Some people actively try to gain weight for several reasons, including:
- enhancing sports performance
- putting on muscle to reach a fitness or aesthetic goal
- recovering from a serious illness
- restoring weight after unintentional or undesired weight loss
- improving hormone levels and overall health after a period of restrictive dieting
The rate at which you gain weight depends on many factors, such as your body size, sex, activity level, calorie intake, and health status.
This article reviews how long it takes to start gaining weight, some strategies to get you started, and a few things to be aware of.
Weight gain depends on your goals
There are two main types of weight gain: body fat and lean muscle gains.
When you’re setting out to gain weight, it may help you to outline your goals first.
Are you looking to gain any weight at all costs? Alternatively, do you want to selectively gain mostly lean body mass at a more gradual rate?
The answer will affect how quickly you want to aim to pack on the pounds.
What affects weight gain?
You can gain weight by eating at a calorie surplus, which means taking in more calories than you burn regularly via your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and daily activity and exercise.
That said, the rate at which you gain weight will depend on several factors, including:
- how many calories you consume beyond the amount you need to maintain your weight
- genetic factors contributing to your weight, such as your size, build, and metabolism
- your daily activity level
- your eating habits
- your age
- your sex
- your hormone status
Fat vs. muscle gains
The rate at which you gain weight, the type of exercise you do, and your macronutrient breakdown influences whether you gain mostly muscle or fat. Taking a slower approach can help you optimize muscle gain.
This means slowly increasing your calorie intake while regularly practicing resistance exercise. Gaining weight this way is also known as a clean bulk.
If you’re not as concerned with whether the weight comes mostly from muscle or fat, you can increase your calories rapidly to promote quicker weight gain. However, you’re more likely to gain fat in the process.
Summary: Weight gain rates depend on your goals, body size, sex, and daily calorie intake. Gaining weight rapidly can result in excess fat gain, whereas a slow, controlled approach combined with resistance training can prioritize muscle gains.
How to get started
When starting, you first need to determine your maintenance calories — the number of calories you need each day to maintain your weight. To do this, you can use one of many online calculators.
From there, pack at least 500 calories daily to start gaining weight.
You may notice that the initial 5 pounds (2.2 kg) come on quickly. However, much of this may be due to the accumulation of water and glycogen (stored carbs).
Weigh yourself weekly, aiming to gain 0.25–0.5% of your body weight per week.
- A 175-pound (79-kg) man might aim to gain 0.4–0.8 pounds (0.2–0.4 kg) weekly.
- A 135-pound (61-kg) woman might aim to gain 0.3–0.6 pounds (0.14–0.28 kg) weekly.
Gradually adjust your calorie intake as needed to ensure you keep making progress toward your goal.
How long does it take?
We’ll use an average example here to give you a general idea of what to expect. Keep in mind that the amount and rate you gain might differ from this depending on the factors we listed above, and that’s okay.
Following the above approach, a person might gain an average of about 15 pounds (6.8 kg) over 6 months, eating approximately 500 additional calories daily. This slower approach would help prioritize gaining muscle.
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If you follow a more intensive approach to gaining weight, more of the weight you gain is likely to comprise fat instead of muscle. For example, some people might increase their calorie intake by 1,000 calories daily.
Eating 1,000 excess calories per day over 6 months, you may see a weight gain of around 25 pounds (11.4 kg), though a larger portion of this gain may comprise fat.
Weight gain progress will vary depending on your body size, goals, and other factors previously discussed.
It’s also important to note that weight gain is not linear, meaning you will likely have to continue increasing your calories to see progress.
This is because your metabolism changes as your body adjusts to the increase in daily calories.
Most people follow a weight gain protocol for at least 6 months, followed by a maintenance period to allow their body to adjust to the new weight.
Athletes looking to gain weight usually do so in the off-season of their given sport, aiming to put on new muscle for the next sporting season.
Summary: Start by increasing your calories by 500 daily. Weigh yourself weekly, slowly increasing your calorie intake to keep gaining weight. Though everyone’s different, this approach tends to help people gain about 15 pounds (6.8 kg) in 6 months, on average.
Weight gain strategies
Some people find it challenging to gain weight.
While the key is staying in a calorie surplus, you can also use other methods to help promote weight gain.
Here are the top strategies to help you move the scale in the right direction.
When lean muscle gain is your goal, resistance training in your routine can help shuttle the additional calories and nutrients toward muscle gains instead of fat gains.
Most people find it sufficient to follow a well-balanced training program that targets all major muscle groups at least once weekly. If you already follow an advanced weight training program, you may want to do resistance training more frequently.
Suggested read: Can you lose weight with diet alone?
Boost protein intake
Including plenty of protein in your diet while gaining weight is essential, especially if your goal is to put on muscle.
Research has shown that resistance training plus a high protein diet in which you consume 0.7–1.0 grams of protein per pound (1.6–2.2 grams per kg) of body weight helps promote muscle gains.
This will help ensure a balance of fat and muscle gains when striving to gain weight.
Focus on energy-dense foods
Energy-dense foods pack a lot of calories in proportion to their volume.
When attempting to gain weight, these foods can be your friend, as they allow you to increase your calories without getting full too quickly.
Some examples of energy-dense foods include:
- nuts and nut butter
- olive oil and other plant oils
- full-fat dairy, including yogurt and cheese
- dried fruits
- dark chocolate
- whole eggs
- seeds, such as pumpkin and flax
Drink smoothies and shakes
Once you’ve gained weight for a while, you may find it difficult to increase your calories without feeling too full.
A good way to counteract this is by including liquid calories. Some drinks are both nutrient-rich and calorie dense, allowing you to efficiently boost your calorie intake without feeling overfull.
Some examples of calorie-dense drinks include:
- fruit smoothies made with yogurt or protein powder
- shakes based on milk or ice cream
- 100% fruit juices
- weight gain powders and drinks
- whole milk
- chocolate milk
It’s still best to avoid beverages with excessive added sugars, such as regular soda, iced tea, lemonade, energy drinks, and certain coffee or tea drinks. If you’re not sure, check the nutrition label.
Drinking sweetened beverages increases the risk of certain diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Summary: Other techniques for boosting your weight gain include regular resistance training, increasing your protein intake, consuming calorie-dense foods, and consuming some of your calories in liquid form.
Weight gain precautions
Keep a few precautions in mind when implementing strategies to promote weight gain.
Suggested read: A vegan bodybuilding diet: Guide and meal plan
Eat enough fiber
Remember to consume a good amount of fiber on your weight gain journey. This is around 26 grams daily for women and about 38 grams for men.
Many higher-calorie processed foods may be great for gaining weight but tend to be low in fiber.
While too much fiber can fill you up, not getting enough can contribute to constipation and leave you uncomfortably backed up.
Be sure to include plenty of water, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to keep your fiber intake in check.
Don’t go overboard on protein
Even though a high protein diet can promote muscle gains, overdoing it with protein can also create a barrier to gaining weight.
Protein-rich foods tend to be fairly filling. Thus, if you regularly eat excessive amounts of protein, you may not have room to eat other foods that promote weight gain, such as carbs and fats.
Aim to consume 25–40 grams of protein per meal, depending on your size, and let the rest of the calories come from foods rich in carbs and fat.
Remaining sedentary is one way to gain weight. However, a sedentary lifestyle can have some negative health effects, including an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
To help prevent these side effects when you’re gaining weight, aim to get 30 minutes of physical activity at least 5 days per week. This is the minimal amount of physical activity the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends.
Take a gradual approach
While you may have ambitious weight gain goals, it’s best to gain weight gradually over at least 6 months.
This allows your body to adjust to your increased calorie intake and body size slowly.
If you progress slowly, you’ll likely be able to maintain your new weight moving forward, rather than the weight coming right back off when you stop consuming as many calories or increase your physical activity.
Summary: Consider taking a few precautions if you’re trying to gain weight. Ensure you eat enough fiber, stay active, and don’t overload on protein. A more gradual approach will also help you gain muscle and maintain weight gain.
People may look to gain weight for various reasons, including putting on muscle, improving athletic performance, or recovering from an illness.
Your rate of weight gain will depend on several factors, including your body size, sex, calorie intake, genetics, activity level, and health status.
Increasing your calories by about 500 beyond your daily maintenance calorie needs could allow you to gain about 15 pounds (6.8 kg) over 6 months. This may vary from person to person.
Eating a greater calorie surplus will allow you to gain weight faster, though it is more likely to result in additional fat gain versus muscle.
To boost weight gain, particularly if your goal is to gain lean muscle, you can try a few strategies, such as following a resistance training routine, increasing your protein intake, drinking calorie-dense beverages, and eating calorie-dense foods.
To avoid potential negative side effects of the weight gain process, ensure a good fiber intake, stay active, and don’t overdo it on protein.
By following this approach, you’ll be on the road to gaining weight quickly.