You may be familiar with the potential risks of being overweight, but sometimes there are risks of being underweight, too.
In our society, thinness is often associated with beauty, but sometimes there is more than meets the eye. Just like an overweight BMI, an underweight BMI (Body Mass Index) doesn’t always mean a person is unhealthy.
Being underweight may be more common than you think, with 462 million adults worldwide considered to fit into the underweight category.1 Women, infants, and children are more likely to be underweight or malnourished, but a low BMI can affect anyone.
There are many reasons to want to gain weight. An underweight person may want to gain weight to improve their health, but others may desire a higher weight for reasons like athletic performance or aesthetics.
This article will look at potential causes of being underweight, the best supplements for weight gain, and other ways to gain weight.
Common causes of being underweight
Being underweight can be caused by much more than simply not eating enough. From genetics to disease, there are many causes of being underweight.
Unlike being overweight, being underweight is often overlooked, especially regarding causes and resulting health risks.2 However, the associated health risks may be more likely in those suffering from anorexia nervosa and may not affect everyone who is categorized as underweight.
In women, being underweight may be caused by:
- Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
- Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, or other digestive issues
- Cancer and other diseases
- Chronic low appetite
- Certain medications
- Eating disorders
Being underweight is more likely in women than men, but many of the causes above can also be applied to men. And again, being underweight is more common in infants, children, and adolescents.1
Best supplements for weight gain
Whether you’re underweight or want to add some pounds for athletic or aesthetic reasons, certain supplements for weight gain may be able to help.
Supplements are more than just vitamins and minerals. Weight-gain supplements can come in many forms, like capsules, powders, shakes, and bars.
Some of the research on weight-gain supplements is lacking, and much of the evidence is anecdotal. However, we do know that some nutrients and nutrient combinations may be able to help you gain weight.
It’s important to point out that it’s typically best to gain muscle mass rather than fat mass when trying to gain weight. Muscle is denser than fat, which means it takes up less space in your body. Muscle is also important for your metabolism, as well as your physical performance and overall health.
Below is a look at the best supplements for weight gain.
1 – Protein
Along with a consistent exercise routine, protein powder has been found to aid in the building and gaining of muscle. A systemic review found this to be true and concluded that supplementing with protein powder on a regular basis helped adults between the ages of 18 and 50 improve their athletic performance.4
Protein powder can be added to shakes, smoothies, oatmeal, and even soup. It’s a versatile supplement that may be able to help your weight-gaining efforts.
2 – Creatine
Along with protein, creatine supplements are also a mainstay in the fitness industry and are thought to help with muscle (and weight) gain.
A recent scoping review that looked at research on the subject between the years 2012 and 2021 found creatine to be efficient at helping healthy people with muscle growth. Researchers also concluded that regular athletic training was needed along with creatine supplementation to see positive results. However, the review noted that more research is needed regarding creatine supplementation for the elderly population to prevent muscle wasting.5
3 – Carb Supplements
Protein isn’t the only macronutrient that can help you gain weight in a healthy way. Carbohydrate supplements can add nutrients and extra calories to your daily routine. And extra calories equal extra weight.
Consuming carbohydrate supplements along with protein supplements may help increase muscle gains even more. While further research is needed, adding carbohydrates to a resistance training program is thought to promote greater muscle strength and development.6
|Learn how ZYTO can help you choose the best supplements based on the body’s unique energetic responses.|
4 – BCAA
Proteins are made up of amino acids, three of which are considered branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Similar to using intact protein supplements, BCAA supplements are also thought to help with muscle and weight gain.
In one small study, consuming a drink containing 3 BCAAs after resistance training was associated with a greater increase in new muscle synthesis compared to a placebo.7 However, researchers noted that a complete protein supplement may be more efficient at increasing muscle mass.
5 – Weight Gainers
In the clinical setting, the most common way to help a patient put on weight is to have them use weight gainers.
Weight gainers may include pre-made shakes, smoothies, or bars that contain extra calories and nutrients. Consuming these once or more a day can help people put on weight safely. Weight gainers may be especially beneficial for the elderly or people with various illnesses.
You may be familiar with popular weight gainers from brands like Boost and Ensure, but there are many others out there. When choosing a weight gainer, it’s important to consider the ingredients. For example, protein and carb levels vary from one product to another, and some have more sugar than others.
Typically, these weight gainers are consumed in addition to regular meals and snacks, especially when being used to gain weight.
A healthcare professional can help you find the right weight-gain supplement to best suit your needs.
Other tips for gaining weight
Aside from using supplements, there are other things you can do to gain weight.
Although it may be tempting, it’s important to avoid only reaching for high-calorie foods when trying to gain weight. As your body adapts and slowly puts on weight, it needs all the same vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients as before. This means a well-balanced diet is a vital part of putting on weight in a healthy way.
Fruits and vegetables should still be included in a weight-gain diet, along with lean protein, whole grains, and healthy fats. Instead of replacing nutrient-dense meals with calorie-dense ones, you can simply add healthy calories to your meals and snacks.
Tips for adding extra calories to meals include:
- Switching out fat-free dairy products with 2% or whole-fat products
- Adding snacks between meals and eating regularly throughout the day
- Avoiding diet foods or low-calorie foods
- Adding extra healthy calories to meals via cheese, nut butter, hummus, dried fruit, seeds, beans, rice, eggs, granola, avocado, or dairy products
- Eating more starchy carbs, like potatoes, peas, corn, and squash
- Using milk to make oatmeal instead of water
But eating more isn’t the only thing you need to do to gain weight. A consistent, sustainable exercise routine is also needed.
The right exercise movements can help you gain both weight and muscle mass.
A quick search online will provide tons of at-home movements you can do for weight gain. These include:
- Bench press8
Because aerobic exercise can lead to weight loss, you may want to avoid things like running, walking, and swimming until you gain weight. A trainer or physical therapist may be able to help you find additional helpful exercises that you enjoy.
About Brittany Lubeck
Brittany Lubeck is a registered dietitian and nutrition writer. She has a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics, a Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition, and began her career as a clinical dietitian. Brittany has always enjoyed research and loves that she can help people learn more about nutrition through her writing.
1. Malnutrition. World Health Organization. Who.int.
2. Golubnitschaja, O., A. Liskova, et al. “Caution, “normal” BMI: health risks associated with potentially masked individual underweight – EPMA Position Paper 2021.” EPMA Journal 3, no. 12 (2021): 243-264.
3. Underweight. U.S. Department of Health And Human Services – Office on Women’s Health. Womenshealth.gov.
4. Pasiakos, S. M., T. M. McLellan, & H. R. Liberman. “The effects of protein supplements on muscle mass, strength, and aerobic and anaerobic power in healthy adults: a systematic review.” Sports Medicine 1, no. 45 (2015): 111-131.
5. Wu, S. H., K. L. Chen, et al. “Creatine Supplementation for Muscle Growth: A Scoping Review of Randomized Clinical Trials from 2012 to 2021.” Nutrients 6, no. 14 (2022): 1255.
6. Wang, W., P. Hsieh, et al. “Co-ingestion of carbohydrate and whey protein induces muscle strength and myofibrillar protein accretion without a requirement of satellite cell activation.” Current Research in Physiology 2 (2020): 12-21.
7. Jackman, S., O. C. Witard, et al. “Branched-Chain Amino Acid Ingestion Stimulates Muscle Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis following Resistance Exercise in Humans.” Frontiers in Physiology 8 (2017): 390.
8. Jewell, Tim. “How to Exercise to Bulk Up and Shape Your Body.” Healthline Media. Healthline.com.