Healthily gaining weight requires a strategic approach to nutrition. While exercise supports muscle growth, consuming enough calories is essential for supporting overall mass. For many, getting sufficient calories each day to drive weight gain can be challenging. Understanding which high-calorie foods to focus on makes it simpler to reach daily caloric goals.
Understanding Calorie Needs for Weight Gain
The first step in planning a high-calorie diet is determining your calorie needs. A calorie surplus is required for weight gain to occur. A good starting point is to consume an additional 300-500 calories per day above your maintenance level calories. However, some may need more or less based on factors like activity level, starting body weight, and genetics.
Aim to consume most of your calories from nutrient-dense whole foods. However, incorporating some higher-calorie packaged snacks and desserts in moderation can help increase total caloric intake. Focus on a balanced diet high in protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. This provides energy, supports muscle growth, and promotes overall health.
Best High-Calorie Foods for Weight Gain
Here are some of the top high-calorie foods to help maximize your calorie intake and promote weight gain:
Nuts and Nut Butter
Nuts like almonds, walnuts, pecans, and macadamia nuts all provide a big calorie punch in a small serving. Just 1 ounce of almonds delivers 164 calories. Nut butters are even more dense, with 188 calories in 2 tablespoons of almond butter. The healthy fats in nuts promote satiety and provide energy for your body.
Avocados have a creamy, rich texture and deliver 234 calories per 100 grams. They are full of monounsaturated oleic acid, an anti-inflammatory fat that supports overall health. The fiber and fat in avocados provide lasting energy and help satisfy hunger.
Drying concentrates the calories and sugars in fruit. For example, 100 grams of raisins contains 299 calories, while the same amount of grapes has only 69 calories. Dates, figs, and apricots are other dried fruits that deliver a calorie boost. Enjoy them on their own as a snack or add them to cereals, yogurt, and salads.
Opting for full-fat versions of milk, yogurt, and cheese provides significantly more calories than reduced-fat options. For example, 1 cup of whole milk has 146 calories, compared to 102 calories in 1 cup of 2% milk. Greek yogurt and cottage cheese are other full-fat dairy foods perfect for gaining weight.
This crunchy cereal is loaded with calories, providing nearly 500 calories per cup. Granola makes a great topping for yogurt, cereal, or salads. You can also enjoy it by itself for a high-calorie snack. Opt for granolas made with healthy fats like coconut, nuts, and seeds to drive up the calorie content.
Starchy carbohydrates like rice, pasta, potatoes, corn, and beans act as good calorie sources. Opting for versions that use olive oil or other fats during cooking increases the calorie density. For example, 1 cup of rice pilaf prepared with oil has about 200 calories versus just 174 calories in steamed rice.
Blending protein powder with milk, yogurt, nut butter, and frozen fruit makes a great high-calorie meal replacement. A 20-ounce smoothie can easily top 500-600 calories, depending on the ingredients used. They are portable and easy to consume for a big calorie intake.
Whole grains like oats, quinoa, farro, buckwheat, and brown rice pack more nutrients and fiber than refined grains. They also tend to be higher in calories and protein. For instance, 1 cup of cooked oatmeal has approximately 300 calories versus just 140 calories in a slice of white bread.
Olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, and avocados supply essential fats that provide 9 calories per gram. Incorporating more healthy fat sources like olive oil in cooking, snacking on nuts, and adding chia seeds to yogurt bolsters calories.
Beef, pork, and lamb offer high-quality protein for supporting muscle growth. They also contain more calories than chicken or fish. For example, a 6-ounce broiled sirloin steak has nearly double the calories of a 6-ounce broiled chicken breast.
This portable fruit contains lots of easy-to-digest carbs and calories. A medium banana has about 105 calories and provides a quick energy boost at any time of day. They also offer potassium, magnesium, and vitamin B6.
Dried Fruit and Nut Trail Mix
Trail mixes made with dried fruit, nuts, seeds, coconut, and dark chocolate deliver a tasty, high-calorie crunch. Make your own using your favorite combinations. Just 1⁄4 cup can provide over 200 calories.
While baked potatoes are high in nutrients, calorie-dense potato sides and snacks lead to bigger weight gain. Try items like Jojo potatoes, tater tots, potato skins, fries, and hash browns. Just be mindful of toppings like cheese, bacon, and sour cream which can add lots of saturated fat.
Important Considerations for Weight Gain
Here are some key points to keep in mind when trying to gain weight with a high-calorie diet:
- Focus on calorie quality over quantity. Emphasize whole, minimally processed foods like fruits, veggies, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats in proper portions.
- Increase calories slowly over time. Aim for a modest calorie surplus of 300-500 calories per day above your needs and adjust as needed.
- Drink calorie-rich fluids. Milk, juice, smoothies, sports drinks, sweetened coffee drinks, and soup all provide fluid calories.
- Time your larger meals. Consuming most calories later in the day so that you are fuller may make it easier to get in more calories overall.
- Exercise and strength training. Activity helps build and preserve lean muscle mass as you gain weight.
- Get enough protein. Aim for 0.5-1.0 grams of protein per pound of body weight to support muscle growth.
- Allow 3-6 months for measurable results. Healthy weight gain takes time. Persist with a slight surplus and proper training for the best outcomes long-term.
Sample High-Calorie Meal Plan
Here is a sample high-calorie meal plan providing around 3,000 calories to support weight gain:
- 2 cups granola cereal with 1 cup whole milk
- 1 banana
- 2 tablespoons peanut butter
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
- 1 ounce mixed nuts
- 1 string cheese
- Turkey, avocado, and cheese sandwich on whole-grain bread
- Baked potato with 1 tablespoon sour cream
- 1 cup vegetable sticks with 2 tablespoons hummus
- 1 cup trail mix
- 1 cup chocolate milk
- 6 ounces salmon
- 1 cup brown rice
- 1 cup roasted Brussels sprouts
- 1 whole avocado
- 1 slice chocolate cake with frosting
- 1⁄2 cup ice cream
Frequently Asked Questions About Weight Gain
Here are answers to some common questions about strategically gaining weight:
How many calories do I need to gain weight?
Aim for a calorie surplus of 300-500 calories per day above your maintenance needs for steady weight gain. Those with fast metabolisms or high activity levels may require even more calories.
What is the healthiest way to gain weight?
Focus on getting calories from whole, nutrient-dense foods like lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. Limit processed items high in sugar, sodium, and unhealthy fats.
How can I gain weight in a week?
Gaining weight healthily requires persistence over months. However, eating at a significant caloric surplus of 500-1,000 calories over your needs daily can potentially lead to a faster initial weight gain of a few pounds.
Will I gain only fat if I increase my calories?
No. Following a program of resistance training and protein intake along with a calorie surplus will allow you to build muscle as well as fat mass. The goal is to maximize muscle gains.
How can I gain weight without gaining belly fat?
There is no way to control where the body stores fat. However, building muscle through full-body strength training can help improve your shape as you gain weight. Some fat gain is inevitable though.
What are easy ways to add calories?
Drinking your calories through smoothies and juices, adding calorie-dense toppings like olive oil and cheese to meals, and choosing higher-calorie versions of your favorite snacks are simple ways to pack in more calories.
Putting On Pounds the Healthy Way
Gaining weight comes down to consuming more calories than your body needs each day. However, the quality of those calories plays a big role in your overall health and body composition. Focus on getting sufficient protein, healthy fats, fruits, and vegetables along with some higher-calorie snacks you enjoy. This nourishes your body and supports muscle growth as you gain weight. Pair your diet with regular strength training and allow enough time for measurable weight gain to occur.