High Calorie High Protein Diet

High Calorie High Protein Diet was written by Kierra Brown, RD & reviewed/edited by Katie Dodd, MS, RDN, CSG, LD, FAND. Kierra is a Dietitian & is pursuing her M.S. in Nutrition Sciences at Indiana University Pennsylvania.

High Calorie High Protein Diet

Even though weight loss diets are the norm on the internet, they do not benefit all people! Older adults may benefit from a high calorie high protein diet. Especially those experiencing unintentional weight loss, malnutrition, wounds, and in recovery.

What is a High Calorie High Protein Diet?

A high calorie high protein diet is recommended if an individual is not eating enough to maintain their weight or has experienced unintended weight loss. The diet includes higher intakes of calories and protein than a regular diet. More than just cake and cookies, a high calorie high protein diet includes foods from all food groups!

Why Follow a High Calorie High Protein Diet?

Why high calorie high protein dietA high calorie, high protein diet is prescribed to help people recover from surgery and illness, gain weight, heal wounds or correct malnutrition. A study found that a high calorie high protein diet can increase weight in residential care patients.1

Furthermore, protein is needed to maintain strength; learn more from our article on why Unintended Weight Loss in the Elderly Must be Stopped.

Muscle is needed to do everyday activities and to stay independent. Older adults will require more protein to maintain their daily activities.

Calorie and Protein Needs

Calorie and protein needs vary and should be individualized to account for the person’s age, gender, weight, and activity level. Needs can be estimated using a simple equation. Consult a geriatric dietitian to establish specific needs! Keep in mind some medical conditions will require less or more protein.

How Many Calories Do I Need?

Calorie needs commonly decrease as an individual enters older adulthood, but calories should be based on the individual’s needs. Energy is estimated between 25 and 35 calories per kilogram of body weight.2

There are 2.2 kilograms (kg) in 1 pound (lb) in case you were wondering. Below are examples of how calorie needs may be calculated:

  • Example 1: 100 lb. person / 2.2 = 45.45 kg x 25 OR 45.45 kg x 35 = 1136 – 1590 calories per day
  • Example 2: 150 lb. person / 2.2 = 68.18 kg x 25 OR 68.18 x 35 = 1704 – 2386 calories per day

How Much Protein Do I Need?

Adequate protein, 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, is recommended for all adults.2 However, older adults may need 1.0- 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram body weight. You can learn more about this topic in our article on protein requirements for older adults.

  • Example 1: 150 lb. person / 2.2 = 68.18 kg x 1 OR 68.18 kg x 1.2 =  68 – 82 grams of protein per day
  • Example 2: 185 lb. person / 2.2 = 84 kg x 1 OR 84 kg x 1.2 = 84 – 101 protein per day


Foods High in Calories and Protein

There are many nutritious foods that are high in either calories, protein, or both! Reading the nutrition facts label can help individuals find foods that are higher in calories and protein.

High Calorie High Protein Foods

High Calorie High Protein Food List

Below are examples of high calorie high protein foods. Be sure to avoid products that have the words “light” or “skim” or “lean” or “low fat”. These products are lower in calories.

High Calorie High Protein Food List:

  • Greek yogurt
  • Hard cheeses
  • Cottage cheese
  • Whole eggs
  • Beef
  • Poultry
  • Pork
  • Fatty fish
  • Soy milk
  • Nut Butters
  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Oral nutrition supplements

Of note, animal protein foods are typically higher in both calories and protein than plant-based options.

High calorie foods include butter, margarine, oils, dairy products, salad dressings and sweets. For more weight gain foods and recipes check out our best weight gain food list.

Reading the Nutrition Facts Label

food labelsThe nutrition facts label provides consumers with nutrition related information about a food or beverage.

Starting at the top of the label is the serving information which tells an individual how many servings are in a container and what the recommended serving size is.3 Consuming more than the serving size will increase nutrients consumed.

Underneath serving information is the calories. Calories tell an individual the amount of energy provided from a food or beverage.3

Lastly, is the nutrients section where the amount of protein in a product is located.

Steps for reviewing the label:

  • Identify the portion size
  • Determine how many calorie &/or grams of protein are in each serving
  • If you eat more than one portion, do the math to find out how much calories/protein you are eating

Starting a High Calorie High Protein Diet

Eating 3 meals plus snacks is a good way to get started. Identify which high calorie high protein foods you like and add them into your meals and snacks. Gradually increase calories and protein throughout the day.

High Calorie High Protein Meals

High calorie high protein meals and snacksA high calorie high protein meals should be spread throughout the day.

Eggs are a great option for breakfast. Adding butter, milk, or cheese will increase the calorie content. Hot cereals, overnight oats, muffins, and protein waffles are other high calorie, high protein breakfast items.

In addition, check out our weight gain breakfast ideas to include in your high calorie high protein meal plan.

Sandwiches, soups, casseroles are hearty meal options high in both calories and protein. Pairing a sandwich with fruit, cottage cheese and a cup of juice will complete the meal.

At dinner time, a side salad with dressing, adding gravies or sauces to meats and vegetables and offering bread with butter will make it a higher calorie meal. It is important to include whole grains, fruits and vegetables at meals and snacks.

Chicken & Avocado Power Bowl

The following recipe was developed by Charli Harlen through The Geriatric Dietitian Volunteer Program.

Avocado and Chicken Power BowlYields: 1 single-serving bowl


  • 4-ounce chicken breast, sliced
  • ¼ cup quinoa, uncooked
  • 1 cup baby spinach
  • ½ avocado
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp dried parsley


  • Bake chicken breast at 350*F for 28 minutes, remove from oven and let rest until cool enough to handle.
  • Heat a small pot on medium-high heat, add quinoa and ½ cup water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium-low heat and let simmer for 15 minutes.
  • In a large bowl combine oil, vinegar, pepper, parsley, and minced garlic. Toss spinach in dressing mixture, top with diced avocado, quinoa, and sliced chicken.

Nutrition Facts: approximate, may vary based on ingredients used

  • 850 Calories
  • 30 gm Protein

High Calorie High Protein Snacks

High Calorie High Protein Snacks

Snacks such as milk shakes, smoothies, pudding, sweetened yogurt, and ice cream are high in both calories and protein.

Additionally, nuts and seeds are high in calories. One ounce of sunflower seeds provides 175 calories and 6 grams of protein. A serving of peanut butter (2 tablespoons) provides 190 calories and 8 grams of protein!

There are a variety of snacks that can be added into a high calorie high protein diet. Below is a sample recipe.

High Protein Fruit Salad

The following recipe was developed by Krista McKay through The Geriatric Dietitian Volunteer Program.

High Protein Fruit SaladYields: 7 servings, ~1.5 cups per serving


  • 3 cups of strawberries, chopped
  • 3 cups of blueberries
  • 2 cups of honeydew, chopped
  • 2 mangoes, chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 1 cup of grapes
  • 1 cup of quinoa, cooked (1/4 cup uncooked)

For the dressing:

  • ~2 tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp lime juice
  • 2 tsp orange juice

For the topping:

  • 6 oz vanilla Greek yogurt


  • Cook 1/4 cup of quinoa following package instructions and allow to cool.
  • Chop strawberries, honeydew, and mangoes as desired.
  • Mix together honey, lime juice and orange juice and set to the side.
  • Combine all of the fruit with the cooled quinoa. Drizzle with honey dressing and top with yogurt and almonds.

Nutrition Facts: approximate, may vary based on ingredients used

  • 335 Calories
  • 11 gm Protein

High Calorie High Protein Tips

Spread your intake of food throughout the day. Or try supplemental drinks and/or high calorie shakes. The following tips are specific to getting more calories and protein.

Tips to Get More Calories

Tips to get more calories:4

  • Eat at least 6 meals and snacks each day
  • Eat more fat (it’s highest in calories)
  • Choose high calorie drinks such as shakes
  • Eat larger portions (if able)
  • Avoid diet or low-calorie items.

Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and protein but adding cheese sauce, butter, margarine, gravy, oil, or salad dressing will help you get more calories and protein.4

Tips to Get More Protein

Tips to get more protein:

  • Choose whole milk dairy products
  • Try protein powders
  • Choose higher-fat meats
  • Incorporate dry milk powder into milkshakes and smoothies

Oral nutrition supplements can provide additional calories as well as protein.


A high calorie high protein diet is often recommended for older adults experiencing unintentional weight loss, malnutrition, wounds, and in recovery. Experiment with different foods, snacks, and beverages to find what works best. There are multiple ways to increase the calories and protein in your diet, hopefully the tips and recipes shared will help!

Be sure to check out our High Protein Foods SERIES and High Calorie Foods SERIES on RD2RD which includes a food list, grocery list, and meal planner!


Tips to get more calories and protein Infographic



  1. Sossen L, Bonham M, Porter J. Does a High-Energy High-Protein Diet Reduce Unintentional Weight Loss in Residential Aged Care Residents? J Nutr Gerontol 2020;39(1):56-68. doi: 10.1080/21551197.2019.1691108
  2. Escott-Stump, S. Nutrition & Diagnosis-Related Care. 8th Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer; 2015.
  3. Federal Drug Administration. How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts. Label. https://www.fda.gov/food/new-nutrition-facts-label/how-understand-and-use-nutrition-facts-label. Updated March 11, 2020. Accessed August 22, 2020.
  4. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. High-Calorie, High-Protein Nutrition Therapy. Nutrition Care Manual. [PDF Document] Accessed August 23, 2020.

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