When people talk about weight and health, the conversation usually focuses on losing weight, but there are many reasons a person might need to gain weight, too. Although it may seem like a much easier hill to climb, gaining weight is not as simple as you might think.

Regardless of why you need to put on some pounds, focusing on doing it safely is the key to remaining as healthy as possible. As always, speak to a doctor or registered nutrition professional before making any major changes to your diet.

Choose Nutrient-Rich Foods

Eat as many nutrient-rich foods as possible when trying to gain weight safely. While you can gain weight by eating fast food and drinking sugary soda, consuming food with little to no nutritional value will significantly affect your overall health.

Fill up on fruits and vegetables, eat plenty of dairy products, and go for whole grain pasta, bread, and cereal.

woman in sweater eating a healthy meal


Watch When You Drink

Drinking a glass of water before dinner is a common strategy for people who want to lose weight. It helps them feel full before sitting down to a meal and can work against you if gaining weight is your goal.

Instead, try slowly sipping water or a high-calorie beverage during meals, ensuring you maintain your appetite. Alternatively, you can wait until about 30 minutes after your meal to hydrate.

man having water with his meal


Choose Calorie-Dense Foods

Choose calorie-dense foods when possible to get the most out of every meal. Avoid foods labeled "low cal" or "diet," and opt for the regular versions instead.

Use full-fat or traditional cheeses, salad dressings, dips, and condiments, and add calorie-dense foods filled with healthy fats, like nuts, nut butters, oils, and fatty fish.

Woman stirring nut butter with a wooden spoon


Drink More Calories

Avoid diet sodas and flavored waters and stick with more calorie-dense drinks instead.

Try smoothies with whole milk and fresh fruit or protein-packed meal replacement shakes. Other options include sipping on 100% fruit juice with breakfast, adding heavy cream to your after-lunch coffee, or having a glass of chocolate milk as a treat after dinner.

woman making a protein smoothie in a blender


Treat Yourself Occasionally

Although you should choose more nutrient-dense foods, it is okay to treat yourself every once in a while when trying to gain weight, just as it is when trying to lose.

Be mindful of eating too much fat and sugar too often, but do not skip out on special treats, like birthday cake, holiday desserts, or an occasional ice cream cone just because.

woman enjoying a slice of birthday cake


Do Weight-Training Exercises

Exercise is great for losing weight, but did you know it can help you gain weight, too? Although it may seem counterproductive, exercising is essential for healthy weight gain, especially if you focus on strength training.

In addition to building muscle mass and increasing weight, exercise may also make you hungrier, so you're more likely to take in additional calories throughout the day.

slim woman doing sumo squats with a barbell


Eat Before and After Exercise

Eating properly before and after exercise is also important for safely gaining weight. Eat a big calorie- and nutritionally-dense meal about three hours before you plan to work out, then have a small snack about an hour before, like a smoothie or protein shake. Immediately before you exercise, eat or drink something with fast-acting carbs, like applesauce or a sports drink, to ensure you have enough fuel to get you through your workout.

How you eat after exercise is important, too. Your body needs to replenish the energy you burned and rebuild muscle tissue; it needs the right fuel to do that. Have a high-protein, high-carb snack, like whole grain toast with peanut butter or Greek yogurt with granola and fruit, right after your workout and a balanced meal within two hours for proper recovery.

woman eating a healthy meal with weights nearby


Eat More Frequently

Sometimes, people have difficulty gaining weight because they have a small appetite and fill up too quickly. In this case, the try eating smaller, more frequent meals.

Instead of only having breakfast, lunch, and dinner, aim for five or six smaller meals. Remember, choose nutrient- and calorie-dense foods and wait to drink until after you eat to ensure you get the most out of every bite.

woman having a healthy chia seed pudding snack


Add Extras

Add extra calories and nutrition wherever you can. There are many ways to bulk up what you eat to help you gain weight safely.

Top omelets and casseroles with shredded cheese, make oatmeal with milk instead of water, add a drizzle of olive oil to your salads, or sprinkle some protein powder into your soups.

adding a handful of cashews to a cold snack plate


Maintain a Slow and Steady Pace

Be realistic about your goals, and aim to gain slowly and steadily. Eating 500 extra calories a day translates to a weight gain of about one pound a week, which is a healthy goal.

Some people will gain weight more quickly than others. For example, someone naturally thin may have a more difficult time than someone trying to get back to their normal weight after an illness or injury. Stay away from anything that sounds too good to be true: weight gain supplements are unregulated and poorly studied, and they may not give you the results they promise.

woman standing on a bathroom scale


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This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.