How to Gain Weight (and Muscle Mass): 6 Easy Tips & Diet Plan

March 2022

When dieting to gain weight, you should consume more calories than you burn. You should also eat every 3 hours and avoid skipping meals, as well as add high-calory foods to your meals that are healthy and nutritious (like olive oil, fruit smoothies, oatmeal, avocado and nuts).

It is important to remember that even diets that aim to gain weight do not involve the consumption of processed foods or high-fat or high-sugar foods, like wings, hamburgers, chips or soda. These foods are high in sugar and saturated fat, which will lead to fat gain and increase your risk for cardiovascular disease (due to increased cholesterol and triglycerides).

To know how much weight you should gain, find out what your ideal weight is below:

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This calculator helps you to determine how much weight you need to gain. It is not indicated for children, pregnant women, older adults or athletes, as muscle and fat mass will differ with these groups.

6 tips to gain weight healthily

Gaining weight in a healthy way is more than just eating more food or eating higher calories. Below, we recommend 6 tips that are fundamental for anyone who is trying to gain weight healthily:

1. Eat every 3 hours

Eating every 3 hours is important to ensure you are increasing calorie consumption throughout the day, which will lead to weight gain. You should consume more calories than you burn. In addition, your calories should be a good balance of carbohydrates, porteins and fats, all which contribute to muscle gain.

Therefore, you should not skip meals so that you do not miss out on any nutrients and so that you can maintain adequate levels of glucose and amino acids in the blood (which will promote muscle recovery and growth).

2. Include protein in all meals

Including protein in all meals ensures that the amino acid levels in your blood are constant throughout the day, which will promote good muscle recovery after working out. 

Protein is present in food like meats, chicken, fish, eggs, cheese and yogurt. You should have snacks with efficient combinations of protein, like a sandwich with chicken and cheese on whole wheat bread, or toast with cheese and yogurt. Learn more about different food sources of protein

3. Consume good fats

Food that is rich in good fats (like chestnuts, peanuts, avocado, coconut, olive oil and seeds) are great ways to increase calories in the diet with small volumes of foods. In addition, these fats help with muscle mass gain and do not stimulate fat gain in the body.

Other ways to use these types of foods in your meals include adding peanut butter to your bread or a smoothie, eating some chestnuts with snacks, adding 1 spoon of coconut yogurt and making avocado smoothies for a snack.

4. Eat at least 3 fruits per day

Eating at least 3 fruits per day and adding a vegetable salad to your lunch or dinner can help increase the amount of vitamins and minerals in your diet. This is essential for optimal functioning of your metabolism and for the increase of muscle mass.

Fruits can be consumed fresh or in smoothies, and can be added to snacks or as a dessert for lunch or dinner.

5. Drink at least 2.5 L (about half a gallon) of water per day

Drinking lots of water and maintaining hydration is important for muscle mass gain. Hypertrophy, which is the increase of muscular cells, will only occur if there is sufficient water to increase cellular volume.

Therefore, it is important to be aware and to track your daily water intake. Keep in mind that sodas and artificial juices do not count toward your fluid intake. It is important to consume water between your meals, as drinking water with food can interfere with the digestive process.

6. Performing exercise

To ensure your extra calories are being transformed into muscle and not fat, it is important to exercise 3 to 5 times per week. You should focus on exercises that involve strength training and aerobics. Ideally, you should consult a personal trainer to prepare an exercise plan that meets your goals.

Diet plan for weight gain

The following table outlines an example of a 3-day diet plan for gaining weight:

MealDay 1Day 2Day 3
Breakfast1 cup of coffee with milk + whole wheat sandwich with lettuce, tomato, cheese and egg + 1 medium apple1 cup of milk with cacao poweder + 1 tapioca with chicken and cheese + 1 tangerine1 smoothie + 2 egg omelet with chicken
Morning snack6 whole wheat biscuits with peanut butter + 1 handful of almondsWhole wheat sandwich with 2 tablespoons of avocado and egg + 1 bananaOatmeal with fruit + 1 handful of nuts
Lunch or DinnerChicken strogonoff with rice and black beans + 1 cabbage salad with carrots seasoned with yogurt sauce and cilantro + 1 orangePasta with tuna, olives, corn and cherry tomatoes + salad with lettuce and carrots seasoned with 1 teaspoon of olive oil + 1 slice of melonMeatballs with tomato sauce, mashed potatoes and broccoli baked with cheese and seasoned with olive oil
Afternoon snack1 tapioca with chicken and cheese + 1 pearYogurt with granola + 3 slices of toasted bread with cheeseAvocado smoothie with papaya + 2 tablespoons of oatmeal + 1 tablespoon of cha seeds (all blended)

It is important to see a registered dietitian to formulate a plan personalized to you, as food quantities will depend on your age, gender, physical activity level and health history. The dietitian can additionally indicate supplementation with vitamins. 

What to avoid eating

It is important that your weight gain occurs with a balanced diet. You should avoid the consumption of processed foods and food rich in sugar or saturated fats. Some foods to avoid include croissants, sausages, bacon, mayonnaise, sauces, sweets, sodas, cookies, biscuits, fast food, and fried food, among others.

Eating these types of foot may lead to weight gain, but from fat accumulation and not from muscle mass gain. This can bring about many health problems in the future.

How fast can you gain weight?

The average time to gain muscle mass and gain weight is about 6 months, however you may notice some changes within 3 months. Nonetheless, this varies from person to person, as diet and whether you are exercising will influence how fast you gain muscle. Your body type can also influence how you gain muscle. Learn more about the endomorph body type, ectomorph body type and the mesomorph body type.

Ideally, you want to base your weight gain on increasing muscle mass. This can be achieved with a balanced diet and performing regular exercise to keep your body toned and healthy.

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Edited by Tua Saude editing team in March 2022. Clinical review completed by Tatiana Zanin - Registered Dietitian in March 2022.

References

  • LOCHLAINN, Mary N.; BOWYER, Ruth C.E.; STEVES, Claire J. Dietary Protein and Muscle in Aging People: The Potential Role of the Gut Microbiome. Nutrients. Vol.10(7). 929, 2018
  • BRAY George, SMITH Steven et al. Effect of Dietary Protein Content on Weight Gain, Energy Expenditure, and Body Composition During Overeating. JAMA. 307(1). 47-55, 2012
Show more references
  • MAHAN, Kathleen L.; RAYMOND, Janice L. Krause: Alimentos, Nutrição e Dietoterapia. 14.ed. Rio de Janeiro: Elsevier, 2018. 250-255.
Clinical review:
Tatiana Zanin
Registered Dietitian
Graduated in Clinical Nutrition in 2001 and has a Master’s in Clinical Nutrition. Licensed to practice under the CRN-3 in Brazil and the ON in Portugal