To the general public, getting fit is synonymous with losing weight. At a time when obesity is a health crisis in the modern world, there isn't a lot of consideration given towards healthy weight gain, but it's as serious and necessary a task for some as weight loss can be for others. This article has the details behind what it takes to achieve healthy weight gain, why it's so important, what makes the best calorie tracker for gaining weight, and the top 5 apps and resources for you to choose from.
Why Gain Weight?
Most people find themselves gaining unwanted weight as they age due to slowing metabolic rates. The amount of unhealthy food we could still put to energetic use in our teens and twenties starts to make us sick in our thirties and forties, literally: an unhealthy diet over a prolonged period of time could lead to diabetes, heart disease, and other adverse conditions that fall under the umbrella of metabolic syndrome.
That being said, being too skinny is also dangerously unhealthy, and while some people tend to pack on the pounds, others struggle to maintain a normal, solid amount of weight. You can better assess where you are on the weight spectrum by discovering your BMI.
The BMI (Body Mass Index) score is determined by measuring your body fat based on the average height and weight ratios of men and women. A BMI number under 18.5 is considered an unhealthy weight. A BMI score between 18.5 and 24.9 is ideal and considered a healthy weight range. A BMI score between 25 and 29.9 indicates overweight, while a BMI score over 30 is considered obese.
What Causes Being Underweight?
Among the U.S. population, about 1% of men over age 20 and 2% of women fall into the underweight category. This could come about due to eating disorders, weight loss due to injury, surgery, or illness leading to muscle atrophy or cachexia, or just your body's natural build, which tends towards skinniness no matter your calorie intake or activity level. Leading causes include:
- Eating disorders: Disordered eating such as that associated with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa can be life-threateningly dangerous. These are mental and behavioral disorders that require both nutritive and psychological help.
- Infectious illnesses: Infectious diseases like tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, or even a parasite can lead to unexpected and unhealthy weight loss.
- Cancer: Tumorous growths in the body can rob you of nutrition and energy, causing dangerous weight loss. The treatment of cancer with chemotherapy can also lead to conditions like cancer cachexia.
- Thyroid disorders: A disordered thyroid gland (located in the throat) can disrupt your metabolic rate and lead to wild fluctuations in weight gain and weight loss. Thyroid disorders include hyperthyroidism, Graves' disease, and Hashimoto's disease.
- Mood disorders: Conditions like depression, anxiety, or stress can increase your cortisol levels, reduce your natural appetite, and lead to unhealthy weight loss. Likewise, the drugs that treat these disorders (SSRIs like Celexa, Abilify, and Zoloft or SSNRIs like Cymbalta) can also lead to weight gain or weight loss in some regardless of their food intake.
- Malabsorption disorders: Disorders of the gut like celiac disease, leaky gut syndrome, and IBS or IBD can inhibit proper absorption of the nutrients in your food, leading to issues with weight loss.
- Diabetes: Type 2 diabetes is frequently tied to obesity, but those with type 1 diabetes are often underweight because of the disease.
Being of a body weight that is under the normal range is not only damaging to one's self-esteem, but it can also negatively impact your health and leave you vulnerable to opportunistic infections and diseases. This is why gaining weight is important and why doing it safely is imperative.
How to Gain Weight Safely
The calorie counters we have listed in the next section include free apps and personalized meal plans that help balance your macronutrient ratios and calorie intake, allowing you to maintain a healthy body fat percentage while you work to achieve your ideal weight. Gaining fat through empty calories is not the same as gaining bulk that feeds your muscles and stores needed vitamins and minerals.
Here's a quick breakdown of what kind of caloric intake makes for safe weight gain.
- Carbohydrates: Some of the cheapest foods around are made using refined carbs (white bread and rice) and refined sugar (table sugar and corn syrup). Eating chips and cookies could lead to weight gain, but those are non-nutritive calories that can lead to conditions like fatty liver or the development of prediabetes. Focus on whole grain products instead.
- Proteins: High-protein foods aren't all created equal—whether you're eating animal proteins (eggs, poultry, fish) or vegan sources of protein (beans, sprouted bread, nuts), it's important to get enough of the nine essential amino acids needed for lean muscle mass growth. Essential amino acid supplements may help.
- Healthy fats: The natural fats found in meat, dairy products (cheese, cream, yogurt), healthy cooking oils (olive and coconut oil), and foods like nuts, seeds, and avocados can help you get your current weight up without clogging your arteries or endangering your liver.
Best Calorie Tracker for Gaining Weight: Top 5 Apps and Resources
Whether you're looking for a fitness app with dietary interaction or a calorie counting app or both, here are some of the best options we've found to help you track and optimize your weight gain (with smartphone links to iTunes for iPhones and Google Play for Androids).
1. FitCal – Fitness Calculator
The best calorie tracker for gaining weight incorporates both diet and exercise, as they are two sides of the same coin. This fitness calculator is easy to use and includes tools for tracking daily calorie intake, your BMI number, your body measurements, plus advice on how much water intake you should aim for each day and your ideal weight based on your individual measurements.
Because it takes into account fitness, it includes info on your highest recommended heart rate while working out or getting physical activity. But the reason it's one of the best apps is because it also tracks the vitamin and mineral content of your food, where you might be deficient based on your diet, plus suggestions for natural roots and supplemental herbs you may find useful. It covers multiple aspects of a healthy lifestyle far beyond merely counting calories or clocking gym time.
2. High Protein Diet Foods Guide
If you're looking for a diet plan to help you gain muscle but you cannot afford or would rather avoid an appointment with a dietitian, this app is ready to help you gain both weight and muscle with targeted protein consumption.
The app provides weekly meal plans made with high-protein foods (based on data provided by the United States Department of Agriculture or USDA), has a calculator for protein and other vital nutrients, plus tracks your BMI. Don't forget about supplemental amino acid formulas for muscle growth if you find your protein goals falling short—they're appropriate for both men and women.
3. Weight Gain, Diet Tracker
This app takes into account your age, height, gender, current weight, and weight goal, and using that information helps you consume calories that will help you reach your goals. You can personalize the menu with meals you prepare yourself and adjust your eating habits as you see your weight respond to your nutrition. There's even a diary feature that allows you to record your fitness activities or planned workouts on a daily basis to track effective patterns.
Well known as a weight-loss tool, this app can also help you gain weight. Merely set your goal, utilize the daily calorie counting of your food intake using its massive database, and study the visual pie chart representation of your fat/carb/protein macronutrient ratio to plan for the future. You can even use this app's barcode scanner to save time inputting packaged foods and search for healthy recipes already loaded into the app for even more time saved.
One great feature is a "Quick Add" option that lets you log the number of calories you know you consumed without assigning them to specific foods. Another is that you can sync it with the following app on our list, Fitbit, so it can incorporate the calories you burn as well.
A calorie tracker for gaining weight can and should include a fitness tracker for the calories you utilize effectively for muscle creation. Whether you focus on cardio, strength training, or flexibility, a wearable tracker like the Fitbit can help track your physical activity, can integrate with diet and nutrition apps like MyFitnessPal, can count your miles and steps, and can monitor your heart rate. Not only do you get to know how many of your calories are being burned, but you also may gain useful information on the health of your heart.
Participate in challenges, receive rewards for goals met, and learn interesting facts (like when you've walked the length of an entire country). You can even track your sleep habits and your water intake.
Other similar wearable trackers include the Apple Watch, Google Fit, and Jawbone UP.
Gain Weight, Build Strength, Take Control
Gaining weight that helps you build muscle and shore up the strength to resist cold and flu season is a slow and steady race. Utilize these apps to help you find the best foods and workouts to suit your goals.