While many Americans are trying to shed pounds, some people who are naturally thin strive to gain weight. Though weight gain may seem like an easy task, gaining lean muscle mass instead of body fat takes careful planning. The right diet and exercise program can help you meet your weight-gain goals.
Boost Energy-Dense Foods
Choosing energy-dense foods, which are foods rich in calories and nutrients, is a healthy way for naturally thin underweight people to pack on pounds. For example, pick dried fruit instead of fresh fruit, whole milk instead of low-fat milk, whole-milk yogurt instead of low-fat yogurt, and high-calorie protein bars instead of regular granola bars. Snack on high-calorie nuts, seeds, cheeses, avocados, or a bagel topped with peanut butter. Eat fresh veggies dipped in hummus, add extra cheese to casseroles, and top salads and cereals with nuts and seeds.
Use Powdered Milk
Adding powdered milk to regular milk, juice, smoothies, casseroles, soups, cooked cereals, scrambled eggs and sides like mashed potatoes helps boost your calorie intake for weight gain. Try a protein smoothie by blending together milk or soy milk, yogurt, fruit, powdered milk and almond or cashew butter. Just 1/4 cup of whole milk powder provides you with an extra 160 calories and almost 9 grams of protein, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database. While whole milk powder does contain saturated fat, milk fat isn't as harmful for as once thought and may even be beneficial for a healthy heart, according to a 2015 issue of Today's Dietitian.
Avoid Junk Food
Just because naturally thin people seeking weight gain need more calories, doesn't mean they should turn to junk food. The American Academy of Family Physicians notes that while eating junk food can lead to weight gain, it won't fulfill your daily nutrient needs -- and the added sugar and salt in it can harm your body. So avoid sodas, other sugary drinks, highly processed foods, high-fat meats, sweets, candy, and fried foods whenever possible.
Instead of eating three meals per day, aim for five to six smaller meals daily to pack on pounds, suggests MedlinePlus and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Eat a meal or snack every few hours to boost your daily caloric intake without feeling bloated or uncomfortably full.
Regularly completing resistance training exercises, such as weight lifting, is the key to gaining muscle mass. To increase muscle size while lifting weights, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends completing 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions if you're just starting out, and 3 to 6 sets of 1 to 12 reps if you're an experienced lifter with rest periods between sets of 2 to 3 minutes for intense lifting, and 1 to 2 minutes for lower intensity loads. For best results, lift weights most days of the week but avoid working the same muscle group two days in a row.
An experienced health, nutrition and fitness writer, Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian and holds a dietetics degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She also has worked as a clinical dietitian and health educator in outpatient settings. Erin's work is published on popular health websites, such as TheNest.com and JillianMichaels.com.