Trying to eat 5 meals a day to gain weight? It's not really the number of times you eat every day that contributes to weight gain, but rather the amount of calories you eat. Eating more often means you're less likely to feel hungry between meals, which makes it a go-to strategy for weight loss, too.
Focus on total daily caloric intake for weight gain, not the total number of meals you eat in a day.
Add Calories Every Day
If you want to gain weight, you need to add calories to your diet every day. Though it may be tempting to reduce the number of calories you burn through exercise, doing so will promote unhealthy weight gain. According to the Mayo Clinic, one pound is equal to about 3,500 calories. If you want to gain one pound a week, then you should add 500 calories per day, and if you want to gain two pounds per week, you should add 1,000 calories per day.
Trying to gain (or lose) weight faster than one to two pounds per week isn't healthy. Weight fluctuations greater than this, per Mayo Clinic, likely mean you're gaining weight through water or fat, not through muscle and bone mass. If you lose weight faster than that, you're likely losing lean muscle and water, instead of fat.
If you have trouble gaining weight because you don't have a strong natural appetite, change up the food you eat. Try new foods and get creative. Go beyond what you typically eat. Make it a point to eat snacks. Schedule your meals and snacks if you need to. Opt for things like almond butter, or a handful of nuts to get you through the day.
Read more: 3,000-Calorie Diet Plan for Weight Gain
5 Meals a Day to Gain Weight
If you want to gain weight because you're underweight, Mayo Clinic says eating smaller meals more often is helpful because you may feel full faster, so you can't eat a lot at once. You can eat as many times a day as you want, as long as you're getting the calories you require.
Avoid empty calories like those in soda, energy drinks and sweet tea. Instead, fill up on lean cuts of meat with vegetables, smoothies made with yogurt and fruit, and nuts and seeds. Aim for three meals and two snacks per day, divided up according to your personal calorie needs.
According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, daily caloric needs for adult women range from 1,600 to 2,400, while daily caloric needs for adult men range from 2,000 to 3,000.
That means the average moderately active woman who wants to gain one pound a week should aim for an average of 2,500 calories per day. Eating five meals a day to gain weight breaks down into 500 calories per meal, which can be adjusted as needed.
The average moderately active man who wants to gain one pound a week should aim for 3,000 calories per day, which breaks down to 600 calories per meal.
How can you add calories without resorting to fast food or highly processed foods? Focus on adding more calorie-dense foods, and changing the food you eat. For instance, instead of drinking skim milk, opt for whole milk. Swap the refined carbs of traditional pasta for whole-wheat versions. Eat full-fat dairy products. Eat avocados for a good source of healthy fat.
If you find that drinking before a meal keeps your appetite at bay, try drinking your fluids 30 minutes after a meal instead of with it. You can also try sipping on higher-calorie beverages alongside your meal.
Read more: What to Eat for Breakfast to Gain Weight
Focus on Nutrition
Even though you want to gain weight, it's not an excuse to eat unhealthy foods that are full of sugar and fat. When you eat five meals a day to gain weight, keep indulgences like cakes, candies and other sweets to a minimum. It's okay to splurge every once in a while because moderation is better than deprivation. The goal of gaining weight is not to add fat but add more muscle and bone mass — which is not something you can do quickly.
Nutrient-dense foods should still be a part of your diet, but because you'd had to eat such a high volume to get a decent caloric intake, you'll need to include healthy food for weight gain, too.
For breakfast, you could have a fruit smoothie made with your favorite berries and other fruits with plain or vanilla-flavored yogurt. Add flax seeds or chia seeds for a bit of fat. If smoothies aren't your thing, try a three-egg omelet with ham, cheese, spinach, onion and tomato. With it, drink a glass of milk or 100 percent fruit juice.
For lunch, try a whole-wheat wrap with lean turkey or chicken, cheese, sliced vegetables and avocado. Drink another glass of milk, or have some more fruit juice.
For dinner, have some grilled chicken breast, a salad and a baked sweet potato. Dress your salad with vinegar and oil. When it's time to have a snack between meals carry trail mix, peanut butter crackers or yogurt with you.
Don’t Forget Exercise
Since you ideally want the weight gain to come from muscle, it's important to make sure you're also exercising to build that muscle. Since exercise burns calories, you may have to eat a bit more food to compensate so you don't end up losing weight.
According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the best program for muscle growth involves three to six sets of six to 12 reps each, with a rest interval of 30 to 90 seconds. The weight you use should be 70 to 80 percent of your one-rep max (1RM). The ACE has a 1RM calculator you can use to get an idea of what your estimated 1RM is.
According to that calculator, if you bench press 100 pounds at 10 reps, your 1RM is 133 +/- 5 pounds. By that calculation, your muscle growth program should have you using 93 to 106 pounds. As you get stronger and progress to be able to comfortably lift more weight, adjust your 1RM as needed.
- Mayo Clinic: "Counting Calories: Get Back to Weight-Loss Basics"
- Mayo Clinic: "Why Do Doctors Recommend a Slow Rate of Weight Loss? What's Wrong With Fast Weight Loss?"
- Mayo Clinic: "What's a Good Way to Gain Weight If You're Underweight?"
- Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: "Appendix 2. Estimated Calorie Needs per Day by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level"
- American Council on Exercise: "How Muscle Grows"
- American Council on Exercise: "Weight Training Load Calculator"