3 Ways to Supplement for Weight Gain
“3 Ways to Supplement for Weight Gain” was written by Cely Cen He & reviewed/edited by Katie Dodd, MS, RDN, CSG, LD, FAND. Cely is an undergraduate student at Queens College in New York majoring in Nutrition and Dietetics.
*This article includes affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
It is important to find appropriate weight gain supplements for older adults, to avoid imbalanced nutrition, digestive problems, or unintended weight loss. In this article, we will focus specifically on high calorie and protein supplements.
Three ways to supplement for weight gain in seniors includes using (1) protein supplements, (2) meal replacement shakes, and (3) creatine. However, it is also important to incorporate lifestyle changes that stimulate weight gain, such as consuming a high calorie diet and exercising.
When it is Beneficial to Supplement for Weight Gain
Protein is the main nutrient required for muscle. Seniors may need higher amounts of dietary protein to prevent muscle wasting and promote health. When it is not practical to meet daily protein requirements through whole foods, supplementing for weight gain is ideal.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for daily protein intake is 0.8 grams per kg of body weight (g/kg), but seniors need more than this. Experts recommend a protein intake between 1.0- 1.2/kg per day or more for optimal health in older adults. (1)
Older adults who are underweight, experiencing unintentional weight loss, or having difficulty chewing may benefit from protein supplementation. Gaining and maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for seniors to maintain independence.
Learn more about how unintended weight loss.
What is a Weight Gain Supplement?
Weight gain supplements provide extra calories in addition to your regular meals. They are generally high-calorie, dense foods in compact and convenient servings. Some examples are protein powder, protein bars, and meal replacement shakes.
The intention of a weight gain supplement is to gain weight in the form of muscle, not fat if possible.
How to Safely Supplement Weight Gain
Finding a safe supplement plan for weight gain can be complicated. Factors to consider include:
- How do the functions of our bodies change as we age?
- How can aging, nutrition, and medications work for or against weight gain?
- What supplement is best based on individual medical conditions and health status?
A wealth of knowledge and information is needed to make a personalized and well-informed decision. The safest path is to consult a geriatric dietitian before making dietary changes. These licensed professionals specialize in nutrition for older adults. And always consult your doctor before starting any supplements.
Online forms or quizzes that provide supplement recommendations are not reliable and should not be trusted. Additionally, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not monitor the safety and effectiveness of dietary supplements unless evidence exists that they are unsafe.
1. Protein Supplements for Weight Gain
What group of people comes into mind when you read this section’s heading? Athletes! They often have a protein shake after a workout or a protein bar as a snack. If used the right way, more protein means more lean muscle mass. However, protein supplements can be used for any group of people, including older adults. Protein supplements typically come in powders, premade drinks, or bars.
Protein powder dietary supplements have become increasingly popular over the years.
This concentrated protein is extracted from animal or plant-based sources like whey and soybeans. It is processed into powder form to become the base for shakes and bars, or to use in cooking.
There are many brands of protein powder and not all are created equal. Some have lost nutrients during processing, while others may have sugar, artificial flavors, thickeners, vitamins, or minerals added. They may be complete or incomplete, depending on the protein source.
Complete proteins contain all 9 essential amino acids that our bodies need and are found mostly in animal-based protein powders. Incomplete proteins do not have all 9 essential amino acids and are found in plant-based sources.
These are common types of proteins found in protein powders:
Premade protein drinks come in liquid form. There are many different brands to choose from. There are also many different types of protein drinks.
Protein drinks often vary in:
- Protein content
- Calorie content
- Flavor options
- Formulation for medical conditions
Choosing a meal replacement shake over a protein shake is a higher calorie option for those who need to gain weight. Meal replacement shakes will be covered in more detail later. However, you can learn more about the best pre-made nutrition drinks in our video below:
When it comes to selecting the best premade drink, read the nutrition facts label. Choose one with the best nutrition for you. And find one that tastes the best! Everyone has different preferences when it comes to what they like in a premade drink.
They can provide extra calories, higher concentrations of protein, and added nutrients.
You can buy premade food bars or get creative and make your own. Select any ingredients of your choice, mash them together and form rectangles, put in wrappers, and voilà! You have made your own unique food bars.
While these can be tasty treats, be careful to select appropriate textures. Some protein bars may be too hard for older adults to chew if they require softer textures. In addition, it is best to read the nutrition facts label on the premade bar packages, to make an informed decision.
2. Meal Replacement Shakes
Meal replacement shakes* are prepackaged drinks used as substitutes for solid meals.
They have a fixed number of calories and nutrients, and provide a healthy balance of the carbohydrates, proteins, and fat typically consumed in a regular meal. They are available in a variety of flavors.
Seniors who have difficulty eating whole foods or reduced appetite may find meal replacement shakes to be a delightful choice. Though there are exceptions, these should not completely replace solid foods as they are not as beneficial as whole foods.
You may choose to purchase store-bought shakes or make them yourself at home. Either way works!
Commercially Made Meal Replacement Shakes
There are many brands of meal replacement shakes and each brand may offer multiple varieties. This can make it tough to choose the right one for you.
Take for instance a popular commercial brand, Ensure*. It has a whole line of products designed to help meet certain needs. According to the brand’s website, Ensure Original, Ensure Plus, and Ensure Enlive are recommended for maintaining or gaining weight.
With the intended benefit of commercial meal shakes are convenience, it can be difficult to decide which shake best fits an older adult’s needs. It may be important to consider factors such as:
- Will it be applicable for a person with diabetes?
- Will it interfere with certain medications?
- Or will it meet your calorie needs?
Commercial meal replacement shakes are a fantastic way to complement or replace a senior’s meals when used properly and if the older adult likes them.
DIY Meal Replacement Shake
If you like having more control over what goes into your shakes, making them yourself is an good option.
It can also be healthier and cheaper than purchasing premade shakes in the long run. What’s important is to make this fun and creative by exploring different tasty ingredients.
Ice cream, chocolate syrup, and peanut butter can be added to make delicious, high-calorie shakes. To find more options, be sure to check out The Best Shakes for Gaining Weight, which includes a free PDF download of recipes!
If you prefer smoothies to shakes, try out our High Calorie Smoothies for Weight Gain.
Before explaining the satiety factor of meal replacement shakes, let’s distinguish between satiation and satiety. Satiation is the feeling of fullness you get during a meal that prompts you to stop eating. Satiety is the period of feeling full before becoming hungry for your next meal.
One of the physical changes that takes place with aging is that food may stay in the stomach longer during digestion. As food moves through the digestive system more slowly, it may cause reduced appetite because of the prolonged feeling of fullness. (2)
Research shows that a beverage meals leave older adults feeling less satiated than solid meals. Seniors who are experiencing a reduced appetite may find meal replacement shakes or smoothies to be a practical way to meet their daily calorie needs. (2)
Creatine* is a nutritional supplement that aims to increase muscle mass. It is highly popular among young athletes and older adults.
The human body naturally produces creatine in the liver and kidneys. It can also be obtained by consuming animal protein like red meat, seafood, and poultry.
How it Works in the Body
Creatine stores energy in our muscles. It is used in metabolism to release energy that fuels muscles for quick, high-intensity events. Older adults produce less creatine in their bodies, which can lead to a condition of muscle loss known as sarcopenia.
Creatine supplements work to increase lean muscle mass with no gain in fat mass. They draw water into muscle cells (3), so it is important to drink extra water to stay hydrated when using them.
How it Helps with Weight Gain
Creatine helps increase lean muscle mass and bone strength in older adults. This can support their independence and reduce the risk of falls. This is usually accomplished through a combination of creatine supplementation and exercise, specifically resistance training.
A recent study compared the effects of creatine use with and without resistance training. It showed that without resistance training, low doses of creatine do not benefit muscles but higher doses can decrease muscle fatigue. (4)
The study also found greater benefits of creatine when combined with resistance training. This combination led to larger increases in lean muscle mass and upper and lower body strength, with improved physical performance. It can have significant muscle benefits over the long term. (4)
There is limited information on the safety of creatine use by older adults, but current studies indicate that it is safe. (4) As always, speak to your doctor before starting any supplement, including creatinine.
The most important factors in weight gain are nutrition and exercise. Long-term lifestyle changes related to nutrition and exercise are necessary to successfully gain and maintain weight. This requires the desire to make these changes and the determination to implement and sustain them.
Gaining weight can be challenging for older adults, but it can be achieved through consistent high-calorie foods and exercise.
Eating Enough Calories
Determining how many calories a senior needs can be complex because it varies by age, sex, height, weight, physical activity level, and medical history. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides a chart of estimated daily calorie needs based on some of these factors.
Meeting daily calorie needs can be a challenge for older adults. They may need smaller, more frequent meals that are appetizing and delicious. The environment in which they are eating should also be considered. Some seniors might enjoy eating meals more with friends and family.
Exercise to Maintain Muscle for Independence
Some older adults have sedentary lifestyles, moving less and sitting more. You might think eating a high-calorie diet with barely any physical activity and sitting most of the time is a good recipe for weight gain. This will lead to increased weight, but it’s not necessarily the healthy weight gain we want to see.
At any age, exercising benefits the human body. It can help prevent health problems, grow strong muscles, improve mood, and increase life expectancy. Exercise is a fantastic way for seniors to gain healthy weight in muscle and preserve their independence.
Vigorous exercises might not be suitable for all older adults. They should only be as physically active as they are safely capable. Simply moving more and sitting less is better than not performing any physical activity.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following physical activity for older adults (5):
- At least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity activity.
- At least 2 days per week of muscle-strengthening activities.
- Activities to improve balance. Check out this blog post on 13 Balance Exercises for Seniors.
Be sure to speak to your doctor before starting to exercise. And always go at your own pace. Remember, it’s never too late to get started!
Gaining weight can be challenging for older adults, but it is possible. Weight gain supplements including protein powder or bars, meal replacement shakes, and creatine make gaining weight achievable when combined with exercise.
No matter how you supplement your diet, it should be appetizing and tasty.
Remember that you don’t have to go through this complicated process alone, you can reach out to a geriatric dietitian!
- Baum JI, Kim IY, Wolfe RR. Protein Consumption and the Elderly: What Is the Optimal Level of Intake?. Nutrients. 2016;8(6):359. Published 2016 Jun 8. doi:10.3390/nu8060359.
- Pilgrim AL, Robinson SM, Sayer AA, Roberts HC. An overview of appetite decline in older people. Nurs Older People. 2015;27(5):29-35. doi:7748/nop.27.5.29.e697.
- Creatine: MedlinePlus Supplements. medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/873.html. Accessed October 29, 2020.
- Candow DG, Forbes SC, Chilibeck PD, Cornish SM, Antonio J, Kreider RB. Effectiveness of Creatine Supplementation on Aging Muscle and Bone: Focus on Falls Prevention and Inflammation. J Clin Med. 2019;8(4):488. Published 2019 Apr 11. doi:3390/jcm8040488.
- CDC. Physical activity recommendations by age group. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/age-chart.html. Published September 17, 2020. Accessed October 29, 2020.