How To Gain Weight + Build Lean Muscle

Hey friends!

So I asked you all on IG stories if you’d be interested in me blogging about this topic and over 95% of you said yes! Which I was kind of surprised about to be honest, but I’m so happy to talk about this because I think there is a lot of questions and misinformation around it. And while I don’t know all of the answers (and keep in mind I’m not a personal trainer or anything), I do have experience with this so I’m going to share with you all what I can! 🙂 (Oh and ps. I will answer all your questions at the end that I didn’t address through the post itself).

To give you guys some frame of reference, I am 5’9” and have pretty much always weighed between 126-130 lbs. While my weight hasn’t really fluctuated a lot, my body composition has definitely changed over the years. You can see below a “before” photo, where I was doing cardio about 3x a week, and was eating fairly healthy (left) vs. when I started working out regularly with free weights + counting macros (right). (Most of you probably know this, but I follow Paola’s workout guide, the Strong and Sexy Body Method, and she also calculates my macros.  When I started her guide, I felt like my body composition really changed (for the better) because I was now incorporating weights consistently into my routine).  Now, keep in mind that these before and after photos, I was not eating to gain weight. I had finished doing a cut (eating in a caloric deficit) and then was starting to eat in a maintenance phase. Meaning, I wouldn’t be losing fat anymore, but just slowly building lean muscle. This is kind of your “equilibrium” so to speak–no major changes are happening. (Just giving you guys this information to give you some context!)

Same weight in both photos. Around 128-130 lbs.

So, in the summer of 2016 I was starting to eat my maintenance macros (above right), and then a few weeks later I fainted and fractured my jaw. Why I fainted is kind of a long story, but basically I have vasovagal episodes. So anyway, I fainted and literally landed on my face/chin and fractured my jaw in 3 places. I had to have my jaw wired shut the next day and then lived on an all liquid diet for 6 weeks. Oh, and I fractured my arm too! Fun.

During the first 4-5 days of my accident, I dropped to 117 lbs. How I lost 10 lbs in so little time? Who knows. I mean, I didn’t eat anything for the first 48 hours after I fell just due to being in the hospital, the surgery, etc. And for the next few days I was eating very little. My jaw/mouth were really sore and eating a ton of calories on a liquid diet takes work! Let me tell you. But I knew that I needed to gain the weight back, I wasn’t at a healthy weight for my height. I didn’t look healthy and I didn’t look good! In order to gain back the weight, I had Paola increase my macros to make sure I was eating enough to gain back the 10 lbs. During these 6 weeks we increased my macros (hence overall calories) consistently because I wasn’t gaining the weight back like we expected. I was eating close to 3000 calories a day (I think around 400 carbs), but my weight wasn’t really increasing. We both think it was due to the fact that my body was still in recovery mode, and I was only eating liquids–so my body just wasn’t processing everything the same. Below are some photos of what I looked like at 117 lbs after I fell. Oh also it was super hot that day we had to take photos so just ignore the sweat glistening across my forehead and hairline 😂

So once my jaw became unwired, I continued to eating that 3000 calorie diet. Also, keep in mind, I was still working out everyday with my jaw wired but I was really limited to what I could do. I wasn’t allowed to lift over 10 lbs, and I couldn’t do any jumping motions. Once my jaw was unwired I was cleared to lift heavier again. Given that I could train with (substantial) weights again, and that I was eating whole foods (not only liquids), I started to put the weight back on. Within 1 month, I was back to my normal weight. Below you can see the before (left) and after (right). During this time, I was still following the Strong and Sexy Body Method (and it’s still the workout program I do currently)!

117 lbs (left); 130 lbs (right)

I will admit, I remember that when I made this jump in weight (and my abs were much less defined), I felt somewhat uncomfortable in my own skin. I was accustomed to looking a certain way before I fell, and then I felt like I lost all my progress when my jaw was wired shut and I had to start all over. However, in order to get back to my previous weight and gain back muscle, I had to go through that in between stage. Looking back, it seemed silly that I was having these thoughts, but I understand that it’s hard when you’re trying to gain weight and muscle–for a period of time your body isn’t what you’re used to. I think that is a lot of your guys concern too (from reading your comments). But trust me when I say, that it is a means to an end. If you get hung up on every single stage your body goes through you’ll never get to the “final” destination!

Once I had gained the weight back over that month, I decreased my macros/calories to a more normal range. I don’t remember the exact numbers but they were around what my maintenance phase would be (I’m guessing my carbs were around 190 grams). Within three weeks of these new macros and continued weight training, my body was closer to what I looked like before I fell. However, my weight stayed the same. Meaning, that I was burning fat and gaining muscle simultaneously. This isn’t the easiest thing to do (in general you really have to decide if you want to gain muscle or burn fat) but Paola is very good at what she does and I didn’t have any weight to loose–it was just a bit of toning up in my midsection.

A few months after getting back into my normal routine, I decided that I really wanted to grow my legs and booty more–those were the areas that I really wanted to add (lean) muscle to. In order to do this, you need to lift heavier and EAT! You can’t put on any significant muscle and you especially can’t grow a booty if you aren’t eating enough. And if you’re like me, putting on muscle is really difficult so you have to put in extra work at the gym (boo). So, Paola and I decided that I would train legs with weights 2x a week, do the stairmaster 2x a week for my cardio plus increase my carbs by about 60g a day. So, I was still following her guide, but I eliminated a full body day and substituted a leg day instead. And for my cardio days, I always do stairmaster (you can see my routine, here). I was eating around 250 carbs at this time. Below you can see the difference from before I fell to after I started increasing my carbs and lifting heavier with my leg days. (This photo plus more about my regimen during that time was featured in Cosmopolitan, if you want to read about it in more detail).

117 lbs (left); 130 lbs (right)

Basically, it comes down to this. Everyone’s body is different. We have different genetics. Different metabolisms. Are of different heights, weights, and activity levels. BUT if you want to gain weight then you have to do some trial and error of where your threshold is regarding calorie intake. If intuitive eating works for you on a general basis, that’s fine! But if you have an specific goal to gain weight or put on substantial muscle, then you need to know exactly how many calories (or macros) your body specifically needs in order to achieve that. And if you’re trying to gain muscle then you have to consider one of two things. If you’re looking to just tone up and define your muscle, then you don’t need to train heavier or eat more than you normally would. But if you want to gain a more significant amount of muscle then you have to increase your carbs and weights. Again, depending on your body specifically, these macros and training routines may vary some but as a general rule of thumb you need to eat more and lift heavier to achieve this. As a result, you may go through periods where you don’t like how your body looks because you won’t be as lean. But  remember what I said! This is just part of the process. It’s only temporary but you have to accept that it is part of the process.

Now! Let’s compare from the very start to the end. Below on the left is when I was only doing cardio and eating relatively healthy and on the right is when I was consistently eating 250+ carbs and lifting heavier. Same weight in both photos, but obviously I have much more muscle and am more toned after. Also keep in mind though, this after photo was still when I was eating about 60 carbs higher than my normal, so I don’t consider my body to be as lean as usual. Point being, remember that after putting in some time of eating more and increasing your weights, you can cut back down on your carbs to lean out more. But, you will still retain the extra muscle you built because you aren’t cutting your carbs low enough to burn muscle; only the fat. Also, remember! That the more muscle you gain the more fat you burn in a resting state (ie. you speed up your metabolism essentially!) Does this make sense?

Also, I know a lot of you girls said you’re scared about feeling “puffy” or “soft” during the time that you are increasing your food intake and weights. But like I said earlier, remember that is temporary!!! In order to gain a substantial amount of muscle you have to go through this. As a side note, this is why I recommend that people get several macro consultations from Paola, instead of just one. Most of the time, our fitness goals evolve, and as a result your macros will need to be adjusted.

130lbs-only cardio (left) ; 130 lbs weights + macros (right)

Okay, now onto answering some of your questions that weren’t covered! And again, keep in mind–I am not a personal trainer! This is just my own personal experience and knowledge that I have gained over the years of working out =)

What workouts do you recommend to achieve a lean, toned body? Obviously this is different for everyone, but I think adding weights 3x a week to your routines will definitely help add more lean muscle. Also nutrition is key. You can’t out train a bad diet (whether it’s over or under eating).

How do you know when you’re ready to go up in weight when lifting? How much weight should you use if you’re trying to tone and not bulk? So, when I first started training with weights, I would shoot for 15 reps. So I would choose the weight that I could just manage to do 15 reps with (meaning 12 reps was easy to complete but 20 reps was too hard). 15 reps is a great amount when you’re just trying to define/tone muscle. But if you want more so muscle growth, choose the weights that you can only complete 8-12 reps with. Right now with my routine, I always do around 12.

-Should you do HIIT workouts on their own day or as an add-on? I do mine on the same day but only because I am pressed for time. If you end up doing them on the same day, I would do them on a day where you aren’t lifting super heavy. You don’t want to become too fatigued!

-I am aiming for booty gains but also want to lose some fat. Should I combine HIIT and weight training to achieve that? Or should I focus on one thing only? I personally would focus on one thing only. You can do HIIT with weight training because it will help with some fat burning if you’re eating more and lifting heavier (to get those booty gains) but you won’t be achieving an overall leaner look during the period. If you truly want fat loss, then you should only focus on 1 thing at time!

-How to turn stomach fat into lean muscle? Diet, diet, diet! Not an actual diet, just meaning that abs are made in the kitchen 😉 Also, don’t do ab/core exercises with heavier weights. If you want a leaner stomach, do more body weight ab exercises.

-How do you find the right balance between cardio and HIIT/weight training for your body and fitness goals? This is why I like following a guide that overall caters to the type of “body” I want. Meaning, I don’t like only resistance training guides because it’s too much cardio and while it can be great for fat loss, it is very hard to put on muscle. That’s why I chose the Strong and Sexy Body Method because I knew it would help me tone up and put on more lean muscle (which was my goal). So it just depends on what your overall goal is.

-How did you identify the right macros to help you gain muscle definition, keeping in mind your activity and body type? I gave all that information to Paola, and she calculated them 🙂

-What is a realistic amount of weight training and macro hitting in order to put on muscle? Again, this is different for everyone. For me, I had to train my legs 2x a week with heavy weights plus another 2x a week on the stair master because it is so hard to me to gain muscle in my legs and booty especially. And I had to eat in a more of a surplus consistently. I had to do this for several months in order to a see a difference. So a lot of it is kind of trial and error to see what works for you. I will say though– in general, you don’t want to change up your macros too frequently because you need to give your body time to adjust and adapt to the numbers–you have to give them time to work and do their job!

-How did you start out by eating more to build more muscle? Did you increase your fats or protein during this time when you were eating more and lifting more? So, I just increased my carbs roughly by 60g and changed up my weight routine. Granted, you can slowly increase your carbs to give your body time to adjust but that is a longer, more complicated process! (Side note: this is what a lot of people refer to as a reverse diet; Paola doesn’t offer this type of macro consultation FYI). And, I just increased my carbs (my fat and protein stayed the same).

-What is a better approach to losing fat? HIIT or weightlifting? HIIT is great for burning fat and when you’re pressed for time. But weightlifting will allow you to gain muscle which is much better for constant fat burning. The more muscle you have, the more fat your body burns at a resting state.

Okay guys, I hope this lengthy (sorry!) blog helped! Any other questions feel free to ask in the comments!! xx C


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