Your friends may consider you lucky, but you may not feel that way if you're super skinny. If you're hoping to put on a few pounds, simply eating more isn't all there is to it. For healthy weight gain, you need to eat the right foods and find time to work your muscles, too. If you'd like some personalized advice about gaining weight, consult your doctor or a dietitian for guidance.
Calories for Putting on Weight
You need to eat more when you're skinny and trying to gain weight. How much more depends on your metabolism, which may be fast because of your genetics, and how much exercise and other activity you get. Since 1 pound contains 3,500 calories, eating an extra 500 calories a day should help you gain 1 pound a week.
Adding a little more to each meal, such as an extra scoop of rice or a larger piece of chicken, plus a snack, may help you gain. If you're gaining less than a pound a week, you may need to add another snack.
Healthy Foods for Weight Gain
Bingeing on ice cream and chips is not the healthiest way to get the extra calories you need to put on weight. For healthy weight gain, it's wise to eat the same foods recommended for overall good health. That means eating more whole foods, such as fruits, veggies, whole grains, dairy, proteins such as eggs, beef, poultry, fish and beans, nuts and seeds.
The other half of the equation is what not to eat: unhealthy fare such as processed food: cake, cookies, soda, fast food and frozen pizza. Even though these junk foods contain lots of calories, they usually come from fat and sugar, with very few vitamins and minerals.
To optimize your intake in a healthy way, include more high-calorie, nutrient-rich foods at mealtime. Some good examples are whole-grains, avocados, dried fruit, potatoes, corn, salmon, tofu, cheese, almonds and sunflower seeds. And so you don't feel too full, spread your food out between three meals and two to three snacks a day.
Super Skinny Calorie Boosters
You don't need to omit low-calorie vegetables to gain weight; instead, use calorie boosters to add a little extra punch to these nutrient-rich gems. Saute broccoli and carrots in olive oil or toss your salad greens with a balsamic vinaigrette and top with sliced olives, slivered almonds and dried cranberries. Add raisins and chopped walnuts to your hot cereal or yogurt, and blend a little peanut butter or almond butter into your fruit smoothie. A medium banana blended with a cup of strawberries, a cup of orange juice, a container of Greek yogurt and a tablespoon of peanut butter has almost 500 calories
Dried milk powder is another good way to add calories and mixes well with a variety of moist foods, such as milk, yogurt, pudding, soup, mashed potatoes, meatloaf and casseroles. Just 1/4 cup of dried whole milk powder has 160 calories and blends into these foods without adding a lot of bulk. With 100 calories per ounce, cheese also makes a delicious calorie booster and can be added to cooked veggies, salad greens and potatoes. Topping a medium baked potato with 1/2 cup of sauteed broccoli and 1 ounce of shredded cheddar cheese turns a 160-calorie plain potato into a 330-calorie nutrient-rich potato.
Work Those Muscles
You may think it's counterproductive to exercise when you're super skinny, but if you want to add more muscle, you need to work out. Aim for two or three strength-training workouts a week, hitting all the major muscle groups during each workout. Keep exercises short and intense, which translates to heavier weights with four to eight repetitions. Start with one set and work up to two or three sets before advancing to heavier weights. Consult a personal trainer to get a personalized strength training program based on your fitness level.
Make sure you get enough protein when you're working out so some of the weight you gain is muscle. You'll need 0.5 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight, or 60 to 96 grams for a 120-pound person.
To maximize muscle building and keep up energy levels, be sure to eat a snack consisting of carbs and protein immediately after your workout. Chocolate milk, Greek yogurt with sliced banana or a turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread make good choices.
- McKinley Health Center: Gaining Weight the Healthy Way
- Better Health Channel: Weight and Muscle Gain
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Timing Your Nutrition
- University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture: The Exchange List System for Diabetic Meal Planning
- HealthAliciousNess.com: Nutrition Facts Comparison Tool: Peanut Butter, Greek Yogurt, Dried Milk
- American College of Sports Medicine: Protein Intake for Optimal Muscle Maintenance