While half the world is on a weight loss mission, some a re desperate to put on some pounds. Your build is largely driven by your genes, so if you are skinny, it can be a tad difficult to change your body frame. You may also have a high basal metabolic rate, which is keeping you thin. The metabolic rate goes down naturally with age. But you don’t have to wait that long! You can put on weight and modify your build to some extent by making some well-planned and consistent changes to your life.
1. Check If Your BMI Is Below 18.5
First things first! Check your body mass index (BMI) to find out if you really are underweight. That’s a figure you arrive at by dividing your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in meters. A BMI in the range of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal while a figure below 18.5 is considered to be underweight.1 Do keep in mind that it takes time to build lean body weight and that weight gain, much like weight loss, requires patience and consistency. And if you are not underweight but want to stop looking skinny, focus on building muscles rather than flab.
Remember, it’s important to talk to your doctor first to ensure that any measures you take to gain weight are not detrimental in your individual case.2 You should also rule out any underlying health problem that’s stopping you from gaining weight. More on that later.
2. Eat 300–500 Calories Extra Every Day
Eat more! Gaining weight is also about balancing your calorie intake and what you burn every day. As a rule of thumb, you should consume more calories than your body burns every day. Get the help of a nutritionist to figure out how much you should be eating, or simply up your intake by around 300 to 500 calories a day. If you do this consistently, you should see the numbers on the scale slowly move up.3
Writing down meal plans can help you consistently up your calorie intake. You can have 3 full meals a day and snack in between, increasing your serves slightly so you eat more. Alternatively, if you have a small appetite, it might help to plan for more frequent, smaller meals. You could eat 5 to 6 times a day instead.
Keep track of your calorie intake and training schedule in a diary. Counting calories may even reveal that your intake is lower than you thought. Also, use a timer to remind yourself of meal times – don’t wait till you’re hungry.
Eat Right! A healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables is important for anyone. While you shouldn’t lose sight of that, increasing your weight is also about eating the right foods that fill you up and add nutrient-rich calories. Specifically, here are the food groups you must focus on and those you should avoid.
3. Eat More Unsaturated Fats
In order to gain weight, you need to take in more calories than your body uses up. An easy way to do that is to make sure you take in enough fats. Fats are the most calorie-dense foods, with 1 gram of fat giving you 9 calories.6 According to experts, around 25–35 percent of the calories you eat in a day should come from fats.7 However, do keep in mind that all fats are not equal. Some fats can raise your LDL or bad cholesterol, which can up your risk for heart disease and stroke.
Eat Monounsaturated And Polyunsaturated Fats
Unsaturated fats can be good for you when consumed as part of a balanced diet. They can be included as monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. These fats help reduce bad cholesterol levels and provide beneficial nutrients like vitamin E. Polyunsaturated fats also provide essential fats that your body needs but cannot produce, such as omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.
Limit Saturated Fats
Saturated fats: mostly from animal sources like lamb, beef, tallow, poultry with skin, pork, cream, lard, cheese, butter, dairy products made from whole or 2 percent milk, plant oils like coconut oil and palm oil, store-bought fried and baked foods8
Saturated fat raises your level of bad cholesterol. One easy way of recognizing saturated fats is that they tend to be solid at room temperature. According to the American Heart Association, the amount of saturated fat in your diet ideally shouldn’t exceed 5–6 percent of the total calories consumed in a day. So if you consume around 2000 calories per day, that translates to around 11–13 grams of saturated fat.
Avoid Trans Fat
Trans fats: foods like microwave popcorn, margarine, fried foods like fried chicken and doughnuts, and packaged cakes, crackers, and cookies. Check for “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils in the ingredient list.
You should consume as little of trans fats as possible as they can be quite harmful to your health. Even if they help you gain weight, it’s weight gain of the wrong, not to mention dangerous, kind!
3. Eat Nutrient-Rich Carbs
Increasing your carbohydrate intake can help you put on weight. One gram of carbohydrate will give you 4 calories. About 45–65 percent of the total calories that you consume in a day should come from carbohydrates.9 Even as you up your carb intake, make sure that you eat healthy carbs which provide not just energy but also important nutrients like vitamins and minerals.
Choose whole grains where possible. Brown rice, oats, and whole wheat bread can be included in your diet to give you a healthy dose of carbs. Fruits like mangoes, bananas, oranges, apples, and starchy vegetables like potatoes, peas, or corn, and dairy products like yogurt and milk with their naturally occurring carbs should also feature on your list.
Making a few simple changes to your daily diet can up your calorie intake. For instance,
- If you have oatmeal for breakfast, prepare it with milk instead of water and add powdered milk, nuts, dried fruits, or honey to it after cooking.
- Garnish a calorie-light salad with avocados, sunflower seeds, or nuts and use a healthy fat like olive oil for dressing.
- You can also use a couple of tablespoons of powdered milk to increase the calorie count of casseroles, soups, mashed potatoes, and even liquid milk.
- Drink water before and after your meal rather than with your food so that you have room for your meal.10
4. Balance Your Proteins
Protein snack idea
- Avocado chicken salad with Greek yogurt and cottage cheese
- Black bean hummus on wholegrain bread
- Honey-yogurt-blueberries-almonds frozen mix
- Banana chia pudding
- Flaxseed cookies
Including a large amount of protein in your diet is not necessary for muscle growth. In fact, it can put unnecessary pressure on your kidneys. On the other hand, don’t cut down on the proteins either. Research has shown that additional protein intake can help with muscle-enhancement efforts.11 The Institute of Medicine recommends a daily intake of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. You should get about 10–35 percent of your calories from proteins.12 Also, start having a small protein snack before and after each strength training session to help promote muscle growth.13
Foods high in protein: You could source your protein from a range of foods such as beans, eggs, legumes, nuts, poultry, tofu, and low-fat or non-fat dairy products.
5. Limit Added Sugars
Sugar that has been added to food products is known as added sugars. While these are high in calories, they are empty of nutrients. So try to keep the added sugars in your diet to less than 10 percent of your calorie intake per day.
How about sugars from fruits – are they harmful or beneficial? Fruits contain natural sugars but they also come packaged with fiber. This takes longer to digest, making fruit sugar absorption a slower process. Your blood sugar levels rise gradually, unlike the sugar spike brought about by foods with added sugar. Fruit juice is not quite the same since it does not contain fiber and the sugars are quickly absorbed, making your blood sugar shoot up rapidly. This is a scenario you want to avoid while trying to put on weight steadily.14
Foods high in added sugars: Foods like energy drinks, sodas, sports drinks, cakes, doughnuts, cookies, and ice cream are generally high in added sugars and must be avoided. Check the ingredient list to figure out if a food is high in added sugar. It can appear as corn syrup, fructose, dextrose, maltose, sucrose, molasses etc. And remember, the higher it is on the list, the greater it is in quantity.15
6. Practice Strength Training To Build Muscle
Wondering if you should lay off exercise completely so you don’t lose any more weight? The answer is no. True, if you’re trying to gain weight, doing cardio exercises like swimming or running may be counterproductive. Aerobic exercise or cardio burns a high number of calories and might negate that extra food intake. On the other hand, if you lift weights, your body will build muscle and the extra calories you consume will go toward these muscles rather than fat. That means you go from skinny to muscular rather than chubby.
You can use weight machines, free weights, resistance bands, or your own weight to train. It’s important to start slow when you strength train. A beginner’s training program generally involves 8 or 10 exercises that work out the main muscle groups done 2 to 3 times a week. You may want to start off with one set of each exercise consisting of about 8 repetitions. You can then gradually increase to 2 to 3 sets for each exercise, with each set consisting of 8 to 12 repetitions.16
Here are a few tips to follow while strength training:
Warm Up And Cool Down
A simple warm-up exercise that can work the muscles in your legs and your hamstrings is the lunge.
Before starting strength training exercises, make sure you warm up. Start off with a light aerobic exercise like cycling or walking for around 5 minutes and do a few dynamic stretches too. A dynamic stretch involves making controlled slow movements.17
Also, make sure that you wind down with less intense activity as you end your exercise session.18
Stabilize Your Core
Exercises that stabilize your core can give you a solid foundation for strength training exercises and are a great way to start off your routine.
- Close your pelvic floor with a muscle movement similar to stopping urine flow.
- While doing step 1 tighten your lower abs as though you’re preparing to be punched in the abdomen.19
Choose Compound Exercises
Doing compound exercises can work many major muscle groups at one go. The squat is a simple compound exercise that you can try. It is often referred to as the “king of exercises” since it works every part of your body if performed correctly, from the feet to your fingertips. Don’t expect to do a perfect squat from day 1 – it is something you’ll perfect with time.20
Rest Your Muscles
Your muscles need time to repair and grow after your workout. It’s a good idea to rest a muscle group for about 48 hours before working it again.21 Ideally, you should have about 3 full body workout sessions in a week.
Work On Opposites
Once you exercise muscles on one side of a joint, make sure you exercise muscles on the other side. For example, if you exercise your biceps, which bends your elbow, follow it up with exercising your triceps, which straightens your elbow. This is helpful in maintaining balance and preventing injury.22
Vary Your Routine
Varying your routine will help you move past a plateau. You can persuade your muscles to grow by exposing them to a range of stressors. Variations can include an increase in the number of times you repeat an exercise, an increase in the length of time you workout, cross-training with activities like running or swimming, etc. Changing your routine every 4 to 8 weeks can be helpful.23
Learn From A Professional
It’s important to learn the right exercise technique as improper techniques can result in injuries. So make sure you start off with a professional trainer who understands your weight goals.24
7. Check If A Health Problem Is Keeping You Underweight
Being underweight or losing weight in spite of all your effort could be a sign that something else is going on in your body. Certain health problems can cause weight loss, including:
- Overtreatment of an underactive thyroid
- Undiagnosed diabetes
- Addison’s disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Celiac disease
- Stomach ulcers
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Tuberculosis (TB)
- Mouth ulcers
Watch for symptoms and consult a doctor if you suspect any of these may be associated with your weight.
|↑1||Assessing Your Weight. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑2, ↑10, ↑13||Weight and muscle gain. Department of Health & Human Services.|
|↑3||Diet Tips for Gaining Weight. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑4||Monounsaturated Fats. American Heart Association.|
|↑5||Polyunsaturated Fats. American Heart Association.|
|↑6||Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats. MSD Manual.|
|↑7||Fats. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.|
|↑8||Saturated Fats. American Heart Association.|
|↑9||Carbohydrate Counting & Diabetes. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑11||Bosse, John D., and Brian M. Dixon. “Dietary protein to maximize resistance training: a review and examination of protein spread and change theories.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 9, no. 1 (2012): 42.|
|↑12||Protein. Harvard School of Public Health.|
|↑14||Natural and Added Sugars: Two Sides of the Same Coin. Science in the News (SITN).|
|↑15||Carbohydrates. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.|
|↑16, ↑17, ↑21, ↑23||Resistance training – health benefits. Department of Health & Human Services.|
|↑18, ↑24||Strength Training. The Nemours Foundation.|
|↑19, ↑22||Resistance Exercises for Health and Function. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.|
|↑20||Clover, John. Fit By Nature: The AdventX Twelve-Week Outdoor Fitness Program. The Mountaineers Books, 2011.|
|↑25||Unintentional weight loss. National Health Service.|