Hey Lifehacker, I’m a really skinny guy and it makes me self-conscious. This is the thing I hate most about myself so I want to fix it. I want to put on weight and muscle but I don’t know the best way to do it. Do protein shakes work? What is the best solution? Thanks, Thin Skinned
Skinny picture from Shutterstock
I used to have much the same problem as you. Then I hit my mid-20s and got a sedentary desk job — these days, my weight problems are in the opposite direction (especially post-Takeaway Truth).
While it might be tempting to load up on fatty foods, this isn’t healthy and wont help with developing muscle mass either. The obvious answer is to combine healthy protein consumption with regular weight training.
We pitched your question to Dr James Fell, a lecturer at the University of Tasmania who specialises in exercise fatigue and recovery. Here’s what he had to say:
Resistance training involving complex movement patterns is the tried and true method of increasing muscle mass. However, a lot of people do struggle to gain muscles and that’s largely to do with not having an optimal diet. One of the keys to getting your diet right is all about the type and timing of your protein intake: not all proteins are equal and just having a lot of protein in your diet isn’t the secret. Instead, it’s the right protein taken at the right time, which is during and post-workout.
So you need a combination of a good, structured training program and a well planned and optimal diet to meet the needs of that training program. The best thing is to talk to professionals in that regard both in terms of getting your training program and a good dietitian to give you the best energy intake advice for lean muscle gain that’s tailored to your body.
We also spoke to Professor Ken Nosaka from the School of Exercise and Health Sciences at Edith Cowan University:
The first thing you need to perfect is energy balance. If you have a negative energy balance — that is, consuming less than you’re using — you cannot get any muscles. So you need to increase your food intake in the form of protein. Humans needs at least one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. So, if you weigh 60 kilograms, you need at least 60 grams of good protein. If you’re getting your protein from meat, this works out to around 300 grams of meat per day. They key is that total energy consumption should exceed total energy expenditure; so you should eat a little bit more than you’re using.
The second key is exercise: you should focus on resistance-type exercise such as lifting weights. In order to increase muscle mass, you should use heavier weights that you can only lift ten to twelve times. If you can lift the weight easily twenty of thirty times this is not strong enough. You should do this three times a week and repeat each set three times. You’ll also need to do separate exercises for your arm muscles, leg muscles and quad muscles. Finding assistance via a registered training specialist can help you a lot in this area. This will cost money but you will get a very good training program.
If you combine this sort of exercise with a good diet for three months, you will definitely begin to see changes.
And here’s what Christian Miranda from ONE Personal Training Solutions had to say:
Great question, Thin Skinned. You’re certainly not alone mate. It’s great that you’ve identified the fact that you want to put on weight and muscle – we refer to this as lean muscle mass. Assuming you are eating reasonably clean and healthy, this is achieved by increasing your portion sizes to consume more calories each day, and also fuel the body for more intense, strength specific resistance training – don’t be afraid to eat a lot!
Personally, I like to encourage my clients to get the nutrients they need from the food they eat, as this promotes a more realistic and maintainable lifestyle approach to your health and fitness as opposed to using protein shakes and other supplements.
1. Prepare your meals.
2. Eat regularly
3. Train with purpose
4. Keep track of your strength gains and girth measurements to monitor progress and continually challenge yourself
5. Enjoy the process!
Hope this helps! You can read up on how to get started with resistance training on a tight budget here.
If any readers have body-building tips of their own, let TS know in the comments section below.
See also: How Do You Develop Muscle Mass? | How Exercise Affects Your Body (And How To Pick The Right Workout) | The Lifehacker Muscle-Building Workout | Learn The Right Way To Hold Weights For A Better Workout
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