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Weight Gain and Muscle Mass

Ask the Nutritionist

Q: How many calories is suggested for weight gain and increase in muscle mass? I am currently down to 131 pounds and I am 5 feet 11 inches tall.

TES, Newburyport, Massachusetts, 2013

A: While the ideal bodyweight for females with a height of 5'11" ranges from 148-163 lbs, the "ideal" weight achievable during cancer treatment may not necessarily fall in this range. Certain cancers and treatments can influence metabolism and increase calorie needs, making it harder to keep your weight steady. In order to help promote weight gain and increased muscle mass, we would suggest you aim to consume about 2,300 calories each day. Gaining weight is most effective by practicing certain eating behaviors and eating a healthful diet.

Eating behaviors to help you gain weight include:

  • Eat small meals or snacks frequently throughout the day
  • Try to eat your favorite foods more often
  • Keep healthy, high calorie foods on hand at your house bring with you on the go
  • Drink fluids between meals, not with them, to keep from filling up on the fluid

In terms of diet, it is best to consume high-calorie foods that fit into a balanced and healthy diet to maximize weight. Some high-calorie foods are heavily processed such as ice cream or potato chips and can be too high in saturated fat and added sugar and too low in healthful fats, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and may not be as effective in promoting weight gain after cancer treatment. Having these foods in moderation as a treat is certainly okay, but instead of reaching for them as a go-to high calorie snack, seek these healthy high calorie foods instead:

  • Nuts and seeds are healthy ingredients that can be incorporated into to baked goods, breads, cereals, pancakes, salads, ice cream or yogurts. Try adding walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pistachios, etc. (1/4 cup serving = 170 calories)
  • Natural nut butters, such as peanut butter or almond butter, spread on whole grain bread or eaten it with bananas or apples are healthy snack option. (2 tablespoons = 190 calories)
  • Trail mix, granola bars, or dried fruits such as cranberries or raisins, are calorie-dense foods that can be eaten as snacks or added to cereals and yogurts. (1/4 cup serving/bar = 120 calories)
  • Eggs can be a simple meal or try to add chopped hardboiled eggs to salads, dressings, and casseroles, or beat eggs into sauces, custards, and baked goods. (1 large egg = 90 calories)
  • Beans are calorie-dense foods that can be incorporated into soups, salads, or entrees.
  • Soft cheese, bean spreads or hummus are healthy and high calorie foods to try with vegetables. (1 ounce or 1/8 cup cheese = 100 calories; 1/4 cup hummus/bean spread = 100 calories)
  • Avocadoes are healthy nutrient and calorie-dense fruit that can be added to sandwiches, dips or smoothies.
  • Olive and canola oil can be a great calorie boost containing essential fatty acids that your body needs. They can be mixed into sauces, used for stir-frying vegetables, used as salad dressing, and added to yogurt frappes. (1 tablespoon = 120 calories)

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  • Ask the Nutritionist

    • Do you have questions about making healthy food choices during and after cancer treatment? Our team of nutrition experts can help. Submit your question through our Ask the Nutritionist form.
    • To create a customized plan, please schedule an appointment with a Dana-Farber nutritionist by calling 617-632-3006.
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