With over 70% of the American population overweight or obese (1), a fast metabolism is often considered an enviable trait. People with a fast metabolism burn more calories at rest, which makes it harder for them to gain weight.
People with a fast metabolism can often eat whatever they want without getting fat (2).
However, a fast metabolism is a disadvantage for some people, especially those who want to gain muscle and build strength. These processes invariably require a caloric surplus, and a fast metabolism can make it hard to eat enough to recover and grow.
The good news is that, while it will take some work, it is entirely possible for someone with a fast metabolism to gain weight. We reveal the best strategies and tips.
- What is Your Metabolism, and Why Does It Matter?
Tips and Strategies for Gaining Weight with a Fast Metabolism
- 1. Track your food intake
- 2. Increase your calorie surplus
- 3. Eat more calorie-dense food
- 4. Consume more liquid calories
- 5. Eat more frequently
- 6. It’s okay to eat junk food now and then
- 7. Get more sleep
- 8. Cut down on extracurricular physical activity
- 9. Train hard, train heavy, and go home!
- 10. Monitor your progress and adjust your diet and workout accordingly
Gain Weight FAQs
- 1. How many calories do I need to consume to gain weight?
- 2. Do I have to count calories to gain weight?
- 3. Can I just eat junk food to gain weight?
- 4. Will eating more make me gain fat or muscle?
- 5. How fast can I gain weight?
- 6. Are there any dangers of trying to gain weight with a fast metabolism?
- 7. I have a manual labor job and am active all day. Can I still gain weight?
- Closing Thoughts
What is Your Metabolism, and Why Does It Matter?
Your metabolism is your ability to convert food into energy, and your basal metabolic rate, or BMR for short, is the number of calories your body needs per day to maintain your current weight at rest.
These two things are intrinsically linked, and the faster your metabolism is, the higher your BMR will be, too.
When you add your BMR to the number of additional calories you burn per day during planned and incidental physical activity, you get your Total Daily Energy Expenditure or TDEE.
Building muscle and getting stronger usually requires a calorie surplus. That means you must consume more calories than your TDEE. These surplus calories are used to fuel training, for muscle repair and growth, and for recovery. Recommended calorie surpluses vary from 300-500 calories for lean gaining to 1000 or more during a full-on bulk.
If you have a high BMR, eating enough food to create the necessary surplus can be hard. A lot of food you eat gets burnt by your overactive digestive system, leaving nothing left over for muscle growth.
This makes it much harder to gain weight and build mass.
While there is very little you can do about your fast metabolism, there are several strategies you can employ to make it less impactful so you can still gain weight. That said, people with a fast metabolism will sometimes still struggle to gain weight, which is why they’re often called hardgainers.
Tips and Strategies for Gaining Weight with a Fast Metabolism
Does your metabolism burn hotter than a fiery furnace? Do you eat a lot but still find it hard to gain weight? Use these tips and strategies to gain weight despite your fast metabolism!
1. Track your food intake
A lot of people who struggle to gain weight fail to track their food intake. This means they have no idea if they are eating enough or have created a sufficient calorie surplus.
Food tracking used to be time-consuming and laborious. After weighing and measuring your foods, you had to look up the calorie values in a book, use a calculator to work out your intake, and then write everything down in a food diary. It was a DRAG!
Nowadays, you can use any number of apps and online resources to make the entire process quick and painless. What used to take hours now takes minutes, and you can even scan QR and barcodes to save you from having to input your foods manually.
If you are not in the habit of tracking your food intake, it’s time to start. After all, if you don’t know how many calories you’re eating, you’ll never know if you have the necessary surplus. You might think you’re eating enough to gain weight but, in reality, your calorie intake maybe falling short of what you need.
2. Increase your calorie surplus
Most nutritional advice suggests you need a 500-calorie-per-day surplus to gain weight. While that recommendation can work for people with a normal metabolism, it might not be sufficient for those with a high BMR.
So, increase your calorie intake to create a more significant surplus. For example, if 500 extra calories per day aren’t working, go for 750 or even 1000.
Going back to point #1, remember to track your food intake to ensure you really do have a calorie surplus. No surplus means no weight gain – period!
3. Eat more calorie-dense food
Some foods are more calorie-dense than others. Calorie density refers to the number of calories a food contains by weight or serving. Some people with fast metabolisms find it hard to eat enough food to create a calorie surplus. They may have small appetites or simply don’t have the time or means to eat enough food to gain weight.
One way around this problem is to build your meals around calorie-dense foods. Some of the best calorie-dense foods for weight gain include:
- Chicken with the skin left on
- Full-fat yogurt
- Ice cream
- Nuts and seeds
- Oily fish
- Olive oil
- Peanut butter
- Red meat
- Sour cream
- Whole milk
Including these foods in your meals or eating them as snacks will naturally increase your daily caloric intake. You still need to eat an abundance of fruit and vegetables for good health, but make sure higher-calorie foods are your nutritional mainstay.
4. Consume more liquid calories
Some people find it hard to eat enough calories. They feel full after a few mouthfuls of food and cannot chow down the vast volume of food needed to gain weight. Even high-calorie foods are too filling.
Consuming at least some of your calories in liquid form is the perfect solution. Liquids are less filling than solids, allowing you to consume more calories with less effort.
You can drink a commercial weight gainer or, probably healthier, whip up your own. Here’s an example recipe for a liquid meal that contains about 750 calories:
- 2 scoops protein powder
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 2 tablespoons peanut butter
- 2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
- 1 cup of dairy or non-dairy milk
- 1 ripe banana
Dump all the ingredients in a blender and blitz on high speed for 30-60 seconds and consume immediately. Add some water if you prefer a thinner shake.
5. Eat more frequently
Most people find it easier to consume more calories by eating several medium-sized meals instead of a couple of big meals. This will help you feel less full. Unfortunately, eating so frequently means you’ll probably have to carry food with you. However, this doesn’t have to be too inconvenient if you prepare food in advance and use a cooler.
- Breakfast – 6 eggs, 3 strips of bacon, toast, oatmeal, orange juice
- Snack – ½ cup of mixed nuts and a banana
- Lunch – pasta and chicken salad
- Snack – protein bar and a large glass of full-fat milk
- Dinner – steak, baked potato with sour cream or butter, mixed vegetables, plus dessert
- Snack – large bowl of full-fat yogurt with chopped nuts, strawberries, and honey
While this is still a lot of food, eating every 2-3 hours will make hitting your calorie intake goal more manageable.
6. It’s okay to eat junk food now and then
Junk food is notoriously high in calories, and most of those calories come from fat, refined sugars, and processed carbs. While junk food is one of the reasons that 70% of adults and kids are overweight and obese, it can also help someone with a fast metabolism gain weight.
After all, what’s got more calories: a grilled chicken breast and salad or a pizza?!
While most of your meals should be nutritionally balanced and healthy, eating junk food from time to time will make it easier to consume the calories you need to gain weight.
So, where most dieters allow themselves a cheat meal occasionally, someone with a fast metabolism can probably afford 4-5 cheat meals each week. However, the rest of your diet should be clean and healthy.
7. Get more sleep
Too little sleep can undermine your weight gain efforts in several ways. Firstly, your caloric expenditure is lower when you’re asleep than awake. Your body “powers down,” saving valuable energy.
Secondly, if you are awake, you are more likely to move around and waste energy on otherwise avoidable physical activity.
Finally, not getting enough sleep can raise your stress levels. Stress can make you less hungry, revs up your metabolism with adrenaline, and interferes with various metabolic processes, including muscle building. Needless to say, if you want to gain weight, more sleep and less stress are a must.
So, get more sleep – 7-9 hours is about right for most people; not just at the weekend, but weekdays, too.
8. Cut down on extracurricular physical activity
People with a fast metabolism not only need to eat more, but they should also try to move less to protect their hard-eaten calorie surplus. This means limiting non-training physical activity as much as possible.
As famous Australian strength coach Ian King likes to say:
- Don’t run when you can walk
- Don’t walk when you can ride
- Don’t stand when you can sit
- Don’t sit when you can lie down!
In simple terms, hard-gaining fast metabolizers need to learn to be lazy. That means no pick-up games of basketball, no unnecessary cardio, and no long walks in the moonlight…try to reduce non-training physical activity to the minimum. Instead, save your energy for gaining weight.
9. Train hard, train heavy, and go home!
Hardgainers with a fast metabolism only have a limited amount of energy for training. Long, very frequent workouts use the calories that should be reserved for gaining weight. The more you train, the more you’ll need to eat, and as you know, that’s not always easy or practical.
Avoid draining your calorie bank and undoing your surplus by keeping your workouts short, infrequent, and intense.
Aim to get in and out of the gym in 40-60 minutes, limiting your workouts to 3-4 sessions per week. Focus on big bang-for-your-buck compound exercises, and don’t do any more sets than you need to. As eight-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney used to say, stimulate, don’t annihilate.
If you do cardio, just do a couple of 20-minute workouts per week, which will be enough to enhance your fitness and health without wasting too many valuable calories. However, you may even want to skip the bike or treadmill entirely if you still struggle to gain weight.
10. Monitor your progress and adjust your diet and workout accordingly
If you don’t measure something, you cannot manage it, and the only way you make sure you are making progress is to hop on the scales and weigh yourself.
However, your body weight can fluctuate by several pounds each day, so you must weigh in at the same time and under the same conditions to determine if you are making progress. So, for example, if you weigh yourself after a big meal one day and then when your stomach is empty the next, your readings will not accurately reflect your results.
For consistency, make sure you weigh yourself at the same time each day. Set a schedule, e.g., every other day at 7am, and record your readings. Also, weigh yourself after you’ve been to the bathroom and naked or in your underwear so that you get the truest reading possible.
Even then, your weight may still fluctuate, so look for trends rather than day-to-day changes. So, providing your weight is trending upward, you don’t need to make any changes to your diet or exercise regimen.
However, suppose your weight remains unchanged for a week or more. In that case, your calorie surplus may be insufficient, so you need to eat more, exercise less, or use one of the other strategies in this article.
Gain Weight FAQs
Do you have a question about how to gain weight with a fast metabolism? No sweat because we’ve got the answers!
1. How many calories do I need to consume to gain weight?
To gain weight, you need to consume more calories than you burn, which is called your Total Daily Energy Expenditure, or TDEE, for short. Anything above this number is said to be a calorie surplus.
Depending on the speed of your metabolism and how fast you want to progress, you should be able to gain weight with a surplus of anywhere from 250 to 1000 calories a day. Start with a relatively small surplus and see how you go. If you aren’t seeing the results you want, increase the surplus by another 250 calories.
Once the scales are moving in the right direction, you can continue with the same caloric intake until you reach your body weight goal.
2. Do I have to count calories to gain weight?
While counting calories can make it easier to control your progress, you don’t have to do it to gain weight. After all, millions of people manage to gain weight who have never counted calories in their lives!
Suppose you aren’t currently gaining or losing weight. In that case, it’s safe to say your calorie intake is equal to your calorie expenditure. So, if you want to gain weight, you need to eat more to tip you into a positive energy balance.
Adding a 500-calorie meal or snack to your current diet should be enough to help you start gaining weight. For example, an average peanut butter and jelly sandwich contains 350 calories, so if you have one and a half servings, you’ll get a little over a 500-calorie surplus without weighing or measuring anything. Add more sandwiches if your weight gain stalls.
While this approach is less accurate, it can work and is ideal for those who prefer not to spend time weighing and tracking their food.
3. Can I just eat junk food to gain weight?
Junk food is invariably higher in calories than so-called clean foods. This makes them appeal if you want to gain weight. However, junk foods are also devoid of vitamins, minerals, and fiber and often contain ingredients that are unhealthy, such as artificial additives, chemical preservatives and colors, refined sugars, and trans fats.
So, while eating junk food is an easy way to get more calories, it could also harm your health.
While your progress may be slower if you mostly eat clean, and you’ll probably need to eat more food, going the non-junk food route will be better for your health in the long term. That said, the occasional slice of pizza, cheeseburger, candy bar, or bowl of ice cream won’t hurt you.
4. Will eating more make me gain fat or muscle?
Providing you are lifting weights regularly, you should gain both muscle and fat when in a calorie surplus. The amount of fat vs. muscle you gain depends on the size of your surplus and your muscle-building genetics.
If you feel like you are gaining fat too fast, you need to reduce the size of your calorie excess or train a little harder. However, most people with a fast metabolism tend to accumulate fat slowly and lose it quickly, too.
5. How fast can I gain weight?
Your rate of weight gain depends on several factors, including the size of your caloric surplus, how active you are, your age, and your dedication to training. As such, it’s impossible to say how quickly you will gain weight.
That said, we have a weight gain calculator that takes many of these things into consideration and estimates when you’ll reach your target body weight.
Enter all the variables to discover how long it will take to hit your goal weight.
6. Are there any dangers of trying to gain weight with a fast metabolism?
Gaining weight with a fast metabolism should be safe, providing you do it sensibly. This means you don’t force-feed yourself and mostly eat healthy foods. You should also avoid becoming overweight/overfat, which is bad for your health.
Monitor your blood pressure and body fat percentage to keep things as safe as possible. Speak to your doctor if you start to feel unwell.
7. I have a manual labor job and am active all day. Can I still gain weight?
Manual labor jobs can make it hard to gain weight because of the sheer number of calories you burn during your working day. For example, a 170-pound man can expect to burn anywhere from 1800 to 3000 calories in eight hours doing moderate to vigorous manual labor, e.g., digging, chopping wood, lifting and carrying, etc.
Needless to say, you’ll need to consider this high energy expenditure when determining your TDEE and calorie surplus. However, provided you eat enough, even the hardest working manual laborer should be able to gain weight. That said, you’ll need to prioritize your diet and avoid overdoing it in the gym.
In many ways, a fast metabolism is something of a blessing. People with a fast metabolism don’t usually gain fat easily and are less likely to become overweight, even if they eat unhealthily. That said, that same high metabolism can make it hard to gain muscle and could mean you are skinnier than you want to be.
The good news is that it IS possible to gain weight with a high metabolism.
That said, people with a fast metabolic rate will need to pay extra attention to what they eat to ensure they create the calorie surplus necessary for weight gain. They may also need to dial back on their non-training physical activity. Other lifestyle interventions may also be required, such as getting more sleep, avoiding stress, and looking for additional ways to be less active.
If you’ve got a fast metabolism and want to gain weight, these are the sacrifices you’ll have to make to reach your body weight target. However, your hard work WILL pay off!
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Overweight & Obesity Statistics https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/overweight-obesity
- Galgani J, Ravussin E. Energy metabolism, fuel selection, and body weight regulation. Int J Obes (Lond). 2008 Dec;32 Suppl 7(Suppl 7):S109-19. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2008.246. PMID: 19136979; PMCID: PMC2897177. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2897177/