Woman eating vegan food

You may think that you are in the minority if you are trying to gain weight. We see weight loss tips all over the Internet, but what about people who actually want (or need) to gain weight? To complicate things further, if you’re trying to gain weight and you are a vegan, you may feel lost as to how to do so. Gaining weight on a vegan diet may seem hard, but we have several tips on how you can gain weight on a vegan diet.

In this article, we will discuss reasons as to why someone wants (or needs) to gain weight as well as identify several types of weight gain. Not all types of weight gain are healthy! Finally, we will discuss how vegans can modify their diet to reach their weight gain goals.

Why would someone want (or need) to gain weight?

While weight gain is not the norm, there are still many people who would actually be healthier at a higher weight. Here is a list of some instances where someone may be considering to gain weight for health:

  • Pregnancy (to figure out how much weight you should gain during pregnancy, click here)
  • Recovery from an eating disorder like anorexia or disordered eating patterns
  • Prophylactic measures to prevent weight loss ahead of or during treatment of hypermetabolic diseases (i.e. chemotherapy and radiation for cancer treatment)
  • Recovery from recent hospitalization, intense medical treatment or other hypermetabolic conditions
  • Recent unintentional weight loss due to other medical, situational or behavioral reasons
  • Desire to gain weight for body image purposes

The Science Behind Weight Gain

There are several ways you can gain weight (whether it is intentional or unintentional). Weight gain occurs for a variety of reasons and in many different forms, so make sure you know how your body is gaining weight. Depending on how you gain weight, there may or may not be a medical issue.

It’s important to make sure when on a vegan diet, you’re following vegan dieting advice from experts.

Weight Gain Type #1: Weight gain via an increase in fat

This is a very common way to gain weight, and it’s usually how people unintentionally gain weight. A fat increase occurs when we consume more calories than what our body needs to maintain our current weight. If you’re trying to gain weight, some of this is necessary and will occur.

Weight Gain Type #2: Weight gain via an increase in muscle

An increase in muscle can make your weight go up on the scale. However, weight gain via muscle is often preferred in order to maintain a “lean” aesthetic. If you are looking to gain weight yet look “lean,” “cut” or in shape, consider increasing your muscle mass. To do so, you may need to increase both your calorie intake and the amount of weight training you do – I recommend investing in some weights from XMark Fitness.

Weight Gain Type #3: Weight gain via fluid retention

There are some instances where your weight may go up due to fluid retention or “water weight.” In some cases, fluid retention is actually indicative of a medical problem. Fluid retention can falsely increase your weight on the scale. Some conditions in which fluid retention is possible is in refeeding syndrome, kidney failure and heart failure among many other conditions. Notify your physician if you are concerned about fluid retention.

How to Gain Weight on a Vegan Diet

Now that you know why and how our bodies put on weight, here are several tips on how vegans in particular can modify their diet for weight gain:

Tip #1: Increase your portion sizes

One of the simplest way to increase calories on a vegan diet is to simply increase the size of your meals. For example, if you eat on a 9-inch plate, grab a larger plate and fill it up. If you usually have a ½ cup of rice, increase your rice to ¾ cup (and eventually increase from there as needed). Another example of increasing overall calorie intake would be to eat 2 slices of toast in the morning rather than just one.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that if you increase the size of your portions, especially of high-fiber foods like fruits, veggies and whole grains, make sure you increase your fluid. Sometimes you can get constipated if you suddenly increase your fiber intake!

Tip #2: Add in some snacks

Another way to increase your calorie intake for weight gain on a vegan diet is to add in some snacks between meals. Strive to consume 3 meals and at least 2 snacks during the day. A late night snack can help you pack in extra calories. Try to have a healthy late night snack that contains both carbohydrates and protein. Here are some ideas:

  • Avocado and crackers
  • Banana and nut butter (to prevent nut butter burnout, try these fun nut butter flavors)
  • Vegan yogurt
  • Oatmeal with dairy-free milk
  • Trail mix

Tip #3: Go nuts about nuts!

Nuts and seeds like sunflower seeds, peanuts, almonds and walnuts pack in a lot of calories and healthy fat in a small amount. For example, 1 ounce of almonds is about 170 calories! This is true for nut butters as well. So, in order to gain weight in a healthy manner, keep nuts on hand as a snack. Also, consider adding nuts as a garnish to your meal. Nuts go great with salads or vegan yogurts!

Tip #4: A little heart healthy oil goes a long way

Oil is another great way to add calories to your meal. There are lots of different types of oils and some are healthier than others. In order to get heart-healthy unsaturated fats, be sure to cook with olive oil, flaxseed oil, canola oil, safflower oil, soybean oil and walnut oil.

Tip #5: Slice open an avocado

Avocadoes are full of healthy fats, so slice one open and grab a spoon! The average avocado has about 230 calories and is a great addition to any meal. Consume avocado as a side or add it to your sandwich. If you like a smoothie in the morning, blend it up for a mega calorie boost.

Tip #6: Get your starchy vegetables

Starchy vegetables like corn, peas, potatoes and sweet potatoes are highly nutritious, palatable and can help you add extra calories to nearly any meal.

Optimizing Your Vegan Diet

One thing to keep in mind is that vegans are at risk of certain nutrient deficiencies, namely iron, protein, vitamin D, calcium, zinc, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. So, be sure to see a registered dietitian regularly so that you know you are getting a nutritious vegan diet. Vegan supplementation may be needed at the discretion of your healthcare team (I recommend these vegan supplements by Naturelo).