Whether you're naturally thin due to a high metabolism or have suffered an illness or trauma that caused you to lose pounds, approach weight gain with sound tactics. When you're underweight, you need to add pounds to achieve a healthy body size and energy level. Skip the high-calorie foods full of sugar, refined grains and saturated fats that don't help you meet these goals healthfully. Instead, seek out nutritious options and use physical activity strategically to keep your appetite stoked and to add weight in the form of healthy muscle, rather than just fat.
Aim for Slow Weight Gain
Gaining weight too quickly can lead to a significant increase in fat, and too much body fat, even on a normal weight person, can cause health problems. Muscle is the preferable form of tissue when you're adding weight to your frame, but the most muscle you can reasonably gain per week is 1/2 pound. Aim for a calorie surplus of between 250 and 500 calories daily to gain 1/2 to 1 pound of weight per week. Some of that weight will be in the form of fat, but if you're careful with your diet and exercise plan, you'll also put on a considerable amount of healthy muscle.
Estimate how many calories you need to maintain your weight by using an online calculator or talking to your doctor. Add the 250 to 500 calories to that maintenance number to create a daily calorie goal. It may take some adjustments over time to find the exact amount that's right for you -- some people may need a few more calories to gain pounds.
Exercise That Promotes Weight Gain for Women
Building muscle doesn't mean you'll become a beefy body builder. It simply means you'll add weight in the form of this healthier, more metabolically active body tissue. Adding muscle improves everyday function and stamina. Muscle also gives your body a sculpted, taut appearance, rather than a soft, doughy one.
Aim for at least two resistance-training sessions per week that address all the major muscle groups. If you're just starting out or coming back after a long hiatus, use your body weight or resistance tubing to do just one set of eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise, such as squats, lunges, dips and presses. As you feel stronger, add more weight and more sets. Give your body at least 48 hours between sessions for specific muscle groups.
Cardiovascular exercise helps stimulate your appetite and promotes heart and lung health. Endurance sessions of an hour or longer can undermine your weight-gain goal, but daily 20- to 30-minute workouts, such as jogging, brisk walking or swimming, keep you healthy.
Eat Quality Foods to Gain Weight
Sugary sweets, soda, junky snacks and ice cream may be a quick source of calories, but they contain minimal nutrients to support a healthy increase in weight. Instead, reach for starchy vegetables, whole grains, dense fruits, lean proteins, unsaturated fats and dairy to increase your calorie load.
Increased portions of healthy foods at meals help you add that extra 250 to 500 calories. For example, scramble an additional egg with breakfast for 90 calories; add 1/2 cup of granola to yogurt as a dessert at lunch for 200 calories; and add an extra 1/2 cup of brown rice at dinner for about 100 calories.
You could alternatively increase the calorie density of your meals with small additions. Cook oatmeal in 1 cup of milk, rather than water, for 149 extra calories; add a sliced avocado to your salad for 230 calories; or roast veggies, such as broccoli and cauliflower, with a tablespoon of olive oil for 124 calories.
Snack to Support Healthy Weight Gain
Plan for quality, calorie-dense snacks so you take in calories every few hours to reach your daily calorie goal. A handful of nuts, dried fruit and hummus with whole-grain crackers are portable options; stash a baggie in your purse or gym bag when you're on the go. An ounce of walnuts yields 170 calories, a cup of dried apple rings has 209 calories and a cup of hummus dip provides about 400 calories.
A snack after your strength-training workout provides essential support to your efforts to gain lean muscle. Choose a food that includes a fair amount of protein because the amino acids support muscle growth and repair. Aim for about 20 grams of protein with some carbohydrates to refuel your energy stores in the three hours after a workout
Whey protein powder added to a smoothie with berries, banana and milk is quickly digested and full of the amino acids required for muscle growth. Whole foods, such as a couple of hard-boiled eggs with a whole-wheat pita or baked chicken with brown rice, are also good options.