March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Not everyone is trying to lose weight. You may need to gain or regain weight if:
- You have had a serious illness or lengthy hospitalization
- You are very thin and want to look and feel better
- You are an athlete who wants to build strength and muscle to perform better
- You are older and have unintentionally lost weight.
Gaining or regaining weight can be just as difficult as losing weight. When done in a smart, healthful way, many of the same basic principles apply to both gaining and losing weight.
Here are some tips on gaining muscle or bone mass without adding extra fat:
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 you'll never be able to turn a runner’s body into that of a linebacker. 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
There are almost as many products advertised for "miraculous" weight gain as there are for weight loss. 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 secret to healthy weight gain is to make all your calories as nutrient-rich as possible. Consuming more empty-calorie foods like 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, like grated cheese on a cup of chili. Spread peanut or almond butter on a whole-grain muffin.
- Prepare hot oatmeal or other cereal with milk, not water. Add powdered milk, margarine, honey, dried fruits and/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 to develop an eating plan that will help you gain weight in a healthy way with the foods you enjoy.