Fast metabolism can make you struggle to gain weight. You’re not alone!
Although it may seem like the vast majority of people want to lose fat or lose weight in a society where 1 in 3 people are overweight), those who desire to gain weight experience many of the same insecurities and roadblocks as those trying to lose weight or body fat. People with fast metabolism are having trouble gaining weight as they desire.
They want to:
- Feel healthier
- Feel stronger
- And look good naked
Whether you’re underweight, a “hard gainer,” genetically lean or have a “fast metabolism,” (and you want to gain weight) here are 6 common reasons you can’t gain weight AND 4 hacks to gain weight if you have a fast metabolism.
6 Common Reasons Why You Can’t Gain Weight
Reason 1: You’re Undereating
It may sound simplistic, but you’re not eating enough. Undereating is a common phenomenon NOT just hardgainers with fast metabolism struggle with, but even those who are looking to lose weight or simply improve their health run into this roadblock too.
For some, undereating SLOWS their metabolism down more, for others, it stresses their hormones and energy levels, and still for others (like you), it sends their body to a catabolic state, where the body not only instantly burns everything you eat, but it also turns to your own muscle and fat stores to fuel up to.
Undereating is especially easy when you already have a health-minded, real food lifestyle— because your body needs MORE of these foods to meet energy needs. If you aren’t mindful, accidental dieting (like accidental low carb) can easily happen—even if it FEELS like you are eating regular meals with all food groups in it throughout the day.
Exhibit A: Jackie, 28
Goal: Put on about 5-8 pounds to feel stronger, continue healing from autoimmune disease and improving her fitness. Address fast metabolism issues the healthiest way.
- 3 Eggs with Veggies
- 1/3 Avocado
- Big Salad with Chicken, Veggies, Butternut Squash
- Oil & Vinegar
- Protein Shake in Coconut Water
- Sweet Potato
- Broccoli in Olive Oil
In Jackie’s mind, she was eating at regular intervals throughout the day, as well as “not fearing” carbs by incorporating fruits and starches into her diet, but a simple run of the number found she was barely scathing 1800 calories and about 60 grams of carbs on a “good day”—a maintenance level to all maintain her active lifestyle with workouts most days at her CrossFit box with the occasional yoga class.
Numbers (calories and macros) are NOT the end all be all, but they are a good baseline to assess what you currently truly are eating, and to get a clearer understanding of what gaps you need to fill in order to move your own needle forward.
While every BODY is different (and you will have to assess the “slight edge” amounts of carbohydrates, fats and proteins that help your body gradually add the healthy weight you desire), a general rule of thumb for figuring out your “baseline” calorie and macronutrient ratios for weight gain is to multiply your ideal bodyweight x 12-14 for a maintenance level range, then add approximately 500 calories to that for a “starter” weight gain amount. People with fast metabolism should keep this in mind. If you lead an active lifestyle or incorporate working out into the mix, adding about 250-500 more calories from that may be necessary.
As for carbohydrates, fats and proteins, balance is essential. Generally, the following amounts are universally accepted nutrition starter points for most people with fast metabolism who are looking to gain weight:
Aiming to consume 0.8 grams to 1.2 grams per pound of ideal body weight
Aiming for 75 grams to 200 grams of carbohydrates per day (leafy vegetables don’t count; this includes starchy tubers and veggies like sweet potatoes and potatoes; white rice, fruits and “breads” like coconut flour bread). This looks like a serving of starch at least at 3 meals for most people.
Fats typically have an inverse relationship with carbohydrates. In short: The more carbohydrates you eat, the less fats your body needs and vice versa. Fats may fall anywhere from 10-20% of one’s diet on a low fat, higher carb and moderate protein diet, and upwards of 60-70% of their intake on a low carb high fat diet. For weight gain, precise fat calculation is not a “big concern”as the goal is to do what works best for your body. Some people thrive upon fats, others thrive better upon carbs. Generally though, a serving or two of healthy fats at each meal is an easy way to boost caloric intake and ensure you are eating ENOUGH.
“I am overwhelmed!”
If you’re not a big fan have numbers, no sweat. No counting is really necessary if you focus on real whole foods, and gradually increasing your amounts and varying up foods until you find your “sweet spot” where your body does begin to gain some weight.
A good starting place is to take your 3 meals per day and add:
- A serving of protein (about the size of your hand)
- A starchy carbohydrate (ex. sweet potato, white rice, winter squash, parsnips, carrots, about the size of a closed fist)
- Leafy green veggies
- 2 servings of healthy fat (ex. 1 tbsp. ghee to cook you greens in, and 1/2 avocado on top of your protein)
Try 3 balanced meals throughout the day, then gradually add on as time goes and your body “speaks”—be it a bigger serving of starch, an additional serving of healthy fat, or 1-2 snacks in between your meals.
Reason #2: Overtraining
You love working out—a lot.
You’ve been active most of your life, and there’s nothing like a good sweat or lifting session to get you energized.
However, overtraining—or underrecovering—can shoot you in the foot if you’re not mindful to replenish your burn.
Many folks trying to put on size are diligent about their workout routine, and in the “struggle” to gain weight, find themselves at the gym 6-7 days per week, pushing the weights OR “working on their fitness” to build muscle, without realizing they are actually breaking their bodies down.
Others enjoy spin, running, CrossFit or Orange Theory classes, and continue running on their hamster wheel, and wondering why the scale is not budging?!
No, a sedentary lifestyle is NOT necessary to gain weight, but aligning your activity choices and workouts with your goals is—even if for a “short time.”
You can always go back to your hamster wheel ways, but why not try something different in the gym and see if it works?
Reason #3: You’re Catabolic
Feel like when you eat more, your metabolism speeds up even more or you drop weight without trying?
Catabolism is real.
Catabolism is the general scientific term for “the breakdown of complex molecules in living organisms to form simpler ones, together with the release of energy; destructive metabolism.”
Catabolism provides energy for ALL cells to maintain their function and grow starting from the time food is ingested.
Anabolism (“building up”) is exactly the opposite.
Together, catabolism and anabolism are essential and opposite parts of the metabolic process that require perfect balance to maintain a strong body, healthy weight, and muscle mass.
If these activities are not in balance, the body can be in a catabolic state.
What causes the body to become catabolic?!
One word: Stress—specifically “HPA-Axis Dysfunction.”
HPA-Axis Dysfunction a neuroendocrine (brain-hormone health) condition that imbalances your hypothalmus, pituitary, adrenal and thyroid glands—sending your metabolism into metabolic mayhem.
HPA-Axis Dysfunction is induced by STRESS and is characterized by a number of unspecific symptoms in different including:
- feeling wired and tired
- chronic headaches
- shortness of breath
- hormone imbalances
- easily get sick
- low blood pressure
- getting dizzy upon standing
- poor progress in the gym
- Lack of exercise tolerance
- Low baseline energy state
- Fatigue easily on exertion
- Failure to gain weight despite excessive caloric intake
- Unexplained weight loss that is not part of a weight management program
- Symptoms of gastrointestinal tract slow down, such as bloating, constipation, food sensitivities, and allergies
- Weak urinary stream (frequent urination)
- Brain fog
- skin breakouts
- low immunity
- Inability to tolerate or increased sensitivities to certain kinds of food, such as tomatoes, almonds, dairy, eggs
- Visible loss of muscle mass, especially at the biceps, triceps, chest, and gluteus muscles
- Increased skin pigmentation and age spots
- Increased wrinkles around the eyes and forehead
- Low body temperature and sensitivity to cold
- Inability to tolerate raw foods
- Reduced stomach acid
- Electrolyte imbalance, especially potassium and sodium
- Low libido
- unwanted weight gain or weight loss, or the “inability” to gain weight or lose weight
- a SUPER FAST metabolism or super slow metabolism
—Just to name a few
More About Catabolism
Catabolism is NOT easily seen at first with the naked eye (hence: why you may think you are just a “hard gainer”).
This is what is called a subclinical state without obvious clinical symptoms: Normal daily life is not affected. Other common signs include: gradual decrease of exercise capacity, reduced hand grip strength, graying hair, less toned tricep muscles, persistent central fat around the abdomen that refuses to go away with exercise or diet, an increase in illness frequency, GI bloat and indigestion, and malabsorption with undigested food in stools or “inability” to handle increased caloric load.
Yup, more calories don’t do a body good in a catabolic state.
A weak and fragile body in a catabolic state simply does not have enough energy reserve to digest properly, so forcing more food is contrary to what the body is trying to do when it’s catabolic (i.e. to conserve energy by slowing down organs and down regulating digestion).
What Causes Catabolism?!
Contrary to popular belief, the “stress” that causes metabolic changes—like catabolism (body breakdown)—is not mental stress alone. Physical stressors in our every day lifestyles wreak havoc on our body, including:
Causes of Catabolic Metabolism & HPA-Axis Dysfunction
- Aggressive detoxes, diets, cleanses when the body is not ready (even “weight gain” induced)
- Major surgery, leading to muscle trauma and loss of muscle tissue
- Major accident or injury leading to systemic inflammation and muscle breakdown
- Chronic infection, such as Lyme disease or H. Pylori
- Antibiotic use history
- Liver or gallbladder dysfunction
- Chronic stress (ongoing overtraining, under-eating, under-recovering)
- Excessive exercise uses the body’s store of glycogen and glucose
- Prolonged fasting forces the body to catabolize muscle for energy
- Poor sleep
In short: Stress is keeping your body from weight gain.
Reason #4: You Have Poor Gut Health
Poor gut health (sometimes from stress and catabolism as well) is another often overlooked reason you “can’t gain weight.”
If your body is unable to absorb, digest and break down food appropriately, then you can bet your bottom dollar where you will see that food end up—in the toilet.
“Poor gut health” goes beyond bloating and constipation symptoms as well. Underlying gut conditions and infections, including:
- small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
- fungal infection
- yeast overgrowth
- low stomach acid
- undiagnosed food intolerances (beyond gluten alone, such as eggs, dairy, nuts and gluten-cross-contaminating grains like oats and rice)
These can all be reasons working “against” your efforts to gain weight.
Reason #5: Other Underlying Conditions
On top of gut “problems,” other underlying conditions may be contributing reasons as well why weight gain is more difficult for you than others. These include things like:
- blood sugar imbalances (hypo- or hyper-glycemia)
- iron overload
- hormone imbalances
- undiagnosed autoimmune conditions
- nutrient deficiencies (iron, folate, B12, Vitamin D, Zinc, Magnesisum)
- poor methylation (your body’s inability to repair DNA, turn on and off genes, fight infections and get rid of environmental toxins)
Seeing these things with the naked eye is not easy, and working with a functional medicine doctor or nutritionist who understands the “underlying” reasons why the body may be out of balance or unable to maintain or gain a healthy weight (or lose weight if necessary) is essential in order to then allow the body to come to a place of balance.
The bottom line: your “inability” to gain weight goes far beyond eating cheeseburgers s or lifting weights.
Addressing and healing HPA Axis Dysfunction is essential, along with addressing other underlying lifestyle factors behind your difficulties to gain weight with a fast metabolism (like overtraining or under-eating healthy foods)
Reason #6: You’re Not Ready
Feeling motivated and actually doing something are two separate things.
There is a difference in waking up every day with a plan of attack and following through with that plan as the day unfolds.
If you’ve ever found yourself in a place of telling yourself: “Tomorrow is the day!” or “I will do it later!” or “I’ll reset tomorrow!” then you’re in what I like to call: Contemplation mode.
You WANT to change, but you’re not really sure you’re “all in.”
Weight gain is in great part a choice that involves lifestyle, behavior and health changes. While underlying physiological conditions (like catabolism) can hold you back, you still get an active choice in your own healing of those underlying conditions in order to see the changes you SAY you want.
Be honest with yourself where your heart and your head are when it coms to making the changes you say you want. No judgment either way. Just be honest.
What to Do About It
So what to do about it? How do you actually put knowledge into action, and understand what you uniquely need to do in order to heal?
4 Hacks to Gain Weight for People with a Fast Metabolism
Here are 4 hacks to gain weight for people with a fast metabolism:
Hack 1: Assess
In order to know where you’re going, you first need to know where you’re coming from.
Assessing your current diet, lifestyle, health, behavior and habits that are keeping you stuck where you’re at; as well as assessing your own personality strengths and habit change types in order to leverage those characteristics to work FOR YOU in your change.
Keep a 3-Day Food, Poo & Lifestyle Log
From a nutrition and lifestyle standpoint, keeping a 3-day food, poo, sleep, water and movement log can reveal ALOT on paper, as it is super easy to get caught up in your own head, thinking you’re doing “all the right things,” when in actuality, your workouts are burning more energy than you are consuming, you’re under-eating carbohydrates, or you’re super constipated because you’re not drinking enough water or you’re downing artificial sweeteners in your protein shakes.
Caloric & Basic Macro Needs
To determine whether you are meeting your personal caloric baseline human needs, before weight gain, use this simple equation:
- your ideal bodyweight x 12-14 calories = baseline range for calories
- add 250-500 more calories for activity for a range of your baseline needs (use the upper end if you are highly active, working out for 60-minutes or more most days of the week)As for macros, a “balanced diet” within this calorics range for most humans then looks like 30-30-40—
- 30% of your calories from proteins (4 calories=1 gram protein)
- 30% fats (9 calories = 1 gram fat)
- 40% carbs (4 calories = 1 gram carbohydrate).Understand what your baselines are in order to then determine what you may need to gain weight in the following steps.
Don’t like numbers? No sweat! Use an app like My Macros for 3 days to assess what targets you’re currently hitting.
This assessment can also prove tremendously impactful in partnership with a coach, a nutritionist, functional medicine provider or other healthcare professional who looks at the whole picture of health (not just the “calories in, calories out” model).
Monitor Your Heart Rate Variability & Sleep
Heart rate variability and sleep quality are two essential markers for monitoring your own HPA-Axis function (i.e. stress levels), and keeping those down so weight gain is made possible. Remember, stress is the #1 driver of all imbalance—including the inability to gain weight. The Oura ring is a great (fashionable) tool for helping you do both of these, and HRV4 Training and Elite HRV are also apps to check out.
Test Don’t Guess
What gut or underlying health conditions or deficiencies (if any) are holding your body back from being where it ideally wants to and can be? Testing (not guessing) via specific labs prescribed by your functional medicine doctor, nutritionist or other healthcare professional based on your current signs and symptoms. Some tests may include:
- comprehensive blood panel
- stool test with parasitology
- SIBO breath test
- urine organic acids test
- hair/urine toxic burden test
Throw Out Scale (occasional check elsewhere…yoga pants)
Speaking of assessment…one assessment NOT to use? The scale! At least as your primary assessment tool.
BMI and weight are only a piece of the weight gain puzzle, and while weight gain is the goal, scale assessment is not necessarily the best marker for health restoration and goal attainment. As other markers resolve (stress levels, gut health, digestion, nutrient imbalances, etc.), you will find your weight gain goals actually become easier than you think. Ironically, focusing on total health markers, versus forcing a number to budge up on a scale, will help you achieve sustainable weight restoration results, without agonizing whether your weight has budged 0.38 ounces from day to day.
Other physical markers for your weight gain goals could be a pair of pants or jeans you’d love to fill out (like a new pair of yoga pants in a healthy size) and muscle development (round shoulders, touching thighs, etc.). Leave the scale to once per week or bi-weekly check-ins to ensure you’re on a steady incline, but in between, focus on the other things.
Hack 2: Address Stress
Once you have an idea of where you are at currently, now it’s time to get to making change happen (if that’s what you want).
Enter: Addressing stress.
BEFORE you focus on adding on x-amount of calories, or lifting x-amount of weight, you MUST first address stress (physical and mental) in order to help your weight gain effort “stick” in the first place.
Enter: A 28-Day Reset
4-weeks devoted to straight up stress reduction and health and lifestyle optimization BEFORE even pushing your body HARD to put on the pounds, like you may have tried in the past.
As a hardgainer with fast metabolism, it can be easy to think, “I just need to stuff my face!” to make weight gain happen.However, just like a person who CAN’T lose weight, who says, “I just need to eat 500 calories per day!” (and slows their metabolism down, and stresses their body more), trying to gain weight with the same mentality (just do it!), does NOT work. (At least in the long term).
Hence: Addressing stress and setting your body (and metabolism) up for success on the front end WILL get you much further.
How do you “address stress?”
No, I am not just talking about meditation and yoga (although those can be part). Addressing stress involves dialing back the physiological stressors in your life that are running your metabolism and body rugged or out of balance, including:
- Circadian rhythm dysfunction (sleep patterns, screen time)
- Work and travel schedules (night shift, jet lag, overwork)
- Overtraining and under-recovering
- Doing the same things for fitness (not varying it up) OR eating the same things every day (nutrient deficiencies)
- Under-eating (carbs, fats, calories, etc.)
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Emotional distress (talking about anxiety, worry, depression, etc.)
- Antibiotics, NSAIDs and unnecessary supplements
- Poor quality foods (artificial sweeteners
- High coffee intake
- Undersleeping (less than 7-9 hours per night)
- Lack of social connections/relationships
- Lack of fresh air
- Too much LED/blue light or white light
- Too much intensity
- Eating at off times (super late at night), eating on the go, eating while working (not mindful)
- Forced feeding (over eating carbs, fats or proteins to try to gain weight; however, if you’re body is in a state of stress already, then eating more is counterproductive as it may be unable to digest everything you’re eating)
- Chronic infection and underlying gut/health conditions
- Prolonged fasting/intermittent fasting or other extreme dietary protocols
- Toxic burden (cleaning, hygiene, beauty products)
- Conventional meats, dairy and produce
- Constantly trying to people please
Understanding what physiological and mental stressors have been “working against you” are essential for reversing stress and fast metabolism. Once you’ve identified any sources of stress in your life, actively then seeking to fine tune and dial those back is where “addressing stress” is won. This is very helpful to resolve the fast metabolism problem.
Addressing Stress Example
Some examples of “addressing stress” in my own life include:
Morning (Self-Care) Routine.
Starting my day off with an energizing morning routine—no e-mail or social media checking included; time spent in the Word and prayer; prioritizing my top 3 “to-dos,” moving my body (fitness)
Nourishing My Body.
Adding more variety (different fruits, veggies, proteins, fats) and sustainable, organic food sources to my plate. Eating balanced at each meal (including carbs, fats and proteins in each meal) and not “killing myself” to eat 3000 calories per day, instead focusing on meeting my baseline energy and activity needs as my body begins to heal.
Drinking More Water.
Aiming for 100-120 ounces of water per day (nearly my bodyweight in ounces of water). Adding electrolytes to half of what I drink in a day.
During my 28 day reset, I also focus on a 28 day Gut Reset (after all, the gut is the gateway to health). By focusing on enhancing digestion and boosting my natural enzyme production, stomach acid and digestive function, I naturally also lower stress (cortisol) that is otherwise inflamed from bacterial overgrowth and poor digestive flow. Eating easy-to-digest foods is essential, as my diet is based on an anti-inflammatory approach, and incorporating cooked veggies, soups, smoothies and stews also allows digestive healing. Boosting digestion is good for solving fast metabolism issues.
De-Stressing My Workouts.
Adding a regular yoga practice to my life (yoga 3-5 days per week), and cutting back on the intensity and length of my workouts (spending 45-60 minutes in the gym, and doing less HIIT—max 15 minute HIIT workouts, versus my old 30-45 minute stints); Focusing my gym program on weight lifting versus cardio.
Aiming for 7 hours (not 5 or 6) each night.
Making My Spiritual Life & Relationships a Priority.
Instead of putting work first, ensuring these things are part of my daily life; Getting back into community through my church group, CrossFit box and women entrepreneur support group.
Adding an herbal stress-reduction (HPA-Axis balancing) protocol to my daily supplement routine for 60-90 days to lower cortisol (stress hormones).
Only you, and you alone, know the “little things” that are wreaking havoc on your health and could address fast metabolism. Give your personal reset at least 28 days BEFORE trying to do more (i.e. pack on the calories or force your body to be some place it may not be in). Supplements can help people with fast metabolism.
As the body returns to a metabolic neutral (less stressed) state, a sense of stability returns while weight stabilizes and muscle mass regains its integrity. Many also report a sense of balance and calm, as if someone has lifted a heavy weight off their chest. Bowel movements become more regular, anxiety reduces, bloating and constipation lessen, digestion improves, skin tone becomes more vibrant and brightens, adrenaline rushes and reactive hypoglycemia (blood sugar imbalances) resolve, sleep improves, muscle mass volume stabilizes and unwanted weight lost stops.
Hack 3: Pump it Up
After your initial 28-day stress reset, now you’re ready to “pump it up” and tweak your plan accordingly to your personal weight gain needs.
By this time too, more than likely, you will have gotten any initial lab testing results back, allowing you and your practitioner to further customize your plan, based on any additional nutrient or supplemental needs to help heal or support any underlying conditions (such as SIBO, parasites, nutrient deficiencies, etc.).Unlike other weight gain plans for people with fast metabolism that focus on attacking MORE calories up front (often with pain and agony for the hardgainers), your body is NOW in a place of LESS STRESS to actually take to gaining some healthy weight (and actually may have naturally gained a little bit already, given that it is LESS stressed and LESS catabolic all around).
Gradually increasing caloric intake is encouraged, beginning with 200-300 calorie increments every 4-7 days until you hit your initial weight gain tipping point to begin adding some pounds.
Many hardgainers find bumping up their carbohydrate intake is where success is won, but some do well on a higher fat diet instead—find what works for you. Balance is still encouraged above all including—a starchy tuber, sustainable protein, and 1-3 healthy fats at each meals (such as cooking in 1 tbsp. ghee or coconut oil, and adding 1/2 an avocado or 1-2 tbsp. of coconut butter to a potato or meats).
If you find it is difficult to add more food, adding in smoothies or shakes (made with real food ingredients) is a great addition such as my favorite:
Dr. Lauryn’s Smoothie Recipe:
- 1 cup lite coconut milk, kefir or almond milk
- 1 scoop beef isolate protein powder
- crushed ice
- 1/3 avocado
- 1/2 banana
- Blend and serve
As for fitness, similarly, your body is in a better place to begin “pushing the envelope” a bit more and beginning a progressive weight training program, like Starting Strength (5×5) or another weight-lifting focus program (I like Brute Body) is great, along with at least 1-2 days of built in active recovery, mobility and rest.
Hack 4: Re-Assess
Getting healthier is an ongoing, continual process and the journey of weight gain is no different. There is always “more” for us on the other side to those with fast metabolism. But, as you go along, continual self-assessment (i.e. how are you stress levels? your yoga pants? your balance?) will get you far.
Don’t be afraid to enlist the help or support of a coach, healthcare professional or your friend community in the process.
My Sample Weight Gain Plan for Fast Metabolism
Want to see a sample “weight gain” plan from the day in the life of me? Check it out!
Wakeup: 6 a.m.
- Read my daily devotional and pray
- Listen to my favorite daily podcast
- HPA-Axis & Gut Loving Supplement Protocol
- 16 oz. warm lemon water
- apple cider vinegar shot in 4 oz water
- 1 scoop beef protein isolate in 8 oz water
Workout: 7:30 a.m.
- Strength Training
Meal 2- 8:45 a.m.
- 5-6 oz. Ground Turkey or Beef Patty or Chicken Thighs
- 1/2 Avocado
- Greens cooked in 2 tbsp. Coconut Oil
- 1 cup Roasted Rainbow Carrots or other starchy tuber
Meal 3: 11:30 a.m.
- Smoothie: 1 scoop protein in water or coconut/almond milk & 1/2 banana or berries
Mid-day Recess: 1:30 p.m.
Walk, get Outside or other movement (take a break from screens).
Meal 4: 3 p.m.
- Leafy Greens
- Additional Veggie: Steamed Broccoli, Artichokes, Cucumbers or Asparagus
- 1 cup Shredded Chicken
- 2 tbsp. Avocado Mayo + 1/4 Avocado
- 1 cup Starchy Tuber (Butternut Squash, Carrots, Spaghetti Squash, etc.)
- Apple Cider Vinegar “Dressing”
Social Meetup or Yoga
Meal 5: 8:30 p.m.
- 6 oz. Protein (fatty fish, grass-fed beef, turkey, chicken, etc.)
- 1 cup Sweet Potato or Potato
- Leafy Greens sautéed in Ghee
- 1/2 Avocado or 2 tbsp. coconut butter
- Candle Down (no screens)
- Herbal Tea
- HPA Axis & Gut Healing Supplements