A healthy body weight improves immunity, sports performance, healing from surgery or trauma and self-esteem. You hear a lot about losing weight to achieve it, but some people need to put on pounds to raise their body mass index. Frequent snacking and nutrient-rich, high-calorie meals help put on the pounds. A diet of junk-food snacks may cause weight gain, but this food doesn't provide nutrients to improve your health or well-being. And, even if you're underweight, you can still develop conditions related to a poor diet -- including heart disease and type-2 diabetes.
Weight gain requires you eat more calories than you burn. A 250- to 500-calorie surplus results in a healthy 1/2- to 1-pound gain per week. Gaining weight too fast means you'll pile on fat, rather than mostly muscle.
When planning weight-gain meals, opt for foods that have a high calorie and nutrient density. Dried fruits, cheese, nuts, wheat germ, avocados, olive oil and milk add calories and provide healthy versions of carbohydrates, protein and fats. Aim for three solid meals and two or three snacks every day. Carry snacks with you so you don't miss a meal. Increase portion sizes at meals, and drink calories from milk, 100-percent juice and smoothies.
Resistance training two or three times per week helps you build lean muscle instead of just fat as you add weight to your frame. Do comprehensive workouts that target every major muscle group using weights that challenge you through the end of your eight-repetition set.
Breakfast Meals for Weight Gain
Aim for larger portions than you normally eat and choose calorie-dense foods instead of flaked cereal and plain toast or fruit. For example, have 1 cup of homemade granola cereal with 1 cup of whole milk and 1 cup of sliced banana for 880 calories. Top with an ounce of walnuts to add another 183 calories. Alternatively, serve yourself two large scrambled eggs topped with 1 ounce of cheddar cheese for 296 calories. Drink a glass of whole milk on the side to add 149 calories along with a cinnamon-raisin English muffin topped with peanut butter for another 328 calories, bringing your breakfast total to 773 calories
Lunch and Dinner Meals for Weight Gain
Make high-calorie choices: opt for dense, whole-grain breads, chunky or creamy soups, whole grains, generous portions of protein and starchy vegetables. Go for 2 cups of whole-wheat spaghetti with 1 cup of roasted chicken breast for 582 calories or a medium sweet potato with 6 ounces of skirt steak for 453 calories. A vegetarian meal might involve mixing a cup of black beans with 2 cups of brown rice for 650 calories.
Add 1 cup of mashed avocado to either meal for 384 extra calories or an ounce of cheddar cheese for 114 calories per ounce. Increase the meals' calories even more by drinking milk or juice alongside, having yogurt with fresh fruit for dessert or grabbing a handful of nuts as a quick finish.
Snacks for Weight Gain
Snacks help you sneak in extra calories during the day, especially if you find large meals overwhelming to your appetite. Carry a cup of trail mix with you to munch throughout the day for 693 calories; alternatively, a cup of raisins provides 434 calories. Have a peanut butter sandwich on whole-wheat bread before bed for a quick 345 calories. Whole-grain crackers with cheese and even nutritional-supplement shakes will do in a pinch.
Other ways to boost calories at meals and snack time is to add dry milk powder to casseroles, a glass of milk or smoothies. It provides 80 calories and 8 grams of protein per 1/3 cup of the powder. Unsaturated fats are nutrient-dense sources of calories, too. Try olive oil mixed into pasta, ground flax seeds sprinkled over breakfast cereal or sunflower seeds sprinkled over a salad.
- Today's Dietitian: Underweight: A Heavy Concern
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- USDA Food Fact Sheet: Milk, Nonfat, Dry, Instant
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