How can I gain weight?

Stefanie Sacks, MS
Nutrition & Dietetics
Gaining weight takes different forms for everyone. I like to advise people to choose nutritionally and calorically dense foods like nuts and seeds (and butters), avocado, healthy fats like coconut oil/milk and high-quality whole milk diary. Making sure to eat 3 meals per day plus snacks that include these higher-calorie foods is key. Smoothies are a great way to get the nuts, seeds, avocado and coconut down. 
Christie Korth
Nutrition & Dietetics
Eating a diet rich in protein and carbohydrates like brown rice and bananas can be helpful for weight gain.  Be mindful of you caloric intake. Depending on how underweight you may be, you should probably stick to a daily diet of at least 2500 calories.  You should also seek the adivce of a healthcare professional to evaluate the possibility of a hyper active thyroid, digestive disorder, food intolerance, eating disorder or other health concern that can be associated with low weight.
Marjorie Nolan Cohn
Nutrition & Dietetics

Having a weight gain plan of action is key. Here are some ways to gain weight healthfully.

  • Eat frequently. Don’t go longer than three hours without eating. If you go for too long without eating, you metabolically start to slow down. When you eat every couple of hours, you’ll eat more calories and help prevent your body from losing lean body mass.
  • Go for variety. Eat at least three different foods at every meal and snack. . Be sure to include at least three different foods when you’re eating. That way you’re getting different nutrients to build muscle with. 
  • Choose higher calorie foods. When we think high-calorie foods, most people think “fat,” Fat will have more than twice as many calories for the same amount of protein or carbs. Stick to unsaturated heart-healthy fats found mainly in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, olives and avocados.
  • Drink lots of fluids. Drink 100 percent fruit juice and smoothies. Make a smoothie with 1 to 2 percent milk or low-fat yogurt and strawberries or bananas and peanut butter. Add a tablespoon or two of protein powder or a plain whey powder to increase up the calories and protein content. 
  • Sleep. Whether you’re aiming for weight loss or weight gain, it’s important to get adequate sleep. You’re body has to have time to rebuild muscle and store it in a healthy way versus just turning your food into fat. 
  • Eat more protein. You should eat 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight, which is equal to about 94 grams for 125 pounds. Have some protein source at every meal. Healthy foods that will help you gain weight and contain protein include low-fat dairy, lean meats, and nuts or seeds.
Marisa Moore
Nutrition & Dietetics

To gain weight you have to eat more calories than you burn. It requires about 3500 extra calories to gain one pound. This can be a challenge if you feel you are already eating plenty. Here are some tips to pack more calories into you day:

  • Snack on nuts in between meals and add them to salads, smoothies and pasta dishes.
  • Incorporate healthy fats like avocado, olive oil and nuts regularly.
  • Add a liquid supplement several times a day.
  • Add dry milk to mashed potatoes, smoothies and other foods to boost the calories.

Some people naturally have a faster burning metabolism and may have to be more diligent at eating regular meals to gain weight. In addition, some medical conditions and medications can interfere with your ability to gain weight as desired. These must be considered on an individual basis.

Neal Spruce
Neal Spruce on behalf of dotFIT
To gain weight you need to eat more calories than you burn so that the extra calories are deposited into your body tissues, with the majority going to lean body mass (LBM) such as muscles. For adults to accomplish proper weight gain, resistance training must be incorporated in order to give the body a reason to deposit the extra nutrition/calories into muscle as opposed to fat storage. Therefore, to avoid gaining excess body fat, the extra calories should be no more than the amount needed to build and sustain the increase in lean tissue.  With these conditions met, weight/muscle gain can occur at a rate of one pound every two weeks for males and ~1/2LB for females, and maybe more if you are new to weight training. The Sharecare Fitness application under the Coach tab has a weight gain program that is used by the best athletes in the world including the exercise routines. Simply log in and select weight gain as your goal, fill in your body statistics, including your goal weight, and follow the program’s instructions all the way to your goal. You will be prompted weekly/bi-weekly to input your new weight or measurement, and then you’ll be told exactly what to do to continue to progress.

Dietary support can be safely incorporated into an individualized program to complement proper training and food intake. For example, athletes may need convenient ways to increase calories and meals when whole food is not possible due to the necessity for extremely high calorie intakes, time constraints or availability. Furthermore, various safe compounds have been shown to enhance nutrient intake, performance, recovery and muscle building.
Jamie McGinn
Nutrition & Dietetics
The most sensical answer to gaining weight is to eat more calories than you expend in a day. If lack of appetite is a problem, increasing exercise can stimulate an appetite. Also, you can try adding an additional 500 calories of food to what you currently eat in a day. This should be balanced nutrients including complex carbs (fruits, veg, whole grains), unsaturated fats, and protein. Increasing your portion size may be the easiest way to do this.
Chris Embry
When trying to gain additional weight while ensuring the majority of that is lean muscle, rather than fat, it is important to do it slowly. Start by adding a small amount of calories (around 300-500) per day made up of lean protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. An additional 500 calories per day will add up to a full pound in 7 days which translates to 4-5 pounds per month. Any more than that and you are likely to start putting on fat too. If you are not gaining weight after adding the additional calories, add more calories until you do. However, do it slowly so you are not gaining more than one pound per week.

It is also important to perform progressive weight training and try to increase the number of repetitions or the amount of weight you are lifting. If the weight on the bar is increasing and your weight is slowly going up, it is likely you are putting on lean muscle.
Dominique Adair
When we help athletes put on weight, the first requirement is to NOT skip meals or snacks. I have worked with football players who have their first meal at 2pm and wonder why they are not gaining mass. So, breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack. Also, while you don't need to eat a lot of unhealthy junk, you do need to concentrate on what nutritionists call "energy dense foods." Technically, this means lots of kilocalories per gram of food. These are things like nuts, nut butters, avocados, vegan cheese, etc., and you need large portions of these and all foods. Some people find that drinking calories (ie smoothies) is easier than chewing all that food. The idea is to take in a lot of calories without clogging your arteries. If necessary, you can also try engineered foods, (bars, GUs, shakes etc.) though add those in additional to whole foods, not instead.

Also, since you want the weight to be muscle tissue and not fat, you must engage in progressive, significantly challenging weight training for hypertrophy. If you’re new at this, get the help of a certified fitness professional.

The best way to put on weight, healthy weight, is to consume more calories than you burn on a daily basis.  Avoid pigging out on "comfort foods" and empty calories, though.  Increase your caloric intake by increasing your consumption of healthy options; fruits, vegetables, lean proteins.  Don't be afraid to add or continue strength training.  Muscle weighs more than fat, yet takes up less space.  So, you can add pounds by increasing lean tissue and still fit into your clothing.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.