Today was a true rest day.

I didn’t have any studying or running. So I celebrated my birthmonth by watching movies. I also got a chance to catch up on some of my emails and as always, I am happy to hear of so many running accomplishments and races and goals.

I got an email recently from a runner who has been trying to gain weight, to a frustrating end. Here is his question.

EDGAR’S QUESTION

Right now my knee is giving me a little problem. I stayed off of it for 2 weeks after my last marathon, then ran two days in a row last week. It started to bother me so I stopped running for five days. When I ran on Monday my legs felt great. I did an interval run two min at 9min/miles then two min at 6-7min/miles for an hour with 10 min warm-up and 10 min cool down. But yesterday my knee started to bother me.

I need to build more muscle.  Most people run to lose weight. I don’t need to lose weight – I need to gain weight.  I’ve been under weight for a long time. I’m 5’11 and currently weigh 130lbs. So I’m super thin and try to eat a lot to gain weight, but it just isn’t working for me.

People would tell me in my teens, “When you turn 21 your metabolism will slow down.”  I turned 21 and nothing. Then, “When you’re 23-24 u will gain weight.” I turned 24 and nothing.  I am in my late 20s now. I eat a lot of meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit. I love a large steak and a large Caesar salad.

I need to put on some muscle pounds, which I think might be the problem with my knee right now. I have run way over 100 miles without a problem; this just happens after a marathon. It has never happened to me after my half marathons.

Right now I go to the gym at night and I base my running on a 5k which takes me around half an hour. At the gym I do nothing besides running. I used to train by the beach running 12 miles by drinking one bottle of Gatorade an hour before my run, and did that my first two half marathons.

I got my knee x-rayed after I hurt it the first time after my first marathon. I got my knee wrapped and given pain medication because nothing was wrong with my knees; just a muscle or tendon was swollen. It feels like it might be the same thing now, except last time it was on the right side of my left knee and this time it’s on the other side of my left knee.

Before I just had to keep off of it for a week until the swelling went down. And I went a little over board because I wanted to be really healed the next time I ran. So I stopped running for the next few years and took a step aerobics class, which is supposed to be low impact to keep myself exercising.  But I want to keep running. Can you help me?

– Edgar

I asked Michael to help. Michael is a personal trainer and a running coach that I have personally been working with. He designed my marathon training plan. He also previously answered Laura’s question, a running struggling with weight loss.

MICHAEL’S ANSWER

Hi Edgar,

It sounds like you have two questions here. One is regarding muscle building with regard to your injured knee and the other is about general muscle building/weight gain.

With regard to your knee, you’re right in that strengthening the muscles around the joint can often alleviate and prevent injuries, however that is something that needs to be diagnosed and prescribed by a physiotherapist. They can give you the exercises to strengthen your muscles in a way that reinforces your joints based on your particular injury without aggravating it.

Adding muscle mass to your body frame will require a lot of work on your part, but it can be done. It sounds as if you have a naturally fast metabolism. That, combined with your cardio-centric workout routine is keeping you lean. To combat this, you will need to work with a trainer and ideally a nutritionist as well. But here are few tips to get you started:

1. You will need to have a weightlifting workout program designed to primarily target the large muscles in your body (legs, chest, back).  The program should allow for at least 48 hours rest for each muscle before you work that muscle again. You also need to allow adequate rest between sets during each workout.

2. When lifting weights, you need to select weights that are heavy enough so that you can only do 6-8 repetitions, and you should really be struggling to do the last few.

3. You will need to think about your nutrition and particularly what sort of supplements you want to take. A good multivitamin is probably a good idea, but you also need to decide if you want to add whey protein (the weight gaining variety) and other supplements such as creatine. A nutritionist, and some trainers, will be able to determine your base metabolic rate and calculate how many calories and how much protein you need to eat each day to support your weightlifting routine allowing you to pack on the muscle you want.

4. One more thing I would add to this is that when beginning weight training on your own – if you’re not going to have a trainer or even a partner – is to stick to the machines rather than the free weights. Free weights are definitely better in the long run, but at the beginning stages you need to concentrate on form and just getting a feel for the exercises, plus you can keep going until you reach muscle failure without risking injury. Once you’ve been lifting weights for a while and are comfortable with them, you can move to free weights.

Thanks for your question and good luck.

Michael Andrew

If you have a question for Michael, you can contact him at mkonlinetraining@gmail.com.

***

Upon further discussions with Edgar, it seemed that he was just concentrating on consuming as many calories as possible in order to gain weight – often resorting to higher calorie foods like junk food and fast food in the hopes that this would help him gain weight. Our bodies don’t work like that. It’s not just a matter of hitting a certain number of calories, but rather consuming calories that will give our bodies the nourishment it needs to grow muscle.

NUTRITIONAL WEIGHT GAINING TIPS FOR EDGAR

1. The inability to gain weight might be associated with a medical problem, like hyperthyroidism. If this is the case, other symptoms such as sweaty hands, insomnia, and a rapid heart rate are often present. I would suggest getting checked out by a health care practitioner to rule out this possibility.

Because you have been thin all your life I do agree with Michael in that the greatest likelihood is a high metabolism and a lower potential for fat storage. But I would still be safe and get checked out.

2. Sometimes when an individual struggles to gain weight, it is accompanied by a high strung personality and high levels of stress. Edgar is a student in Aerospace Engineering. I think that might be the actual definition of stress.

Stress reduction and learning to slow down internally and externally can help improve metabolism and digestion, allowing nutrients to reach their destinations more effectively.

3. An increase of calories is important. An extra 500 calories a day above the body’s requirements can lead to one pound of weight gain. Fats are more calorie-rich than complex carbs or sweeter food. So an increased consumption of things like yogurt, cheeses, nuts and seeds, and avocados may help.

4. Increasing the size and the number of your meals is something else to look at. Something like three main meals with three or four snacks. But be mindful of the quality of calories you are consuming. Deserts and junk food are high in calories, but don’t provide any nutritional value. Stick to starchier vegetables like potatoes, carrots, beets, and squashes. Starchy grains include rice, oats, and pastas.

5. In additional to the multivitamin that Michael mentioned, you may want to consider additional B vitamins. Most of the B vitamins play a role in metabolism and assimilation of food.

I know the inability to gain weight can be just as frustrating as the inability to lose it. I’m pleased that Michael has recently started working with Edgar on a personalized mass building program that will last him for several months.