How to Gain Weight Series: Part 1 How Calories Work

Have trouble gaining weight? In this series we'll discuss ways to ensure you're gaining weight, muscle and strength without putting on excess amounts of fat.


We’ve all heard it before, “I can’t gain weight no matter how much I eat.” This phrase is muttered by self-proclaimed hard gainers across the world, however what if I told you it’s a fairly simple obstacle to overcome…

The Problem

Perhaps the biggest issue regarding this statement is that most people fail to realize how calories play a role in weight manipulation. True, most people understand the basics of eating less typically leads to weight loss, while eating more typically leads to weight gain. However, you’ll also find many people who either can no longer lose or gain weight after a certain point. In this article we’ll aim to paint a clearer picture.

The Fix

To do that, let’s first understand calories as a unit of energy. Each individual has certain energy requirements to complete every day functions such as breathing, pumping blood, regulating body temperature, etc… The total amount of energy required to do this for each individual is known as basal metabolic rate, or BMR for short. BMR will vary for each individual depending on different factors (for example age, weight, body composition, gender).

In addition to knowing our own BMR we also need to account for our activity level. Activity level can include things such as training, sports, leisure activities or even your job. When combined with BMR we get what’s known as maintenance calories. This is the amount of calories required by your body to complete all of these processes combined.

Maintenance calories are important to understand as once we figure them out, weight gain or loss is quite simple. To put it in perspective, if we take in fewer calories than we need, our body will respond by using some of its stored energy to compensate. In order to gain weight (in this case muscle), we would take in more calories (energy) to create a surplus. This way our body can complete these building and maintaining processes with the caloric surplus.

I know what you're thinking, "How the heck do I figure out all these things?" Well luckily enough, Muscle and Strength has a calculator to help make this process easy. You can find it here.


Of course this is an over simplified way to explain a very complex process. The key take away from this portion is to understand that we all have specific caloric needs. Once we’re able to determine what these needs are, manipulating weight is a simple matter of manipulating our total intake around these numbers.

Editor's note: Also check out this how to gain weight guide.

2 Comments+ Post Comment

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Posted Mon, 08/04/2014 - 15:31
Javan Ogutu

do supplements bring negative effects.....I am scared of them

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Posted Wed, 05/22/2013 - 17:14
David Gardner

great information!