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Whether you’re an athlete looking to perform better at your sport, an older adult experiencing unintentional weight loss, or someone who just wants to add more size to their frame, there can be many benefits to gaining weight.
However, factors related to a poor appetite, medical condition or treatment, or increased calorie needs can make gaining weight a challenge.
In hopes of gaining weight, you may turn to dietary supplements touted to promote weight gain.
One popular supplement is maca root, which is commonly used to enhance energy, libido, and fertility.
However, you may wonder whether there is any evidence to support maca root for weight gain.
This article reviews whether taking maca root can help you gain weight.
What is maca?
Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a vegetable and traditional herbal medicine that grows in the high altitudes of Peru (1).
It belongs to the same family as cauliflower, cabbage, and garden cress.
The edible part of the maca plant is the root or tuber, which is similar to a radish or turnip.
Maca roots contain various bioactive compounds that are suggested to offer a range of health benefits (1).
Maca root is also rich in fiber, essential amino acids, vitamin C, copper, calcium, and iron, among other nutrients.
The composition of the bioactive compounds — and therefore its potential beneficial health effects and uses — tends to vary depending on the root’s color, which may be yellow, red, or black.
Among the colors, yellow maca is the most widely used and researched form (2).
Red maca is suggested to be the most effective type for women due to its ‘hormonal balancing’ effects, while black maca is the rarest of the colors, and is suggested to be the most beneficial for men for supporting muscle gain, endurance, and libido (2).
Maca root is available as a dietary supplement — either alone or in combination with other ingredients — and is commonly taken to increase energy and support sexual and reproductive health (1).
It’s also available as a powder, which you can add to smoothies, shakes, oatmeal, and even coffee for a nutrition boost.
Is maca root good for weight gain?
Despite the claims by some, there is no evidence to suggest that maca root is effective for gaining weight.
For a substance — whether a drug or dietary supplement — to promote weight gain, it must cause you to eat more calories than your body needs to support your normal bodily functions and activity level.
A substance may do this by stimulating your appetite, affecting your metabolism, or by causing sleepiness or fatigue, decreasing the number of calories you burn each day.
Maca root hasn’t been shown to do any of these things, meaning taking it won’t help you gain weight.
And while you can purchase maca root powder, it’s very low in calories so it’s not the best option for increasing your calories.
However, you could add it to high-calorie shakes and smoothies, but alone, maca root won’t result in weight gain.
Other benefits of maca root
Although maca root hasn’t been shown to promote weight gain, it may offer other benefits, including:
- Improves libido. A review of four studies suggested that maca root in a dose of 1.5–3.5 grams taken for 2–12 weeks improves sexual desire in healthy menopausal women and healthy adult men (3).
- Improves sexual dysfunction. A small study involving men and women with depression who were treated with anti-depressants demonstrated that a dose of 1.5–3 grams of maca root daily for 12 weeks led to significant improvements in sexual function (4).
- Decreases depression. A small study demonstrated that postmenopausal women who supplemented with 3.3 grams daily of maca root for six weeks reported fewer symptoms of depression (5).
- Anti-inflammatory. Maca root is rich in prebiotic fibers and protein, which may offer anti-inflammatory activities (6, 7).
Other studies have demonstrated benefits for diabetes, fertility, learning, and energy, but most of these benefits have only been conducted in animal studies, which don’t always translate to humans (8, 9).
Safety and side effects
If you wish to try maca root, it’s important to know the risks and potential side effects, especially since the regulations for dietary supplements are less strict than prescription or OTC medications.
And while maca root itself may be relatively safe, some supplements may be adulterated with less expensive parts of the maca plant (11).
Moreover, supplements marketed for muscle gain or sexual health may contain other ingredients — some of which may not be listed on the label — that may cause adverse side effects or lead to a positive screening for athletes who are tested for banned substances (9, 12).
As such, it’s important to choose a maca root supplement that has been third-party tested to ensure quality, purity, and potency, such as this product from Swanson Health or this product from NOW Foods.
The bottom line
Maca root is a popular supplement rich in beneficial bioactive compounds.
While promoted by some as a supplement for weight gain, there is no evidence to support maca root for weight gain.
Limited evidence suggests that maca root has anti-inflammatory effects and may be beneficial for improving libido and sexual function as well as decreasing the symptoms of depression.
If you wish to supplement with maca root, make sure it’s third-party tested to ensure it contains what’s listed on the label and nothing more.