Most people you know are probably struggling more with losing weight than gaining it. But if you’re among the 1.4 percent of American adults aged 20 and over who are underweight, you’ll want to pay attention. You could be dealing with a high metabolism or fighting an unknown underlying problem that’s keeping you from gaining weight.1 Here are some tips on how to gain weight in a fast yet healthy manner.
Why Gain Weight And What Your Metabolism’s Got To Do With It
Anyone with a body mass index (BMI) of below 18.5 is considered underweight.2 While being overweight has its own health risks –- like increased chances of heart attack, stroke, or metabolic syndrome – being underweight is not without its problems. Not being able to hold enough pounds can weaken your immune system, leave you feeling constantly tired, and cause your bones to become fragile, putting you at risk of osteoporosis.3
If you’re underweight, you may have a high metabolism. High or fast metabolism refers to a high basal metabolic rate (BMR). Your metabolic rate tells you how many calories your body burns to keep you breathing, your blood circulating, and your body temperature properly regulated. In essence, it’s the minimal energy requirement for your body just to function. When you burn a higher than average amount of calories in this state, you have a high BMR.4 If you’re dealing with a fast metabolism, keep reading to find out the healthiest ways to pack on the pounds.
1. Eat More Than You Burn
Of course, food plays a vital role in weight gain. And just like how people trying to lose weight must be careful about what they eat, so should you. 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.5
2. Eat More Often
If you’re finding it hard to chow down more calories at each meal, try breaking them down into multiple snacks and meals. This will make it easier to consume those extra calories without making yourself feel sick. Aim to have three meals and three snacks a day if you can.6
3. Don’t Binge On Unhealthy Food
Yes, donuts, sweets, sodas and fried or fatty foods may help you gain weight, but it will ultimately be unhealthy weight. This will do you far more harm than good. If you gain fat rather than lean body mass you could end up with a cholesterol problem. And those sweets and candy can cause tooth decay, among other larger issues. Aim to have a balanced diet loaded with fresh vegetables and fruit, healthy lean protein, beans, fiber, and fluids, as well as more energy-dense foods.7
4. Have Energy-Dense Foods
High-energy foods that pack a lot of calories into each mouthful are perfect for someone trying to gain weight. These foods are typically easy to snack on or add to your existing meals to up the calories in a healthy manner. Good energy-dense sources include foods like beans, dried fruits, eggs, nuts, and peanut butter.8 Here are some ideas for you to try9 10 11:
- Dried fruits added to your porridge
- Smoothies made with dried fruits and milk (avoid adding any sugar and don’t have more than 150 ml a day)
- Eggs, poached or boiled, with wholegrain toast
- Peanut butter on toast
- Nut butters to replace regular butter
- Flax and chia seeds added to whey- or plant-protein-based meal replacement shakes
- Hummus and pita
- Rice puddings
- Unsalted nuts
- Home-made granola bars, sweetened with dates or honey if required
- Wholewheat crackers with cheese
- Jacket potatoes
- Pumpernickel, rye, and oat bran bread – visually, look for dense-looking bread instead of white bread that’s lighter and fluffier
- Corn, peas, and tuna-based salads rather than watery, lettuce-based salads
5. Eat Enough Protein
The recommended intake of protein is just 0.8 grams per kilogram of your weight. If you intend to add muscle mass or you do a lot of weight training, you could probably do with more protein. Some experts quoted in a Harvard Health Publication suggest trying to get between 15 and 25 percent of your daily calories through healthy proteins. While some believe that an increase in protein intake can actually help you lose weight, there’s still conflicting evidence to support that.12 Research has shown that additional protein intake can help with muscle-enhancement efforts.13
6. Don’t Eat Salads First
Consume the energy-dense foods and muscle-building protein before you eat the other food on your plate. That way if you don’t feel you can eat anymore, at least you have already eaten the most calorific foods. While you should be getting in your five fruit and vegetable servings every day, it’s just as important to have enough protein to power your workouts and help build muscle. It’s also important to maximize your calorie intake with each meal, so you can hit that additional 300–500 calories a day.
7. Lift Weights To Build Muscle
As you attempt to gain weight, doing cardio exercises like swimming or running can 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 those muscles. There’s an extra bonus to this: you’ll also get a sculpted, well-built physique.
Weight training or resistance training using resistance bands or free weights are your best bet for working those muscles. For optimal results, do short sets of exercises rather than long, drawn out ones. Train twice or three times a week and take rest days in between to let your muscles recover – that’s when they grow.14
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends certain exercises for hypertrophy or muscle building. Every time you lift weights, aim to do 6 to 12 repetitions of each exercise in each set. Performing about 3 to 5 sets is ideal. Take 30- to 90-second rests in between; ACE Fitness suggests 45-second breaks for optimal growth.
Some exercises for muscle growth include15:
Work the back of your thighs and glutes without straining your back.
- Stand behind a barbell, your feet shoulder width apart and toes turned a little outward.
- Bend down as if you’re sitting into a chair – the back straight and chest lifted up.
- Now bend forward so you can hold the barbell, with the palm of one hand facing up and the other down. Squeeze it tightly in your hands and let your feet press into the floor, your weight sinking back into your hips.
- Move up to stand by pushing your hips forward, the back flat.
- End by standing upright with your legs straight and shoulders back.
- To get back to your original position, shift your weight onto the hips again as your knees bend.
Where does it build muscle?: Full body16
You will need to use a chin-up bar for this exercise.
- Stand under the bar keeping your arms stretched up, palms faced away from you.
- Jump up to grab the handles, gripping firmly with your thumb around the handle.
- You can cross your legs to bring stability to your body as you brace your abdomen. Align your head to the spine and keep your wrists straight and forearms neutral. Move your shoulders down and back.
- Bend your elbows as you pull yourself up slowly. Your elbows should point down to the ground as you pull. Try and keep your body perpendicular to the ground and avoid swinging it as you pull up.
- Carry on until your chin is at bar level or hand level. Hold.
- Now slowly return to the original position letting your elbows straighten out.
- Your abdomen must stay engaged throughout. Your shoulder blades must be pulled down.
Where does it build muscle?: Back and arms17
Also called the Forward Lunge, this exercise requires a barbell and rack. Do this sequence of movements by alternating legs.
- Stand in front of a rack and place the barbell at shoulder height.
- Bend a little so you’re below the bar and position yourself so that the bar rests behind your neck extended across your shoulder blades and back. Grip it tightly with your hands placed just beyond shoulder width.
- Now lift your chest up and feel your shoulder blades squeezed together. Your back must remain straight.
- Stand and pick the bar up off the rack. Move two steps back with feet hip distance apart.
- Next, step forward on your right leg and let your left knee drop almost to the ground, but without actually touching the floor.
- Use your right foot to push into the floor and pull back up with your left leg to return to a standing position.
- Alternate legs.
Where does it build muscle?: Hips, buttocks, legs, and thighs18
Standing Shoulder Press
The standing shoulder press requires a barbell and rack.
- Put the barbell at shoulder height on the rack. Hold the bar firmly with hands kept shoulder width apart. Your palms must face up to the ceiling.
- Now dip below the bar and pick it up off the rack, resting it across your shoulders with the palms still facing up and elbows ahead.
- Ensure your back stays straight as you take a step back, pressing the barbell overhead.
- Bring the weight back down to your shoulders to complete the sequence.
Where does it build muscle?: Shoulders and arms19
You will need a barbell for this exercise.
- Hold a barbell firmly with your palms facing down. Your shoulders, elbows, and wrists must line up straight.
- Raise the bar off the rack, bending forward from your hips. Your back must remain straight, your knees slightly bent.
- Bring the bar down to the ground so your elbows are now straight.
- Ensure your back is still straight as you pull the bar up close to your belly button.
- Lower the bar back to the starting position again.
Where does it build muscle?: Arms, shoulders, and back20
To do this exercise, use a raised platform that allows you to lie back with your feet on the ground. A flat bench is ideal. If you hold the elbows out from the body, you’ll work more of the pectorals. If you keep the elbows in close to your sides, you’ll work more of the triceps. Get help from a spotter for safety.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand and keep your spine neutral.
- Pull your shoulder blades back and down so that they’re firmly touching the bench along with your head and butt. Your feet must remain flat on the floor. All these points must stay in contact with the bench and floor throughout the set.
- Wrap your thumbs around the dumbbells with palms facing forward.
- Raise the dumbbells up to the ceiling while keeping your wrists neutral. Extend your elbows completely so that the dumbbells are just below eye level or over your eyes.
- Inhale while bringing the dumbbells down to the mid-chest level with hands armpit width apart. Allow the dumbbells to gently graze the chest, taking care not to bounce them off the chest.
- Exhale while bringing the dumbbells up just below or at eye level, elbows straightened.
Where does it build muscle?: Chest, shoulders, and arms
8. Kick Up The Weight Gain With A Few Easy Lifestyle Changes
When your own metabolism is quickly burning through calories, you have to be a little strategic in order to kick up the weight gain. Here are some simple, healthy tips to pack on a few more pounds.
- Set alarms for meal or snack times: This will help you avoid missing a meal or snack.
- Plan ahead: Making grocery lists and meal plans can help you stay on track.
- Track and reward yourself: Track your resistance/weight training regimen and reward yourself for staying with the program. Have little treats for each milestone, whether it be a trip to the spa or buying that new book you’ve been thinking about.
Treat Underlying Health Problems Keeping You Underweight
Being underweight may not be about your metabolism, but could be a sign that something else is going on in your body. Certain health problems can cause weight loss, including depression, hyperthyroidism, undiagnosed diabetes, Addison’s disease, overtreatment of an underactive thyroid, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, lupus, stomach ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), gastroenteritis, tuberculosis (TB), mouth ulcers, and dementia. HIV, AIDS, and cancer are also linked to weight loss. Watch for symptoms and consult a doctor if you suspect any of these may be associated with your weight.21
|↑1||Prevalence of Underweight Among Adults Aged 20 and Over: United States, 1960–1962 Through 2013–2014. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑2||Assessing Your Weight and Health Risk. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑3, ↑7, ↑8||Underweight adults. National Health Service.|
|↑4||BMR Versus RMR. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑5, ↑10||Diet Tips for Gaining Weight. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑6, ↑11||Eating Strategies to Gain Weight. University of Colorado Colorado Springs.|
|↑9||Underweight adults. National Health Service.|
|↑12||How much protein do you need every day?. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑13||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.|
|↑14||Weight and muscle gain. Department of Health & Human Services, State Government of Victoria, Australia.|
|↑15||What exercises should I perform if I’m trying to gain weight? American Council on Exercise.|
|↑16||Deadlift. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑17||Pull-ups. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑18||Forward Lunge. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑19||Standing Shoulder Press. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑20||Bent-over Row. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑21||Unintentional weight loss. National Health Service.|