Most health talk focusses on weight loss, but for some people – particularly young men – it’s maintaining or gaining weight that is the challenge.
So if you want to stop feeling scrawny and add muscle, what can you do?
Obviously, you need to train smart — but all those workouts may be wasted if they’re not supported by what you eat.
Remember carbs and fat
The words “muscle gain” and “protein” tend to go hand in hand, but Austin says that if you want to gain weight, you can’t forget about the two other macronutrients: carbohydrate and fat.
“Sometimes these people are restricting their carbohydrate intake and thinking all they need is protein, but they need carbohydrates and good fats too,” she says.
“That will give you the extra calories you need to run your metabolism and do your training, then you can use most of the protein [you consume] to replace cells and hormones, create new muscle mass and run your immune system.”
The focus should be on high-quality carbs like whole grains, grainy breads and brown pasta, as well as oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocado and dairy foods for fats.
For a lot of skinny people, Austin says the challenge is to remember to eat more.
“Some people are not that fussed about food – they just eat to survive – and if they’re hungry and doing something else, they might just ignore it and continue what they’re doing,” she says.
“But you need extra calories to run your metabolism and do your exercise and training.”
If you struggle to eat much, Austin says you should be focusing your efforts on foods that are energy-dense.
“For them it might mean nuts, seeds, avocado, eggs, cheese and tuna,” she says.
“Add extra virgin olive oil to your vegetables and salads and [make sure you] eat every few hours.”
You want to make sure you eat within the hour prior to exercising, then have some protein and carbohydrates straight after your workout.
“That will replace the calories you lost in exercise, so you can spare the extra ones to grow muscle,” Austin explains.
When it comes to protein, Austin says you want around 20-30g of protein per meal, as well as quality carbohydrates and fats.
“Two eggs would have 12 grams, two slices of toast would give you another four grams, then you might have a glass of milk or some fetta cheese with it,” she explains.
If you’re naturally skinny, it might feel like you have a licence to eat as many chips, burgers or chocolates as you like, but Austin says this is so-called “dirty bulk” is misguided.
“That food isn’t very nourishing,” she says.
“For one, it’s not good for your gut bacteria, and therefore not good for your mood. It’s also not good in terms of risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer because poor fats increase our cholesterol level.”
Austin says it’s important people don’t mistake being skinny for being healthy.
“You can be thin and have high blood pressure and high cholesterol,” she says.
“Weight is not necessarily a measure of your health – skinner doesn’t mean better.”
Weight gain can be a slow process, so give yourself plenty of time to reach your goals — and acknowledge that naturally slender fellas are never going to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“It can be very hard for someone to put on weight, just as it can be hard for others to take weight off,” Austin says.
It’s important to take a balanced and relaxed approach to weight gain, trying to enjoy the process of eating wholesome, hearty foods and building strength and fitness.
At the same time, using some meditation techniques or taking time out from busy schedules can actually help too.
“When people are stressed or anxious, it can increase the burning of calories, and that’s not good either,” Austin points out.