When it comes to gaining weight, slow and steady is always the healthiest way. And while it is possible to gain weight in a week or 10 days, you should view this time as a starting point, to help you ramp up to the healthy habits that will help you reach and maintain your goal weight.
Quick 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 working more nutritious, calorie-dense foods into your daily diet.
Nutrition Tips for Healthy Weight Gain
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 take in 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 to eat each day to safely gain weight over time, but generally speaking, increasing your intake by 300 to 500 calories a day is a safe and sustainable approach, per the Cleveland Clinic.
Beyond that, here are a few eating tips for healthy weight gain:
1. Eat More Often
Try eating several smaller meals throughout the day rather than three large ones. This will help you get more calories without feeling overly full, per the Mayo Clinic. Plus, eating smaller portions can help regulate your blood sugar control.
2. Work in Snacks
Adding healthy snacks — think: fruit, veggies or whole grains combined with protein — can help you gain weight, according to Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Examples include:
- Whole-wheat toast with one heaping spoon of nut butter
- An apple with slices of hard cheese
- Full-fat Greek yogurt topped with berries, nuts and seeds
3. Add More Protein to Your Diet
Increasing your protein can help your body build muscle mass, which is healthier than gaining fat. Easy ways to get more protein include:
- Adding protein powder to your smoothies and baked goods
- Eating more protein-rich lean meats, such as chicken, turkey, fish and lean beef and pork
- Trying other foods high in protein, such as tofu, tempeh, lentils, beans, yogurt and eggs
4. Focus on Calorie-Dense Foods
- Cooking with olive oil or canola oil
- Snacking on nuts
- Adding guacamole or avocado to your meals
- Eating fatty fish (think: salmon, tuna) a few times a week
- Swapping out low-calorie beverages for milk or healthy smoothies
Try drinking with your meal or after you've eaten. Drinking before a meal may blunt your appetite, per the Mayo Clinic.
How to Exercise to Gain Weight
Yes, exercise burns calories, but it's an important part of a healthy lifestyle, so you should still aim to be active while gaining weight (unless your doctor directs you otherwise).
Plus, some exercises can help you build muscle mass, which can help with weight gain.
1. Lift Free Weights
Grab a pair of dumbbells and 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 weight-lifting, do some research before you dive in, and ask an experienced trainer to show you how to do the exercises you're interested in.
2. Limit Cardio
If your sole focus is expanding your muscle mass, follow the advice of the American Council on Exercise (ACE) by ditching cardio workouts for the time being. According to the ACE, too much cardio can limit your potential for muscle growth.
3. Don't Overexercise
Whatever activity you're doing, 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.
Exercising may help increase your appetite. If you're struggling to eat enough 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 more calories in.
Causes of Being Underweight
There's no ideal body weight. Everyone's body is different, and a healthy weight for one person may not be realistic or healthy for another.
But doctors might advise some people to gain weight for health reasons, especially people with a body mass index (BMI) lower than 18.5. Here's a look at several things that can lead to a lower-than-ideal weight.
1. Surgery or Medical Treatments
For example, some people might lose weight during chemotherapy or radiation treatments for cancer, which may make eating difficult. Being underweight in this case can cause fatigue and slow recovery, according to Breastcancer.org, so gaining weight may help with treatment.
Certain diseases, such as Crohn's and celiac, can cause malabsorption, which is when a person is unable to properly absorb nutrients from food, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine. This can also happen if the person's intestines have been damaged by radiation or surgery. Along with weight loss, malabsorption can lead to weakness and muscle wasting.
Some people may be prone to a low BMI based on their family history. If your mother or father naturally has a lower BMI, for example, you may be more likely to be underweight as well.
4. High Metabolism
Similar to the genetics explanation, some people naturally have a higher metabolism than others, meaning their bodies burn calories at a faster rate. When you burn through calories more quickly, it can be difficult to keep weight on.
5. High Levels of Physical Activity
People who are very active, such as athletes or people who work labor-intensive jobs, may struggle to maintain a healthy weight because they are consistently burning through lots of calories.
6. Mental Health Issues
Certain mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety or eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, can affect a person's ability or willingness to eat.
- 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"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Malabsorption"
- American Council on Exercise: "7 Techniques for Promoting Muscle Growth"
- Cleveland Clinic: "High-Calorie Foods and Snack Ideas to Gain Weight"