Weight Gain Diet

Erin Coleman, R.D., L.D.
Bodybuilder drinking protein drink

If you're trying to gain weight, whether it's because you're underweight or simply want to gain muscle mass, a healthy weight gain diet will help you meet your goals. Making a few simple dietary changes and following a weight gain meal plan will get you the results you need in no time, especially if you're working out regularly.

Calorie Goals

To achieve a healthy rate of weight gain, aim to eat 250 to 500 more calories than your usual daily intake, according to the McKinley Health Center. This calorie increase will help you gain a half to one pound per week. To help you avoid feeling bloated or uncomfortable after meals, space out the extra calories evenly throughout the day.

When to Eat

While it may be ironic that the same eating pattern works for weight loss, eating frequent meals throughout the day is also recommended for healthy weight gain. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Mayo Clinic recommend eating five to six times daily to pack on pounds. Eat every few hours. For example, you could have meals or snacks at the following times:

  • 8:00 am
  • 10:30 am
  • 1:00 pm
  • 3:30 pm
  • 6:00 pm
  • 8:30 pm.

Weight Gain Foods

The following healthy, high-calorie foods are beneficial when you're trying to pack on pounds:

  • Nuts
  • Nut butter
  • Seeds
  • Cheese
  • Milk
  • Hummus
  • Avocadoes
  • Plant-based oils
  • Dried fruit
  • Juices
  • Starchy vegetables (peas, corn, potatoes, and winter squash)
  • Legumes
  • Trail mix
  • Protein bars
  • Protein smoothies
  • Bagels
  • Cereals
  • Brown rice
  • Pasta
  • Quinoa
  • Oatmeal

Sample Menu (2,715 calorie plan)

The following is a sample menu for healthy weight gain, which works because it contains more calories than many men and women typically eat in a day. However, individualized weight-gain calorie needs vary and may be higher depending on your usual intake.

Breakfast (8:00 am) - 534 calories

1 small whole-wheat bagel

1 slice of cheddar cheese

2 large scrambled eggs

1 cup of pineapple chunks

Snack (10:30 am) - 485 calories

1 protein smoothie containing:

  • 2 cups of 1% milk or soy milk
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
  • 1 small banana
  • Ice

Lunch (1:00 pm) - 547 calories

1 turkey burger

1 whole-wheat bun

1/2 avocado, sliced

1 slice of Swiss cheese

1 cup of cherry tomatoes

Snack (3:30 pm) - 272 calories

1 medium whole-wheat pita

2 tablespoons of hummus

½ cup of cooked black beans

Dinner (6:00 pm) - 477 calories

3 ounces of grilled chicken breast

1 cup of cooked quinoa

1 cup of cooked green peas

Snack (8:30 pm) - 399 calories

1 packet of plain instant oatmeal

1/2 cup of 2% milk (or soy milk)

1/4 cup of raisins

3/4 ounce of almonds

Exercise Tips

When you're trying to add mass, exercise is a must to gain muscle instead of just body fat. Resistance exercise in particular is beneficial, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. You can continue to do cardiovascular exercise as well, but in shorter durations. The McKinley Health Center suggests engaging in two to three 20- to 30-minute cardiovascular workouts weekly and completing two to three sets of four to eight weightlifting repetitions for each exercise (working all major muscle groups) to maximize strength and muscle gains.

Bottom Line

Getting extra calories from nutrient-dense foods throughout the day and regular strength training are the keys to healthy weight gain.

Weight Gain Diet