A lot of guys are confused about weight gainers. After all, when we’re talking about gaining weight, what we’re after is lean muscle mass gains, right? And isn’t that what a protein powder is meant to do? So, what’s the difference between protein powders and weight gainers? Is this just another example of marketing overkill or are weight gainers a legitimate market segment?
In this article, we go in depth on weight gainers. We’ll discover precisely what they are, how they differ from protein powders, who should take them and when and we will reveal the best weight gainer on the market right now.
What are Weight Gainers?
Weight gainers, also referred to as mass gainers, are powdered supplements designed to allow you to pack on muscle mass. They are often marketed towards ‘hard gainers’. They are high in calories and contain large amounts of both protein and carbohydrates. Weight gainers can be mixed with water, milk or juice. They are generally taken twice per day in conjunction with 4 to 5 whole food meals. Depending on the calorie count, they can add an extra 1000 calories to your daily calorie count to ensure that you are in a daily caloric surplus and therefore remain in an anabolic state.
When you are adding such a large amount of extra calories to your daily diet, it is vital that you are combining this with hard and heavy training in the gym. If you aren’t, those excess calories are going to end up sitting around your waist.
Weight Gainer Benefits
- Mass gain – weight gainers supply your body with huge amounts of the macro and micronutrients that it needs to build lean muscle tissue. Getting the amount of protein that you need as a bodybuilder from whole foods can be difficult, time-consuming and expensive. A recent study showed that the ideal amount of protein for muscle gain is .73 g per pound of body weight. For the average guy, that works out to between 130 and 180 g of protein per day. Taking two servings per day will make it much easier to meet that requirement. (1)(2)
- Carbohydrates – building muscle is not just about getting more protein. You also need a decent supply of quality carbohydrates. Carbs are essential for glycogen production and replenishment, especially after your workout.(3)
- Weight maintenance – weight gainers are not only used by bodybuilders. Some endurance athletes and professional athletes need to consume huge quantities of calories in order to sustain themselves and meet their daily energy demands. So, for a guy like swimming legend Michael Phelps, who had to consume 12,000 calories per day during his peak training phase, weight gainers were an essential part of the equation to help him meet his energy needs and not lose weight.
- Post workout recovery – taking a weight gainer after your workout will help you to recover more efficiently. This is due to the carb content, which will restore the depleted glycogen stores in your muscle cells. Many weight gainers also contain l-glutamine. Glutamine is depleted during the workout and taking it in supplement form will speed up your recovery and help offset post workout soreness.(4)
Weigh Gainers vs Protein Powders
The big difference between weight gainers and protein powders really boils down to the carb content. The ideal constituency of a protein powder would be 100% pure protein. Very few achieve that, but they will only have small amounts of carbohydrates and fats. Whey isolate protein powders will have the lowest levels of carbs and fats. Protein powders will typically contain between 20 and 30 grams of protein per serving.
Weight gainers, in contrast, contain both carbs and healthy fats. Typically, the ratio of carbs to protein will be 2 to 1. In other words, if there are 35 grams of protein per serve, then it will contain 70 grams of carbs. Many weight gainers, however, will contain even more carbs than that – sometimes in excess of 100 grams.
Another big difference between protein powders and weight gainers is the total calorie count. While, protein powders will usually supply less than 250 calories, weight gainers average around 600 calories pver serve, with some topping out at more than 1000 calories.
Weight gainers will often also add amino acids such as glutamine and the branch chain amino acids (leucine, iso-leucine and valine) to speed up workout recovery and assist in muscle tissue rebuilding.
Who Should Use a Weight Gainer?
As previously mentioned, weight gainers are often marketed to ‘hard gainers.’ So, what is a hard gainer? Typically, this is a person who has a fast metabolism and struggles to gain any weight, no matter how hard they try. For these people, the extra calories and carbs found in a weight gainer will be more beneficial for them than a protein powder.
Bodybuilders who are going through a bulking phase will also benefit from taking a weight gainer. During the competitive off-season, a weight gainer that allows you to do an extra thousand calories per day will help you to pack on solid, fat free mass, so long as you are training intensely along with it.
Endurance athletes who require a large daily caloric content will also benefit from a weight gainer. To meet their energy demands, these athletes will need to take in two or three times the amount of calories of non-athletes. A weight gainer product will help them to do that without having to eat all day long.
Why You Need Carbs for Muscle Gain
As we’ve seen, the big difference between a weight gainer and a protein powder is that a weight gainer contains a lot of carb content. So, let’s take a moment to consider four reasons why you need carbs to build muscle:
- Carbs provide training energy – Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred source of energy. When you go on a low carb diet, you will inevitably be dragging your tail in the gym. Carbohydrates infuse your muscles with glycogen, which is the energy currency that they need to perform in the gym. This allows you to train harder in the gym and the harder you train, the more micro trauma you cause to your muscle cells, opening them up for regrowth and rebuilding.
- Protein synthesis – protein synthesis is the process by which your body creates new protein to rebuild the muscle damage that has been caused by your workout. Obviously, this requires protein. But it also needs carbohydrates for this process to take place effectively. That is why it is especially good to take a liquid supplement that contains both protein and carbs after your workout. Weight gainers provide you with that option – protein powders do not.(5)
- Protein sparing – as we’ve already covered, carbohydrates, in the form of glycogen, provide the energy that your body needs to train. When you deprive your body of carbs, it has to turn elsewhere for its energy needs. It will turn to your fat stores, but may also start eating into your muscle tissue in order to convert protein into energy in a process known as gluconeogenesis. When you take a good supply of quality carbs into your system, you ensure that this never happens.
- Workout recovery – your body can only store a small amount of glycogen. A decent workout in the gym will use up all of those reserves. Your immediate need after the workout is to replenish those glycogen stores. That means carbs. Not only will carbs ingested after your training resupply your muscle glycogen stores, making your muscles look bigger and fuller, it will also give your immunity a much-needed boost. After a training session, your immunity is actually suppressed, leaving you susceptible to colds, flu or other nasties. A decent infusion of carbohydrates can help to plug this weakness.(6)(7)
Another recovery related benefit of taking in carbs is that, according to recent research, they can help you get a better night’s sleep. As you are no doubt aware, it is while you are sleeping, that the bulk of your recovery and muscle rebuilding takes place. During those night sleeping hours, your body is releasing its maximum levels of hGH and testosterone. So, the better the quality of sleep you get, the more muscle you can potentially build.(8)
When to Take a Weight Gainer
Use a weight gainer to help you achieve your mass building daily caloric total. To achieve consistent muscle gains, you should set a target of consuming between 500 and 750 calories above your daily caloric maintenance level. So, if it takes you 2500 calories per day to supply all of your energy needs, you should be consuming between 3000 and 3250 calories each day in order to add new muscle mass.
Go here to work out your daily caloric maintenance level.
Having worked out what your daily caloric total is, decide if you will be consuming five or six meals per day. We suggest that you go with six meals spaced every two or three hours apart. Divide your caloric total by 6 to give you a caloric total for every meal. As an example, if our daily total is 3000 caloric then your goal for each meal is 500 calories.
You should plan to eat four wholefood meals and two weight gain liquid meals per day. You will need to make sure that the weight gain product that you buy will give you at least 500 calories per serve. Anything extra is a bonus.
Here is our recommendation for how you should space your meals, based on an 11am workout this:
- 7 am – wholefood meal one
- 10 am – wholefood meal two
- 11 am – workout
- 1:30 pm – weight gainer number one
- 4 pm – wholefood meal number three
- 6:30 pm – wholefood meal number four
- 9 pm – weight gainer number two
We have already discussed the wisdom of taking your weight gainer directly after your workout. The protein / carb combination with refuel your depleted glycogen levels and assist in recovery and rebuilding of traumatized muscle tissue. Taking your second weight gainer in the evening will prime your anabolic state for optimized night-time muscle building, recovery and repair.
Are There Side Effects with Weight Gainers?
People who begin taking weight gainers may experience some minor side effects. This these may include gas, bloating, and a feeling of stomach distension. This is because of the sudden increase in caloric consumption. It will take your body some time to get used to eating so much.
If you are experiencing side effects and are taking your weight gainer with cow’s milk, the problem may be that you are lactose intolerant. In this case, the problem will be with the milk rather than the weight gainer. Try switching over to an alternative form of milk. The one that we suggest, which has the highest protein content and the best bioavailability, is goats milk.
Of course, weight gainers are designed to work in conjunction with an intense gym workout program. If you are not training hard and heavy during the period that you are consuming a weight gainer, you will inevitably increase your body fat levels.
Weight Gainer Buyer’s Guide
Here are three things to look out for when shopping for a weight gainer:
- Ingredient profile – check the ingredient panel for the quality of the proteins and carbs that are included in the product. Look for a whey/casein protein mix. When it comes to carbs, you want high glycemic, fast digesting sources. Look for the following on the label:
- Waxy Maize
- Oatmeal Powder
- Brown Rice Flour
- Cost – take the time to calculate the cost per serving. You do this by dividing the total cost of the product by the number of servings. Anything under three dollars per serving is relatively good value when you consider the cost of paying for and preparing a whole food meal alternative.
- Taste – you’ll be taking weight gainer at least two times per day so you need to make sure that it is going to be palatable. Check online reviews on the taste, mixability and consistency.
The Best Weight Gainer on Today’s Market
Naked Mass Gainer is produced by Naked Nutrition, a company that has quickly established itself as one of the most reputable in the entire sports supplement industry. Naked Mass Gainer is a simple weight gain product that contains just three ingredients. It is completely free of artificial sweeteners flavours or colorings. Yet, it delivers more than 50 g of protein, 11.6 g of BCAA’s and in excess of 1250 calories to your system with every single serve.
The recommended dosage of Naked Mass Gainer is four scoops mixed with water. Because there are no flavourings added to this product, it produces quite a neutral taste. This gives you the freedom to add such extra ingredients as fruit, vegetables or peanut butter to boost the protein, carbs, vitamins, and minerals even further, while also controlling the taste.
Naked Mass Gainer ‘s provides you with a larger carb and protein count then you find on many competing weight gainers. Every serving provides you with 52 g of protein and 252 g of carbs, giving you a 5 to 1 ratio in favor of carbohydrates.
Organic Tapioca Maltodextrin
Maltodextrin is the carb form that is used in this product. The organic form ensures that you are getting the purest quality into your body. The tapioca base means that it is also gluten-free. Maltodextrin is processed into a white powder form. This is produced by cooking the starches in the tapioca and then adding enzymes to break them down further. The resulting powder is hydrolyzed, with the addition of water, to break it down even further.
Meltodexrin sits high on the glycemic index, which is ideal as part of a post workout meal. It will quickly resupply your glycogen levels and help in the workout recovery process. When taken in the evening, it will also help to give you an anabolic muscle building and repair state throughout the night.
Maltodextrin is quickly absorbed by the body, meaning that it can provide you with a quick energy boost. Many forms of maltodextrin contain gluten, so the fact that organic tapioca maltodextrin is used in this product is a bonus.
A benefit of maltodextrin is that it doesn’t use as much water in the digestion and absorption process as many other forms of carbohydrate. As a result, you will be less likely to become hydrated when using this ingredient.
Whey Protein Concentrate
About half of the 50 g of protein in each serving of this product is in the form of concentrate. This form of protein powder is quickly absorbed by the body and has a high biological value. It is low in both fat and lactose and is the most popular form of protein powder sold around the world. For every 100 calories of protein content, whey concentrate will contain 18 g of protein, 3.5 g of carbs, 1.5 g of fat and no more than 3.5 g of lactose.
Whey protein is a by-product of the cheese and yogurt making process. Originally a liquid form, in its dried form it is whey protein concentrate. It is 80% protein by weight, with the remaining 20% being made up of fat and carbohydrates.
The remainder of the protein content in this product is made of micellar casein. Even though it is derived from the same milk and cheese by-products source as whey protein, casein is much slower to digest than whey. It also releases more slowly. Having a combination of both whey and casein protein in the one product is ideal, providing the best of both worlds. Casein protein especially comes into its own when taken in the evening as it will allow for a slow release of amino acids throughout the night while you are sleeping.
There are a number of versions of casein protein. However, micellar casein is a combination of all five of the following types:
- alpha casein
- beta casein
- gamma casein
- delta casein
- kappa casein
Casein protein allows for a sustained increase in amino acids in the blood that leads to reduced protein breakdown. This makes it very useful as part of a post workout shake. It also helps you to stay anabolic throughout the day.
The last thing you want when you reach for your weight gainer shake is to find clumps of powder floating at the top of the glass. You deserve to have a product that mixes well to produce a smooth, fluid, clump free end result. And that is precisely what you get with Naked Mass. In fact, the mixability of this product is so good that, if you don’t have a blender handy, you can get a good end result was just a spoon and a glass.
As mentioned in the ingredients profile above, Naked Mass does not include any artificial flavorings. As a result, and in order to keep the product as pure and natural as possible, the taste is neutral. This, however, can be an advantage. It allows you to add fruit or other ingredients to produce your own customised flavor.
Naked Mass is an awesome weight gainer product. We love the fact that it is completely natural, organic and free of all impurities, including being gluten-free. Each serving provides you with a massive 1250 calories, duration 50 g of cabs and more than 50 g of protein. The factor that protein is a blend between whey and casein is another bonus.
Even though this product is a little on the expensive side, we all know that you get what you pay for – and if you want one of the best weight gainer products on the market today, then you will be happy to pay a little extra for Naked Mass by Naked Nutrition.
- Wang W, Ding Z, Solares G et al. Co-ingestion of carbohydrate and whey protein increases fasted rates of muscle protein synthesis immediately after resistance exercise in rats. PLoS ONE. 2017;12(3):e0173809. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0173809
- Figueiredo VC, Cameron-Smith D. Is carbohydrate needed to further stimulate muscle protein synthesis/hypertrophy following resistance exercise?. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013;10(1):42. Published 2013 Sep 25. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-42
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- Peake J, Neubauer O, Walsh N, Simpson R. Recovery of the immune system after exercise. J Appl Physiol. 2017;122(5):1077-1087. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00622.2016
- Leproult R, Van Cauter E. Effect of 1 week of sleep restriction on testosterone levels in young healthy men. JAMA. 2011;305(21):2173–2174. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.710