As a strongman or strength athlete, you will almost certainly need to pack on some serious pounds at some point in your training career either to build muscle or simply to move up to the next weight class to pursue a different challenge. If you’ve ever tried to put on weight when you are already the size of a bear, you know that it is a much more daunting beast than cutting weight. As a hard-training athlete I’m sure you’ve experienced the reality that maintaining your current weight takes an enormous effort and you’ll lose weight fairly quickly if you don't wolf down all of your meals each day.
Today I'm going to show you what it takes to gain 10 pounds in a month and why you would want to do it that quickly, based on my clients' experience, personal experience and the advice of professional strength athletes.
Forget About Lean Gains Nonsense
Throw the idea that eating slightly above your daily caloric requirements is going to allow you to gain significant weight out the window.
Ever heard of homeostasis? Your body is designed to set points at a happy medium that it likes to stay at for pretty much everything, including your weight. This is why you struggle to maintain your weight if you’ve already put on size to enter a new weight class or just to gain strength. The good news is, your body will adjust its set point to a new higher weight (or lower weight if you’re losing weight) after a few months of maintaining that higher bodyweight.
Put an extreme effort into gaining weight (10-15 lb.) for a short period of time (1 month), and then focus on maintaining that weight for several months until your new set point adjusts. This is not an excuse to eat garbage food though. Admittedly you aren’t just gaining muscle during this time frame, but you’re still trying to maximize the amount of weight you gain in muscle.
Now here are the steps to take if you’re struggling to gain weight or hold onto a higher bodyweight setpoint:
Eat a Pound of Ground Beef Every Day
This is on top of what you already eat daily. Don’t skip any other meals. Want to do steak instead? You can do it to mix things up and not get bored, but have you ever tried to eat a pound of steak every day? Ground beef is much easier eat consistently every day. Treat yourself occasionally with steak (see Kill Bowl recipe below). Experiment with seasonings, soy sauce, hot sauce, and other sauces to find what you like to wash this down with.
Brain Shaw even follows this step (albeit with 5-6 pounds of ground beef per day).
This is a great tasting Tex-Mex beef recipe that you can throw in a bowl and shovel down with a spoon:
- 1 lb. ground beef
- 1.5 cups cooked rice
- Tex-Mex spice and/or taco/burrito seasoning
- hot sauce
Other options for variety:
- green beans (always add veggies to your meals, frozen, cut green beans work great with this recipe without altering the flavour of the meal).
- sour cream
- refried beans
1. Throw your pound of beef in a pan on medium heat and brown.
2. Mix Tex-Mex seasoning, some taco seasoning (a packet should last you almost a week), and hot sauce while the beef cooks. Mix jalepenos, if you are adding them.
3. A few minutes before the beef is done, add your frozen green beans to heat.
4. Pour this mess over 1.5 - 2 cups of warm cooked rice mixed with refried beans (if you are adding this) in a giant bowl.
5. Top with salsa, more hot sauce, and any other toppings you like.
6. Dig in with a spoon.
Macros: (Just based on beef, rice, salsa, and seasoning - negligible)
Calories: 1463 kcal
87 g Protein
96 g Fat
72 g Carbs
Supersize Your Shakes
If adding a pound of beef to your diet isn’t enough to tip the scales for you, supersize your shakes after training or throughout the day to get in an additional 1000 calories per day. Don’t use garbage weight gainers, make your own and drink it every day. It’s a very easy and tasty way to get in an extra 1000 calories.
- 2 scoops of high quality whey protein
- 250 mL milk
- 2 tbsp Peanut or almond butter
- 1 banana
- 1 tbsp. coconut oil
Macros: 859 kcal, 87 g Protein, 36 g Fat, 49 g Carbs.
- (Optional) 1 cup oatmeal to get to 1000 calories.
Throw it all in a blender, add some extra water if needed, and you’re good to go in under a minute! This makes a great substitute for breakfast if you’re in a hurry in the morning and want to start your day of gains off right.
Don’t Worry About the Number of Meals
Eat more per meal if you only like to eat a few meals each day, or don’t have want to spend the time eating six or seven times a day.
Work all day? Pack your shake for work and keep it in a cooler, eat big before work, have a snack at work to keep you going along with your shake/smoothie (check out these easy to make egg muffins) and eat big again after work.
As I like to maintain a longer fasting window and reap some of the benefits of intermittent fasting even while gaining weight, I typically only eat at most 4 times per day and can still gain weight, so it really comes down to being able to get in the total calories you need to be at a surplus through bigger meals.
Implement the first two strategies every single day. Don’t miss out on a day and don’t give up too soon. Often there is a latent period at first when trying to gain weight where your body just stays the same and you don’t see anything happen, but if you keep slogging through, the floodgates will suddenly open and you’ll be a few pounds heavier seemingly overnight. In the end, consistency is an absolute necessity for gaining weight and then maintaining what you’ve gained. Even if you don’t feel like eating, if your overall goal requires you to gain weight, you’ve got to have to discipline to keep eating consistently.
This is another reason why I like including a longer fasting window. I almost always train in the morning and go without food until after training. After that prolonged fasting window, I’m always hungry to get in a big meal, like my first pound of beef, and be off to the races for another big day of eating.
Being able to better digest the surplus of calories you’re consuming is also important, which is why you should consider adding fermented foods to your nutrition practice. Probiotics help to increase nutrient bioavailability and food digestion.
Up the Sodium
Contrary to popular belief that more sodium is bad, hard training athletes need a lot more sodium and other electrolytes than your average sedentary individual. Add soy sauce or seasoning packets to your meals to make them more palatable. Not only will it make it easier to choke down all your food, but sodium will help you to absorb and retain more water and hold a few extra pounds of water weight, this extra hydration will make you slightly stronger. If you’re stronger you have the potential to build more muscle, and therefore gain more bodyweight. This is a technique that is often used by powerlifters and strongmen right before a competition as the “sodium bloat” will help them to perform better throughout the long day of competition. You can read more about maximizing competition performance in my free eBook here.
If All Else Fails, Add Olive Oil To Your Meals.
You’ve followed all other techniques religiously and you’re still struggling to gain weight. Add 1-2 tbsp of olive oil to a couple of your meals each day, including any cheat meals you have and you’ll surely stop considering yourself a hardgainer. Eating a pizza on the weekend? Drizzle a few tbsp olive oil on it! Add it to your shakes, extra on your veggies, and try this delicious recipe out:
The Kill Bowl (I discovered this recipe from Antoine Vaillant).
- 10-12 oz steak (this is a good way to cook cheap, tough beef and still have it taste outstanding).
- Tex-Mex seasoning (you can use whatever seasoning you want)
- Enough hot sauce to kill a man (Frank’s works best with this recipe)
- 1.5 - 2 cups white rice
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. coconut oil
- Green beans or broccoli (I like to add a veggie to this recipe, but this is optional).
- Cut your steak into bite-size pieces.
- Melt 1 tbsp. coconut oil in frying pan on medium heat.
- Cook your steak, sprinkle Tex-Mex seasoning and some hot sauce while cooking.
- If adding veggies, throw them in half-way through the cooking process so they will be done when the steak is done.
- Add more hot sauce.
- Throw your rice in the pan just before it is all ready to heat up the rice and mix the flavours.
- Put everything in a giant bowl. Add more hot sauce (enough hot sauce to kill a man).
- Pour 2 tbsp. olive oil over the kill bowl and mix it up. Devour with a spoon.
Macros (for 10 oz cooked steak, and 1.5 cups of cooked rice) :
94 g Protein
82 g Fat
68 g Carbs
Eat this a couple times per week or whenever beef is on sale and tell me you can’t gain weight!
Only Track Calories If Still Not Gaining Weight
As was stated in the beginning of this article, forget about the lean gains idea and focus on gaining weight with an all out assault. The only way this doesn’t work is if you weren't eating enough food to begin with. If this is the case, calculate your macronutrient requirements and readjust your goals.
Typically the strength community and fitness community as a whole is too pedantic about “tracking macros” when it comes to gaining weight. This should only be prioritized if you have to stay within a specific weight class to achieve the goals you have set for yourself. Focus on incorporating more quality protein and healthy fats in your diet through ideas like the ones listed above and you’ll have much better success on your quest towards tipping the scales and lifting bigger weights.
What are Your strategies for gaining weight? Leave a comment below.
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