How do we gain weight? Well, it’s quite simply really; we need to be taking in more energy than we expend. You’ll often hear people referring to the amount they need to consume above their maintenance as their calorie surplus.
For most people, especially those experienced in weightlifting, resistance training, athletics or other sports, a calorie surplus (and subsequently weight gain) is required to develop a significant amount of muscle and keep up with their training plan.
Typically, a surplus of 500 calories a day is thought of as optimal for weight gain, but this varies from person to person based on things like training and basal metabolic rate.
Luckily, there are plenty of foods that can speed up the process and help you gain weight faster and pack on some muscle.
Milk is one of the most affordable and well-rounded additions you can make to your muscle gaining diet; packed full of beneficial vitamins and minerals as well as being energy dense and a good source of protein.
Protein, as well as energy, is critical for the muscle gaining period2 as these are the “bricks” we need to rebuild and repair our tissue. Researchers estimate that our requirement for daily protein may need to increase to somewhere between 1.6 to 2.2g per kg of bodyweight per day3 to achieve our muscle building goals.
Kcals per 100ml – 63
Protein (g) per 100ml – 4g
Protein supplements are one of, if not the, best foods for increasing your total protein intake as well as your energy intake. They’re the highest quality form of protein we’re currently aware of4 and, when it comes to their use, they’re highly versatile.
Add to baking recipes, as a snack or even use them to make smoothies and combine some of our other weight gain foods on the list.
Kcals per 100g (Myprotein impact whey) – 412
Protein (g) per 100g – 82g
Why not try this brownie recipe to sink your teeth into protein powder baking?
3. Salmon and oily fish
Salmon and oily fish tick our two main boxes; energy dense and packed full of protein. Great! But it doesn’t end there, oh no. Salmon and other forms of oily fish are also rich in “healthy” fats (omega 3s for example and other polyunsaturated fats as well as monounsaturated fats) and low in “unhealthy” fats (saturated and trans fats). This is important as many other animal protein sources will be richer in these unhealthier fats and much lower in the healthier fats.
It’s also important to highlight that research has shown dietary fat content can directly influence body composition change5 in a calorie surplus, with more bodyfat gain being attributed to a higher intake of unhealthy fats.
Kcals per 100g (salmon fillet) – 202
Protein (g) per 100g – 21g
Nuts and nut butters are a fantastic addition to a muscle building diet; packed full of healthy fats and energy dense as well as being a bountiful source of vitamins and minerals. They’re also a source of electrolytes; a particularly important component of our diet that upholds optimal hydration and exercise performance.
Nuts are a wonderful snack and nut butters can be added to your smoothies, meals or consumed on their own to up your energy intake. Really helpful for those who struggle getting in the volume of food they need to achieve their needed surplus.
Kcals per 100g (Myprotein all-natural peanut butter) – 614
Protein (g) per 100g – 30g
Why not give these high protein peanut butter sandwiches a whirl?
5. Oats and other wholegrain cereals
Oats are a wonderful source of protein, minerals, fibre and energy. With the added food intake, you’d want to be conscious of your fibre intake as well (likely requiring an increase) to ensure your digestion functions as it should. Brilliant to have on their own or with a scoop of protein powder mixed in or thrown into smoothies.
Other wholegrain cereals, such as Weetabix, bran flakes, oat bran etc. would make for good additions now and again to diversify your diet too.
Kcals per 100g (oats) – 360
Protein (g) per 100g – 11g
6. Wholegrain rice, pasta and quinoa
Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy and wholegrain rice, pasta, and quinoa are great sources as well as being sources of fibre and other vitamins and minerals.
Quinoa is also a good source of protein and tends to have a better nutrient profile overall than rice or pasta (albeit a bit more expensive, but if you can afford it, it’s great).
Kcals per 100g (cooked wholegrain rice) – 165
Protein (g) per 100g – 3g
Potatoes are just as great as rice, pasta and other grains for providing us the carbohydrates we need to fuel our performance, recovery and muscle growth.
They’re also packed full of helpful B vitamins that are crucial to our metabolism functioning properly and ensuring we’re getting the most out of the healthy foods we eat.
Kcals per 100g (cooked) – 90
Protein (g) per 100g – 2g
8. Protein bars
Protein bars are one of the best snacks you can have on a muscle building diet. Packed full of protein (name gives it away) but also a good source of added energy and, in many cases, fibre.
We have a huge range of bars to choose from, if it’s a flapjack you fancy or a protein packed multi-layered delight, you’ll find those and everything in between.
Avocados are a great source of healthy fats as well as being an energy dense… berry? Yeah, in case you didn’t know that, avocados are actually berries.
As weird as they may be, avocados are a fantastic addition to our muscle building diet and can be added in a savoury or sweet capacity; making a silky, creamy smoothie or an additional nutrient packed compliment to a salad or alongside some carbs and protein.
Kcals per 100g – 160
Protein (g) per 100g – 2g
You can check out more health benefits of avocados here;
10. Whole eggs
Whole eggs are delicious packages of protein, healthy fats and energy. They’re a great option for any meal and they’re highly affordable too.
Kcals per egg – 60
Protein (g) per egg – 13g
Try this delicious Egg-Stuffed Tortilla Wrap recipe from our blog;
One of my favourite pre-workout recommendations is a handful or two of dried fruit or banana/ coconut dried chips.
These are a great source of readily available carbohydrate. This form of carbohydrate can help spare our own, an important focus for those looking to optimise recovery and performance6, as well as increase our performance6. The banana / coconut dried chips can also contribute towards our electrolyte needs as well which increase with sweating and exercise6.
Kcals per 100g (dried fruit mix) – 335
Carbohydrate (g) per 100g – 75g
12. Beans and lentils
Beans and lentils are super underrated and often seen as a food just for the vegetarians and vegan dieters. But they’re spilling over with fibre, protein and a whole bunch of other helpful and healthful vitamins and minerals. They’re also really affordable and versatile to cook with.
Kcals per 100g – 94
Protein (g) per 100g – 6.5g
13. Olives and healthy cooking oils
Olives are a good source of healthy fats and a perfect snack or addition to many main meals.
Healthier cooking oils like olive, sesame and even avocado make for a great addition as a salad dressing or for cooking that really help to increase your energy intake without loading up on unwanted unhealthy fats.
Kcals per tablespoon – 115
Fat (g) per tablespoon – 14.5g
Cheese is often seen as “unhealthy” and we’re not fully sure as to why that is. It’s a good source of high-quality protein, packed full of healthful vitamins and minerals and a great source of energy.
Certainly, worth including in your diet and just ignore those who arbitrarily say a food is “good” or “bad” without any explanation or context.
Kcals per 100g (mature cheddar) – 415
Protein (g) per 100g – 25g
15. Yoghurt and other fermented dairy products
Yoghurt is awesome. It’s like milk but more dessert-y. It’s naturally packed full of protein, energy and important vitamins and minerals but now you can get specially crafted higher protein alternatives. Including these in your diet is a definite no-brainer when trying to up protein or overall calories.
You can also consider including other fermented dairy products (like kefir, kvarg, quark etc.) which are also packed full of protein. Fermented dairy products are also awesome for our gut too.
Kcals per 100g (fat free Greek yoghurt) – 55
Protein (g) per 100g – 7.5g
Take home message
Weight gain is fairly simplistic; we simply need to eat more than what we need to maintain our weight. Muscle gain and retaining / improving our body composition during a period of weight gain is a bit more complex though.
It isn’t just about “having more” it’s also about the quality of our diet and the exercise we do (but we’ll not touch on that today). If you’re looking for a few weight-gain staples from this list, it has to be:
- Protein powder supplements
- Nuts and nut butters
- Salmon and oily fish
- Whole eggs
Start incorporating these and you’ll notice a real improvement in your muscle-building efforts.
If you’re still finding it a bit of a struggle though you can always check out our “best supplements to gain weight”; these are a real difference maker for many, many people.