If you’re underweight and need to bulk up a bit but are afraid of gaining body fat, you’re in luck. By following a nutritious eating plan and exercising regularly, you can gain weight—especially lean body mass—in a healthful way. Start by adding a few extra high-calorie, nutrient-dense foods to your diet.
Since most women—at least in the U.S.—are overweight, many don’t need to gain weight. According to Weight Control Information Network, just over 64 percent of U.S. women are overweight or obese. However, underweight women do need to pack on some extra pounds to maintain good health. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, you’re classified as underweight if your body mass index, or BMI, is less than 18.5. You can calculate your BMI by multiplying your body weight in pounds by 703, dividing that number by your height in inches and dividing that result by your height in inches again.
To slowly gain those extra pounds without feeling bloated or nauseous from overeating, start by increasing your calorie intake by at least 200 per day to build muscle, as recommended by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. If you increase your calories by 500 per day, you should be able to gain weight at a healthy rate of about 1 pound per week.
Choose Nutritious Foods
Instead of packing in empty calories from junk foods and fatty meats, which can cause your energy levels to plummet, choose high-calorie, nutrient-dense foods for a healthful weight gain. Try snacking on nuts, seeds, avocados, peanut butter, cheese or hummus. Use a little extra olive oil or milk powder when you’re cooking to add calories—and nutrients—to your weight-gain diet.
Exercising is the only way to effectively increase your lean muscle mass and, let’s face it, most women would rather do that than gain body fat. Resistance training, such as weight lifting, is an excellent way to build muscle for a healthy weight gain. For best results, work different muscle groups—such as your legs, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, chest and abdominal muscles—each day.
Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in dietetics and has extensive experience working as a health writer and health educator. Her articles are published on various health, nutrition and fitness websites.