Whether you are trying to gain weight, maintain your weight, or lose weight, one of the most common questions is: “How many calories does it take to gain a pound?“
In cases where you are trying to gain weight, knowing how many calories to gain a pound will help you structure your healthy weight gain meal plan to gain weight effectively.
If you are trying to lose weight and you have overindulged, knowing how many calories you have to eat to gain a pound can help calm your nerves if you are worried your binge is going to massively derail your weight loss goals.
So, how many calories does it take to gain a pound? What is the best diet to gain weight in a healthy way?
In this guide, we will discuss how many calories it takes to gain a pound of fat, how many calories it takes to lose a pound, and how to make a healthy weight-gain meal plan.
We will look at:
- Breaking Down Bodyweight
- How Many Calories Does It Take to Gain a Pound of Fat?
- What Is the Best Weight Gain Meal Plan?
Let’s get started!
Breaking Down Bodyweight
When discussing gaining or losing weight, it is important to distinguish between “gaining a pound of weight” and “gaining a pound of fat.”
When you step on a regular scale, the scale measures your total mass multiplied by the acceleration of gravity, which is what we call body weight.
This includes all of the types of tissue in your body, such as muscle, fat, bone, nerves, organs, and blood, along with undigested food, water, etc.
Body fat is a particular type of tissue, known as adipose tissue, which is either accumulated or lost based on your caloric balance.
You either need to use an accurate body fat scale or some other form of body fat measurement such as a DEXA scan, hydrostatic weighing (underwater weighing), BODPOD, or skinfold calipers to measure your body fat percentage.
It is possible to gain a pound without consuming any excess calories.
If you drink 16 ounces of water, you consume zero calories, but your body weight on the scale will increase by 1 pound.
However, you have not gained any body fat, just total body weight that is temporarily one pound higher until you process the fluids you have consumed and urinate.
Many times, if you have a night of indulgence, particularly if you enjoy a salty restaurant meal, a high-carb meal, or a couple of alcoholic beverages, you may find that when you step on the scale the next morning, you have gained several pounds.
However, the majority of the weight you have gained overnight is simply water weight due to your body retaining more water because of the salt, carbohydrates, and/or alcohol that you have consumed.
For example, for every gram of glycogen (stored carbohydrates) that your muscles or liver store when you consume excess carbohydrates, your body stores an additional 3 to 4 grams of water.
How Many Calories Does It Take to Gain a Pound of Fat?
We can contrast gaining a pound of weight vs. gaining a pound of fat, as they are distinct scenarios.
The number of calories to gain a pound of fat is different than the number of calories to gain a pound of general weight in the above-referenced circumstances where the weight that you are gaining is primarily due to water weight.
Gaining a pound of fat does indeed require consuming a surplus of calories.
Fat tissue is an energy reservoir.
What this means is that when we consume more calories than we burn, the body converts the excess calories, whether they come from fat, protein, or carbohydrates, into triglycerides, which are fatty acids.
These fatty acids are stored in a dip site, which are fat cells found in adipose tissue or body fat.
So, how many calories to gain a pound?
Most research suggests that you have to eat about 3,500 calories above what you are burning in order to gain a pound of fat.
There can be some variability within this based on the thermic effect of food, which refers to the number of calories it takes to digest and metabolize certain foods and how much of the energy/calories in a food you absorb and convert to fat.
For example, there is some evidence to suggest that certain types of fiber, such as resistant starch, are poorly absorbed, so you may be able to eat a bit more than 3,500 calories to gain a pound of fat if you happen to be eating lots of foods high in resistant starch like green bananas.
Similarly, certain foods cause a slight boost in metabolic rate, which is said to have a “higher thermic effect,“ including spicy foods such as chili peppers, green tea, coffee or other caffeinated foods, and lean proteins.
However, even if these foods do boost your metabolism slightly, the general average is that a caloric surplus of 3,500 calories will result in gaining one pound of fat.
The converse is also true: creating a caloric deficit of 3500 calories will result in 1 pound of fat loss.
A caloric deficit means that you are burning more calories than you are eating.
If you are looking to gain weight, knowing that it takes about 3500 calories to gain a pound of fat, you can adjust your weight gain meal plan so that you are gaining 1 to 2 pounds of fat per week, which is a reasonable rate of healthy weight gain for most people and is usually doable depending on your body size, activity level, health status, and dietary restrictions.
Because you need to eat an excess of 3500 calories to gain a pound, if you want to gain 1 to 2 pounds per week on a healthy weight gain meal plan, you need to create a daily caloric surplus in your diet of 500 to 1000 calories, respectively.
In other words, a weight gain meal plan that provides 500 calories a day more than you are burning will help you gain a pound a week, and a weight gain meal plan that provides 1000 calories a day more than you are burning will help you gain 2 pounds a week.
Here again, note that the converse is also true.
If you are trying to lose 1 pound per week, you need to follow a weight loss plan that generates a daily caloric deficit of an average of 500 calories.
If you want to lose 2 pounds per week, your weight loss meal plan needs to be 1000 calories a day less than the number of calories per day that you are burning.
What Is the Best Weight Gain Meal Plan?
Unfortunately, creating a successful meal plan for gaining weight is not as straightforward as you might hope because in order to gain a pound, you have to be eating 3500 calories or so above what you are burning.
For some people, gaining weight is quite difficult as they either have a poor appetite or are very physically active, and therefore, it is difficult to actually eat enough to gain a pound per week.
Moreover, in order for your weight gain meal plan to be effective, you have to know how many calories you are burning every day and how many calories you are eating to make sure that you are actually eating enough calories to gain weight.
So, how do you create a healthy weight gain meal plan?
Here are the steps for how to gain a pound or more per week:
#1: Calculate Your TDEE
The first step in creating the best weight gain meal plan is to accurately calculate how many calories you are burning per day, which is known as your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).
Without knowing how many calories you are burning, you won’t know how many calories you need to eat per day to gain a pound per week or more or how many calories you need to eat per day on your weight gain plan based on your goals.
There are various ways to calculate your daily caloric expenditure, but using an online calculator that factors in your BMR (basal metabolic rate), general physical activity level based on your lifestyle, and your typical exercise routine is generally a good starting place for most people.
This is unless you have an accurate fitness watch that can estimate your daily calorie burn. You can check out an online BMR calculator and TDEE calculator here.
#2: Keep Track Of Your Diet
Of course, the other component of gaining weight is your weight gain meal plan. You need to keep track of everything that you are eating in terms of serving size. Consider using a food tracking app and measure all of your portions.
Then, make sure you do some computations and adjust your diet so that you are trying to eat at least 500 calories a day more than you are burning to gain a pound per week.
For some high-calorie meal plans to help you gain weight, check out our guide to a 4000-calorie meal plan here.
We also have some high-calorie foods for healthy weight gain here.