While some are constantly trying to lose excessive fat, others find it tough to gain weight. Ironically enough, junk food won’t work for those who can’t gain weight. The solution is simple — eat food rich in healthy fats and protein, like milk, avocados, nuts or salmon. Eating the products on our list as a snack, garnish, or a main dish will help you gain weight. And if you combine them with regular exercise, they will help you to build muscle.
Bright Side prepared a list of the 19 best foods that are an alternative to boring chicken breasts and incredibly beneficial in helping you on your weight-gaining and muscle-building journey.
1. Milk for strong bones and energy
Milk is full of proteins, carbs, and fats, as well as calcium and other vitamins, casein, and whey proteins. Studies prove that after a workout, drinking skim milk helps to build muscle more effectively than a soy-protein beverage. If you don’t train, just drink about one or 2 glasses of milk with your meal.
2. Homemade protein smoothie as a healthy alternative to a store-bought smoothie
There are so many types of smoothies, some can be used to lose weight, some to maintain weight, and others to gain it. It’s better to make your own homemade smoothie, since store bought ones usually contain way too much sugar and almost no nutrients. All you need is the right recipe and good ingredients. For example:
- Chocolate banana nut shake: combine 2 cups (470 ml) of milk with 1 banana, 1 scoop of chocolate whey protein, and 1 tbsp (15 ml) of peanut or another nut butter.
- Vanilla berry shake: combine 2 cups (470 ml) of milk with 1 cup (237 ml) of fresh or frozen mixed berries to your taste, ice, 1 cup (237 ml) of high-protein natural yogurt, and 1 scoop of vanilla whey protein.
3. Avocados for maintaining healthy muscles
Avocados are the king of healthy fats. This unique food is incredibly nutritious and has powerful health benefits. It doesn’t contain a lot of calories, but remains one of the best foods to use to gain weight. One avocado is loaded with 332 calories, 29 grams of fat, and 17 grams of fiber. It is also rich in vitamins (like C, E, and K) and deserves to be added to your salads and sandwiches if you are on a journey to gain weight.
4. Red meats for muscle tissue building
Red meat has everything needed for gaining weight and muscle-building. First, it contains leucine and creatine, nutrients for muscle protein stimulation and new muscle tissue building. Second, it contains both protein and fat, which help you to gain weight. Important: Overconsumption is unhealthy, though leaner cuts are healthier for the heart than fattier cuts.
5. Beef jerky as on-the-go snack
Beef jerky is a protein option for when you are busy and on the go. Most of the fat has been removed while making jerky, which means that you’re only getting calories from the protein in the meat. Make sure that you consume good quality naturally prepared jerky, with no preservatives and minimal salt content.
6. Soybeans for blood oxygen and post-exercise recovery
Soybeans are a good source of vitamin K, iron, and phosphorus. Iron stores and transports the oxygen through our blood and muscles. One cup of boiled soybeans contains 298 calories, 29 grams of protein, 17 grams of carbs, and 15 grams of fat. Additionally, soybeans are excellent antioxidants and help improve recovery after exercise.
7. Tofu for proper muscle function
Produced from soy milk, tofu is used by some people as substitution for meat and considered a good food option for vegans and vegetarians. It’s a plant-based source of protein, leucine, and calcium needed for proper muscle function. In fact, soy protein in tofu is one of the best plant proteins you can find.
8. Salmon and oily fish for high-quality healthy fats
Another amazing source of high-quality protein and healthy fats is oily fish. Fish like salmon and tuna not only help in building muscle, but benefit the whole body in general because of their omega-3 fatty acid content. Combine it with rice and vegetables for a full meal.
9. Scallops for a low fat meal
If you want to add more protein to your diet, but at the same time not consume too many fats, then scallops are your best choice! Scallops contain a lot of protein with very little fat. For example, 100 grams of scallops have 15 grams of protein with only half a gram of fat.
10. Tilapia for healthy blood
Tilapia doesn’t contain as much fatty acids as salmon, but it’s another seafood that is rich in protein. 100 grams of tilapia has less than 2 grams of total fat in it. In addition, this wonderful fish contains a good number of vitamins like B12 and selenium. Vitamin B12 supports the health of your blood cells and nerves, which is needed to perform muscle-building exercises.
11. Whole eggs as antioxidants
Eggs are the best of the best in terms of healthy muscle-building foods and many athletes and bodybuilders will agree. Eggs combine high-quality proteins and healthy fats. Almost all the important and beneficial elements in eggs are in the yolk. If you are not egg intolerant, you don’t have to limit yourself and can eat 3 or more eggs per day if you want, because they are egg-ceptional! 🙂
12. Brown rice for loads of calories with little fat
Brown rice is a whole grain, and it’s higher in fiber, vitamins, and minerals than white rice. Just one serving of brown rice can provide you with carbs, calories, and very little fat. It is very easy to consume and, when combined with protein meals and vegetables, it helps you to gain weight and build muscle. Eat wisely: Consuming too much brown rice can be dangerous, due to its potential arsenic and phytic acid content. Arsenic might cause toxicity and phytic acid reduces the absorption of zinc and iron.
13. Beans as a muscle toning support
Rich in protein and low in fat, beans are affordable and widely available. Cooked black, pinto, and kidney beans contain around 15 grams of protein per cup. Moreover, they are high in fiber, vitamin B, magnesium, and iron. Vitamin B supports muscle tone and promotes a healthy appetite. Beans might require some creativity when cooking them, but it’s surely worth it!
14. Chickpeas as a rich-in-protein garnish
Chickpeas (garbanzo beans) are a good source of carbs. If you’re having trouble gaining weight, you can replace rice with chickpeas: 240 grams of canned chickpeas has 12 grams of protein, 50 grams of carbs, and 10 grams of fiber. Even though the quality of protein in plants like this is lower than in animal sources, chickpeas alone or made into hummus are still a great addition to meat or fish.
15. Buckwheat for a muscle-building boost
Buckwheat can be used instead of traditional flour and it’s gained a lot of popularity due to its high vitamin and mineral content. Buckwheat is rich in protein, vitamin B, magnesium, and phosphorus. This unique food has the ability to boost the muscle-building power of other plant protein sources.
16. Lentils as a quick and easy meal for muscles
Lentils are a secret weapon to gain weight quickly. They are inexpensive, easy, and fast to cook. They can be added to other dishes like rice, soup, or salads. Just one cup of lentils has 18 grams of protein and 40 grams of slow-digesting, quality carbohydrates. There are 3 main varieties of lentils — brown, green, and red, each having slightly different flavors, so you can choose to suit your taste. They will help to keep your blood sugar steady, enrich your body with long-lasting energy, and should be a staple in your diet.
17. Nuts and nut butter as an energy source
Nuts and nut butter are perfect for everyone who wants to gain weight. Nuts like almonds are filled with calories, protein, and healthy fats. Use them as a healthy snack or add them to your salads and other meals. As for nut butters, it’s better to choose 100% nut butter and add it to any snack you like, for example, sandwiches.
18. Dried fruits as a micronutrient-rich snack
Dried fruits like pineapples, cherries, or apples are healthy high-calorie snacks that contain micronutrients, antioxidants, and fiber. Despite popular opinion, fruits don’t lose their nutrients when dried, their fiber content actually helps retain vitamins. Add dried fruits to your protein shake or natural yogurt to make a great mix of healthy fats, protein, and other key nutrients. It’s better to use dried fruits as a healthy snack, instead of store-bought granola bars, since those are filled with sugar and preservatives.
19. Dark chocolate as a calorie boost
Though it might not seem tasty to some, high-quality dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70%, is a great source of antioxidants that benefit our health. For weight-gainers, dark chocolate offers its high calories in small quantities. If don’t want to eat a bar, add unsweetened “natural” cocoa powder to your smoothie or yogurt for a different taste and to increase antioxidants.
Which food do you find to be the best to gain weight and build muscle? What else do you eat for this? Do you combine it with exercises? Share with us in the comments!
Illustrated by Leonid Khan for Bright Side