It is not very difficult to browse Instagram and find a surplus of health and fitness related information on how to lose weight. In fact, the hashtag #weightloss has 49.1 million posts, so it is clearly a popular subject. However, just because weight gain is a less popular topic than weight loss does not mean that it is any less of an important issue. We live in a diet obsessed culture where gaining weight may sound like a good problem to have, but it can actually be quite a challenging thing to do. Gaining weight through endless cheeseburgers, Doritos and milkshakes is one thing, but to gain weight in a HEALTHY way is another. In my career as a personal trainer I have worked with clients looking to increase weight for mainly the following reasons:
- Active males looking to “bulk” and increase their muscle mass
- Naturally thin women who were trying to get pregnant and told by their doctor that increasing their BMI a bit could help
- High-school aged children that are very active in sports and burn a lot of calories and need assistance in keeping their weight up
Whether you or someone in your life fits into these categories or not, if gaining weight is an issue, hopefully you will find some of my tips helpful. Through high calorie, nutrient dense foods, one can increase their body mass index without feeling sluggish or overly full. Below are ways to up your calorie intake in a well-balanced way so that your extra calories are coming from nutrient dense foods and not high caloric junk food!
Bulk up your meals
If you have trouble gaining weight simply because you do not have the appetite for it, try adding some high calorie foods to your meals, this way here, you can get a lot of calories in at one meal instead of having to snack all day long. You want to make sure that you are eating nutrient dense, calorie rich foods, though, and not junk food. Choosing healthy foods will keep your energy levels up, assist with muscle growth and repair, help your body systems function properly, and nourish your body from the inside out (hello glowing skin and shiny hair!).
Below are some healthy, fatty foods you can add to your meals to give them a caloric boost:
1. Nuts and Nut Butters- nuts are loaded with nutrients and antioxidants. One half of a cup of nuts has about 350-400 calories!
2. Potatoes- potatoes are packed with nutrients and believed to assist in lowering blood sugar and improving digestion. Here are 5 Ways that you can turn a sweet potato into toast and top it with healthy proteins and fats for a delicious, energizing meal or snack.
3. Healthy Oils- adding oil to your cooking is one of the fastest, easiest ways to up your calorie intake. One tablespoon of olive oil contains about 120 calories. Drizzle some olive oil on salads, pasta, or rice or add a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil to your coffee or smoothie to ramp up the calories.
4. Dried Fruit- one cup of raisins has about 494 calories, while one cup of grapes has only 62 calories. You can incorporate dried fruit into your diet by simply snacking on it alone, or adding it to your breakfast oats, trail-mix, or adding to dishes (I love to put unsalted cashews and raisins in my chillis!)
6. Quinoa- quinoa is super high in fiber, protein, and B vitamins, gluten-free, and one of the few plant foods that contain all nine essential amino acids. Check out these 23 Healthy Vegan Quinoa Dishes for some cooking inspo utilizing this protein-packed seed (yes it is a seed not a grain! Quinoa is a flowering plant in the amaranth family.)
7. Homemade Granola- granola is not only delicious, but also super high in calories. In fact, people who are looking to lose weight are usually told to avoid granola at all costs because the calorie content is so high. Many store bought granolas hae a lot of added sugars, so if this is a food you would like to incorporate into your diet I highly suggest making your own at home. Here are 14 Simple Vegan Granola Recipes from The Minimalist Baker that you can give a try!
8. Homemade Protein Smoothies- smoothies are such a great way to add extra calories into your meal without feeling overly full. By blending everything together, you are able to digest it better, too. I love this article written by SELF magazine on 11 High-Protein Smoothies without using any protein powders.
9. High Calorie Grains- the carbohydrates from grains give you energy, and they are full of fiber and nutrients. You can add grains to meals to bulk up the nutrient content, or base your recipes around a grain of choice. Here is a list of some high-calorie, nutrient dense grains that you should add to your diet.
10. Keto Fudge Fat Bombs- A healthy, delicious snack that you can enjoy between meals or as an after-diner dessert. Find the recipe here.
Though we touched on some of these tips a bit already, here are 4 more suggestions on how you can up your calorie intake and gain weight in a healthy way;
Drink your calories
One very common complaint I have come across in my clients who have had difficulty gaining weight, is that they just don’t have the appetite for it. Drinking your calories can be a good way to gain weight without always feeling super full from big meals. You can have a high-calorie protein smoothie on its own (see recipes above), or drink it alongside a meal.
Eat your protein
Protein forms the building blocks of your muscles. Eating sufficient protein is required to gain muscle weight instead of just fat.
Focus More on Lifting Heavier Weights and Less on Cardio
Cardiovascular exercise is great for the heart, but when looking to gain weight, it is more important to focus on strength training and increasing muscle mass. You also want to make sure that you are lifting weights that challenge you. So for example, if you can do 20 reps of bicep curls with 8lb dumbbells, then you are working more on endurance than building muscle mass. Instead try and use weights that you cannot do more than 8-10 reps with.
Eat Your Macros, but Don’t Forget Your Micros
If your doctor has ruled out any medical conditions as the cause of difficulty gaining weight, a micro-nutrient deficiency could be the culprit. Ask if you can have your iron, calcium, Vitamin b12, and zinc levels checked. All four of these micro-nutrients play a big role in your health and well-being:
Iron- Iron is an important component of hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to transport it throughout your body. Hemoglobin represents about two-thirds of the body’s iron. If you don’t have enough iron, your body can’t make enough healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells (Web MD). Iron is found in foods like legumes, grains, nuts and seeds. Check out this article by the No Meat Athlete for more info on the importance of iron in a vegan/vegetarian diet.
Calcium- Our bones contain large amounts of calcium, which helps to make them firm and rigid. Calcium is also needed for other tasks including nerve and muscle function and blood clotting. These tasks are so important for survival, that, when dietary calcium is too low, calcium will be lost from bone and used for other critical functions. (Vegetarian Resource Group). Plant-based calcium can be found in foods like spinach, kale broccoli, almonds, blackstrap molasses and tofu.
Vitamin b12- you may have heard that this particular vitamin can only be found in animal-based products, but have no fear, PETA has created a list of plant-based sources high in Vitamin B12. This is an essential vitamin in nervous system function and you do not want to be deficient in it.
Zinc- Our bodies need zinc for lots of different functions, including fighting infection, growth and speeding up reactions. It is possible to get all the zinc you need from eating a varied and balanced vegan diet (The Vegan Society). Vegan sources of foods high in zinc include beans, seeds, nuts, legumes, oats, and nutritional yeast.