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Friday, August 8, 2014

Skinny to Strong Starts on Your Plate: 7 Strategies to Gain Smartly

Being skinny is no fun either
“I went the Dunkin Donuts route, but I didn’t get the results I wanted,” my client joked as he filled out the paperwork before our first training session.

I know what you’re thinking: Donuts and fat loss don’t go together. My client, a 26-year-old PhD student, proved an anomaly to my typical twenty-something who landed his first job and accumulated 15 extra pounds through stress and sitting all day.

Nope, this guy had struggled his whole life to gain weight. He was the scrawny – dare I say wimpy – kid you might have picked on in elementary school, and he appeared determined to change his physique.

Problem was, he had gone about it entirely wrong – living off pizza, beer, and Dunkin Donuts for a few months – and had quite the spare tire to show for it.

Now, before you reply, “Jeez, I wish I had his problem,” let me tell you why
not being able to gain weight can be as nightmarish as struggling to lose it.

How a Scrawny Adolescent “Saw the Light”

I have a soft spot for folks who struggle to gain weight because, like my client, I was a weak, skinny kid who became a strong adult. It didn’t happen overnight.

Being skinny doesn’t favor either gender, and my client and I exchanged growing-up-scrawny horror stories. “Bigger” guys picked on him in grade school, he often felt overlooked for sports teams, and even when he binged-ate in his late teens he couldn’t pack on weight.

I too suffered being skinny until somewhere in my mid-twenties. Kids mocked me, my dad berated me, and I felt about this high most of the time.

I vividly recall the pivotal moment things changed: Seeing Linda Hamilton in The Terminator 2. “Holy crap!” I remember whispering to my girlfriend about an hour into the movie. “I want those biceps!”

I never quite got those guns, yet at that moment something clicked and I determined to become equally strong. Not crazy, freaky ripped, but strong.

On my journey from skinny to strong, I learned quite a few lessons, but none resonated more than this one.

The Number One Thing You Must Do for Healthy Weight Gain

Let me clarify: When I say “weight gain,” I mean putting on weight as muscle, not fat. In my several decades training, I have never once encountered anyone who wanted to “gain weight” as fat. Surprising, huh?  

Regardless whether you call it healthy weight gain or building muscle or whatever, I’m addressing people who can’t put on muscle, frequently get called lanky and other not-so-flattering terms, or can’t otherwise develop the physique they want.

You’re skinny and know that’s not a good look for you.

I’m going to drop a bomb here: Skinny isn’t sexy. Talking to you, adolescent girls starving themselves on 500-calorie diets and terrified to pick up anything heavier than a tiny pink dumbbell because they’re afraid they’ll become bulky. I guess they missed the recent ad campaigns declaring “strong is the new sexy.”

I get it: You don’t want to look like a bodybuilder or someone who spends hours daily at the gym, but what you’ve got doesn’t look so good either.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “thin on the outside, fat on the inside” (TOFI) to describe people who look pretty good in skinny jeans and tee-shirts, but put them in a two-piece or see them naked and whoa, a whole different image emerges.

You know what I'm talking about. Their arms have a little flab hanging off them, their butt is saggy, and they’ve got a little belly. Not a sexy look, and not something you want to go for.

If you’re scrawny and want a strong, toned body, you’re aiming for a lean, muscular look. Lifting heavy and a well-designed nutrient plan can help give you a solid physique, but the number-one deal breaker to go from skinny to strong involves what you put on your plate.

In athletic circles, I hear frequently about macronutrient ratios, caloric cycling, and other modifications to healthily gain weight. Many of them have validity and can help you reach your goals, but I find most “average” people– meaning, those who aren’t hardcore lifters or athletes – don’t have the time or patience to count macros, calories, carbs, or whatever.

I aim to simplify what could become confusing and conflicting dietary information for people like my client, who simply want to gain weight intelligently. I find these seven strategies can help without counting, measuring, or cycling.

With months of hard work at the gym, my 26-year-old formerly skinny client got the toned, strong look he wanted. He lifted heavy, supplemented smartly, controlled stress levels, got eight hours’ sleep every night, and employed these dietary strategies.

1.     Eat Another Meal. Gaining smartly means increasing calories intelligently. Calories count, but hormones count more, so make sure every meal contains optimal protein, healthy fats, cruciferous and leafy greens, and high-fiber starchy carbs to optimize muscle-building, fat-burning hormones. A fourth meal makes the perfect way to increase healthy calories. So you might do breakfast, an early lunch, an early dinner, eight a fourth meal about 8 p.m., and call it a day.

2.    Snack Smartly. Whereas I typically deter snacking for fat loss, healthy weight gain means snacking if you’re hungry. That doesn’t mean you can make a candy bar raid at 3 p.m. Nuts and seeds, sliced turkey with avocado, guacamole with kale chips, and apple slices with nut butters make ideal caloric-dense snacks.

3.     Bump Up Your Healthy Fats. Protein gets all the glory in the fitness world, but the right fats can bump up your caloric and nutrient quota.  Douse your salad liberally with olive oil or other healthy-fat dressings. Grass-fed beef and wild-caught fish make optimal healthy-fat sources and they’re pretty damn delicious too. Avocado should top (nearly) every dish you order. And really, do you need permission to eat almond butter?

4.    Boost Your Protein Shake. When I encourage clients to amp up their food intake for healthy gains, they’ll opt for something like a four-egg omelet for breakfast. Yet some folks just aren’t breakfast fans, and how many eggs can you eat anyway? A protein shake makes a fast, easy way to bump up caloric intake. Do it wisely or your shake can easily become an adult milkshake. I love nut butters, cacao nibs, flax or chia seeds, shredded coconut, and full-fat coconut milk as healthy add-ons.

5.    Step up healthy carbs. Stop it with the “carbs will make me fat” stuff. Yes, eating a bunch of nutrient-empty carbs will give you a padded midsection. Opt instead for nutrient-dense, higher-fiber carbs like sweet potatoes, legumes, quinoa, and non-gluten grains.

6.    Give yourself a splurge meal. Everyone loves this one. If you’re lifting heavy, doing smart cardio (high-intensity interval training), and keeping the above rules for healthy weight gain, you have permission to eat whatever you want once a week. That’s a meal, not a day, and if a basket of chili cheese nachos turns into an all-out fiesta, get back and stay on plan. Avoid fructose and trans fat like the plague, and keep in mind if you’re intolerant to foods like gluten and dairy, having a splurge meal with those foods can seriously stall your progress.

7.    Keep a journal. My big needle mover for healthy weight gain goes beyond what you put on your plate. One study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found those who tracked everything they ate lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t. You’re going for the opposite effect, yet you’ll reap equally righteous benefits. Only when you track your progress – writing down every bite – can you know what works and what doesn’t.

Surely I’m not the only one who struggled being a skinny kid. I want your story. What strategies did you do to overcome wimpdom? Do you disagree with any of my strategies for healthy weight gain? Share your comments below or on my Facebook fan page.
You have permission to do so, free of charge, as long as the byline and
the article is included in its entirety:

Fitness expert and strength coach Jini Cicero, CSCS, teaches intermediate exercisers how to blast through plateaus to create incredible transformations. Are you ready to take your fitness to a whole new level?  Find out now!  Take Jini's "Are you Ready?" Quiz at© 2014 Jinifit, Inc.

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1 comment:

  1. Very useful post for skinny people..Adding extra meal is the smart way to gain weight