There are plenty of reasons why you might want to gain weight. You may be underweight due to lack of nutrition, or pregnant with a doctor who is concerned about your low weight. Whatever your reason, know that there are plenty of expert-backed ways to safely and steadily gain weight.
Crash weight-gain regimens are not healthy or recommended. And at-home remedies for rapid weight gain are likely unsafe and ineffective in the long term. Instead, set realistic and modest goals to gain weight without threatening your health.
You can safely gain weight over time by increasing your daily calorie intake using nutritious, calorie-dense foods.
Why Gain Weight?
If you're interested in health and nutrition, chances are you've heard much more about how to lose weight in a safe way rather than how to gain it. Everyone's body is different, and a healthy weight for some people may be less than ideal for others. Doctors might advise some underweight patients to gain weight, including:
- Anyone who has recently undergone surgery or who has lost weight due to medical treatment. For example, people may lose weight during chemotherapy or radiation treatments for cancer, which can cause fatigue and slow recovery.
- People who are underweight and have nutritional deficiencies due to diseases that cause malabsorption, like Crohn's disease or celiac disease. If you have issues with malabsorption, your body struggles to absorb nutrients from food. This can cause weight loss, weakness and muscle wasting.
- Underweight women who are not menstruating or struggling to conceive. The Office on Women's Health explains that, when you're underweight, your body stops producing a hormone called estrogen. This can cause you to stop ovulating or menstruating and can cause irregular periods. OWH recommends speaking with your doctor to see if gaining weight could help make your menstrual cycle regular or increase your chances of conception.
- Pregnant women who are not gaining enough weight. According to the American Pregnancy Association, your ideal weight gain during pregnancy depends on your weight before you got pregnant. The association uses body mass index (BMI) to provide the following general recommendations:
Read more: Health Risks of a Low BMI
Weight-Gain Diet Plan
According to the Mayo Clinic, the first step is to speak with your doctor or a dietitian about why you want to gain weight. They can help you assess if it's necessary for you to do so, then work on a plan for you to approach the process safely.
In order to successfully gain weight, you need to consume more calories than you burn. The ideal calorie intake for weight gain depends on a number of things, including your height, current weight and activity level. For example, someone working a physically active job will require more calories than someone who has a sedentary office job.
A physician or dietitian can help you come up with the correct number of calories that you should eat each day to safely gain weight over time, but generally speaking, increasing your intake by 500 to 1,000 calories per day can help you gain 0.5 to 2 pounds per week.
- Try eating several smaller meals throughout the day, rather than three large ones. This will help you consume calories without feeling overly full. Plus, eating smaller portions can help regulate your blood sugar control.
- Columbia University Irving Medical Center recommends eating regular snacks — think fruit, veggies or whole grains combined with protein. Examples include whole wheat toast with one heaping spoon of nut butter, an apple with slices of hard cheese or berries with full-fat Greek yogurt. You can also add toppings like nuts and seeds for added crunch and a few more calories.
- Add more protein to your diet. You can increase your protein intake to help your body build muscle mass, either by adding protein powder to your smoothies and baked goods, or by packing your diet with protein-rich meats and veggies.
- Focus on calorie-dense foods that are still healthy in order to meet your ideal calorie intake each day. The University of California San Francisco suggests cooking with olive oil or canola oil, snacking on nuts, adding guacamole or avocado to your meals, eating fatty fish a few times a week and swapping out low-calorie beverages for milk or a healthy smoothie recipe.
Read more: Drinks to Help Gain Weight
Exercise for Healthy Weight Gain
If you're trying to gain weight, modulate your diet and exercise regimen carefully to ensure you're consuming more calories than you burn. However, this doesn't mean you should cut out exercise entirely, unless your doctor recommends that you do so.
- Try lifting free weights to increase your lean muscle mass. Try out compound exercises like overhead presses, squats, triceps dips and deadlifts. These can help you build muscle mass. But, make sure you're using proper form so you don't injure yourself. If you're new to weightlifting, do some research before you dive in, and ask an experienced trainer to help you learn how to do the exercises you're interested in.
- Make sure you don't overexercise. Going hard in the gym can burn a ton of calories, which just means you'll have to eat more to ensure you can still gain weight. Keep track of your workouts and calorie intake so you get the correct balance.
Read more: The 6 Rules of Gaining Muscle Mass
- Exercising may also help increase your appetite. If you find that you're struggling to eat enough in order to gain weight, you might find that lifting weights makes you hungry. You can also drink protein shakes right after working out to help get calories in.
- Mayo Clinic: "What’s a Good Way to Gain Weight If You’re Underweight?"
- Columbia University: Irving Medical Center: "Healthy Snacking for Weight Gain"
- University of California San Francisco: "Healthy Ways to Increase Calories and Protein"
- Breastcancer.org: "Eating to Maintain or Gain Weight After Treatment"
- MedlinePlus: "Malabsorption"
- American Pregnancy Association: "Eating for Two When Over or Under Weight"
- Office on Women’s Health: "Weight, Fertility and Pregnancy"
- University of Colorado at Colorado Springs: "Healthy Weight Gain"
- American Council on Exercise: "7 Techniques for Promoting Muscle Growth"