How to Gain Weight Fast: A Comprehensive Guide
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Gaining weight is important for people who experienced unintended weight loss or are underweight.
Other people consider themselves skinny and desire to gain weight to bulk up or perform better at a sport.
However, a poor appetite, a busy lifestyle, or fast metabolism, among other factors, can make gaining weight challenging and overwhelming.
This article provides you with tactical advice to gain weight fast, explaining what to eat, the importance of exercise, and which supplements are helpful for your weight gain journey.
Calorie surplus for weight gain
Your weight is based on the relationship between calorie intake and output.
Calorie or energy intake is the total daily number of calories you get from food and beverages.
Calorie or energy output is the total daily number of calories you burn or expend, but it’s a bit more complicated.
There are three components that comprise calorie output (1):
- Resting energy expenditure (REE): The number of calories you burn at rest. REE is the largest component of calorie output, comprising 60–70%.
- Thermic effect of food (TEF): The number of calories your body uses to digest and process food. Protein requires the most calories followed by carbs and then fats.
- Activity energy expenditure (AEE): The number of calories you use during intentional exercise and unintentional exercise activities like yard work or fidgeting.
To gain weight, the number of calories you consume (calorie intake) must consistently be greater than the number of calories you expend (calorie output).
This is known as a calorie surplus.
A calorie surplus is the opposite of a calorie deficit — which is necessary for weight loss.
A calorie surplus between 200 and 500 calories is best for weight gain.
For fast weight gain, aim for the higher end of this range.
A 200–500 calorie surplus should allow you to gain 0.25% to 0.5% of your body weight each week, or 0.4 to 0.8 pounds (0.2 to 0.4 kg) per week for a 150-pound (68-kg) person.
You don’t necessarily need to track your calories but it can be helpful if you aren’t seeing results or are gaining weight too rapidly.
As you gain weight, you will need more calories to continue gaining so increase your calories by 100–200 every month until you reach your goal weight.
Aim to increase your calories by 200 to 500 calories daily to promote a healthy rate of weight gain.
Foods for weight gain
There is no best food for weight gain but some are better than others.
Foods high in fat are great for weight gain since fat provides more than double the calories of protein or carbs, making it easier to get more calories.
While fine on occasion, you shouldn’t fill up on unhealthy fatty foods like donuts, chips, and processed meats like bacon.
These foods can make you gain weight but you’re more likely to sacrifice your health if you eat too much of them too frequently.
Instead, incorporate more healthy high-fat foods to gain weight, such as avocados, whole eggs, nuts and nut butter, seeds, fatty fish like salmon or mackerel, olive oil, and whole-fat dairy products.
Carbs are also good for weight gain.
Good carb sources for weight gain include bread, pasta, rice, oats, legumes, high-calorie vegetables like potatoes and beans, and fruits, especially higher-calorie fruits like dates, coconut, dried fruit, and bananas.
While low in calories, you should still aim to include nonstarchy vegetables in your diet like leafy greens, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, and carrots since they’re packed with essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Finally, don’t forget about protein.
Good sources include poultry, seafood, meats like beef and pork, and dairy products, including milk, cottage cheese, and Greek yogurt.
Limit processed meats like lunch meat, hot dogs, ham, sausages, and pepperoni.
Legumes including beans, peas, and lentils are rich in carbs but they are also excellent plant-based protein sources.
If you struggle with a poor appetite or have high-calorie needs, weight gain shakes and smoothies are an efficient and effective way to boost your calories.
Healthy fats like nuts, seeds, fatty fish, olive oil, and avocados are calorie-dense, making them great for weight gain. Good carb sources for weight gain include bread, rice, pasta, oatmeal, and potatoes, while minimally processed poultry, seafood, and meats are good proteins for weight gain.
Weight gain meal plan
Meal planning and prepping are key elements of a good weight gain plan.
Planning your meals for the week and prepping or batch-cooking certain foods in advance saves you time and makes it easier to consistently consume enough calories each day to gain weight at a healthy rate.
Here are some high-calorie breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack ideas with vegan options to get you started.
If you need more ideas, check out this 7-day weight gain meal plan or this list of 9 high-calorie meals.
High-calorie breakfast ideas
Here are three high-calorie breakfast ideas, ranging between 500 and 900 calories.
Yogurt and granola bowl with berries (530 calories):
- In a bowl, combine 1 cup of Greek yogurt with 1/2 cup of granola. Top with one cup of mixed fresh berries and drizzle with 1 tbsp of honey.
Peanut butter banana toast (645 calories):
- Toast 2 slices of whole-grain bread. Spread toast with 2 tbsp of peanut butter and top with banana slices. Enjoy with a glass of whole milk.
Vegan peanut butter chocolate proats (860 calories):
- Mix one scoop of chocolate pea protein powder with one cup of soy milk. Pour over one-and-a-half cups of quick oats and microwave for 2 minutes. Stir in 2 tbsp of peanut butter.
High-calorie lunch ideas
Here are three high-calorie lunch ideas, ranging between 700 and 900 calories.
Steak and avocado salad (740 calories):
- Grill a 6-ounce sirloin and then slice thinly. Top it on a bed of mixed greens, sliced avocado (1/2), cherry tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese balls. Drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette.
Grilled chicken sandwich (780 calories):
- Grill a 6-ounce chicken breast. Slice and top on a whole-grain bun with lettuce, tomato, and a slice of cheese. Drizzle with honey mustard. Serve with 1/2 cup of baked beans and 1/2 cup of cole slaw.
Vegan lentil and vegetable stir-fry (880 calories):
- Stir-fry one cup of lentils with mixed vegetables (bell peppers, onions, and broccoli) in 2 tbsp of olive oil. Serve with two cups of rice.
High-calorie dinner ideas
Here are three high-calorie dinner ideas, ranging between 800 and 1,100 calories.
Baked salmon with quinoa and sauteed green beans (840 calories):
- Bake 6 ounces of salmon fillet with lemon and herbs. Serve with one cup of cooked quinoa and one cup of green beans sauteed in 2 tbsp olive oil.
Vegan burrito bowl (900 calories):
- Combine two cups of brown rice, one cup of black beans, 1 sliced avocado, and 1/2 cup of pico de gallo.
Shrimp alfredo pasta (1,100 calories):
- Cook 4 ounces of linguine. Set aside. In a pan, saute 6 ounces of shrimp in butter until cooked through. Pour in 1/2 jar of alfredo sauce and heat until warm. Toss in cooked pasta and top with grated parmesan cheese.
High-calorie snack ideas
Here are 10 high-calorie snack ideas, each with at least 300 calories:
- apple slices with peanut butter
- high-calorie protein bar
- peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole grain bread
- hummus and pita bread
- avocado toast on whole-grain bread
- trail mix with nuts, seeds, and dried fruit
- high-calorie protein shake
- Greek yogurt with walnuts
- Cottage cheese topped with fruit and almonds
- peanut butter and banana wrap
Use this list of high-calorie meal and snack ideas to get you started on your weight gain journey.
Exercise for weight gain
Exercise, specifically resistance training or weight lifting, is important when you’re trying to gain weight.
This is because weight lifting — in combination with a calorie surplus — encourages more weight gain in the form of muscle rather than body fat.
If you eat in a calorie surplus but don’t exercise, most, if not all, of the weight you gain will come from fat.
Gaining mostly fat is fine if you are underweight or have recently lost weight and need to reach a healthy body weight, but for others who want to bulk up and gain muscle, weight lifting is essential.
There isn’t necessarily a best exercise for weight gain, but it’s best to exercise all major muscle groups at least 2–3 times per week.
The major muscle groups include your shoulders, back, arms, core, legs, and back.
Complete an exercise that targets each of the major muscle groups 3–4 times using a weight at which you can perform 8–12 repetitions.
The weight should be heavy enough so that you struggle but can still complete the final two repetitions.
If you can complete 8–12 repetitions comfortably, increase the weight.
Increasing the weight is necessary to progress. You can also vary the number of repetitions or sets you perform.
It’s best to have access to a gym so you can use both machines and dumbbells, but you can still perform some exercises at home like body weight squats or curling gallon milk jugs.
Resistance bands are also versatile and useful if you don’t have access to a gym to resistance train.
Exercise, specifically weight lifting, in combination with a calorie surplus encourages more weight gain in the form of muscle rather than body fat.
Supplements for weight gain
Supplements aren’t essential for weight gain but they can be a cost-effective and efficient way to boost your calories and maintain a calorie surplus.
Here are the best supplements for weight gain:
High-calorie protein powders
Protein powders are concentrated sources of protein, usually from milk in the form of whey but also from plant-based sources.
Most protein powders provide around 150 calories per serving so they’re not the best choice for gaining weight, especially compared with weight gainer supplements.
However, there are higher-calorie protein powders that can still be good for weight gain.
These protein powders provide 200 calories or more per serving:
- Muscle Milk Genuine Protein Powder
- Body Fortress Super Advanced Whey Protein
- BSN Syntha-6 Protein Powder
- MET-Rx Metamyosyn Protein Plus
- Orgain Sport Plant-Based Protein
For more calories, blend one of these protein powders with other high-calorie foods like whole-fat milk, Greek yogurt, fruit, peanut butter, and oats.
High-calorie meal replacement shakes
While commonly marketed for weight loss, meal replacement shakes can be useful if you drink them as a snack between meals rather than use them to replace your meals.
This is because meal replacements provide fewer calories than what your meals should consist of for weight gain.
There is no standardized definition for meal replacement shakes but they usually provide a balanced ratio of protein, carbs, and fats, similar to what a typical meal would provide.
Here are a few good high-calorie meal replacements for weight gain:
A few of these products like Ensure and Boost provide a significant amount of added sugars, which in excess, can cause health problems like fatty liver disease and insulin resistance, a hallmark of diabetes.
However, assuming you don’t rely on them heavily and limit your added sugar content from other foods, they’re OK.
Plus, for many people who need to gain weight, especially older adults, the benefits of consuming the excess calories from added sugars to gain weight likely outweigh the downsides and potential consequences of malnutrition and unintended weight loss.
Weight or mass gainer supplements
Unlike traditional protein supplements, weight gainers are loaded with calories, usually providing 500 calories per serving on the lower end and up to 2,000 calories on the higher end.
They provide most calories from carbohydrates but they still provide a significant amount of protein.
Due to their high-calorie content, you can use them to replace meals when it’s convenient or to change things up.
Weight gainer supplements are also cost-effective considering they provide a significant number of calories for around $4 to $6 per serving.
Here are some of the best weight gainer supplements:
- Dymatize Super Mass Gainer
- MuscleTech MassTech Extreme 2000
- Optimum Nutrition Serious Mass
- Rival Nutrition Clean Gainer
- Vegan Naked Mass
Creatine is naturally produced in the body from amino acids — the building blocks of protein.
It’s also naturally found in poultry, seafood, and beef.
Creatine provides very few calories but it can help you gain weight when taken as a supplement.
The amount of weight gain varies, but one study found participants gained anywhere from 1 to 8.6 pounds (0.47 to 3.92 kg) after 30 days of supplementing with creatine and weight training (2).
Most of this weight gain is due to fluid retention but the long-term weight gain from creatine supplementation when combined with weight training comes from gains in muscle mass.
Beyond its benefits for increasing muscle size and strength, creatine is also beneficial for other aspects of health including healthy aging, cognitive function, and mood (3, 4).
Creatine is proven safe for nearly everyone, from teens to older adults (5).
There are many forms of creatine like HCL but the best form is monohydrate (6).
Creatine monohydrate is the form that most — if not all — studies have used to demonstrate its benefits for muscle growth and health effects.
Here are some reputable creatine monohydrate products:
You can supplement creatine by taking 20–25 grams daily for 5–7 days followed by a maintenance dose of 3–5 grams daily thereafter.
This strategy is more likely to cause rapid weight gain.
Alternatively, you can skip the first part and take the 3–5-gram maintenance dose.
Both strategies are effective but it takes 3–4 times longer to experience creatine’s benefits with the latter.
While creatine is found naturally in animal products, most creatine supplements are vegan-friendly (7).
High-calorie protein powders, meal replacements, weight gainers, and creatine are the most useful supplements for weight gain.
The bottom line
Gaining weight requires that you consistently consume more calories than you burn or expend.
Increase your calories by 200–500 daily to promote a healthy rate of weight gain.
The best foods for weight gain include healthy sources of fat, carb-rich foods including bread, pasta, oatmeal, potatoes, and fruit, and minimally processed proteins like chicken, seafood, beef, and legumes.
Weight train at least 2–3 times weekly, hitting every major muscle group, to promote more gains in muscle rather than fat.
While not needed, many supplements including high-calorie protein powders and weight gainer supplements offer a convenient and cost-effective way to boost your calories.