10 Tips to Gain Weight Safely, According to Experts

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Although the internet often features social media posts showcasing weight loss ideas and methods, not everyone needs to shed weight. Some people want the exact opposite—to gain weight. If you need to gain weight, the following recommendations from fitness and healthcare professionals will help you ensure you are carefully and safely gaining weight. Read on to learn more.

Why Might People Need to Gain Weight? 

People need to gain weight for a number of reasons, and adding pounds can make a difference in their well-being. According to Matthew Scarfo, NASM-certified CPT-OPT, CES, PES, FNS, of Precision Nutrition, there are a few reasons why someone might be encouraged to gain weight.

For instance, if you have a low body mass index, your healthcare provider might suggest you gain weight. Underweight individuals can experience challenges with their immune systems, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular complications because of low energy.

People also may want to gain weight to grow a healthy baby or due to loss of menses from intense exercise. They may even want to gain weight as part of recovery from an eating disorder. Meanwhile, others may want to gain weight in order to build muscle. Scarfo says that your body can resist adding muscle when you have low energy available. A calorie surplus can make building muscle much easier.

"Increasing weight for those individuals can be hard, but reducing the stigma and focusing on positive health outcomes is essential,” he says.  

How to Gain Weight Safely 

To gain weight safely it is important to eat adequate amounts of macronutrients, which include carbohydrates, fats, and protein as well as micronutrients, which include vitamins and minerals. Here are some tips to help you succeed in your weight-gain journey.

Know Your Total Daily Energy Expenditure

To start gaining weight, you need to know your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) to determine how many calories you should consume each day. The TDEE is an estimated calculation based on your anatomy and physical activity level.

“This formula factors in general information like height, current weight, and age, and combines it with a ranking factor for your perceived daily activity (outside of normal bodily functions),” says nutritionist Simon Byrne, PN1.

He says your TDEE is helpful because you get a good baseline when starting to gain weight. Although this calculation is not an exact science, Byrne says it can eliminate some of the guesswork that people apply for weight gain. If you need assistance in calculating your TDEE, a registered dietitian or other healthcare provider can help.

Consume Whole Foods

TJ Mentus, ACE-CPT, recommends getting your calories mainly through whole foods, which is food with one ingredient like meats, eggs, nuts, fish, and vegetables. For carbs, he recommends rice, potatoes, oats, and fruit.

Whole foods can help you meet your nutrient requirements. When thinking about fats, you can opt for plant-based oils, like olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish. Protein sources such eggs, chicken, and dairy products contain highly absorbable iron and other vitamins like B12, and vitamin D.

Add Calories During Breakfast

You can jumpstart your daily calorie surplus by consuming certain types of foods during your first meal of the day. Blake Reichenbach, ISSA-CPT, suggests incorporating whole grains, such as oats, whole grain breads, and cereals as well as items like peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, mixed nut butter, tahini spread, hummus, and Greek yogurt. These are all high protein options that are rich with calories.

For instance, a nut or seed butter on high-fiber toast is a good option. Reichenbach also recommends a peanut butter smoothie with whey protein and toast with 7-grain bread.

Avoid Alcohol

Some alcoholic beverages are high in calories and carbohydrates which can make you crave less nutritious foods, says Reda Elmardi, RD, ISSA nutritionist. This could potentially lead to less nutritious food choices and is not an advisable way to gain weight.

Additionally, excess alcohol consumption can increase triglycerides and cause dehydration. And in extreme cases excessive alcohol consumption can cause nutrient deficiencies such as thiamine and folic acid.

Switching to sparkling water with fresh fruit can keep you hydrated and give you the energy needed to build muscle.

Switch to Resistance Training

In a study from the Journal of Applied Physiology, researchers measured how workout programs reduced fat and body mass and increased lean mass. They found that a program of aerobic and resistance training did not result in significantly more mass.

Instead, a workout regimen of resistance training was needed for increasing lean mass. Lifting weights three to four days a week can help with increasing bulk and muscle, which can create safe weight gain. Of you are new to weight training reach out to a professional to avoid potential injuries and make sure you are cleared by a healthcare provider to workout.

Eat More Frequently

You also might try eating more frequently throughout the day, adding in a couple of snacks each day to your typical three meals a day. Tommy Perderson, RDN, says to find out the amount of calories in which you need to gain weight and eat beyond that with a mix of extra complex carbs, good proteins, and healthy fats.

For example, you could eat avocado with carrots or 1/2 avocado with everything bagel topping and paprika on a slice of whole grain bread with sliced tomato. Another option is a handful of walnuts with strawberries or apple slices, blueberry, or cantaloupe. Also, "munch on food at odd times," says Mat Rezaei, PharmD and founder of UPGUYS.

"Some people are actively struggling with a poor appetite due to medical or [mental health concerns], so [eating] large amounts of food may not seem realistic," says Rezaei. "Eat [frequent] meals throughout the day to boost your calorie intake."

Pack in Protein

According to Jesse Feder, RD, one of the best ways to safely gain weight is by adding about 200 to 400 calories every day. This includes eating protein-packed foods, such as lean proteins and vegetables.

"If you are looking specifically to gain muscle, I recommend a majority of the extra calories come from lean protein sources," Feder says.

Lean proteins include omega-3 fatty fish (such as salmon), lean chicken without the skin, beans, peas, and lentils. Your protein needs will vary based on your activity levels, height, weight, sex, and goals.

Steve Theunissen, RDN, CPT, recommends consuming at least two grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Keep in mind, that if you were trying to maintain your weight, the recommended intake is only 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight.

Eat Calorie/Energy Dense Foods

DJ Mazzoni, RD, CSCS, MS, CDN, recommends eating energy-dense whole foods to gain weight safely. He suggests people hoping to gain weight look to food sources like peanut butter, avocados, pasta, and potatoes rather than looking to supplements that add muscle mass.

Carbohydrates such as potatoes and whole grains contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber as well as provide sustainable energy. They are a great way to add calories and nutrition to your meals, Mazzoni says.

Add Healthy Fats

In each meal, try adding high-calorie foods with protein and fat, like avocados and nuts, saysSuzanna Wong, DC. One way to accomplish that is to use extra olive oil in your food. For instance, you could start every meal with a salad topped with walnuts, boiled eggs (for added protein), half an avocado, and a combination of olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dressing. You also can cook your food in healthy fats.

Find Things You Enjoy Eating

When you are trying to gain weight, be sure you are eating things you enjoy and feel free to allow for an occasional treat. While eating whole foods will help you gain weight safely, there is room for all types of foods in a balanced diet. So, there is no need to restrict yourself.

One way you can add treats and increase satiety is to add in treats that are packed with an abundance of protein and healthy carbs, such as trail mixes and protein bars, which come in a number of sweet flavors, such as cookies and cream, strawberry, and lemon.

The Importance of Expert-Guided Weight Gain 

Weight management—in this case, specifically weight gain—is best done under medical supervision. This way you are gaining weight in a wise, good-for-you, sustainable manner. 

“It’s not about ‘eating more’ but about eating more of the right things,” says Chris Fernandez, CPT, CEO of Women’s Health Interactive.

He says that you can easily can gain weight with nutritious foods. And if you want to add muscle, a sound weight training and workout program will ensure the weight being gained is mostly muscle mass and is functional.

A Word from Verywell

You can safely gain weight, which is often necessary for underweight individuals and those wanting to gain muscle mass. Knowing how many calories to eat each day and consuming a calorie surplus of nutritious foods will accomplish your goal.

If you need to gain weight, be sure to talk to a healthcare provider about weight gain and how to accomplish this goal. Specifically, you might want to incorporate visits with a registered dietitian into your weight-gain journey.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Which food is best for weight gain?

    The best foods for weight gain are foods you enjoy, can tolerate and are nutrient dense. Consider foods that are rich in nutrients such as whole grains, fruit, vegetables, nut butters, chicken, and lean proteins.

  • What exercise is best for weight gain?

    All forms are exercise are healthy. If you are looking to exercise for weight gain specifically, the best exercise for weight gain is resistance training, as building muscle is key to safe, healthy weight gain.

  • How long does it take to gain weight?

    The time it takes to gain weight is an individual thing. This depends on a number of factors, such as calories consumed, genetics, physical activity level, and overall health. To safely gain weight, you should know your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) and create a calorie surplus. Your goal should be to gain 1 to 2 pounds per week, unless a medical professional advises otherwise.

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Tarantino G, Cataldi M, Citro V. Could alcohol abuse and dependence on junk foods inducing obesity and/or illicit drug use represent danger to liver in young people with altered psychological/relational spheres or emotional problemsIJMS. 2022;23(18):10406. doi:10.3390/ijms231810406

  3. Willis LH, Slentz CA, Bateman LA, et al. Effects of aerobic and/or resistance training on body mass and fat mass in overweight or obese adultsJ Appl Physiol. 2012;113(12):1831-1837. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.01370.2011

By Jennifer Purdie, M.Ed, CPT
Jennifer Purdie, M.Ed, is a certified personal trainer, freelance writer, and author of "Growth Mindset for Athletes, Coaches and Trainers."