Recruiting healthy young adults, aged 18–35, to lifestyle programmes for prevention of weight gain is challenging but important given their increasing rates of obesity. This review aimed to examine the success of different recruitment strategies. A systematic literature search identified 26 separate studies using 10 electronic databases. Participant characteristics and efficacy of interventions were well reported in all studies, but reporting of recruitment procedures, costs, times and effectiveness was minimal. Of those reporting recruitment, both active (e.g. face-to-face) and passive (e.g. print-media and mass-mailings) approaches were identified with the latter most frequently employed. Novel strategies such as social media and marketing approaches were identified. Television and radio have potentially high reach but low efficiency with high cost compared with mass-mailings which yield high numbers of participants. Marketing campaigns appeared to be a promising approach. Incentives demonstrated enhanced recruitment. The use of formative research to guide recruitment strategies for interventions is recommended. Reporting of success, cost and timelines for recruitment should be included in reporting of future trials. This first synthesis of recruitment information can be used to inform recruitment frameworks for lifestyle programmes seeking to attract young adults.