April 28, 2024

How to Gain Weight: A Guide for High Metabolism Females

by Brenna Thompson, MS, RD, LDN
Woman weighing herself

When you hear the word "metabolism," what immediately comes to mind? For most people it's their body weight, and the feeling that just looking at food will cause them to gain weight.

But what if you have a high metabolism and you're trying to gain weight, but don't know how? As a woman, it can feel very counterculture to want to gain weight and build muscle.

While it can sometimes be challenging to eat enough and not feel self-conscious, that's ultimately what you need to do. If you're a woman with a high metabolism, this article will help you gain weight and build the strong muscular body you want.

Key Takeaways

  • If you have a fast metabolism, it's important to consume enough calories and nutrients to match your elevated energy use.
  • Women with a fast metabolism should aim for a calorie surplus of up to 500-700 extra calories daily, and focus on protein-rich meals to support muscle growth.
  • Women looking to gain weight and build muscle should combine healthy eating with resistance training and calisthenics.

Table of Contents

Understanding High Metabolism

Our metabolism is more than just our weight. It's the energy used and produced in every cell of our body. There are many factors that influence and control our cellular metabolism and therefore our weight.

Signs of a High Metabolism

If you experience any of the following on a regular basis, you may have a high metabolism:

  • Anemia (low iron)
  • Frequent sweating
  • Being energetic or hyperactive
  • High body temperature even when inactive
  • Frequent bowel and bladder movements
  • Big appetite
  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Low body fat percentage
  • Low Body Mass Index (BMI)

Challenges of Gaining Weight with High Metabolism

It's hard to gain weight when your metabolism is a roaring furnace. You already have to eat large quantities of food just to keep up with your basal metabolic rate — the number of calories you simply burn just being alive and living. Add to that all the extra calories you need to move around each day, and then add on the amount needed to increase muscle mass.

Many people feel overwhelmed at the thought of spending more of their free time cooking and eating. Especially if grocery shopping and cooking are not their favorite activities. And, all that extra food can also cause bloating and digestive distress depending on where the extra calories are coming from.

Nutritional Strategies for Weight Gain

So, how do you gain weight when you already feel like eating is your second job? Even if you don't have a high metabolism, if you want to build lean muscle mass, then eating enough calories is non-negotiable.

The factor that most women are missing is excess calories. That's right MORE calories than they need to maintain their current body weight. Then doing it day after day after day.

Creating a Calorie Surplus

First you need to know how many calories you are currently eating. Many women are undereating and don't know it. Use a tracking app such as myfitnesspal or Cronometer to track your current food and caloric intake for about 5 – 7 days. Use this average as your starting point.

What counts as a calorie surplus? For the average person, increasing your calories by 200-300 per day would be enough to slowly gain weight. So, start there. For a woman with a very high metabolism, you may need to eat 500-700 more calories per day.

Increasing Meal Frequency

Sometimes it's hard to eat more food in a single meal. High metabolism females will need to add in either another meal or 1-2 snacks to help hit their caloric intake. This is not the time to practice intermittent fasting or time restricted eating!

Protein Targets

You absolutely must hit your protein needs to see the changes your want. Most women (especially those with a high metabolism) underestimate how much protein they need and how much they eat. Aim for 1g of protein per pound of your current body weight.

Check out our article on protein intake for details on how to calculate what's best for you.

What Foods are Best for Weight Gain?

Here's a list of nutrient dense foods to help you hit that calorie surplus.

  • Protein – Hit your protein needs with whole foods first, and then use a protein shake 1-2x day to fill in the gaps. Think beef, chicken, pork, fish, seafood, yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs, and tofu.
  • Dairy – Whole milk dairy can help increase calories without increasing volume. A cup of fat free Greek yogurt contains 130 calories. A cup of whole milk Greek yogurt contains 220 calories.
  • Nuts – Nuts and nut butters are a good way to add calories from healthy fats, without adding a lot of volume. 2 Tbs of nut butters or 1/4 cup of most nuts contain 180 calories.
  • Starch – Include 1-2 servings of starches such as rice, quinoa, oats, potatoes, or sweet potatoes at your meals. whole grain bread and pasta are good choices too.
  • Fruits – Eat a wide variety of fruits to help increase fiber and micronutrients. While veggies are also a healthy choice and should be included in your meals, fruits are generally higher in calories.

Building a balanced diet around nutrient dense, whole food sources instead of relying on bars and weight gainer shakes will help you build muscle without the negative digestive side effects that can come with more processed alternatives.

An Example Day of Eating to Gain Weight

Here is one example of a day of eating that could be combined with a morning training session.

  • Pre Workout Smoothie: (mix 1 scoop protein powder + 1 cup coffee) + 1 banana
  • Breakfast: 1 cup 2% cottage cheese + 1 cup berries + 1/2 cup granola + Flax muffin
  • Lunch: 4 oz steak + 1 medium baked potato + 1 cup mixed cooked vegetables + 1/2 Tbs olive oil
  • Snack: 2 Tbs raisins + 1/4 cup nuts
  • Dinner: 4 oz turkey meatballs + 1 cup cooked pasta + 1 cup marinara sauce + side salad + 2 Tbs dressing
  • Desert: Black bean brownie

Nutritional Totals

2500 kcal, 146g protein, 296g carb, 90g fat

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Tailoring Exercise for High Metabolism: Weights & Calisthenics

When combined with the nutritional strategies above for gaining weight, the right exercise program can give you even more options.

When training to increase lean muscle mass, focus on lifting heavy and getting adequate rest. Adding in extra cardio just tells your body to burn extra calories instead of using them to gain muscle mass.

While weight training is excellent for building size and strength, calisthenics helps improve flexibility, and body coordination. Include both in your exercise routines to build muscle.

Weight Training for High Metabolism

Cardio may have been popular in the 80s and 90s, but step classes and jogging will not help you build muscle and gain weight. Instead, you need to lift weights and strengthen your muscles to make them more pronounced.

Doing a variety of weighted exercises that hit all your muscle groups will help you build lean muscle mass. If you can do 10 reps of an exercise, then it's time to up your weight. Without being challenged enough, muscles will not get the signal to grow.

Effective exercises include:

  • Compound Exercises: Squats, deadlifts, and bench press target multiple muscle groups. If you're just starting, take it slow and pay attention to aches and pains to ensure you don't develop an injury.
  • Isolation Exercises: Bicep curls and leg extensions focus on specific muscles and are useful for addressing weaker areas and sculpting muscles.

If you are new to weightlifting seek professional guidance when learning how to lift weights. You might try an online coach such as those from Girls Gone Strong if you can't find someone locally.

Incorporating Calisthenics

Calisthenics, or body-weight exercises, complement weight training by helping strengthen muscles and increase muscular endurance without the need for equipment. They are also a great starting point for people with no or very little weightlifting experience.

  • Push-Ups and Pull-Ups: For upper body strength and shoulder stability.
  • Planks and Leg Raises: For core strengthening and lower back support.
  • Squats and Lunges: For leg strength and lower body conditioning.

If you want a more regimented routine with guaranteed results, try MAPS Anywhere or MAPS Anabolic by the guys at Mind Pump Media.

No matter your starting point as a beginner or advanced lifter, remember that more isn't always better. There is no need to lift more than 3-5x week to see results. Doing so will likely slow down your progress.

When You're Just Starting Out

People new to weightlifting can expect to see gains faster than people who have been training for a while. However, if you have been undereating or your training has been inappropriate for your goals, you might notice that hitting your targets consistently suddenly gets you much better results.

If you struggle with digestive problems, address these challenges first. Without a healthy gut microbiome your body will not be able to absorb the nutrients from your food appropriately. This can lead to nutrient deficiencies and a lack of calories available for you to build muscle and gain weight.

You may still have some questions, so I've included some common questions and answers about how women with a high metabolism can gain weight in a healthy way.

Frequently Asked Questions

What foods should you eat to gain weight with a high metabolism?

Choose the least processed foods to help you gain muscle and feel your best in the process. You don't have to be a chef to create delicious and satisfying meals. It's ok to use frozen vegetables, quick cooking rice, canned beans, and jarred sauces to help decrease the time you spend in the kitchen. Always cook extras so you can eat leftovers the next couple of days.

How can a woman with a high metabolism gain weight fast?

Assuming you want to gain muscle and not fat, think of your goal in terms of a marathon not a sprint. If you are eating with a calorie surplus, resistance training, and getting adequate recovery, you might expect to gain 1-2 pounds per month.

How do I know if I have a high metabolism?

If you can eat 2300 calories or more and not gain weight, you likely have a high metabolism compared to the average woman. Even if you feel like you have a slow metabolism as a result of your genetics, you can increase your metabolism overtime by building muscle.

Final Thoughts

Gaining weight as a woman with a fast metabolism can be challenging, but it is achievable. Eating a calorie surplus of nutrient dense foods, lifting weights, and getting adequate sleep sounds simple enough; but having a plan and a coach will likely get you the best results and the strong body you want.

Gaining weight and building muscle should be a positive health journey. But if you are struggling to reach your goals seek support from nutrition and fitness professionals. For more information and help contact a City physical therapist

Before you go, please read our disclaimer. This blog is intended for informational purposes only. We are not providing legal or medical advice and this blog does not create a provider-patient relationship. Do not rely on our blog (or any blog) for medical information. Always seek the help of a qualified medical professional who has assessed you and understands your condition.

Headshot of Brenna Thompson, MS, RD, LDN
About the Author

Brenna holds a Master's in Applied Nutrition from Northeastern University in Boston and a Bachelors of Science in Dietetics from Minnesota State University, Mankato. She is passionate about teaching people how foods interact with their body and helping them learn how what they eat affects how they feel.