If you’ve been searching for advice on how to gain weight and muscle, here’s one tip that you might not have expected to read: 

Ignore every muscle mag’s suggestions about the best ways to gain weight—you don’t need to eat like a cart-horse to bulk up fast.

In fact, setting your “bulking” (weight gain) calories too high is counter-productive. I’d even go so far as to say it’s the biggest misunderstanding about how to gain muscle without gaining fat.

The truth is, you have to use a calorie surplus for muscle gain, but it should be much smaller than most people realize.

What’s more, it’s also important to understand that you can’t put on weight and muscle with diet alone. You also need to lift weights to bulk up fast.

So, if you want to learn how to gain weight fast—and by which I mean how to bulk without getting fat—this is the article for you.

In it, you’ll discover how many calories you should eat to gain weight and muscle, how to avoid excess fat gain on your weight gain journey, the best foods to include in your weight gain diet plan, how long it takes to gain weight, what to do if weight gain and muscle gain stall, and more. 

How Many Calories Should I Eat to Gain Muscle?

While it’s true most people have to be in a calorie surplus to build muscle effectively, you don’t have to be in a very big one.

Research shows that to maximize muscle gain while minimizing fat gain, you should aim to eat 5-to-10% more calories than you burn every day (105-to-110% of your total daily energy expenditure).

For most, this means consuming 16-to-18 calories per pound of body weight daily. If you’re very active, aim for the higher end of this range; if you’re less active, stick to the lower end.

The only exception to this rule is beginner weightlifters. When you’re new to strength training, your body is so responsive to its effects that you can build muscle even in a calorie deficit.

Thus, if you’re a newbie looking to gain muscle and lose fat, eat 20-to-25% fewer calories than you burn every day. Or, if you’re already lean and want to goose muscle gains even more, eat approximately the same number of calories as you burn daily.

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Tips for Avoiding Excess Fat Gain on Your Weight Gain Journey

You now know how many calories you need to gain weight and build muscle mass while minimizing fat gain. To make the process even easier, here are three more tips about how to bulk without getting fat.

1. Don’t ruin your progress with massive cheat meals or days.

Gorging a couple of days per week will help you bulk up fast, but you’ll gain fat at double or even triple the normal rate.

Don’t do this. Instead, learn how to “cheat” intelligently and control your calories while bulking the same way you would while cutting. 

2. Stop bulking when you’re no longer “lean,” and reduce your body fat percentage.

Once your body fat percentage reaches 15-to-17% (men) or 25-to-27% (women), stop following your meal plan to gain weight and muscle and start dieting to lose weight (“cutting”).

Don’t “slow cut,” though. Do everything you can to safely and healthily lose fat as quickly as possible. Here are some solid guidelines for this:

  • Eat 20-to-25% fewer calories than you burn daily
  • Eat 1-to-1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day
  • Continue training like you were when you were bulking

3. Juggle your bulks and cuts like this until you’ve gained the size you want.

If you’re like most people, you’ll eventually reach a point where you’re happy with your overall muscle size and development.

The name of the game then becomes getting and staying lean while still training hard, progressing in your lifts, and addressing weak points in your physique. A good way to do this is by cycling between mini cuts and bulks.

What to Eat to Gain Weight


  • Protein: Eating 0.8-to-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day is enough to maximize muscle growth. Moreover, eating more than this won’t help you bulk up faster. That said, eating more  (1.5-to-2 grams per pound) may help minimize fat gain. This usually works out to around 20-to-30% of calories for most people.
  • Fat: Getting 20-to-30% of your calories from fat is enough to optimize health and add flavor to your meals while leaving plenty of room for protein and carbs. 
  • Carbs: Get the rest of your calories (~40-to-60%) from carbs. Following a high-carb diet while lean bulking keeps your glycogen levels topped off, which improves your performance in the gym and positively impacts genes related to muscle growth. 

The Best Weight Gain Diet Plan

The first step toward learning how to gain weight and muscle is understanding how to set up your bulking calories and macros. Once you’ve got your head around that, however, having a list of staple “bulking foods” you can use when preparing meals is helpful. Here are some of my favorites: 

Lean Proteins for Bulking:

  • Sirloin steak
  • Ground beef
  • Pork tenderloin
  • Chicken breast
  • Seafood (especially low-fat fish like tilapia, cod, catfish, etc.)
  • Egg whites
  • Chickpeas
  • Greek yogurt or Skyr
  • Cottage cheese
  • Protein shakes

Healthy Carbs for Bulking:

  • Quinoa
  • White or brown rice
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Whole grain pasta
  • Ezekiel bread
  • Potatoes
  • Oats
  • Granola
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach

Healthy Fats for Bulking:

  • Avocados
  • Whole eggs
  • Olive oil
  • Almonds or almond butter
  • Peanuts or peanut butter
  • Pistachios
  • Coconut oil
  • Walnuts
  • Chia seeds
  • Cashews

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How to Train to Gain Weight

Do 3-to-5 strength training workouts each week that focus on the following:

To learn more about the best strength training programs that meet these criteria, check out this article:

The 12 Best Science-Based Strength Training Programs for Gaining Muscle and Strength

(Or if you need help deciding which training program to follow to reach your health and fitness goals, take the Legion Strength Training Quiz, and in less than a minute, you’ll know the perfect strength training program for you. Click here to check it out.)

How Long Does it Take to Gain Weight?

How long you spend bulking depends on how much weight you want to gain.

To gain a lot of muscle, you’ll need to stay in a surplus for longer than someone who only wants to add a few pounds of muscle to their frame.

How many years you’ve been training also influences how quickly you gain weight. 

The more experienced you are, the longer it takes to build muscle, and thus, the longer you have to spend in a surplus to gain lean muscle mass.

That said, a good rule of thumb for most lifters is to spend at least 8-to-12 weeks bulking and use a bulking-to-cutting ratio of 3:1 (unless you’re very overweight, in which case you may need to spend more time cutting than bulking until you reach a healthier weight).

For example, if you spend 12 weeks bulking, you should spend the following 4 weeks cutting.

What to Do When Weight Gain Stalls

If you’re following your weight gain diet plan but not gaining weight, you need to eat more calories.

Specifically, eat ~100 extra calories per day for two weeks and see how your body responds. If you don’t start gaining weight, increase it by another ~100 calories, and continue until you’re gaining weight. 

Getting these additional calories from carbs will positively affect your training more than getting them from protein or fat. For reference, 100 calories of carbs is about one large apple, a single serving of dried fruit, or a half-cup of cooked rice. 

By gradually increasing your calorie intake, you’ll find your body’s “sweet spot” for muscle growth without gaining much fat.

In extreme cases (“hardgainers“), eating more carbs may be impractical because you have to eat such a large volume of food. In such cases, I recommend capping carbs at about 3 grams per pound of body weight and, if you need more calories, increasing fat intake instead.

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How to Gain Weight and Muscle: FAQs

FAQ #1: What is the fastest way to gain weight?

The fastest way to gain weight is to “dirty bulk,” which involves eating as many meals and snacks (especially junk foods high in calories and saturated fat) as you can stomach, regardless of their calorie content or macronutrient value.

However, dirty bulking inevitably leads to rampant overeating and fat gain, so you likely won’t be happy with how you look when you finish. Thus, a better approach is to follow the advice in this article, which will result in comparatively healthy weight gain

FAQ #2: How can I gain weight if I am skinny?

Learning how to increase weight and muscle when you’re skinny is the same as learning how to gain weight and muscle for everyone: it requires eating 5-to-10% more calories than you burn daily, consuming the right balance of protein, carbs, and fat, and following a well-designed strength training program, such as Bigger Leaner Stronger (men) or Thinner Leaner Stronger (women).

FAQ #3: Why am I so skinny even though I eat a lot?

The most common reasons people remain skinny despite eating a lot are that they don’t eat as much as they think, move more than they realize, or have a “fast metabolism.”

Fortunately, even if you’re dealing with one or more of these issues, gaining weight is still possible.  For guidance on how to gain weight and muscle, follow the advice in this article. You may also benefit from reading this:

The “Hardgainer’s” Guide to Guaranteed Muscle Growth

+ Scientific References