Nutritional Health For All

Gaining Weight the Healthy Way

Do you need to gain weight?

If yes, then this factsheet will provide you with information on how to gain weight in a healthy way.

You might need to gain weight if:

  • You have been ill or in hospital and have lost weight.
  • You are an athlete and want to build strength and muscle to help your performance.
  • You are an older adult and have lost weight without trying to do so.
  • You are thin and want to look and feel better.

Putting on weight can be difficult. Aim to put weight on gradually. 1-2lbs (0.5-1kg) per week is a reasonable target. A food diary can help you to monitor what you are eating.

Remember to be realistic about your body type as your genes can play a part in your body shape so you might be thin but still healthy. If you make some changes to your diet you can gain some weight but you cannot change some things about your body shape or build.

Regular exercise is important to help build muscle, and protect against heart disease, osteoporosis and other conditions. Remember, if you exercise a lot then you will burn a lot of energy so you will need to eat more. Resistance training, such as walking, jogging and weights, can help you to build muscle. You may need to get advice on how to do this safely if you have been unwell or had surgery.

Tips for gaining weight:

It is better to choose foods that are rich in nutrients, rather than foods full of ‘empty’ calories like sugary drinks, sweets and crisps. ‘Empty calories’ provide energy but have very little other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals or protein.

  • Have a healthy balance of carbohydrate (cereals, pasta, potatoes, bread, rice), protein (meat, fish, chicken) and ‘good’ fats (oils, nuts, seeds) every day.
  • Do not skip meals. If you have a poor appetite, try to eat ‘little and often’ throughout the day. Drink fluids after meals so that you don’t feel full during your meal.
  • You can add extra calories and protein to your foods by:
  • Enjoy more snacks throughout the day to help you gain weight:
    •  making cereals such as porridge on milk instead of water
    • choosing milky drinks like hot chocolate or lattés.
    • adding honey, dried fruits, cheese, seeds, nuts and healthy oils like olive oil or rapeseed oil to foods
    • topping salads with healthy fats like olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds or olives
    • adding dried milk powder to soups, stews, mashed potato and milk puddings
    • wholegrain cereal with milk
    • fruit, nut and cereal bars
    • yoghurt or yoghurt drinks
    • dried fruit, nuts or trail mix
    • wholemeal scones
    • hummus with carrot, celery and peppers
    • peanut or other nut butters on wholemeal toast
    • fruit with yoghurt or frozen yoghurt
    • homemade milkshakes or smoothies

Steer clear of gimmicks and nutritional products that have no evidence behind them

There are a lot of products that promise ‘miraculous’ weight gain. In general, if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. If you are tempted to take or are taking some of these products, discuss with a dietitian or ask your doctor for advice. Skip expensive nutritional products and spend your money on good quality food for a balanced diet.

The advice contained here may not be suitable for everyone. If you are concerned about your weight, or have been losing weight without trying, then you should talk to your GP or dietitian for individualised nutritional advice.

Updated by Marcella Richardson MINDI and Carmel Quinn MINDI, May 2016

Review date: May 2019

© 2016 Irish Nutrition and Dietetics Institute, INDI. All rights reserved. May be reproduced in its entirety provided source is acknowledged. This information is not meant to replace advice from your medical doctor or individual counseling with a dietitian. It is intended for educational and informational purposes only.

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