So you’re a skinny guy (or gal) and you’re trying to pack on some muscle. You’ve started lifting weights, eating more and adding extra protein to your diet. You’re starting to see some changes in your body, however the results aren’t coming fast enough. You still look in the mirror and see the same skinny person you’ve always seen.
You start searching for Google for ways to gain weight quickly, and you discover a whole category of supplements known as Mass Gainers (sometimes referred to as Weight Gainers). They come in a huge 10lb bag, like a protein powder, but they’ve got a lot more stuff in it to help you gain weight: Calories, protein, carbs, the works! They even seem to be much cheaper (per pound) than protein!
Seems like a dream come true! You’ll be on stage at the Mr. O in a month’s time!
Let’s make one thing clear here. Mass gainers are a FOOD SUPPLEMENT. This isn’t some steroid that’s going to boost your testosterone to insane levels and give you massive gains overnight. Instead, think of a weight gainer as powdered food. The only thing a weight gainer is going to do is allow you to cram a few extra calories down your pie hole to supplement the calories that you are already getting from real food.
That said, it’s best to source your calories from real food instead of a supplement. Not only are you getting better nutrients, but it can also be much cheaper if you do it right.
Protip: Make your own mass gainer for cheaper, more nutritious calories.
People ask about mass gainers on the forum all the time. The most common response? Make your own. The consensus in the community is pretty clear. It’s better to get your calories from real food than from supplements, and it can be a heck of a lot cheaper.
For our baseline, I’m going to use Serious Mass by Optimum Nutrition. It’s 1,250 calories per serving, and a 6-pound bag will run you $25.49. This might seem really cheap, however keep in mind that there are only 8 servings in the entire bag!
Serious Mass by Optimum Nutrition
Price per serving: $3.19
Now let’s build our own. The first thing you’ll need is a solid blender. Personally, I have this Vitamix, but it’s not necessary to spend $300 on a blender. That said, I’ve used this thing every single day for 3+ years (over 1,000 times), and it still shreds anything I put in there like a champ. It was definitely a worthy purchase, but any of these <$50 blenders should do the trick.
Next, let’s grab these 4 things when you’re at the grocery store: bananas, whole milk, peanut butter, and oats. It should be no more than about $15 total for these items.
Last, we’ll grab a tub of Whey Protein. If you shop around, you can find protein for as cheap as $0.50 per serving, but for this example, we’ll grab a 77-serving, 5lb tub of 100% Whey by Optimum Nutrition for a total cost of $51.99.
To make your mass gainer shake, simply throw in 1 scoop of protein, 1 banana, 1.5 cups of oats, 4 tablespoons of peanut butter, 12oz of milk and maybe some ice into your blender and mix it all up!
Homemade Mass Gainer
Price per serving: $2.27
So as you can see, there’s not only a significant price reduction if you make your own, but also you’re getting more calories, more protein and even some fats instead of one giant carb bomb.
Plus, as long as you’re making a daily smoothie, it’s easy to throw in extra stuff:
Fresh or frozen fruit (strawberry, blueberry, mango, etc)
Greens such as spinach or kale (you can even freeze it if you’re only using it for smoothies)
Eggs (some people do raw, some people do hard-boiled, and others do the box of pasteurized egg whites you can buy at the store)
Sweet potato (I’ll boil a bunch of sweet potatoes, chop them up and freeze them to add to my smoothies later)
Fats such as olive oil or coconut oil
Brazil nuts, raw almonds or other nuts
While the benefits of making a daily smoothie are pretty overwhelming, not everyone has access to a kitchen stocked with a refrigerator and blender, so a mass gainer might sometimes be your best bet.
Stop lecturing me about real food. I’m buying a gainer. Now help me decide which one.
Ok, ok. You came to SupplementReviews.com to look at supplements after all. I get it. Let’s dive into the world of mass gainers and help you pick something that will work best for you.
What is a mass gainer?
A mass gainer is a high calorie supplement consisting of carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and other ingredients that you can take to help meet your caloric requirements. Each serving is typically 1,000+ calories, and usually comes in large multi-pound tubs or bags.
How are mass gainers different than protein supplements?
The containers may look the same, but they are very different products.
A protein supplement is usually low-carb, low-fat and mostly consisting of just protein. A single serving of protein is typically one 30-gram scooper, with about 25 of those grams being actual protein.
On the other hand, a mass gainer is typically high-carb, with some protein and maybe a little fat. A single serving is often multiple scoops from a gigantic scooper, sometimes 300+ grams of powder. In that 300+ gram serving, usually there’s around 250 grams of carbohydrates and only about 50 grams of protein.
Image from forums.bodybuilding.com
8 servings X 50 grams of protein per serving = 400 grams of protein in the entire container.
At $25.49 per container, that’s less than 16 grams of protein per dollar.
77 servings X 24 grams of protein per serving = 1,848 grams of protein in the entire container.
At $51.99 per container, that’s over 35 grams of protein per dollar.
So with a mass gainer, you’re getting less than half the protein for your money than you would if you just bought a regular whey protein.
Don’t be fooled by the large tub - always check servings per container.
One of the biggest complaints we see about mass gainers is that the serving size is absolutely massive. This leads to two problems:
#1: How are you supposed to properly mix your shake if the powder fills up your entire shaker cup?
I guess you’re not. Looking at the official directions for Serious Mass, they actually recommend using a blender:
Add two heaping scoops of Serious Mass to a blender filled with 24 oz. of water. Blend for 45-60 seconds. Then add a few ice cubes and, if desired, other calorie-contributing ingredients and blend for an additional 30-45 seconds.
The other option, which many users end up doing, is to split up the serving into multiple shakes throughout the day. There’s absolutely no shame in mixing up one scoop (or even a half scoop) at a time, and consuming multiple times throughout the day. It might even be better to spread the calories out rather than having one giant calorie bomb all at once.
#2: A huge 6lb tub might not actually be that great of value.
As we detailed already, a 6lb tub of Serious Mass is only 8 servings, and you’re getting half the grams of protein per dollar as you are with a whey protein supplement. Just because the label is showing off the whopping 1,250 calories per serving and the tub is gigantic, doesn’t mean that it will last you a long time.
How long will the results take?
Let’s do some basic, simplified calculations. So we know that 3,500 calories roughly translates to 1lb of bodyweight. Let’s say you split up the massive serving size and you are able to get an extra 500 calories per day, every single day. That would be 3,500 extra calories a week, which only equates to 1lb of weight gain per week.
So after taking your mass gainer every single day for a month, you’re looking at gaining a maximum of 4lbs of body mass. This isn’t going to feel like a lot, especially considering you’ll go through 10lbs of gainer by the end of that month.
Remember that it simply takes time to pack on muscle. Nothing is going to turn you into the hulk overnight. All those transformation pictures you see on the internet are the result of months, if not years, of intense training and adhering to a strict diet. As long as you stick to it, you’ll eventually see some significant changes in your body. It’s just a matter of time and calories.
How to Pick a Mass Gainer
When faced with the rather daunting task of trying to choose the “right” weight gainer for your goals, there are a few things to consider:
Price per 1,000 calories: Keep in mind the serving size and servings per container when making a purchase.
Sugar content: Yes, weight gainers will have a high carb count, but make sure the carbohydrates don’t all come from cheap filler sugars that will spike your insulin levels and lead to drowsiness and fat gain.]
Cholesterol Content: Some mass gainers are high in cholesterol while others are not. Take a look at the nutrition facts and try to pick one that isn’t off the charts in the cholesterol department.
Taste: This may seem like a no-brainer, but if you’re going to be drinking this frequently to get in enough calories, you’ll want to at least enjoy what you’re drinking!
Mixability: You won’t be able to tell this by looking at the tub itself, but head on over to our weight gainer reviews and check out the reviews on how well these gainers mix. The last thing you want is to be drinking a clumpy shake or drink all the liquid and be left with a bunch of residue at the bottom of your shaker bottle.
When should you take your mass gainer?
The best times to drink your mass gainer are in between meals. When you’re on a bulk, you want to provide your body with a consistent flow of calories, so having a shake first thing in the morning or right before bed can help ensure that your body is being fed around the clock.
Taking a mass gainer with a meal isn’t recommended. You want to get as many calories as possible from actual food sources, so filling up on supplements while you’re eating real food isn’t ideal.
What are possible side effects of a mass gainer?
Remember that mass gainers are simply food supplements. What kind of side effects would you expect if you just ate a bunch of extra oatmeal and milk everyday? Here’s some of the most common side effects that we see:
Digestive issues: many users of mass gainers complain about cramps, bloating, “the runs” and other intestinal issues. This is typically the result of consuming one giant calorie bomb all at once. Try splitting your serving up throughout the day, maybe try mixing it with water instead of milk, or try switching brands. Some people’s stomachs simply can’t handle the calorie bomb of a mass gainer, so it might just be best to target real food than trying to drink the supplement version.
Fat gain: When you drink an extra 1,000+ calories per day, you have to expect that you will gain some fat along with your muscle. A little bit of fat gain is to be expected when you’re bulking. However, everyone’s bodies will react differently. If you notice that you’re gaining too muh fat instead of muscle, the first thing to look at is your exercise routine. If you’re not going heavy and hard in the weight room at least 3+ times per week, it might be time to step it up a notch. If you’re already going as hard as you can, it might be time to cut back your calories a bit or change your diet around so that you’re focusing more on protein than you are on carbs.
The takeaway: Give mass gainers a shot if you know what you’re getting yourself into.
Hitting a plateau can be one of the most frustrating situations for anyone attempting to put on more muscle mass. Eating more calories is the only solution, and can be impossible to do through your diet alone. While mass gainers aren’t perfect, they may be a useful tool in hitting your caloric needs and breaking you through that bulking plateau.
April 19, 2017
A solid article. I appreciate the fact that you steered readers towards more economical whole food choices.
Even though it should be implied, it's still a very common misconception, so I would like to see it clarified that the one pound of weight gain due to an additional 3,500 calories would only be realized if the user was already hitting their caloric requirement prior to integrating the homemade or premade gainer into their diet.