Obesity has long been associated with health risks, but being underweight has its own set of risks. Having a body mass index (a metric used to gauge your body fat in relation to your weight and height) under 18.5 can cause weakened immunity, fertility and hormonal problems, and nutritional deficiencies that can lead to anemia and osteoporosis, despite the fact that less than 2% of U.S. adults over the age of 20 are underweight. Furthermore, evidence suggests that being underweight is associated to a higher risk of death.
Whether you’re underweight or simply want to bulk up, it’s critical to understand how to gain weight—particularly lean body mass—in a healthy manner.
Reasons to Gain Weight
Medical reasons for being underweight include long-term illnesses like cancer and recovering from eating disorders and thyroid or hormonal disruption, says Adam Atkinson, an International Sports Science Association (ISSA)-certified personal trainer and founder of See You Later Leaner in Columbus, Ohio.
“In my practice, I work with females with functional hypothalamic amenorrhea [the loss of a menstrual cycle due to a hormone imbalance] who want to get their hormones functioning optimally again,” he says. “I also get women going through pregnancy who need to have a controllable weight gain as well.”
Before beginning a weight gaining regime, consult a licensed professional, adds Colleen Chiariello, a registered dietitian at Syosset Hospital in New York. “Some of the concerns associated with underweight status may be related to underlying medical issues,” she adds. “It’s recommended to get a physical with bloodwork and any additional testing to ensure the person is otherwise healthy.”
In addition to learning how to gain a healthy amount of weight for medical reasons, some people may be interested in “bulking up” or adding muscle, which also requires weight gain, according to Chiariello. Experts note that when you gain weight, you should aim to gain lean body mass specifically.
How To Gain Weight in a Healthy Way
It’s not easy to modify your weight, whether you’re reducing or gaining. Your body develops a “set point” for weight over time, which can be difficult to shift. Whether you’re underweight due to a medical issue or a fast metabolism, or you wish to add muscle mass, the following tactics will help you gain weight safely:
- Increase your calorie consumption: Athletes who desire to grow muscle mass should intentionally increase their calorie intake. High-calorie meals, such as protein-rich meats, healthy fats, and whole grains, should be consumed in large quantities. Are you battling cancer or aging-related frailty? You may eat everything you want. Cake, cookies, and milkshakes are all on the table. The main goal is to eat more calories.
- Increase the frequency of your meals: You can consume more calories by eating more frequently. If you find it difficult to stop eating after three meals, consider eating 5 to 7 meals per day instead of the normal three.
Incorporate calories into your diet: Increase the number of calories in your meals by adding extras. Nuts can be sprinkled on porridge, yogurt, and salads. Cheese can be added to soups, stews, and scrambled eggs. Flaxseed powder can be used to protein shakes and smoothies. You might even put a teaspoon of peanut butter on your plate at each meal.\
- Attempt liquids: Do you have trouble chewing? Do you have a case of exhaustion? Don’t feel like cooking? Liquid calories, such as nutrient-dense smoothies, can be a good option. Plus, these high-calorie shakes are nutritionally dense but not as filling as, say, an apple. “The stomach feels volume, not calories,” Carion explains.
- Instead of drinking calorie-free beverages with meals, sip throughout the day to encourage you to eat more at mealtime. “You don’t want to be so stuffed and bloated that you can’t eat anything else,” Carion advises. Plus, sipping high-calorie beverages will provide you with extra calories, protein, carbs, and fat without you having to think about it.
- Fill up on fats: Filling up on healthy fats like nuts and nut butters, avocados, and fatty fish like salmon is one of the greatest methods to gain weight if you’re healthy but underweight or an athlete who wants to increase muscle mass.
- Try all of the above, as well as full-fat dairy products like cream cheese, sour cream, heavy whipping cream, and full-fat ice cream, if you’re dealing with a chronic disease or an age-related loss of appetite.
- Continue to work out: Exercising is beneficial to one’s general health and well-being. It can also aid weight gain (strength training is particularly useful). An added benefit is that regular exercise may improve your appetite.
Healthy Ways to Build Muscle
Building muscle and increasing weight may be a goal for people recuperating from illness or who have been sedentary for a long time, according to Dr. Olufade. “People may also be required to grow weight and muscle for a specific athletic competition or vocation,” he adds.
Strength training, according to Atkinson, is vital for anyone trying to gain muscle growth. He explains, “Anything that stimulates the muscle tissue is wonderful.” “It’s critical to go to the gym four to five times every week.” But don’t forget to take a few days off to recover.”
Weightlifting is more beneficial than cardio for weight gain and muscle gain, according to Dr. Olufade. This is because cardio burns fat, which causes a person to lose weight. Weightlifting, on the other hand, strengthens muscles and allows them to grow lean muscle mass, according to him.
Gaining weight is also influenced by one’s lifestyle choices. According to Chiariello, everyone requires enough sleep and rest to maintain good health and well-being. “The body need rest, which has an impact on muscular and cognitive function,” she adds.
Chiariello advocates eating small, regular meals to avoid hunger and keep the body’s metabolism active. Snacking before and after workouts provides the body with the nutrition it requires to operate at its best, she claims. “For healthy weight increase, routine and regular activity are required, but a lack of exercise might lead to unhealthy weight gain,” Chiarello explains.
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For someone aiming to eat more, Atkinson recommends eating four to six meals per day. “If you’re already eating that many meals,” he says, “attempt to increase the number of calories per meal.” “Also, remember that forcing-feeding might induce stomach irritation.”
During mealtimes, Atkinson emphasizes the value of calm. “It’s essential to remain calm before meals, chew your food thoroughly, and be aware of your tension,” he advises. “The parasympathetic’rest and digest’ [component] of eating is obviously disrupted if we are anxious and enter into that fight-or-flight mode.”
Are Appetite Stimulants Safe?
According to Chiariello, appetite stimulants, such as pills that stimulate your appetite and make you eat more, should only be used if prescribed by a licensed physician. “Appetite stimulants are sometimes prescribed for those who are undergoing medical treatments [such as chemotherapy, anorexia, and so on,” she explains. “Appetite stimulants sold over the counter may be hazardous and cause medical problems.”
Caffeine, according to Atkinson, can help stimulate appetite in persons who are having trouble eating enough to gain weight. Keep in mind that the FDA recommends no more than 400 mg of caffeine per day.
A Word From Verywell
Consuming more calories than you expend while eating a range of nutrient-dense healthful meals is the best approach to gain weight in a healthy way. Despite their high calorie content, processed foods lack the health and nutritional benefits of real, whole foods. Maintain a healthy diet by increasing your nutrient consumption, whether you’re on a weight-gain plan or a regular one.
It’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all concept of a healthy lifestyle; it’s all about finding what works best for you. If you think you’re underweight, talk to your doctor before changing your diet. See more useful article at my website y2kcenter.org