Weight Gain - It isn't easy for everyone
While many people are striving to maintain their weight or struggle to lose a few pounds, others try just as hard, if not harder, to add weight. Athletes might struggle to eat enough food to keep up with their high level of activity, while others may be dealing with a naturally high metabolism and still others may just have a low appetite and are trying not to lose muscle.Whatever the reason, gaining weight can be a challenge.
When working towards weight gain, it is important to understand the difference between fat gain and muscle gain. Fat gain is easier to achieve than muscle gain, but in most situations not as desirable. The body does need a certain percentage of fat to protect and cushion vital organs, to maintain healthy hair and skin, to insulate against cold and heat, to regulate cholesterol and sex hormone levels, and to supply muscles with energy. Being underweight may also lead to more serious issues such as weakening the immune system, reducing energy, affecting the heart and blood pressure, and possibly problems with bone health, particularly in the elderly.
Muscle is made of protein, however, eating more protein will not necessarily result in muscle growth. Your body can only use a certain amount of protein each day. Consuming 1.2-2 grams of protein/kg body weight /day is sufficient protein for muscle growth and tissue repair. Any more protein than this will simply be used as fuel by the body or converted into fat for storage. Eating sufficient carbohydrates to fuel your body for the day is essential in order to preserve the muscle you have. Muscle growth will occur with muscle building activities such as weight lifting and adequate fueling.
The timing of your meals also affects body composition. If large amounts of food are consumed at the end of the day, the excess fuel will most likely be deposited as fat, whereas, fueling throughout the day will provide the body with sufficient energy to do its daily activities without drawing on our muscles for energy.
What can you do?
Set realistic weight gain goals: 2-5 kg (5-12.5 lbs) in a year. Weight gain should be gradual, about 0.5 kg or 1.25 lbs/month.
Moderate exercise will help to increase your appetite. If possible, minimize high intensity exercises such as running, as these will burn fat and calories faster. Try walking, swimming or yoga.
Building muscle is important to ensure that weight is not gained purely as fat. Try lifting light weights or doing Pilates. Talk to a personal trainer at your local gym for tips on technique and how to avoid strains.
Rest and recovery is necessary to allow your body to respond to muscle development and weight gain. Alternate your activities, such as weight training for two days, rest one day, and alternate days between swimming and walking.
Eat calorie and nutrient dense foods. Don’t fill up on salads, water or low-calorie beverages before a meal. Make what you eat really count.
Avoid grazing in between meals, as this helps boost the metabolism, something you want to avoid. Instead, increase portion sizes at meal times. Try eating 4 larger meals instead of 6 small meals. For those with a poor appetite it may be easier to have smaller amounts of food more frequently, try to space them by at least 3 hours. Avoid filling up on tea or water before a meal.
Take a 50-milligram vitamin B complex supplement to stimulate your hunger and aid digestion. Or eat vitamin B-rich whole grains such as millet, brown rice and spelt.
What should you eat?
High calorie, nutritious foods: granola type cereals, dried fruit and nuts, natural peanut butter, fruit and yogurt smoothies, thickly sliced bread with nut butters, avocado, sockeye salmon, eggs and even commercial meal replacement shakes such as Boost® and Ensure Plus®. Enhance the calories of any meal nutritiously by sprinkling nuts, seeds or cheese on top, drizzle food with olive oil or add skim milk powder (50ml) to your glass of whole milk.
Emphasize carbohydrates: starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, peas, legumes and sweet potatoes, and grain products such as whole grain breads, quinoa and oats.
Include all four food groups in each meal: (i.e. fruits and vegetables, dairy products, meat and meat alternatives, grains and cereals) For example – a hearty cereal with milk, nuts and fruit; a shake made with Greek yogurt, almond butter, oats and fruit; vegetarian chili sprinkle with cheese and a slice of bread; or a salmon wrap filled with vegetables and feta cheese.
Drink caloric beverages such as juices and milk instead of diet pop, coffee and tea.
Avoid caffeine and sugary foods: these foods can actually suppress your appetite and have little or no nutritional value. That includes coffee, tea, chocolate and soft drinks.
Weight gain, just like weight loss, can be a very slow process. It may be slightly more difficult if you have a family history of being lean. However, by making healthy food choices, as well as building muscle mass with strength training, it is an attainable goal.