Healthy Weight Gain

Reviewed by Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN
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Jose Luis Pelaez Inc..

You may need to gain or regain weight if:

  • You have had a serious illness or lengthy hospitalization
  • You are below your healthy weight and want to feel better
  • You are an athlete who wants to build strength and muscle to perform better
  • You are older and have unintentionally lost weight.

For those who need to, gaining weight can lead to overall better health and functionality.

Here are some tips on gaining muscle or bone mass in a smart and healthful way:

Be Realistic about Your Body Type

Genetics plays a major role in physical build and musculature. If you are thin but healthy, take a close look at your parents and siblings. The human body can change to a limited extent through weight training and increased food intake, but drastic changes to body shape usually are not healthful or sustainable. People who are trying to regain weight after illness or surgery usually can gain weight more easily than someone who is naturally thin.

Steer Clear of Gimmicks and Supplements

Just as there are products marketed for quick weight loss, there also are products marketed for "miraculous" weight gain. The smartest advice is the same in either case: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably won't work. Skip expensive supplements and save your money for delicious nutrient-rich foods.

Focus on Quality First, Quantity Second

The key to healthy weight gain is to choose nutrient-rich foods as often as possible. Consuming more empty-calorie foods such as soft drinks, candy and chips is not a successful way to build muscle, strengthen bones or repair tissue after surgery. For smart weight gain, you need the nutrient power of all the food groups: (See MyPlate.)

  • If you have a small appetite, eat five to six times a day. Drink fluids before and after meals, but not with them. This helps leave more room for food.
  • Top your usual foods with some concentrated calories, such as grated cheese on a cup of chili. Spread peanut or almond butter on a whole-grain muffin.
  • Avoid "lite" or "low-calorie" versions of foods and go for the full-fat or traditional options.
  • Prepare hot oatmeal or other cereal with milk, not water. Add powdered milk, honey, dried fruits or nuts after cooking.
  • Garnish salads with healthy oils such as olive oil, whole olives, avocados, nuts and sunflower seeds.
  • Pump up soups, casseroles, mashed potatoes and liquid milk with 1 to 2 tablespoons of dry milk powder.
  • Make an appointment with a registered dietitian nutritionist to develop an eating plan that will help you gain weight in a healthy way with the foods you enjoy.

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