So much nutrition and diet advice is aimed at losing weight, but if you’re too thin, you may be at a loss on how to gain weight. Instead of trying to gorge yourself with masses of sweet, rich, or fatty foods, choose high-calorie foods that provide energy and build muscle mass without all of the unhealthy fats that can cause you harm.
How to Get Started
The weight gain equation is pretty simple: consume more calories than you burn. If you have a high metabolism or exercise vigorously, you may be placing yourself at a calorie deficit if don’t eat to meet to your need.
If you don’t have a clue how many calories you burn per day, use an online calorie calculator to figure that out. Next, build a diet plan that exceeds that value.
The 3,500 calorie per pound rule has been used to set up diets. Based on the rule, is believed that reducing 500 calories per day is thought to result in a pound of fat loss or gain each week. But it’s not clear how accurate the 3500 calorie per pound rule actually is or how well it will work for setting up a weight-gaining diet.2
Adding roughly 500 calories each and every day—ideally with energy-dense foods and snacks—should give you the extra calories you need to increase your weight.
To make the plan work, eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day and use toppings (gravies, chopped nuts, ranch dressing) to add calories without bulk. To get your weight gain strategy started, here are eight nutritious, high-calorie (but still healthy) foods to add to your list:
Bread and cereals, in general, are good sources of complex carbohydrates, such as starches and fiber that provide energy for your body. These are the types of carbs that are metabolized a little more slowly than simple carbs (like sugar).3
Bagels just happen to be extra calorie-dense. While one slice of white bread has about 70 calories, one small bagel has over 180 calories. Extra-large coffee shop bagels can have well in excess of 300 calories.4
Top your bagel with some nut butter (about 190 calories) and fruit spread (about 50 calories) and you’ll have yourself a tasty, energy-packed mid-morning snack that totals 420–540 calories.
Keep in mind that peanut butter is just one nut butter to try. You can experiment with other types of nut butter including almond butter or cashew butter. You can also try seed butters such as tahini or sunflower seed butter.
Pasta is another calorie-dense source of carbs that provides an ideal base for any number of meals. Simply add the sauce and you’re ready to go.
Two cups of cooked spaghetti has almost 400 calories. A cup of bolognese sauce adds no less than 160 calories. Sprinkle two tablespoons of parmesan cheese on top for another 45 calories, and you’ll find yourself with no less than 600 calories in one meal.
Give yourself a quick calorie boost by eating a handful or two of dried fruit. They have less volume than their fresh counterparts, so you can eat more in one go without feeling stuffed.
For example, one cup of raisins has around 400 calories compared to a full cup of fresh grapes, which has about 60 calories.4 Raisins are probably the most popular dried fruit, but you can also try dried berries, apricots, apples, cranberries, and even tropical fruits.
Adding extra fat to your food is an easy way to add calories, but you want to be sure to choose the fats and oils that are good for you.
Olive oil is rich in healthy monounsaturated fats and can add calories and flavor to pasta, bread, or vegetables. Canola oil is a great source of omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid or ALA) and monounsaturated fats, making it a terrific, all-purpose cooking oil.5 Walnut and grape seed oils are lighter in flavor and perfect for dressing salads.
Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids. plus they have vitamin K, potassium, and fiber. One avocado has more than 200 calories, so it’s a good way to add extra calories without sacrificing nutrition.4 Add avocado slices to your sandwiches or make guacamole to serve with baked tortilla chips. You can also add guacamole to soft shell tacos or burritos.
You might also want to try adding avocado to your favorite smoothie recipe. The mild flavor mixes well with ingredients like berries or chocolate.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds contain polyunsaturated fats that add healthy calories to your diet. Brazil nuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, and pumpkin seeds are all good for you.5 Eat roasted nuts and seeds by the handful or sprinkled chopped nuts on top of ice cream, yogurt, or salads.
If you’re not keen about snacking on nuts, you can pack in extra calories with nut butter. One tablespoon of peanut butter, for example, has about 100 calories.4
Make your own granola with any combination of dry whole-grain cereals, nuts, seeds, and dried fruits. Store your granola in an airtight container and serve it for breakfast. Pack some granola into small plastic containers that you can take with you on a busy day. For more flavor and calories, add dark chocolate chunks or peanut butter chips.
By having granola always on hand, you can constantly nibble and get your calories throughout the day rather than indulging in big meals.
You can increase both your calories and protein intake with protein bars. Protein is especially important because it is what your body needs to build lean muscle.
You can often find high-calorie protein bars in drugstores with a fitness supplements section. While some people prefer protein shakes to protein bars, the former tends to make you fuller faster since it tends to be extra-rich in whey.
Don’t make the mistake of using protein bars as a replacement for meals. You will not get enough calories if you do. Instead, pack them in your purse, desk, or laptop bag so that they are always on hand for a midday snack.