Weight Gain - Part 2
Daniel-J Crisafi, ND.A., M.H., Ph.D.
In the first part of this article, I focused mainly on the mathematical aspect of weight gain, i.e. taking stock of the relative balance between calories burned and calories consumed. But weight gain is not only a caloric issue, metabolism also has an influence. Indeed, despite Herculean efforts, some people just can’t seem to lose weight while others are unable to gain any. We all know people who eat very little and gain weight just, as we know, others who can eat like ogres and not gain an ounce!
Weight Gain and Metabolism
Metabolism plays a role as important - sometimes even more so - in people with problems gaining weight than in those who have a hard time losing it. Remember that metabolism is "the whole range of biochemical processes that occur within a living organism. Metabolism consists of anabolism (the buildup of substances) and catabolism (the breakdown of substances)” (Medical Vulgaris). Although we generally associate metabolism with the way the body uses energy, when it comes to weight gain the anabolic aspect is just as important as the purely energetic aspect.
Some people who have difficulty gaining weight may have an abnormally high metabolism - they burn more calories than most people for the same level of activity. Hyperthyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid is more active than normal, may be a factor. In these cases, it would be useful for these individuals to see a health professional and get their thyroid checked.
A higher, or faster, metabolism may also be due to stress - more specifically, the stress glands, or adrenals. For some, an increase in adrenaline or cortisol has adverse effects on digestion as well as on appetite. For these people, it’s important to help manage the stress response. Besides activities that work the right side of the brain, certain supplements can help. The most popular supplements to help improve the body's stress response are the adaptogens (ashwagandha, eleutherococcus etc.), the B-complex vitamins and magnesium.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a natural relaxant that is often used to reduce the effects of stress or to improve sleep. Several studies have shown that taking GABA increases growth hormone production by up to 400%. Growth hormone is essential for healthy weight gain as well as in forming muscle and bone tissue. However, GABA’s effect on growth hormone is short-lived - it only seems to last a few weeks. GABA is especially effective in individuals with a "nervous" temperament. However, do not take GABA if you are taking antidepressants.
In some people, increased production of cortisol, the stress hormone, can also reduce the production of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). DHEA, or youth hormone, is one of several hormones needed to ensure the maintenance of healthy bone and muscle mass. Problems with increasing muscle mass may be due to a decrease in DHEA. Some plants, such as maca and wild yam, can increase DHEA levels naturally while others, such as the patented Relora® blend, can reduce excessive amounts of cortisol. That said, the ideal solution is to consult a health professional if you think this situation may be a factor in your inability to gain weight.
Healthy weight gain should include an increase in the amount of body fat when the percentage of body fat is insufficient. See the first part of this article, published on our website, for an idea of normal fat percentages. However, the weight that the most people need is muscular weight. Although our weight depends largely on the amount of water, fat and muscle in our bodies, to attain a healthy weight one must increase the muscle mass in the body. It goes without saying that a dehydrated person will have to increase their water consumption for optimal health, but it is at the muscular level that healthy weight gain will take place, especially among those who already have a sufficient percentage of fat.
The body has a principle of economy. That is, it does not maintain a function or fabric that is not being used. We can see this phenomenon quite easily in people who lose their mobility. Since they are less active physically, they gradually lose muscle mass and sometimes even bone mass as well. Conversely, if the need for muscle tissue is increased, the body will do its best to increase it. This is where resistance exercise comes into play.
Resistance exercise is any form of exercise that provides resistance to the body. This can be resistance to our own weight, as in the case of push-ups, or squats or against an external form of resistance such as free weights or an elastic band. By subjecting the body to greater resistance than it is used to, an individual will increase his muscle mass to adapt to this new load. My description is obviously simplified, but you get the general idea of what is happening.
Interestingly, recent studies have shown that this increase in muscle mass can occur even in people who are far from their growth period. One of these studies conducted at the research center of the University of Texas Medical Branch, found that, on average, 67-year-olds in a resistance exercise program had an increase in muscle mass comparable to young people with an average age of 29 who followed the same program.
So, one of the ways to increase weight is to increase muscle mass. To do this, you need to perform resistance exercises using your body weight, free weights, resistance bands or machines.
Whatever type of equipment you choose, it is important to respect the following criteria:
- Make sure you use enough resistance. Ideally, you should be able to do between 8-12 repetitions. When the 10th repetition is no longer an effort, it’s time to increase the resistance.
- The workout should call upon all major muscle groups - legs, back, chest, shoulders, arms and trunk. This means at least one exercise per group.
- If lack of time is an issue, be sure to include at least one exercise for each major muscle mass, i.e. the thighs, back and chest. Dr. Michael Hewitt has developed a program of three exercises, known as the KEY 3 program, that can help increase muscle mass in those who begin a training program. These three exercises are squats, chest press and bent-over row.
- Do not train for more than 45 minutes at a time. Indeed, studies suggest that growth hormone production begins to decline after ¾ of an hour of intense exercise.
- You must allow the body to recover by leaving at least 48 hours between each workout. This is especially true for people over forty.
Other : Food Parameters
Increased protein intake helps improve muscle gain, especially for those who do resistance exercise. Unlike sugar or excess fat, proteins provide quality weight gain. Some individuals may need to supplement their diet with powdered protein or branched-chain amino acids. These are the most important when it comes to gaining muscle weight.
The trace element chromium is often mentioned when it comes to weight loss because chromium improves the use of insulin and insulin is essential for protein metabolism. However, in some studies, individuals supplementing their diet with chromium have not only experienced fat loss but also an increase in muscle mass – all without increasing their exercise levels.
B-complex vitamins are also essential for healthy weight gain. Vitamin B3 (niacinamide or niacin) works synergistically with chromium in the proper use of insulin. Pyridoxine, or vitamin B6, is necessary for protein metabolism. Finally, zinc is essential for cell division and tissue growth.
An often-overlooked factor when it comes to weight gain is that of digestive capacity. Indeed, despite the saying that "we are what we eat", we are rather what we digest and absorb. The digestive capacity can be an important factor in the inability to gain weight as well as in overweight or obesity. If you have digestive problems such as gas and bloating, be sure to get them under control as much as possible. Taking probiotics and digestive enzymes can help improve weight levels. Celiac disease or non-celiac hypersensitivity can contribute significantly to malabsorption.
Get Plenty of Rest
Anabolism, the repair and production of tissue, occurs only during periods of rest. We know that most of this anabolism occurs at night, during sleep. It is therefore essential to get enough sleep if you want to gain weight. Make sure you sleep at least 7 hours every night. If you have difficulty sleeping or if your sleep is not recuperative, avoid sweets and alcohol in the evening. Also, do not eat at least 2 hours before bedtime.
One last important point, our parents may have been right when they said that "an hour of sleep before midnight is worth 2 after". A study published in the journal Psychiatry and Neuroscience found that growth hormone levels are highest during sleep before midnight. Unfortunately, these findings have not been corroborated or refuted by other studies.
The principles of gaining weight are similar to those of weight loss, with some important differences:
Number of calories: Consume more calories than you use, either by eating larger portions or by eating 5-6 small meals a day. If you are not hungry, use aids such as fenugreek.
Metabolism: Make sure you have a normal metabolism. If it is too high, you will burn too many calories for a given activity.
Nutritional intake: Make sure your diet has enough protein, vitamins, minerals and trace elements. Use supplements if necessary.
Digestion: If you have digestive problems such as gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation, find out the causes and work to eliminate them.
Exercise: Do resistance exercises to build up major muscle groups.
Get enough sleep: Try to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night.
Being too thin is as "disabling" as obesity even though it is more socially acceptable and easier to disguise. If you are too thin, remember that the consequences are not only aesthetic. Indeed, thinness is associated with almost as many health problems as obesity. Fortunately, it is possible to improve your weight, your appearance and your health without becoming too fat.
I hope this article was able to guide you in a healthy and vital approach to gaining weight.