How Many Calories Do I Need To Gain Weight? [Easy Calculation]

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It’s no secret that being overweight is bad for you.

But some of us actually have the opposite problem. Perhaps you are skinny and you want to gain weight.

If so, you are not alone.

If you want to gain weight, then this guide is for you.

I will show you how many calories you need to gain weight, and go over the strategies I used to go from 135 lbs to 165 lbs.

Let’s dive right in.

how-many-calories-do-i-need-to-gain-weight

Table of Contents

  • Why Am I So Skinny?

  • How To Tell If You Are Underweight

  • The Most Important Strategy To Gain Weight Safely

  • How To Estimate Your Caloric Intake

  • Avoid This If You Are Trying To Gain Weight

  • How Many Extra Calories Do You Need To Gain Weight?

  • How Quickly Can You Gain Weight

  • The Best Weight Gain Foods

  • The Best Way To Exercise To Gain Weight and Muscle

  • Other Weight Gain FAQ

Why Am I So Skinny?

I used to weigh 140 lbs when I started college and I felt like a twig. I always wanted to be heavier and have some appreciable muscle size.

I am skinny because I am an ectomorph.

If you don’t know what an ectomorph is, I suggest you check out this article.

Chances are, you are skinny because you are an ectomorph.

Some would say that you have won the genetic lottery because you naturally have a slim frame, but not all ectomorphs share that sentiment.

In general, you naturally have a high metabolism, and a very difficult time gaining weight.

With that said, it is important to note that there may also be a few other reasons why you are skinny.

 

Medical Conditions That Can Cause You To Be Underweight

 

  1. Hyperthyroidism: Having too much thyroid hormone can rev up your metabolism leading to weight loss, heat intolerance, palpitations and insomnia.

  2. Type I Diabetes: You would know if you have Type I Diabetes. This is a condition where your body fails to make insulin and as a result you must inject insulin into your body. It often occurs in early life and can be seen in very skinny people contrary to Type II Diabetes.

  3. HIV/AIDS: HIV can present itself as loss of appetite, weight loss, fevers, pain and frequent infections. Make sure that you follow with your doctor regularly, and know what your HIV status is.

  4. Digestive Diseases: Any disease of the gastrointestinal tract can affect absorption of nutrients, leading to undernutrition and poor weight gain. Some of the more common conditions include Chron’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis

  5. Cancer: The three principle signs of cancer are fevers, night sweats and weight loss. Again, make sure that you see a doctor for regular checkups.

Thankfully, it is most likely that you are skinny because you are an ectomorph, and not because of one of these conditions. Be sure to check with your doctor if you are not sure.

How To Tell If You Are Actually Underweight

So how do we define “skinny?”

First, let’s discuss the medical definition of being underweight. You are considered underweight if your BMI is under 18.5

Most people like to bash BMI as a very inaccurate representation of body profiles.

While this is certainly true in the opposite end of the spectrum (I was almost considered obese by BMI standards a couple of years ago), it has a great deal of merit in the underweight end.

If your BMI is 18.5 or close to it, then you are definitely, without a doubt, underweight.

Ok, what if your BMI is not 18.5?

What else can you use to determine if you are skinny?

Your own eyes.

Perhaps you don’t like that you can see your ribs. Or you don’t want a size X-Small to be baggy on you.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a little heavier, or with wanting to add muscle size to your frame.

Here are some average body weight numbers for both men and women. If your weight is below the minimum body weight listed below, then you are skinny.

 

Average Bodyweight For Ectomorphic Men

HeightWeight
5’4125 – 150 lbs
5’6135 – 160 lbs
5’8145 – 170 lbs
5’9155- 180 lbs
6’0165 – 185 lbs
6’2175 – 190 lbs
6’4185 – 200 lbs

Don’t forget these values are for ectomorphic men only!

 

Average Bodyweight For Ectomorphic Women

HeightWeight
5’090 – 115 lbs
5’2100 – 125 lbs
5’4110 – 130 lbs
5’6115- 135 lbs
5’8120 – 140 lbs
5’10125 – 150 lbs
6’0130 – 160 lbs


Don’t forget, these values are for ectomorphic women only!

 

Even if your body weight falls below these numbers, and you are perfectly happy with your appearance, there is nothing wrong with that!

As long as you maintain a decent diet and a regular exercise routine, then you are golden.

But…

if you fall below these general guidelines and you would like to gain weight, then keep on reading.

How Many Calories Do I Need To Gain Weight?

So what do you need to do to gain weight?

The absolute number one strategy that you must use to gain weight is to enter a hypercaloric state.

What does this mean?

It means that you must consume more calories that you are burning.

You probably understand calorie consumption, but do you know how many calories you burn?

The amount of calories you burn is extremely complex, and can be influenced by several factors.

Thankfully, there’s a quick way to determine the amount of calories you burn, aka your basal metabolic rate.

It’s called the Harris-Benedict Formula.

Your basal metabolic rate is the number of calories that your body burns at rest, just to keep you alive. Yes, you are burning calories just sitting there reading this. You even burn calories as you are sleeping.

So what’s the calculation?

 

For women it is: 655 + ( 4.35 x weight in pounds ) + ( 4.7 x height in inches) – ( 4.7 x age in years )

For Men it is : 66 + ( 6.23 x weight in pounds ) + ( 12.7 x height in inches ) – ( 6.8 x age in years )

 

Or, you can just use the calculator here.

 

This is roughly the number of calories you need to consume just to keep you alive.

Is it accurate?

It’s accurate enough. There are several factors that can influence this number, but it serves as a useful baseline to start with.

Now that you have this number, we must multiply it by how active you currently are to get your adjusted basal metabolic rate.

How active are you?

 

There are five options; sedentary, mildly active, moderately active, very active, and Michael Phelps.

  1. Sedentary: Very little to no physical activity besides activities of daily living

    • Multiply your BMR by 1.2

  2. Mildly Active: Your work requires physical activity, or you workout 1-2 times a week.

    • Multiply your BMR by 1.35

  3. Moderately Active: You exercise 3-4 times a week and engage in active work.

    • Multiply your BMR by 1.5

  4. Very Active: You exercise heavily 4-6 times a week

    • Multiply your BMR by 1.75

  5. Michael Phelps: You are paid to exercise (2 times a day workouts)

    • Multiple your BMR by 2

In theory, this new number is the amount of calories you need just to maintain your bodyweight.

So if your goal is to gain weight, then you must exceed this baseline BMR.

 

For example:

Let’s say you are a 30 year old woman.

You weight 100 lbs at a height of 5’2 and you are mildly active.

  • Using the calculator above, your basal metabolic rate is 1240.

  • Next multiply this number by 1.35 since you are mildly active, which gives us 1675 calories per day for maintenance

  • In theory, you need to consume 1675 calories per day just to maintain your weight.

Again, this is just an estimate, but a useful one.

Alright, now what do we do with this number?

Next You Must Estimate Your Current Caloric Intake

Do you have any idea how many calories you consume each day?

Most people don’t.

Thankfully, there is a convenient way to estimate this number.

This method is not super accurate by any means, but it serves as a quick guide that you can use throughout the day.

It’s the calorie control guide by Precision Nutrition.

Basically, you use your own hand to measure the amount of each macronutrient you should consume at each major meal.

  • Your fist is approximately 1 cup

  • Your cupped hand is approximately 1/2 cup

  • Your palm is approximately 3-4 ounces of food

  • Your thumb is approximately 1 tablespoon

Next you need to understand portion sizes. Here are some general portion size guidelines:

  • you can consume 1 fist (1 cup) of vegetables per meal,

  • 1 cupped hand (1/2 cup) of carbohydrates per meal,

  • 1 palm (3-4 ounces) of protein per meal,

  • and 1 thumb (1 Tbsp) of fat per meal.

Then, you need to be able to categorize a food into carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

Not all foods will fit perfectly into one category, but here are the general guidelines.

 

Carbohydrates

Here is a list of the most common carbs:

  • Rice

  • Quinoa

  • Pasta

  • Potatoes

  • Bread

  • Legumes (can also be classified as a protein for vegetarians)

Protein

Here is a list of the most common proteins:

  • Meats

  • Fish

  • Tofu

  • Legumes

Fat

Here is a list of the most common fats:

  • Oil

  • Nuts

  • Nut Butters

  • Seeds

  • Avocado

How To Use These Guidelines To Estimate Your Calories

Lastly, for a quick and dirty calorie count using this method, follow these general guidelines.

  • 1/2 cup of the carbohydrates listed above have approximately 100-150 calories

  • 3-4 ounces of the proteins listed above have approximately 200-250 calories (exception: tofu will have ~50-100 calories)

  • 1 tablespoon of the solid fats will have approximately 50 calories, and 1 tablespoon of the liquid fats will have approximately 100 calories.

  • 1 cup of vegetables will have a negligible amount of calories.

For any other foods that do not fall into these criteria, you will just have to look up on MyFitness Pal.

Don’t worry.

This is only temporary and you will quickly get a good sense of how many calories all types of foods have.

All you need are rough estimations.

Second Alternative: Weighing and Measuring Food

However, if you are a Type A, and you want to weigh and measure your food (like I used to do) you can get a good food scale for cheap on Amazon.

I prefer the non-electronic scale, as it’s one less electronic you have to worry about breaking or malfunctioning.

The Wrong Way To Gain Weight- Avoid Doing This At All Costs

Alright, let me quickly get something out of the way.

There is a right way to do this, and a wrong way to do this.

Going all in on whatever you desire is the wrong way. This is NOT a one stop shop to eat McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Dunkin Donuts and 7/11 slurpees all day long.

Yes, this will increase your bodyweight, but not in a healthy or safe manner.

Unless you are an absolute animal and you kill it in the gym every single time, this method of eating will make you fat and extremely unhealthy.

It gets worse.

If you are an ectomorph and eat this way, you will become skinny fat. This is having the worst of both worlds.

Can you get away with eating like this and putting on lean mass?

Yes, but it’s not worth it.

You are significantly putting yourself at risk of developing chronic metabolic disorders such as high blood pressure, hyperlipidemia and insulin resistance.

Trust me, I’ve been there.

Let’s talk about the right way to do it.

So How Do I Gain Weight If I’m Skinny? How Many Extra Calories Do I Need?

Now that you know your basal metabolic rate, and how to estimate the amount of calories you are consuming, it’s time to increase your caloric intake.

But there’s one huge caveat:

It is important to gain weight in a controlled manner.

Therefore, you should aim to increase your caloric intake by ~300-500 calories per day.

You may be tempted to increase your caloric intake more to speed up the process. I highly suggest that you not this.

You may slip up from time to time, but you should do your best to to not exceed 500 calories frequently.

Believe it or not, 300-500 calories isn’t that much extra food.

We will go over a few examples later.

The Main Reason Why You Should Not Exceed A 500 Calorie Surplus A Day:

Inconsistency: If you try to increase your caloric intake by > 500 calories a day, you may begin to struggle with consistency.

Your body, and most of all your stomach, will need some time to get used to the extra calories.

So do not rush this process!

You may notice that you will feel full more often than not, and may not want to eat as often as you need to.

The simplest way to avoid this is to keep a modest caloric surplus every day.

Using the example from above, let’s say you need 1650 calories per day for maintenance, and you want to gain ~10 lbs. In order to do this the right way, you should consume ~1900-2100 calories per day.

Let’s say you get ambitious and decide to consume 2400+ calories a day.

You may be able to consume 2400 four days out of the week, but you are likely to be so full that you wind up eating 1000-1200 the other three days. If you do this, then you are simply wasting your time.

A far more effective (and sustainable) approach is to

  • Increase your maintenance calories by 300 calories per day for 1-2 weeks, until you stop gaining weight
  • Then bump it up to 500 calories per day for 1-2 weeks until you stall again,
  • and so on and so forth.

The bottom line?

You must keep your caloric surplus relatively constant every single day to gain weight the right way!

How Quickly Can You Gain Weight?

If you follow the principles I have laid out above, you can expect to gain approximately 1 – 1.5 lbs per week.

I know what you are thinking.

“That is way too slow.”

Sure, it may be slow, but if you want healthy, sustainable weight gain that wont be a shock to your system, this is how you should do it.

Remember, this is a long term project. Nothing in fitness comes easy.

Do not put your health at risk and become a statistic.

Take your time and do it right!

What Are The Best Weight Gain Foods?

Alright, let’s jump into the fun stuff. What should you eat to gain weight?

There are a handful of foods that are very calorie-dense, making them the perfect option for hard-gainers.

Here is My Top Weight Gain Food List

 

Weight Gain Food #1 Homemade Shakes

This is my all-time favorite method of gaining weight.

Why?

Because power shakes are very simple to make and allow you to pack on a lot of calories in a short amount of time.

Here’s how to make one that contains 300-500 calories.

  • Almond Milk (1 cup = ~50 calories)

  • Banana (1 medium= ~100 calories)

  • Nut butter (1 tbs = ~100 calories)

  • Oats (1/8 cup = ~50 calories)

  • Dates (2 = ~50 calories)

  • Chia Seeds (1 tbs = ~50 calories)

  • Plant based protein powder (1 scoop = ~100 calories)

Bottom line?

Liquid calories are much easier to consume in large quantities than solid foods, making them the perfect weight gain food.

In order to break up all of the ingredients well, you will need a strong blender.  The one that I have been using for several years is the Nutribullet 900.

 

Weight Gain Food #2 Potatoes

The potato is a starchy vegetable that goes well with just about anything and everything. It also helps that they are high in potassium, a nutrient almost everyone needs more of.

If you like white potatoes, eat white potatoes. If you like sweet potatoes, eat sweet potatoes.

Don’t eat them in the form of french fries. Bake ‘em, boil ‘em, or instant pot ‘em.

 

Weight Gain Food #3 Nuts

Not many foods are as calorie dense as nuts. 3 ounces or a palm full of nuts have almost 200 calories.

These make for the perfect weight gain snack!

That’s not all.

Nuts also provide your body with a lot of essential Omega-3 fatty acids to keep your brain healthy too!

Buy a large tub and make several 3-ounce zip-lock bags to take with you on the go.

 

Weight Gain Food #4 Rice

Rice is another quick and easy way to pack on the calories.

Half a cup is 100 calories.

The white rice vs brown rice debate will always live on, but the fact of the matter is, each one has benefits that the other does not have.

If you want to up your game even more than eat quinoa.

Then, to top off the rice, you should add…

 

Weight Gain Food #5 Legumes

Embrace the Latin culture and add some beans to your rice. Beans carry a lot of protein and fiber, making them a little known power food.

There are numerous options to choose from: black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, split peas, lima beans etc. Half a cup contains 100-150 calories.

There is some data that beans are part of the reason why Latinos tend to have a long life span too.

 

Weight Gain Food #6 Avocados

Rounding out the list is the avocado.

This fruit goes well with just about everything and packs on a great number of healthy calories. Half of an avocado is ~100 calories.

Wanna know one of my favorite meals?

Some type of rice, topped with some type of legume, and a side of avocado.

Alright, let go over a few more helpful strategies to help you gain some weight.

gain-weight-healthy

How To Increase Your Appetite To Gain Weight

One of the biggest struggles you may face is a lack of appetite.

Eating a caloric surplus is hard. Most days, you may not feel like eating at all.

Here are a few simple ways to increase your appetite.

 

1) Eat Quickly

There is a growing body of evidence that people who eat slowly wind up consuming fewer calories, which is beneficial for weight loss.

We are after the opposite effect.

Don’t scarf down your food, but don’t get distracted either.

 

2) Add Herbs and Spices To Your Foods

There is also research being done on how taste and flavor impact our eating habits.

In brief:

We tend to overeat “hyper-palatable” foods when they are full of flavor. Take a potato for example. How many plain potatoes do you think you can eat in one sitting?

Now, what if you take those same potatoes, fry them, add salt, and amazing tasting ketchup. How many of those do you think you could eat in one sitting?

You just can’t seem to put them down right?

Somehow, our bodies were designed to “over-consume” foods that taste really good, making them analogous to an addiction.

So what can we take from this?

Make your foods taste amazing by adding your favorite herbs and spices!

 

3) Build Strength

The last strategy you can use to increase your appetite is to strength train.

Nothing makes your body hungrier for calories than a good ‘ole strength workout.

What kind of strength workout? I’m glad you asked.

The Best Way To Exercise For Weight and Muscle Gain

Any kind of physical activity has the potential to increase your appetite. This is normal, as your muscles require nutrients to rebuild themselves stronger than before.

So what is the best way to exercise for weight and muscle gain?

Strength training!

The best way to gain weight and muscle is to follow a dedicated strength that stimulates all of the major muscle groups in your body. The perfect strength program will

Our strength program covers this in extreme detail.

The best part about our strength program is that you can do it in just 30 minutes a day.

It’s also a good idea to not do excessive amounts of low-intensity cardio. In order to get your aerobics in, do plenty of walking!

A Quick Word On Weight Gain Supplements

One last thing I need to cover is the topic of weight gain supplements.

Do you need to use them?

No.

Should you use them?

No.

I used to buy these things and they are just a waste of money.

You are far better off using your hard-earned money on real food. Especially the weight gain foods I listed above.

 

Other Frequently Asked Questions on Weight Gain

 

How Can I Gain Weight Fast?

Regardless of how fast you want to gain weight, the only way to do it is to consume more calories than you burn consistently. 

If you are in a rush to gain weight, then feel free to exceed your adjusted basal metabolic rate by more than 500 calories per day.  The caveat is that you must consume at least 500 calories over your adjusted basal metabolic rate every single day.

If you miss a day or two, you may have to start from scratch.

 

How Come I Don’t Gain Weight If I Eat A lot?

Because of consistency.  You may be able to eat a lot in one sitting or in one day, but are you consistently eating a lot every single day without a day off?

I didn’t think so.

How Much Protein Do I Need To Gain Weight?

Protein consumption is important for muscle protein synthesis but it is not the most important factor for weight gain.

If you are trying to build muscle, then it is important to consume anywhere from 0.7 – 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight every day.

This would be in addition to exceeding your adjusted basal metabolic rate by 300-500 calories per day.

 

What Are The Best Exercises To Gain Weight?

The best exercises to gain weight are the squat, the deadlift, the bench press, the overhead press, the power clean, and pull-ups.

If you cannot perform any of these exercises, there are several variations of them that you could choose from to do instead.

 

So How Many Calories Do You Need?

So that’s how to determine how many calories you need to to gain weight.

Now we turn it over to you.

  • How many calories do you need to eat to gain weight?
  • How much weight do you want to gain?

  • How long have you been trying?

  • What has worked and what hasn’t worked for you?

Comment below and let us know!


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Alex Robles, MD / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH

Alex Robles, MD / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH

Alex & Brittany Robles are OBGYN's, fitness experts, and founders of The White Coat Trainer, a site dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy individuals. Their advice has been featured on KevinMD, The Doctor Weighs In, My Fitness Pal, Reader's Digest, and The Active Times. Learn more about them here.

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