In some situations, gaining weight may be a priority for you. These could include recovering from surgery or from an illness; wanting to improve your sports performance or your doctor has told you that gaining weight will help you feel more energized and look healthier. Supplements exist that promise to pile on pounds, but these supplements are not likely to be as effective as eating whole foods. Gaining a significant amount of weight in a few days just isn't feasible. But by focusing seriously on your meals and exercise over a period of weeks and months, you can put on weight in the healthiest way possible.
The Weight Gain Process
Gaining weight requires taking in more calories than you burn on a regular basis to create a calorie surplus. Add 250 to 500 calories to your daily needs to gain 1/2 to 1 pound of weight per week, a rate that will help ensure most of the weight you add is muscle, provided you also do resistance training. Putting on pounds too quickly guarantees you'll gain mostly fat, and too much fat can be deleterious to your health.
Figure out your daily calorie needs, using an online calculator or by getting help from a dietitian. Then add the 250 to 500 calories to determine the number of total calories you should divide among three meals and two or more hefty snacks. Calorie intake for weight gain will vary, depending on your age, size, activity level, gender and metabolic rate. Active young men with a high metabolism will need more calories than slender older women.
Choose High-Calorie Foods Instead of Supplements
Boost the calories in your meals by choosing healthy, higher calorie fare. Choose dense fruits such as bananas and raisins rather than lighter berries and grapes. Have starchy vegetables, including corn and sweet potatoes, rather than non-starchy veggies like cauliflower and green beans. Select thick slabs of whole-grain bread for sandwiches or as a side. Order hearty soups and chowders over broth-based vegetable or chicken noodle soup. Select snacks such as nuts, trail mix, dried fruit and full-fat yogurt instead of popcorn, carrot sticks and skim milk.
Some foods get their higher calorie count from saturated fats, added sugar or refined flours. You should avoid these calories, because they don't enrich your nutritional intake or promote muscle growth.
Some supplements use carbs and sugar to boost their calorie count, which is why whole foods are usually a better bet. Supplement manufacturers don't need to prove their effectiveness before selling them, nor does the Food and Drug Administration regulate these manufacturers. Some bodybuilding supplements have been found to contain steroids and prescription drugs, reported Consumer Reports in 2010.
Easy Ways to Boost Calorie Intake Naturally
Supplements appeal to some people because they add calories easily, and you don't need to change your portion sizes and food choices. Whole foods add calories, but they do so naturally and contain more nutrients than supplements.
For example, slice half an avocado over a dish of scrambled eggs or have it with sandwiches and salads for an additional 115 calories. Add nuts to cereal, salads and stir fries for 222 calories per 1/4 cup. Mix 1/4 cup of powdered whole milk into casseroles, hot cereal, liquid milk and smoothies for 159 calories. Toss vegetables and pasta with olive oil, or use the oil as a dip for whole-grain bread to add 124 calories per tablespoon. Add dried fruits to cereal or homemade bran muffins -- a 1/4 cup of raisins provides about 110 calories.
Other ways to add calories include making a high-calorie smoothie from banana, coconut cream, yogurt, avocado and blueberries. Or eat your banana, apple or woven wheat crackers with a generous dollop of peanut butter.
Resistance Training for Muscle Gain
To gain weight by building muscle, begin a comprehensive strength-training program that addresses every muscle group in your body. Do this at least twice a week. In a set of four to eight reps, use weights that feel heavy by the last repetition. Try at least one set, but work up to three sets to further your progress as you become stronger. You'll get the greatest benefit from compound moves that work multiple joints and muscles simultaneously. Try squats, rows, presses, lunges, crunches, leg presses, curls and extensions.
Perform short bouts of cardio for 20 to 30 minutes several times a week. Although you're trying to maintain a calorie surplus and aren't trying to burn too many calories, cardio is essential for flexible joints, heart health and respiratory stamina.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Healthy Weight Gain
- McKinley Health Center: Gaining Weight the Healthy Way
- USDA Dietary Guidelines 2015: Estimated Calorie Needs per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level
- Consumer Reports: The Dangers of Dietary and Nutritional Supplements Investigated
- Healthaliciousness: Raisins, Avocado, Olive Oil
- Healthaliciousness: Mixed Nuts, Dry Milk