“Tips on How to Gain Weight Fast and Healthfully” was written by Aly Bouzek, MS, RDN and reviewed/edited by Katie Dodd, MS, RDN, CSG, LD, FAND.
Difficulty gaining weight is a common concern for so many, including older adults. And rightly so. Health concerns can arise or worsen when experiencing unintended weight loss.
If this topic speaks to you and you’d love to learn more, then continue reading for tips on how to gain weight, how to make the most of your meals and snacks, and how to speed up your weight gain timeline in a healthful way.
Why is Gaining Weight Important?
Weight is a sensitive topic for many people, not just those who want to lose weight but also those who need to gain weight.
Gaining weight is important for those experiencing a reduced appetite, who are underweight, or those who are at risk of malnutrition.
Older adults can often experience a reduced appetite. There is no one reason for this, but it can be related to: aging, depression, not being able to smell or taste foods, illness, medical conditions, and medications (1).
It’s very hard to eat enough food when you don’t have an appetite. This becomes a concern because you need to eat enough food (every day) to meet your body’s needs.
When you have a reduced appetite, aim for smaller meals and snacks so that you don’t get overwhelmed. It’s important to also make up for the food not eaten, so try to choose healthy foods that are high in calories to prevent any more weight loss.
Being naturally thin is OK. If this is you, then focusing on weight stability is important. Being underweight becomes a concern when a difficult life event or illness happens, and the weight is never regained.
Gaining weight and muscle are very important for staying healthy and are especially important as we age. More information about healthy weight for older adults can be found in, BMI in the Elderly.
Malnutrition is when you aren’t getting enough nutrients to support your body’s needs. Not getting enough calories and/or protein can lead to weight loss and muscle loss. If you also have a reduced appetite, then it can be even harder to eat enough food.
It is important to address your risk of malnutrition as soon as possible to avoid muscle wasting. This happens when your body isn’t getting enough nutrients from foods, and so your body starts to break down your muscles to get what it needs.
Tips on How to Gain Weight Fast and Healthfully
Gaining weight might seem hard, but don’t worry! There are some great tips on how to gain weight below.
Try to include as many of these as necessary to see weight gain, but don’t feel like you need to do them all at once. Baby steps are encouraged!
Eat More Frequently
Instead of focusing on 2-3 big meals a day, try breaking it down to 5-6 smaller meals. This means that you’ll be eating less at one meal, but that you’ll need to eat more frequently.
If you like a breakfast, lunch, and supper routine, then stick to that (in smaller portions) and add 3 snacks in between.
An example eating schedule for gaining weight looks like this:
- 6:30 am breakfast
- 9:00 am morning snack
- 11:30 am lunch
- 2:00 pm afternoon snack
- 4:30 pm supper
- 7:00 pm evening snack
Remember, you don’t need to go from 2-3 meals a day right into 5-6 meals a day. Try adding in one snack at a time and space meals out evenly so that you’re not too full when it’s time to eat again.
Setting a timer for meals and snacks can also be helpful until it becomes more routine.
When you think of gaining weight, do you think of eating foods like fast food? These foods can help with weight gain, but they can also have more salt, cholesterol, and saturated fats.
Try to think more along the lines of “nutrient-dense” instead of just “calorie-dense.” You definitely want to eat more calories to gain weight but choosing healthful foods will be more beneficial as you age.
Nutrient-dense means that you eat foods that are healthy and packed with nutrients. Think: fruits and veggies, whole grains, dairy products, and lean protein! These will help increase your calories AND will help increase nutrients that your body needs.
Try adding some of these high calorie nutrient-dense foods to your meals and snacks:
- Nut butters
*Note: If unintended weight loss is severe, no dietary restrictions should be implemented. The risk of malnutrition and death far exceeds the concern of “less healthy” foods temporarily. Consult with your medical team if you are in this situation.
Calories, also called energy, help your body work.
Everyone needs calories, and when trying to gain weight, you need to increase the overall number of calories you eat in a day. Notice I said, “in a day” and not, “in a single meal.”
If eating more makes you nervous, then try swapping out lower calorie foods for higher calorie foods. More calorie information and the breakdown of calories per volume can be found in Higher Calorie Foods for Weight Gain.
Here are some calorie swaps that won’t increase the amount of food you’re eating.
To gain weight try swapping:
- skim milk for whole milk
- chicken for rib eye
- blueberries for a banana
Increasing lean protein is a great because it helps to build muscle and increases weight gain. Foods that are high in protein include: meats, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts, whole milk, beans, and cheese.
You may notice that some of these proteins also contain some fat. These are great choices to help bump up the nutrients, calories, and weight-gaining benefits!
Eating more fats can help with weight gain because they are very energy dense. This means that they are high in calories (even higher than protein and carbohydrates) and are great additions to meals and snacks.
Try adding some of these high fat foods to boost your weight:
- Fatty fish
- Vegetable oils
- Nut butters
- Salad dressing
Snacks, Snacks, Snacks (aka Mini Meals)
Look for nutrient-dense snacks that will help you increase both calories and nutrients. Grab-and-go options are great.
Try to keep the snack simple at 2-3 ingredients and aim for at least 250 calories. Eating 3 snacks a day (250 calories each) will give you an additional 750 calories a day.
Make sure not to make your snacks too high in calories! Doing so could make you too full to eat your next meal.
Snack Ideas for Gaining Weight:
- Peanut butter and apples
- Parfait (yogurt, fruit, and granola)
- Edamame prepared in olive oil
- Cottage cheese and fruit
- Pita with hard-boiled egg and hummus
- High calorie bars
How to Make Every Bite (and Sip) Count
A favorite tip on how to gain weight is to make the most of your meals and drinks. If you’re already eating, that means that you’ve overcome your lack of appetite or have had a good appetite all along. So, let’s keep it up!
Supplements and Fortified Foods
In addition to your meals, weight gain supplements can provide extra calories. Protein supplements are a common choice as they come in bars, powders, and drinks.
These are quick and easy options that allow you to add on (or supplement) your meals without the extra hassle of preparing more food. Learn more about supplements here.
Fortified foods are foods that have been “strengthened” to include more nutrients than they are naturally made with. Think of cereals, milk, and juice that have added nutrients and/or calories.
Milk is a great example of a fortified food because you might already be drinking it and can boost its weight gain impact. Try this weight gain milk recipe that uses only 2 ingredients – it’s super easy!
Shakes for Weight Gain
High calorie hakes are a great snack, especially protein shakes as they have both calories and protein to help with weight gain. If you’re looking for the simplest way to incorporate shakes into your day, then try a premade protein shake.
Our Protein Shakes for Weight Gain article has lots of tasty protein shake ideas.
Don’t forget that we talked about making snacks at least 250 calories, so look to pair your shake with a piece of fruit, a handful of crackers, or another favorite 100-calorie snack.
If you’d like to try a homemade shake, then check out this recipe for The King of Calories Shake. It boasts a whopping 1200 calories (approximate) and could be consumed without additional food.
Additional shake resources:
- FREE High Calorie Shakes handout
- High Calorie SHAKES e-cookbook
- The Best Shake for Gaining Weight blog post
High Calorie Toppings
Adding extras to your food to increase calories is another great option for weight gain.
Here are some high calorie topping ideas:
- Add croutons, cheese, and olive oil to salads
- Add peanut butter to toast
- Mix cheese and milk into scrambled eggs
- Add dried milk to soups and stews
- Add chia seeds or flax seeds to smoothies
Play with Flavors
Adding spices or herbs to your dishes can help increase the “yum factor” which may help you eat more. Experiment with flavors that you like to see how you can make your food more appealing.
Try using a marinade with meats and poultry or add taco seasoning to ground beef.
Watch When You Drink
Sometimes drinking fluids before meals can fill you up. This leaves little-to-no room for high-calorie meals.
Try just small sips of fluids with a meal, or even wait 30 minutes after you’re done eating to enjoy a drink. Experiment to find what works best for you!
Make Food More Accessible
When food isn’t readily available or easily accessible, it can a tiring task to eat. Keep reading for ideas about making food more accessible to help with weight gain.
Plan Meals to Gain Weight
Planning is a huge time saver and can make the task of eating much more enjoyable (1). Think about it: if you know what you’re going to eat, the food is purchased, and it’s prepared/portioned out, then you’ll be more excited to eat!
When you’re away from home, take some snacks with you. Don’t forget that we talked about snacks above. Some easy options include peanut butter and crackers, cheese and fruit, protein bar, or nuts and dried fruit.
Eat with Company
“Happiness is great food and great company.”
Eating alone can get, well, lonely. If you’re able, invite some friends or family to enjoy a meal with you. If no one wants to cook, then check out a favorite restaurant or new diner close to you.
Have Meals Delivered
Having meals that are already prepared and delivered to your doorstep can help remove a lot of guesswork and anxiety that might accompany preparing food and eating food (1).
Research to see what meal delivery services are offered in your area. Here is a helpful link for senior meal delivery services.
How to Gain Weight Fast and Healthfully
We’ve covered lots of tips on HOW to gain weight. Now, let’s talk about how to gain weight fast and healthfully!
Eat More Calories Than You Burn
A fast way to gain weight is to eat more calories than your body is burning. On average, slow and steady weight gain is an additional 300-500 calories a day. To speed up this process, aim for an additional 500-1000 extra calories a day.
How Long Does it Take to Gain Weight?
To gain weight safely, you should aim to gain 1-2 pounds per week. This may not seem like much, but after a month you would gain 4-8 pounds!
If not paired with proper exercise, gaining weight too quickly can lead to fat gain.
Can Exercise Help with Fast Weight Gain?
The goal is to gain lean muscle mass when gaining weight, instead of fat mass. To do so, incorporate strength training at least 3 days a week. Strength training uses weights, your body weight, or resistance bands to help build muscle.
Increasing your muscle mass = weight gain. So, yes! Exercise can help with fast weight gain and may also stimulate your appetite. Talk to your doctor before beginning any type of exercise.
Conclusion: Tips on How to Gain Weight Fast and Healthfully
It’s important to keep a healthy weight as we age. If you’re underweight, malnourished, or have a reduced appetite, then you’ll need to incorporate some of these tips on how to gain weight fast and healthfully.
Increasing the amount of food, calories, protein, and fat that you eat can help with weight gain. Choose nutrient-dense foods and don’t forget to add in supplements and shakes when you need an added boost in calories.
If eating more calories than you burn and incorporating strength training exercise a few days a week, then you could gain about 1-2 pounds per week, or 4-8 pounds per month. The resources listed below have more tips on how to gain weight. Take a look!
More Weight Gain Resources
- Gaining Weight Made Easy course
- Weight Gain SECRETS e-book
- High Calorie article archive
- Free Weight Gaining Meal Plan PDF
1. Niedert K, Carlson M. Nutrition Care of the Older Adult: A Handbook for Nutrition Throughout the Continuum of Care, 3rd Chicago, IL: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; 2016.