Attempts to gain body weight without piling on the extra fats can be quite frustrating. Whether you are desirous to build rock solid muscles or you are underweight, healthy weight gain is not easy. It involves eating the right type of calorie dense foods and exercising, especially strength training that helps in increasing the lean muscle mass. To reach the target body weight, a large number of bodybuilders and underweight individuals rely on weight gainers.
Weight gainer, also known as mass gainer, is a high calorie supplement. It should not be confused with protein powder, because it is a blend of protein and carbohydrates and in some cases enriched with other vital nutrients. A weight gainer is meant to supplement not replace your regular meals. It incorporates the additional calories to your diet that your body needs to build leaner muscles.
Your body weight is determined by the amount of calories you consume and burn daily. Appropriate nutritional support is a prerequisite for gaining muscles. Unfortunately, despite debates among coaches, fitness instructors, athletes, bodybuilders and sport scientists, the exact composition of an optimal diet for increasing size and strength of muscles is unknown. Nevertheless, it is known that adequate energy and generous amount of protein and micronutrients are essential for growth and development of muscles.(1)
Specialized foods such as weight gainers are a portable and practical source of energy, protein, carbohydrate and micronutrients for increasing lean muscles. Available in the form of powder, they are mixed with water or milk and taken as a drink.
How Weight Gainers Work
The success of a program for gaining muscle bulk depends on your diet. You cannot expect to gain weight if your body becomes adapted to a particular diet. You reach a plateau when your body becomes accustomed to your current dietary modifications. To restart the process of gaining muscles, you need to apply a shock by both dieting and exercising. Weight gainers are known to apply that shock. The trick to gain weight is to add additional calories to your diet as soon as your body adapts to an earlier dietary change.
To make a weight gainer work for you do not use it as a replacement for a meal. Continue eating what you were eating before reaching the current stage. Add calories slowly. Start by taking a weight gainer shake once a day. Continue taking the weight gainer, because if you quit after a few weeks, reduction in calorie intake will prevent you from gaining further muscles and may even lead to weight loss. When you again hit a plateau, add another shake to your diet. In this manner, keep on adding calories to sustain the muscle building process. The additional calorie requirement of bodybuilders is usually met by taking three shakes a day. Along with the weight gainer shakes, add more foods to your diet for a better outcome. (2)
How Weight Gainer Helps
Boosts Calorie Intake
Weight gainers provide large amount of calories. Usually weight gainer drinks contain the same amount of protein as a standard protein drink but they provide more calories. A standard protein supplement usually provides 27 grams of protein and about 108 calories when mixed with water and artificially sweetened. A weight gainer, on the other hand, provides the same amount of protein and owing to the presence of abundant carbohydrate supplies a whopping amount of calories when mixed with milk. (3)
The high calorie shakes are quite effective for those struggling to build muscle bulk and are a good option for getting the extra calories on the go. (4)
Weight gain through dieting is about consuming sufficient calories and eating consistently. A body builder who was consuming 2000 calories per day before starting the weight gain diet usually needs 500 to 3000 additional calories per day to reach his target body weight. If you are not eating the recommended amount of calories, despite exercising harder, you cannot gain weight and in some cases you may even lose muscles. Consistent increase in calories over months helps in larger weight gains. (5)
Supplies The Right Carbohydrate
To gain weight you need carbohydrate and weight gainers provide adequate amount of good quality carbohydrate. People who are working extra hard to bulk up fast need the right type of carbohydrate. It is especially important to consume the right kind of carbohydrate after working out. The fast acting carbohydrate helps best after training. It helps in preventing loss of nutrients from the muscles and also works in improving the blood sugar level.
Carbohydrate present in liquid form in weight gainer shakes is rapidly absorbed. The carbohydrates dextrose and maltodextrin usually found in quality weight gainers are considered the best. The exact amount of carbohydrate needed after a workout session depends upon the intensity of your workout and metabolism. Usually 1.5 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight is needed by a bodybuilder after a strenuous workout session. (6)
Protein is the building block of muscles. Increase in dietary protein results in superior muscle gain. Protein synthesis is known to reach its peak after working out. At this time your body is capable of utilizing and absorbing 50% more protein than at regular meal. Good quality whey protein is considered the best choice because compared to other sources of protein it easily breaks down into amino acids and is rapidly absorbed. Good quality weight gainers are comparable to quality protein shakes that primarily comprises of whey proteins. Some products also contain milk or egg proteins. (7)
Supports Muscle Recovery
A great post-workout shake is required for muscle recovery. Quality weight gainer shakes usually provide up to 600 calories per serving and are packed with nutrients essential for muscle recovery. The ingredients you will usually find in a quality weight gainer are complex carbohydrate, L-glutamine, small amount of creatine and the full range of amino acids including the three Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs), leucine, isoleucine and valine. The BCAAs are severely depleted during strenuous strength training. Although the role of the other amino acids are important for preventing muscle breakdown and stimulating muscle recovery, your body needs the three BCAAs the most for the purpose. (8)
Low Level Of Fat
Furthermore, to support healthy weight gain, a quality weight gainer contains low level of saturated fats. The total fat content in weight gainers is between 5 to 10 grams. It comprises of saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol, though the last two fats are either absent or present in very small amounts in the top grade products. Some products may contain the omega-3 fats that are good for health. (9)
Quality products for weight gain provide standard macro and micronutrients at the specific high calorie level. Though they are usually more expensive than the whole foods you buy from the supermarkets, nonetheless, as all-in-one package food they are convenient and supply more nutrients than the high calorie nutrient deficient foods.
A major advantage of consuming a premium quality weight gainer is that they contain pharmacological levels of some nutrients that you can only get by eating large amounts of certain foods that produces the undesirable effect of consuming higher amount of calories than the recommended amount. A good quality product is therefore considered a complete nutrient supplement. (10)
Best Weight Gainer
A number of products loaded with protein and carbohydrate are advertized as weight gainers. However, the composition and effectiveness of these products vary. Nevertheless, research suggests that the difference among quality products may not be huge as claimed by the advertisers but there are some valid differences regarding gain in lean muscle mass and fat accumulation.
There are usually three types of weight gain supplements. Weight gain powder containing calories and protein usually compete with carbohydrate rich supplements that usually contain maltodextrin as the source of calories and products that provide lesser calories and more protein than the standard weight gainers. In a study, weight training subjects who took one of the three supplements reported more lean muscle gain by consuming products that combine calories with protein. Specialized products contain additional nutrients that are usually absent or present in traces in the standard supplements. For instance, in one study researchers found that a supplement for weight gain that exhibited superior result in lean muscle gain provides larger amounts of taurine, l-glutamine and creatine monohydrate. In addition, good quality weight gainers contain low levels of fats. (11)
The simplest way to evaluate the quality of a weight gainer and whether it suits your need is to check the ingredients list.
For best result, the ingredients in the weight gainer product should be easily absorbable. It should contain easily digestible protein so that the concentration of the amino acids in the muscles rises in a shorter time to facilitate faster muscle synthesis just after workout.
Calorie Per Serving
Weight gainers are calorie dense products. Although there are products that claim to provide unusually higher amount of calories per serving, your body may not be capable of dealing with sudden increase in calorie intake. Consuming a product that provides extremely high calories per serving is equivalent to eating a large meal.
Extremely high calorie intake at one time tends to slow down metabolism that encourages the body to store the additional calories as fat. Consuming up to 600 calories at one time is usually considered safe. Notwithstanding your ambitious weight gain target, you should work slowly, aiming for 1 to 3 pounds increase in body weight per week. However, if you like the composition and the taste of a certain extremely high calorie weight-gainer, at the initial stage reduce the serving size and check the outcome for a few weeks before increasing the serving size. (12)
Quality And Quantity Of Nutrients
The best weight gainers contain high quality protein. They primarily provide low-glycemic carbohydrates and contain very small amount of simple sugar such as glucose or sucrose. Low quality weight gainers are loaded with simple sugars. When you consume these simple sugar rich products you experience a sudden surge in energy that wanes in a short time. This condition triggered by fluctuations in insulin secretion induces the body to convert the excess sugar into fat. (13)
The ratio of carbohydrate to protein in weight gainers vary. In lower calorie and higher protein products, the ratio can be 2:1, whereas in poor quality products with higher calorie content the ratio can be 5:1. However, for optimum nutrition for healthy weight gain, the ratio of carbohydrate to protein should be 3:1.
Some of these products contain dietary fibers and are enriched with vitamins and minerals . (14)
Best Time To take Weight Gainer
It is a common practice to take a weight gainer shake after a workout session. The classic weight gainer is a combination of isolated proteins of milk serum or whey protein and maltodextrin that are perfect for restoring amino acids and energy in the muscle that are depleted during the training. However, hard gainers can take weight gainer shake in between meals. (15)
The calorie dense shakes when taken just after training minimizes fat gain. Carbohydrate taken after a strenuous workout is transported directly to the muscles to replenish the glycogen store in the muscles. This diminishes conversion of excess sugar into fats that occurs when carbohydrate is used as the primary source of energy. (16)
Once your higher endurance level hits a plateau, it is advisable to supplement your post workout nutrition with weight gainer shake to stimulate muscle growth. (17)
Benefits Of Combining Weight Gainers And Workout For Weight Gain
You can gain weight only by taking weight gainer shake. However, for healthy weight gain, i.e., increasing muscle mass with minimal fat gain, in addition to eating a diversified diet and drinking weight gainer shakes, you must exercise. People who are underweight are often tempted to overuse a weight gainer product. However, without weight training and other workout activities, the unused calories will be converted into fat. Your body weight will increase by taking weight-gainer shake but, in addition to muscle mass, it will add excess fats to your body. Hence, even skinny people cannot overlook the importance of lean weight gain through exercise and diet. (18)
At the early stage of your program for increasing muscle bulk, start with basic workout. This gradually helps in building muscles without injuring the muscle tissues. When your muscles no longer feel sore when exercising, start increasing the intensity of your workout. This will stimulate muscle growth. It is important not to lose weight by exercising. Do not worry about the extra fats in your body. You will burn them by exercising and the energy released will be utilized for muscle development. It does not matter even if you have some fat in your body. As a number of nutrients are stored in fats, the optimal level needs to be maintained to support your muscles and health. (19) Furthermore, exercise helps stimulate appetite. (20) Therefore, you can eat more and gain lean weight in the process.
In a nutshell, for healthy weight gain, exercise and diet work in tandem. Calories and nutrients support the workout activity. You should eat just enough to get the energy for supporting physical activities for building muscles. If you eat more you will gain both muscles and fat. A quality weight gainer provides the additional calories and nutrients for reaching the fitness goal.