Gain weight the healthy way with this nutrient-packed meal plan.

Sarah Garone, D.T.R.
December 10, 2019
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Losing weight may be an excellent goal for many people, but not everyone is looking to shed pounds. There can be a variety of reasons why you may want to gain weight! Perhaps you're working on building muscle and would like your diet to support bulking up, or maybe you're recovering from an illness that dropped your weight below your ideal.

Whatever your reason, we've got you covered in this 7-day diet plan for adding pounds the healthy way. These breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack recipes focus on nutrient-dense, whole foods, like fiber-rich whole grains, lean protein (including plant-based protein options), healthy fats and plenty of fruits and veggies. With some simple meal-prep steps and recipes that do double duty and feed you more than once, we've streamlined the process of taking in the calories you need to gain weight, so it's an easy endeavor.

How Many Calories Do You Need to Gain Weight?

This meal plan is set at 2,500 calories, with modifications for 2,000 and 3,000 calories. You're probably familiar with 2,000 calories as a standard target for your daily eating. The FDA uses this round number for giving general advice about diet. For this reason, it's also the number you'll see on Nutrition Facts panels.

But 2,000 calories isn't one-size-fits-all, especially when you're trying to gain weight. Your current weight, height, age, gender and activity level all factor into the calories you need to put on pounds.

To find out your own caloric needs for weight gain, you'll first need to get an idea of your resting metabolic rate (RMR). This is the amount of calories your body needs to support a sedentary lifestyle, not including exercise. Once you've established your RMR, you can factor in your activity level for a more accurate calculation of your needs.

Step 1: Calculate your resting metabolic rate

One simple way to calculate your resting metabolic rate is to multiply your current weight by 12.

For example:

If you weigh 150 pounds: 150 x 12 = 1,800 calories/day

Theoretically, this is how many calories you burn throughout the day, not including if you exercise. You would maintain your current weight if you stuck with this many calories per day.

Step 2: Factor in your activity level

Depending on how much you exercise, you'll want to take your resting metabolic rate and multiply it by the following numbers to get a more accurate estimate of how many calories you burn on a daily basis.

  • Lightly active (light exercise 1 to 3 days/week): x 1.2
  • Moderately active (moderate exercise 3 to 5 days/week): x 1.4
  • Very active (hard exercise 6 to 7 days/week): x 1.6
  • Extra active (extra-hard exercise 6 to 7 days/week): x 1.8
  • Super active (extra-hard exercise 6 to 7 days/week and a physical job): x 1.9

For example:

1,800 calories/day x 1.2 (moderately active) = 2,160 calories/day

This is how many calories you need to eat to maintain your current weight if your activity level stays the same.

Step 3: Add more calories for weight gain

If you're in the bulking phase of bodybuilding (which is when you're trying to gain muscle) or if your doctor has advised you follow a weight-gain diet, you can aim to take in 5 to 10% more calories.

For example:

For 5% more calories: 2,160 calories/day x 1.05 = 2,268 calories/day

For 10% more calories: 2,160 calories/day x 1.1 = 2,376 calories/day

Healthy Foods to Eat More of to Gain Weight

When it comes to gaining weight and building muscle, macronutrients matter. But it's a myth that you have to go all-in on high-protein foods in order to gain muscle. While protein is vital for repairing the micro-tears that weight lifting and other exercises create in your muscles, carbohydrates and fats continue to serve important functions in your body as you bulk up—so don't neglect them! Here are some foods to focus on for a balance of healthy fats, complex carbohydrates and plenty of protein.

  • Oily fish like salmon, tuna, herring and anchovies
  • Meats like turkey, chicken and lean beef, pork and lamb
  • Beans and legumes, including chickpeas, black beans, lentils, cannellini beans and hummus
  • Eggs
  • Nut butters and nuts like cashews, peanuts, almonds, walnuts and pecans
  • Whole grains like whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice and quinoa
  • High-calorie fruits and vegetables like avocados, coconut, bananas, mangoes and dried fruit
  • Full-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt and cheese

Healthy Weight-Gain Meal Plan: 2,500 Calories

Here's what a healthy weight-gain meal plan looks like at 2,500 calories. If you're looking for a different calorie level, see the notes at the bottom of each day to see how to bump the calories down to 2,000 calories, or up even more to 3,000 calories.

How to Meal-Prep for Your Week of Meals

Day 1

Breakfast (704 calories)

A.M. Snack (246 calories)

Lunch (649 calories)

P.M. Snack (200 calories)

  • 1 large apple
  • 1 Tbsp. natural peanut butter

Dinner (716 calories)

Daily Totals: 2,514 calories, 104 g protein, 340 g carbohydrates, 45 g fiber, 88 g fat, 2,563 mg sodium

To make it 2,000 calories: Omit the peanut butter from the P.M. snack and omit the rice from dinner.

To make it 3,000 calories: Add an extra Almond-Honey Power Bar to the A.M. snack, add an extra 2 Tbsp. peanut butter to the P.M. snack, and add an extra ½ cup brown rice to dinner.

Day 2

Breakfast (430 calories)

A.M. Snack (192 calories)

  • 15 baby carrots
  • 3 Tbsp. hummus
  • 1 medium orange

Lunch (648 calories)

P.M. Snack (265 calories)

Dinner (951 calories)

Daily Totals: 2,486 calories, 120 g protein, 298 g carbohydrates, 64 g fiber, 98 g fat, 2,470 mg sodium

To make it 2,000 calories: Omit the hard-boiled egg at breakfast, omit the hummus at the A.M. snack, omit the toast and butter at lunch, and omit the banana and almonds in the P.M. snack.

To make it 3,000 calories: Add another hard-boiled egg at breakfast, add 6 whole-wheat crackers and another tablespoon hummus at A.M. snack, and add dinner dessert of 8 oz. 2% plain Greek yogurt with 1 Tbsp. honey & 1 cup strawberries.

Day 3

Breakfast (646 calories)

A.M. Snack (267 calories)

  • 1 slice Swiss cheese
  • 8 whole-wheat crackers

Lunch (648 calories)

P.M. Snack (234 calories)

  • 6 oz. 2% plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup strawberries
  • 1 Tbsp. honey

Dinner (709 calories)

Daily Totals: 2,505 calories, 116 g protein, 315 g carbohydrates, 48 g fiber, 94 g fat, 2,052 mg sodium

To make it 2,000 calories: Reduce granola to 1 serving and reduce milk to ½ cup at breakfast, and omit hard-boiled egg and Swiss cheese at A.M. snack.

To make it 3,000 calories: Increase gnocchi to 2 servings at lunch and add 1 graham cracker at P.M. snack.

Day 4

Breakfast (646 calories)

A.M. Snack (218 calories)

  • 15 carrot sticks
  • 1/4 cup hummus
  • 1 medium orange

Lunch (648 calories)

P.M. Snack (335 calories)

  • 4 graham crackers
  • 1 medium apple

Dinner (651 calories)

Daily Totals: 2,499 calories, 81 g protein, 330 g carbohydrates, 53 g fiber, 101 g fat, 2,471 mg sodium

To make it 2,000 calories: Reduce granola to 1 serving and milk to ½ cup at breakfast, omit the buttered toast at lunch and reduce the P.M. snack to 3 graham crackers.

To make it 3,000 calories: Add 2 additional graham crackers and 2 Tbsp. peanut butter to PM snack, add a second slice of whole-wheat toast with 1 tsp. butter at lunch and add a second serving of beans at dinner.

Day 5

Breakfast (507 calories)

A.M. Snack (492 calories)

Lunch (648 calories)

P.M. Snack (165 calories)

Dinner (697 calories)

Daily Totals: 2,509 calories, 157 g protein, 295 g carbohydrates, 60 g fiber, 86 g fat, 1,579 mg sodium

Meal-Prep Tip: Make the Creamy Avocado and White Bean Wraps tonight so they're all ready to go for lunch on Days 6 and 7.

To make it 2,000 calories: Omit eggs at breakfast and omit 1 Almond-Honey Power Bar at the A.M. snack.

To make it 3,000 calories: Add 1 medium apple with 2 Tbsp. natural peanut butter to the P.M. snack and add a dinner dessert of 1 square of dark chocolate.

Day 6

Breakfast (569 calories)

A.M. Snack (214 calories)

  • 1 medium apple
  • 1 Tbsp. peanut butter

Lunch (738 calories)

P.M. Snack (241 calories)

  • 4 graham crackers

Dinner (722 calories)

Daily Totals: 2,484 calories, 125 g protein, 311 g carbohydrates, 64 g fiber, 91 g fat, 2,281 mg sodium

Meal-Prep Tip: Refrigerate the last 2 Creamy Avocado and White Bean Wraps to have for lunch on Day 7.

To make it 2,000 calories: Omit the hard-boiled eggs at breakfast and reduce to 1 wrap at lunch.

To make it 3,000 calories: Add 2 Tbsp. peanut butter to the P.M. snack and add 1½ cups Easy Brown Rice at dinner.

Day 7

Breakfast (644 calories)

A.M. Snack (230 calories)

  • 6 oz. 2% plain Greek yogurt
  • ½ cup blueberries
  • 1 Tbsp. honey

Lunch (692 calories)

P.M. Snack (246 calories)

Dinner (665 calories)

Daily Totals: 2,478 calories, 117 g protein, 302 g carbohydrates, 54 g fiber, 100 g fat, 2,548 mg sodium

To make it 2,000 calories: Reduce to 1 wrap at lunch and omit rice at dinner.

To make it 3,000 calories: Add a small pear and another Almond-Honey Power Bar at the P.M. snack and add an extra cup of rice at dinner.