I recently got an email from a guy named Jonas who wanted some tips for healthy calorie-dense foods. Gaining weight can be as difficult or even more so for some, as is losing weight for others. Just as with losing that extra layer of fat, gaining muscle mass is primarily about food. More specifically, about the amount of calories you take. Let me help you by helping him and write an article about this interesting topic. This is a rather long post as nutrition is one of my passions and I really like writing about it. For those with short attention spans I’ve added some pictures to keep you happy… Just kidding, it’s text only!
Introduction To Gaining Weight
As a weight consultant I’m educated in giving people healthy nutrition advice. I’m specialized in both gaining and losing weight which both comes down to one simple principle: energy or calorie balance. The amounts of calories (energy) you consume influence your weight. If you don’t eat enough you’ll lose weight and if you eat too much you’ll gain weight. Whether this weight loss and gain is fat or muscle depends on how drastically you cut or increase your calorie intake. Adding too many calories at once without actually needing that many make you gain mostly fat. However, if you increase your food intake by only a bit more than your body needs to maintain your current weight, you can gain muscle mass. That is if you also do specific training to gain the mass. Lifting weights, doing calisthenics, cross fit, martial arts, gymnastics, dancing, swimming, etc. can all help you to build muscle mass.
Calorie-dense foods make it easier for you to gain weight, which is great. Unfortunately there are good and bad foods that are rich in calories. It is not only important for those that want to bulk up to know which foods are high in calories. Those trying to lose weight should be aware of the choices in food they make. The following food guidelines are great for those who want to gain muscle mass. Most calorie-dense foods listed below are also rather cheap.
The Power Of Staple Foods
You may not be familiar with the term ‘staple foods’. It has nothing to do with some kind of bad office humor whatsoever. Staple foods refer to foods that are eating in high quantities by certain cultural groups, countries and people all over the world. In other words, they make up a big part of the diet of the majority of people. To give you an idea, rice is the most eaten food worldwide and can be considered the staple food of the majority of countries. An example a bit closer to my door would be potatoes. The Netherlands is partly known for their potato-loving men and women. Personally I’m not really a big fan of potatoes and here is why. Potatoes are low in calories. You would need to eat a lot more of it to get in some decent calories. 100 grams of potatoes only contain 82 kcal, whereas whole grain rice delivers up to 360 kcal for that same amount. Potatoes might be great if you are trying to lose weight due to their low calorie content, but not so much if you’re trying to get more muscular. You would need to eat 400 grams of potatoes to get an almost equal amount of calories compared to rice.
Why do I bring this up? Because rice, as well as whole grain bread and pasta, noodles, quinoa, oatmeal, couscous and other grains are great, cheap calorie-dense choices of foods. Each of these contains around 350 kcal per 100 grams. Since you can often eat a decent amount of it each day you’ll easily get closer to your necessary energy intake with these calorie-dense foods. You can’t go wrong with eating a big amount of these foods to boost your calorie intake. Plus, by choosing the wholegrain, least processed foods in this category you’re ensured of a highly nutritious diet. Sprinkle some oats on your yoghurt and add some fruits to get in an extra portion of calories. Or make a tortilla wrap with rice, vegetables and meat for an extremely calorie-dense meal (500 kcal for such a simple wrap).
Nuts & Seeds
Sometimes I forget that not everyone is informed properly on the great benefits of nuts and seeds. Besides providing an insane amount of beneficial vitamins and minerals they are also great calorie-dense foods to help you bulk up. 100 grams of nuts or seeds contain on average 500-600 kcal. That’s good to know if you want to gain weight, isn’t it? A small disadvantage is that they fill you up pretty easily. That is why you can also just add some nuts and seeds to your cooking. Put some seeds in your salads, add some nuts to your stir fried vegetables and enjoy a handful of it as a snack. Mix it up and try some new kinds every once in a while to avoid boredom. Depending on which kind of nuts or seeds you pick as well as where you get them from, you can get a cheap and easy meal out of them. If you buy some almonds or walnuts at a local market you can often save yourself a lot of money compared to buying them in a groceries store. By the way, stick to the unsalted ones to avoid too much sodium. Nut butters like peanut butter or almond butter are also great and convenient picks. Four slices of wholegrain bread with peanut butter can easily deliver up to 800 kcal. That’s one big meal which you can eat in a short amount of time.
Fat Versus Low-Fat Foods
Fats have gotten a bad reputation in the past. In my book ‘The Complete, Not So Giant Book Of Six-Pack Abs’ I explain the role of (social)media regarding this problem. For now it’s enough for you to know that fats don’t deserve that bad name. There are good and bad fats as you may know. The good fats are unsaturated fats, the bad fats are saturated fats and the ugly ones are trans fats (I liked that movie, despite being rather old). Stay away from the trans fats, limit the saturated fats and feel free to eat plenty of unsaturated fats. Interestingly though, saturated fats can be useful if used in moderation as they help you to build testosterone, which in turn helps built muscle. When you want to bulk up you may want to think about switching up your lean products for the fat variations. Instead of 0% fat milk go for semi-skimmed milk for a more calorie-dense food choice. A glass of 0% fat milk has 93 kcal and the semi-skimmed one has got 115 kcal. That’s a difference of 23 kcal per glass. That doesn’t seem to be a lot, but if you drink 3 to 4 glasses a day that can really add up in the long run. Semi-skimmed dairy products are not that bad if you want to gain weight. It sure beats eating at some junk food restaurant, so don’t feel guilty if you drink milk that’s slightly higher in saturated fats. Don’t worry too much about that because eating an overall healthy diet with plenty of fibers, unsaturated (good) fats and vitamins and minerals already helps you to achieve a healthy lifestyle.
Oil, Butter And Cheese
Oil, butter and cheese are high in fat and therefore are also calorie-dense foods. 100 ml (3 fl. Oz) of oil or 100 gram (3 ounce) of butter both contain around 800 kcal. That’s a huge amount of calories. However, you usually don’t take in that much of it in one sitting. A tablespoon of each does deliver around 100 kcal though. So cook your meat and vegetables in olive oil, some good quality butter or baking product low in saturated fats to add some easy calories. Oil is also high in other beneficial nutrients. Cheese is another calorie-dense food which you can add to meals. Yes, it’s high in saturated fats and for that reason not so popular with health fanatics. Cheese isn’t nearly as bad as some people think though. Or at least, it’s always a better choice than junk food and if taken in moderation actually great to add some extra calories, taste and nutrients. This food contains a lot of good nutrients as well. Some grated cheese on top of pasta with tomato sauce or in a salad give that extra calorie boost.
Fat Fish, Eggs & Avocados
Fat fish is loaded with omega 3 fatty acids, which are very good for your health. It obviously also contains more calories than lean fish due to the fat content. Eggs are among the best foods I can think of. Compared to their size they are loaded with calories, namely a ‘whopping’ 70-92 kcal (boiled). Obviously eating one egg won’t do the trick. It’s something you can add to meals. Put a scrambled egg in your stir fried vegetables for some extra nutrients and calories. Avocados are similar to eggs in that they are calorie-dense foods compared to their size. This fatty vegetable fruit sort of thing contains 150 kcal. Avocados are considered fruits as far as I know, but are often seen as a vegetable in the culinary world. You can use it to bring more bulk to your salads or use it in other recipes.
Drink Your Calories
The final tips for calorie-dense foods are actually drinks. If you can’t stand eating 4000 kcal a day, which is often what you need if you struggle to gain weight, drinking is an option. By drinking calories you can add more weight without too much effort. Milk was already mentioned and in particular semi-skimmed milk or even full fat milk instead of 0% fat. Fruit juices (preferably without added sugars or ingredients other than the fruit itself) are great options. Another way to meet your calorie requirement is making your own smoothies or blended drinks. A blended shake containing one banana, 500 ml of semi-skimmed milk, a tablespoon of peanut butter and 30 grams of oatmeal already provide you with 530+ kcal. It takes you a maximum of 5 minutes to prepare and even less to gulp it down.
Quantity Over Quality?
Theoretically it would be possible for you to gain a lot of weight by just eating junk food, eating four pizza’s a day or drinking soda all day long. This isn’t ideal for your health though and since I value my health more than I do the way I look I don’t take that approach. I’d rather make healthy choices and try to make this easier by choosing the aforementioned foods.
You may find it difficult to actually think of meals that contains these foods. That is, healthy AND good tasting meals. In my next post I’ll try give you some advice on that, so if you haven’t fallen asleep due to this insanely long post yet, I can highly recommend you to check out my next article.