Oh yeah, you read that right! There ain’t no typo in the title. While a majority of people sign up gym membership to lose weight, there exist a group of slim Jims who would actually like to put on some body mass while they train Muay Thai. The struggle is real. If you belong to this minority group like myself, or if you want to move up the weight class, read on and find out how you can actually gain good, healthy weight while training this intensive sport.
It’s all about the Calories
Generally speaking, the more you eat, the easier it is for you to gain weight. However, this theory doesn’t appear to work for a lot of skinny people. In most cases, there are other factors involved such as your metabolism, genetics, and caloric quality of your daily diet. It can be more difficult for some people to put on weight compared to others. The truth is, as I find out, if you are not gaining weight like you want to, YOU ARE SIMPLY NOT EATING ENOUGH. You may feel like you are already stuffed to bursting, but you are probably eating a lot less than you should. With the right approach and mindset, your ideal body shape is definitely achievable. It is a battle of wills.
The Mathematics of Calories
The basic idea is simple enough: eat more calories than what your body needs. Your body burns a certain amount of energy everyday and you need to eat more than that amount in order to put on weight.
To determine how much you need to eat, you need to first determine your daily caloric maintenance level. Your daily caloric maintenance level lets you know how much calories you need everyday in order to maintain your current weight. To compute this, multiply your current weight in pounds by 14 and 17. Your daily calorie maintenance level will be in between the 2 numbers. As an example, a 150 lbs (68 kg) person would require 150 x 14 and 150 x 17 and his/her daily calorie maintenance level will be somewhere between 2100-2550 calories. If your lifestyle is more sedentary, it would tend towards the lower end of the range. Inversely, if your lifestyle is highly active, it would tend towards the higher end of the range.
Take an example, in order to gain 2 lbs of weight, you need about 7700 calories in excess of your maintenance level. Assuming that your average daily calories intake is 2300, you can effectively gain 2 lbs in 1 day if you consume (7700+2300=) 10000 calories that day! That is a crazy amount of food to eat in 1 day, especially for many naturally thin people. But if you spread this caloric surplus over a week, this is just an additional 1100 calories per day. This is why targeting for a 2 lbs gain in a week -instead of a day- is a more realistic goal. If you find it hard to meet this target, half this amount to 550 calories and you will still achieve 2 lbs in 2 weeks. Slow and steady wins the race.
A safe, healthy and reasonable weight gain rate is about 4 lbs/month (about 2 kg). That’s to say, you can ideally put on about 4 lbs of good muscle weight if you train and eat properly. If you train hard, and find yourself with a voracious appetite, then 8 lbs (about 4 kg) a month is possible too. So this works out to be somewhere between 1 to 2 lbs (½ to 1 kg) every week. In reality, most skinny folks would tend towards the lower end of around 2-4 lbs/month. It is just a little tougher for us.
Muay Thai and Weight Gain
Muay Thai is a high intensity sport. A typical training session will have you skip, shadow box, kick/punch pads and heavy bags, and also engage in some conditioning workouts. You will most likely feel some form of muscle fatigue or soreness following the workout. This soreness is due to microscopic tears in your muscles. These tears are repaired with adequate rest and a protein-rich diet, translating to faster muscle recovery and growth.
At the same time, it is a cardio-intensive sports where you can easily lose 600-1000 calories from an hour of training. It is thus important that you take this into consideration and make sure that you account for this loss with sufficient caloric replacement or preferably, fuel up before workout. You won’t really have to worry too much since Muay Thai will never fail to work up a voracious appetite.
Strengthening for Muscle Gain
A professional Muay Thai training program includes a lot of strengthening workouts. Strengthening is what you are aiming for, since as you gain strength, you are actually building up muscle mass. On top of your basic Muay Thai training, you need to incorporate strength training into your weekly schedule if you want to see quicker results.
The traditional way is to head to the gym and do your weightlifting or kettlebell workout. There are also other more convenient strengthening methods such as sandbag training and bodyweight training (see related article: “Calisthenics for Muay Thai“), where you can perform at home or at a park. No excuse for you now!
Top Ten Food for Weight Gain
The next thing to do is to identify the right foods to eat. Otherwise, all the strengthening exercises you do and the calorie intake will not be directed effectively by your body into building muscles and literally turn to waste. Binging on donuts, chips and soft drinks will certainly let you put on weight, but all the in the wrong places and at the same time, are detrimental to your health. Unhealthy foods may pack a lot of calories but your new found weight may be at the expense of a higher cholesterol level or other diseases. Bear that in mind: you need to gain weight healthily.
You don’t need to be obsessed with eating clean at this point. You certainly don’t have to eliminate fats or carbs from your diet. In fact, they are paramount to your weight gain plan. Good fats will help you put on weight while both fats & carbs will provide you with the necessary energy for your strengthening activity, and you want to incorporate them into your diet. Fats have higher calories per gram compared to most carb sources so you can meet your targeted caloric intake without feeling uncomfortably full. Additionally, your body burns carbohydrates (stored as glycogen) and fats for energy before depleting the protein, which is conserved for muscle building. In order to build muscle more productively, you must include enough carbs and fat in your diet so that the protein will not be expended for energy needs. Note that when we talk about incorporating fats into your diet, we refer to healthy fats and not trans fat which is found fast food, cookies, instant noodles and many processed food. Trans fat can lead to heart disease and all sorts of metabolic problems.
Essentially, you need protein, carbs, vitamins, minerals, fats and fiber for a balanced weight gain diet plan. Here’s my top ten food recommendations:
The daily recommended protein intake for the average man is 56g while 1 large egg contains 13g of high quality protein. So 4 large eggs will provide you with the necessary daily protein requirement! Egg-cellent! They also provide you with various vitamins and minerals. Eggs are cheap, tasty and can be prepared in so many different ways. It is little wonder that they always feature highly on athletes’ and fighters’ diet.
Nuts are calorie-dense food and what that means is that they pack a lot of calories for their size. For example, a cup of mixed nuts contains about 520 calories, 20g of protein, 56g of fats and other nutrients. So not only are they calorie-dense, they are also nutrient-dense. If you can eat less food to meet your daily caloric goal, then you won’t have to stuff your stomach to the brink of explosion. Just remember to consume raw and unsalted nuts for the best health benefits.
Trying to gain weight without eating fat is a slow process. If you want to gain weight fast, then don’t worry about eating fatty meats. While meat has always had a rep for its saturated fat content, many recent studies have shown that it is actually harmless. Fat contains higher calories so it’s easier to meet your daily caloric quota. It’s easier to gain weight first and then focus on fat loss later. Most importantly, meat such as beef and pork pack the highest protein per calorie. Definitely a must-have in your diet plan.
If you have access to wild salmon, you should definitely include it in your diet. Salmon features regularly on many MMA fighters’ and lifters’ menus as they are rich in protein and minerals. Additionally, the rich omega-3 fat content is a boon for muscle building and recovery. The benefits are plenty with this fish. About 90% of the salmon in the market comes from fish farms. The beautiful orange or rose-tint that you see on these farmed-raised salmon comes from color dyes (!) added to their feed. Farmed salmon are naturally beige in color. I rest my case. Go Wild!
As a Nak Muay, you need to be sufficiently fueled up for intensive training. Carbohydrate is arguably the most important source of energy. Adequate intake of carbs helps to prevent the body from utilising the protein supply as energy. Remember that you need the protein for muscle recovery and growth. If you are not taking enough carbohydrates, you may not see any result in your weight gain plan since the protein is being depleted for energy instead of muscle building. For the very best form of carbs, we recommend cooked quinoa or brown rice, which offer about 210 calories and 40 g of carbs per serving (1 cup).
If rice and pasta ain’t really your thing, potatoes is your other great source of carbohydrates. Each serving size (300 g) provides 225 calories and 50 g of carbs. On top of that, they are also rich in Vitamin C and fiber. Potatoes get a bad reputation not because they are inherently bad but because of the way they are commonly prepared: french fries! Healthier ways to cook your potatoes include mash, bake or boil. Eat your potatoes, but don’t be a couch potato!
Whole Fat Milk
Whole fat milk contains all the calories, protein, calcium, fats and other nutrients necessary for your weight gain plan. Some bodybuilders recommend and practice drinking up to a gallon of whole fat milk a day. That’s a lot of milk but it certainly guarantees super fast results. The GOMAD (Gallon Of Milk A Day) method is well-documented, and you will gain substantial weight within one to two months. If you find the method a little too extreme, just stick to other ways of gaining weight steadily. If you are lactose-intolerant, you can consider alternatives such as almond, soy or goat’s milk which are all rich in protein and calcium.
This popular breakfast staple is packed full of nutrition and is chock full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Peanut butter is popular with kids and adults alike. If you aren’t a fan of peanuts, you can substitute with almond butter or cashew butter which offers equally good nutrition. Whether it’s smooth, crunchy, or mixed with chia seeds, go for the natural kind where the oil floats on top and you need to stir before you can spread it on your bread.
This creamy and increasingly hip fruit is turning up on all sorts of health food lists. The nutrient-dense delicacy is versatile: spread it on a toast, blend it into a shake or guacamole dip, serve it with salad, yummy! Avocado is high in calories and full of heart-beneficial monounsaturated fat. Among its many benefits, is high in potassium and full of fiber. Need we say more?
An average-sized banana is packed with about 100 calories, 358 mg of potassium, 1.1 g of protein and 23 g of carbs. Potassium is beneficial for the functioning of your heart while the high carbohydrate content makes it the ideal snack as both a pre- or post-workout energy food. Another bodybuilders’ fave!
More Tips for Weight Gain
Here are some additional tips to help you on your weight gain plan:
- Rest – Overworking your body/muscles is counterproductive to your weight gain plan. Remember this: Muscles grow only when your body rests. Ensure that you have sufficient sleep since the body repairs itself during this period. Allow your body to gradually adjust to your training program without overworking it. (See related article: “Training Muay Thai Everyday“)
- Eat frequently – In between meals, sneak in a glass of whole fat milk, a handful of nuts and dried fruits or a slice of whole grain bread. Full fat yogurt, cheese and tropical fruits such as papaya are also great snacks to help meet your calories intake.
- Avoid drinking water just before meals – This is common sense. You don’t want to feel full from drinking water since water doesn’t contribute much to your calories requirement.
- Proteins before vegetables – You should ideally consume a balanced diet of carbs, proteins and vegetables. That means finishing up whatever is served on your plate. Salads are commonly served before mains and if you gobbled up your greens, you may find less appetite for your proteins when it’s served. So it’s recommended that you go for your eggs and meats before you work on the greens. But do NOT neglect your vegetables. They offer nutrients that your body need for optimal health.
Should you include protein shake in your diet?
Incorporating protein shakes into your diet is certainly one of the easiest way to gain weight. I have seen many used protein supplements with good and moderately fast results. As a supplement, protein powder is effective for gaining muscle mass as it provides the protein -necessary for muscle building- which may otherwise be inadequate from a solely whole food diet. It also works out to be a cost-effective protein source, given that it’s more costly to get your daily protein requirement purely from whole food. It is certainly ideal if you can get your protein and calories just from whole food, but a protein drink is just much easier for a few reasons. 1) It is convenient to make, 2) it is easier to down it when you feel full after a meal and that adds up to your daily calorie and protein intake.
Now, not all protein powder are built equal, as some contain high levels of artificial sweeteners and other inappropriate ingredients. So make sure to do your due research to pick a good quality protein supplement. My personal recommendation is Optimum Nutrition (ON), and it’s the brand that many swear by. I have made faster weight gains during periods when I included it in my diet. Of their products, I have tried the Gold Standard as well as the Platinum Hydrowhey. Both supplements are excellent options and are great recovery drinks after your workouts. Between the two, I prefer the Platinum Hydrowhey for its higher protein and caloric content. Here are information of the two products for comparison purpose:
Endorsed and recommended by bodybuilders, fitness buffs and professional athletes the world over, this is ON’s best selling product and also Amazon.com’s best selling whey protein powder.
The Gold Standard is truly the gold standard in protein supplements. For every scoop, it offers 24g of protein, 1g of fat, 3g of carbs and 120 calories, ideal for a post-workout recovery fix. And as a whey protein isolate, it offers lesser amount of lactose, fat and carbs compared to whey protein concentrate while delivering a higher protein content.
Gone are the days when protein shakes taste like a nasty, gag-worthy concoctions. The Gold Standard tastes great and comes in 25 delectable flavors from chocolate mint, salted caramel, to French vanilla creme.>> Click here to purchase Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard <<
A step-up from the Gold Standard, Hydro whey is made by hydrolyzing whey protein isolates which breaks the protein content into smaller and purer proteins for rapid digestion and absorption by the body.
For every scoop, it contains 30g of protein, 1g of fat and 140 calories. With superior protein and caloric levels, this is an even more ideal muscle gaining supplement than the Gold Standard. I also find this to be very easily digested.
As ON’s most advanced whey protein supplement, the Platinum is naturally priced higher than the Gold Standard (works out to be about $2 more per pound). It also comes in 7 flavors which pales in comparison to Gold Standard’s 25. Otherwise, it is the highest quality of whey protein isolates and in the long term, your body will thank you for it.
The key to an effective weight gain diet plan has to do with calories. However, just counting your daily caloric intake alone is not the best way to gain weight. The other key to your weight gain plan is your strengthening program. The reason you need to incorporate strengthening exercises into your weight gain plan is that you need to work your muscles in order to build them.
The matter of the fact is, engaging in high-intensity workouts for people who want to gain weight, is counter-productive. You have to ensure that you are eating enough, and eating right, in order to gain good and healthy muscle weight. Muay Thai coupled with strength training regularly will allow the food to be absorbed by the body and transformed into muscle; get sufficient rest/sleep; and cut/eliminate empty calories food from your diet such as alcohol and excessive sugar. By following the guidelines and tips here, you won’t bulk up overnight. But slowly, and surely, you will achieve your ideal weight and body shape as long as you put your mind and body into it. I gained over 20lbs in my first year of training Muay Thai, and I know you can do it too. Share your weight gain stories with me!