Gaining weight requires consuming more calories and focusing on resistance training to build muscle. Planning meals and eating often, even when not convenient, can be a challenge. Weight-gain supplements claim to help you achieve a healthy weight easily, but their promises are often too good to be true. No herbal supplement provides you with the calories or does the work necessary to help you put on healthy pounds.
Women's Weight Gain Calorie Needs
To gain weight, you must eat more calories than you burn. You'll add pounds only when you have a surplus of energy, which you'll get from eating extra food. How many calories you'll need for weight gain depends on a few factors, but the average woman needs between 1,600 and 2,400 calories just to maintain her weight. To add pounds, you need to consume 250 to 500 calories in addition to that maintenance calorie level daily, so most women need to eat between 1,850 and 2,900 calories daily for weight gain. An online calculator or dietitian can help you figure an exact calorie intake that's right for you.
Herbal supplements don't add a significant number of calories to your diet. Nor do they increase appetite that could lead to gain weight. The only supplement that might help increase appetite is the mineral zinc, and that's only if you have a deficiency. Zinc is not an herb, however, and you should only explore it as a potential supplement with the approval of your doctor, since taking zinc on your own might cause side effects.
Concerns with Herbal Supplements
Supplements aren't regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, so manufacturers don't have to prove that their products are effective or safe. What you get in the package isn't necessarily what's advertised on the label, either. The New York Times reported in 2013 that many supplements are no more than powdered weeds and fillers -- such as soy -- and contain little, if any, of the ingredients listed.
Some weight-gain supplements, especially those marketed to bodybuilders, may contain ingredients that could be a serious concern for your health. Consumer Reports noted in 2010 that prescription drugs and steroids are among the ingredients found in these products.
Use Whole Foods to Gain Weight
Instead of turning to herbal supplements, use whole food to add calories and gain weight. Increased portion sizes of healthy foods at meals boosts your intake, but sometimes a slight appetite makes large servings off-putting. Sneak calories into the food you do eat. Top salads and sandwiches with avocado; mix dry milk powder into soups, hot cereal and casseroles; add nut butter to a smoothie; or toss vegetables and whole-wheat pasta in olive oil.
Eating multiple mini meals can also help boost your calorie intake without creating the feeling of having overeaten. Eat a large breakfast over the course of several hours. For example, start with peanut butter on whole-grain toast, followed a few hours later by scrambled eggs with shredded cheese. Add a mid-morning mix of yogurt and granola.
Resistance Training to Gain Weight
Herbal supplements are unlikely to help performance at the gym, but tough workouts are needed for healthful weight gain. Moderate weight-training won't turn you into a bodybuilder, but can help you put on lean mass that looks healthier than fat and improves your everyday stamina and function. Go for at least two sessions per week on non-consecutive days that address all major muscle groups. Use dumbbells, barbells, machines, rubber tubing or your body weight for resistance. One set of eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise works well when you're just starting out, but increase to two or three sets and heavier weights as you get stronger.
Supplementing your workouts with protein, not herbal supplements, can enhance the muscle-building process. A protein-rich snack, post workout, supports repair and growth of muscle fibers. Whey protein mixed with milk and a banana, half of a turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread or canned tuna with brown rice are appropriate post-exercise snacks.
- The New York Times: Herbal Supplements are Often Not What They Seem
- U.S.D.A. Dietary Guidelines 2015: Appendix 2. Estimated Calorie Needs Per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level
- Recent Patents on Food, Nutrition and Agriculture: Zinc as an Appetite Stimulator - the Possible Role of Zinc in the Progression of Diseases Such as Cachexia and Sarcopenia
- Consumer Reports: Are Dietary Supplements Dangerous?