How To Gain Weight Naturally
Do you or someone you know struggle to gain weight and muscle? (I do! Or, I did.) And that’s exactly why I’m writing to tell you How To Gain Weight Naturally.
Gaining weight can be just as hard as losing weight for people who have a fast metabolism, plant-based or gluten-free diet, or a busy lifestyle where you’re constantly moving from place to place, burning all of those hard-earned calories from your Superfood-packed smoothie bowl. Of course, there are many other factors that come into play when it comes to struggling to gain weight.
First things first, try to find the reason behind why you’re not gaining weight. Ask yourself these questions:
- Am I eating enough?
- Is my body getting enough nutrients? Protein? Carbs? Fat? (Good news, folks. Healthy fats are your friend! Not your enemy)
- Am I burning too many calories (too much cardio)? / Is my body getting the proper daily exercise?
- Am I getting enough rest and sleep?
- Is my diet inconsistent?
All of the above factors play an important role in gaining and maintaining weight. (Yes, even sleep! You’re body won’t function properly if it is in a stressed state.)
Every day you should be eating at-least your minimum in daily calorie intake. Becoming consistent with this is key to gaining weight. It will be a lot harder for a person eating 2500 calories one day and 1200 the next to gain weight as fast as someone who is consistently eating 2500 calories a day. (Remember: Gaining weight is not a race. Not everyone will gain or even lose weight at the same rate.) There are plenty of charts online to find out how many calories you need based on your current weight, height, age, and weight gain goals. Track your workouts and meals along with calories, carbs, fat, protein, sodium, and sugar with MyFitnessPal
I like to aim for three meals and two snacks every day. Breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, and then dinner.
It’s important that you set your goals to not only gain weight, but to also gain muscle, which takes both nutrients (such as protein, carbs, and fat) and exercise to grow. Resistance training, High Intensity Interval Training, and lifting can all help you to get lean muscle. It doesn’t have to all be about pumping iron at the gym, either. If you’re like me, that probably isn’t your style. I prefer at home workouts, using mainly body weight and resistance bands. Yoga is nice, too.
Eating the right amount of healthy foods is, in my opinion, the most effective way to gain healthy weight (so long as you’re also exercising so that the weight turns into muscle). Sitting on the couch all day eating a whole gluten-free pizza topped with scoops of fun-fetti ice-cream is NOT the way to go to build lean muscle. However, it is okay to eat “junk foods” in moderation and you should not guilt yourself over the occasional cupcake. In fact, I just ate two and I’m rather proud of it.
In general, Unsaturated fats are the ones you want to be eating, not saturated or trans fats.
Unsaturated fats are vital to a healthy diet, even helping to reduce the risk of heart disease and lowering cholesterol levels (which won’t be a problem anyway, if you’re following a plant-based diet). These are the kinds found in most nuts and seeds, oils, and fatty fish (omega 3’s).Meanwhile, saturated fats is linked to high cholesterol and increased risks of heart disease. These are mainly found in animal products and processed foods.
After you’ve identified the things you need to work on, it’s time to head to the grocery store to pick out healthy foods that will help you achieve your goals.
25 Healthy Foods To Gain Weight
Tip: Eat a diet rich in plant-based foods that are high in healthy fats and high in carbs.
- Potatoes : Although relatively low in calories, potatoes are fiber and carbohydrate-rich. One 5 oz. potato can pack in 26g of carbs into your diet! They are also cholesterol and sodium-free (as long as you don’t add a heaping mound of dairy butter on top. Try out the brand Smart Balance for vegan butter, my meat-eating parents have been using it for ages to cut back on cholesterol and it’s delicious). Fun fact: Did you know one potato has more Potassium than a banana? One medium-sized banana contains 422 mg of Potassium while one potato has 620 mg. Potatoes are also a great source of Vitamin C, B6, and Iron.
Meal Suggestions- Tired of regular baked potatoes? Switch it up and use sweet potatoes for a good source of beta-carotene. If cooking fries, be sure to use healthy oils (listed in the last section of this post) for added unsaturated fats.
- Fresh-Made Vegetable Juice/Smoothies : Are you a juice-craze fanatic? Well, you might be after you hear that not only is it delicious but it can help you reach your daily calorie-intake goals. Use leafy greens like Kale and Spinach for fiber, Omega 3’s, protein, and vitamins. Add bananas, berries, nuts & seed butters, oats, superfood blends, and the calorie counter and health meter keeps going up. (Note: Smoothies/juices have a lot of sugar due to their high fruit content, however these are natural sugars and bear no weight to their artificial counterparts. If you have to watch your sugar, measure out everything you add to your smoothie or juice.)
- Avocado : The star of all healthy fats. Avocado contains 20 different vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin K, C, E, B5, B6, Folate, and Potassium (yet again more than a banana contains). One of these bad boys has roughly 15 grams of healthy fats and 7 grams of fiber, amongst other things. It is thought that due to the Oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid that makes up olive oil, avocado’s may help reduce the risk of cancer.
Meal Suggestions: Try my amazing Loaded Guacamole
- Banana : Carbohydrate-rich, plus that thing about the Potassium (although there is better sources, which we’ve discussed above). One medium-sized banana contains around 110 calories along with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Add them to smoothies, cereal, slapped on peanut-butter toast, baked into bread or muffins, or by themselves. Fun Fact: More bananas are consumed in America than apples and oranges combined.
- Coconut : High in fiber, carbohydrates, and minerals. The nutritional value depends on whether you purchase coconut water, coconut milk, sweetened dried coconut, unsweetened dried coconut, etc. (Note: Sweetened dried coconut will have added sugars) *There is a lot of debate as to whether or not a coconut is a fruit or a nut, technically it is a drupe. A drupe is also referred to as a “stone fruit”, such as peaches and nectarines. However the FDA requires it be listed as a tree nut, since people who are allergic to tree nuts can’t have coconut either. For the purpose of this post, I am just including it under the “Fruits” section.*
- Olives : (Yes, they are fruits. I was surprised too.) Olives are high in monounsaturated fats, carbs, and water (making up 80% of the fruits). High in Vitamin E and antioxidants.
Meal Suggestions: Serve in salads, pasta salads, wraps, whip up some tapenade, or place on veggie pizza.
- Dried fruit : Dried fruits have less volume than fresh fruits, so you end up eating more calories than you would if you were to eat fresh (and also more sugar). They can supply your body with high levels of antioxidants, fiber, and calories. It is important to consume dried fruit, like all other things, in moderation.
Meal Suggestions: Carry around dried fruit to snack on throughout the day. Make your own granola by using toasted oats, nuts, and dried fruits. Additional add-ins could be shredded coconut, peanut-butter, dark chocolate, or yogurt chips.
- Gluten-Free Pasta : High in carbs, calories, and protein. Gluten-free pasta is made from a variety of different sources. There’s red lentil pasta, black bean pasta, pasta made from chickpeas, quinoa, brown rice, and more. This offers a great way to switch up your dishes all while receiving different nutrients than you do from regular pasta.
- Gluten-Free Bread : Just like with gluten-free pasta’s, there’s a wide variety of breads out in the market. Try an Ancient Grain blend for added nutrition. Bread offers a lot of carbs, calories, and even protein (from nuts, seeds, oats, etc.) Tip: Eating bread is good for gaining weight, but don’t eat too much or else you will become full very fast. It can also “bind you up” as my mother would say, and it all boils down to more sugar in the body. Too much bread can even raise your blood sugar levels. Plus, it’s also not nearly as nutrient-dense as most other carbs on this list.
- Granola : Great source of fiber, iron, protein, calories, and other nutrients. Granola makes an easy snack to carry with you in a purse or bag so that you can munch on it throughout the day. Tip: Make your own granola mix to avoid added sugars, preservatives, and toxins that come in the already packaged kind. Only add nutrient-dense nuts like almonds, walnuts, and cashews. Add dried fruits, coconut, yogurt/dark chocolate/peanut butter chips. Avoid adding candy.
- Protein Bars : A great source of…protein? Well, that was a given. However, there is much more to be had in a protein bar than just protein. What about all of the carbs, fiber, calories, fats, and vitamins? Tip: Stay away from protein/granola bars that have unnecessary additives. Instead, look for bars with only a few ingredients. I like Lara Bars (they are gluten-free and have very few ingredients). You can also make your own!
*Only eat protein/granola bars as a snack, not as a meal replacement.
- Oats : A breakfast staple. Oats contain more fats and and protein than most other grains. They also contain lots of carbs, fiber, and vitamins and minerals. Manganese, Phosphorous, Magnesium, Copper, Iron, and Zinc are some of the many minerals. Note: Oats are very filling, so it may make you full quicker and make reaching your daily calorie-intake harder. However, they make a great addition to a nutrient-packed smoothie.
- Rice : High amount of protein, carbohydrates, and minerals. Brown rice has more fiber than white and is generally the healthier option. Great, easy, and cheap addition to veggie stir-fry’s and most meals.
Legumes, Nuts, & Seeds:
- Nuts & Nut butters : Peanut, cashew, almond, hazelnut, and pecan butters are divine. Eating these in moderation is an excellent way to pack in more calories, protein, fiber, and carbs. Tip: Only buy organic nut butters that have a few ingredients. Otherwise you’ll be consuming a lot of saturated fats, sugars, and unnecessary ingredients. Of course, heart-healthy nuts make an excellent snack all on their own. In my opinion, nuts are one of the healthiest foods on the planet. So long as they aren’t coated in sugar or excess salt.
- Lentils : Lentils are a great source of plant-based protein (with about 12g from only 1/2 cup of cooked green lentils). They also have a good amount of fiber, carbs, folate, and iron.
- Beans (Chickpeas, Kidney beans, Black beans, Soybeans, Pinto Beans, Navy beans) : Beans are one of my go-to’s for protein, fiber, calories, and carbs. Some studies even suggest that beans may reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. They are also high in antioxidants, with colored beans (brown, red, black, etc) having more than white beans. (Cook time and method of cooking can lessen the amount of antioxidants) Tip: Add uncooked beans to salads for added nutrients. I find that uncooked black beans can take on the texture of feta cheese when put in salads.
- Tofu : Excellent source of plant-based protein along with iron, calcium, and minerals such as manganese, selenium, and phosphorous. It also contains eight essential amino acids. Tofu is incredibly versatile and can be seasoned with virtually anything, making it a great addition to any meal. It can be fried, baked, steamed, saute’d, or even grilled. Tip: Fry or saute in heart-healthy oils.
Meal Suggestions: Try my delicious Vegetarian Tofu Scramble | Black Bean & Spinach
- Quinoa : Quinoa has been around for 7,000 years and is known as an “Ancient grain”, although it is actually a seed. It is a complete protein, which means that Quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids. It is a great source of fiber, calories, carbs, protein, and vitamins. There are over 120 different varieties of quinoa but the main kinds in the supermarket are white, red, and black quinoa. Tip: Switch out rice for quinoa to change it up.
- Buckwheat : Unlike its name, buckwheat does not contain any form of wheat and is actually a gluten-free seed. It is high in protein and fiber along with amino acids, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. One cup of cooked buckwheat contains roughly 155 calories, 6g protein, 33g carbohydrates, 5g of fiber, and more.
*I was a vegan for 10 months, but then I discovered I had Celiac Disease and would also have to go Gluten-free. My restaurant and party food options became so limited that I decided I would only be gluten-free. However, I still do not consume any land animals or dairy milk so those will not be listed below. I believe that plant-based protein is the ultimate source of protein and that protein and cholesterol from dairy products and meats may cause increased risks of heart disease, cancer, etc. It is important to eat the following things in moderation.
- Dairy (Cheese, Yogurt, etc.) : High in calories, fats, protein, and carbs. Tip: Stay away from foods labelled “Light” or “Diet”, often the chemicals they put in the product to make up for the smaller number of calories or carbs are more harmful than if you were to have the full-calorie or fat version.
- Whole Eggs : A good source of protein, fat, and vitamins and minerals. Tip: Eat hard-boiled or poached eggs to reduce amount of oils. If frying, use one of the oils listed below.
- Fatty Fish (Salmon) : We all know and love salmon for its heart healthy omega 3 fatty acids, but did you know its also a great source of Selenium? A 3 oz. serving of Atlantic salmon gives you 50% of the daily value required for Selenium. This mineral is responsible for fighting off the aging process and boosting the immune system by lessening free radical damage.
Meal Suggestions: Try my Cauliflower Yukon Gold Potato Puree with Roasted Herb Tilapia
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil : Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties. It helps protect against strokes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Type 2 Diabetes, and Cancer. According to studies, olive oil also does not cause weight gain or obesity. Are you asking yourself, “Well, if it won’t help me to gain weight than why is it on this list?” Good question. I decided to put it in this list because if you’re trying to gain healthy weight, it won’t do you any good to be drenching your food into unhealthy saturated oils. This oil is a good healthy way to add some extra calories to your meals. Tip: Use extra virgin olive oil to saute veggies. Or add to a bowl with seasonings to dip bread into.
- Canola Oil : If you’re anything like me, you’re probably wondering why canola oil is on this list. Isn’t that stuff bad for you? Well, I thought so too, but after some research I’ve decided it is a good oil to keep around (of course, that doesn’t mean to overdo it). Canola oil’s high ratio of monounsaturated fats with Omega 3’s and 6’s at a 2:1 ratio make this one a keeper. It contains Vitamin E and K, and can even reduce cholesterol levels. Canola oil is a good “neutral” oil for frying things in (meaning that its taste is neutral enough to where it won’t affect the taste of your food).
- Coconut Oil (best for baking) : That’s right. We’ve already talked about coconuts but I thought it was essential that coconut oil be placed under this list for healthy oils. Coconut oil is thought to promote heart health and lower the risk of heart disease. It is high in saturated fats, however these are plant-based, and thought to increase the amount of healthy cholesterol (HDL) that exists naturally in your body while lowering LDL, the “bad” cholesterol that comes from animal products and manufactured foods.