Increase your protein intake when gaining muscle mass.
To gain weight healthfully, you need to increase your calorie intake and develop a regular exercise program. Although more than 69 percent of American adults are overweight or obese, about 2 percent of U.S. adults are classified as underweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Whether you're recovering from an illness or want to increase your muscle mass, adding nutrient-dense, high-calorie foods to your diet is the key to gaining weight.
The number of calories you need to gain weight is based on your current calorie intake. The McKinley Health Center at the University of Illinois suggests increasing your calories, or energy intake, by 250 to 500 calories a day to gain one-half to 1 pound a week. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency encourages athletes who want to gain muscle to increase their intake by 500 to 1,000 calories a day, which could help them gain up to 2 pounds a week.
The more frequent your meal schedule, the easier time you'll have gaining weight without feeling bloated or sick from overeating. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends eating five or six meals throughout the day to effectively gain weight. In general, eating every two to three hours will help you meet your weight goals.
Healthy Food Choices
During your weight-gain program, choose nutrient-dense foods instead of those with sugar, saturated fat, trans fat or refined grains. That way, you're not contributing to the risk of developing heart disease. Examples include lean meats or seafood, whole grains, legumes, dairy foods, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and plant-based oils. Try adding powdered milk to soups and beverages, and snacking on nuts, seeds, hummus, avocados or dried fruit between meals. Include flaxseeds or peanut butter in protein shakes and smoothies, and increase the amount of plant-based oils you use when cooking. Drink nutrition shakes between meals to further boost your intake.
Importance of Exercise
Although you don't need to exercise to gain weight, it will help increase your lean muscle mass instead of just packing on body fat. Resistance exercises, such as weightlifting, are most important for gaining weight, but you should include cardiovascular work as well so that you're contributing to your heart health. The McKinley Health Center recommends that you participate in 20 to 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise, such as walking, jogging or biking, a few times each week. But you should focus on resistance training by completing two to three sets of four to eight repetitions for each exercise. Make sure to work each major muscle group, including your calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus muscles, back, chest, abdominal muscles, shoulders, biceps and triceps.