Weight-gain shakes and supplements provide concentrated sources of nutrients in a calorie-dense package. You might use them if you’re underweight, on a liquid diet, nutrient-deficient or attempting to gain muscle mass. Drinking high-calorie shakes without exercising, however, may mean that the majority of the weight you gain will be body fat rather than lean muscle mass.
Different brands of weight-gain shakes have varied ingredients, nutrients and calorie counts, so always check labels carefully before you buy. A typical commercial weight-gain supplement with a 48-gram serving size has 240 calories 21 grams of carbs, 9 grams of protein, 13 grams of naturally occurring sugar and 13 grams of fat, 1 gram of which is saturated fat. Mixing the supplement with 1 cup of whole milk adds 150 calories, 8 grams of fat, 12 grams of carbs, 8 grams of protein, 12 grams of naturally occurring sugar and no extra fiber. If you drink one weight-gain shake every day in addition to your typical diet, you could add enough calories to gain about 3 1/2 pounds per month.
Weight-gain shakes are intended to add calories to your diet, but they may not be as nutritious as whole foods. That's why, rather than using a shake to replace a regular meal, the University of Texas’s Health Services Department suggests drinking one when you need calories but don’t feel hungry. According to a study published in 2012 in the journal "Obesity," chewing is important in producing feelings of satiety, so liquid calories such as those from weight-gain shakes aren't likely to make you feel as full as solid foods. Thus, they are likely effective at encouraging weight gain, even if you don't have an increased appetite from exercise.
Muscle vs. Fat
When you take in more calories than you burn, your body converts the extra calories to fat or muscle. Building new muscle mass and repairing existing muscle damage is a process called muscle protein synthesis, and it requires two components: dietary protein and physical activity. Due to the latter, muscle protein synthesis does not occur in sedentary people at the same rate it occurs in active people. If you're sedentary, you don't need nearly as much protein in your diet -- and the protein you do consume will go toward maintaining muscle rather than building it. Thus, even if you regularly drink weight-gain shakes that have a lot of protein, you will not automatically put on muscle; you’re actually more likely to gain body fat.
How to Gain
If you don’t mind gaining fat instead of muscle, drinking supplement shakes regularly is one way to get extra calories and stimulate weight gain, although it’s not as healthy as gaining weight with real foods. To gain some muscle along with fat, you don’t have to exercise every day. Strength training two or three times per week is enough to encourage muscle protein synthesis; plus, it won’t burn as many calories as cardio exercise and it may even increase your appetite. Before you begin any plan to change your weight, get approval from your doctor.
- GNC.com: Naturade Weight Gain - Vanilla
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Milk, Whole, 3.25% Milkfat, Without Added Vitamin A and Vitamin D
- University of Texas: Tips for Gaining Weight the Healthy Way
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Healthy Weight Gain
- Obesity: Effects of Oral and Gastric Stimulation on Appetite and Energy Intake
- Rice University: Protein Requirements for Athletes
- CNN.com: How Can I Boost Body Mass Index Without Adding Fat?