Last updated: August 29, 2021

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While most of us look for weight loss products, some eat and train with the goal of increasing their muscle mass. A specific type of supplement designed to support muscle development is available to them: mass gainers.

These supplements are neither a magic bullet nor a shortcut to increasing muscle mass, but they can certainly boost your results when combined with physical activity and a balanced diet. In our new guide, we tell you everything you need to know about these potent nutritional products.




Summary

  • Mass gainers are designed for athletes – such as bodybuilders – looking to increase their muscle mass. These powder supplements need to be dissolved in liquid before consumption.
  • The nutritional composition of a mass gainer consists of high biological value proteins and carbohydrates. Some supplements are also enriched with glutamine and creatine to promote recovery and muscle protein synthesis.
  • There are various criteria to keep in mind in order to purchase a high-quality mass gainer. These include its composition and quality certifications, as well as its suitability with your diet or potential allergies.

The Best Mass Gainer: Our Picks

Athletes often invest a lot of time and money into improving their body composition. This is why nutritional supplement brands strive to develop products that meet the needs of this group of consumers. In the section below, we will introduce you to the most popular mass gainers currently available:

Shopping Guide: Everything You Should Know About Mass Gainers

You should always use mass gainers carefully and responsibly. Excessive consumption or the absence of physical activity can result in precisely the opposite of what you were aiming for: an increase in body fat. We have answered the most frequently asked questions regarding these supplements in the following section.

Man making mass gainer shake

Mass gainers are designed for athletes looking to increase their muscle mass.
(Source: Dolgachov: 53578413/ 123rf.com)

What is a mass gainer exactly?

A mass gainer is a dietary product with a high calorie and protein concentration. The purpose of these supplements is to help consumers gain muscle mass. They provide carbohydrates and complete proteins, both of which are the key nutrients for muscle function and development. Marketed in the form of powder, you can dissolve mass gainers in water, milk, or vegetable-based drinks (1).

What nutrients do mass gainers provide?

The primary nutrients present in these supplements are proteins and carbohydrates, whose contribution per serving can be 50 and 250 grams, respectively. They contain low amounts of fat, with some products also being sources of fiber. Mass gainers are often enriched with creatine, taurine, L-glutamine, vitamins, and minerals (2, 3).

What ingredients are found in mass gainers?

These processed products consist of a wide variety of components, such as whey protein, casein, albumin, and soy protein. Sourced from starch, maltodextrin is the main source of carbohydrates. Mass gainers can also include (4):

  • Pea, rice, and wheat protein;
  • Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs);
  • Omega-3 fatty acids;
  • Sunflower oil;
  • Powdered linseed;
  • Non-nutritive sweeteners – sucralose, acesulfame potassium (Ace K);
  • Fructose, corn syrup, and isomaltulose (sugars);
  • Creatine monohydrate;
  • Taurine;
  • L-glutamine;
  • Xanthan gum (used as a thickener);
  • Cocoa and artificial flavors;
  • Colorants: carmine, E-133, E-150;
  • Soy lecithin;
  • Various vitamins and minerals.

Mass gainer powder

The primary nutrients present in mass gainers are proteins and carbohydrates.
(Source: Belchonock: 99214543/ 123rf.com)

What are the benefits of supplementing with mass gainer?

  • Notable increase in caloric intake: Once dissolved in water, a mass gainer has a caloric density of 1.7 to 1.8 calories per milliliter. This is considered a hypercaloric supplement, providing a lot of energy in a small volume and promoting weight gain (5).
  • Improved quantity and quality of protein intake: One serving of mass gainer can provide between 50 and 80 grams of high biological value proteins; in other words, it contains all essential amino acids. Mass gainers are high-protein products, with which you can obtain between 16% and 40% of proteins. (5).
  • High digestibility: The whey protein, casein, albumin, maltodextrin, and vegetable proteins (soybean, rice, pea, wheat) used in the production of these supplements are easily digested and efficiently assimilated. That way, your body truly makes the most of them (6, 7).
  • Stimulation of muscle mass synthesis: in addition to providing all the amino acids needed for muscle development, mass gainers are often enriched with BCAAs (especially leucine) and creatine monohydrate, which promote and accelerate the formation of new muscle fibers (4, 8).
  • Rapid recovery after training: These supplements contribute to restoring glycogen reserves and stopping the degradation of muscle proteins. Besides, most of them provide significant amounts of glutamine, a non-essential amino acid that mitigates muscle pain and power loss after intense workouts (4, 8, 9).
  • Increased intake of vitamins and minerals: One thing all mass gainers have in common is that they are enriched with vitamins and minerals. High-level athletes have a higher demand in these micronutrients .
  • Stable supply of carbohydrates: Mass gainers provide more carbohydrates than proteins because the former are the favorite fuel of muscle cells and maintain and restore glycogen reserves. Muscle fatigue sets in when your glycogen is depleted. Besides, proteins can't fulfill their structural function without carbohydrates (2, 11).
  • Ease of consumption: In a simple serving of 350 to 700 milliliters, these supplements provide the extra calories, proteins, and carbohydrates athletes need. You would have to eat large quantities from specific sources to obtain the same nutrients from conventional foods.

What types of mass gainers are there?

Maltodextrins are the primary sources of carbohydrates in virtually all mass gainers because the human body can easily digest and assimilate them. The protein sources, on the other hand, will vary from one product to the next. Nowadays, you can find supplements suitable for vegan individuals. In that regard, we identify two types of products:

  • Mass gainers with ingredients of animal origin: Most of these supplements consist of whey protein (isolated, concentrated, or hydrolyzed), casein, and/or albumin. The biological quality of their proteins is excellent. Carbohydrates are generally derived from maltodextrin (hydrolyzed starch).
  • Mass gainers made exclusively with plant-based ingredients: These products are essentially designed for vegan athletes, but lactose intolerant individuals and anyone allergic to cow's milk protein also commonly consume them. The most frequently used proteins are soy, pea, and rice. Maltodextrin and oats provide the carbohydrates.
Animal-based mass gainer Plant-based mass gainer
 Calories per serving (300 g of powder) Approximately 1,250 calories Approximately 1,080 calories
 Protein per serving 53 grams 80 grams
 Carbohydrate per serving 250 grams 144 grams
 Protein sources Whey protein, albumin, micellar casein Soy, pea, rice, quinoa, and pumpkin
Carbohydrate sources Maltodextrin, fructose Maltodextrin, oats

For whom are mass gainers recommended?

These supplements are specially formulated to help meet the energy and nutritional requirements of high-performance competitors. Bodybuilders, long-distance runners, and other athletes who train intensively for long periods and want to increase their muscle mass are particularly fond of these products (12).

On the contrary, people who go to the gym one hour a day to stay in shape and maintain a healthy weight shouldn't use mass gainers. They would be exposing themselves to an increase in fat mass. As a result, both their health and body image would be affected negatively.

Natalie Rizzo, MS, RDRegistered Dietitian
"It’s important to realize that muscle gains don’t happen overnight. If you force yourself to have tons of protein at every meal in an effort to gain muscle quickly, you may actually gain fat."

What is the best way to use mass gainers?

If you want to make the most of your supplement, there are a few recommendations regarding its consumption that you should know. Keep in mind that the best is always to consult a nutritionist to determine the serving sizes and duration of supplementation. That said, these basic guidelines can help you get started:

  • Do not exceed the recommended serving: Your regular diet should provide enough calories to maintain weight, while the mass gainer provides the additional energy and protein needed to develop muscle. A 300-gram serving of supplement powder is generally enough to support weight and body composition modification.
  • Take care of your regular diet: No supplement should ever replace a balanced diet. If you want the mass winner to fulfill its function, your food intake must be rich in protein and high-quality carbohydrates, moderate in fat (mostly unsaturated fatty acids), and low in simple sugars.
  • Do not replace breakfast, lunch, or dinner with mass gainer: This supplement should be eaten between meals or as a pre- and post-training snack.
  • Divide your mass gainer intake: Once in water, each serving will reach a volume of 500 to 750 milliliters. You don't need to drink it all at once; in fact, you should ideally separate it into two to three portions a day. This will improve your digestive tolerance and ensure a stable supply of carbohydrates and protein to the muscle.

Man on bench press

Mass gainers are specially formulated to help meet the energy and nutritional requirements of high-performance athletes.
(Source: Zamuruev: 86857962/ 123rf.com)

What is the difference between a protein shake and a mass gainer?

These two products are some of the most popular supplements among athletes. While some people think that they can be used interchangeably, there are very significant nutritional differences between protein shakes and mass gainers:

Mass gainer Protein shake
Main purpose This very digestible supplement provides a lot of carbohydrates and high-quality proteins to favor muscle gain. It provides pure proteins, of high biological value and excellent digestibility, to support muscle development.
Recommended daily dose From 150 to 300 grams 30 to 32 grams
Calories per serving 1,000 to 1,300 calories 116 to 120 calories
Protein per serving  40 to 80 gram 23 to 26 grams
Carbohydrates per serving 80 to 250 grams 1.2 to 2.3 grams
Fat per serving 5 to 10 grams 0.5 to 1.8 grams

Are mass gainers the same as anabolic steroids?

Not at all. Mass gainers are supplements that provide pure nutrients, with no hormones in their composition. They are completely safe for your health. In the worst case, their consumption can lead to weight and fat gain. Anabolic steroids are extremely hazardous and can cause serious heart, liver, kidney, and sexual problems (14).

What are the side effects of mass gainers?

Excessive intake or a lack of adequate physical activity can lead to an increase in your fat mass. You may experience stomach pain, nausea, flatulence, or diarrhea when you start supplementing with mass gainers. However, you can avoid this by beginning with taking a third of the recommended serving.

Kelsey Herrick, RD, CSSD, LRDRegistered Dietitian
"Eating balanced meals that are high in carbohydrates and moderate in protein and fat is essential to build lean tissue.  Remember that excess protein on its own does not build new muscle tissue. You need adequate calories and a strength-training stimulus."

Are there contraindications to using mass gainers?

Most of these supplements contain whey protein and casein, both of which come from milk. This is why individuals who are lactose intolerant or allergic to cow's milk protein should look for mass gainers consisting of other protein sources.

  1. These products are not recommended during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and childhood.
  2. If you have a renal, hepatic, or cardiovascular condition, you should consult your physician before supplementing to make sure that this doesn't pose a threat to your health.
  3. Anyone taking chronic medication should also discuss with their doctor to rule out any interaction between the supplement and the drug(s).

Buyer's Guide

Now that you are more familiar with mass gainers as a whole, let's delve into their main shopping criteria. In the following section, we will introduce you to a series of key aspects that will help you pick a high-quality product while getting the best bang for your buck:

Composition

A single serving of mass gainer should contain at least 150 grams of carbohydrates and 50 grams of protein. The ratio between these two types of nutrients can change, but they will always be the two main ones in these supplements. To stimulate protein synthesis, the ideal intake in BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) is 10 grams per portion.

Simple sugars are generally present in a concentration of 10 to 15 grams per serving; their role is to ensure the supply of glucose before training and facilitate the renewal of muscle glycogen after physical activity. Mass gainers should have a low fat content, MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) being the most recommended as they are rapidly metabolized in the liver.

Woman drinking smoothie

Mass gainers consist of a wide variety of ingredients, such as whey protein, casein, albumin, and soy protein.
(Source: Citalliance: 21360562/ 123rf.com)

Quality Certifications

Three main quality certifications guarantee the safety and high-quality standard of dietary supplements. These include the HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points), GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices), and ISO 9001 (International Organization for Standardization).

When a product features one of these seals of quality on its label, it means that the manufacturer has requested that an external body monitors and controls the production. Most importantly, it means that the product has passed all the requirements of that authoritative entity. This is an indicator of extreme quality and confidence.

Presence of Allergens

Ingredients containing gluten are often used to obtain the carbohydrates for mass gainers. For this reason, people with celiac disease should look for the appropriate seal of approval before purchasing any supplement. Besides, mass gainers often include other allergens, such as egg, milk, nuts, tartrazine (E-102, dye), and soy.

Did you know that you will get a much creamier consistency if you prepare your mass gainer with skimmed milk instead of water?

Summary

Mass gainers are nutritional supplements that provide large amounts of calories, carbohydrates, and protein to promote weight and muscle mass gain. These products are marketed in powder form and are designed for high-level athletes, from bodybuilders to long-distance runners.

These dietary products are often enriched with creatine, glutamine, minerals, vitamins, and MCTs. All of these nutrients improve physical performance and facilitate recovery after training. Don't mistake mass gainers for anabolic steroids, as the latter contain hormones and represent a high risk for human health.

We hope that you found our guide helpful and informative. Feel free to let us know which mass gainer you decided to use; we'd love to hear your opinion! You can also share this article on your social media.

(Featured Image Source: Jirkaejc: 125425131/ 123rf.com)

References (14)

1. Campbell B, Kalman D, Greenwood M, Antonio J. Muscle Mass and Weight Gain Nutritional Supplements [Internet]. 2008.
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2. Tang J et al. Minimal whey protein with carbohydrate stimulates muscle protein synthesis following resistance exercise in trained young men [Internet]. 2007.
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3. Maughan R, Depiesse F, Geyer H. The use of dietary supplements by athletes [Internet]. 2007
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4. Maughan R et al. IOC Consensus Statement: Dietary Supplements and the High-Performance Athlete [Internet]. 2018.
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5. Lacasa Arregui C. Suplementos nutricionales. Clasificación. Indicaciones. Contraindicaciones. Valoración de la respuesta. Efectos secundarios [Internet]. 2004.
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6. Couto C et al. In vitro digestibility of commercial whey protein supplements [Internet]. 2005.
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7. Helstad S. Corn Sweeteners [Internet]. Corn: Chemistry and Technology. 2019.
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8. Persky A, Brazeau G. Clinical Pharmacology of the Dietary Supplement Creatine Monohydrate [Internet]. 2001.
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9. Street B, Byrne C, Eston R. Glutamine Supplementation in Recovery From Eccentric Exercise Attenuates Strength Loss and Muscle Soreness [Internet]. 2011.
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10. Volpe S. Micronutrient Requirements for Athletes [Internet]. 2007.
Source

11. MacMillan N. Utilidad del Índice Glicémico en Nutrición Deportiva [Internet]. 2002.
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12. Lambert C, Frank L, Evans W. Macronutrient Considerations for the Sport of Bodybuilding [Internet]. Sports Medicine. 2004.
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13. Phillips S. A Brief Review of Critical Processes in Exercise-Induced Muscular Hypertrophy [Internet]. Sports Medicine. 2014.
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14. Martín Aragón S. Anabolizantes. Revisión [Internet]. 2011.
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Scientific article
Campbell B, Kalman D, Greenwood M, Antonio J. Muscle Mass and Weight Gain Nutritional Supplements [Internet]. 2008.
Go to source
Scientific article
Tang J et al. Minimal whey protein with carbohydrate stimulates muscle protein synthesis following resistance exercise in trained young men [Internet]. 2007.
Go to source
Scientific article
Maughan R, Depiesse F, Geyer H. The use of dietary supplements by athletes [Internet]. 2007
Go to source
Scientific article
Maughan R et al. IOC Consensus Statement: Dietary Supplements and the High-Performance Athlete [Internet]. 2018.
Go to source
Artículo académico
Lacasa Arregui C. Suplementos nutricionales. Clasificación. Indicaciones. Contraindicaciones. Valoración de la respuesta. Efectos secundarios [Internet]. 2004.
Go to source
Scientific article
Couto C et al. In vitro digestibility of commercial whey protein supplements [Internet]. 2005.
Go to source
Scientific article
Helstad S. Corn Sweeteners [Internet]. Corn: Chemistry and Technology. 2019.
Go to source
Scientific article
Persky A, Brazeau G. Clinical Pharmacology of the Dietary Supplement Creatine Monohydrate [Internet]. 2001.
Go to source
Scientific article
Street B, Byrne C, Eston R. Glutamine Supplementation in Recovery From Eccentric Exercise Attenuates Strength Loss and Muscle Soreness [Internet]. 2011.
Go to source
Scientific article
Volpe S. Micronutrient Requirements for Athletes [Internet]. 2007.
Go to source
Scientific article
MacMillan N. Utilidad del Índice Glicémico en Nutrición Deportiva [Internet]. 2002.
Go to source
Scientific article
Lambert C, Frank L, Evans W. Macronutrient Considerations for the Sport of Bodybuilding [Internet]. Sports Medicine. 2004.
Go to source
Informative article
Phillips S. A Brief Review of Critical Processes in Exercise-Induced Muscular Hypertrophy [Internet]. Sports Medicine. 2014.
Go to source
Review article
Martín Aragón S. Anabolizantes. Revisión [Internet]. 2011.
Go to source
Reviews