We hear a lot about dieting and losing weight, but not so much about trying to gain weight. There is no particular product or surgical procedure for the purpose of gaining weight, so what can we do? Dr Joe Kosterich talks about how to gain weight and things to avoid. Foods high in protein and energy are helpful, as is doing resistance exercise. Putting on weight is a gradual process that requires realistic expectations and dedication.

If there’s one group out in society who probably get the least amount of sympathy of any group that I can think of, it’s the people who are actually trying to gain weight.

Hi, I’m Dr. Joe.

Not surprisingly we hear a lot these days about problems with obesity and overweight and there’s no shortage of diet books, fads, programs, you name it, to help all these people. Interestingly though, there are a group of people who actually are trying to put on weight and find that they struggle to do so.

Now, this group will usually be told by all their friends and associates how lucky they are and “gee, we wish we could be like you” and “what are you complaining about?” And unless you walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes you don’t necessarily know what it means to be that person.

There isn’t any product out there that does help you put on weight. There isn’t any particular surgical procedure that’s going to allow you to put on weight. So, what can you do? Let’s pull it back to basics first. All of us have a certain body type or build. Some people do have a lean or slight build. Some people are very heavy built. Some people are going to be natural marathon runners; while some people are going to be more natural weight lifters.

If you’re 5’2” in height, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you but it’s unlikely going to be an NBA basketball player. Equally, if you’re 6’9” you probably haven’t got much of a future as a jockey.

These things sound so obvious but it means that you have got certain genetics, you’re put together a certain way and you have to work with that. Now, what that means is if you have got the natural build of a marathon runner you are going to find it harder to look like Arnold Schartznegger than somebody who’s got the natural stocky build.

To put on weight, in some respects, is as simple and difficult as losing weight but in reverse. For people who are wanting to lose weight it is about taking in less calories and using up more so the body stores less excess. Now, to put on weight the reverse applies: you need to be taking in more calories than you are using up. There’s 2 ways of doing that: one is through building up muscle, which of course is the better way to go, the other would mean you just get fatter, and that’s probably not an end in itself.

Some people say, “Look, I’d like a little bit more meat on the bones” and meat probably being the key word, which is of course muscle not fat.

So what can you do? In terms of eating a little bit more it is about eating foods that do provide a protein source so that will be things like meat, fish, chicken, maybe dairy-type products. It may also include eating things like protein bars or there are some liquid forms of high-energy protein drinks. Some of these are even used by cancer patients when they’ve lost a lot of weight and they’re given these high-energy protein drinks to help them with their weight. But it can help other people as well.

In terms of trying to put on weight and build muscle you will need to be doing exercise but particularly you’ll need to be doing resistance-type exercise. If you’re going running 5 miles everyday and you’re trying to put on weight, guess what? It won’t happen. Again, we go back to what we said before, your typical runner build is a lean one so you’re going to need to be doing resistance type exercise, you’re going to need to be pumping some iron. But to pump that iron you’re going to need to be having the protein so the muscles can grow. You’re also going to need some energy so some carbohydrates are going to be important and that will include some of the wholegrains, may include some pastas, potatoes, rice, those sorts of food. You don’t want to be eating a lot of high sugar-type foods because, again, all that will really do is either you convert it into fat or just burn it off in the exercise that you’re doing.

You need to do it fairly gradually, that’s important as well.

Please be aware if you go around sometimes at gyms, you will be talking to people who may say, “Look, you can use certain substances” and particularly anabolic steroids and that will help you put on weight. It probably will but it will be a major price to pay in terms of your health. It can affect your heart, your liver, your brain, the bones, really the list goes on and, if all that isn’t bad enough, they are illegal. You really want to stay away from the anabolic steroids.

So, to put on weight: it needs to be a gradual process. You need to be realistic. Again, a bit likely the 5’2” jockey is not going to play basketball, and the 6’10” basketballer is not going to be a jockey. You’ve got a certain body build and type and you need to do the best with that. Consuming good quality protein and some good quality carbohydrates to give you the energy and the resistance exercise in the gym (or at home if you want to set yourself up) is going to be the way to go.

It is important to do it gradually, it is important to set realistic expectations and be prepared to be full. You may need to eat 5 meals per day; you may need to be doing a lot of constant snacking. You can’t expect just to fill up a couple of times a day. You won’t be able to get enough food on those sittings so eat small regular meals. Make sure there’s a lot protein, some good quality carbs, do your resistance training and set your realistic goals.

More information

Resistance training Dr. Joe tells us more about Resistance Training.
Nutrition Learn more on Nutrition.

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