Ask the Diet Doctor: The Healthy Way to Gain Weight
Your best plan of active if you're on the other side of the battle with the scale
Q: Everyone is always talking about losing weight, but I would actually like to gain a little weight. How can I do so in a healthy way?
A: You can definitely add pounds in a healthy manner. I'm glad that you are looking for the right way to gain weight, as most of the time when people don't want to lose weight, they will just stop paying attention to their diet and bad weight gain ensues.
What not to do: "Just eat more." I can't stand this advice. A little part of me dies inside whenever I hear dietitians or nutritionists give weight-gain advice that includes increasing calories by:
"Drinking more fruit juice"
"Eating ice cream"
"Snacking on pretzels and popcorn throughout the day"
Just as there are healthy ways to lose weight, there are healthy ways to gain weight, and loading up on simple carbs and high-sugar, high-fat foods is notthe way to do it.
I would define healthy weight gain as weight that primarily comes from muscle. Adding a little muscle to your body will not just increase your weight, it will improve your life. Building and maintaining muscle is a key strategy for fighting the aging process, in addition to giving you the look that most men and women strive for. Muscle is calorically demanding for your body, so it will also increase your body's calorie needs, allowing you to eat a little more during the day.
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Since this is our definition of healthy weight, you are going to need a combination of resistance training (learn all about resistance training from Shape.com's Celebrity Trainer) and caloric excess. Yes, you do need more calories in order to gain weight, but we're not taking the "calories by any means necessary" approach. Here's what to do to ensure that the weight you gain is functional and healthy.
1. Start slow: Unlike fat loss, gaining quality weight is a slow process. We don't want to add an insane number of calories from the start, as this will just result in excessive fat gain-clearly not the kind of weight you want to put on your frame. Instead add just 300 calories to your daily intake and increase from there. Three hundred calories might not do it for you, you might need 600 or maybe even 900 extra calories per day, but start at 300 calories and move up to 600 calories after two weeks if you aren't gaining weight.
2. Supercharge the effects of exercise: Since you are going to start (or continue) lifting weights to enhance your weight-gain efforts, you should take advantage of the physiological and biochemical changes that ensue due to weight training. See, resistance training is a metabolically demanding process that breaks down your muscles; then afterward your body makes repairing and rebuilding muscle a top priority. This is one of the few times you can preferentially shuttle calories and nutrients toward your muscles. Make sure to add your extra calories directly after or within three hours of your training session.
3. Eat more quality calories: While traditional advice encourages you to take in cheap and easy carbs and calories, the food that those calories come from has impact beyond just their caloric value. Different foods contain different nutrients, antioxidants, and types of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats that have different characteristic and different effects on hormones and processes in your body. Three hundred calories from cranberry juice and 300 calories from 1 cup full-fat Greek yogurt, 1/2 cup blueberries, and 2 tablespoons flaxseed meal are calorically similar, but the effects on your body are very different, with the latter being more geared at healthy weight gain and improving health.
Combine these strategies into action along with a consistent weight-training regimen, and you'll be gaining quality weight in no time.