You don’t need to eat greasy, fatty foods to gain weight. This article is about a better way – using different foods for high quality weight gain and muscle growth. We’re talking about high-calorie low fat foods here!
We’re going to look at what options you have, why they’re a better choice, and how you can improve your bulk without giving up food quality.
Let’s start with the big question: why fatty foods are popular for weight gain – and why they’re a problem.
The Problems With High Fat Foods For Weight Gain
Fatty foods are popular for weight gain because they have a higher calorie-per-gram ratio than other foods. Pure fats are over 200% more calorie-dense than carbs or protein (1). This makes them easier to over-eat with, building muscle, or increasing total weight gain.
However, this doesn’t mean high-fat foods are the best choice for weight gain.
1. Many High-Fat Foods Are Unhealthy
Popular fatty foods like greasy burgers are high in trans fats while offering very few total nutrients (2). This leads to poor total diet quality, because they take up so much space, especially when you’re using them as your main way of achieving calorie surplus.
You don’t just need to eat more – you also need to focus on quality.
Building a diet around these foods can be a problem, but having them occasionally or on top of a diet full of nutrient-dense plants and seafood is great. Prioritize high quality meats, avoiding excessive saturated fat (and specifically trans-fat) intake.
2. Fats Aren’t The Best Choice For Muscle Growth
Fats are also not the best choice for muscle growth, despite the higher calorie content. They’re slow-burning and don’t have the same interactions with muscles that other nutrients do.
Your muscles – like your brain – run on carbohydrates. They prefer this kind of fuel and it’s easy to improve your muscular energy with carbs. If you want to improve this through fats, you’re going to need to wait a lot longer.
They don’t contribute to energy status and MTOR signaling as well as carbs or protein. They also have worse interactions with other key nutrients for muscles – like water, electrolytes, and creatine – which are great with carbohydrates.
3. Fats Don’t Always Digest Well
Finally, overeating on fatty foods can be a real challenge to your digestion. Fats are typically slow-digesting and sit heavily in the stomach.
Alternatively, excessive oil consumption can be difficult for digestion. This lack of digestion changes your real calorie intake since you’re not metabolizing what you eat.
Choosing other sources and varying your macronutrient intake can significantly improve your digestion and real calorie balance. This is key to keeping yourself healthy and happy for the long time it can take to build muscle mass and gain weight.
(In case you still decide to go with high-fat foods, here’s a list of some High-calorie Keto Foods)
High-Calorie Low Fat Foods For Weight Gain
The best high-calorie, low-fat foods for weight gain are calorie-dense wholegrains and other high-carb choices.
This is the key difference: carbohydrates are lower in total calories per gram, but many carbohydrate-rich foods are packed with carbs. This can be contrasted with lower-density foods like avocado or olives, which are rich in fats, but also packed with fiber and other non-digestible roughage.
The difference is that it’s much easier to eat 100g of carbs than 100g of fats. This helps you make up for the fact that each gram is less calorie dense. It can add up rapidly, with popular low-quality carbs like refined sugars leading to over-eating and unintentional weight gain.
Rice is the best high-calorie, low-fat food. It’s simple, versatile, it’s a wholegrain, and you’ll get roughly 205 calories per cup of cooked white rice. This is an easy way to start stacking up more small meals (or snacks), or eating larger meals with 3-5 cups at a time.
This is the classic bodybuilding approach, and it works well because rice is pleasant, versatile, and cheap.
If you’re struggling to gain weight, consider building staple rice dishes into your diet: countless amazing physiques are built on the back of meals combining rice, a protein source, and a great sauce. These are the basic ideas behind Japanese food, for example, one of the healthiest cultures on the planet.
Eat your rice – it’ll make you big and strong.
While bread’s reputation has been under fire for decades, it’s still the main reason that Indo-European cultures have evolved for the past 5,000 years. We wouldn’t have made it this far without the calorie density that bread provides!
Even today, weight gain and muscle growth are easier with bread. It’s a versatile and concentrated carb source that can be made with wholegrains, seeds, and other nutrient-dense foods.
The combination of breads with protein sources, beans, and rice all contribute to an easier weight gain process. If that sounds like Mexican food, it’s because it is – eating these foods makes weight gain easier.
They also happen to be delicious, and can easily lean on existing culinary powerhouses like salsa, salsa verde, and mole. You’ll find comparable examples in other culinary cultures –Italian and Indian foods, for example, have excellent bread-centered dishes.
Beans are probably the best carbohydrate source for most people most of the time. However, when you’re trying to gain weight, they’re even better as a rich source of carbohydrates and micronutrients (3).
This makes beans a great food by themselves, but also a fantastic choice in combination with other items on this list. As mentioned above, throwing them into a rice dish or a casserole helps boost protein and carb content as well as total nutritional quality.
4. Whole Wheat Pasta
Pasta is one of the best carbohydrates for gaining weight since it’s easy to cook and eat, there are thousands of excellent recipes built around it, and you can experiment with the ingredients.
There are countless options for making pasta delicious, and it’s always happy to take on any kind of protein source. This makes it easy to build a lunch or dinner around pasta, offering a high-calorie, high-carb source with flexibility to meet your dietary needs.
Whole Wheat pasta has better total nutrient content and higher fiber count. This is good for overall health while you gain weight, though white pasta is a higher carbohydrate and calorie option – though the difference is small.
Pasta is great because it’s a blank canvas, high in carbs, for you to build your own meals around!
This is one of those foods: it’s super high in carbs and protein, but it’s rare to find a place for it in a meal. Chia seeds are a superfood in their own right and one of the best bulking foods for gaining weight and muscle mass.
However, because of a lack of versatility, they’re not going to fit into every meal. You need to consider adding chia as their own thing as an added bonus to your existing diet.
Foods like chia pudding offer a good way to add more to your bulking diet, so look around for staple meals you can put into your diet wherever you can.
6. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are a popular carb source for bodybuilders for 3 reasons:
- They’re delicious and easy to cook
- They’re packed with high-quality starches to support muscle growth
- They’ve got great vitamin A content to support skin and immunity
These make sweet potatoes a great choice for any diet. They’re not super high calorie, but they offer an easy and appetizing choice to bulk up your meals. Focus on simpler choices like sweet potato (air) fries and wedges.
While they don’t quite fall into the category of beans or grains, chickpeas are a great mixed carb source. They provide fiber and starches, they’re easy to eat, and super versatile so you can cook them into all kinds of meals.
One great example is swapping out potatoes in a casserole for chickpeas, boosting the nutrient density, calorie count, and protein levels. These help you build muscle and gain weight in a healthy way.
While it may not be as popular in the modern day, spelt is the superior alternative to normal wheat. It’s a great choice for healthy carbs, making it perfect to blend into a day of eating to offset less-healthy carbohydrates.
Spelt is rich in micronutrients, packed with high-quality starchy carbs, and more protein than your average wheat.
Spelt bread is probably the most accessible form of spelt, but you can also use it in other ways. You can also use spelt in pastas and grain mixtures – where it offers added texture and a robust, earthy taste that is super versatile.
Lentils are an amazing carbohydrate and protein source with plenty of calories to fuel high-quality weight gain. They’re a staple of south Asian dishes – like Dal – where they have a great texture and flavor.
Consider adding lentils to your next curry, as a way to increase your carb intake while adding more high-power nutrients than rice or bread
You knew it was coming: Quinoa is the king of grains and one of the best carb and protein sources around. It can be a little expensive, but Quinoa fits an amazing role in your diet where it can improve both quality and quantity of weight gain.
Rich in both protein and micronutrients, as well as carbohydrates, it’s a simple choice for muscle-building grain dishes. You can make patties out of it, put it into curries, and even use it for fake rice, bulking up meals with powerful, healthy carbs.
Bulking With Carbs: Frequently Asked Questions
- Should You Bulk With Carbs Or Fats?
Most people will bulk most effectively by increasing their carbohydrate intake. This increases energy available to muscles, activating growth-signaling pathways for the muscles.
Aside from this direct benefit, carbs are also plentiful, cheap, and often provide essential minerals your body needs. These include things like magnesium and zinc from wholegrains, or iron and other minerals in beans.
Carbs are great for bulking, as long as you choose the right carb sources (and get plenty of protein!).
- Can You Bulk On A Low-Fat Diet?
Yes – you can bulk on a low-fat diet with a higher total consumption of carbohydrates and protein. In fact, this is the best way for most people to gain weight, with fats representing a smaller portion of their total macronutrient intake.
While there’s nothing wrong with fats – getting healthy fats is essential to your well being – they’re not the best for gaining high-quality weight.
- Can You Bulk Without Getting Fat?
Yes – while old ‘dirty bulks’ have made it seem like you have to bulk and cut, most people benefit from a slow bulk without getting fat.
The easiest way to do this is to gain weight slowly, with conservative weight gain goals of around 0.5kg per month. This minimizes excess calorie intake and thus fat storage.
This process is also easier when your exercise volume and/or protein intake are higher.
- What Is The Best Food To Gain Weight But Not Fat?
The best foods for weight gain without high fat intake are rice, beans, and fatty fish. These offer the best balance of calorie intake, nutrients, and ease of lifestyle. You’ll be able to gain more muscle mass and weight.
Focusing on higher carb and protein intake will help you gain less fat and – with proper nutrients, sleep, and training – more muscle.
- What Foods Are High In Calories But Low In Fat?
Foods like rice, beans, and breads are high in calories but low in fat. Lower-processing carbohydrates like these provide a sustainable energy source while still increasing total calorie intake.
Make sure you’re combining these higher-calorie carb sources with plenty of protein. This helps regulate your overall metabolism and ensures you’re building muscle, rather than fat.
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Rohan Arora is a Certified Personal Trainer and Sports Nutritionist and has been actively involved in sports and fitness for over 8 years. He now leads the team of fitness specialists and personal trainers who help people around the world with personalized workout and nutrition plans, along with providing the right information on sports supplements.