Fashion magazines and infomercials make it seem like women are always on a quest to lose weight, but some women are underweight and need to gain pounds to return hormone levels and health to normal. Junk foods may be an easy way to add calories, but they lead to an increase in body fat, not muscle, and do little to make you feel energetic and healthy. Quality calorie sources for weight gain come from the major food groups and include vegetables, fruits, dairy, protein, whole grains and unsaturated fats. The vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients in these foods support sound weight gain to help you get healthy.
Protein for Weight Gain
Protein helps you build healthy tissue and muscle. If you’re working out at the gym to promote the development of muscle mass, rather than fat, as your weight gain, you’ll want to aim for about 0.55 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day. If you weigh 110 pounds, this means you should eat at least 60.5 grams daily.
Avoid consuming large amounts of protein high in saturated fat, such as fatty steaks or ground meat, dark-meat chicken or bacon. Instead, reach for lean steak, white-meat poultry, salmon, eggs, black beans, lentils and dairy.
Have a little extra serving of protein at each meal and with each snack. One whole egg has 80 calories and 6 grams of quality protein, a 3-ounce serving of cooked, wild salmon adds 155 calories and 21 grams of protein, and 1 cup of cottage cheese provides about 200 calories and 21 grams of protein. If you're concerned about your saturated fat intake, opt for 2 percent dairy products, but whole milk and milk products are OK when you're trying to gain weight.
Healthy Carbohydrate Calories
Carbohydrates aren't unhealthy; they provide you with energy and fiber, as well as other essential nutrients. Highly processed carbohydrates like white bread, pastries and soda are stripped of most of these nutrients, however, so learn to identify quality ones.
Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are nutrient-rich ways to boost your calorie intake with carbohydrates. Choose bananas, pineapple and dried fruit over lighter calorie options such as berries and apples. Eat larger servings of starchy vegetables, such as winter squash, sweet potatoes, corn and peas. When you opt for fibrous, watery vegetables, boost their calorie count. For example, melt an ounce of cheese over broccoli to add 114 calories, add 1/4 cup of sunflower seeds to salad for about 200 calories, or roast cauliflower with a tablespoon of olive oil for 120 extra calories.
Whole grains, such as brown rice and quinoa, are another quality source of calories. Choose 100-percent whole-wheat bread and pumpernickel over thin, white slices, as another healthy way to increase calorie intake.
Unsaturated Fats Add Healthy Calories
Unsaturated fats support vitamin absorption and brain health. They also contain 9 calories per gram, as opposed to the 4 calories per gram in protein and carbohdyrates, making them a valuable source to boost your calorie intake. Find unsaturated fats in foods such as nuts, nut butter, fatty fish, seeds, and avocados. Cold-pressed oils, such as olive, avocado and walnuts, also contain unsaturated fats and concentrated calories.
Putting the Foods Into a Weight-Gain Menu
Increase your servings of healthy, high-calorie fruits and vegetables, whole grains and protein at meals as one way to create a calorie surplus for weight gain. Small additions of high-calorie, healthy foods also boost your calorie intake. Stir high-fiber granola into yogurt or oatmeal, spread nut butter on fresh fruit, put slices of avocado on sandwiches, and dress salads with olive oil.
Snacks comprised of quality calorie-dense foods contribute to weight gain, too. A handful of nuts or seeds mixed with shredded, unsweetened coconut and dried fruit, a generous dollop of hummus with woven wheat crackers and a bowl of high-fiber cereal with milk are all quick and easy options. Stash trail mix or pretzels with a peanut butter packet in your purse so you're never without a quick bite. Drink milk or smoothies made with 100-percent fruit juice, yogurt, nut butter and bananas between meals as another way to up your nutrient status and add healthy calories.
- IDEA Health and Fitness Association: Gaining Weight the Healthy Way
- Glamour: What to Eat to Gain Weight -- The Healthy Way
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Healthy Weight Gain
- CNN: How Should I Eat to Build Muscle?
- Healthaliciousness: Egg, Salmon, Cottage Cheese
- Healthaliciousness: Olive Oil, Sunflower Seeds, Cheddar Cheese
- Today's Dietitian: Underweight: A Heavy Concern