By Amber Charles, MSPH, RDN
October 11, 2020
If you've been trying to GAIN weight, you're probably frustrated with the plethora of information on weight LOSS, with little resources for you. Fear not, this post shares strategies to gain weight in a healthy way.
Yes - to gain weight, you can go on a see-food diet (get it?...see...food...no?)...
However, the main goal of weight gain is to balance the increase of your muscle and subcutaneous fat, instead of simply gaining a whole lot of adipose/fatty tissue.
This article was written primarily for persons who may have unintentionally lost weight due to a medical condition. However, if you're trying to "bulk up", also feel free to try these strategies.
In this article:
Increase your calories
Shake it up
Eat the fat!
Snack between meals
Q&A: Your questions answered
It is essential to eat mostly healthy foods, even when you’re trying to gain weight
1. Increase your calories
Simply put - eat more and you'll gain weight. But how much more? A daily increase anywhere between 500 to 1000 kcal is suggested. As per usual, please let your Registered Dietitian and/or medical team be your guide on this.
Nonetheless, gradually increase your intake in a step-wise fashion (add 200 kcal today, then 300 kcal 2 days later etc.) until you reach your goal. This helps you to avoid any stomach upset, electrolyte imbalance and puts less stress on your heart.
2. Shake it up!
Having a high-calorie drink with or between your meals is an effective way to increase your daily calorie intake. It is your decision whether you choose a protein shake (powders or ready-to-drink products) or make your own, however, read your labels to ensure that the shakes are not high in trans fats, saturated fats or added sugars.
3. Eat the fat
30% (about 1/3) of your energy intake should come from fats, with a focus on polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Add avocado to your sandwich, make a peanut butter punch, sauté your vegetables with olive oil, add nuts to your salad etc.
See the windows of opportunities to make a meal higher in calories using healthy fats - this is a key that distinguishes weight gain from weight loss.
4. Snack between meals
Just like shakes, snacking is a great strategy to adequately increase your energy intake. Snack on nutrient-dense, high-calorie foods like nuts, apple slices with peanut/almond butter and avocado on pita bread, between meals.
5. Resistance exercise
Remember, the primary goal of weight gain is to build muscle mass. Muscle is more metabolically active than adipose tissue (fat), and plays an important role in maintaining our metabolism. Lift weights, use resistance loops/bands or exercise with your own body weight to build muscle. These resistance exercises are also great for our bones!
In a nutshell...
Let these strategies be a concept map for your weight gain journey. You do not need to do all 5, but find a strategy that both fits your lifestyle and health goals.
Q&A: Your questions answered
How to gain weight FAST?
Just like weight loss, there is no magic pill for weight gain.
Changing your weight is a marathon and you need to be consistent if you want to succeed in the long run, especially if you are managing a medical condition.
In the absence of a medical condition that is causing weight loss, your body may boost its metabolism and decrease your appetite when you begin to gain weight (set-point theory).
Therefore, you can expect a certain level of difficulty and plateaus that may then require you to change your techniques to see even more progress.
How to gain weight naturally?
Focus on whole foods and identify strategies that work for you. You can choose to prepare your own snacks, shakes and meals if you want to avoid packaged products.
What are some foods that make you gain weight?
High-calorie nutrient-dense foods primarily include healthy fats:
Fats & oils (olive/sunflower/safflower oils etc.)
Nuts & seeds (walnuts, peanuts, almonds, chia, flax etc.)
Nuts and seed butters
Whole milk, dairy products, and eggs
Oily fish (salmon, sardines)
Weight gain and weight loss strategies are so similar, how do I know if I'm doing the right thing?
The same foods that can make you lose weight, can also make you gain weight - it's how you manage your intake.
For weight gain, the focus is on increasing your daily intake and being mindful of the amount of foods you're consuming and using opportunities to increase your calories.
Selecting Nutrient-Dense Foods for Good Health, Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2016 https://www.eatrightpro.org/practice/position-and-practice-papers/practice-papers/practice-paper-nutrient-density
Mahan K. Krause’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process. In: 13th ed. ; 2012.