickly when followed up with a diet and program designed for getting lean.
Don’t Irrationally Fear Body Fat
Newly acquired body fat is generally the easiest to lose; it is that fat that we’ve had for years that is typically the sticking point.
If you are a naturally skinny person, beware of any irrational fears about body fat. It has been my experience that, for some reason, the people who should worry the least about putting on a little additional body fat (i.e. naturally thin people) seem to get the most freaked out by it.
Unfortunately, many people trying to gain weight scrap their programs at the first hint of a little fat, irrespective of the corresponding muscle gains they make.
This is one reason (one of many) that you should not track your program only by the scales; you need to also track your body tape measurements and your body fat percentages.
This is the only way to know exactly what you are gaining and where you are gaining it. It will help calm you down a little bit when you see that while your pants may be a little tighter, your biceps are exploding.
Why Not Just Eat Moderately, Gain Weight AND Avoid Putting On Body Fat?
This sounds like a super smart thing to do but it is actually a recipe for failure. It is one of the major reasons that even people who enjoy going to the gym often find themselves making no progress. They don’t lose body fat and they don’t build muscle because they never put their entire focus on either thing.
By attempting to do this, to accomplish all your goals at once, you won’t be providing the body with the necessary nutrition to stay in an anabolic mode (growth mode) and build muscle. You will end up not building muscle, not gaining weight and not getting six-pack abs. At least you won’t be achieving any of these things very soon.
Absolute Law: If you aren’t eating to gain weight, you aren’t going to be gaining weight.
Learn from pro bodybuilders here. They have two distinct phases of training: Bulking and Cutting. They bulk up (eating to gain weight, eating above maintenance), and then they cut the body fat (eating below maintenance and adding cardio).
Why? Because they know this is the quickest way to progress, the quickest way to get where they want to go, the way to be at their most impressive come contest time.
If you truly want to achieve your overall goals in the shortest amount of time, do not multi-task your fitness goals (see Weight Gain Plan: Factors for Success (Pt. 2) for more on why you don’t want to multi-task your fitness goals).
All this is not to suggest that you should not be concerned with your body fat while eating to gain weight.
How Much Body Fat Is Acceptable?
This is difficult to quantify because of the relative inaccuracy of body fat estimations. Generally, you wouldn’t want to start a weight gain program with a body fat percentage over 15-20 percent for a man or 25-30 percent for a woman and you would want to switch to a cutting phase if your percentage increased to that amount during your program.
However, due to the inaccuracy of body fat estimations, a look in the mirror is probably your best guide here.
While monitoring your program, noticing a larger gain in body fat than in lean body mass is a good reason to look at modifying your weight gain diet (lowering overall calories, upping protein ratio, etc.). Through experience will you get a good idea of just how much body fat gain is acceptable for you relative to lean muscle gains.
Generally though, you should expect at least 50% of your weight gain to come from muscle.
Some people can naturally build muscle without noticeable body fat gains while others (the majority) must tolerate some temporary gains in body fat. The more muscle you gain, it is likely the more body fat you will have to accept for additional gains.
But, trust me, accepting a little temporary body fat in return for a lot of muscle is a pretty good deal.
So, what can you do to encourage the majority of your weight gain to come in the form of muscle?
One thing you do is train to give the body a reason to add muscle mass. Learn more about weight training for muscle mass gain.
Another thing to do is eat frequent meals. Six Meals a Day is an effective way to convince the body that it doesn’t need to store fat.
Yet another thing you do is adjust your diet’s macronutrient ratio. Lowering your simple carb intake outside of pre and post-workout meals is a good place to start. Learn more about eating to gain weight on the Diet To Gain Weight page.
Couple more articles you may like…
How To Best Use Weight Gain and Muscle Supplements
Learn how to pick and correctly use ONLY those supplements that will actually help you towards your muscle gain goals.
Protein & The Muscle Building Diet: How Much, What Kinds and Why
Discover the critical roles that protein plays in building muscle and learn how much you need and when you need it.