Has someone told you that you should gain weight? There are so many reasons why someone may want (or need) to gain weight. But unfortunately, information on how to gain weight in a healthy manner is lacking.
Maybe your doctor wants you to gain weight for better health or treatment outcomes. Or, maybe your coach wants you to gain weight for a sport like football or shot put.
In this article, we are going to give you tips on how to gain weight while still being healthy. Whether you need to gain weight for medical reasons, sport or personal goals, check out this long list of dietitian-approved weight gain tips!
Is all weight gain the same?
Before you go packing on the pounds, you have a really important choice to make: How will you gain weight?
- Unhealthy weight gain occurs when you just eat any calorie-dense food or drink you can find (i.e. fast food, fried foods, sugary beverages). While you’ll likely gain weight this way, you’ll probably be more at risk for chronic diseases like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Yikes!
- Water weight gain is a false or temporary weight gain that can occur in people with certain medical conditions. For example, those with kidney failure or heart failure may experience water weight gain. If you are gaining weight to recover from a severe eating disorder, you may be at risk of refeeding syndrome, which can make you retain water. Water weight gain can increase the number on the scale, but it is not true, long-term weight gain.
- Healthy weight gain allows you to gain weight while still checking off all the nutrition boxes! Most, if not all, people trying to gain weight should opt for a healthy weight gain. Healthy weight gain strives to get calorie-rich foods that are also nutrient-rich.
How to Gain Weight in a Healthy Way
If you’re ready to gain weight and do it the right way, keep reading for a long list of healthy weight gain tips and ideas!
Tip #1: Eat 3 meals daily (at minimum)
For weight gain, you need to consume calories – lots of them. In order to get lots of calories in each day, you need to eat consistently throughout the day. Cramming in hundreds of calories at 1-2 meals can lead to stomach distension, heartburn or other gastrointestinal upset. Don’t overstuff yourself! Instead, spread your calories out throughout the entire day. A good baseline goal is 3 meals daily and adding more if needed.
Tip #2: Add snacks for extra calories
Snacks are calorie boosters between meals. If you play your cards right, you can add mega calories to your snacks. Strive for at least 2-3 snacks daily along with your meals. You may need to plan for an after dinner snack, but make sure it doesn’t keep you awake. Click here to learn more about sleeping habits and what to eat.
Tip #3: Eat starchy vegetables
Starchy vegetables consist of potatoes, corn and peas. These foods are calorie-dense but also highly nutritious. They provide complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamin C and a slew of B-vitamins.
Tip #4: Choose whole grains
Grains like bread, pasta, rice and cereal can provide us with lots of calories and energy. They are also very versatile and are generally well liked (or loved) by most people. If you’re trying to gain weight in a healthy way, opt for whole grain options. Look for “whole grain” on the product packaging. Instead of white rice, choose brown rice. Quinoa and oatmeal are also awesome choices. Whole grains have more fiber, iron, B vitamins and phytochemicals than refined grains (1).
Tip #5: Pour in healthy oils
Healthy oils like olive, canola, sunflower, flaxseed and sesame oil contain tons of healthy fats for optimal cholesterol levels, heart health and reducing inflammation. Oils also contain hundreds of calories in a few tablespoons! Pour in extra oil when cooking and garnishing your meals. I keep a few different oils on hand:
- This safflower oil for good polyunsaturated fats
- This high oleic sunflower oil for good monounsaturated fats
- Walnut oil for the nutty flavor
- Olive oil for a healthy to-go
A word of caution: Not all oils and fats are the same. Limit the amount of butter, margarine, shortening, coconut oil and palm oil you consume. These items contain mostly unhealthy fats.
Tip #6: Nuts, nut butter and seeds please!
Make sure you have nuts and seeds on hand for high-calorie snacks and garnishes. These foods can be good sources of healthy fats, fiber, iron, magnesium, zinc and selenium (2). Trail mixes with dark chocolate chips can be a great on-the-go snack. For a quick calorie boost, put nut butter in your smoothies and baked goods. Scoop out 2-3 tablespoons of nut butter with a banana for a nighttime snack!
Tip #7: Get that guac!
One whole avocado can have 150-250 calories! Avocados give you healthy fats, fiber and vitamin C. Mix up an avocado, onions, tomatoes, jalapeños, and grab some tortilla chips. You’ve got a super nutritious, delicious, calorie-dense snack!
Tip #8: Add edamame into your routine
Edamame is a type of soy. It’s a great way to get plant-based protein, fiber, magnesium and folate. One cup of shelled edamame has almost 190 calories (3). You can season, oil and roast it for a snack or add it to any vegetarian or meat-based meal.
Tip #9: Choose fatty fish
Don’t go heading to your local Friday fish fry to get fatty fish! Instead of fried fish, processed meat, pork or red meat, choose fatty fish so that you can get heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Choose fatty fish like tuna, salmon, trout, herring and sardines. Are you a vegan who’s trying to gain weight? Check out our vegan weight gain article.
Tip #10: Make dairy work for you
Unflavored milk, yogurt and cheese are highly nutritious and can be calorie-dense for those who need to gain weight. Full-fat dairy does contain unhealthy saturated fat, however, you can choose a 2% variety as a compromise if desired. Fortified milk, yogurt and cheese are full of protein, calcium, vitamin D, phosphorus and riboflavin. Choose unflavored dairy products to reduce the amount of sugar you get from these items.
Tip #11: Drink your calories (but not sodas, juices, alcohol)
If you feel like you’re too full to eat all of your calories, then you may want to replace a snack with a high-calorie supplement shake. Drinking calories may help you reach your high-calorie goals. For the average person, I recommend Ensure Plus shakes for weight gain.