Can you gain weight by exercising?
Katie, a Korean woman, asked whether she could gain weight by doing more exercise. This sounds counter-intuitive because more exercise burns more calories, but I believe this is possible, both healthily and sustainably. This is what I told Katie...
Hi Katie, it’s a very good question and the short answer is, yes you can gain weight by exercising, but you must also apply balance.
Try to think of your body as you do your bank account. If you just burn energy but don’t replace it with more, very soon the bank account will be empty and you will be broke.
Assuming that you’re healthy, and of average height (for a Korean woman in your age group, this is around 160 cm), your weight should be between 50 kg and 60 kg so you do need to increase a bit.
The trick is not to try to do this too quickly. Think of it as a change in lifestyle and if you do that, you can make this change permanent. If you simply eat more to gain weight, you will just add fat, which, if you have always been slim, would definitely be unhealthy because this would manifest as visceral fat, mainly accumulating around your stomach and vital organs.
Your instincts as an intelligent woman (I know you are intelligent, because you have sought advice), are telling you that you need to couple eating more with increasing your exercise. However, you need to choose carefully what kind of exercise. When you gain weight, this can only be in two ways; either adding fat body mass or by adding lean body mass (muscle).
To build muscle, you need to convince the body that any extra energy you consume is needed to build muscle, otherwise you will only build fat.
To convince the body to use the energy to build muscle, you must use the muscles in a way that puts them under stress. This usually means lifting weights. If you alternate between lifting weights and doing some cardio exercise (running, cycling, swimming, cross-trainer, this kind of thing), then you will give your worked muscles time to repair and also build stamina, which will then mean you can do longer sessions. Start with light weights if you’re not used to doing this kind of exercise, three sets of twelve repetitions. If you can’t do any more part way through the third set then you’ve got the weight about right. If it’s too difficult earlier than this, reduce the weight, if you fly through three sets increase the weight.
As far as what you eat is concerned, protein is the building block of muscle. For your current weight, to stay the same WITHOUT EXERCISE you should consume around 1450 calories a day. Let’s say you want to gain 1 kg a month (this is reasonable, won’t put too much stress on your body and is sustainable), you need to increase your intake. If you didn’t exercise, you would need around 1730 calories a day. Whatever exercise you do needs to be added to that; so if you burn 250 calories in the gym, you should consume 1980 calories (1730 + 250). The most important thing is where the calories come from. There are three macro-nutrients; proteins, fats and carbohydrates. After you start exercising, at least 30% of your calories should come from protein, no more than 30% from fats and the rest from carbohydrates.
All this sounds very complicated, I know. However, once you get into it, it becomes a routine and the maths only needs to be checked now and then. At first you’ll need to weight food to make sure the calorie intake is right but once you get used to it, you only need to weight things now and then, to check you haven’t deviated.
Proteins come in all shapes and sizes. Meat, fish, nuts, pulses are all good sources of protein and there are also supplements such as whey protein, which can help if you don’t like preparing meals.
My own journey was one of weight loss. At peak I was 130 kg, but by following the above kind of method (in reverse, reducing calories but dividing the calories by macro-nutrients as I have indicated above) I managed to reduce my weight to 80 kg over a three year period and have now sustained that weight for around ten years. Even now at age 58 I am going to the gym regularly and still replacing 1 kg of fat each month with 1 kg of muscle. I feel fitter and stronger than I did when I was your age.
I can see from your other question that there’s lots going on in your life, which might make it hard to start any kind of weight gain programme right now. On the other hand, it might be just the distraction you need. My advice is to make a start and see how it goes.
If I can help you any further, please feel free to contact me again and good luck.