To many people, a diet to gain weight may sound like a delicious dream. They imagine guiltlessly stuffing themselves with pizza and ice cream to their heart’s content.
Sounds good, eh?
Unfortunately, while such a dream diet may lead to weight gain, it is unlikely to lead to the type of gain those of us actively seeking gains are after.
In order to get healthy weight gain (lean muscle weight), one needs to follow a diet that has quality nutrition. For best results, that nutrition should be delivered in proper ratios and quantities.
Too much or too little of certain nutrients can adversely affect results. Too few calories won’t produce the desired gains while too many calories can unnecessarily increase undesirable fat gains.
Getting to the best macronutrient ratio and caloric intake can be very individual and may require some trial and error. On this page we will go over some guidelines to get your weight gain diet off to a solid start.
What To Eat?
To design a successful diet to gain weight, we have to decide on how much of each of the calorie producing nutrients to include in our diet.
From the pages on protein, carbohydrates, and fat we have a percentage range that each nutrient should have in the weight gain diet. These are the generally accepted ranges:
Macronutrient Ratio Table
Weight Gain Diet
(1-2 grams per lb. of bodyweight)
The first step in designing a successful diet to gain weight and build muscle is deciding on your nutrient ratio. Different bodybuilding experts prescribe different ratios, some swearing a 40-40-20 diet is the best and others saying 40-30-30 diets are the only way to big gains.
The truth is that the best ratio will vary by person. You can gain weight and build muscle with any ratio that works within these ranges.
Explaining Diet Terminology
Diets are commonly referred to by the ratio of percentages for each of the three calorie producing nutrients with the order being protein-carbohydrates-fat. For example, a 40-30-30 diet would be a diet consisting of 40 percent protein calories, 30 percent carbohydrate calories and 30 percent fat calories.
Three Guidelines For Choosing Your Best Nutrient Ratio
If you have tracked your diet in the past, you may have an idea of what makes your body gain. If not, there are some general guidelines to take into consideration when picking a ratio…
- If you are highly active, start with a diet to gain weight high on carbohydrates to address your energy needs, perhaps a 25-55-20 diet or a 30-50-20 diet.
- If you are very skinny and have problems gaining any kind of weight regardless of how much you may eat, start with higher amounts of protein and fat, maybe a 40-30-30 diet.
- If you have significant body fat, more than 15 percent for men or 25 percent for women, start with a higher percentage of protein, 40 or 50 percent. Go to the Body Fat Percentages Page to learn how to figure your body fat percentage.
Remember, wherever you start, this is only a starting point. Don’t waste a lot of time here. You will change your ratio if you aren’t getting the results you desire. If you don’t have a clue, start your diet to gain weight with something in the middle ranges. 30-50-20 and 30-40-30 diets are great starting points.
How Much To Eat?
It is generally thought that a daily caloric intake of about 15 times your bodyweight is your maintenance diet. So, if you weigh 140 pounds, your maintenance diet would be about 2,100 calories per day (140 x 15=2,100). To gain weight you must increase your calories from your maintenance intake.
To start, most people will want to increase their daily caloric intake to 18-20 times their bodyweight.
(18-20)(Bodyweight in pounds) = Daily Caloric Intake
If you have significant body fat, you may want to start at 16 – 18 times your weight (or, first do a training program geared toward losing body fat).
Obviously, these numbers do not take into account the variance of metabolisms, activity levels and other factors and therefore will not represent a perfectly accurate number for you. They will serve as a good starting point though.
As you track your diet to gain weight and the effects it produces in your body, you will develop a much more individually accurate number.
A couple of examples…
- Too Few Calories – If you faithfully follow a diet of 20 times your weight (i.e. for a person weighing 150 pounds your daily caloric intake would be 3,000 calories – 150 x 20 = 3,000) and do not make gains in a couple of weeks you will know that you have an especially fast metabolism and/or a high activity level. You must therefore increase your caloric intake beyond twenty times to gain weight fast.
- Too Many Calories – Conversely, you may find your diet makes you gain too fast and results in unacceptable body fat gains (in which case you adjust caloric intake downwards and/or adjust your macronutrient ratio).
It is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT to know exactly how your diet is affecting your physique. To know this, you must be properly tracking your bodybuilding program. This doesn’t just mean that you are weighing yourself, but also using body tape measurements and body fat percentage calculations to determine the direction your body is moving. This will allow you to quickly make the appropriate adjustments.
Putting The Weight Gain Diet Together
You now have a starting point for the amount of calories to consume and the ratio those calories should be split between protein, carbohydrates and fat within your diet to gain weight. To put your diet into action it will be necessary to do some simple calculations to determine how many calories and grams of each nutrient you will need to consume.
For a calculator that will do the following for you, see the Bulking Diet Calculator on the Bodybuilding Diet Resources page.
First, to find the right amount of calories for each nutrient, you will need to multiply the decimal equivalent of each nutrient’s ratio percentage by your daily caloric intake goal.
(Daily Caloric Intake Goal)(Nutrient ratio %) =
daily caloric intake from nutrient.
For example, let’s say you have decided to start your diet to gain weight with a daily caloric intake goal of 2,800 calories and a nutrient ratio percentage of 40-30-30. Your calculations would be:
|Protein||2,800 x 40%(.40) = 1,120 calories|
|Carbohydrates||2,800 x 30%(.30) = 840 calories|
|Fat||2,800 x 30%(.30) = 840 calories|
Now you know how many calories to consume from each nutrient. To find the grams necessary for each of these nutrients, refer to the nutrient pages where you learned how many calories were in each gram of each nutrient…
|Fat (EFAs)||9 calories|
Divide the number of calories needed for each nutrient by that nutrient’s caloric content per gram.
(Calories for each nutrient) / (Nutrient’s calories per gram) =
Grams from nutrient daily
For the previous example, perform the calculations as follows:
|Protein||1,120 / 4 = 280 grams per day|
|Carbohydrates||840 / 4 = 210 grams per day|
|Fat||840 / 9 = 93.3 grams per day|
Now, you know exactly how many grams of each of the macronutrients you should shoot for every day. You won’t be able to hit these goals exactly, you just want to try and come as close as possible.
Sound Too Complicated?
Don’t be intimidated by the math. With a calculator, these are very simple equations to perform. Even if you changed your diet every week, which you won’t, these calculations wouldn’t take more than five minutes.
Look at My Sample Weight Gain Diet Plan to see how I put my diet together and a sample day of my weight gain meals.
Couple more articles you may like…
Find out how to pick the right program for you based on your training level.