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Safe Weight-Gain Supplements

author image Sylvie Tremblay, MSc
Sylvie Tremblay holds a Master of Science in molecular and cellular biology and has years of experience as a cancer researcher and neuroscientist. Based in Ontario, Canada, Tremblay is an experienced journalist and blogger specializing in nutrition, fitness, lifestyle, health and biotechnology, as well as real estate, agriculture and clean tech.
Safe Weight-Gain Supplements
Protein supplement powder Photo Credit Craig Veltri/E+/Getty Images

Whether you're trying to regain weight you lost from an illness or simply beef up a naturally lanky frame, making lifestyle changes can help. Weight-gain supplements often supply calories and nutrients you need to bulk up, but not every supplement is safe for everyone. The safety of any specific supplement depends on your unique needs and medical history, so you should always consult your doctor before adding supplements to your routine.

Safe for Most: Weight-Gain Foods

Arguably the safest way to gain weight is to just eat more regular food and drinks. Simply boosting your portion sizes, or adding calorie-rich extras, can help you meet your goals without having to worry about potential side effects from supplements. Toss a handful of nuts or dried fruit into your morning oatmeal. Try drinking whole milk instead of low-fat or skim, opt for a heartier bean soup over a low-cal, broth-based vegetable soup and dense, calorie-packed breads instead of flimsier, airy slices. Drink 100-percent fruit juice or milk instead of water with your meals, add an extra tablespoon of peanut butter to your toast and mix a serving of nonfat milk powder into your milk for a higher-calorie beverage.

Remember, healthy weight gain can involve eating as little as 250 extra calories daily -- a single 150-calorie glass of whole milk or 95-calorie tablespoon of peanut butter provides a significant amount toward that goal. If you treat your new diet as a free-for-all, however, you might accidentally eat too many calories, gain too much weight and find yourself at a higher risk of weight-related illness.

Safe for Some: Meal-Replacement Shakes

You don't necessarily need supplements to gain weight, but they can be a safe and effective way to add pounds, as long as you check with your doctor first. The typical meal-replacement shakes you'll find at the grocery store are designed to boost nutrition for the general public -- they'll have a mix of healthy carbs, fat and proteins, along with vitamins and minerals to support a healthy lifestyle. Adding a single one of these shakes to your regular diet might be enough for weight gain -- one commercial nutritional shake has 355 calories, or enough to gain roughly two-thirds of a pound a week if you drank one every day. And because meal-replacement shakes are typically only a moderate source of protein, they might still work if you need to limit your protein intake -- consult your doctor to make sure.

If you need to gain weight due to an underlying medical issue, your doctor might recommend special nutrition supplements, which are designed to address specific conditions such as lung disease or digestive issues. These aren't available in the grocery store -- you'll need to talk to your health care provider to get them.

Safe for Some: Weight-Gainer Supplements

If you're healthy and looking to add pounds for aesthetic reasons, such as trying to add muscle to a thin frame, weight gainers and protein powders might offer safe options. Most of these products are great sources of protein -- one commercial weight gainer offers 50 grams of protein per serving, while two commercial protein powders contain 26 and 50 grams per serving. That supplemental protein supplies amino acids, which your body can use to rebuild and repair muscle tissue after your workouts.

However, weight gainers and high-protein supplements have some drawbacks and safety considerations. If you need to restrict your protein intake -- for example, if you have kidney disease -- these supplements will likely exceed your protein "allowance," which might cause side effects.

And certain weight-gain powders are so high in calories -- 750 calories per serving, or even higher -- that they might make you gain weight too quickly, leading you to gain weight as fat. For example, if you drank a 750-calorie shake on top of your regular diet each day, you'd gain 1.5 pounds weekly -- faster than the recommended rate of 0.5 to 1 pound per week. If you're interested in high-calorie supplements, consult a dietitian for help fitting them into your diet.

Safety Unknown: Herbal Supplements

Tread carefully -- when it comes to safety, herbal supplements are a big ol' question mark. Supplement manufacturers don't have to conduct regulated trials for safety before entering the marketplace -- unlike pharmaceuticals, which go through layers of testing before they're available to the public. So while many herbs and supplements have potential health benefits and maybe even some evidence to support their use, you can't know just by reading a product label whether the supplement inside will be safe or beneficial. If you're interested in herbal weight-gain supplements -- for example, appetite stimulators to help you eat more -- consult a professional for help navigating the supplement aisle.

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