High-Calorie Diet for Underweight People

by Andrea Cespedes Google

About Andrea Cespedes

Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.


People who are underweight may suffer from compromised immune systems and weakness. Women who are too thin may experience disruptions in their menstrual cycle, and underweight elderly are more vulnerable to falls and illness. Whether you are underweight due to an illness or genetics, following a nutritious high-calorie diet can help you put on healthy pounds and reach a healthy weight.


While junk food contains significant calories, it does not offer all the nutrition an underweight person needs to put on healthy weight. Even if you need to gain weight, you are still vulnerable to developing high cholesterol or high blood pressure associated with eating too much saturated fat and sodium. Nutritious foods, in combination with an exercise program, will also help you add a mix of fat and muscle, rather than just fat, to fill out your frame and promote health.


A high-calorie diet for underweight people features whole, natural foods with a high calorie density. Emphasize starchy vegetables, dense whole grains, proteins low in saturated fat and low-fat dairy. Aim to take in about 500 to 1,000 calories more than you burn daily to gain 1 to 2 pounds per week.


Serve yourself larger portions at meals, especially the higher calorie items like bread--preferably whole grain--and protein. Never skip meals. If you know you will be without access to food for several hours, stash snacks in your backpack or purse. Forgo diet soda and unsweetened tea in favor of 100 percent juice or low-fat milk to get extra calories. Whip up a smoothie once or twice a day that contains a frozen banana, a scoop of peanut butter, a cup of soy milk and protein powder for an extra 400 to 500 calories. Engage in light cardiovascular exercise and strength training to encourage muscle development and help keep your appetite revved.

Best Types of Foods

Sticking to the food groups designated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture will help you maintain balance and nutrition in your high-calorie diet, says registered dietitian Joanne Larsen on Ask the Dietitian. Choose proteins like chicken breast, lean beef, beans, soy, eggs and fish--but eat 6 ounces in a serving instead of the minimum 3-ounce servings. Opt for 1- or 2-cup servings of whole-grain cereals, 100 percent whole-grain bread and pasta and grains like brown rice, millet and quinoa. Low-fat dairy like 1 percent milk, cottage cheese, yogurt and cheese offer calcium and calories. While vegetables provide important nutrients, focus on starchy versions like sweet potatoes, corn and peas for calorie density. Snack on dried fruits, as a cup of raisins contains 520 calories versus just 100 in a cup of grapes. Use oils like safflower, olive or canola for cooking and dressings.


If you suffer from a weak appetite and large meals make you feel uncomfortable, try eating several smaller meals every two to three hours. Increase the calories in the food you do eat without adding a lot more volume by enhancing them with unsaturated fats. These fats, found in nuts, avocados and plant oils, do not raise your cholesterol like saturated and trans fats, but still contain nine calories per gram--more than the four calories provided by carbohydrates and proteins. Add avocado to salads and sandwiches, spread nut butter on bananas and toast, sprinkle almonds over cereal, toss pasta with olive oil and drizzle safflower oil mixed with lemon juice over your vegetables.

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.