You Can Gain Muscle in Just One Week. Here's the Safest Way.

Isadora Baum
·5 mins read

From Men's Health

People often strive to lose weight, but there are times where you might want to—or even need to—gain weight.

And while the timeline might vary, bulking up within a week, particularly in muscle mass, could be important for events, tryouts, auditions, or other life situations or health needs.

And, if you're looking to start building muscle, well, you have to start some week.

Muscle is, after all, the key to improving bone density and boosting strength. And there are many benefits to keep the mass on beyond a week.

“Maintaining muscle mass as we age is critical for longevity as it supports functional lifestyle movements as well as our skeletal system, which weakens with age,” says Kelly Jones M.S., R.D.

As for the amount of muscle you can gain within a week, it's also important to be realistic. We're talking about your health here.

So don't expect, from a standpoint of safety, that you'll gain more than one pound of muscle per week, says Jones. Genetics play a role. Your metabolism plays a role. Your familiarity with weight training plays a role. Your ability to mainline protein plays a role (more on that later).

But, yes, the general rule is that you can gain about a pound of muscle mass each week safely.

So here are six strategies to gain weight—and ensure that those added pounds come in the form of strong, lean muscle instead of fat.

1. Eat Enough (and Even a Few More) Calories

“While some evidence suggests you can gain muscle while in a calorie deficit, it’s much more difficult this way and your potential for how much gained per week will be lower,” says Jones.

Your best bet is to increase the number of calories you are eating each day. Think of your meals and snacks and add a little more to each—not to overwhelm your stomach in one sitting, but rather increase the total for the day in spurts.

“I would then suggest adding around 250 to 500 calories per day to your average calorie intake,” says Martin.

And consider tracking calories.

“The fundamental principle of weight gain is you have to be in an overall calorie surplus—you take in more calories than you burn,” says Charlotte Martin, M.S., R.D.N.

If you find the scale isn’t budging it may be helpful to track your calorie intake for a week or so to see how best to add more.

2. Eat Protein and Carbs

“Carbohydrates are the most efficient energy source for exercising muscle, especially when reaching high intensity, so don’t cut them out when following an intense training program and trying to gain lean mass,” says Jones.

Photo credit: halfbottle
Photo credit: halfbottle

Without carbohydrates (or enough calories), you’re more likely to use protein as an energy source rather than for its important structural and metabolic functions.

And eat lots of protein too, because it’s a key macronutrient for building muscle mass and repairing damaged muscles after a workout.

“For muscle growth to occur, muscle protein synthesis must be greater than muscle protein breakdown. For this reason, those who wish to gain muscle must prioritize adequate protein intake,” says Martin.

Spread protein intake throughout the day. “I often notice men trying to eat large amounts of protein at once when trying to gain lean mass, but rather than extra scoops of protein powder post workout and 12 ounces of poultry at a meal, aim to include more energy from carbs and split protein intake up so that it’s delivered more regularly to the blood stream and muscles, allowing for more continuous recovery,” says Jones.

3. Skip Intermittent Fasting

“Going long periods without food means it’s harder to spread your protein intake throughout the day, putting your body in a catabolic (breakdown) state for too long,” says Jones.

Photo credit: Halfpoint Images
Photo credit: Halfpoint Images

This can mean tapping into muscle protein reserves for energy during your fast, regardless of how much you eat in your short eating window. So, don’t fast, and make sure you eat every two or three hours during the day.

4. Easy on the Booze

You might think you can indulge because you need those extra calories. Not quite true.

“Regular or excess alcohol intake impairs recovery processes, which can mean slower gains in both muscle mass and progress with your training program,” says Jones.

“The dietary guidelines for Americans 2020 advisory committee recommended that ‘moderate’ intake for men be considered just one drink per day versus the previous two,” she says.

5. Have a Pre-Bed Shake

That’s right—sip on a protein shake before getting ready for bed. “Consuming protein before bed has been shown to be effectively digested and absorbed during sleep, therefore stimulating muscle protein synthesis while you sleep,” says Martin.

Photo credit: PM Images
Photo credit: PM Images

“Casein is a favorite nighttime protein because it’s slow-digesting, meaning it provides a steady supply of amino acids for muscle recovery and helps reduce muscle breakdown while you sleep,” she adds.

And go for a powder low in sugar, which can spike blood sugar levels and keep you awake.

6. Sleep Enough Each Night

Getting around 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep per night is crucial to increase muscle mass, because that’s when your muscles repair most. “Sleep plays a vital role in muscle recovery and growth.

It’s a key time for the release of human growth hormone, which helps develop muscle mass,” says Martin. Plus, getting enough sleep boosts levels of testosterone, a hormone that promotes increased muscle mass as well, she adds.

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