You might be tempted to gain weight as quickly as possible to address the issues of being underweight, such as compromised health and energy as well as possible low self-esteem. Increase your body weight slowly to avoid adding excessive body fat, though. Fast weight gain may not help you correct nutritional deficiencies and doesn't build up muscle mass, a much healthier tissue than fat.
Excess Fat Accumulation
Fast weight gain will mostly be in the form of added body fat. Excess fat can endanger your health, even if your body mass index, or BMI, is just barely in the normal range. A condition known as "normal weight obesity" occurs when a person has a BMI in the normal range, but a high percentage of body fat -- greater than 30 percent in women or higher than 20 percent in men. Normal weight obesity makes you vulnerable to the same ailments associated with obesity, such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions. For example, a paper published in the journal, Progress in Cardiovascular Disease, in 2014 reported that coronary artery disease patients with normal BMIs but substantial belly fat have the highest risk of death.
Less Muscle Accumulation
A slow rate of weight gain allows you to put on muscle, rather than just fat. Muscle takes more work to develop; a realistic rate of gain is about 1/2 pound per week. Without exercise, about two-thirds of every pound you gain is from fat.
Building muscle through exercise doesn't mean you'll turn you into a body builder. Having quality muscle mass makes you appear toned, healthy and fit. It also provides you with the strength to do simple daily activities, such as carrying bags from the grocery store or a load of laundry up the stairs.
To build muscle, combine strength training with an increased calorie intake, especially from protein. Approximately 0.55 gram of protein per pound of body weight daily should be your goal. Foods such as poultry, lean steak, fish, tofu and dairy are optimal sources.
Just two or three total-body strength-training sessions per week will allow you to address all of the major muscle groups. Use heavy weights that fatigue you in three to 15 repetitions for one to three sets. Body-weight exercises or resistance bands can help you strength train even if you're not ready for weights.
Possible Nutritional Deficiencies
Gaining weight quickly often results from eating foods with a lot of sugar and saturated fat but lacking in quality nutrients. Without proper nutrition, you just can't look and feel your best. Nutrient deficiencies make it hard to put on muscle, compromise the growth and maintenance of strong bones and zap your energy. If you've lost weight because of sickness, surgery or trauma, nutrient-rich foods support your immune system to help you heal faster. Trying to achieve rapid weight gain with lots of ice cream, candy, soda, chips and fast food will not help you correct nutritional imbalances.
For example, if you have a can of soda, you get 151 calories, 38 grams of sugar and no vitamins and minerals. Replace it with a full-fat cup of milk for 149 calories, 8 grams of protein and plentiful amounts of vitamins A and D, along with calcium. Choose an ounce of nuts with 170 calories, 6 grams of protein and multiple vitamins and minerals over an ounce of cheese curls, which has 156 calories, just 1.6 grams of protein and minuscule amounts of B vitamins. A fast food cheeseburger comes in at 459 calories and 26 grams of protein but has 6 grams of sugar,11 grams of saturated fat and almost no fiber. A 5-ounce serving of lean flank steak supplies 287 calories, 39 grams of protein and 5.4 grams of saturated fat. Eat it alongside a large sweet potato and you have at least as many calories as the fast food burger, along with more vitamins, fiber and phytonutrients to support your health.
A Healthy Way to Gain Weight
Unless otherwise directed by your doctor, aim to add just 1/2 to 1 pound of weight to your frame weekly. This is especially true if you're already at a healthy weight and want to gain muscle to look buff or excel in a particular sport. A total of 250 to 500 calories daily in addition to those you need to maintain your weight helps you reach your goal.
Instead of super-sizing your next drive-thru meal, increase portion sizes with healthy, homemade breakfasts, lunches and dinners. An extra egg at breakfast and oatmeal cooked in milk boosts your protein and calcium intakes; avocado on a salad or sandwich at lunch provides you with healthy unsaturated fats and vitamin K, potassium and folate; a handful of almonds as a snack offers more healthy fats, protein and magnesium; extra-lean steak at dinner also offers protein with B vitamins and iron. Grazing often on high-calorie, nutrient-dense foods and adding calories to food using olive oil, cheese and dried milk powder also help you boost calories in a nutritional way.
When recovering from an illness, it takes time to rebuild a healthy, strong body. Honor your body with quality nutrition and patience. If you're eager to build muscle to make a team or to feel better about your physique, this also takes time. The most muscle you can expect to build in one year is about 20 pounds. Some people's genetics just won't allow them to develop a large, muscular build. Make being the fittest and healthiest person possible for your body type your goal.
- Today's Dietitian: Underweight: A Heavy Concern
- IDEA Health and Fitness Association: Gaining Weight the Right Way
- CNN: How Should I Eat to Build Muscle?
- Today's Dietitian: When Thin Is Fat
- Progress in Cardiovascular Disease: The Concept of Normal Weight Obesity
- Healthaliciousness: Soda, Hamburger, Cheese Puffs
- Healthaliciousness: Nuts, Milk, Steak