As a former trainer, coach, and body transformation specialist, I’ve covered this subject many times when talking with clients and answering questions online. The topic resurfaced at our Community Forums at Ungovernable, so I decided to write this article to cover all the basics and to put some myths and bro-science to rest.
The first excuse, or “explanation” you hear, is about your metabolism. You know, “I eat a lot but have a high metabolism and just can’t gain weight.”
Sorry, no. Honestly, the metabolic rate does not vary that much between people. What does actually impact your metabolism and energy requirements is the amount of muscle mass you carry and how active you are. Muscle tissue need energy just to sit around, and if you actually use it, a lot more energy is required. However, this does not explain why some thin people with the muscle mass of a small child have a hard time gaining weight – even if they are active. Most coaches will simply scoff and say that the pencil neck doesn’t know how to eat. While that might be true, there are many other factors in play. Let’s examine the most important ones.
1. Nutrient absorption
This will actually vary widely amongst individuals. To understand the scope of this, let’s break it down.
1a) Food composition, especially plant-based foods
If you consume any kind of plant-based food that contains fiber, that fiber will be bound to starches, proteins and minerals, making a good portion of these nutrients unabsorbable. While eating the same amount of “calories” as someone else if you go by food labels, your meal with fiber can block up to 30% or more of the calories from carbohydrates and protein to be absorbed.
And if you consume foods high in Pythic Acid (an antinutrient,) such as grains (especially oatmeal), seeds, nuts, and beans – that phytic acid will inhibit digestive enzymes like amylase, which is needed for breakdown of starch; and pepsin, which is needed for breakdown of protein in the stomach; and trypsin, which is required for protein digestion in the small intestine. Virtually rendering most of the protein useless and blocking digestion of some of the carbohydrates.
In other words, the more plant-based food you incorporate in your diet, the less nutrients and energy you will actually absorb. This is why vegans eat a ton of food, fart and shit all day long, and still look like zombified skeletons.
All plant-food have several defense chemicals and a lot of anti-nutrients that block vitamins and minerals as well, which can lead to nutrition deficiencies, which we cover in point 2.
1b) Your digestive system status
If you have abused your gut with junk food, plant foods (especially nuts, seeds, and legumes), medicines/drugs and other chemicals, your gut flora will be out of whack, your intestine walls might be damaged, and you will probably have a hard time absorbing some nutrients. This might even be the case if you have frequent meals, i.e., eat more than three times a day, as your digestive system will have very little time to rest, heal and repair, which requires a fasted state.
1c) Food intolerances or allergies
Reactions to certain foods can be a result of damage to your digestive system, but most likely it’s a psychological issue, as described in German New Medicine.
Usually we notice this by bloating or getting diarrhea. The latter will flush out a lot of unused nutrients, making it hard to maintain or gain weight. Even lesser severe reactions such as gas, cramps, bloating, etcetera can negatively affect your digestion and thus absorption of nutrients and energy.
2. Nutrient deficiencies
A lot of people, even dieticians, coaches and personal trainers only think in the realm or macronutrients – protein, fats, and carbohydrates. And they are only concerned about getting the “right amount of calories.” That mindset is very short-sighted and incredible dangerous.
We need all essential vitamins, minerals, fatty-acids and amino-acids to function properly. Just shoveling down some carbohydrates, protein and/or some fat and thinking that you will get enough energy is not always the case.
Even if you absorb a lot of what you eat energy wise, if you are deficient in any important nutrient, your cells will not function properly. And that will also interfere with your hormone production, especially if you lack animal fat and cholesterol. In other words, your body is struggling to use available nutrients to fuel your cells. This will be like putting wet wood on a fire. A lot of smoke, but no fire or heat.
3. Macronutrient composition in meals
Humans are designed to run primary on fat and self-produced glucose and ketones. Fat is our cleanest fuel, and that is why we store energy as ‘body fat.’ When we consume carbohydrates, our body must deal with it at once, since it’s toxic and blood sugar must be controlled at all cost or you will die. We temporarily switch to a “glucose metabolism” to use as much of the ingested carbohydrates as energy as possible. The use of our own body fat as energy is shut down and insulin is excreted to help with storing excess glucose, which takes us to the Randle Cycle. Consuming a lot of fat together with carbohydrates will promote storage of the ingested fat as well, instead of using it as energy. While this might seem like a solution for gaining weight, it is not healthy. It promotes the production of toxic triglycerides, glucose intolerance, and insulin resistance. Not to mention all the toxic oxygen radicals from carbohydrate metabolism which must be decomposed immediately, as they would otherwise cause damage to cells.
The Randle Cycle explains why so many get grossly obese from junk food, mixing soft drinks with fatty foods such as pizzas, French fries, and confectionery.
Now, mixing proteins with fat, as in all animal-based foods will not promote body fat storage or turn your fat-burning metabolism off. Sure, if you still consume a lot more energy than you spend, excess energy will be stored as body fat.
What to do if you find it difficult to gain weight
1. You need to make sure that you get all the essential nutrients that you need, and that is only possible by adopting our species appropriate carnivorous diet. Consuming biologically correct food will have a nutrient absorption rate of 91 to 95%! Compared to about 60 to 70% for mixed diet or 40 to 50% for an idiotic vegan diet (which will make you malnourished to boot.)
In other words, you will not even have to consume the same volume of food as before to gain weight.
2. You might need to heal your digestive system. This is easiest done by fasting. However, fasting will not put meat on you bones, actually the opposite. However, by adopting our species appropriate carnivorous diet, you will not need to eat as frequently. Once you are fully nourished, you will not experience cravings or hunger, as those are signals for you to eat when you have nutrient deficiencies that must be addressed. In other words, you can have a feeding window of 6 to 8 hours, which with digestion time, will leave about 10 to 12 hours a day in a fasted state where your body can repair and heal itself.
3. Adjust your food intake. This is a no-brainer. Add in more animal fats if you’re struggling to gain weight. Do it in small steps. However, do not fall for the extreme ketogenic diets with fat making up 70 to 80% or more of your energy intake. You need protein!
Also, you might even add in some carbohydrates if needed, but keep it to one serving a day and only a few times a week when you are very active and/or are hitting the gym.