If you're underweight or heading in that direction, a steady, consistent plan for weight gain will work better for you than any quick-gain method. In a period of 10 days, a woman can safely gain a little over a pound if she follows a nutrient- and calorie-dense diet combined with strength training to build muscle. Sticking with the plan will add about a pound a week until you're at your desired weight. If there's no apparent reason for your weight loss, talk to a doctor to rule out a medical condition.
Weight Gain in 10 Days
The general principle of weight management is simple: A pound of weight equals 3,500 calories, so to gain or lose weight, you need to create either a surplus of calories or a deficit. To gain 1 pound of weight in a week, then, you need to add 500 daily calories to your daily diet, because 500 x 7 = 3,500. Following this formula, by day 10, you will have put on almost 1.5 pounds. If you continue to follow this regimen, you could gain a little over 4 pounds in a month.
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Calorie- and Nutrient-Density for Weight Gain
You may be tempted to put on weight quickly by bulking up on junk food, but these unhealthy choices will cost you in the long run. While foods like pastries, cookies, ice cream, french fries and hot dogs are all calorie-dense and will indeed help you add pounds, they're low in nutrients and may contain sugar, fats or additives that can harm your health. Your body needs a nutrient-packed diet to repair itself if you've been ill or if you're malnourished because of an eating disorder.
Instead of taking the junk food route, you can add 500 calories a day through foods that are both calorie- and nutrient-dense. These provide both significant calories in a serving as well as the nutrients you may be lacking. Foods fitting this bill include nuts and nut butters, seeds, avocado, olives and olive oil, whole grains, dried fruits and some fresh fruits, lean protein foods, and dairy.
Meal Strategies for Gaining Weight
You have a wealth of options for adding high-calorie, nutrient-filled foods to your meals. For breakfast, grab a container of plain Greek yogurt and mix it with banana slices and a handful of chopped walnuts. If you're an oatmeal fan, try making your cereal with whole milk instead of water and add a serving of raisins and a dollop of maple syrup. Prefer toast? Opt for hearty whole-grain bread, toasted and topped with almond butter.
Instead of just plain salad at lunch, make sure you add a source of lean protein, like grilled chicken or baked tofu. On another day, have tuna salad or cottage cheese in half of an avocado with a piece of fruit. Like a banana, mango is a high-calorie, nutrient-dense fruit that works well with your lunch.
Make sure you get protein at dinner, too, to help you build muscle. Marinate your salmon in olive oil and garlic to add some healthy calories, and serve with a sweet potato and broccoli drizzled with more olive oil. For dessert, have some dark chocolate; one ounce alone has 170 calories, but it's loaded with plant compounds called flavanols that help keep your heart healthy.
If you have trouble eating large meals, try spreading out your calories over the course of the day in five or six smaller meals and snacks.
Quick Snacks for Weight Gain
Another weight-gain strategy is to include high-calorie snacks in your meal plan. Adding a half-cup of nuts to your diet, portioned out into several snacks throughout the day, brings you close to the 500-calorie mark. A half-cup of almonds yields a whopping 414 calories, while also providing 15 grams of protein. Mix in a small box of raisins for an additional 129 calories.
Between-meal smoothies can also get you to your goal. An easy-to-make weight-gain smoothie might include peanut butter, which weighs in at 190 calories per 2-tablespoon serving; whole milk, with about 160 calories per cup; a medium banana, with 105 calories; and a scoop of protein powder, with about 100 calories. This 550-calorie snack gives you about 32 grams of protein to support healthy weight gain.
Strength Training for Women to Gain Muscle
The weight you gain will mostly be fat unless you add an exercise component to your regimen. Limit the amount of aerobic exercise you do to 30 minutes two days a week while trying to gain weight, suggests the American Council on Exercise; too much cardio will burn off any extra calories you add to your diet. Consider a yoga class instead of something like jogging. Then, concentrate more on strength training four days a week by using weights or resistance bands.
Select an amount of weight that makes you tired after eight to 12 repetitions, with resting time between, and do three to four sets. Choose six to eight exercises that work the major muscle groups. For weight gain, ACE recommends compound exercises on different days, such as pull-ups and bend-over rows on Mondays and Thursdays, and front squats and chest presses on Tuesday and Friday.
If you're new to strength exercises, consult a trained professional to set up a program that will help you gain muscle as you put on weight. Talk to your doctor before embarking on any exercise program, especially if you've been through an illness.
- CDC: Finding a Balance
- FamilyDoctor.org: Healthy Ways to Gain Weight if You’re Underweight
- USDA Nutrient Database: Foods Search
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: Nutrients and Health Benefits
- Cleveland Clinic: Heart Health Benefits of Chocolate
- ACE Fitness: What Exercises Should I Perform if I’m Trying to Gain Weight?
- ACE Fitness: A Girl’s Guide to Gaining Muscle