The Best Weight Gain Food List
Written by Ashley Gelhaus, ACSM-CPT & reviewed/edited by Katie Dodd, MS, RDN, CSG, LD, FAND
Ashley is a ACSM Certified Personal Trainer. She has a B.S. Exercise Science and Pre Health Professions. She is currently pursing her Masters degree in dietetics.
Some of you may be wondering, what is a weight gain diet? A weight gain diet is not a new diet trend or an exact way of eating. Rather, a weight gain diet focuses on a way or strategy of eating. It focuses on eating to increase overall calories. This in turn increases weight safely, effectively, and sustainably.
Weight Gain Food List
Without further ado, here our weight gain food list. It includes tons of ideas for gaining weight. Keep in mind the serving size and how you prepare these foods will impact how many calories you are consuming.
Be sure to read the whole article to get some good ideas on how you can gain weight.
Weight Gain Food List:
- Salmon (fatty fish)
- Red meat
- Dairy Products
- Whole milk
- Greek yogurt
- Nut Butters
- Dried Fruit
- Trail Mix
- Brown rice
- Whole Grains
- Other Root Vegetables
- Fats and Oils
- Coconut Milk
Why Would Someone Need to Gain Weight
In today’s culture, weight loss is a more popular topic than weight gain. It seems like so many people are looking for the next best diet or food to eat in order to lose weight. However, there are many individuals who would not benefit from weight. In fact they may need to gain weight to improve their health.
This blog will dive into who may need to focus more on weight gain versus weight loss. And how to effectively and sustainably implement weight gaining foods and strategies!
As adults age, they experience “sarcopenia”. Sarcopenia is the natural, involuntary loss of muscle mass, strength, and function. The rate of muscle loss can be increased or decreased depending on many lifestyle factors such as food and exercise choices.
Sense of hunger often decreases with age. Older adults may consume less food as they reach satiety (get full) faster. Changes in eating habits as well as decreases in activity (due to disability, difficult moving, and other health conditions) has an affect on muscle loss and muscle function.
Weight loss can also occur due to chronic diseases or illnesses including anxiety, depression, kidney disease, dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), and more that will be discussed later. These conditions can make it difficult to physically eat (like dysphagia and Parkinson’s disease). Or they can affect one’s appetite and what they can and cannot eat. This in turn affects how much food is consumed.
However, it is important for older adults to continue healthy dietary patterns and to maintain their body weight. Unintended weight loss can lead to muscle loss increasing the risk of falls, illness, or other health conditions.
There are many medical conditions that can cause weight loss. Below is a list of many different conditions that could cause unintentional weight loss. Individuals with these conditions may benefit from higher calorie foods to stop unintended weight loss and promote healthy weight gain, as applicable.
- Crohn’s disease
- Heart failure
- Addison’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Gastrointestinal problems, such as peptic ulcer or ulcerative colitis
- Dental problems (impact ability to chew)
- Depression or anxiety
- Side effects of prescription medications
- Celiac disease (allergy to gluten)
- Type 1 Diabetes
- A parasitic infection
- Drug abuse
- Undiagnosed eating disorders
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Dysphagia (swallowing problems)
What Foods are Good for Weight Gain?
There are a lot of different foods that provide greater calorie content that can be mixed and matched to create delicious meals and snacks. Although the foods listed below are all good recommendations for weight gain, some medical conditions may require you to limit particular foods. Always be sure to work with your healthcare team (provider, dietitian) to make sure you are eating the best foods for you.
Overall, weight gain occurs with the more calories you consume. So a simple goal for gaining weight is effectively may be increasing either the amount of food consumed or the number of calories in each meal.
Fats for Weight Gain
Fats are very energy dense (read= high in calories) and are a great way to add more calories into a meal. They have more energy per gram than both carbohydrates and protein which makes them a great option for increasing caloric content.
Here are some examples of high fat foods that you could incorporate into meals or snacks to help increase caloric content.
- Nuts and Nut Butters
- Flax Seed
- Cooking Oils
- Salmon/fatty fish
Protein for Weight Gain
Protein, especially lean protein, helps to build muscle which in turn can help you gain weight. And any excess protein consumed beyond what your body needs will be stored as fat, in turn increasing weight gain. Some example of high protein foods good for weight gain are listed below.
You will notice that protein sources that also contain some fat are good for weight gain. In general, this is why dairy products can be good for weight gain. The whey protein and fat combination are good for weight gain.
- Oily fish
- Protein Bars
- Whole Milk
Carbohydrates for Weight Gain
When looking at the best carbohydrates for weight gain it is good to focus on whole grains and starchy vegetables. Adding fats like butter or olive oil can help increase the caloric content of these foods.
- Whole Grain Bread
- Breakfast Cereals
Remember to reference the weight gain food list above. Our weight gain food list includes fats, protein, and carbohydrates to help you increase your calories.
Meals for Weight Gain
Now that we have talked about different food groups that provide proper nutrients and help increase caloric intake throughout the day you may be thinking “now what”? Let’s dive in and take a look at some simple and nutritious weight gaining meals and snacks that you can make at home!
Also be sure to check out our top weight gain breakfast ideas. This article includes three delicious recipes to help you gain weight.
**Drinking your calories can allow you to consume more calories than if you were eating them all separately. This will assist in weight gain.
Base ingredients (feel free to add more of your favorites):
- 1-2 tbs nut butter
- ½ banana (fresh or frozen)
- ½ cup frozen fruit
- 2 tbs flax seed meal
- ¼ cup oats
- ½ cup Greek yogurt
- Add whole milk (regular or plant based to desired consistency)
- Option: add protein powder
Add all ingredients into blender and blend until desired consistency and enjoy!
- ½ cup oats
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 tbs nut butter
- ½ banana, sliced or dried fruit like craisins
- 1 tsp chia seeds
- Option: add cinnamon or other toppings to add more calories and nutrients
Mix together oats and milk and microwave for 2 minutes. Stir and then heat for 30 seconds more and stir. (make sure to watch it in the microwave, sometimes it has a tendency to overflow depending on the bowl) Let oatmeal stand for 1 minute.
Add 1 tbs nut butter and stir in until thoroughly mixed. Add sliced banana on top and any other fruits or granola or toppings of choice and sprinkle with chia seeds. Enjoy!
Rice, Salmon and Avocado Bowl
- 1 cup brown, wild, or long grain rice
- 2 cups water
- Dash of salt
- 4 salmon fillets
- 1 Avocado, sliced
For the Sauce:
- ½ cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
- 2 tbs lime juice
- ¼ cup packed cilantro
- Cook Rice: Add rice, water, and salt to medium saucepan and bring water to a boil. Reduce hit and simmer for 25-20 minutes or until all water is absorbed and the rice is soft.
- Cook Salmon: Preheat oven to 450 F. Season salmon with salt and pepper. Place salmon on baking sheet skin side down. Bake about 12-15 minutes or until salmon is cooked through and flakes easily.
- To make sauce: in a food processor or blender combine the sour cream or yogurt, lime and cilantro until cilantro is minced.
- Put it all together: Put about ½ cup of rice into a bowl, top with a salmon and sliced avocado and then drizzle with the cilantro sauce!
Chicken and bacon avocado bagel sandwich and sweet potato fries
- 1 everything bagel
- ¼ – ½ avocado, smashed or sliced
- 2-3 slices regular or turkey bacon, cooked
- 1 chicken breast (If very large chicken breast, only use half)
- Italian seasoning blend (or other blend of choice)
- Kale or spinach
- Tomato, sliced
- Ground brown mustard (or other sauce of choice)
- 1 medium to large sweet potato
- Cook bacon according to package instructions until crisp.
- Cut sweet potato into ½ inch straws. Spread evenly on baking sheet. Sprinkle with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste (or add some flavor and add garlic powder, onion powder, or paprika) and mix.
- Preheat oven to 400 F and add sweet potatoes into oven for 15-20 minutes or until they are tender and slightly crisped.
- While bacon and sweet potatoes are cooking, prepare the chicken. Sprinkle both sides with Italian seasoning (or other blend) and let sit for 3 minutes.
- Spray small skillet with pam or warm a little olive oil in the pan. Heat small skillet over medium heat and then add chicken breast and lower heat to low to medium and cover. Once one side has browned, flip onto other side. Cook chicken until cooked through (165 F).
- Once chicken is cooked remove from stove and let rest on cutting board.
- Toast everything bagel.
- Assemble your sandwich. Spread sliced or smashed avocado on base of bagel, add kale or spinach, top with tomato, bacon, chicken, and mustard (or other toppings) and top with other half of bagel. Add sweet potatoes to the plate and enjoy!
Snacks for Weight Gain
Here are some tasty snack ideas to help you gain weight.
Coconut Date Energy Balls
Ingredients (makes 20 balls)
- ½ cup roasted almonds
- 2 cups medjool dates
- ½ cup almond butter
- ½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- Pinch salt
- Add dates, almonds, almond butter, ¼ cup shredded coconut, and salt to food processor and blend until a sticky dough forms. If dough is not coming together, add a little water and continue blending until it comes together
- Scoop about 2 tbs of dough and form into ball. Roll ball in remaining ¼ cup coconut.
- Leave the energy balls to dry at room temperature for 2 hours before serving. Store extras in airtight container.
Sliced cheese/cheese stick with turkey meat and whole wheat crackers
Mixed Nuts and cheese stick
Greek Yogurt mixed with nut butter, topped with fruit and granola
Strategies for Weight Gain
- Eat frequently: If you find that it is hard to consume a lot of calories in one sitting because you get full too quickly or some other reason, try to instead many smaller meals throughout the day, eating about every 2-3 hours.
- Choose energy dense foods: When choosing foods to eat, choose foods that are energy dense (high in calories). Eating smaller, more energy dense meals can make it easier to get in more calories.
- Avoid Drinking Before/During Meals: Drinking large amounts of water or other low calorie beverages right before consuming a meal may fill you up and prevent you from eating enough during the meal.
- Try Smoothies and Shakes: Smoothies and shakes can be a great way to get in more calories without getting as full quite so quickly. Drinking in calories can make is easier to eat more.
- Add Extras: High calorie add-ins can make a regular meal a high calorie meal. For example, if you are making oatmeal, try to add in some nut butter to add in some extra calories.
For more tips on gaining weight, be sure to check out our e-book Weight Gaining SECRETS.
Additionally, my High Calorie Foods SERIES on RD2RD includes a high calorie food list, grocery list, and meal planner to help prevent and treat malnutrition. There is also a High Protein Foods SERIES available.
Maintaining the Weight Gain
Weight gain should be achieved slowly. Gradually increasing calories over a period of time to promote healthy weight gain. This will hopefully lead to more sustainable weight gain.
Once you find the best weight for your body to function properly and efficiently, then you can stop increasing calories. But you need to be cautious, ensuring you still consuming enough calories to prevent weight loss. Regularly checking your weight is the best way to make sure you are no longer losing.
We hope the weight gain food list and information provided in this article helps you to gain and maintain your weight. Best of luck!
(Feel free to use this Weight Gain Food List infographic; please link back to this post and give credit to The Geriatric Dietitian!)