Diet for weight gain is a comprehensive program that will help you gain more muscle mass and lose body fat as you reach your ideal weight. This article looks at some of the prominent programs designed to help you gain weight, then presents a rundown of 10 surefire methods to gain weight by eating delicious meals.
How does being underweight impact my health?
Firstly, your weight will naturally fluctuate throughout your life. It’s perfectly normal and depends on any number of causes: sleep, stress, hormones and health conditions will all play their part. However, being significantly underweight as an adult can have serious consequences on your overall health and wellness.
Generally measured by BMI (Body Mass Index – something you can calculate using the NHS’ handy BMI calculator), you should book in to see your doctor or GP if you suspect you may be underweight. A BMI of less than 18.5 is considered to be underweight.
‘The main health risks of being underweight are malnutrition and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. In severe cases, being malnourished and having vitamin and mineral deficiencies can lead to electrolyte imbalances which can lead to very serious heart and kidney problems due to disrupted levels of salt in the blood,’ explains GP, Dr Jane Leonard.
‘It can also cause osteoporosis, infertility (rapid or prolonged weight loss can lead to irregular periods which impairs ovulation), a reduced immune function which increases the risk of bacterial, viral and fungal infections and reduced growth and development in children and teenagers.’
How can I gain weight safely?
Doing things safely is always the name of the game at WH and gaining weight is no different.
‘The only way to increase weight is to increase calorie input and reduce calorie output,’ says Dr Leonard. ‘I would advise anyone wanting to gain weight to speak to their doctor before taking action. This is because a blood test needed to check for any underlying cause such an overactive thyroid and also to look at any of the potential complications of weight loss.’
Can I still exercise if I’m trying to gain weight?
It’s a grey area and depending on your reasons for needing or trying to gain weight, the answer may vary. Dr Leonard suggests speaking to your doctor about how to exercise safely to reap the physical and mental health benefits that aren’t centred around weight loss.
‘Your doctor may refer you to a dietician for a tailored diet to help you gain weight but you should also liaise with your doctor regarding exercise as exercise burns calories which may hinder weight gain. However, there are many essential benefits of exercise that your body needs to maintain your physical and mental health, so it shouldn’t be completely excluded. Your doctor and dietician will advise you how to safely exercise whilst still gaining weight.’
How should I eat to gain weight?
According to Leading dietitian and Director of CityDietitans Sophie Medlin, the specific foods we eat during weight restoration are less important than the timing of our meals.
‘What we need to focus on is limiting as far as possible, the amount of time in which the body will be burning stored nutrients rather than food that we’re putting in,’ she explains.
‘For example, leaving long gaps between meals or having a long overnight fast will mean that at various different points during the day, your body will be breaking down your muscles for protein and using your glycogen and fat stores for energy, which is what we need to avoid [as it can lead to weight loss].’
‘Focus on having some protein and some carbohydrate every 2-3 hours during the day and a snack before bed.’ If that sounds daunting, remember meals don’t have to be huge.
What foods should I eat to gain weight?
Go for nutrient-dense food and swerve low-cal options, says Medlin.
‘It’s helpful to make the foods that we eat as nourishing and energy-dense as possible by adding foods like avocado, nut butter, olive oil and cheese and to ensure we avoid diet or low-calorie products. Temporarily switching from higher fibre products to lower fibre can also help us to consume a larger volume of food so try white pasta over brown and white rice and bread – just for a short period.’
Need some more inspo?
Good quality meat
Complex carbs (sweet potatoes, potatoes, wholegrain or white bread, rice and pasta)
Seeds and seed butter
Healthy Snacking for Weight Gain
While many people in the United States are focused on losing weight to improve their overall health, there is another group of people who are struggling to gain weight.
If you are trying to gain weight, or are having difficulty maintaining your weight, try adding some nutrient-rich snacks to your diet to increase your daily caloric intake. I recommend having a combination of protein, fat, and carbohydrates about 2-3 hours after your last meal.
If you’re resistant to snacking because you get full quickly and are worried you will not be hungry for your next meal, worry no more! Many studies show that eating a snack between meals has little effect on caloric intake during the following meal. Since the studies reviewed were in healthy subjects, if you are recovering from surgery or going through chemotherapy, you may feel this does not apply to you. However, in my experience, most patients who have consistently added snacks to their diets have been able to successfully gain weight.
If you don’t need to gain weight but enjoy snacking to curb your hunger, be sure to choose low-fat sources of protein and eat smaller meals. If you add too many calories at snack time and eat large meals, this may lead to unwanted weight gain.
First choose a serving of fruit, vegetables ,or whole grains (may choose white grains if you’re having diarrhea):
Whole wheat toast
Whole wheat English muffin
Whole wheat pita bread
Sliced bell pepper
Foods to Help You Gain Weight
Whole eggs as antioxidants
Eggs are the best of the best in terms of healthy muscle-building foods and many athletes and bodybuilders will agree. Eggs combine high-quality proteins and healthy fats. Almost all the important and beneficial elements in eggs are in the yolk. If you are not egg intolerant, you don’t have to limit yourself and can eat 3 or more eggs per day if you want, because they are egg-ceptional! 🙂
Brown rice for loads of calories with little fat
Brown rice is a whole grain, and it’s higher in fiber, vitamins, and minerals than white rice. Just one serving of brown rice can provide you with carbs, calories, and very little fat. It is very easy to consume and, when combined with protein meals and vegetables, it helps you to gain weight and build muscle. Eat wisely: Consuming too much brown rice can be dangerous, due to its potential arsenic and phytic acid content. Arsenic might cause toxicity and phytic acid reduces the absorption of zinc and iron.
Beans as a muscle toning support
Rich in protein and low in fat, beans are affordable and widely available. Cooked black, pinto, and kidney beans contain around 15 grams of protein per cup. Moreover, they are high in fiber, vitamin B, magnesium, and iron. Vitamin B supports muscle tone and promotes a healthy appetite. Beans might require some creativity when cooking them, but it’s surely worth it!
Chickpeas as a rich-in-protein garnish
Chickpeas (garbanzo beans) are a good source of carbs. If you’re having trouble gaining weight, you can replace rice with chickpeas: 164 grams of canned chickpeas has around 15 grams of protein, 45 grams of carbs, and 13 grams of fiber. Even though the quality of protein in plants like this is lower than in animal sources, chickpeas alone or made into hummus are still a great addition to meat or fish.
Buckwheat for a muscle-building boost
Buckwheat can be used instead of traditional flour, and it’s gained a lot of popularity due to its high vitamin and mineral content. Buckwheat is rich in protein, vitamin B, magnesium, and phosphorus. This unique food has the ability to boost the muscle-building power of other plant protein sources.
Lentils as a quick and easy meal for muscles
Lentils are a secret weapon to gaining weight quickly. They are inexpensive, easy, and fast to cook. They can be added to other dishes like rice, soup, or salads. Just one cup of lentils has 17.9 grams of protein and 39.9 carbohydrates. There are 3 main varieties of lentils – brown, green, and red, each having slightly different flavors, so you can choose one that suits your taste. They will help to keep your blood sugar steady, enrich your body with long-lasting energy, and should be a staple in your diet.
Nuts and nut butter as an energy source
Nuts and nut butter are perfect for everyone who wants to gain weight. Nuts like almonds are filled with calories, protein, and healthy fats. Use them as a healthy snack or add them to your salads and other meals. As for nut butters, it’s better to choose 100% nut butter and add it to any snack you like, for example, sandwiches.
Dried fruits as a micronutrient-rich snack
Dried fruits like pineapples, cherries, or apples are healthy high-calorie snacks that contain micronutrients, antioxidants, and fiber. Despite popular opinion, fruits don’t lose their nutrients when dried, their fiber content actually helps retain vitamins. Add dried fruits to your protein shake or natural yogurt to make a great mix of healthy fats, protein, and other key nutrients. It’s better to use dried fruits as a healthy snack, instead of store-bought granola bars, since those are filled with sugar and preservatives.
Dark chocolate as a calorie boost
Though it might not seem tasty to some, high-quality dark chocolate is a great source of antioxidants that benefit our health. For weight-gainers, dark chocolate offers its high calories in small quantities. If don’t want to eat a bar, add unsweetened “natural” cocoa powder to your smoothie or yogurt for a different taste and to increase antioxidants.
Healthy Foods That Promote a Healthy Weight
- Nut butters are one of the easiest ingredients to incorporate into a senior’s diet. Smooth and creamy, they’re much easier to eat and digest than raw nuts. If your loved one has a hard time eating nut butters on nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables like apples or celery, try mixing them into a hot bowl of oatmeal or spreading some on a slice of warm bread. Nut butters are rich in monounsaturated fat, making them excellent for heart health and lowering blood pressure. Remember, you don’t need to stick to peanut butter; almond butter and cashew butter are great options as well.
- Avocados are another high-calorie food many seniors love. Like nut butters, avocados have a rich and creamy consistency. Their high fat content acts as an emulsifier, creating a thick texture when blended into a variety of dishes. Don’t think avocados are only for making guacamole! I like adding avocados to smoothies (trust me, your loved one won’t even notice). You can also add them to salads, use them as a garnish for chili or eggs, as a topping on sandwiches or as a quick and easy spread on toast.
- Coconut has recently come into the spotlight as a new superfood, thanks to the Paleo diet. Although coconut products are high in saturated fat, we’re learning that this fat operates differently from the kind found in animal products. So, when you’re making creamy soups and stews, try adding full-fat coconut milk to the pot. This is especially delicious in Asian and curry-based dishes, where the sweet, nutty flavor of coconut milk offsets the spicy notes. Coconut oil can be a nice substitute for olive and vegetable oils in many dishes, too. Just keep in mind that the healthier virgin or unrefined type can add a coconutty flavor to foods.
- Full-fat dairy products are another tasty, calorie-dense option. It takes an excess of 3,500 calories for a senior to gain a single pound. This means that every calorie counts! Substituting skim milk and low-fat dairy products with their full-fat counterparts can easily add another 100 to 250 calories to your loved one’s daily caloric intake. For instance, yogurt is an easy-to-eat source of healthy probiotics. Serve some with fruit for breakfast or incorporate it into a smoothie! Full-fat plain Greek yogurt can also be used as a tangy substitute for sour cream that is high in protein, vitamin B-12 and calcium.
- Potatoes and whole-grain starches consumed as part of a diet high in carbohydrates are great for promoting weight gain. Compared to meats and fresh produce, carbs are some of the most affordable foods to stock up on. Try to serve one starch with each meal you make for your loved one, and don’t be afraid to get creative! Top baked potatoes with cheese and sour cream for additional calories or toss whole-wheat penne in a creamy vodka sauce for a high-calorie dinner. Although starches might seem bland, they function as a blank canvas that allows you to easily switch up flavor profiles. This way you can make dozens of different dishes with the same few ingredients.