If you are not gaining weight, you are not eating enough and are not reaching a calorie surplus. You must eat more.
It doesn’t matter how much you think you’re eating. It doesn’t matter what your TDEE calculator says. It doesn’t matter what your food logs say. If you’re not gaining weight or getting bigger, it’s not enough. You must eat more. You don’t need any specific foods to do this – take what you’re already eating, and eat more of it. Some foods are more calorie dense and/or less satiating than others, but the practical difference is too small to matter most of the time.
Keep in mind that bodyweight can fluctuate by up to 5 pounds or more in a day due to food, urine/feces, water retention, and glycogen, and you should be tracking a trend over at least a month before worrying. Just because the scale went up yesterday and down today does not mean you actually lost weight or your progress. Furthermore, remember that you do not want to be gaining weight too rapidly – muscle is built slowly even in the best conditions, and if you eat too much extra you will just get fat.
If you are absolutely certain that you are eating enough to gain weight, but you have not over a long period of time, then what’s left to you is to consult with a doctor, as the only explanation left is a disease or disorder that r/Fitness cannot help you with. Please read this sentence again. There really are only two options – You have an undiagnosed medical condition, or you are consistently not eating enough food. And the reality is, it’s extremely unlikely that you have an undiagnosed medical condition serious enough to prevent weight gain even after consistently eating thousands of calories a day, but not serious enough to be raising other huge red flags or putting you in the hospital from lack of treatment. Even further, even if such a condition did exist and you have it, eating more is still the only way you can gain weight.
Keep in mind if you’re reading this thinking that you are a “hard gainer” or have a “fast metabolism”, that these terms are a marketing gimmick, not a reflection of reality. They are used to target vulnerable people who are struggling to achieve their goals in order to sell books, supplements, equipment, training programs. And again – Even if you were actually a “hard gainer” or had a “fast metabolism”, eating more is still the only way you can gain weight.
You may find the thread ‘A collection of articles on the topic of eating/training to gain weight‘ by competitive strongman and r/Fitness MVP MythicalStrength contains some additional useful advice and resources. We also strongly recommend this segment from the Stronger By Science podcast – What to do about below-average gains.
Here is some sage advice about eating and gaining weight from EliteFTS Coach Dave Tate:
There was a time at the Old Westside gym where I couldn’t gain weight to save my fucking life.
There was this dude who trained there who could just put on weight like fucking magic. He’d go from 198 to 308 and then to 275 and back down to 198. And he was never fat. It was amazing.
I finally asked him one day how he did it.
“You mean I never told you the secret to gaining weight? Come outside and I’ll fill you in.”
Now remember, we’re at Westside Barbell. And this guy wants to go outside to talk so no one else can hear. Think about that for a minute. What the hell is he going to tell me? This must be some serious shit if we have to go outside, I thought.
So we get outside and he starts talking.
“For breakfast you need to eat four of those breakfast sandwiches from McDonalds. I don’t care which ones you get, but make sure to get four. Order four hash browns, too. Now grab two packs of mayonnaise and put them on the hash browns and then slip them into the sandwiches. Squish that shit down and eat. That’s your breakfast.”
At this point I’m thinking this guy is nuts. But he’s completely serious.
“For lunch you’re gonna eat Chinese food. Now I don’t want you eating that crappy stuff. You wanna get the stuff with MSG. None of that non-MSG bullshit. I don’t care what you eat but you have to sit down and eat for at least 45 minutes straight. You can’t let go of the fork. Eat until your eyes swell up and… [REDACTED]”
“For dinner you’re gonna order an extra-large pizza with everything on it. Literally everything. If you don’t like sardines, don’t put ’em on, but anything else that you like you have to load it on there. After you pay the delivery guy, I want you to take the pie to your coffee table, open that fucker up, and grab a bottle of oil. It can be olive oil, canola oil, whatever. Anything but motor oil. And I want you to pour that shit over the pie until half of the bottle is gone. Just soak the shit out of it.”
“Now before you lay into it, I want you to sit on your couch and just stare at that fucker. I want you to understand that that pizza right there is keeping you from your goals.”
This guy is in a zen-like state when he’s talking about this.
“Now you’re on the clock,” he continues. “After 20 minutes your brain is going to tell you you’re full. Don’t listen to that shit. You have to try and eat as much of the pizza as you can before that 20-minute mark. Double up pieces if you have to. I’m telling you now, you’re going to get three or four pieces in and you’re gonna want to quit. You fucking can’t quit. You have to sit on that couch until every piece is done.
And if you can’t finish it, don’t you ever come back to me and tell me you can’t gain weight. ’Cause I’m gonna tell you that you don’t give a fuck about getting bigger and you don’t care how much you lift!”
Did I do it? Hell yeah. Started the next day and did it for two months. Went from 260 pounds to 297 pounds. And I didn’t get much fatter. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, though.
The important thing to take away from this anecdote is that no matter how much you think you are eating, you are not eating: four McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches, four orders of hash browns, 45 non-stop minutes worth of a Chinese food buffet, and an extra large pizza with every possible topping that is also drowning in olive oil every single day. And until you are eating that much every day, it does not matter how hard you think you are trying – you are not trying hard enough to gain weight.