- Eat enough Protein (0.8g-1g per lb of body weight)
- Do resistance exercises 2-3x a week.
- Sleep well, reduce stress
- Eat at a caloric surplus (more than you burn)
On to the full explanation.
First thing is first: You need to eat protein.
It’s simple as that, and if I were to cite all the studies that support this it would fill the better part of a book. Figure out what your weight is, and eat 0.8g to 1.0g of protein per pound of body weight. If you weigh 150 lbs, that is going to be (.8)*150=120 to 150 grams of protein per day. If you don’t get enough protein, your body won’t recover, and you’ll be left without noticeable muscle gain and frustrated. (See here for a study on protein intake.)
Second: You need resistance training and a plan.
I can’t stress this enough: If you go into the gym with no plan and just throw around random amounts of weights for random amounts of sets, you will get fairly awful results. It will work for about 2-3 weeks, and then you will stop seeing any meaningful progress. Get on a simple weight lifting program that makes you squat, deadlift and bench press. I wrote a short piece here talking about two programs that are stupidly simple and come with an app.
Get on a program, follow it for at least 24 weeks and reap the rewards. If you hate it by the end, try something else. Just don’t bounce around every week. Pick something simple and stick with it. The key to progress is consistency. There is no magic shortcut, even the guys on steroids work like hell to get where they are.
Third: Adequate sleep and stress management.
Sleep is necessary for your body to properly recover, and stress has a ridiculous amount of adverse affects on the body. Make sure you get at least 7 hours a night, probably more. As for stress – hopefully working out helps relieve stress for you.
Finally: Eat more calories than you’re burning.
As mentioned in another post here, in order to gain weight you have to eat more calories than you’re burning. A general rule of thumb is to eat 10-20% more than what your maintenance is. This works out to around 200-300 calories per day. You’re only going to gain around 1-1.5lbs of muscle per month, unless you’re a professional body builder who has optimal training and steroids. So, eating at +200 per day is going to work out to a +1400 surplus per week, or +5600 per month, which is 5600/3500=1.6lbs per month gained. If you work out consistently and eat right, that will be mostly muscle with very little body fat gained. You generally will not build any noticeable muscle while losing weight, so make sure to track your calories correctly. Download MyFitnessPal to track them, as you can just scan barcodes to keep track of what you’re eating. It takes an extra 2-3 minutes per meal, which is nothing compared to the years you’ll waste by trying not to “take it too seriously” or some other ridiculous excuse for laziness.
Follow these steps, and you’ll be on your way to gaining muscle.