- To gain weight, you need to eat more calories than you burn. Most people need 500 additional calories per day to reach their weight gain goal.
- A high-calorie, high-protein diet is recommended for weight gain because it helps you increase caloric intake and build lean muscle mass that may have been lost with unintentional weight loss.
- Practice eating five to six times per day, keep easy nutrient-dense foods on hand, and add high-calorie condiments to your meals and snacks.
There are many reasons you may need to gain weight, from cancer to a digestive disease to appetite loss. If your doctor has recommended you gain weight, a high-protein, high-calorie diet can help you reach your goals in a healthy way.
Continue reading to learn more about the best foods to gain weight and access our free 7-day weight gain meal plan.
Consider booking an online consultation with a Nourish registered dietitian for more support.
How Many Calories Should I Eat to Gain Weight?
In order to gain weight, you’ll need to eat more calories than you currently consume. Experts recommend increasing your intake by approximately 500 calories daily to achieve weight gain.
However, depending on your metabolism and medical history, you may need more or less calories than this to gain weight.
For example, if you are losing weight unintentionally, you may need to add more calories to first stabilize your weight, and then shift into weight gain. If you have a condition that increases your calorie needs, such as cancer, you may need more calories than usual to see your weight go up.
Talk to a registered dietitian about a weight gain meal plan and an appropriate calorie goal for you.
What to Eat to Gain Weight
High protein foods can come from animal or plant sources, including:
- Greek yogurt.
- Cottage cheese.
- Beans and lentils.
- Nuts and nut butter.
- Protein powder.
Because fat contains the most calories per gram compared to protein and carbohydrates, choosing full-fat foods will help you meet your calorie needs to gain weight.
Focus on healthy fats from plant-based sources when possible, like avocado, nuts, and olive oil. Try to avoid low-fat or fat-free foods, as these will be lower in calories.
Examples of high-calorie foods for your weight gain meal plan include:
- Full-fat dairy products.
- Nuts and seeds.
- Nut butter.
- Olive oil.
If you’re having a hard time meeting your nutritional needs to gain weight, you can supplement your diet to boost the calories and protein, including:
- Ready-to-drink nutrition shakes for weight gain.
- Protein powder (add to smoothies or use unflavored protein powder in meals).
- Fortified milk (mix powdered milk into cow’s milk to increase the calories and protein).
Highly Palatable Foods
If you struggle with appetite or nausea, you may find it difficult to gain weight because balanced meals might not sound appealing. While you don’t want the bulk of calories coming from sugar and saturated fat, it can be appropriate to temporarily increase your intake of highly palatable foods to help you meet your calorie needs.
This may look like cooking with more butter, drinking a milkshake a few times weekly, or adding bacon to a meal.
Meal Plan for Weight Gain
Our seven-day weight gain meal plan includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack options that are high in calories and protein to help you meet your goals.
Talk to a registered dietitian for individualized guidance on the appropriate portion sizes for you. The following plan is not intended to replace medical advice.
Yogurt parfait with full-fat Greek yogurt, granola, fruit, and nuts.
Sandwich on whole grain bread with sliced meat, cheese, mayo, mustard, avocado, lettuce, and tomato. Side of fruit.
Burrito bowls made with refried beans, brown rice, and ground beef. Top with salsa, cheese, guacamole, and sour cream.
Whole wheat toast with peanut butter and banana.
Hummus with toasted pita bread.
High-calorie smoothie made with whole milk, frozen banana, peanut butter, and chocolate protein powder.
Quesadilla made with cheese, shredded chicken, and mixed vegetables (such as zucchini, corn, mushrooms, onions, and peppers). Top with sour cream and guacamole.
Beef Stroganoff made with egg noodles, ground beef, mushrooms, and sour cream.
Full-fat cottage cheese with fruit.
Banana nut bread with butter.
Whole grain waffles with nut butter and maple syrup. Garnish with fresh fruits if desired.
Baked potato topped with butter, cheese, broccoli, and bacon.
Pesto pasta made with whole wheat noodles, pesto, chicken, asparagus, and parmesan cheese.
Avocado toast on whole wheat bread.
Cheese and crackers.
Oatmeal cooked in whole milk, topped with raisins, peanut butter, and brown sugar.
English muffin pizza (English muffin topped with pizza sauce and cheese prepared in the toaster oven; optional toppings of meat and veggies).
Chili with beans and ground beef, topped with cheese, avocado slices, and diced tomato.
Trail mix with nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and chocolate chips.
Greek yogurt with granola.
Protein bagel with cream cheese and lox (smoked salmon).
Greek pita (whole grain pita stuffed with hummus, feta cheese, peppers, cucumber, spinach, olives, and chicken).
Baked broccoli mac n cheese casserole with crispy bread crumb and parmesan cheese topping.
Bowl of whole wheat cereal with whole milk.
Peanut butter energy balls (peanut butter, dry oats, honey, and chocolate chips).
Omelet with vegetables, sausage, and cheese. Side of toast with butter.
Tuna salad sandwich on whole wheat bread with a side of carrot sticks and apples.
Red curry with chicken, broccoli, mushrooms, peppers, onions, red curry paste, and full-fat coconut milk. Serve over brown rice.
Chips with guacamole.
Protein pancakes with butter and maple syrup, side of fruit.
Grilled cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread with a cup of creamy tomato soup.
Avocado burgers on whole wheat bun (ground beef patty topped with avocado spread made with mashed avocado, mayo, lemon juice, garlic powder, and salt).
Banana with peanut butter.
Smoothie with fruit, full-fat yogurt, and whole milk (optional protein powder).
Tips for Meal Preparation
Eating frequently throughout the day is important to have enough opportunities to meet your calorie and protein needs. Experts advise eating five to six times per day, which can be a big change if you’re used to eating three times daily.
Consider setting alarms on your phone or enlisting a family member to remind you to eat throughout the day. Preparing snacks in advance or purchasing prepackaged snacks for easy access to nutrient-dense foods can be helpful.
When plating your meals, think about high-calorie condiments you can add, such as:
- Butter or olive oil.
- Peanut butter.
Try eating the high-protein and high-calorie foods off your plate first to avoid filling up on low-calorie foods like salad.
A high-calorie, high-protein diet can help you meet your weight gain goals. Focus on five to six small meals daily made up of nutrient-dense foods like nuts, avocados, olive oil, chicken, Greek yogurt, and whole grains.
You may find it easier to meet your calorie and protein needs with supplements like ready-to-drink nutrition shakes and protein powder.
Gain Weight With the Help of a Dietitian
A registered dietitian can help you with an appropriate weight gain meal plan based on your weight gain needs, medical history, and food preferences. Your dietitian can give you tips for managing common barriers to weight gain, including low appetite and digestive symptoms.
Book a convenient online consultation with a registered dietitian through Nourish for individualized weight gain support.
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