Boost your energy and and protein intake

Increasing your protein and energy intake can help prevent, or slow down, weight loss. Your doctor, specialist nurse or dietitian can give you advice. Initially they may encourage you to try to eat everyday foods that are high in energy and protein, such as butter, cheese and cream.

They can also recommend or prescribe manufactured food supplements that can be added to food or taken on their own. Food supplements include:

  • powdered drinks
  • milk-based supplements
  • juice-tasting supplements
  • fat-based liquids
  • energy and protein powders.

They’ll enable you to add energy to everyday foods and can be incorporated in many dishes.

High-energy diet

If you have a good appetite, you shouldn’t have trouble eating the extra calories and protein that you may need if you are ill. If your appetite isn’t very good, there are ways to add extra energy and protein to your diet without having to eat more food.

Talk to your doctor, specialist nurse or a dietitian if you’re still struggling. They may first encourage you to eat everyday foods that are high in energy and protein but can also recommend or prescribe manufactured food supplements.

Your doctor at the hospital can refer you to a dietitian and in some hospitals you can refer yourself. You can contact the hospital’s dietetic department for more information. If you’re not in hospital, your GP can refer you to a community dietitian.

Adding energy and protein to everyday foods

Fortified milk

You can make fortified milk by adding 2–4 tablespoons of dried milk powder to a pint (570ml) of full-fat milk. Keep it in the fridge and use it in drinks, on cereals and for cooking. Use fortified milk or milk-based supplements instead of water to make soups, jellies, custards and puddings. Many producers of nutritional supplements can give you recipes for their products.


Pour fortified milk or a milk-based supplement over your cereal. Make porridge with full-fat milk or cream. Add golden or maple syrup, honey or sugar. Try adding stewed or dried fruit too.

Casseroles and soups

Add lentils, beans and noodles to casseroles and soups. Stir a tablespoon of cream into canned soups or add energy and protein supplements. Grate some cheese over the heated soup. Try making packet soups using fortified milk.

Mashed potato

Add butter or cream to mashed potato, and sprinkle grated cheese on top.


Melt butter on hot vegetables and top with grated cheese or a chopped, hard-boiled egg. Or add a sauce made with fortified milk or cream.


Use plenty of butter or spread. Add a dessert spoon of mayonnaise or salad cream to thicken sandwich fillings such as tuna or egg.

Manufactured food supplements

The best way to get more energy and protein into your diet is by eating everyday foods. If you’re still having eating problems or continuing to lose weight, talk to your medical team. They can give you more advice.

Many supplements are available that add extra energy and protein, or both, to your diet. Some can be used to replace meals, while others are used in addition to your normal diet. A few of these products are available directly from your chemist or supermarket, but your doctor, nurse or dietitian will need to prescribe some of them for you. They can also give you advice about how and when to use them.

Supplements can be added to everyday foods or are available as nourishing drinks, such as milkshakes, juices, soups or powders. There are also ready-made puddings or concentrated liquids that you can have in smaller doses. Some supplements are high-protein powders that can be added to your normal food.

High-protein or high-energy supplements should only be used with advice from your doctor or dietitian. If you are diabetic, it’s important to get advice from your doctor, specialist nurse or dietitian before using food supplements.

Powdered drinks

Some powdered drink supplements can be used to replace a meal. They can be mixed with fortified milk or water. Some can be prescribed by your doctor. The products Build-Up® or Complan® can be bought from your chemist and some supermarkets.

Milk-based supplements

These are available on prescription in a variety of flavours including sweet, savoury and neutral. Once mixed, milk-based supplements and powders should be sipped slowly for about 20 minutes.

Juice-tasting supplements

These ready-made, flavoured supplements are available on prescription.

High-energy and juice-tasting supplements have a high sugar content. If you are diabetic, talk to your dietitian before using them. These drinks may not be suitable if you have a sore mouth or throat as they may sting.

If you’ve had radiotherapy for certain types of head and neck cancer, you may be more at risk of tooth decay and so should avoid having sugar too often. It’s a good idea to clean your teeth or use a mouthwash after any sugary snacks. Your doctor, nurse or dietitian can give you more advice about this.

Fat-based liquids

These supplements can be taken separately in small doses or added to some foods. Your doctor or dietitian will give you advice on how and when you should use this type of supplement.

Energy and protein powders

Unflavoured powders are also available on prescription from your doctor or dietitian. These are almost tasteless so you can add them to drinks, soups, sauces, gravies, casseroles, flan fillings, milk puddings and instant desserts. Your doctor or dietitian will be able to explain how much powder to use in different meals or drinks.

Back to Preventing weight loss

The building-up diet

If you have lost weight during cancer treatment, the building-up diet will help to give you more energy.

Shopping list

There are several types of food that can be particularly helpful in building up your diet.

Meal ideas

You can increase your energy intake by preparing your meals slightly differently. Our menus offer some suggestions.