Whether you want to gain weight to improve your health or to add muscle to fill out a scrawny frame, you need to consistently consume more calories than you burn. How fast you gain weight depends on how much of a caloric surplus you create daily and for how long. Some friends may envy your problem and have trouble sympathizing with your need to eat more, but gaining weight can be a real struggle that takes weeks or months.
Healthy Weight Gain
A healthy rate of gain is just 1 to 2 pounds per week -- or about 4 to 8 pounds per month. One pound equals 3,500 calories, so if you can eat 500 calories more than you burn daily for a week, you should gain one pound. If you can only manage an additional 250 calories per day, you'll gain about 0.5 pounds per week and if you can pack in 1,000 extra calories per day, you can gain 2 pounds per week. How many calories you burn daily depends on your genetics, age, activity level and size. Generally, younger, taller people burn more calories than older, petite people. The more active you are, the more calories you burn all day long. Activity includes fidgeting and manual labor, not just formal exercise.
If your goal is to build muscle, you'll need to be more cautious when creating a calorie surplus. Dr. Melina Jampolis, Physician Nutrition Specialist for CNN, reports that the fastest you can build muscle is about 1/2 pound per week, or 2 pounds per month. If you gain weight faster than that, chances are some of it is fat. Gaining muscle also requires significant work at the gym and some trial and error to see what works for your body; your rate of gain will vary depending on your workout schedule and genetics.
A high-calorie diet consisting of ice cream and fast food might pack on the pounds quickly, but it puts you at risk of health problems. Add calories by eating foods that offer high-quality nutrition, such as lean meats, starchy vegetables and whole grains. Regular physical activity, such as walking or cycling, may burn calories, but it can stimulate your appetite if you have trouble consuming enough calories -- just consume adequate calories to make up for any you burn during a workout.
Include more healthy, calorie-dense foods in your diet to increase your calorie intake and gain weight more quickly. Use nuts and nut butter liberally, add avocados to sandwiches and salads, toss pasta in olive oil before saucing, choose creamy soups over broth-based varieties, add a serving of whole grain bread to meals and cook hot cereal in milk rather than water. Serve yourself additional helpings of lean proteins and whole grains or starchy vegetables at each meal. Snack every two to three hours on trail mix, granola or smoothies made with yogurt and fruit.
If gaining weight takes longer than expected or simply isn't happening, consult your physician to ensure you don't have an underlying condition. You may be underestimating your daily calorie needs too, which means you simply aren't eating enough. If you can't eat enough to gain weight at a rate of 1 to 2 pounds per week, set less lofty goals -- especially if you are trying to add muscle. Even if it takes you four months to gain 4 pounds, you're still heading in the direction of your goals.