Most fitness and nutrition articles focus on helping people shed the fat. But what about the people who are having trouble with gaining weight or gaining muscle? What do they eat and how are they supposed to work out? Let’s discuss this topic.
For people who struggle to maintain a healthy weight or are trying to gain weight, it can be a real challenge. Reasons for needing to gain weight include health issues such as an illness, lack of appetite, for sports, to build muscle, or just trying to overcome skinny genes.
If you are comfortable, able to function and exercise, weighing a little less than your ideal body weight is not a problem and studies show it is associated with good health outcomes. However, being significantly underweight is associated with negative health effects that include lack of energy, nutritional deficiencies, a weakened immune system, osteoporosis, and, in women, loss of menstrual function and complications with pregnancy
If you want or need to gain weight, do it the healthy way, and not stuffing your face at an all-you-can-eat buffet at Pizza Hut.
Increase your Appetite
What if you have a low appetite? A low appetite is sure to hinder your weight gain efforts. What you can do is first take a little walk before eating (or a full workout if you’re up to it). Walking and exercising can increase your metabolism, appetite and make you hungry. When you are not hungry, help yourself with some comfort foods like ice cream (just don’t over-do it with unnecessary junk food). You can also add spices and herbs to enhance the flavor. Liquids, including water, can fill you up. So drink liquids separately to help make room for nourishing foods. Fruits have a sweet taste and they can increase your appetite, especially if you blend them to make a fresh smoothie.
Don’t Just Look at the Calories, but the Nutrients As Well
Focus on healthy foods to gain weight, because even though you have a bigger margin with calories, you still need to have good nutrition. Weight gain requires eating calorie-rich but also nutrient-rich foods — not just high-calorie foods with lots of fat, sugar, or empty calories. The goal is to choose foods that are packed with vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and calories so each bite is loaded with good nutrition. Start with nutritious foods and then wherever you can, enrich the foods with additional ingredients like yogurt, fruit, nuts, and healthy fats.
Eat More, Eat Often
Regardless of why you want to gain weight, eating meals or substantial snacks (mini-meals) more often is the way to pack more calories into the day. Try to eat six times a day, with each meal (or at least three of them) containing protein, starch, vegetable, and fat. Eat often and choose wisely, and you can expect to gain an average of 1 to 2 kg per week.
Drinking smoothies or meal replacement drinks, eating egg dishes, and choosing bland, mild foods is usually the best diet prescription while transitioning back to a healthy diet. These foods are easy to digest, loaded with good nutrition, and simple to prepare.
Eating to Gain Muscle Mass
For those who want to bulk up need to add sufficient calories and protein along with proper strength training to make sure they gain weight in the right places. In simple terms, the body has to synthesize muscle tissue from energy. Your training won’t produce the muscle gains if there isn’t enough energy supplied to fuel the accumulation of new muscle tissue. In other words, you must eat more calories than you burn over a period of time.
It is advised that you should eat protein-rich snacks such as a high-protein energy bar, low-fat chocolate milk, or a protein shake immediately after weight training to give muscles the necessary post-workout fuel. Before sleeping, you should snack on high-calorie, high-protein foods and beverages, such as a protein shake with two scoops of whey protein. Even if you are not necessarily trying to build muscle per se, you still need to frequently eat healthy snacks to maintain or gain weight.
In addition to all the other important nutrients, focus on getting enough protein, which is very important in recovery after illness. Aim for about 5 ounces of lean meat, fish, or poultry and a few servings of dairy, whole grains, eggs, and legumes to make sure your diet has enough protein. Bender suggests avoiding raw fish if your immune system is compromised.
Sample Nutritional Foods
Foods highest in calories and nutrients are foods with fats, especially plant fats. Plant fats such as beans, nuts, peanuts, seeds, peanut butter, almond butter, avocados, hummus, and oils are great sources of healthy fats loaded with nutrients and calories.
Animal fats provide nutrients and the same amount of calories as plant fats, but they also contain saturated fats, which can increase LDL (bad cholesterol).
First choose plant fats and smaller amounts of lower-fat dairy and lean meat animal fats, so your weight gain efforts don’t increase risk of heart disease.
If you have a normal cholesterol level, you can enjoy extra calories by choosing full-fat dairy products. For instance, pair cheese with fruit and whole-grain crackers for a boost of protein, calories, calcium, and vitamin D.
Drink high-calorie juices instead of water and choose high-calorie condiments such as mayonnaise, ranch, thousand island, and Caesar salad dressings.
Meal replacement drinks and smoothies are very convenient. To pump up their calories, add fruits, powdered milk, or tofu.
Eat nuts by the handful or sprinkle them on top of soups, salads, cereal, desserts for added protein, fiber, healthy fat, and calories. Granola, loaded with nuts and dried fruits, is a concentrated source of nutritious calories, especially when eaten with full-fat Greek-style yogurt, which is higher in protein.
Dried fruits are a concentrated source of calories that can be added to salads, yogurts, cereals, desserts, and trail mixes — or eaten alone.
Potatoes are great for toppings. When you cook potatoes, add in flavored oils, milk, cheese, chili, vegetables, and beans.
Fried foods are fine on occasion, but a better choice than deep-fried foods would be stir-fried foods in healthy oil.
Another easy way to add calories is to drizzle olive or canola oil on vegetables, salads, whole grains, soups, and stews.
Working Out to Gain Muscle
Muscle is built by progressive overload. In other words, you must continually exert resistance on your muscles, and in this case it basically means you need to lift weights.
You should pick a handful of movements, preferably easy to do functional dumbbell exercises and practice them to perfect the moves. Aim to get better at performing them every time you train. Other exercises are isolated barbell moves like squats, chin ups and bench presses. The aim is to start with a light load and progressively add weight to the bar (or increase dumbbell weight) every session. Over time as you get stronger (adding weight to the bar), muscle growth occurs.
What You Need to Do Now
As with any diet or exercise plan, you need to first make sure you consult with a physician or nutritionist before undertaking any diet for weight gain. A doctor can also help rule out other health issues that might be contributing to being underweight, such as thyroid problems bacteria or any eating disorders. After consulting with your doctor, you can follow these guidelines to healthfully pack on some pounds:
- Keep a food diary to record what and when you eat every day for several weeks to learn about your eating habits and identify places to add calories.
- Try adding an extra 200+ calories a day in the beginning, and adjust up or down depending on results.
- Even when you’re trying to gain weight, burgers, chips, and milkshakes all day isn’t great for a body. Instead, choose nutrient-dense foods from all food groups. Good options include whole grains like whole wheat pasta, fruits and vegetables, nuts, and lean protein.
- Eat more frequently and never skip meals. It’s easy to feel full fast when you start introducing more calories into each meal. Make things easier for yourself by spreading calorie intake out over five to six smaller meals throughout the day.
- Choose calorie-dense snacks like nuts, cheese, dried fruits, yogurt with granola, avocados, and pretzels or whole grain crackers with nut butters or hummus.
- Instead of diet soda and other low-cal drinks, choose filling, high-calorie beverages like smoothies, healthy shakes, or liquid meal replacements. Drink fluids in between meals to add calories and to avoid filling up on beverages during meals.
- A lot of healing and regeneration happens while we sleep, so eating before bed can give your body the nutrients it needs to do the work. Eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a wrap with avocado, vegetables, and lean meat or cheese.
- Set S.M.A.R.T goals and be patient. Just like weight loss, weight gain is a process. Increased energy, stabilized hunger patterns, and overall good health are all signs that you are on the right track.
- Make sure you have a support system like a family member or friends that you can discuss with about your goals and any issues you may be facing.