Struggling To Gain Weight Or Lean Muscle Mass

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And I admit that is a strange and frustrating problem to have. Mainly because in a world where most people are trying to lose weight, here you are trying to gain weight." data-share-imageurl="">


If the title of this article got your attention that means that you my friend belong to a special group of people who for whatever reason is struggling to gain weight.

weight gain, muscle gain

And I admit that is a strange and frustrating problem to have. Mainly because in a world where most people are trying to lose weight, here you are trying to gain weight. Which in a way is like trying to run up a descending escalator.

muscle gain, weight gain, struggling for muscle gain


However, in my experience, most people struggle with trying to gain weight is because they lack an understanding of how things work. They tend to look at things in isolation and completely miss the bigger picture and this fails to provide them with a system that can actually help them make progress. So if you are someone who wants to gain weight or has been struggling to gain weight, here is how you should look to approach it.

1. Body Fat Percentage:

In order to be in a condition to make good gains, you need to be at an ideal body fat percentage. The body’s nutrient partitioning system seems to be the most efficient in the 8-12% body fat range for men. (For women, add 10% to  the upper and lower end of the ranges). If you do not know what your body fat percentage is then you can head over to the freebies section on our website and calculate it :

If you do not fall within the 8-12%, then I recommend that you cut down body fat first to within that range before you start bulking. Even though it might not be pleasant to know that you will have to lose some weight (fat) first before you start gaining which is your actual goal, it is something you will be happy about in the long term.

2. Understanding Energy Balance:

The common misconception that goes around that you need to be eating certain foods or consuming supplements in order to gain muscle mass. Remember, fat loss or muscle gain, for the most part, is all about how you eat and how much you eat and not so much about what you eat.

energy balance, energy in , energy out, energy expenditure

The human body follows the law of thermodynamics. Like a machine, it needs a certain input and it gives a certain output. It is the balance between those two factors that determine if we gain energy, lose energy or simply maintain the balance.

So in brief:

  1. Energy Deficit = Weight loss
  2. Energy Surplus = Weight gain
  3. Energy Balance = Maintenance

So to gain weight you need to be in an energy/caloric surplus. However, the human body is far more complex and fat loss/muscle gain also involve hormonal and metabolic functions. But this guideline is a good starting off point.

3. Determining caloric intake:

calories, calorie intake, calorie surplus, calorie deficit


Now let’s establish how many calories should one be consuming in order to gain weight. For this we need to estimate how many calories our body is expending in a day. This would be our Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE/TEE) or simply the calories at which we would maintain our body weight (Maintenance calories). There are a few different ways to do this. A simple way to go about it would be to use an online calculator such as this one here:

Now remember that these numbers won’t be 100% accurate, but they will give you a good enough starting point from which you can make adjustments. Once you have determined your TDEE, a good point would be to start at those calories and see for the first two weeks how your weight is changing. If you are losing weight then add 100-200 calories till a point where you see your weight increase.

Keep in mind that when trying to gain muscle mass you would be gaining some fat as well. Depending on your training age, the following are some good enough guidelines of how much weight you should be looking to gain in a month.

weight gain

                                         Source : GetSetGo Fitness Nutrition ebook

And you should stop bulking when you hit the 15-16% body fat mark. (25-26% for women)

Because beyond that point you are likely to put on more fat than muscle.

This is also a reason why “Dirty Bulking” or “See- Food Diets” (Whenever you see any food you eat it) are not a good idea.

Because you tend to put on more fat than muscle and then have to spend a long time cutting it down without getting any real benefit in terms of muscle mass gained.

Not to mention the possible health implications that could crop up due to eating that way.

4. Macronutrient guidelines:


Macronutrient guidelines, macros

Once we have figured out our calorie intake, it is time to figure out where these calories would come from. Our three main calorie providers are Protein, Carbohydrate and Fats. They are referred to as Macronutrients or simply Macros in short.

Some of the primary functions of these macros are:

  1. Protein: Builds muscle, improves metabolism and increases satiety
  2. Carbohydrates: The body’s primary source of energy.
  3. Fats: Protects the hormones

The following table represents the number of calories per gram of these macronutrients:

calories, macros calories, fat calories, carbs calories, protein calories

Source : Muscle and Strength Nutritional Pyramid


Let’s look at some broad recommendations for these macros.

Protein: Based on the available research it is safe to say that any intake between 1.8g/kg -2.3g/kg of bodyweight would likely maximise the anabolic effects of protein. And since in a gaining phase a lot of calories need to be consumed, going higher than these recommendations would not make much sense as the satiety from a higher protein diet would hamper the intake of carbs and fats.

Fats : Set fats anywhere between 20-30% of your overall calorie intake.

Carbohydrates: The remainder of your calories should come from carbohydrates. So once you have set your protein intake, play around with your carb and fat intake and see what works for you and helps you push yourself in the gym. So here is an overview of the recommendations:

macro recommendations, fat gain, muscle gain

gaining, bulking, muscle gain,macro recommendation

Source : Muscle and Strength Nutritional Pyramid

Based on these recommendations you can pick food options that will help you hit your macro targets.

A general guide would be to have 80% of your calories should be from whole and minimally processed foods. Or as the bros like to call it, “Clean food”. 20% of your calories can come from foods you like. If you have trouble eating a lot of calories, then I would recommend opting for some high calorie, low satiety foods. In such cases liquid carbs (Juices, Gatorade etc) make great options. For some examples on setting up this plan and information on tracking your progress, you can refer to the GetSetGo nutrition ebook.

5. Training :

weight lifting, weight training, muscle gain


Once you have your nutrition taken care of, you need to structure your training. Based on the research literature the mechanisms that are most commonly linked with hypertrophy (muscle growth) are: Mechanical tension, Metabolic Stress and Muscle Damage. Let us understand what these terms mean.

  • Mechanical Tension: In order for your muscles to grow, they need to be subjected to the tension that they have not adapted to previously. This would be by progressively lifting heavier weights (Progressive overload).
  • Metabolic stress:  The stress from lifting moderately heavy weights for a number of reps results in the engagement of our Type 2 fast twitch muscle fiber and also cellular swelling which has shown to have an effect on muscle growth.
  • Muscle Damage: Exercise induced muscle damage seems to set into motion signalling pathways that lead to hypertrophy.

Muscle contraction in itself provides mechanical tension and metabolic stress and muscle damage are byproducts of muscle contraction. Hence in a way mechanical tension is the primary mechanism behind muscle growth. Now remember, any resistance training protocol that emphasises progressive overload will help build muscle. However, in order to maximise your gains, you would want to follow a program that incorporates both strength and hypertrophy work.

Some recommendations for training would be:

- Make sure you have enough compound lifts in your routine. Mainly because they recruit multiple muscle groups and give you a lot more bang for your buck.

A beginner should prioritize and learn the big lifts like Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift and Overhead press as these would set a solid foundation for their training career.

- Look to train a muscle group 2-3 times a week.

Here are some sample routines from our Stronger, Leaner Program.

stronger leaner, fitness camp, workout schedule

Less than 2 years of lifting experience

Day 1 – Lower Body Strength

  • Barbell Squat – 3x5
  • Romanian Deadlift – 3x5
  • Walking Lunges – 2x8
  • Standing calf press – 3x8

Day 2 – Upper Body Strength

  • Barbell Bench Press – 3x5
  • Single Arm Rows – 3x5
  • Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press – 2x8
  • Neutral grip lat pulldowns – 2x8
  • Cable/Machine pec flyes – 3x15

Day 3- Rest

Day 4 – Lower Body Hypertrophy

  • Barbell Deadlift – 3x8
  • Leg Press – 3x8
  • Leg Extension – 3x12
  • Leg Curl – 2x12
  • Seated calf raises – 3x15

Day 5 – Upper Body Hypertrophy

  • Incline Dumbbell Press – 3x10
  • Seated Rows – 3x10
  • Single-arm cable lateral raises – 2x12
  • Lat pull ins – 2x12
  • Tricep push downs – 2x12
  • Alternate bicep curls – 2x12

Day 6& 7 - Rest

More than 2 years of lifting experience.

Day 1 – Lower Body Strength

  • Barbell Squat – 3x5
  • Sumo Deadlift – 3x5
  • Bulgarian Split Squat – 3x6
  • Leg Extensions – 3x7
  • Standing calf press – 4x7

Day 2 – Upper Body Strength

  • Barbell Bench Press – 5x5
  • Single Arm Rows – 4x5
  • Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press – 4x6
  • Neutral grip lat pulldowns – 3x7
  • Tricep push downs – 3x10
  • Alternate bicep curls – 3x10

Day 3 - Rest

Day 4 – Lower Body Hypertrophy

  • Barbell Hip Thrust – 3x7
  • Leg Press – 3x7
  • Bulgarian Split Squat – 3x10
  • Leg Extension – 3x10
  • Leg Curl – 3x10
  • Seated calf raises – 4x15

Day 5 – Upper Body Hypertrophy

  • Overhead Press (Barbell) – 3x7
  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press – 3x7
  • Weighted Push-ups – 3x10
  • Tricep push downs – 2x15
  • Cable/Machine pec flyes – 3x15

Day 6 – Pull Hypertrophy

  • Barbell Rows – 3x7
  • Pull-ups or Lat pulldowns – 3x7
  • Weighted back extensions or good mornings – 3x10
  • Alternate bicep curls – 2x15
  • Face pulls – 2x15

Day 7- Rest

6. Recovery and Patience:

recovery, recovery after training

These are two things that are most overlooked by most people looking to gain muscle. People take the “No pain. No gain” slogan a bit too far and end up training for nearly every day of the week without paying much attention to rest and recovery. In the long run this will hamper your ability to recover from sessions and the fatigue build up will negatively affect the weight you can push in the gym. So make sure you have a few rest days in your program along with good peaceful sleep during the week so that your body recovers.

Also, it is very important to realise that building muscle naturally is a slow process. It takes months and years to make progress and to see it visually. So being patient is extremely important. Do not be the guy who looks in the mirror and flexes after every set in the hope that his muscles would have grown



progress, weight gain,muscle gain

I hope through this article I have helped give you a basic understanding of how to go about things and how it is important to be patient and look at the bigger picture. Try not to get too caught up about how slow your progress seems to be. Just make sure that your nutrition and training is optimised and that you are being consistent with it. Remember, there are no magic protocols. The key to success, in the long run, is simply hard work and consistency.


Safwan (GetSetGo coach -




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And I admit that is a strange and frustrating problem to have. Mainly because in a world where most people are trying to lose weight, here you are trying to gain weight." data-share-imageurl="">