I Can’t Gain Weight – Help!

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Oh boy. I can only imagine how some people who, upon reading the headline to this post (and are feverishly trying to lose weight), already dislike the person who submitted this question.

Waaaaaaa, poor you!  You have to eat more food. I haven’t eaten a carb since Christmas……cry me a river! 

As a strength coach, however, and someone who works with high-school and college athletes on a daily basis, I can tell you that struggling to gain weight (in an effort to improve performance on the field) is an all too common dilemma, and something that can just be as hard to resolve.

Which is why I felt I’d spend a little time addressing the topic here after receiving the following email in the Cressey Performance account recently.

Q: I’m 5’11 and weigh 150lbs. Last season I weighed 175 and then lost all of it because we ran so much, and ended the season weighing 135 lbs. That was a crisis for me. I have done the same exact thing as I did before but can’t seem to gain the weight back! Help me dude it’s killing me!

But I also have another question, and that is, would it hurt me to take half doses of creatine just to get a little bit bigger? 

A: Wow, that’s a pretty drastic drop in weight! First off, every time I hear a story of a baseball coach running his players into the ground I want to set my face on fire.

What’s the rationale?  What’s the longest distance that a baseball player will need to run?  It’s 90 feet from home plate to first base.  If someone rounded the bases that’s 360 feet.  Where does a 3-5 mile jog fit into the picture?  How does that prepare a player for the more explosive nature of the sport?

HINT:  it doesn’t!

Eric Cressey already chastised this sacred cow and explained why distance running really has no place in the sport HERE and HERE, so I won’t kick a horse when it’s down.

That said:

1.  Two points for Gryffindor for including not one, but two idioms in one sentence!

2.  Please stop running (for distance, anyways), if you haven’t already.

3. Maybe show the above articles to your coach, and he’ll have a change of heart….;o)

Looking at the positives, you’re already 15 lbs up, so you’re obviously doing something right.  But if there’s one piece of advice I can give you, it’s this:

You Need To Eat More

I know, I know – you eat, like, all the time.  And you couldn’t possibly eat any more.  I’ve heard that same excuse a few thousand times, and I’m sure I’ll hear it a thousand more.

Take my word for it: you’re not eating enough.

But before we get into that, lets address the more pertinent question: Creatine isn’t dangerous.  It’s the most researched supplement in human history, it works, there’s a ton of efficacy towards its use, and I’d highly encourage you to check out THIS review by the guys over at Examine.com for all the information you’ll ever need on the topic.

But, it’s not what you need nor should it be at the top of your list of priorties.  Not even close.

I’ve trumpeted this sentiment before, and I might as well say it again:

Supplements are progress enhancers, not progress starters.

If your current training and nutrition plan(s) aren’t yielding the results you want, than a supplement isn’t really the right approach. More to the point, the word supplement shouldn’t even reach the tip of your tongue until you have your nutrition in order.

You need CALORIES to grow.  If you’re not providing the body the ample nutrients it needs to not only grow, but recover, you’re just going to be spinning your wheels and wondering why you look like that skinny dude from Road Trip – and you’re certainly not going to be hitting any 400 ft bombs over the centerfield fence.

Exhibit A ==========>

[Giving credit where credit is due, at least he’s pwning some pancakes in that picture].

Here’s a quick quiz, and one of the first questions I’ll always ask an athlete who’s trying to put on weight:

What did you have for breakfast this morning?

9 times out of 10 I get a stammering answer that consists of a lot of “um’s” and uh’s” and every excuse in the book as to why they never have time to eat in the morning.

If you’re not eating breakfast, then again, you have no business asking about creatine, and you sure as heck-fire better start setting your alarm ten minutes earlier in the morning to MAKE TIME to eat breakfast.

As an example, here’s my typical breakfast that I eat every morning.

5 whole egg omelet with goat cheese and tons of cut up veggies (onion, broccoli, and sun-dried tomato) sprinkled with garlic powder, pepper, turmeric, and oregano.

1 cup oatmeal plue a scoop of Biotest Grow with a banana and cinnamon.

Save for maybe your post-training meal, breakfast should be your largest meal of the day.  But you can’t stop there!  One of the biggest mistakes I see guys make is that if they do eat breakfast (high five!), they’ll maybe nibble at lunch, and won’t eat another decent meal again until mom plops something on the dinner table.

If you can, try to stash some extra calories in your locker like beef jerky, nuts, fruit, or even better – and an idea I stole from John Berardi – several bagels with some peanut butter slapped between each side which you can easily crush while walking to your next class.

Some other food for thought (pun completely intended):

1.  Try your best to focus on whole, natural, un-processed foods like rice, potatoes (sweet and white), oatmeal, veggies, fruit, beef, chicken, fish, cheese, milk, various nuts, unicorn tears, you name it.

Of course if you have good allergies you have to take that into consideration, but don’t use the excuse of “dude, I’m bulking” as a free-pass to eat shitty food like pizza, chips, and Pop-Tarts on a regular basis.

Be a teenager, I’m not saying to avoid those types of foods at all costs, but at the same time need to take it upon yourself to provide you body with QUALITY nutrients.  In short:  eat like a grown-up.

2.  Stay hydrated!!!!!  Drink water, and lots of it.   A good rule of thumb I like to follow is to take half our bodyweight and drink that amount in ounces.  So, if you weight 150 lbs, you should strive for roughly 75 ounces of water per day.  And that’s just the minimum!  More active people should drink more.

Oh, and Red Bull isn’t water.

 

3.  While it sounds hypocritical given my speech above, it might not be a bad idea to look into getting a protein powder to include in the mix.  Hard gainers often have a hard time EATING their calories, and it’s sometimes easier to drink them.  Don’t worry about getting Ultra Mass Gainer 3000 or anything like that.  Just look for your typical whey protein blend, and you’re fine.

4.  In the weight room, you need to make sure you’re focusing on those movements which will force you to grow!  Drop the leg extensions and bicep curls and opt for deadlifts, squats, chin-ups, rows, etc. Focus on getting stronger and not training like a bodybuilder.

5.  Additionally, it’s important that you don’t go too crazy with the volume.  You need to save your calories.  While I can respect those who want to get after it on a daily basis, heading to the gym to perform those two hour marathon sessions isn’t doing you any favors.  For guys who are looking to add weight I generally opt for LESS volume and strive for three, full-body weight training sessions per week.

6.  In terms of an actual caloric number to shoot for, it’s anyone’s guess as to where the magic number is for you.  For simplicity’s sake I like to tell guys to start with 20% ABOVE maintenance levels.

To find maintenance, take your current bodyweight and multiply by 15.  So, for a 150 lb person, they’d want to strive for 20% ABOVE 2,250 kcals per day – which would be +450 kcals above maintenance.

Just so we’re clear:  this is a GENERAL number to hit and only serves as a starting point.

7. Likewise, keep calories up even on “off” days. Another mistake a lot of guys when trying to gain weight is lowering caloric intake on non-training days.  DON’T DO THIS!!!!!  Keep calories on par with your training days, and if by some chance you notice you’re putting on a little too much fat for your liking, just lower intake slightly – by like 10%.

8.  Did I mention you need to eat a lot?

9.  You need to eat a lot.

I know you (and many others) are trying to look for the magic pill and that my advice isn’t remotely sexy or mind-blowing.  It doesn’t have to be.

Oftentimes keeping things simple is the better way to go.

Now go eat!

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Comments for This Entry

  • ltsmash267

    I have also always been struggeling with gaining weight. During the last 2 months I gained 20 pounds using many of the tipps Tony mentioned. I think my main problem was that I never had a real breakfast and that I was doing to much. After making the breakfast a stable part of my morning routine and cutting back on my other sport activities (sadly due to injury) I saw that it wasn't that hard to gain weight. I trained with a starting-strength-like routine and had more success than ever before. Oh ... and of course I ate more ;)

    April 4, 2013 at 11:42 am | Reply to this comment

  • McB

    Take this advice! It took me until my late 40s to figure out, duh, stop running, do compounds, eat more (don't be afraid of getting fat lol) and drink more protein shakes. Miraculously the scale started creeping up for the first time in my life!

    April 4, 2013 at 8:35 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Marshall Roy

    Great post, Tony. Last year I remember commenting on your blog, talking about how I got from 175 --> 205. I'm happy to say I'm writing this comment at 230. Abs blurry (not gone), but I'm stronger than ever. Calorie density is WHERE. IT'S. AT. Meat, whole milk, eggs, nuts, shakes, dried fruit, & dessert. Douse all vegetables in olive oil. One thing I know is common with people who have trouble eating enough is lack of appetite. This helps a lot: As soon as you wake up, spike your heartrate. Like immediately. Get up, tinkle, chug a pint of water, then do a descending ladder of burpees and clap push-ups. 15-10-5 or something, whatever you're able to do. You will be ravenous for the rest of the day. Lastly, if you TRULY feel you are an eating machine but aren't gaining weight, it might be good to get your digestion/absorption checked by a doctor. You can't grow if you aren't properly absorbing your food.

    April 4, 2013 at 10:05 pm | Reply to this comment

  • kedric

    This is something that rings true with me. Being a "hardgainer" I found it really hard gaining weight. Until I realize I need to freaking eat, alot! The magical P.E.N.I.S(Pb sandwich Everyday Not Including Sunday) helped me. Simply put it, we gotta eat like there is no tomorrow. Oh and how is one of CP's baseball guys on the alpo challenge coming?Is he packing on the mass yet? Awesome stuff Tony!

    April 5, 2013 at 9:22 am | Reply to this comment

  • Rees

    FANNNNTASTIC. Great post pal.

    April 5, 2013 at 6:02 pm | Reply to this comment

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  • Jake Johnson

    Great post Tony! I'm a guy that never really had trouble gaining weight because I LOVE to eat, but I see the excuses that you outlined all the time. This should be required reading for any skinny guy getting into weight lifting as it will save them a lot of time and frustration.

    April 6, 2013 at 11:01 am | Reply to this comment

  • chris

    I remember seeing an interview with that guy from Twilight (Jacob) who said he got his 'body' by eating 2lbs of chicken every day and he was so sick of it that he started having pureed chicken chocolate milkshakes... anyway, it did strike home just how much effort (eating) is needed to go from a skinny guy to a reasonably muscley guy. And after the actor stopped eating, he just dropped off the weight even though he also stopped his exercise levels.

    April 7, 2013 at 7:01 pm | Reply to this comment

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  • Steve Bergeron

    Be extra nice to the people behind the counter at Chipotle and you will get 3-4x the burrito bowl as mere mortals...sometimes even free! Just sayin'...

    April 8, 2013 at 3:55 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Aaron St. Lawrence

    Great post Tony. Hits home for me. I was actually taklking to Chris the other day about this and he said the same thing. Eat more! I do eat a big breakfast and eat constantly throughout the day. I just need to concentrate on taking in more calories when I do eat.

    April 9, 2013 at 12:58 pm | Reply to this comment

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  • Raymond Alcantara

    I'll make sure to eat more peanut butter sandwiches! I also like to use sourdough bread :D.

    April 12, 2013 at 9:22 pm | Reply to this comment

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  • Maxéï DeVraie

    has the author of this article really, REALLY, coached a true adult, middle-age (over 50 years old), hard-gainer, who has been skinny his whole life, who accumulates belly fat easily if eats too much, yet the limbs remain unchanged, ridiculously skinny? I don't think so. I am one of those, perpetually struggling, trying to gain weight; and if/when we do, we can soooo easily (and quite fast) loose those gains. I think I eat as much as my stomach can handle; impossible to eat more. That is my response to the insensitive coach's comment: "you are not eating enough"; he really does NOT understand. I guess this coach is used to deal with young adults or undisciplined teens who email him with questions, and because not following the instructions, they get no results. Adult mature hard gainers have tried many things. I have been hitting the gym for over 5 years now, and my weight went, during about 2 year period, from 62 kg to an all time maximum ever: an amazing 69 kg (I am 5 and 11, get it?), but that was only for a couple of months though; right now I am back at about 64kg! HOW COULD THAT BE? I eat a huge amount of food, as I can see that when I go to the toilet, and see the big excrement left behind; I see where all the food is going. You will NOT understand the rage, the frustration, the unbelief, I felt when i checked my weight just today. I felt like breaking all stuff at the gym. I have no choice: I will keep trying, changing some food, going to the gym as usual, stay fit. I will never try medications that would endanger my health. I pray God Almighty, and I thank Him, because a good health is the Blessing of the Lord; and all the gold of the world cannot buy.

    August 16, 2016 at 9:49 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Something to consider: 1. Staying consistent (with both progressive resistance training and nutrition). Just because you do something for 4-5 months doesn't mean anything. Weight gain isn't always linear. 2. Making sure you are, in fact, eating as much as you think you are. If those two are in check.... 3. Gut health. If you're not absorbing the nutrients efficiently in the intestines then it won't matter how much you eat. Maybe getting that checked out?

      August 17, 2016 at 7:37 am | Reply to this comment

  • Maxei

    has the author of this article really, REALLY, coached a true adult, middle-age (over 50 years old), hard-gainer, who has been skinny his whole life, who accumulates belly fat easily if eats too much, yet the limbs remain unchanged, ridiculously skinny? I don't think so. I am one of those, perpetually struggling, trying to gain weight; and if/when we do, we can soooo easily (and quite fast) loose those gains. I think I eat as much as my stomach can handle; impossible to eat more. That is my response to the insensitive coach's comment: "you are not eating enough"; he really does NOT understand. I guess this coach is used to deal with young adults or undisciplined teens who email him with questions, and because not following the instructions, they get no results. Adult mature hard gainers have tried many things. I have been hitting the gym for over 5 years now, and my weight went, during about 2 year period, from 62 kg to an all time maximum ever: an amazing 69 kg (I am 5 and 11, get it?), but that was only for a couple of months though; right now I am back at about 64kg! HOW COULD THAT BE? I eat a huge amount of food, as I can see that when I go to the toilet, and see the big excrement left behind; I see where all the food is going. You will NOT understand the rage, the frustration, the unbelief, I felt when i checked my weight just today. I felt like breaking all stuff at the gym. I have no choice: I will keep trying, changing some food, going to the gym as usual, stay fit. I will never try medications that would endanger my health. I pray God Almighty, and I thank Him, because a good health is the Blessing of the Lord; and all the gold of the world cannot buy.

    August 16, 2016 at 10:49 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Something to consider: 1. Staying consistent (with both progressive resistance training and nutrition). Just because you do something for 4-5 months doesn't mean anything. Weight gain isn't always linear. 2. Making sure you are, in fact, eating as much as you think you are. If those two are in check.... 3. Gut health. If you're not absorbing the nutrients efficiently in the intestines then it won't matter how much you eat. Maybe getting that checked out?

      August 17, 2016 at 8:37 am | Reply to this comment

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