High-calorie vegetables are less popular than their skinny counterparts, but offer some of the best energy to support muscle building.
Today, we’re looking at high-calorie vegetables, how you use them, and which are the best. Then we’ll look at some more controversial staples that you should be using in your diet, and finally which vegetables are going to help you build muscle gain despite a lower calorie content.
Let’s get started with what vegetables are in your diet and why you need to pay attention to them…
The Role Of Vegetables In The Diet
Vegetables you with a range of benefits for weight gain:
- Nutrients – like vitamins and minerals
- Providing fiber to support digestive and metabolic wellbeing
- Carbohydrate sources – typically starches, but sometimes sugar (e.g. carrots)
- Phytochemicals – important health-promoting plant compounds
Most people don’t use high calorie veggies as a direct weight-gain tool, however. It’s often the opposite: veg are used as a way of improving weight loss potential.
Classics like spinach are a way of getting tons of nutrients with very few calories. This nutrient-density is the key for most people.
However, vegetables are varied and powerful.
They’re not just low-calorie, but they’ll almost always be rich in nutrients (1).
When we’re gaining weight, this kind of high-calorie and high-nutrient food is absolutely key. They provide vitamins and minerals to support gains while providing the calories – and even protein – that you need.
Today we’re focusing on those high-calorie vegetables and their nutrient contents that you should focus on. It’s always good to use plant foods to support health, even when you’re trying to get bigger.
You don’t need to hide from calories. Weight gain diets are all about lots of calories and nutrients. High-calorie vegetables are perfect, so let’s look at why they’re important and the best examples.
Competing Demands: Nutrient Intake Vs Calorie Intake
Usually, calorie intake and nutrient intake compete. Many people on a weight gain diet will focus on one and neglect the other. This is why a lot of people gain low-quality weight, or don’t gain weight at all, when they try to bulk up.
Junk foods are a common tool for weight gain.
They provide many calories, making it easier, but lack the nutrient values you want. This means the resulting weight is lower quality – more fat, less positive health effects, less muscle.
IIFYM and flexible diets often run into these issues. They’re best served by adding more staple high-calorie vegetables, which cut this dilemma in half.
They provide both calories and nutrients. This makes them a great focus to help you both maintain a calorie surplus and drive high-quality, healthy weight gain.
They also have less satiety-per-calorie than lower calorie veg. Foods like lettuce and broccoli are too filling to consistently gain weight with, unless they’re paired with calorie-heavy foods like red meats.
Vegetables and Weight Gain: Using Calorie Rich Vegetables
There are many high calorie veggies that support high-quality weight gain because of the range of nutrients they offer.
This also includes some high-calorie veg, some with excellent carbs and protein, and others that just offer plenty of nutrients without filling you up.
When we look at even the healthiest veg, they’re all fiber and starch – like broccoli. This high fiber content can make many vegetables super filling, however.
When gaining weight, the role of veg is to provide nutrients first and foremost. However, a smart choice of vegetables can do this while offering more – like a combination of proteins, carbs, fiber, and micronutrients (vitamins/minerals).
This is key to choosing vegetables: the best plant foods don’t just do one thing.
Why Vegetables are Important for Diet and Growth
Vegetables are good because they’re packed with nutrients and fiber. These contribute to your metabolic and digestive wellbeing.
They’re also key to gut health, supporting the development of ‘good’ bacteria and supporting the balance of your little gut ecosystem.
These are typically in the shape of vitamins and minerals. You’re going to get tons of antioxidant vitamins (A, C, and E) in particular which help reduce cell damage risks (2).
On top of this, the macronutrient profiles of different vegetables include high-carb and high-protein choices.
Just like any other type of food, these are the best choices to improve muscle gains and support better weight gain over time.
Culinary Versatility And Meal Balance
Vegetables are also good because of their versatility. There is a plant food to pair with just about any meal or to play any culinary role.
They’re an essential part of the diet and we’re going to cover some you might not think about.
Remember: vegetables aren’t just green. You’ve got wholegrains, beans and pulses, fatty plants, and countless other categories.
Don’t get sucked into treating one group as ‘vegetables’ – because what you think is healthy might not be right for weight gain.
High Quality Plant Macronutrients
The actual carbs, fats, and proteins found in plants are often great. Compounds like polyunsaturated fats from olives and their oil, for example, are great for heart health.
On the other hand, plant proteins are typically powerful wellbeing regulators and promote better wellbeing (3).
Adding these specific types of plant macronutrients can have unexpected health benefits. The regular intake of vegetables in the broad context – including wholegrains and fruit – are key to building a healthy diet.
Things To Look For: What Makes A Good Vegetable For Weight Gain?
With the bewildering range of veg out there, you’ll be looking out for some key factors. These are similar to the fruits, but expanded because calorie rich vegetables in the old fashioned sense have a wider range of nutrients and benefits:
- Lower volume: foods that take up less space are going to be key to preventing fullness
- Nutrient dense: more vitamins and minerals to support health and growth
- High-calorie: more energy means better weight gain and reliable strength gains
- Rich in macronutrients: protein, carbs, and fats per gram of food are key to high-calorie veg
- Mixed nutrients: vegetables with a mixture of macronutrients are usually the best (especially carbs and protein)
- A defined role: veg with either short-term energy (like carrots), mid-term energy (potatoes and sweet potatoes), or long-term energy (olives) have an important role you can employ
Just like any food, the point is to find the choices that suit your needs.
Snacking vegetables are different from post-workout vegetables, which are different still from “end of the day feeding” veg. Finding the food for the hole in your diet is the key.
Let’s get into examples and why they’re so good…
Best High Calorie Vegetables for Weight Gain:
The best high calorie vegetables for weight gain include veggies that are not just high in calories, but also provide essential vitamins and minerals for optimum muscle growth:
- Black Beans and Mung beans
- Sweet Potatoes
- Kidney Beans
- Lima Beans
- Corn on the Cob
- Roasted Parsnips
- And more…
1. Black Beans and Mung beans
Black beans and mung beans are the kings of vegetables. They’re rich in carbs and protein, packed with important nutrients, and more calorie-dense than the dark leafy greens you might be expecting.
These are also some of the best vegan protein sources combining carbs and proteins in a great ratio.
As a result, these two types of beans really overperform in your diet for better muscle gains – and work well in casserole-style dishes.
A pulse of worldwide renown, lentils are perfect for adding a mixture of carbs and protein to your diet. They play a wide range of culinary roles and remain popular all over the world.
Lentils combine well in a wide range of weight gain meals and offer an easy way to add extra calories to your diet with one of the healthiest vegetable choices on the market.
Chickpeas are pulses and are only slightly behind beans and lentils, offering a starchy vegetable but with fewer nutrients and carbs/protein than the earlier choices.
Chickpeas work well with other beans and pulses while adding extra texture and calories.
They’re a great choice if you’re looking to mix it up while keeping calorie content high to support muscle gains and bulk up, making them excellent vegetables that increase weight.
Avocado is the fatty vegetable and is popular for its creamy texture and nutrient density.
Because of these fats, it’s also one of the most calorie-dense vegetables with more calories than beans, lentils, or just about anything else on the market.
Avocado is also an ingredient in Guac, which is one of the easiest and best-tasting ways to gain weight. Avocado pairs well with everything from salsa to bacon, so get experimenting with this high-calorie and nutrient-rich vegetable.
5. Sweet potato
Sweet potato is a starchy vegetable that is also rich in Vitamin A. One of the most important things is that it offers a simple starch source and is of moderate calorie content.
It’s not the easiest way to gain weight but it’s an example of a staple carb that offers a mixture of energy and nutrients.
Peas are, like other pulses, a great place to look for carbs and proteins in a mixture.
The combination of the two makes them one of the best carb sources around, while the additional vegetable protein and vitamins/minerals add to your overall health and wellbeing.
7. Kidney beans
Kidney beans are a step down from mung beans and black beans. However, they’re a popular choice and they offer a huge amount of the same carb-protein mix, as well as a wide range of B vitamins and iron.
This makes them another great choice for vegetables that increase weight – perfect to vary through in order to keep things varied and support all your nutrient needs.
8. Lima Beans
Lima beans, like mung and kidney and black beans, are a great combo of the best muscle-building nutrients.
They fill the same kind of niche in the diet, they provide a great mixture of simple and complex starches, and they’re packed with micronutrients to support all the unseen processes in your body that go into muscle-building.
9. Corn on the cob
Corn on the cob is simple, it’s delicious, and it’s packed with enough calories to support your health without feeling too filling.
Corn on the cob offers an excellent blend of sugar, starches, and fiber to support better carb and calorie intake from a natural, healthy source.
It’s also wonderful with added butter, combining a vegetable with a high-calorie fat source.
You’ll only get around 150 calories per ear of corn, but you can eat 2 with butter for around 450-500 calories total. That’s an easy and enjoyable bump to any meal, alongside a protein source.
10. Roasted parsnips
Roasted parsnips – especially those glazed in honey or similar syrups – can be a fantastic way to add more calories.
This is a root vegetable that is already high in sugar and starch, making it a great choice right off the bat.
Glazing and other delicious techniques for preparing parsnips can make them even higher in calories – and more delicious. Another great higher-calorie veg combination you can add to just about any meal.
11. Squash (and combinations)
Squashes combine high-quality starches with a widely varied nutrient profile combining high-quality vitamins and minerals like vitamin K for circulation and eye health.
Aubergine, butternut squash, and even pumpkin all offer versatile cooking options. Pumpkin can make soup, curry, and pie in different recipes.
Butternut squash and aubergine are equally versatile in savory cooking and offer a simple range of high-quality starches to boost your calorie intake and drive up muscle-building.
Controversial “Vegetables” for Weight Gain
We’ve also got some high-calorie vegetable choices that might be a bit controversial.
These are different from the others on our list in one way or another, so let’s look at what you can get if you’re willing to broaden your horizons.
12. Nuts (pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts), seeds (chia, sunflower, and pumpkin)
Nuts and seeds offer a hugely useful blend of fats, proteins, and carbs. They’re some of the best foods on the planet, and even more powerful within the category of just vegetables.
Pecans, walnuts, and hazelnuts are good examples of nuts that are packed with flavor, high-calorie fats, and a wide range of micronutrients.
This has made nuts one of the premier snacks for weight gain where they’re easy to eat, not too filling, and packed with both calories and nutrients.
Seeds are similar, but include more carbs and protein than nuts, offering some of the most powerful combinations on the market.
Think of them like sweeter and more versatile beans. Chia, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds are all great to boost calorie intake and get better muscle-building results.
Quinoa is popular lately and it’s because of the immense quality of nutrients in this simple, unassuming grain.
It’s rich in a wide variety of important minerals and vitamins, as well as being a surprisingly good calorie source to go along with proteins and sauces.
Oats are some of the best cereals around, a subset of vegetables. Oats are perhaps the best wholegrain choice.
They’re not super high calorie vegetables, but they offer some of the best nutrient profiles around containing essential minerals like magnesium – the most important electrolyte for muscle performance, recovery, and growth.
Low-Calorie Vegetables for Muscle Gains
You don’t need high-calorie vegetables for muscle growth. Sometimes, you just need to add nutrient-dense vegetables to your diet and you can get results from even small quantities – without spoiling your appetite.
Here are some of the best:
15. Beetroot: a powerful nitric oxide booster to support muscle cells and sick pumps
16. Spinach: the lowest volume vegetable with some of the most powerful nutrients
17. Blueberries: a direct muscle-builder through anthocyanin, a purple pigment
18. Garlic: a well-known supporter of testosterone and surprisingly high-calorie
19. Watermelon: the source of citrulline – a powerful nitric oxide booster
20. Kale: another easy, low-satiety choice with ridiculous nutrient density
Other Ways to Get Better Nutrients in your Weight Gain Diet
There are ways to get more from your veg – and to be smarter about how you use them.
Synergies with other foods are common – where eating a combination is better than their individual parts. Red meats and dark green veg are the obvious one.
This entirely eliminates any ‘unhealthy’ impacts of red meat on the colon while supporting nutrient-uptake (vitamin C + iron).
There are other examples. Things like yogurt and blueberries, for example, combine paired nutrients in the form of Anthocyanins and protein. Seek out foods that play well together.
This also applies to controlling the release of energy from other foods.
For example, adding raw and fiber-rich fruit to a sugary food (e.g. in combining honey and berries) you reduce the “insulin spike” effect and extend the energy release over a longer period of time.
Nutrient Dense Vegetables With Low Satiety
Equally, you can employ key veg with lower satiety levels to get the nutrients you need without breaking your belt.
Spinach is a great example – but it applies to any other nutrient-dense, wilting veg. By reducing the size of spinach, which happens naturally, you’re reducing the volume.
Sautéed spinach is a classic weight-gain vegetable where it offers a higher calorie count, less space, and a fantastic nutrient profile.
These small changes make a big difference on a day to day basis. If a food is dense enough with nutrients, you can add even a little to a meal without spoiling your appetite for more food!
Shakes And Smoothies
Shakes are an interesting place to add vegetables to support better weight gain and improve your overall nutrient intake without eating more.
Oats are a classic, but adding spirulina, kale, or spinach also work. These are nutrient-rich and relatively mild.
Being able to add a handful of leaves to your shake, blend it up, and get the benefits is amazing. There’s never a bad time to get more leafy greens into your diet if they’re not filling you up.
With shakes, you’re not going to feel the difference, but you will get better benefits.
Just be sure to strain your shakes if you blend spinach or kale into them, just in case. Blueberries, bananas, and others are also great for this, of course.
Tips and Tricks: Using Vegetables For Weight Gain
Vegetables for weight gain are easy – choose the right ones and make sure you’re balancing up your veggies with your high-calorie foods, and plenty of protein. It just requires a little forethought and understanding the role it plays in your diet.
- Add veg to every meal. Worried about nutrient intake? Make it a constant in your diet.
- Use wilting or blended veg in shakes, smoothies, and sauces for easy nutrient intake
- Combine veg with high-calorie foods. Again, red meat and cruciferous veg is the best example.
- Pair fruits and wholegrains with sugary carbs to reduce the burden during “rest” feeding
- Cook in ways – like sautéing – that help you get the most of lower-calorie veg
- Combine with an appetite stimulant pill like AppetiteMax to drive better appetite and feeding
These are just a few easy ways to increase your uptake of quality nutrients while you use high-calorie fruit and veg to aid weight gain.
It’s about both using high-calorie vegetables and finding high-calorie solutions that fit normal, nutrient-dense vegetables into your diet.
With good appetite and smart planning, you don’t have to compromise on weight gain or food quality.
Conclusion: Our Final Thoughts
You can use vegetables for weight gain – especially high-calorie vegetables and those that don’t take up much space.
You can implement them effectively to improve your health and support your weight gain results. When we look at high-calorie fruits and vegetables, it’s clear just how much they can offer you.
The standards for both are similar, with veg obviously having the advantage of extra fats, protein, and fiber. Being smart with your food choices – and using an appetite stimulant like AppetiteMax to improve your feeding frequency – can make for a rewarding, result-boosting habit.
Pay attention to the principles we’ve outlined, as well as the examples.
You can use all of these foods to great effect, but don’t limit yourself.
Get out there and experiment with foods, combinations, and different ways of cooking that help you gain better, healthier, high-quality weight!
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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.