Gaining a few pounds when you're underweight benefits your health -- a lower-than-healthy body weight can make it hard to recover from illness, affect fertility and pregnancy. and cause complications if you need to undergo surgery. If you just feel that you look too thin, adding a few pounds can boost your self-confidence. Including a few calorie-rich drinks in your diet provides the extra calories you need for weight gain and, depending on the drink you choose, it can be as simple as getting an extra glass or two of a tasty beverage each day.
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Fundamentals of Weight Gain
Your weight depends on the balance of the number of calories you burn and the calories you eat. To lose weight, you need a calorie deficit -- eating less than your body uses each day, so you'll burn fat to make up the difference. To gain weight, you need a calorie surplus -- eating more than you burn, so you'll add pounds to your frame.
For healthy weight loss, eat 250 to 500 extra calories per day, recommends the McKinley Health Center. Because each pound equals 3,500 calories, that calorie surplus will allow you to gain 0.5 to 1 pound weekly. Use an online calculate to get a personalized estimate of your daily calorie needs; then add the excess calories need to create the calorie surplus.
For example, a 6-foot tall, 30-year-old man who weighs 135 pounds needs roughly 2,550 calories to simply maintain his weight. To gain weight, he should eat 2,800 to 3,050 calories daily for a gain of 0.5 to 1 pound per week.
Whole or Chocolate Milk
Dairy should already be part of your daily meal plan -- USDA ChooseMyPlate guidelines recommend that adults get 3 cups per day. But upgrading to higher-calorie milk, like whole milk or chocolate milk, can help you gain weight.
A cup of whole milk contains 149 calories, and whole chocolate whole milk has 208 calories. That means a single glass of whole milk every day will provide most of the extra calories you need to gain half a pound a week. Stir in a packet of store-bought breakfast drink powder, the kind in the cereal aisle, and you get a total of 280 calories in your 8 ounces of flavored milk. Or, fill up a 12-ounce glass with whole chocolate milk, and you'll get around 300 extra calories -- enough to gain almost two-thirds of a pound per week, even if you don't make other changes to your diet. Both white and chocolate whole milk are better for weight gain than nonfat milk, which has just 83 calories per cup.
Smoothies and Meal Replacements
Many people associate smoothies with weight loss, but they're actually a great source of calories for when you're training to gain weight. A shake made from a cup of whole milk, 2 cups of frozen blackberries and a 5-ounce container of vanilla Greek yogurt, for example, has 450 calories. Alternatively, you could make a "cocoa dreamsicle" smoothie from a cup of whole milk, a cup of frozen mango chunks, half an avocado, a tablespoon of cocoa powder and honey for a smoothie with 420 calories.
Or add weight with meal replacement shakes for an on-the-go weight gain option. Many shakes come fortified with vitamins and minerals, so they boost your nutrient intake as you gain weight. One commericially available meal replacement shake offers 267 calories per serving -- enough to gain 0.5 pounds a week, if you drank one every day in addition to your normal meal plan.
A plain protein shake made from a commercially available whey protein isolate powder has 309 calories per three-scoop serving, so just drinking the shake in addition to your regular meal plan will make you gain weight. Protein shakes, as the name suggests, are also very high in protein; the whey isolate shake offers 50 grams per serving. If you're training to gain weight by bulking up, that offers a bonus -- those amino acids help support new muscle growth, as long as you're also doing a regular strength training exercise program designed to bulk your muscles.
If you're trying to gain weight for a medical reason, though, avoid protein shakes until you consult your doctor. High-protein drinks, like protein shakes, can cause adverse effects if you have certain underlying medical conditions, like kidney disease, so talk to your doctor about whether they're safe for you.
Drink Juice for Weight Gain
If you're in the mood for a lighter beverage that will still help with weight gain, try drinking juice. While juice doesn't have the protein found in shakes, smoothies or milk, it does supply essential vitamins and minerals to boost your health as you gain weight. Drink a cup of orange or grape juice, for instance, and you'll get all the vitamin C you need for the day. That keeps your skin and hair strong, and it also strengthens your tendons and ligaments, which you need tor a healthy, active lifestyle.
Grape juice has 253 calories per cup, while orange and unsweetened cranberry juices have 112 and 116 calories per cup, respectively. If you need more calories, use juice in your smoothies instead of milk. Try a creamy "creamsicle" shake made from orange juice, frozen mangoes and vanilla Greek yogurt, or a berry-licious smoothie made from unsweetened cranberry juice, blueberry Greek yogurt and a cup of frozen strawberries.