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Women's Health

How To Gain Weight For Women: 6-Step Guide

Hear at Dioxyme we commonly get asked: “What’s the best way for women to gain weight?” and in short, it takes a comprehensive plan in both the kitchen and the gym in order to see results.  

In this article, we’re going over the ins and outs of how to gain weight for women. We’ll be answering some of the most frequently asked questions we get from women looking to improve their overall health and appearance through weight gain.   

How To Gain Weight For Women

From increasing the amount of protein you consume in your daily diet, to regularly hitting the gym for weight training sessions, here's a six-step guide on how to gain weight safely and effectively.  

1. Eat More Calories than Your Body needs

The most important component of any weight gain strategy is a calorie surplus, which happens when you take in more calories in a day than your body burns off. The amount of calories you’re body actually uses up in a day is known as your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), which can be easily estimated with an online TDEE calculator.   

Once you know your TDEE, you’re ready to add some additional calories into your diet.  A surplus of between 250 - 500 calories is the ideal range for gradual weight gain -- it's enough of a surplus to build muscle without being so many extra calories that some ultimately get converted into body fat. So, if your TDEE is 1,500 calories per day, then your surplus goal would be between 1750 - 2000 calories per day.  

But we’re not talking about just loading up on sugar or empty calories to meet your energy needs; in order to gain healthy weight, you’ll need to be consuming a well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet, which we’ll get into below.  

This basic strategy is oriented around adding lean mass to your frame while minimizing gains in body fat. Ultimately, building muscle is a process that takes time, and gaining too much weight too soon is a clear sign you’re putting on body fat, not lean muscle.

2. Increase Your Protein Intake

For adult women, the recommended daily amount (RDA) for dietary protein is 0.8g per 2.2lbs (1 kg) of body weight per day -- and that's just to maintain the muscle mass you already have. (6)  If you want to pack on additional lean muscle, you have to have an even higher protein intake.  

But the fact of the matter is that many women ultimately don’t consume enough protein in their daily diets, which can make packing some additional muscle mass considerably more difficult.

While there is some variation in the research findings, most studies suggest that somewhere between 1.4g - 2g of protein per 2.2 lb (1 kg) of body weight is the ideal range for gaining healthy, lean muscle mass. (7)(8)(9)

For many women, eating that much protein might seem daunting at first.  for instance, if you weigh 115 lbs, that would be 73g - 105g of protein per day, which is probably quite a bit more than you’re used to eating.  

For example, one egg has around 6 grams of protein and an average chicken breast has about 30.  So if you have 2 eggs for breakfast, a salad without protein for lunch, and a chicken breast for dinner,  that’s only 4around 50g of protein, which just isn't going to cut it when we're talking about adding lean muscle mass to your frame.

One of the easiest ways to increase your daily protein intake, however, is with protein powder. Whey, in particular, is an excellent source of protein and one serving of most high-quality products contains around 25g.  So if you were to mix a scoop of protein into a glass of water or a fruit smoothie twice a day, you’d be adding 50+ extra grams of protein into your daily diet.

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3. Balance Your Macronutrients

When it comes to gaining weight, each macronutrient is important; you don't want to only focus on protein. It's crucial to have a well-balanced distribution of carbohydrates and fats in your diet as well.  

Carbs are your body’s primary fuel source and according to the NIH, should make up somewhere between 45 - 65% of all the calories you consume in your daily diet. (10)  

Complex carbs, like those found in potatoes and rice, should make up the majority of your carbohydrate intake. They provide long-lasting energy instead of the quick spikes and crashes that come along with simple sugars.

Dietary fat helps to support a number of critical processes that occur within your body and should consist of between 20 - 35% of your total daily calories. (11)  Prioritize healthy, unsaturated fats like those found in avocados and nuts and minimize unhealthy, saturated fats like those found in fatty cuts of pork and beef.  

4. Eat Smaller Meals More Frequently

If you’re underweight, eating the extra calories you need to gain weight can be challenging, especially if you’re only eating once or twice a day.  However, eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day is an easy way to increase your caloric intake.

For example, let’s say your goal is to consume 2,000 calories per day.  If you were to break that up into only 2 meals, that’s 1,000 calories per meal.  Now, that's certainly do-able, but if you’re not used to eating that many calories in a single meal, it might become difficult to hit your daily calorie target.  

However, if you broke that same calorie target up between 3 meals and a snack, for instance, your portions would be much more manageable and it wouldn’t seem quite as challenging to get in all of the calories you need in order to gain weight.    

5. Do Resistance Training to Gain Lean Mass

In addition to a calorie surplus and high protein intake, in order to gain lean muscle mass, you also need to be lifting weights -- aka resistance training.  Lifting weights helps to stimulate a process within your body known as muscle protein synthesis (MPS), which is the primary mechanism through which your muscles grow. (12)

Lifting weights actually causes microscopic tears within your muscles’ tissues.  Your body uses dietary protein to repair and rebuild the damaged muscles, which over time, can lead to increases in lean body mass with regular resistance training. (13)

Muscle takes a long time to grow, especially when we’re talking about putting on a substantial amount of mass.  You shouldn’t be afraid of getting bulky simply from lifting weights.  Ultimately, you have to take things to the extreme over a long period of time -- we’re talking years -- to get anywhere near being over-encumbered by muscle mass.  

For most people, 3 - 5 days a week of resistance training is enough to see gradual gains in both size and strength.  

While there are multiple approaches to weight lifting including both strength and hypertrophy training, you’ll want to choose a training regimen that engages all of your body’s major muscle groups -- that usually means hitting 1 to 2 muscle groups per training session.  

While you can pack on lean mass with strength training, the primary purpose of this style of training is to increase muscle force, not size. As such, hypertrophy training may be a better methodology for women looking to gain weight.

With hypertrophy-based exercises, the focus is entirely on building muscle.  Compared to strength training, that means more sets, reps, time under tensions and consequently, more muscle growth. You’ll usually be doing somewhere between 6 - 10 reps per set and 9 - 16 sets per training session.

6. Stay Consistent and Track Your Progress

As we’ve mentioned a few times by now, building lean muscle mass takes time.  Ultimately that means finding ways to be consistent with both your diet and training week in and week out.  

 Find a diet and a training routine you enjoy and can stick to -- if you don’t like what you’re doing, there’s a pretty good chance you’re not going to stay at it for long.  

Also, make sure that your keeping track of what you’re doing with your diet and training.  Having a record of what you ate and how you trained each day will allow you to get a clearer picture of your progress over time -- you’ll be able to start identifying what’s working and what isn’t so that you can fine-tune your training and diet.

How Do You Know If You’re Underweight?

The National Institute of Health (NIH) determines whether or not you’re underweight based on your body mass index (BMI), which you can easily calculate yourself.  Your BMI is equal to your weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared (kg/m2).

A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered normal weight, while anything that falls below 18.5 is considered underweight for adults 20 years and older.  

Are There Health Risks Associated With Being Underweight?

Being underweight increases your likelihood of having nutritional deficiencies.  If your BMI is below the normal range, there is a pretty good chance that you’re not eating a healthy, well-balanced diet.  Ultimately, that means you’re probably not getting all of the nutrients that your body’s need, which can affect your health in a number of ways.(1)

Underweight women are at an increased risk of osteopenia and ultimately osteoporosis.  The lack of proper nutrients can lead to low bone mineral density, leaving those who are underweight more susceptible to bone injury and fracture. (2)

Women with abnormally low BMI’s are also at an increased risk of anemia, which can result from an inadequate iron intake.  Anemia is a condition in which your body isn’t able to transport enough oxygen to its tissues, leaving you feeling perpetually tired and weak. (3)

Your immunesystem is also more likely to be deficient when you’re not eating a healthy, well-balanced diet.  Without an adequate supply of vitamins and minerals, your body becomes a lot more vulnerable to sickness and infection. (4)(5)

What If Your BMI is Normal?

Even if your BMI is in the normal range, there may still be some reasons you can benefit from gaining weight.  For example, let’s say you’re fitting into a size 2 pair of skinny jeans and the scale shows you at 115 pounds but you still have a little muffin top that seems to appear whenever you put your jeans on.

So what gives?

Well, your overall body mass index -- the measure of how big you are in relation to your height -- might be normal but perhaps your body composition is not ideal.  

What do we mean by body composition? It's your proportion of lean mass like muscle and bone to body fat.

Your BMI measurement only tells a part of the larger story.  Some women may have BMIs that fall within the normal range; however, in reality, their lean body mass may not be proportional to their body fat.  If you have too much fat in relation to lean body mass, it can lead to appearing “skinny fat”.

Ideally, a woman would like her body fat percentage to be in the 16-25% range.  A “skinny fat” 115-pound woman may only have 80 pounds of lean mass. To look fit and trim, it might take upping that lean mass to 90 pounds and shedding 10 pounds of fat.

Wrap Up

When it comes to gaining weight, there is only one true essential: a calorie surplus.  However, just eating tons of extra calories is likely to lead to excessive gains in body fat, which nobody wants.

Instead, a high-protein intake, combined with a moderate calorie surplus and regular weight training, will help you to build lean muscle mass and minimize body fat increases during your weight gain.  

In order to see the results you’re after though, you need to keep everything consistent.  Find a diet and training program that you can stick to for a few months and track your progress along the way.  

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