10 healthy foods to eat to gain weight
Gaining weight and building muscle mass can be just as difficult for some people as losing weight is for others. Luckily, there are certain nutritious and calorie dense foods you can eat that make it much easier. Below are some of the best foods to add to your diet when trying to gain healthy weight fast.
1. Nuts, seeds and their butters
Nuts and seeds are very nutritious, providing you with large quantities of vitamins, minerals and other beneficial compounds. They also contain generous amounts of each of the 3 macro-nutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fat.
Because nuts and seeds are primarily made up of fat (which has 9 calories per gram), they are high in calories. For example, an ounce of almonds (which is around 23 kernels) has 162 calories. Eating 3 ounces of almonds in one sitting is achievable, and by doing so you will have consumed close to 500 calories.
When you grind down nuts and seeds to a fine consistency, you are left with their butters. Examples include peanut, almond, cashew and pumpkin seed butters, all of which have 500 calories or more per 100 g serving. These butters can be eaten with fruit or incorporated into all sorts of recipes; a smoothie made using a cup of milk, 6 tablespoons of almond butter, two frozen bananas and some cacao powder will have 1000 calories, which you can ingest within 15 to 20 minutes.
2. Oily fish
Fish is one of the healthiest types of foods you can eat. It is a source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for maintaining good health. Fish is also a source of iodine and vitamin B12, both of which many people don’t get enough of. Some of the benefits associated with the consumption of high quality fish include a reduced risk of heart disease and improved brain health.
Oily fish like salmon contains large quantities of both protein and healthy fats, making it an excellent food to eat when trying to gain weight and build muscle. A 9 ounce (255 g) serving of cooked salmon has 525 calories and 38 g of protein. Mackerel and trout have similar nutritional profiles.
Fish is a versatile food that can be prepared in lots of different ways, including grilling, baking, steaming and stir frying. If your budget allows, opt for wild caught fish over the farmed variety.
Despite looking and tasting like a vegetable, the avocado is in fact a fruit. However, unlike most fruits, it contains a lot of fat; much of this is monounsaturated fat, which is the healthy kind. Because they are high in fat, avocados are also high in calories. A 200 g avocado has around 320 calories.
Avocados also contain impressive quantities of almost every common vitamin and mineral you can think of, including generous amounts of vitamins C, E & K and potassium. The fat they contain helps you to better absorb certain fat soluble nutrients, like vitamin A.
Avocados can be eaten in all sorts of ways. They can be added to smoothies, salads and omelettes, spread over toast like regular butter or used to prepare guacamole, a delicious Mexican dip. When selecting avocados, be sure to check that the inner flesh is soft by gently pressing the outer skin with your fingers.
4. Grains and legumes
Foods like beans, oats, quinoa, lentils and rice are affordable and nutritious. These foods can easily be incorporated into your diet, providing extra calories and protein.
A cup of cooked kidney beans has 225 calories and 15 g of protein; oats, quinoa and lentils have fairly similar nutritional profiles. These foods are an ideal choice for both vegans and vegetarians who are trying to increase their protein intake.
If you plan on eating beans, it is important to prepare them correctly because they can cause food poisoning if eaten raw or under-cooked. It is generally advised that you soak beans overnight and then cook them in boiling water for at least 10 minutes to make them safe to eat.
5. Full fat dairy products
Milk and cheese are both great foods to eat when you are trying to gain weight; they provide a good balance of all three macro-nutrients.
Milk is a source of whey and casein protein, which can help you to put on muscle mass when combined with resistance training.
A cup of whole fat milk has 146 calories and 8 g of protein. You can use milk as the base ingredient for smoothies or drink it on its own, as a snack. Yogurt made from whole milk is also a good option, providing you with roughly the same amount of calories and protein as whole fat milk.
Cheese can be eaten with almost anything and at any time of the day. You can add cheese to eggs, salads, sandwiches, pasta and potatoes. A 1 ounce slice of cheddar has 113 calories and 7 g of protein.
6. Healthy oils
Olive, coconut and avocado oil are all very high in calories. For example, a tablespoon of olive oil has 119 calories; adding it to sauces or drizzling it over salads is a quick and easy way to up your calorie intake.
When it comes to these oils, quality matters, so paying a little bit extra is well worth it. Opt for oils that have been manufactured by cold pressing.
Coconut oil has a very high smoking point, making it the ideal choice for cooking with. Studies have shown that people who eat coconut oil are very healthy, thanks to the many medicinal properties it has.
The oils that you want to stay away from are those that have been highly processed, like many types of vegetable oils. Studies have found that these oils (which are high in omega-6 fatty acids) contribute to inflammation in the body and can raise your risk of cardiovascular disease.
7. Dried fruit
Fruits like dates, raisins and prunes are tasty and easy to snack on. Because they contain large quantities of sugar, they are also high in calories; a pitted medjool date has 66 calories and an ounce of raisins has 84 calories.
One of the best ways to eat these fruits when trying to gain weight is to make your own trail mix by combining them with nuts like almonds, pecans, cashews and pistachios. You can then carry the mix with you and snack on it whenever you feel hungry.
Even though these fruits have been dried, they still retain a lot of the vitamins and minerals that their fleshy counterparts had. Additionally, they contain large amounts of fiber.
8. Unprocessed meat
Meat is one of the best sources of protein that there is. Red meats like beef and pork have more calories than white meats like chicken and turkey. A 250 g serving of steak has around 600 calories and 60 g of protein. The fattier the cut of meat, the more calories it will have. It is generally a good idea to eat both red and white meat.
Notice that we said “unprocessed meat”. It is important to eat high quality meat and limit your intake of processed meats like sausages, hot dogs, salami and bacon. Whilst these meats may be high in calories, they have been associated with an increased risk of many diseases like high blood pressure and cancer.
Whenever you eat meat, make sure to eat plenty of vegetables with it. If you want to increase your caloric intake further, starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and parsnips are a good choice.
9. Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 70% or more is very healthy, primarily because of the large amounts of antioxidants it contains. Some of the benefits associated with eating dark chocolate include improved brain function and a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease.
Because dark chocolate contains a lot of fat, it is high in calories; a 100 g bar has roughly 600 calories. It is also loaded with nutrients like iron, magnesium and manganese. Dark chocolate makes for a delicious snack to have whilst on the go.
Keep in mind that the chocolate we are talking about here is the low-sugar, bitter tasting kind. Milk and white chocolate are also calorie dense, but are nowhere near as healthy as high quality dark chocolate.
10. Protein supplements
Bodybuilders and athletes are big fans of protein supplements, with whey protein being the most popular option. It can be found in products marketed as mass gainers, which are designed for individuals who want to increase their calorie and protein intake. You simply combine a scoopful of the mass gainer with milk or juice and gulp it down after working out. Cereal bars made from whey protein and whole grains are also a good choice.
There are lots of companies out there that sell protein supplements. It is important to do your research before making a purchase, so as to ensure you are consuming a high quality product. Reading nutrition labels and reviews left by previous customers is a good idea.
How much food should you be eating?
To gain weight, you need to consume more calories than you burn. When you do, many of these calories will be used to build muscle, provided you lift weights or engage in some form of resistance training. Some of the calories will also be stored as fat. It is very important to exercise regularly when in a caloric surplus, otherwise most of the calories that you eat will just be stored as fat.
The average adult needs to eat between 2000 and 2500 calories to maintain his or her weight; to gain weight, 250 – 500 calories need to be added on top of this.
Because there are so many factors that come into play, calorie requirements will vary from person to person. You can use the tool below to calculate a fairly accurate estimate of the number of calories you should be consuming. Simply enter your details and then add between 250 and 500 calories to the “Maintain weight” number.
This calculator will never show a number below 1000 calories per day. Please speak to a qualified health professional before attempting to eat less than that.
For example, a 30 year old man who weighs 50 kg (110 lbs), is 170 cm tall and exercises 4 times a week will need to consume approximately 2200 calories to maintain his weight. To gain weight, he should aim to eat at least 2500 calories, whilst making sure he gets adequate quantities of each of the 3 macro-nutrients.
Once you have calculated your requirements, you can use an app like myfitnesspal to track your calorie and macro-nutrient intake. Over time you will quickly be able to tell how much of certain foods you should be eating.