This instructable will show you how to gain weight. This is really aimed at the fast metabolism (I eat like a horse and still can't gain weight) crowd.
I decided to revise this due to the amazing number of views this instructable has and the important points about nutrition I've learned since first publishing this.
Lots of Good Food (TM)
Weights to train with or access to a gym.
You can find good descriptions of stretching and strength training exercises in many books, "Scrawny to Brawny" is one example. I bought that book and it could have been fit into a pamphlet, but it described the exercises well.
You could look up information on your basal metabolic rate and caloric intake and lots of nifty formulas, but it's not really necessary to follow this as a process. In fact, I encourage you to look up all the assertions I'll be making to educate yourself and better understand why these techniques will work for skinny people. Don't take my word for it.
Now I'm going to boil down the weight gaining process for you. It's up to you to gradually work it into your life. It's work, but you can do it.
Step 1: Why You Have a Hard Time Gaining Weight
If you're skinny, like me, and you always have been, chances are you have a hard time gaining weight if you want to.
You've got a few things that prevent you from gaining weight:
1) A fast metabolism. The only way to get around this burn-everything-you-eat metabolism is to eat more than your system has the capacity to burn.
2) Higher percentage endurance muscle fiber vs. strength muscle fiber. There are two big types of muscle fibers. One is really good at aerobic exercise (if you're me, you have a lot of this). The other is strength fiber. Increasing body mass requires you to avoid endurance training as much as possible, especially during the first three weeks. You must lift weights to increase your proportion of strength muscle fiber. Heavy weights.
3) Nutritional deficiencies from early in life. You can read two books to see how this might make a difference: "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects" by Weston A. Price, first published in 1939! There's also a more recent book that goes into epigenetics called "Beautiful Babies: Nutrition for Fertility, Pregnancy, Breast-feeding, and Baby's First Foods" by Kristen Michaelis.
3) Your body proportions make some exercises difficult to do, if not impossible, without injuring yourself. The standard overhead barbell press will hurt my back, for example. This is because I have long arms, a short torso, and really long legs. I have to hold the barbell a different way than Ah-nold does. Avoiding injury will help you stay on the weight-gaining bandwagon.
4) A lack of knowledge. Previously, you didn't know what the price really was to gain weight. This instructable should square that away.
Step 2: Deal With Nutritional Deficiencies
I can't emphasize this enough, which is why I've added this step near the beginning. To have good physical formation, a proper diet is necessary. To illustrate, in the last few years I've been raising my own chickens. When I first started raising them, I bought the cheapest feed possible, and the eggs were about the same as store-bought and the chickens molted every year--I figured this is normal. My chickens were carnivorous, pecking at their own chicks and each other, so I had to remove sickly, malformed chicks as soon as they hatched. Something changed, though. I switched up the feed to a slightly more expensive one, began feeding them kitchen scraps of veggies and apple cores, and let them range around the yard for food. The eggs dramatically improved in color, texture, and flavor. My chickens don't molt now-at all, and their chicks are vigorous and healthy with no malformations. They aren't carnivorous, either. They protect their chicks.
So if lousy parental health affects chickens and their babies so dramatically, could it affect people too? You bet it does. This is a basic fact that everyone used to know when raising their own animals, but that we've forgotten as a culture. It's recently been rediscovered in America through epigenetics studies.
In primitive cultures with good health, meaning, good physical formation, some interesting things happen. They don't have to brush their teeth to keep them, and they typically have good spacing of teeth without ever having their wisdom teeth removed. Chronic diseases are very rare. In those cultures, there are usually extra-nutritious diets prescribed for parents for the year before conception, and for the mother and child for the year following conception. Some nutritional deficiencies during early years can cause permanent health effects.
So what to do about it? I can only tell you what I have found helpful, your mileage may vary. I found a chiropractor near me (Cory Webb) who opened my mind quite a bit about nutrition by requiring all new patients two sit through a two-hour orientation. It was awesome, even explaining exactly why the allopathic medical establishment views chiropractic as quackery. I later found another chiropractor (Jeremy Schiermeyer) that is also a kinesthesiologist. This means he performs muscle-testing to verify nutritional deficiencies very rapidly. Kinesthesiology is roundly denounced on quackwatch and other sites as worthless, but this method has successfully solved every chronic problem I've thrown at it except one. What kind of problems? My middle daughter has always been the most athletic of our children, but her hair has always been like straw and she was as skinny as a bird. For years. After Dr. Jeremy examined her he prescribed a mineral supplement and within a month she had put on muscle and her hair grew out since then to be shiny, darker, and much less prone to breaking. That solved, plus three other chronic problems. My family regularly sees both docs. So learn about nutrition and find a kinesthesiologist.
If you are a teenager and hungry all the time, you might have a zinc deficiency. Try raw organic seeds and nuts--these have significant amounts of dietary zinc.
For everyone, the best way to get good nutrition and gain weight from your food is to blend it or chew it very thoroughly. I hypothesize that one of the reasons some of us can eat a lot and not gain weight is that we don't chew our food well, so it doesn't get digested well, and we also happen to be constipated a lot. True for you? Well, it is for me anyway.
Suffice it to say, eating fresh organic fruit and vegetables is best. If these go on sale in summer or fall, buy a lot and stick them in the freezer! However, the cheapest way to obtain these is to grow your own, or forage wild edibles native to your locale. Make sure you research the poisonous plants and learn to avoid these first, and then you are safe. Don't be squeamish about this; be smart. Tomato and potato leaves and stems are poisonous, but the tubers and fruits we eat regularly.
Eat only healthy animals. As a farmer, I've learned that almost all the animals we eat in America are sick, due to the way we raise them. The pigs, the cows, and the chickens are all sick. The cheapest way I've found to eat healthy meat is to get wild caught fish and raise my own chickens. Anyone can raise two chickens on kitchen scraps and have awesome eggs.
Step 3: Eat Like a Horse.
Perhaps you've heard this phrase before "Eat like a Horse." Do you know how much a horse really eats? Give up?
While you won't be measuring your food intake in pounds, you will need to eat many, many more calories than you are used to eating.
Here's the point: Eat about 4000 calories a day.
The Calorie Counter is a good website to look up how many calories are in various foods.
It's only healthy to lose or gain about 2.5 pounds a week, so if you find yourself gaining more than that, cut back your daily food intake rate by 500 calories and wait two weeks.
Once you reach your target weight, cut back 500 calories every two weeks until your weight holds steady.
For me, all I have to do is eat my regular meals and an additional 1000 calorie shake every night. If I do this, I gain about 2 lbs. per week.
When you weigh yourself, do it at the same time every week, on the same day. Say, 8pm every Sunday night. Make a ritual out of it, and write down the weight on a calendar or record of some kind.
Step 4: Train for Strength
You'll need to stop any endurance training to gain weight. Aerobic (endurance) exercise simply isn't compatible for your goals. Your body will spend it's energy growing endurance muscle (i.e. wiry, skinny muscle) if you do low impact, long term exercises. You can continue doing a little aerobic exercise (10-15 minutes 3 times a week) but during the first three weeks it would be best if you did none.
Preparation: If you currently don't exercise at all, you'll need at least two weeks of stretch training to prevent injury. Seriously. Two weeks of tough stretching exercises or you WILL pull a muscle and then your training will be delayed for weeks if not months. Do the stretches and prevent this problem. The stretching will also begin to condition your body and help balance out your physique prior to putting it under the crushing training to follow.
Exercise Type: Compound exercises that work multiple muscles at the same time, like pullups (especially pullups) are the best for us skinny types. When doing weight training, work with short sets and heavy weight. You want as heavy weight as you can stand for 5 to 10 reps, 3 sets. If you do low weight and lots of reps you're doing aerobic exercise. Not the goal here. Every week increase the number of reps by two. Every two weeks increase the weight you lift by a few pounds until you can only do 5-8 reps. The more weight your lift, the more muscle your body will have to grow. By gradually increasing the weight you lift and supplying your body with necessary nutrients, your body will respond by gaining weight.
Frequency: Train for about an hour three or four times a week. Training more than that will actually slow down your weight gain. Really. Eating 4000 calories will actually be harder than the exercise.
Step 5: Eat Good Stuff
One of the toughest parts of gaining weight is the amount of money and time you will have to spend eating and counting calories. Believe me, 4000 calories a day does not come cheap. But some of the cheapest options are eggs and powdered protein weight gainer. Don't go out and buy a bunch of this stuff. Just buy a little at a time.
Ever seen someone spend $1000 on exercise equipment, use it for two weeks, and then let it collect dust in a corner? Yeah, me too. Don't be that person. Just buy a little at a time and as you change your lifestyle to a new weight-gaining one, you'll end up buying more as you need it.
One small bottle of powdered whey protein (Sam's Club has the best deals, then Wal-Mart) is a good start. Small bottle. Also, eat more green and colored vegetables. Broccoli is a really good one.
You can eat a lot of rice (brown is better), whole grains (like cracked wheat), and eggs. Eat at least 6 eggs at a time. Tofu is an okay vegetarian substitute for protein but it costs quite a bit more.
In your weight gainer powder, you want quality protein. There are some "weight gainers" that are mostly sugar. I accidentally bought one. Lots and lots of calories, but they were empty calories. Sugar is fine, but you need more protein than anything else.
By the way, you will probably see some bowel changes with diet changes. I suddenly had regular bowel movements at 10AM every day.
Here are some good 1000 calorie shake recipes. To help you get started.
Step 6: Final Notes
A quick review:
1)Eat 4000 calories a day, including lots of protein. Start by gradually increasing your food intake. Use a little protein powder and eat eggs (tofu protein is a good veg option but costs a lot more).
2)Stop aerobic exercise for the first three weeks. Thereafter do no more than 15 minutes 3 times a week.
3)If you don't already exercise regularly, prepare for strength training by doing stretch exercises for two weeks prior (20 min. 5 times a week). This will help prevent injury.
4)Strength train with compound exercises like pullups and very heavy weight. You shouldn't be able to do more than 5-10 reps for 3 sets. Train for an hour three or four times a week. No more. Every two weeks increase the weight you lift a little.
5)Every two weeks you should gain about five pounds. If you are gaining more than that, drop your daily caloric intake by 500 calories and check again in two weeks.
6)Once you've reached your weight goal, you can cut back on your strength training to 30 min 3 times a week. Gradually decrease your daily caloric intake by 500 calories every two weeks until your weight holds steady. Keep monitoring your weight every two weeks. You can begin significant endurance training again at this point.
When exercising, it is essential that you use proper form. An injury will drastically slow down or stop your progress. Get an exercise book (with pictures) to learn proper form. "Scrawny to Brawny" has good illustrated descriptions, but I'm sure there are other good books as well.
Habit can be your friend in your weight-gaining efforts. Eat at the same time and exercise at the same time if at all possible. Exercising in the morning is better than at night.
Hope this helps. I gained 5 pounds in two weeks before school finals hit and I fell off the bandwagon. It's time for me to get back on, and time for you to start.
Right now. Go buy some food: broccoli, peanut butter, rice, wheat cereal, eggs, and weight gainer. And, go check out an exercise book from the library.
You Can Do It!
Step 7: Update:
I regularly consume a 1000 calorie shake in addition to my regular meals. I've gained up to two pounds per week by doing that in addition to my exercises. While I have not reached my personal physical goals yet, many of the habits I've been developing over the last year are taking me right where I want to go. Having back injuries which resulted in surgery set me back as well. ( I honestly hadn't intended to pun when I wrote that.)