Doctors usually recommend gaining weight to people who consistently weigh too little, which can cause a range of health problems. Bodybuilders and other athletes may also hope to gain weight by building muscle.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States, the number of underweight adults aged 20 to 39 years in the country decreased from 3 percent to 1.9 percent between 1988 and 2008.
A person who is underweight is likely to experience health issues, including:
- developmental delays
- a weakened immune system
- an increased risk of complication during surgery
While gaining weight can be a struggle, the following foods may help. They can also increase muscle and boost overall health.
The following nutrient-rich foods can help a person to gain weight safely and effectively.
Milk offers a mix of fat, carbohydrates, and proteins.
The protein content of milk makes it a good choice for people trying to build muscle.
One study found that after a resistance training workout, drinking skim milk helped to build muscle more effectively than a soy-based product.
A similar study involving women in resistance training showed improved results in those who drank milk following a workout.
For anyone looking to gain weight, milk can be added to the diet throughout the day.
2. Protein shakes
Protein shakes can help a person to gain weight easily and efficiently. A shake is most effective at helping to build muscle if drunk shortly after a workout.
However, it is important to note that premade shakes often contain extra sugar and other additives that should be avoided. Check labels carefully.
A range of protein shakes is available for purchase in health food stores and online.
A cup of rice contains about 200 calories, and it is also a good source of carbohydrates, which contribute to weight gain. Many people find it easy to incorporate rice into meals containing proteins and vegetables.
4. Red meat
Consuming red meat has been shown to help with building muscle and gaining weight.
Steak contains both leucine and creatine, nutrients that play a significant role in boosting muscle mass. Steak and other red meats contain both protein and fat, which promote weight gain.
While a person is advised to limit their intake, leaner cuts of red meat are healthier for the heart than fattier cuts.
One study found that adding lean red meat to the diets of 100 women aged 60–90 helped them to gain weight and increase strength by 18 percent while undergoing resistance training.
5. Nuts and nut butter
Consuming nuts regularly can help a person to gain weight safely. Nuts are a great snack and can be added to many meals, including salads. Raw or dry roasted nuts have the most health benefits.
Nut butters made without added sugar or hydrogenated oils can also help. The only ingredient in these butters should be the nuts themselves.
A range of nut butters is available for purchase online.
6. Whole-grain breads
These breads contain complex carbohydrates, which can promote weight gain. Some also contain seeds, which provide added benefits.
7. Other starches
Starches help some of the foods already listed to boost muscle growth and weight gain. They add bulk to meals and boost the number of calories consumed.
Other foods rich in starches include:
- winter root vegetables
- sweet potatoes
- whole-grain cereals
- whole-grain breads
- cereal bars
Beyond adding calories, starches provide energy in the form of glucose. Glucose is stored in the body as glycogen. Research indicates that glycogen can improve performance and energy during exercise.
8. Protein supplements
Athletes looking to gain weight often use protein supplements to boost muscle mass, in combination with resistance training.
Protein supplements are available for purchase online. They may be an inexpensive way to consume more calories and gain weight.
Six ounces of salmon will contain about 240 calories, and salmon is also rich in healthy fats, making it a good choice for those looking to gain weight.
It also contains many nutrients, including omega-3 and protein.
10. Dried fruits
Dried fruits are rich in nutrients and calories, with one-quarter cup of dried cranberries containing around 130 calories.
Many people prefer dried pineapple, cherries, or apples. Dried fruit is widely available online, or a person can dry fresh fruit at home.
Avocados are rich in calories and fat, as well as some vitamins and minerals.
12. Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate is a high fat, high-calorie food. It also contains antioxidants.
A person looking to gain weight should select chocolate that has a cacao content of at least 70 percent. A range of dark chocolate is available for purchase online.
13. Cereal bars
Cereal bars can offer the vitamin and mineral content of cereal in a more convenient form.
A person should look for bars that contain whole grains, nuts, and fruits.
Avoid those that contain excessive amounts of sugar. A range of low-sugar cereal bars are available for purchase online.
14. Whole-grain cereals
Many cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals.
However, some contain a lot of sugar and few complex carbohydrates. These should be avoided.
Instead, select cereals that contain whole grains and nuts. These contain healthy levels of carbohydrates and calories, as well as nutrients such as fiber and antioxidants.
Eggs are a good source of protein, healthy fat, and other nutrients. Most nutrients are contained in the yolk.
16. Fats and oils
Oils, such as those derived from olives and avocados, contribute calories and heart-healthy unsaturated fats. A tablespoon of olive oil will contain about 120 calories.
Cheese is good source of fat, protein, calcium, and calories. A person looking to gain weight should select full-fat cheeses.
Full-fat yogurt can also provide protein and nutrients. Avoid flavored yogurts and those with lower fat contents, as they often contain added sugars.
A person may wish to flavor their yogurt with fruit or nuts.
Pasta can provide a calorically dense and carbohydrate-rich path to healthy weight gain.
Avoid bleached pastas, and opt for those made with whole grains.