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Claudiu Pop is a nutritionist, medical writer, journalist, and the founder of Unfold Today. He specialized in fitness and nutrition, especially in weight gain, by helping people increase their body mass since 2019 with over 20 articles published in the field.
Unfold Today articles that require additional medical expertise are reviewed by a qualified member of our Expert Review Network, a group inside Unfold Today's team that verifies content to guarantee that the information delivered to our readers is thorough, authoritative, accurate, and fact-based.
Roxana Calescu, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist with a Bachelor's in Dietetics and Clinical Nutrition Services obtained at the University of Medicine and Pharmacy "Iuliu Hatieganu" and two other Master's degrees, one in Food Technology and Processing and the other in Nutrition Sciences.
It's common to struggle to meet your weight gain goals, whether you're a thin female, bodybuilder, or elderly adult because increasing body mass can be difficult when you omit high-calorie drinks and rely only on calorie-dense foods or solid high-calorie snacks, such as energy-rich bars.
Solid high-calorie foods are essential for a healthy diet, but high-calorie drinks, from shakes and smoothies to hot chocolate and even Pina Coladas, will help you take weight gain to the next level and reach your ideal body shape because of their convenience and nutrient-rich contents.
Before diving into the world of high-calorie drinks, it's a good idea to use our guide for setting smart fitness goals, so you will ensure you stick to your weight gain journey.
Although FDA considers any serving of packaged food of at least 400 calories as being high-calorie, we found many drinks that exceed this threshold.
Here are the high-calorie drinks with the most calories:
High-calorie shakes are nutrition drinks for weight gain made of milk, ice cream, or other dairies as a liquid base that often contain fruits, chocolate, or other add-ins.
You should try high-calorie shakes if you are a very thin girl who wants to get thicker, an underweight female who hopes to gain weight, a skinny man who is struggling to pack on muscle, or a bodybuilder who needs to bulk up.
High-calorie shakes for weight gain can be made at home using a blender or bought as ready-to-drink beverages from a commercial store.
Here are the top 5 weight gain shakes with the most calories you can make at home:
To learn how to prepare a shake, follow the recipes for the above shakes, find out the best ready-to-drink shakes on the market, and many more, head to our comprehensive article about high-calorie shakes for weight gain.
High-calorie smoothies are nutrition drinks obtained by mixing mainly fruits or vegetables with dairy, nuts, seeds, grains, or other ingredients, which increase the beverage’s total calories, thus helping you gain weight easier.
Make sure to use mostly calorie-dense ingredients in your weight gain smoothies, even when we're talking about fruits and vegetables. Otherwise, ingredients that are not high-calorie may take up too big of a share in your smoothie.
If you don't know which greens will help you put on weight, take a look at our list of high-calorie vegetables and discover the veggies with the most calories.
Similarly, you can use our list of high-calorie fruits to pick the most nutritious ones for your weight gain smoothies.
As for choosing nuts for your smoothie, use our list of nuts and nut butters for weight gain.
Smoothies are also high in vitamins and minerals due to their high content of fruits and vegetables. Also, since most fruits and veggies contain very few fatty acids, the majority of smoothies joined our list of low-fat high-calorie foods.
Therefore, making a habit of drinking high-calorie smoothies can help you meet the American Heart Association’s recommendation of 4 servings of fruits and 5 servings of vegetables per day for a healthy eating pattern.
Check our detailed article on high-calorie smoothies for weight gain, where you can find 15 calorie-dense smoothie recipes.
These recipes are the blueprint for making smoothies ranging from 400 to over 1200 calories per serving.
If you have no idea what recipe will suit you best, why don't you learn how to make a high-calorie smoothie for weight gain from scratch?
But if you don’t want to blend weight gain smoothies at home, you can find many high-calorie smoothies at Smoothie King. These can go up to 890 calories per serving.
However, make sure you check the ingredients in your chosen smoothie before ordering.
Now, if you are unsure whether you should add smoothies or shakes to your diet, get rid of the confusion by checking the smoothie vs shake comparison.
If you don’t feel like preparing a multi-ingredient high-calorie smoothie or shake, you can just pour yourself a glass of coconut milk.
Coconut milk is one of the best types of milk when it comes to gaining weight due to its high-fat content.
Coconut milk is also a good choice for people on keto (high-fat, low-carb) diets because it's high in fats. No wonder, since coconut is among the high-calorie keto foods.
However, make sure to pay close attention to your daily fat intake on the days you consume coconut milk since it contains so much fat.
Powdered milk, or dry milk, is a nutritious ingredient to use when making high-calorie drinks. This is mainly because dry milk has 8 times more calories than normal milk.
The caloric difference between the two types of milk isn't surprising, since dry milk is practically normal milk without water. Thus, the powdered whole milk reaches 496 calories per 100 g.
In the end, adding powdered milk to drinks will help you easily increase their total calories and thus gain weight without too much effort.
And one of the best things is that you don’t need to add too many ingredients when you have dry milk at your disposal because the powder is highly caloric.
Actually, you can simply combine dry milk with milk and obtain a high-calorie drink.
However, don’t use too much dry milk in your drinks because it is high in sugar. 100 g of dry whole milk has 38 grams of sugar.
The high-calorie drink obtained by mixing whole dry milk and whole milk is rich in proteins, carbs, and fat. This nutritious combo makes it a great choice for anyone looking to gain weight or build muscle.
Besides being delicious and a staple beverage around Christmas time, hot chocolate is a high-calorie drink that can help you gain healthy weight due to the many proteins, carbs, and fats in its composition.
However, to prepare hot chocolate you need to spend a few minutes near the stove.
If you need a calorie boost, you can add some whipped cream to the top of your hot chocolate.
If you struggle to gain weight, you can replace your daily coffee with a high-calorie Starbucks drink. There are many drinks that contain over 400 calories on Starbucks’ menu, especially if you opt for the Grande size.
However, high-calorie Starbucks drinks are unhealthy. This is because they are high in sugar, some containing more than the AHA’s daily recommended sugar intake.
For example, a Grande-sized Starbucks White Chocolate Mocha has 430 calories and 53 grams of sugar. That is double the recommended amount of daily sugar intake for women and 1.5 times more than men’s.
Did you know that a White Chocolate Mocha has approximately 4 times more calories than the most caloric drink in our list of healthy Starbucks drinks?
The alcoholic drinks that offer the most calories are the high-calorie cocktails.
However, it is unhealthy to try to gain weight by drinking high-calorie cocktails because they:
Yet, some of us love to enjoy a drink every now and then with friends or family.
Here are a few alcoholic high-calorie drinks:
DGA’s alcohol consumption limits:
When preparing high-calorie drinks, use nutritious ingredients that significantly contribute to the total calories of the beverage you're making.
However, some of these ingredients may be tricky because they can be found in different shapes and forms.
Syrups with a lot of calories can bring a welcomed boost of calories to any weight gain drink. On top of this, syrups, like maple syrup, chocolate syrup, or blueberry syrup are extremely delicious.
Find high-calorie syrups and their calories in our list of syrups for weight gain.
Milk can provide different amounts of calories, depending on the amount of fat in it.
People wishing to drink dairy-free high-calorie drinks usually replace animal milk with several plant-based types of milk.
Here are a few examples of plant-based milk varieties and their calories:
Fruit and vegetables juices are calorie-dense alternatives to water, especially when preparing high-calorie drinks such as smoothies.
However, the calories you get from natural juices depend on the fruits or vegetables used to make them.
Here are a few natural juices you can use in preparing high-calorie drinks:
Combining large meals with high-calorie drinks can oftentimes make you feel drowsy afterward. This usually happens if you have a low appetite or you generally can’t eat a lot at a time.
The best time to consume high-calorie drinks is in between meals. This timing strategy lets you avoid overloading your body with calories while helping you maximize your daily calorie intake.
Another great time to drink weight gain beverages is before or after a workout. This is because liquid calories are absorbed faster into your body than solid ones.
As a result, you will get the energy needed to get through the training session or recover after it quicker.
For example, I oftentimes have a high-calorie protein milkshake after my workouts, and I always feel re-energized after consuming it.
Low-fat high-calorie shakes and especially smoothies can successfully replace pre-workout meals for gaining muscle.
While high-calorie drinks are helpful when it comes to weight gain, they can’t replace all low-calorie drinks in our diets.
First of all, even though it has zero calories, water should be your main drink of choice throughout the day. Water is easily absorbed and essential to the good functioning of your body.
After all, up to 60% of the human adult’s body is water.
Secondly, low-calorie drinks such as coffee or tea have specific benefits that many high-calorie drinks can’t provide. Some of these benefits are a better functioning brain and improved mood.
However, don’t forget that you can boost the calories in your morning coffee or tea by adding extra sugar, honey, or milk.
No, drinking water does not help you gain weight because it has zero calories.
You can't gain weight by drinking diet soda because it has zero calories. Thus, it can't help you be on a daily caloric surplus, a necessary condition for gaining weight.
However, a scientific study on artificial sweeteners got to the conclusion that people who drank diet sodas regularly had increased body fat.
More specifically, the study shows that nonnutritive sweeteners are “associated with modest long-term increases” in body weight.
Therefore, diet sodas may indirectly help you gain weight in the long term, although the exact reason is unknown.
People at different ages and stages of their lives have different caloric needs. So, everyone should be aware of these and plan their daily meals and drinks accordingly.
Regarding high-calorie drinks, they can be useful at any stage of our lives, given we consume the right quantities.
Mothers need to increase daily calorie intake in the first 12 months after pregnancy to provide lactation to their infants. In their case, high-calorie drinks can be a convenient addition to their diet.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, mothers should increase their daily calorie intake with 330 calories in the first 6 months of lactation, respectively with 400 calories in the next 6, compared with their pre-pregnancy caloric needs.
If breast milk is unavailable, it should be replaced with formulas. When babies have increased caloric needs, they should be fed high-calorie formulas to gain weight.
Toddlers can meet their goals easier if their parents include small servings of high-calorie nutritional drinks in their diet. Note that toddlers have about half the calorie needs of an adult (800-1400 calories per day).
However, you should stay away from sweetened high-calorie drinks such as hot chocolate or ready-to-drink shakes.
According to DGA, at least until they are 2, toddlers should be given unsweetened drinks while avoiding the following:
One of the reasons why toddlers should avoid sugary drinks is that early food preferences influence later food choices.
Secondly, if toddlers drink high-sugar beverages, they won't have much room for other nutrient-dense foods and drinks.
According to the DGA, children’s diets should consist mainly of nutrient-dense foods and beverages. These are rich in vitamins, minerals, and other healthy micronutrients while having little added sugar, saturated fat, and sodium.
Therefore, parents should be careful what they put in their children's homemade high-calorie drinks.
Also, parents should look for the levels of sugar, saturated fat, and sodium on the nutrition facts of store-bought drinks.
During preschool years, children’s physical growth slows down, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
However, kids have an increased need for calories because of the significant intellectual, social, and emotional changes.
Preschool children require about 1000-1600 calories/day to meet their energy needs, so high-calorie drinks can be handy.
Consuming high-calorie drinks can be an easy way for grade-schoolers to meet their daily calorie goals and stay energized.
After all, grade-schoolers are generally very active. They face the intellectual demands of school, play with other kids, and participate in many other energy-consuming activities.
The DGA says that male grade-schoolers require about 1200-2400 calories per day. On the other side, female grade-schoolers need about 1200-2200 calories per day, depending on age and activity level.
Teens need about the same number of calories as an adult since they consume a lot of energy. Therefore, drinking high-calorie drinks is a very efficient way for them to keep up with everything.
However, sugar-sweetened beverages have been found to be a top contributor among adolescents’ increasing sugar intake. As a result, DGA recommends teens stay away from such drinks, even if they may be high in calories.
Some examples of high-sugar drinks often consumed by teens are:
Did you know: adolescents are more vulnerable to dietary deficiency than other age groups.
Especially if they are involved in sports or work out in one of the gyms that allow teens, teen boys tend to consume a lot of energy. They can oftentimes burn even 1000 calories more than girls of the same age.
Boys aged 12-18 years require about 1800-3200 calories/day, depending on age and daily physical activity.
The teenage years are the time when many girls start to care about their weight and physical appearance. They do it for different reasons, whether to get better at their sport of choice or to impress someone.
Therefore, healthy high-calorie drinks can be tremendous for very thin girls who have a hard time gaining weight.
The DGA says that teen girls need about 1600-2400 calories per day, depending on age and activity level.
Young adults tend to be very concerned about their weight, maybe even more than teens.
Therefore, adding healthy high-calorie drinks can be of utmost importance, whether we are talking about a young man looking to bulk up and add muscle, or a thin girl who would like to have better curves.
While male young adults need about 2400-3000 calories/day, young females require around 1800-2400 calories/day.
Budget dieting advice: if you are a young adult with a lower income looking for affordable weight gain foods, check out our list of cheap high-calorie foods and save some money in your weight gain journey.
High-calorie drinks can work wonders for adults trying to gain weight because they're more convenient compared to other foods. And convenience is essential in adults' busy worlds.
The latest DGA report shows that adults generally lack dietary fiber, calcium, and vitamin D.
Therefore, it makes sense to consume high-calorie drinks, such as certain smoothies or shakes. These usually contain calcium-rich dairy products, like milk or yogurt, fruits, and fiber-filled vegetables.
Fact: over 90% of women and 97% of men do not consume the recommended amount of dietary fiber, according to the DGA.
This is primarily because more than 85% of adult Americans eat insufficient amounts of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Another stat shows that adults drink more coffee and tea with additions, like sugar or syrup, than in earlier life stages. Therefore, they should avoid adding these kinds of ingredients to their high-calorie drinks.
Since calorie needs are generally lower for females compared to males, women should be more careful when consuming high-calorie drinks.
This kind of drinks can easily boost calorie intake and lead women to gain weight too fast. Yet, calorie-dense drinks can be extremely useful.
After all, high-calorie smoothies and shakes count among the most effective weight gain foods for skinny females. 91% of the effective female weight gain meal plans have protein shakes or smoothies in them.
Adult women aged 21 to 39 years require about 1800-2400 calories per day, depending on age and activity level, according to the DGA.
Adult men aged 21 to 39 years need about 2400-3000 calories per day, depending on age and activity level, according to the DGA.
When they go through their middle-age years, both male and female adults generally experience a decrease in their calorie needs because of the metabolism-related changes.
Therefore, adults aged 40 to 59 years should pay attention to their weight and adjust the portions of high-calorie drinks on the menu if they see unwanted gains.
While middle-aged women need around 1600-2200 calories per day, middle-aged men require about 2200-2800 calories per day to meet their energy needs.
Elderly adults have a higher risk of developing chronic diseases than younger adults.
Therefore, senior adults should definitely consider adding nutritional high-calorie drinks to their diets, especially if they are cancer patients or have other diseases that cause a need for increased calories.
Seniors can develop health conditions like weakened bones (osteoporosis) and muscle loss (sarcopenia).
This is another reason for elderly adults to add high-calorie drinks to their daily menus, since these beverages are filled with nutrients, like proteins, which for example help the fight against sarcopenia (aging-related muscle loss).
Per DGA, about 50% of women and 30% of men aged 71+ don't eat the recommended amount of protein.
USDA and HHS experts recommend elderly adults eat around 5-6.5 ounces (140-180 g) of protein foods per day. The required amount depends on the specific age and activity level.
Examples of protein foods you can use to make high-calorie drinks:
Another advantage of adding high-calorie drinks for weight gain into the diets of seniors is hydration. Many elderly adults do not drink enough fluids to stay hydrated because of their:
Elderly adults aged 60 and older consume significantly fewer beverages than adults aged 59 and under —about 2 fewer cups (500 ml) per day.
Some liquids, besides water, that you can add to your homemade high-calorie drinks to prevent dehydration:
Moreover, liquid foods, including high-calorie drinks, are good for old-age adults that have difficulties swallowing or chewing.
However, even though high-calorie drinks bring many benefits to seniors, there is a downside. A growing number of elderly adults get to 60 years with excess body weight.
And so, if overweight elderly adults start consuming high-calorie drinks, their condition may get worse. After all, high-calorie beverages are called weight gain drinks for a reason.
Senior females over 60 years require approximately 1,600-2,200 calories/day, whereas males over 60 years need 2,000-2,600 calories/day.
When undergoing cancer treatment, patients need extra calories to maintain weight and heal faster, says the American Cancer Society.
Therefore, high-calorie drinks tailored for weight gain can be very useful for cancer patients.
To be noted: this information was reviewed by oncology dietitian Calescu Roxana, as was the whole article.
Anorexics can escape their unhealthy state and gain healthy weight faster by consuming high-calorie drinks.
Weight gain drinks can be especially useful in cases when anorexia nervosa (anorexic) patients have reduced appetites and don’t feel like filling up their stomachs with solid calorie-dense food.
Besides high-calorie drinks, anorexics can try eating low-volume high-calorie foods because they are less filling and have many calories.
Although high-calorie drinks can be healthy for people struggling to gain weight, they can trigger health issues if consumed wrong.
Follow the next guidelines to ensure you consume weight gain drinks the healthy way.
If you want to gain significant weight, then make sure to consult a doctor or dietitian before consuming high-calorie drinks. They know best what are your existing conditions.
Also, doctors can give you advice that may help you increase your size even faster without harming your health.
Let's look at an example of how professional medical advice can come in handy when it comes to high-calorie drinks.
First, think about the many vitamins that a calorie-dense smoothie usually has. If you are already taking vitamin supplements, you may risk harming your body by overdosing on a certain vitamin.
Your doctor or dietitian can warn you of potential dangers like these.
Similarly, if you are under medication, ask your doctor or pharmacist whether you can start to consume high-calorie drinks.
This is because the large number of calories found in weight gain drinks may alter the effect of your medicine.
When shopping for high-calorie drinks, such as ready-to-drink shakes, you should always read the nutrition facts label on them.
Look how many proteins, carbs, and fat does each drink has per serving. Also, check the ingredients used to prepare the high-calorie drinks you intend to buy.
In addition, read the nutrition facts not only when shopping for high-calorie beverages but for every drink or food you buy.
Don’t forget that distinct brands can offer the same product and contain a different number of calories.
If you to gain healthy weight and avoid putting on fat, you have to also work out regularly. Also, don't forget to stay on a daily caloric surplus.
Without working out, any weight gain supplements can make you gain unhealthy weight.
Shortly, if you don’t train, those extra calories from the high-calorie drinks you consume won't help you build muscle. Instead, the surplus of calories will most probably be stored as body fat.
There are different ways to make high-calorie drinks, from preparing a shake or blending a smoothie to buying nutritious ready-to-drink beverages. Therefore, you are likely to find a calorie-dense drink that suits both your taste and your dietary needs, so you can gain healthy weight easily.
However, before you add high-calorie drinks to your diet, make sure they won’t damage your health by following the guidelines for safe consumption in this article.
Now, you can confidently advance in your weight gain journey, one high-calorie sip at a time!
Roxana Calescu, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist with a Bachelor's in Dietetics and Clinical Nutrition Services and two other Master's degrees, one in Food Technology and Processing and the other in Nutrition Sciences.