The best foods for weight gain usually contain plant and animal protein, fats and oils, complex carbohydrates, and dairy products made with whole milk. What you should eat, however, depends on your specific weight and health goals.
For some people, gaining weight or adding muscle can feel as difficult as losing weight is for others.
For weight gain, you need to try to take in more calories than you burn throughout the day by eating many frequent, smaller meals.
Adding certain foods to your diet can provide extra calories and nutrients, like protein, to make weight gain efforts both safe and effective.
Here are 18 of the best foods to help you gain weight or add muscle in a way that works for you.
1. Homemade protein smoothies
Homemade protein smoothies can be a highly nutritious and effective way to gain weight.
Making your own smoothies gives you full control over the ingredients and can help you boost calories.
Here are a few tasty variations you can try. You can combine each with 2 cups or 470 milliliters (mL) of dairy milk or soy milk if you have lactose intolerance. Both have more nutrients and calories than other milk alternatives.
- Chocolate banana nut shake: Combine 1 banana, 1 scoop of chocolate whey protein, and 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of peanut or another nut butter.
- Vanilla berry shakes: Combine 1 cup (237 mL) of fresh or frozen mixed berries, ice, 1 cup (237 mL) of high protein, whole milk Greek yogurt, and 1 scoop of vanilla whey protein.
- Super green shake: Combine 1 cup (237 mL) of spinach, 1 avocado, 1 banana, 1 cup (237 mL) of pineapple, and 1 scoop of unflavored or vanilla whey protein.
All of these smoothies provide around 400–600 calories, along with a high amount of protein, and other important vitamins and minerals.
SUMMARYA protein smoothie offers a great way to increase your daily calories in a portable way that meets your taste preferences.
2. Dairy milk
Dairy milk has been used as a weight gainer or muscle builder for decades (1Trusted Source).
It provides a balance of proteins, carbs, and fats and is a good source of calcium, as well as other vitamins and minerals (2Trusted Source).
If you’re trying to build muscle, milk is an excellent protein source that provides both casein and whey proteins. A 2018 review of research has shown cow’s milk can help you add muscle when combined with weightlifting (3).
Additionally, studies have found that milk, or whey and casein protein combined, can lead to greater mass gain than other protein sources (4).
Try drinking 1 cup of whole milk (237 mL) as a snack, with a meal, or before and after a workout if you’re training for a quick 149 calories and 8 grams (g) of protein per serving (2Trusted Source).
SUMMARYDrinking milk is a great way to add protein to your diet. It contains both casein and whey proteins that are linked with supporting muscle growth.
Rice is a convenient, low-cost carb source that can be part of a weight gain eating plan. Just 1 cup (158 g) of cooked white rice provides 204 calories, 44 g of carbs, and very little fat (5Trusted Source).
Rice is also fairly calorie-dense, meaning you can obtain a high amount of carbs and calories from a single serving. This helps you eat more food, especially if you don’t feel that hungry or get full quickly.
When you’re on the go or in a rush, you can add 2-minute packs of microwavable rice to other protein sources.
Another popular method is to prepare a large pot of rice, refrigerate it freeze individual portions, and then combine it with different proteins and fats for varied meals throughout the week. Rice can be a staple food for supporting frequent, smaller meals throughout the day.
The easiest way to add taste, calories, and a protein boost is to stir some of these ingredients into cooked rice:
- butter and Parmesan cheese
- broccoli and cheese
- scrambled eggs
- toasted sesame seeds, peanuts, or cashews
You can also top rice with a sauce, such as:
A rice dish can easily become a whole meal. Try this wild rice and chicken kale for a balanced lunch (400 calories per serving).
SUMMARYRice is a source of calories and carbs that can be part of many frequent, smaller meals throughout the day.
4. Nuts and nut butter
Nuts and nut butter can support an eating plan focused on weight gain.
Just one small handful of raw almonds (1/4 cup or about 32 g) contains 170 calories, 6 g of protein, and 15 g of fats (6Trusted Source).
Since nuts are calorie-dense, just two handfuls per day with a meal or as a snack can quickly add hundreds of calories.
You can add nut butter to a variety of snacks or dishes, such as smoothies, yogurts, and crackers, to turn them into a high-calorie snack in no time.
For a quick pick-me-up, try this peanut butter banana smoothie, with only three ingredients (270 calories, using whole milk). If you have a peanut or other nut allergy, substitute another well-tolerated, safe nut or seed butter.
However, make sure you pick 100% nut butter with no added sugar or extra oils. Or better yet, make your own from this homemade almond butter recipe. It’s easy to make and easy on your wallet, too.
SUMMARYNuts and nut butter are delicious, high calorie foods. They’re nutrient-dense, full of fats, and easy to add to many different snacks or recipes.
5. Red meats
Red meats, including beef or pork, are probably one of the most effective muscle-building foods available.
For example, 3 oz (85 g) of steak contains 228 calories, 24 g of protein, and around 2.5 g of leucine (7Trusted Source).
Leucine is the key amino acid your body needs to stimulate muscle protein synthesis and add new muscle tissue (8Trusted Source).
In addition to this, red meats are a natural source of dietary creatine, which is a critical compound for supporting overall muscle growth, size, strength, and health (9Trusted Source).
While lean cuts, like pork tenderloin, can be a nutrient-dense and protein-rich part of a balanced eating plan, consider choosing fattier cuts, which provide more calories than leaner meats to help you take in extra calories.
One 2022 research review found that eating meat, specifically red meat, plays a major role in improving muscle mass when paired with strength training and can prevent muscle loss linked with aging (10Trusted Source).
The same review also highlights the link between eating large amounts of red meat and colorectal cancer. The authors note the current guidance to eat no more than 50 g of red meat per day.
This brisket recipe is a good example of a fattier red meat dish that you can try starting in the morning for a nutritious dinner in the evening. It provides approximately 300 calories per every 3 oz (85 g) serving.
SUMMARYRed meat is an excellent source of protein that could help you gain muscle when paired with resistance exercise. It contains leucine, an amino acid that helps stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Fattier cuts of meat have additional calories.
6. Potatoes and complex carbohydrates
Potatoes and other complex carbohydrates are a cost-effective way to add extra calories.
Complex carbohydrates can lead to a steady release of energy. They also provide other nutrients and food groups, such as potassium, fiber, vegetables, or whole grains.
Try to choose one of these sources of complex carbs:
- potatoes and sweet potatoes
- winter root vegetables
- beans and legumes
Not only do potatoes and other complex carbohydrates add calories, but they also increase the storage of complex sugar compounds in muscle called glycogen. Glycogen is the predominant fuel source for most sports and activities (11Trusted Source).
Many of these carb sources also provide resistant starch, which may help nourish your gut bacteria (12).
You can eat both sweet potatoes and quinoa in this hearty lunch recipe for quinoa and roasted sweet potato bowls (336 calories per serving).
Other ways to add calories to complex carbs include:
- adding sour cream to potatoes
- adding grated cheese to quinoa or mashed potatoes
- adding fats like olive or avocado oil to roast your vegetables
- adding hummus to whole grain bread, crackers, or baked potato
- Use dairy or soy milk instead of water in your oatmeal or other hot grains
SUMMARYComplex carbohydrates can increase important nutrients and calories and improve your muscle glycogen stores.
7. Salmon and oily fish
Like red meat, salmon and oily fish are excellent sources of protein and important fats, including omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids offer numerous benefits and may be linked to less likelihood of several diseases, such as heart disease (13Trusted Source).
Just one fillet of deboned wild Atlantic salmon (3 oz or 85 g serving) provides around 155 calories, 7 g of fats, and 22 g of high-quality protein that may help you build muscle or gain weight (14Trusted Source).
You can prepare salmon in a variety of ways: steamed, sautéed, smoked, grilled, baked, or poached. You could also try smoked salmon or even eat raw salmon in sushi and sashimi. Fresh or frozen salmon often has a slightly higher price tag, but canned salmon is a quick and inexpensive option.
Consider these convenient, tasty ways of adding salmon to your diet:
- Tuna salad: Try giving your usual “tuna” salad a new spin by using canned salmon instead, and add olive oil or mayonnaise for extra calories.
- Cobb salad: Make a Cobb salad substituting canned salmon for the traditional chicken, then add bacon, hard-boiled egg, avocado, lettuce, and tomatoes.
- Give smoked salmon a try: Spread cream cheese on whole grain bread or crackers, add smoked salmon, and top with cucumber, tomato slices, or capers.
- Salmon salad: Make a salmon salad with leafy greens, asparagus, and some whole milk plain Greek yogurt, mayonnaise, or sour cream.
SUMMARYSalmon and other oily fish are a great source of incredibly beneficial omega-3 fats. They also provide high quality protein that may help you build muscle.
8. Protein supplements
Taking a protein supplement is a common strategy for athletes and bodybuilders who want to gain weight and build muscle. There are many types of protein supplements available, including:
Whey protein supplements and mass gainers (supplements that might help you gain muscle mass) can be effective strategies to gain weight, especially when combined with strength training.
A 2022 review of 74 research studies done in otherwise healthy people found that when combined with resistance exercise, protein supplementation at or above 1.6 g of protein per kilogram (or per 2.2 pounds) of body weight per day improved lean body mass and lower body strength (15Trusted Source).
Whey protein is often made from dairy milk and can help improve markers of athletic performance and recovery (16Trusted Source).
Protein supplements may be even more important if you’re also lifting weights since your daily protein requirements increase.
Whey protein, along with other plant-based protein isolates such as soy, contains all the essential amino acids required for muscle growth (17Trusted Source).
You could use a protein supplement before or after your workout and at any other point during the day.
The easiest way to add protein powder and extra calories into your eating plan is with a protein smoothie, especially for breakfast. You can have the rest of the day to add in nutritious meals and snacks to make sure you get a balanced nutrient intake.
Try this basic whey protein shake recipe to start your day off with a high-energy breakfast. For even more protein and calories, try adding in peanut butter, almond butter, flaxseeds, or chia seeds.
You can add unflavored whey protein to dishes such as soups, mashed potatoes, and oatmeal to increase protein content. There are also ready-to-drink “clear” protein supplement beverages that use easily dissolved and digested protein isolates.
SUMMARYProtein supplements are a simple and affordable addition to a weight gain eating plan to increase your daily protein intake. Combine protein supplements with fats in smoothies or shakes to increase protein and calories.
9. Dried fruit
Dried fruit provides calories, antioxidants, and micronutrients (18).
You can get many different types of dried fruit, and they all have naturally high sugar content. Since they’re convenient to eat and taste great, they can be combined with a protein source, such as cuts of meat, cheese, or a whey protein shake.
They also mix well with nuts and whole plain Greek yogurt, providing a blend of fats, protein, and other key nutrients.
Dried fruit contains lots of fiber and most of its vitamins and minerals remain intact when dried (19Trusted Source).
Dates are nutritious, full of fiber, and high in antioxidants. They’re also versatile and simple to prepare as a high-calorie snack. Just two Medjool dates provide about 130 calories (20Trusted Source).
Try filling dates with nut butter, cream cheese, or cooked grains like rice or quinoa. Add one or two dates to smoothies, sauces, and dressings for a touch of sweetness.
SUMMARYDried fruit provides calories, fiber, and antioxidants. It’s an easy way to add nutrients and calories.
10. Whole grain bread
Whole grain breads are another carb source that fits into an eating plan for weight gain.
You can make some high-calorie and well-balanced meals by combining bread with protein sources such as eggs, meat, and cheese.
When purchasing bread, aim for natural whole grain and seeded bread.
Sandwiches are one of the easiest, most versatile, and most portable meals for increasing your daily calorie intake. To maximize the calories, add nut butter spreads or avocado.
Try one of these sandwich recipes. You’ll find everything from the basic Reuben to wraps to several imaginative takes on the timeless grilled cheese.
You might even try sourdough bread made with whole-grain flour. For an added health benefit, the live good bacteria in sourdough bread may have health benefits, but additional research is needed in humans to confirm such an effect (21Trusted Source).
SUMMARYWhole grain breads can be an effective component of a weight gain eating plan, especially when combined with a good protein source or spreads made from fats.
Avocados are loaded with beneficial fats.
Unlike other whole fruits, avocados are fairly calorie-dense.
Just one large avocado provides around 365 calories, 30 g of fat, and 17 g of fiber (22Trusted Source).
Avocados are also high in vitamins, minerals, and various beneficial plant compounds.
Try adding avocados to dishes such as omelets or salads.
One of the most popular ways of enjoying avocado is on avocado toast. Just mash up some avocado and spread it on your toast. It’s that easy! Add an egg for more nutrients and calories.
Other delicious ways to enjoy the versatile avocado while adding calories include:
- as a topping
- as a mayonnaise substitute
SUMMARYAvocados are full of important fats and nutrients. They’re versatile and can be added to many different meals or eaten on their own to increase your daily calorie intake.
Cereals can be an excellent source of carbs, calories, and nutrients.
For example, oatmeal cooked with whole milk can be a great carb source to add to your weight gain eating plan.
You’ll get about 150 calories from a 1 cup (237 mL) serving of cooked oatmeal (or 1/2 cup dry), plus the calories in any whole milk or toppings you add (23Trusted Source).
For extra calories, consider topping your hot oats, overnight oats, or whole milk Greek yogurt with:
- nut butter
- dried fruit
- chia seeds
- fresh berries
- homemade granola
- maple syrup
Ready-to-eat-cereals can also be important additions to a balanced eating plan for weight gain.
A 2016 review of 64 studies found that people who eat ready-to-eat-cereals also have higher intakes of important nutrients, less chance of high blood pressure, and beneficial effects on type 2 diabetes (24Trusted Source).
When purchasing cereals, you might also try to focus on these choices:
If it makes sense for you, try to choose those with the most fiber when possible.
Granola is a calorie-dense mixture of cereals, dried fruit, and nuts. It contains protein, fiber, and micronutrients. Just 1/2 cup of granola can supply between 200–300 calories.
SUMMARYEating cereals can be a great way to add calories and beneficial nutrients to your weight gain eating plan. Top cereals with calorie-dense nut spread, sweetener, or whole nuts and seeds.
13. Cereal bars
Some of the healthier cereal bars on the market can be a great snack when you’re on the go and in need of calories. Most bars average between 150–200 calories.
They’re also a good choice before or after a training session since they tend to contain a mix of slow- and fast-digesting carbs.
As a snack, try combining a cereal bar with other protein sources, such as whole milk Greek yogurt, boiled eggs, cold cuts of meat, or a protein shake.
You may want to try making your own bars. It’s a lot easier than you might think.
Try these recipes to make your own homemade cereal bars. Often, you’ll need only a few ingredients, and you might even have them in your pantry now.
But if you’re not handy in the kitchen, it’s possible to find store-bought cereal bars.
SUMMARYCereal bars offer an affordable, tasty, and nutrient-dense source of calories for portable snacking.
14. Dark chocolate
High-quality dark chocolate provides a ton of antioxidants and health benefits.
Dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao (the seed from which chocolate is made) may benefit your health. A 2023 study found that people with kidney disease who had 40 g of 70% dark chocolate three times per week over two months had lower markers of inflammation (25Trusted Source).
Like other high-fat foods, dark chocolate has a high-calorie density, meaning you can get calories from it without eating much.
Each 100 g (3.5 oz) bar with 60–75% cacao solids has around 600 calories and contains micronutrients and health-promoting compounds, including fiber, magnesium, and antioxidants (26Trusted Source).
You can enjoy dark chocolate in more ways than just eating it off the bar:
- top cereal
- add it to trail mix or granola
- pair it with fruit
- dissolve it in hot milk
- Dip it into nut butter
You can make chocolate desserts, like energy bites, chocolate truffles, or chocolate peanut butter avocado pudding.
Supermarket aisles have many types and qualities of dark chocolate. Be sure to choose a high-quality one with at least 70% cacao.
Check out this guide for expert buying tips on dark chocolate.
SUMMARYDark chocolate is packed with antioxidants and other nutrients. It can be a sweet part of an eating plan for weight gain.
Cheese has been a staple food for centuries.
It provides calories and fats. Just 1 oz of cheddar cheese (28 g) has 110 calories and 7 g of protein (27Trusted Source).
One oz of cheese is about the size of a pair of dice.
Since cheese is tasty, you can incorporate it into most dishes and easily add extra calories.
You can find cheese in countless varieties. Check out this list of cheeses and find out which ones suit your palate.
Many cheeses contain cholesterol and saturated fat. Like most high-calorie foods, cheeses of all kinds are best consumed in moderation.
Macaroni and cheese is a great dish to combine calories, carbohydrates, and protein. It can serve as a blank canvas for other nutrient-dense additions, such as broccoli or peas. To add extra calories and protein, consider incorporating small amounts of bacon or other meats like pulled pork.
Try this mac and cheese recipe that uses 1 cup (125 g) of shredded cheddar cheese and provides 314 calories in every serving.
SUMMARYCheese is a source of protein and is rich in fats. Add it to meals if you need a calorie and flavor boost.
16. Whole eggs
Eggs are one of the healthiest muscle-building foods on the planet. They provide a convenient, affordable, and tasty combination of high-quality proteins and fats. Each large raw egg weighing 2 oz, with a shell (50 g), has about 74 calories (28Trusted Source).
It’s also very important to eat the whole egg. In fact, almost all of the beneficial nutrients in eggs are found in the yolk.
As long as you don’t have an intolerance or allergy to eggs, for most otherwise healthy people there’s no need to limit your egg consumption — you can easily eat three eggs per day if you want.
Eggs are versatile and can be cooked in multiple ways, including boiling, poaching, frying, baking, and scrambling.
Use them in:
- baked egg muffins
- bread substitutes
- desserts like egg custard and créme brûlée (in moderation, of course)
Omelets are a favorite meal any time of day. You can add meats, veggies, and cheese, then top with sour cream and avocado to contribute nutrients and calories toward your daily goals.
Try these recipes for a great egg breakfast (or lunch or dinner).
SUMMARYEggs are one of the best foods for building muscle and can be a part of a weight gain eating plan. For most otherwise healthy people, there’s no limit to the number of eggs you should eat in a day, and they’re full of nutrients.
17. Yogurts made with whole milk
Greek yogurt made with whole milk is another portable and convenient snack. Greek yogurt is strained and has a thicker consistency. This makes it great for topping or as a delicious snack on its own.
Greek yogurt has a nutritional profile that includes a well-balanced mix of protein, carbs, and fat.
Each 1/2 cup (170 gram) serving of plain, whole milk Greek yogurt will give you 165 calories and 15 g of protein, and that’s before you add all your delicious combos and toppings (29Trusted Source).
You can make high-calorie snacks based on yogurt. Here are a few:
- Yogurt and fruit: Combine 1–2 cups of yogurt with fresh or dried fruit. You can also add nuts, seeds, honey, granola, dark chocolate, or coconut flakes.
- Chocolate peanut butter pudding: Mix 1–2 cups of yogurt with 100% cocoa powder, peanut or any nut butter, and a sweetener such as stevia, honey, or sugar. You can also add a scoop of whey for more protein.
- Yogurt parfait: Combine 1–2 cups of yogurt with granola and mixed berries in layers to create a tasty, well-balanced breakfast or snack.
- Smoothies: Greek yogurt made with whole milk is an excellent addition to almost any smoothie to increase the protein content and give it a creamier, milkshake-like thickness.
Try whole milk Greek yogurt flavored with fruit for even more calories.
Look for buying tips on the best yogurts here.
SUMMARYGreek yogurt made with whole milk is another food that can help you add high quality protein to your diet. It’s great on its own or as an ingredient that works in many dishes.
18. Fats and oils
Fats and oils are some of the most calorie-dense foods on the planet (30Trusted Source).
Simply adding 1 tablespoon of olive oil (15 mL) of oil to sauces, salads, and during cooking can quickly add 120 calories (32Trusted Source).
Important oils include:
- extra virgin olive oil
- sunflower oil
- walnut oil
- avocado oil
- coconut oil
One trendier way of consuming fats is having butter coffee or olive oil coffee for breakfast or as a high-calorie snack. You could also try blending up the cup of brewed coffee with coconut oil and unsalted butter until it looks like a foamy latte.
SUMMARYTry including fats and oils in your diet, particularly if you’re trying to maximize your daily intake of calories.
Frequently asked questions
The following includes frequently asked questions on eating for weight gain.
How many pounds should I gain in a week?
There is no right or wrong amount of weight to gain in a week. It might be a good idea to speak to a doctor or registered dietitian before you try gaining weight. They can go over anything you should consider to make your weight gain more effective and safe.
Why can’t I put on weight?
Everyone’s body is unique and responds differently when trying to gain weight or build muscle. You could reach out to a doctor or registered dietitian if you’re interested in learning about ways to gain weight that meet your personal health goals.
Which fruit is best for weight gain?
There is no one “best” fruit for weight gain. But fruit can be a tasty, portable, and nutrient-dense source of carbohydrates that make a great addition to any eating plan for weight gain. Fruit can help increase calories when topped with nut butter that has fats.
What foods are best for gaining weight?
The best foods for weight gain deliver both beneficial nutrients and calories, together. Usually, these foods consist of plant or animal protein, fats and oils, complex carbohydrates, and dairy products made with whole milk.
The foods that make up your weight gain eating plan, however, depend on your personal preferences, cultural foodways, budgetary considerations, and specific weight and health goals.
To attempt to gain weight successfully, you have to consistently eat more calories than you’re burning. Think about speaking with a doctor or registered dietitian before you try to gain weight so that the lifestyle changes you make are effective and safe.
Lifting weights can help additional calories be used to build muscle instead of going toward storage as fat mass.
Incorporate the foods on this list into meals and meal plans that you enjoy and can stick with over the long term.