If you're underweight or looking to add muscle, food is your friend. Breakfast is a good time to add extra calories to support your weight-gain diet, and healthy, high-calorie foods are essential. Be creative at breakfast so you can pack on healthy muscle and achieve the physique you desire.
Healthy, high calorie foods, such as avocado, nuts and nut butter, feature prominently in breakfasts that support weight gain. Added protein is also a must.
Why Gain Weight?
Much marketing surrounds losing weight or maintaining a healthy size, but it's not unusual for some people to be in need of adding a few pounds to their frame.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics explains that you may seek to gain weight if you've had a serious illness or have been hospitalized or if your doctor has told you that you're below a healthy weight. If you've unintentionally lost too much weight or are an athlete looking to build muscle, you may also seek to put on a few pounds.
Weight-gain gimmicks or magical "supplements" aren't likely to work, however. Instead, focus on weight-gain recipes that use high-quality, nutrient-dense foods.
Read more: No, "Skinny Genes" Aren't Really a Thing
Weight-Gain Diet: Add Calories
Ultimately, increasing your calorie intake beyond what you burn daily helps you put on the pounds. For a healthy increase in your size, the American Council on Exercise recommends an extra 300 to 500 calories per day that come from a balance of macronutrients: Protein, fat and carbohydrates.
Healthy foods, not an extra candy bar or bag of Cheetos, are key. They'll help you feel energized and nourished as you add the pounds. Plus, healthy foods encourage quality weight gain in the form of muscle, not just fat.
Protein Plays an Important Role
Muscle is made up of protein. Adding some of your extra calories in the form of this macronutrient supports healthy weight gain. The_ Journal of the American Medical Association_ published research in January 2012 which found that when people were overfed — meaning they took in more calories than needed to maintain their weight — the extra calories from protein contributed to the addition of muscle, not fat.
When participants were overfed with a diet containing 25 percent of calories from protein (compared to those overfed with 5 percent or 15 percent of calories from protein), lean muscle mass increased significantly.
Breakfast is a good time to add extra calories from protein. A weight-gain diet may include breakfast foods such as eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt, whey protein and ground turkey. Avoid adding calories by using highly processed protein such as bacon and sausage.
How Much Extra Protein?
You want to eat a slightly larger portion of protein at breakfast, but not so much that your body can't use it properly to add healthy muscle weight. A study published in the_ Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition_ in February 2018 determined that the body can use only a certain amount of protein in a sitting to build healthy tissue.
This amount is 0.4 to 0.55 grams per kilogram of your body weight per meal. This translates to 0.2 to 0.25 grams per pound of your body weight — so a 120-pound person benefits from about 24 to 30 grams of protein at breakfast and thereafter at future meals and snacks.
Read more: How Much Protein is Right for You?
Protein sources at breakfast may include:
Using whey protein supplements can be a valuable way to add extra protein and calories at breakfast to encourage weight gain too. Nutrition Research published an animal study in October 2016 confirming that whey protein is a nutritional aid that supports muscle growth. If you add whey protein to a morning smoothie or stir it into oatmeal, choose one that doesn't have a lot of added sugar or chemicals.
Weight-Gain Foods to Try
Carbohydrates and fats are also important to healthy weight gain. Carbs provide fuel for your muscles and, as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends, should make up at least half of your calories per day.
Healthy carbohydrates can help you add calories to pad your intake and gain weight. Skip the white carbs that show up at breakfast, such as muffins, waffles and pancakes. Instead, go for whole-grain bread and pancakes, oats, quinoa and dense vegetables, such as sweet potato. Eating dried fruits, such as dates and raisins, is another easy way to add calories at breakfast.
Fat is a dense source of calories, but not all fats are healthy for your body. Fat has more than twice the calories of carbs and protein, so it takes less to boost your calorie intake. Healthy sources of fat include the unsaturated types of olive oil, walnuts, seeds, almonds, avocados and fatty fish.
Read more: 18 Fat-Rich Foods That Are Good For You
Weight-Gain Breakfast Ideas
Now that you have an idea about what to add at breakfast, put them together into tasty meals. Some great combinations include:
- Oatmeal cooked in milk with peanut butter and raisins stirred in
- Tofu scramble with black beans, sliced avocado and salsa
- Omelet made with whole eggs and egg whites, feta cheese, diced potato, tomatoes, peppers and onions
- Whole-grain pancakes topped with bananas and nut butter
- Greek yogurt with whole-grain muesli and chopped apple
- Smoothie made with dates, whey protein, frozen banana, nut butter and milk of choice
Serving sizes depend on your personal calorie goals.
You may be tempted to add more calories in the form of sugar, saturated fat and white-flour carbohydrates — a healthy pour of maple syrup, a cinnamon roll or a pile of bacon. These foods certainly add calories, but they don't boost your health with quality nutrients. So, stick to nutrient-dense foods instead, like those listed. When you gain weight, you want it to be healthy lean mass rather than simply pounds of fat.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Healthy Weight Gain"
- Nutrition Research: "Whey Protein Increases Muscle Weight Gain Through Inhibition of Oxidative Effects Induced by Resistance Exercise in Rats"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "How Much Protein Can the Body Use in a Single Meal for Muscle-Building? Implications for Daily Protein Distribution"
- University of California San Francisco: "ILD Nutrition Manual: Sample Menu: High-Calorie and High-Protein Meals"
- Center for Young Women's Health:"Promoting Healthy Weight Gain in Your Underweight Teen: A Guide for Parents"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "4 Keys to Strength Building and Muscle Mass"
- American Council on Exercise: "Diet Tips for Gaining Weight"
- Journal of the American Medical Association: "Effect of Dietary Protein Content on Weight Gain, Energy Expenditure, and Body Composition During Overeating: A Randomized Controlled Trial"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Egg, Whole, Raw, Fresh"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Egg, White, Raw, Fresh"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Greek Yogurt"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Cottage Cheese"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Bacon, Turkey, Unprepared"