Hi, I weigh 146 lbs. and have a small frame. I would like to put on muscle and get up to about 167 lbs. I am not a big eater and usually eat very small portions. I would like to know your recommendations for a diet. 

– Sheldon S.


The situation you describe doesn’t leave a lot of room for options! I understand why you’ve reached out for advice. Increasing calories in a very limited volume can be quite challenging. Maximizing energy density can be done by 1) selecting rich foods, 2) through the addition of fats and sugars (Yep, you heard me say that correctly: fats and sugars), and by 3) power-packing.

1) Foods that are naturally energy-rich include nuts, nut butters, cheese, cream, oil, butter, dried fruit, nectars, traditional granola, tortillas, starchy vegetables, avocado, olives, coconut, bisque soups and chowders, salmon, beef liver, ice cream, and milkshakes. For packaged items, look for those that provide at least 300 calories per cup or 100 calories per ounce.

2) Anything that can be melted onto or into another food works! Ideas include cream in mashed potatoes, butter on noodles, pesto or avocado on sandwiches, cheese on casseroles, nut butter on toast, jam in yogurt, honey on fruit and mayonnaise on crackers. Nothing should be eaten plain if you are serious about gaining weight.

3) The concept of power-packing means to increase calories and protein without increasing volume. It involves replacing water content with higher calorie liquids. For example, fruit juice can be enriched by adding a cup of concentrate to each quart of liquid juice. For milk, add 2 Tbsp dry powdered milk to each cup fluid milk to gain 50 calories and 5 grams protein. Choosing oil-packed tuna over water-packed will give you over 100 calories more per 6 ounce can!

For meal and snack ideas, check out two sample weight gain menus from The University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.

Nutritional values obtained from the USDA’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Legacy Release. Findings were used along with RDN’s professional judgment.

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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