1. Eat More
In addition to adequate protein, you need more calories. Use the following formula to calculate the number you need to take in daily to gain 1 pound a week. (Give yourself 2 weeks for results to show up on the bathroom scale. If you haven’t gained by then, increase your calories by 500 a day.)
- A. Your weight in pounds: _____
- B. Multiply A by 12 to get your basic calorie needs: _____
- C. Multiply B by 1.6 to estimate your resting metabolic rate (calorie burn without factoring in exercise): _____
- D. Strength training: Multiply the number of minutes you lift weights per week by 5: _____
- E. Aerobic training: Multiply the number of minutes per week that you run, cycle, and play sports by 8: _____
- F. Add D and E, and divide by 7: _____
- G. Add C and F to get your daily calorie needs: _____
- H. Add 500 to G: _____. This is your estimated daily calorie needs to gain 1 pound a week.
2. Work Your Biggest Muscles
If you’re a beginner, just about any workout will be intense enough to increase protein synthesis. But if you’ve been lifting for a while, you’ll build the most muscle quickest if you focus on the large muscle groups, like the chest, back, and legs.
Add squats, deadlifts, pullups, bent-over rows, bench presses, dips, and military presses to your workout. Do two or three sets of eight to 12 repetitions, with about 60 seconds’ rest between sets. That rep range will put your muscle cells on the fast track to hypertrophy, the process they use to grow.
3. Have a Drink First
A 2001 study at the University of Texas found that lifters who drank a shake containing amino acids and carbohydrates before working out increased their protein synthesis more than lifters who drank the same shake after exercising.
The shake contained 6 grams of essential amino acids—the muscle-building blocks of protein—and 35 grams of carbohydrates.
“Since exercise increases bloodflow to your working tissues, drinking a carbohydrate-protein mixture before your workout may lead to greater uptake of the amino acids in your muscles,” says Kevin Tipton, Ph.D., an exercise and nutrition researcher at the University of Texas in Galveston.
For your shake, you’ll need about 10 to 20 grams of protein—usually about one scoop of a whey-protein powder. Can’t stomach protein drinks? You can get the same nutrients from a sandwich made with 4 ounces of deli turkey and a slice of American cheese on whole wheat bread. But a drink is better.
“Liquid meals are absorbed faster,”. So tough it out. Drink one 30 to 60 minutes before your workout.
4. Lift Every Other Day
Do a full-body workout followed by a day of rest. Studies show that a challenging weight workout increases protein synthesis for up to 48 hours immediately after your exercise session.
“Your muscles grow when you’re resting, not when you’re working out,” says Michael Mejia, C.S.C.S., Men’s Health exercise advisor and a former skinny guy who packed on 40 pounds of muscle using this very program.
5. Down the Carbs After Your Workout
Research shows that you’ll rebuild muscle faster on your rest days if you feed your body carbohydrates.
“Post-workout meals with carbs increase your insulin levels,” which, in turn, slows the rate of protein breakdown. Have a banana, a sports drink, a peanut-butter sandwich.