If you want to gain weight healthily, opt for nutrient-dense foods and beverages, like nuts, dried fruit, high fat dairy products, meat, and shakes.
Which food is best for weight gain?
If you’re looking to gain weight, it’s very important to do it right.
Consuming soda, donuts, and other junk foods may help you gain weight initially, but it can increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer .
A healthy approach to gaining weight involves gaining a balanced amount of muscle mass and subcutaneous fat rather than a lot of unhealthy belly fat .
A recent animal study suggests that belly fat may be correlated with increased cancer risk .
A high percentage of body fat also increases your chances of developing type 2 diabetes and other health problems, even if you are not overweight .
To gain weight safely, focus on eating more nutrient-dense foods and living an overall healthy lifestyle that involves exercising, getting enough sleep, and reducing stress, if you can.
This article outlines simple strategies to quickly gain weight — without increasing your risk of disease.
Why is gaining weight important?
Many people in the United States are underweight .
Some individuals may be naturally underweight due to genetics or a fast metabolism. Being underweight may also indicate poor nutrition or underlying health conditions .
Additionally, many people who are not clinically underweight may still want to gain muscle and put on weight for other reasons.
Whether you’re underweight or attempting to gain muscle weight, the main principles are the same.
What does it mean to be ’underweight‘?
The clinical definition of underweight is having a body mass index (BMI) below 18.5. This is estimated to be less than the body mass needed to sustain optimal health .
However, keep in mind that there are many problems with the BMI scale, which only looks at weight and height. It does not take muscle mass into account.
People can have different BMIs and body types and still be healthy. Being underweight according to this scale does not necessarily mean that you have a health problem.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), being underweight is about twice as common among women compared with men. In a U.S. survey that grouped participants into men and women, 1.3% of men and 2% of women 20 years and older are underweight .
Health risks linked to being underweight
Being underweight can be harmful to your health.
One study found that clinically underweight individuals have nearly two times the risk of death compared to individuals with obesity, suggesting that being underweight may be worse for your health than having obesity .
Additionally, another study found that self-reported health outcomes fell significantly in underweight individuals after the age of 38, indicating that a low BMI later in life may come with increased health risks .
Being underweight can impair your immune function, raise your risk of infection, lead to osteoporosis and fractures, and cause fertility problems .
What’s more, people who are underweight are much more likely to be affected by sarcopenia (age-related muscle wasting) and may be at greater risk of dementia .
For children, it can also lead to growth and development problems
Causes of being underweight
Several medical conditions can cause weight loss, including:
Eating disorders: This includes anorexia nervosa, a serious mental health condition .
Thyroid problems: An overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) can boost metabolism and cause unhealthy weight loss.
Celiac disease: The most severe form of gluten-related disorder. Overall, the incidence of celiac disease has risen throughout the 20th and 21st centuries .
Diabetes: Diabetes (mainly type 1) that is not properly managed can lead to severe weight loss .
Cancer: Cancer can cause the body to be in a hypercatabolic state, which leads to increased energy being used. It can cause someone to lose a lot of weight but the severity and weight loss can depend on the type of cancer and the age of the person. .
Infections: Certain infections can cause someone to become severely underweight. This can include parasites, tuberculosis, and HIV .
If you’re underweight, you may want to make an appointment with a doctor to rule out any serious medical conditions.
This is particularly important if you have recently started losing large amounts of weight without trying.
Different strategies for gaining weight
Whatever your reasons are for wanting to gain weight, there are a variety of strategies you can use to bulk up.
Below, we’ve outlined several ways to help you gain weight.
Increase your caloric intake
The most important thing you can do to gain weight is to create a calorie surplus, meaning you eat more calories than your body needs.
You can determine your calorie needs using this calorie calculator.
If you want to gain weight slowly and steadily, aim for 300–500 calories more than you burn each day according to the calculator. If you want to gain weight fast, aim for around 700–1,000 calories above your maintenance level.
Keep in mind that calorie calculators only provide estimates. Your needs may vary by several hundred calories per day, give or take.
You don’t need to count calories for the rest of your life, but it can help to do it for the first few days or weeks to get a feel for how many calories you’re eating. There are many great tools out there to help you.
Increase your protein intake
Adequate consumption of high quality proteins from animal products is essential for optimal growth, development, and human health .
A 2020 study of 23 individuals demonstrated that increasing protein will increase lean muscle mass .
To promote skeletal and muscle growth and physical strength in healthy adults with minimal to intense physical activity, the Recommended Dietary Allowance of protein is between 1 to 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day .
Up to 2 grams per kilogram of body weight of protein per day may be safe for healthy adults, with the upper limit at 3.5 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.
High protein foods include meats, fish, eggs, some dairy products, legumes, nuts, and others. Protein supplements like whey protein can also be useful it is difficult for you to get enough protein in your diet.
However, protein may also reduce your hunger and appetite significantly, making it harder to get in enough calories . Eating too much protein may also increase your risk of heart disease .
Talk with a doctor to see if increasing your protein intake would help you achieve your goal to gain weight safely.
Increase your intake of carbs and fat
Many people try restricting either carbs or fat when trying to lose weight.
This may make it hard to gain weight, as it will make it harder to get in enough calories.
Eat plenty of high carb and high fat foods if weight gain is a priority for you. It is best to eat plenty of protein, fat, and carbs at each meal.
You may want to avoid eating plans such as intermittent fasting. This eating plan can be useful for weight loss and other benefits but can make it much harder to eat enough calories to gain weight .
Make sure to eat at least three meals per day and try to add energy-dense snacks whenever possible.
Increase your intake of energy-dense foods
It’s very important to eat mostly whole foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
However, these foods tend to be more filling than processed junk foods, making it harder to get in enough calories.
Using plenty of spices, sauces, and condiments can help with this. The tastier your food is, the easier it may be to eat a lot of it. Toppings may also add additional calories.
Also, try to emphasize energy-dense foods as much as possible. These are foods that contain many calories relative to their weight.
Here are some energy-dense foods that may help you gain weight:
Nuts: almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, and peanuts
Dried fruit: raisins, dates, prunes, and others
High fat dairy: whole milk, full-fat yogurt, cheese, and cream
Fats and oils: extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil
Grains: oats, brown rice
Meat: chicken, beef, pork, and lamb; you can also choose fattier cuts
Tubers: potatoes, sweet potatoes, and yams
Other energy-dense foods: dark chocolate, avocados, peanut butter, coconut milk, granola, and trail mix
It may be a good idea to avoid over-consuming vegetables and fruit if gaining weight is a priority for you. The fiber in fruits and vegetables can lead you to feeling full faster. This can leave less room for energy-dense foods.
If you need more suggestions, these foods may help you gain weight faster.