Gaining weight quickly without consuming dairy can be challenging for some people. Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt provide a convenient source of calories and protein. However, there are plenty of other ways to get the calories and nutrients you need to gain weight effectively. With some planning and adjustment, you can successfully gain weight on a dairy-free diet.
Why gain weight without dairy?
There are several reasons someone may want to gain weight without consuming dairy products:
- Lactose intolerance – Around 65% of the population has some degree of lactose intolerance. Consuming dairy can cause gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
- Milk allergy – About 2.5% of children under age 3 are allergic to milk. Milk allergies can cause hives, vomiting, and breathing difficulties.
- Avoiding hormones – Some choose to avoid dairy due to the hormones found in commercial milk and dairy products.
- Plant-based diet – Vegans and vegetarians omit dairy for ethical reasons.
- Sensitivities – Some experience inflammation or congestion from dairy but don’t have an identifiable allergy.
For these individuals, gaining weight without dairy requires finding alternate calorie sources. With the right approach, it is certainly possible.
Calorie needs for weight gain
To gain weight consistently, you need to consume more calories than your body burns each day. A caloric surplus of about 300-500 calories per day is recommended for gradual weight gain without excessive fat accumulation.
To determine your calorie needs for weight gain:
- Calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR) – Your BMR is the minimum number of calories your body needs for basic functions at rest. There are online BMR calculators that factor in your age, sex, height, and weight.
- Factor in your activity level – If you exercise regularly, you need to increase your calories further to account for these activities. Use an activity factor between 1.2-1.9 times your BMR.
- Add 300-500 calories – Increase your daily calories by 300-500 per day above the number you get from steps 1 and 2.
For example, a 25 year old male who is 5’10” and 150 pounds with light exercise activity would need about 2500 calories per day to gain weight.
High calorie dairy-free foods
Here are some nutritious dairy-free options to help you meet your increased calorie needs:
Nuts and nut butters
- Almonds – 163 calories per ounce
- Cashews – 157 calories per ounce
- Pistachios – 157 calories per ounce
- Nut butters – About 100 calories per tablespoon
Nuts make a great high protein, high fat snack. Nut butters can be spread on toast, blended into smoothies, or eaten with fruit.
Tofu and edamame
- Tofu – About 70 calories per 3 ounces
- Edamame – 120 calories per half cup
Soy foods offer plant-based protein. Add tofu to stir fries, rice bowls, or smoothies. Edamame makes a satisfying snack.
- Avocados – 234 calories per medium fruit
The high fat content of avocados provides a nutrient-dense source of calories. Add to sandwiches, salads, or dips.
- Raisins – 123 calories per quarter cup
- Dried apricots – 313 calories per cup
- Dates – 282 calories per quarter cup
Dried fruits pack a concentrated dose of sweet, high calorie flavor. Enjoy as a snack or mix into trail mixes and cereals.
- Olive oil – 119 calories per tablespoon
- Coconut oil – 117 calories per tablespoon
- Avocado oil – 124 calories per tablespoon
Use healthy oils for cooking, on salads, or blended into smoothies. The small amounts add up quickly.
- Quinoa – 222 calories per cooked cup
- Oats – 154 calories per cooked cup
- Brown rice – 216 calories per cooked cup
Choose whole grains like quinoa, oats, and brown rice over refined grains which offer less nutrition.
- Kidney beans – 225 calories per cooked cup
- Chickpeas – 269 calories per cooked cup
- Lentils – 230 calories per cooked cup
- Baked beans – 239 calories per cup
Beans and lentils provide a hefty dose of plant-based protein and fiber. Work them into soups, stews, salads, and veggie burgers.
To help you get enough calories from dairy-free foods, here are some meal ideas you can incorporate:
- Peanut butter banana smoothie made with peanut butter, banana, avocado, oats, and a dairy-free milk like soy or almond
- Tofu scramble with onions, peppers, and avocado
- Oatmeal made with quinoa flakes, walnuts, and dried fruit
- Ezekiel toast with nut butter and 1/2 avocado
- Burrito bowl with rice, black beans, salsa, avocado, and guacamole
- Quinoa salad with chickpeas, grilled veggies, and tahini dressing
- Lentil soup with whole grain bread and olive oil for dipping
- Chickpea sandwich on whole grain bread with hummus, tomatoes, cucumbers, and olive oil
- Veggie and tofu stir fry over brown rice with avocado
- Quinoa stuffed peppers with lentils, spinach, and nutritional yeast
- Chickpea pasta with roasted vegetables and pesto
- Bean and sweet potato tacos with guacamole
- Trail mix with nuts, seeds, and dried fruit
- Apples or celery with nut butter
- Edamame sprinkled with sea salt
- Smoothies with nut butter, avocado, and protein powder
Tips for gaining weight on a dairy-free diet
Here are some tips to help you successfully gain weight without dairy:
- Eat frequently – Have 5-6 smaller meals spaced evenly throughout the day to increase your calorie intake.
- Try smoothies – Blend fruits, nut butters, oils, protein powders, and avocados for a high calorie beverage.
- Snack strategically – Have snacks like trail mix, hummus, and dried fruit between meals.
- Add healthy fats – Use oils, nuts, seeds, and avocados to increase the calorie density of meals.
- Exercise – Light strength training helps build lean muscle. Just don’t overdo cardio which burns excess calories.
- Use supplements if needed – Protein powder, weight gain powder, probiotics, and enzymes can aid weight gain.
- Drink calories – Juices, smoothies, nut milks, and protein shakes provide liquid calories.
With some adjustments, you can absolutely gain weight on a dairy-free diet and meet your body’s increased calorie needs. Emphasize foods like nuts, seeds, nut butters, avocados, dried fruits, whole grains, legumes, soy foods, and healthy oils. Build these into smoothies, snacks, and meals throughout your day. Also, light strength training is key to help build lean muscle mass.
Potential supplement options
Certain supplements may also help support your weight gain efforts on a dairy-free diet:
Whey and casein protein powders are milk-derived. Opt for a plant-based protein powder like:
- Pea protein
- Hemp protein
- Brown rice protein
- Soy protein
Aim for around 25-30 grams of protein powder per serving. Blend into smoothies, bake into protein bars, or simply mix with water or non-dairy milk.
Weight gain powder
Some options are:
- Soy protein-based
- Pea protein-based
- Brown rice protein-based
These provide extra calories along with protein in each serving.
Since you are omitting probiotic-rich yogurt, a dairy-free probiotic can help support your gut and digestion. Look for probiotics with strains like:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus plantarum
Plant-based diets that are high in fiber can be more difficult to digest for some people. Enzymes supplements can aid digestion of fiber, protein, fats, and carbs.
Sample meal plan
Here is a sample one day meal plan to provide around 3000 calories without dairy to support weight gain:
|Breakfast||Oatmeal made with quinoa flakes, chia seeds, walnuts, raisins, and almond milk. Side of grapefruit.||600|
|Snack||Peanut butter and banana smoothie||350|
|Lunch||Quinoa salad with chickpeas, grilled eggplant, olive oil, and tahini dressing. Ezekiel toast on the side.||800|
|Dinner||Stir fry with tofu, brown rice, broccoli, peppers, peas, and avocado||650|
|Snack||Apple with cashew butter||400|
This provides a good balance of complex carbs, plant-based protein, healthy fats, and fruits/veggies without any dairy. Adjust serving sizes or swap different foods depending on your own calorie goals.
Gaining weight without dairy simply requires emphasizing calorie-dense plant foods at each meal and snack. Nuts, nut butters, avocados, dried fruit, whole grains, legumes, soy foods, and oils all enable you to meet your increased calorie needs for weight gain. Combine these into smoothies, meals, and snacks throughout your day. Light strength training also helps build lean muscle mass. Certain supplements like protein powder, probiotics, and enzymes can provide additional support. With some adjustments, it is definitely possible to successfully gain weight on a dairy-free diet.