Eating 3,000 calories a day can help you gain weight, as long as you consume more calories than you burn. What's more, you should make sure those calories are coming from nutrient-dense food in order to gain weight in a healthy way.
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Here's more on the reasons you might want to eat 3,000 calories a day, the foods to include in a high-calorie diet and a sample meal plan to follow.
Who Should Eat 3,000 Calories a Day?
According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, some people need to eat about 3,000 calories a day in order to maintain their weight and get the nutrients they need. This includes people assigned male at birth between the ages of 15 and 35 who are active, meaning they engage in daily physical activity that's equivalent to walking more than 3 miles per day.
Keep in mind that this is just a general guideline, though. The number of daily calories you need depends on factors like your sex, height, weight and activity level. Your activity includes exercise, which is why athletes often need more calories than people who work out less, but it also includes your day-to-day living, so people with physically demanding jobs often need more calories as well.
You may also want to eat 3,000 calories a day if your goal is to gain weight. Eating more calories than you burn will help you add weight to your frame. Just remember that healthy weight gain should be gradual, so aim to eat between 500 and 1,000 additional calories each day to help you gain slowly and steadily.
Reasons to Eat 3,000 Calories a Day
There are also many reasons you might want to eat 3,000 calories a day to gain weight, per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). People who may wish to follow this eating plan include:
- Athletes or bodybuilders who want to build muscle
- People who have underweight (based on their BMI) and have been advised by a doctor to gain weight
- Those who have lost weight due to a serious illness, surgery or long hospitalization
- Older adults who have unintentionally lost weight
- People who are recovering from an eating disorder that has caused weight loss, such as anorexia nervosa
Foods to Eat
While adding more high-calorie foods to your diet will likely help you gain weight, be sure to choose nutrient-dense foods that support your overall health.
Healthy, high-calorie foods include:
- Nuts and nut butters
- Whole milk
- Plain, full-fat Greek yogurt
- Fatty fish like salmon and tuna
- Parmesan cheese
- Butter and olive oil
- Meats like beef and chicken
- Whole-wheat bread and pasta
- Whey protein powder
Macronutrient Needs for a 3,000-Calorie Diet
Fats, proteins and carbohydrates are macronutrients found in whole foods that are required by the body daily and in large amounts. The National Academy of Sciences explains that a person's sex, age and lifestyle play an important role in determining their macronutrient needs.
Based on these criteria, guidelines called the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) were developed. They provide people with the ability to keep track of the macronutrients required in diets like the 3,000-calorie meal plan.
The recommended percentage breakdown of macronutrients for adults is:
- Carbohydrates: 45 to 65 percent of daily calories
- Protein: 10 to 35 percent of daily calories
- Fats: 20 to 35 percent of daily calories
The amount of different macronutrients required when consuming 3,000 calories a day will vary, based on the macronutrient in question. One gram of protein and one gram of carbohydrates both offer 4 calories of energy. A single gram of fat has 9 calories of energy, a little more than double.
To maintain a 3,000-calorie diet, a person will need to take in:
- Carbohydrates: 337.5 to 487.5 grams (1,350 to 1,950 calories)
- Protein: 75 to 262.5 grams (300 to 1,050 calories)
- Fat: 66.7 to 116.7 grams (600 to 1,050 calories)
The American Council on Exercise says people looking to gain lean muscle mass and decrease body fat should consume at least 25 to 30 percent of their daily calories in the form of protein.
Sample 3,000-Calorie Meal Plan
For healthy weight gain, the AND suggests eating five to six times a day and getting your calories mostly from whole, nutrient-dense foods. Here's a look at what a healthy 3,000-calorie diet might look like on a given day:
Edamame Trail Mix (213 calories)
Grilled Cheese Sandwich With Avocado, Arugula and Fried Egg (563 calories)
Salmon and Stone Fruit Poke (713 calories)
Gluten-Free Ice Cream Protein Sandwiches (468 calories)
Total calories: 3,111
Side Effects of a 3,000-Calorie Diet
A 3,000-calorie diet may work to help you gain weight. However, it should not be considered a long-term diet plan, unless you have a particularly active lifestyle. Here are some possible side effects to keep in mind.
1. Liver Problems
Eating too much protein on a high-calorie diet can have a negative effect on people with liver disease. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the liver is an essential organ for processing proteins into amino acids. But in people with liver disease, an excess of protein may result in a build-up of toxic waste materials that can eventually affect the brain.
2. Diabetes Risk
Not all 3,000-calorie meal plans are created equal. People eating a diet high in carbohydrates will no doubt gain weight, but focusing mainly on these foods may not be a good thing. According to Harvard Health Publishing, a diet rich in high-glycemic foods such as candy and chips can cause blood sugar levels to spike rapidly. This, over time, produces more insulin, which can eventually lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
- National Academy of Sciences: "Dietary Reference Intakes Tables and Application”
- American Council on Exercise: "How to Determine the Best Macronutrient Ratio for Your Goals"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Diet: Liver Disease"
- Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: “2015-2020 Edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “There’s No Sugar-Coating It: All Calories Are Not Created Equal"
- Nutrition Journal: “A Healthy Approach to Dietary Fats: Understanding the Science and Taking Action to Reduce Consumer Confusion"
- American Council on Exercise: "Diet Tips for Gaining Weight"
- 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Healthy Weight Gain"