5 Tips to Help You Gain Weight for Ranger School

The 7th Brigade Army ROTC Ranger Challenge opening ceremony took place at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
The 7th Brigade Army ROTC Ranger Challenge opening ceremony took place on Nov. 5, 2021, at Fort Knox, Kentucky. (Sarah Windmueller/U.S. Army photo)

Here is a question from a soldier who is attending Army Ranger Training in two months:

"I am pretty lean now with about 5% body fat. I think I need to gain a few pounds before I go to Fort Benning. I cannot afford to lose much weight as it is, and I know people lose 20-30 pounds during Ranger School sometimes. - help!"

If you have the weight to lose, you will lose it at Ranger School. The bad news, if you are lean, you will lose muscle, so bulking up to 10%-12% body fat will not hurt you. You just have to do it smart and not let the added weight affect your PT and running scores. To accomplish weight gain while still on a rigorous cardiovascular training cycle, you have to add more calories, plain and simple.

In Ranger School, food intake is seriously limited (1-2 meals a day). In addition, ruck marches spanning more than 15-20 miles in a day will cause you to lose significant amounts of weight in muscle and fat.

The workouts you are doing in the Ranger/SF Fitness guide are designed to build muscle, speed and endurance. It is up to you whether you gain or lose weight. To gain one pound a week, it takes an additional 2,000 calories a week. Break it up into days, and you only need to eat an additional 300 calories a day to gain a pound a week.

Depending on your overall caloric intake, you can use this program either to lose or gain weight. Think of weight gain as saving money. At the end of the week, if you do not spend more than you make, then you have a surplus of money. The same goes for food calories and exercise. If you have an additional 2,000 calories at the end of the week that you did not expend, you will gain weight.

You probably know this already, but weight gain isn't easy to achieve. People who cannot gain weight usually have a fast metabolism, which makes gaining hard. The key to weight gain is to do everything big. You have to eat big and lift big in order to get big. This is your new motto.

A lot of people think weightlifting is the key to gaining weight. It is an extremely important part, but your diet is just as important. In fact, you still can do your calisthenics (PT) workouts and run and still gain weight, too -- as long as you eat big.

I am not a big fan of supplements, other than some protein drinks after workouts and vitamins. Do not take creatine to prepare for any military training. See the "Creatine and Military Training" article for more details.

To put it as simply as possible, there are five simple steps to how to gain weight:

1. Count how many calories you eat in a normal day

Don't change anything. Just eat like you normally would and count how many calories you consumed. This is an extremely important step, so try to be as exact as possible. Also, weigh yourself.

2. Eat 500 calories more

Starting the day after you counted calories, eat 500 calories more than you normally do. Pretend that you counted calories at 2,000 for one day. For the rest of the week, you would eat 2,500 calories a day. Instead of eating three big meals a day or eating all day all the time, spread those calories out over five or six smaller meals. Eat one meal every 2½-3 hours. To get big, you have to eat big. Remember that.

3. Start weightlifting

Get in the gym and lift or PT, using all of your major muscle groups to promote growth. This is another important step in how to gain weight, so make sure you are doing it correctly. Also rucking utilizes the bigger muscle groups of the body, like the legs, glutes and lower back. This will spur growth to those muscles as well; this is where you should see your greatest increase in weight.

4. Weigh yourself

At the end of the week, weigh yourself. You'll notice you are gaining just after one week. Now don't expect to see a 10-pound increase. Gaining any more than one or two pounds a week is unhealthy and means you are putting on way too much fat. So look for one- or two-pound gains at the end of the week.

Doesn't sound like much? You can be gaining 5-8 pounds a month. A 10-pound weight gain will help as long as it does not impact your running and pull-ups and other PT tests. So you have to keep working out harder in order to carry this extra weight. Otherwise, it will weigh you down.

5. Eat even more

Here's an important one. At some point, you will stop gaining weight. At this point, you will have to eat even more. So when you stop gaining for at least two weeks, it means it is time to start eating an extra 250 calories a day -- until you have reached your goal. Now, even more important -- keep working out. Do not just eat to get big. Lift and PT to get big.

Here are some more weight-gain tips (extremely important):

Stay away from fat: Even though weight gain is your goal, you don't want to be gaining fat. Get rid of the chips and candy. No more fast food, nothing fried. Stick to high-protein and low-fat foods like tuna fish (and other seafood), chicken breast, turkey, ham, lean meats, fruits and vegetables. Do not eliminate fat; just try to limit the amount of fat calories to protein calories you ingest.

Drink water. Drink around a gallon a day, more if you can. Yes, that's a lot of water, but it's water that will give you the energy you need to gain weight. Below is a list of foods you want to eat to gain weight:

  • Whole or 2% milk

  • Milkshakes

  • Salad dressing

  • Mayonnaise

  • Cheese

  • Burgers

  • Raisin bran

  • Oatmeal

  • Crackers

  • Croissants

  • Peanut butter and jelly

  • Club sandwiches

  • Bagels

  • Cream-based soup

  • Prime rib

  • Porterhouse steak

  • Ice cream

  • Chicken

  • Ham

  • Steak

  • Fish

  • Peanuts

  • Beans/peas

  • Potatoes

  • Carrots

For more information, view this chart detailing meal options for a weight-gain regimen.

Eat these in moderation if you are trying to lose weight, but add additional helpings if you are trying to boost your caloric intake to 2,500-3,000 calories per day. If you want to lose weight, you have to drop your calories to 1,500-1,800 a day in addition to exercise.

Fatigue and hunger are challenging issues you will have to handle at Ranger School. But making sound decisions and remaining calm while tired and hungry add to the true test of leadership. The Ranger Course produces a mentally hardened soldier, who possesses abilities to operate on land, air, and sea. After the 61-day course, he is authorized to wear the Ranger tab.

Good luck with your weight gain and your Army Ranger School challenge. Thanks for your service, past, present and future Army Rangers.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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