The paleo diet calls for you to eat as your ancestors did before the agricultural revolution. Processed products, as well as dairy, grains, legumes and potatoes, are off the table, leaving you with a diet rich in meats, fish, poultry, nuts, eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables. The paleo plan purportedly gives you more energy, discourages inflammation and minimizes your risk of chronic disease. Paleo eating can help you gain weight to improve your health or perform better in sports. Although many of the banned foods are traditionally recommended for weight gain, plenty of paleo options are calorie-dense choices that can help you put on healthy pounds.
Weight Gain With Paleo Eating
To gain weight, it's necessary to have a calorie surplus. Use an online calculator or speak with a dietitian to estimate your daily calorie needs for weight maintenance. Take into account your age, activity level, gender and size. Then, add 250 to 500 calories to this number, so you can come up with a daily intake goal that helps you put on 1/2 to 1 pound per week.
Gaining weight more quickly makes it likely you'll add a high proportion of body fat, instead of muscle tissue. Muscle tissue provides you with a healthy appearance, better daily function, and improves your power and speed, if sports performance is important. The greatest amount of muscle tissue you can add a week is 1/2 pound.
In addition to your increased-calorie paleo diet, you'll need to adopt a regular strength-training routine. Work every muscle group in two or three workouts a week, with one to three sets of four to eight repetitions, using a weight that makes it difficult to finish the last repetitions. Leave 48 hours between sessions of working the same muscle groups.
Foods for Paleo Weight Gain
Plan on eating three meals plus two or three snacks a day to fit in all the calories you need. Meals will contain a protein, but choose higher calorie proteins such as eggs, tuna packed in olive oil, salmon, steak, or dark chicken or turkey meat. Wild game, including elk, venison and duck, are also valid choices. Uncured bacon is another high-calorie option to have occasionally, but watch the saturated fat. Avoid other processed meats such as hot dogs and deli meat.
All fibrous, watery vegetables are considered paleo, and these help fill you up with few calories when you're trying to lose weight. Since your focus is to gain weight, emphasize the starchy vegetables that have more calories, such as butternut or acorn squash, beets, yams and sweet potatoes. Yucca and taro root are other starchy vegetables that are less common in American diets, but found in some health food stores, as well as in Latin American markets. Note that starchy vegetables are minimized on a paleo diet, largely to encourage weight loss. But when your goal is to gain, have a generous serving at least once a day.
Most fruits are paleo, including high-calorie fruits such as avocados, bananas, pineapples, mangos and dried fruits without added sugar, particularly raisins and dates.
All plain nuts, including macadamia, almonds and cashews, make calorie-dense additions to meals and snacks. Seeds such as pumpkin, sunflower and flax are other snack choices that have a lot of calories. Use cold-pressed oils, including olive, coconut, walnut and avocado, to add calories when you dress salads or roast vegetables.
Paleo Meal Ideas for Weight Gain
A paleo breakfast to help you gain could include three eggs scrambled in olive oil, with peppers and spinach, along with baked sweet-potato fries or a high-calorie smoothie made with banana, pineapple, coconut oil and almond milk. At lunch and dinner, grill, roast or broil a protein and have it with baked squash mashed with a drizzle of avocado oil, salt and pepper and a salad topped with avocado, seeds, lemon juice and olive oil. Another high-calorie meal might be salmon cooked with unsweetened, canned coconut milk, curry spice and vegetables such as cauliflower, sweet potato and green beans.
Between meals, graze on a cup of nuts -- a cup of macadamia nuts provides you with 962 calories. Other choices include a cup of dates, with 415 calories or a cup of pumpkin seeds, for 721 calories. A smoothie made with banana, flaxseeds, coconut cream, almond milk and avocado also serves as a high-calorie, between-meal snack.
The higher protein content of the paleo diet supports the recovery and growth of your muscle fibers after quality strength-training sessions. Processed whey protein and other dairy products that are quick, convenient forms of protein, are off-limits. Instead, after a workout, reach for a paleo-friendly food such as tuna in oil with an apple or a chicken breast with a sweet potato.
Gaining Weight Is Work
Gaining weight takes focus and concerted effort. When you adhere to a strict paleo plan, you can't reach for packaged foods or hit a convenience store for a quick bottle of juice. You'll need to pack snacks and carry food with you when on the go.
You might even consider breaking your adherence to a strict paleo plan on occasion, especially if you don't have a medically documented intolerance to certain foods. For example, full-fat dairy from grass-fed cows provides a quality dose of calories and protein. Your ultimate goal should be for you to be at your healthiest and fittest.
- The Paleo Diet: What to Eat on the Paleo Diet
- McKinley Health Center: Gaining Weight the Healthy Way
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Healthy Weight Gain
- The Paleo Diet: The Paleo Diet Premise
- Healthaliciousness: Pumpkin Seeds, Macadamia Nuts, Dates
- Chris Kresser: RHR: How to Gain Weight on a Paleo Diet