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Healthy Way to Gain Weight for Teens

By Jill Corleone ; Updated July 18, 2017

Being underweight doesn't give you license to eat fast food and cupcakes. You want to gain weight, but you need to eat right so you feel more energetic and put on pounds in a healthy way. That means paying attention to what you eat and working out to build muscle. Be sure to talk to your doctor first, though, to help steer you in the direction that fits your specific needs.

Weight Gain Comes Down to Calories

As a teen, you need enough calories to support your growing and changing body. On average, teen girls need 1,800 to 2,400 calories a day and teen boys need 1,800 to 3,200 calories daily. So to gain weight, you need to eat even more. Adding 250 calories a day may help you gain 1/2 pound a week. But you may need even more calories if you have a high metabolism or participate in sports.

Making a few tweaks to what you normally eat, such as adding a few high-calorie, nutrient-rich options and eating more often may help you get the extra calories without making you feel like a stuffed turkey.

Making the Right Food Choices for Healthy Gains

You need to get your extra calories from the right foods. Eating junk food may supply calories, but that's about it. Candy, chips and soda lack the vitamins and minerals your body needs for growth and the nutrients you need for healthy weight gain. Skip the junk and start with the basics: fruits, vegetables, grains, healthy sources of protein such as beans, eggs, poultry and meat, milk and healthy fats such as nuts, olive oil and avocados.

To get those extra calories, go for the higher-calorie options from each of the different food groups. For example, dried fruit and 100 percent fruit juice, peas and potatoes, eggs and chicken legs, whole milk and regular cheese.

Tips for Teens to Add Calories

Healthy fats are already a concentrated source of calories and make good calorie boosters to the food your already eat. Add avocado to your sandwich or salad or cook your meat or veggies in oil. Cheese also makes an easy way to add calories and goes well on top of your baked potato, eggs, sauteed broccoli or with your avocado on your sandwich.

Mix dry milk powder into moist foods to up the calories and add creaminess. Milk powder mixes well with milk you drink, yogurt, hot cereal, soup, pudding, fruit smoothies or macaroni and cheese.

If you're looking for a healthy high-calorie snack, consider a handful of nuts or nut butter on whole-wheat bread or an apple. Add nuts to hot cereal, yogurt, salad and grains for extra calories, too. If you're staying after school for sports or play practice, toss a banana or trail mix into your backpack to sneak in a few calories before your activity.

Work Out Those Muscles, Too

Adding calories and eating the right foods are steps in the right direction to help you add weight, but you also want to include strength-training exercises to build muscle. Working out helps ensure that you gain muscle mass, too, not just fat.

Be sure to talk to a coach or trainer before you start any strength-training program. Good form is important for safety and muscle gain. Start out first by practicing the exercise without weights. Once you've mastered the form and motion, add weights and do eight to 15 reps of each exercise, aiming for one exercise for each of your major muscle groups -- arms, legs, abs, back and shoulders. To make the gains, work out all your muscle groups two or three days a week, taking a day off in between. A good strength-training routine should take you about 30 minutes.

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