Healthy Foods To Gain Weight

  • Nell Marquess Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery - MBBS, Medicine, University of Exeter, UK
  • Stephanie Leadbitter MSc Cancer Biology & Radiotherapy Physics, BSc (Hons) Biomedical Science, University of Manchester, UK


For most of us, the first thing to come to mind when we think of health and fitness is likely losing weight. However, for many people, gaining weight is a goal that they would like to achieve. This may be because they are currently underweight, have lost weight due to illness or want to build muscle and strength. Some people may also want to gain weight if they are unhappy with their current body shape or size. 

Gaining weight in a healthy way is important. Although eating heavily processed, calorie-dense options such as cakes, crisps, and fast food is an easy way to gain weight, it may increase your risk of diseases such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and heart disease in the future.1 Long-term excess consumption of ultra-processed foods has also been linked to an increased risk of cancer throughout one's lifetime and an increased risk of early death.1 Thankfully, there are many healthier alternatives that can help you reach your weight-gain goals in a health-conscious way. 

Macronutrients for healthy weight gain

To understand the best way to gain weight healthily, it is important to know what types of food exist and how much of them we should be eating. Food can be grouped into carbohydrates, fats, and proteins—these groups are known as macronutrients. Eating a balance of these is crucial for our health, whether our goal is weight gain, weight loss, or weight maintenance. 


Carbohydrates, or 'carbs', include many foods you are likely already familiar with as they typically make up a large part of our diet. This includes grains like pasta, rice, cereal or bread, as well as beans, lentils, fruits and vegetables. They are called carbohydrates because of what they are made up of - the chemical elements carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.2 

Sometimes carbohydrates are divided up into 'complex carbohydrates' and 'simple carbohydrates' based on their structure - simple carbohydrates are made up of molecules containing only one or two ‘monosaccharides’, which are a type of sugar.2 These provide us with energy faster  but don't tend to keep us full for as long. Examples of simple carbohydrates include fruit and sweets.

Complex carbohydrates on the other hand contain long chains of these monosaccharides, and our body takes longer to break these down. This means they keep us full for longer. Examples of complex carbohydrates include wholegrain bread, wholegrain pasta and some vegetables.

Carbohydrates are a macronutrient that is often demonised by the media as 'bad' or ‘unhealthy’ food. However, this is not the case! Carbohydrates are the main source of energy in most of our diets, and they are important in regulating our appetite and helping our brain function.3 Some carbohydrates, specifically wholegrains, vegetables, fruits, beans, and pulses, have also been linked to reducing our risk of heart disease. 

It is also not true that simple carbohydrates are 'bad' and complex carbohydrates are 'good'. For example, both fruit and cakes are both examples of simple carbohydrates. However, fruit contains fibre, vitamins and minerals that we may not get from other carbohydrates.3 Simple carbohydrates can also provide us with a quick burst of fast-acting energy when we need it. A healthy balance of both simple and complex carbohydrates in our diets will ensure that our cells get the energy and nutrients that they need. 

Another important class of carbohydrates is fibre. Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that cannot be broken down properly by our body. Fibre keeps us full, reduces our risk of heart disease and diabetes, aids our digestion, and ensures we have regular bowel movements.3 Eating high-fibre carbohydrates, for example, whole grains, is important whether we are trying to gain, lose, or maintain weight.2  


Protein is essential for building and maintaining muscle, keeping our bones healthy and keeping us full and satiated. High protein diets have been shown to prevent obesity, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and muscle wasting.4 For those who are very active, eating enough protein is essential to help muscle repair after exercise and increase muscle gain for those who are strength training, for example lifting weights in the gym. 

Protein can be categorised into animal protein and plant protein. Some examples of animal protein include chicken, beef, fish, pork, eggs and dairy.4 Examples of plant protein include beans, lentils, tofu, soybeans, peas and processed meat alternatives such as Quorn. Lean proteins, meaning proteins that do not also contain a significant amount of fat, are generally better for our health than those high in fat. Lean proteins include most plant proteins, such as chicken and fish. Foods such as red meat and eggs should be eaten less often than lean proteins to avoid excess saturated fat and cholesterol intake, as this can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.5 

Distributing protein intake across three meals a day has been found to increase muscle repair and overall muscle mass compared to when protein intake is skewed so that the majority of protein is eaten in an evening meal.4 This can be done by ensuring you eat a source of protein at every meal. 

For those who want to lose weight, protein is useful as it is very filling. For those who are looking to gain weight, it is important to eat fats and carbohydrates alongside protein sources, as otherwise, it may be difficult to eat enough calories in a day due to fullness.


Fats, although often demonised, are essential in a healthy diet. Fats include foods such as oils, nuts, seeds, dairy, meat and eggs. Omega fatty acids are a type of fat that is found in oily fish and is important for the health of our skin and nails.5 The Mediterranean diet, which is a diet highly recommended for good health across the world, is high in quality unsaturated fats such as extra virgin olive oil, oily fish, nuts and seeds. Fats are also important in helping us absorb vitamins.6

It is recommended by healthcare professionals that cholesterol and saturated fats be limited in our diet to avoid increasing our risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Foods high in cholesterol and saturated fat include fatty cuts of meat, cheese, butter, cream, chocolate and sweets, biscuits, pastries and cakes.6 It is recommended that men eat 30g or less of saturated fat a day and women eat 20g or less a day.6

Fats contain more energy, or calories, per gram compared to carbohydrates or protein.5 For this reason, healthy fat sources are very useful for people who are trying to gain weight. It can be easy to add extra fats to your diet, for example adding olive oil or avocados to meals, and snacking on foods such as almonds or walnuts.

Nutrient-dense foods for weight gain

When aiming to gain weight, it is important to focus on calorie-dense, nutrient-rich foods. Below are listed some examples of foods that are calorie dense but also nutrient dense.2,7-9

Fruits and vegetables

  • Bananas
  • Avocados
  • Coconut and coconut milk 


  • Wholewheat pasta and rice
  • Bagels and bread
  • Jacked potatoes
  • Cereals and porridge


  • Lean meats, including chicken and turkey
  • Fish, including oily fish such as salmon
  • Hummus
  • Eggs 
  • Full-fat yoghurt and milk
  • Beans, peas and lentils 
  • Plant-based milks, e.g. soy or almond milk
  • Protein powders (whey or soy-based)


  • Olive oil, flaxseed oil or rapeseed oil
  • Oily fish
  • Cheese
  • Nuts and nut kinds of butter, e.g. peanut butter

Meal planning for weight gain

In order to gain weight, you must eat more calories of food than you burn during the day.8 We burn calories all the time, including when sleeping, breathing and eating, so if you are very active then you may find you need to consume a large amount of healthy foods in order to put on weight. 

For those wanting to gain weight, having a balanced diet with protein, carbohydrates and fats in every meal is very important. This will ensure you feel energised throughout the day without feeling sluggish. Having 3 meals a day with at least 1 or 2 snacks is recommended by the NHS for those wanting to gain weight. Snacking between meals can help you eat more throughout the day.8 Keeping snacks in the house that are easy to take on the go, such as nuts or pieces of fruit, may be helpful. 

Increasing the amount of food you eat may look different to different people. One person may want to increase their portions of protein if they want to build muscle, whereas someone else may want to increase the amount of healthy fats in their diet if they are struggling to eat enough during the day.8 Some people find calorie counting useful in making sure they are eating enough, and this can be done using various apps and websites online. For others, this may make them feel stressed about their diet, and they would prefer not to count calories. It is a personal choice and you can successfully gain weight healthily whether counting calories or not. 

For those who are resistance training at the gym and trying to gain muscle, generally eating an adequate amount of carbohydrates a couple hours before training will ensure that you have energy during your workout.9 Afterwards, it is important to eat a meal that is high in protein, as this will speed up muscle repair and growth. If it isn’t convenient to eat a whole meal after working out, for example, if you typically go straight to work after the gym, post-workout snacks may include a protein shake/smoothie or a protein bar.9

Drinks can also be a good way to get extra calories in if you are struggling. Nutrient dense smoothies can be made containing ingredients such as fruit, oats, protein powder, nuts or nut butters, seeds and full-fat milk and these can be a great option for people who would prefer to have a high calorie drink than eat a large meal.8 


If you are trying to gain weight due to a health condition or want help gaining weight, it is always best to consult a healthcare professional.1 This may be a doctor, nurse or nutritionist. They can help you throughout your journey and check you are getting all the nutrients that you need.

Slow and steady weight gain with healthy foods such as the ones listed above will ensure that your journey is sustainable and your health stays in good shape. Although high calorie treats such as cakes and biscuits have a part in a balanced diet, ensuring you are eating high quality protein, fat and carbohydrate sources first will reduce your risk of developing diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes in the future.1 


  1. Crimarco A, Landry MJ, Gardner CD. Ultra-processed foods, weight gain, and co-morbidity risk. Curr Obes Rep. 2022 Sep;11(3):80–92. 
  2. Medicine LibreTexts [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2023 Sep 9]. 4. 1: introduction to carbohydrates. Available from:
  3. Mann J, Cummings JH, Englyst HN, Key T, Liu S, Riccardi G, et al. FAO/WHO Scientific Update on carbohydrates in human nutrition: conclusions. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2007 Dec;61(1):S132–7. Available from:
  4. Layman DK. Dietary Guidelines should reflect new understandings about adult protein needs. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2009 Mar 13;6(1):12. Available from:
  5. Meijaard E, Abrams JF, Slavin JL, Sheil D. Dietary fats, human nutrition and the environment: balance and sustainability. Frontiers in Nutrition. 2022;9. Available from:
  6. [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2023 Sep 9]. Facts about fat. Available from:
  7. Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust [Internet]. [cited 2023 Sep 9]. Energy dense diet for children. Available from:
  8. Dietary Advice to Gain Weight and Protect Your Heart [Internet]. NHS University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire; 2018. Available from:
  9. Pre and post-workout nutrition [Internet]. [cited 2023 Sep 9]. Available from:
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

Get our health newsletter

Get daily health and wellness advice from our medical team.
Your privacy is important to us. Any information you provide to this website may be placed by us on our servers. If you do not agree do not provide the information.

Nell Marquess

Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery - MBBS, Medicine, University of Exeter

Nell is a medical student studying at the University of Exeter with an interest in psychiatry, general practice and women’s health. She has a background in teaching and has previously worked as an editor for a student medical journal. She is now writing medical articles for Klarity alongside her studies. presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
Klarity is a citizen-centric health data management platform that enables citizens to securely access, control and share their own health data. Klarity Health Library aims to provide clear and evidence-based health and wellness related informative articles. 
Klarity / Managed Self Ltd
Alum House
5 Alum Chine Road
Westbourne Bournemouth BH4 8DT
VAT Number: 362 5758 74
Company Number: 10696687

Phone Number:

 +44 20 3239 9818