Mass gainers are bodybuilding supplements that are generally composed of both high and low glycemic, carbohydrates, proteins (usually in the form of calcium caseinate, milk and whey protein) and other nutrients that include vitamins and minerals. Mass gainers are used by bodybuilders and strength athletes, both amateur and professional alike as a weight gain supplement or as a recovery supplement. Pre and post-workout supplements are probably the most important supplements to take after vitamins and minerals that provide the body with the required energy to beat post work out fatigue. Usually, these supplements are composed either as single ingredient preparations or in the form of stacks – proprietary blends of various supplements marketed as offering synergistic advantages.
During intensive exercises, muscle stress can cause the release of hormones such as cortisol in the body. Cortisol helps in providing energy to the body to beat post-workout fatigue. Plus, it also helps in the breakdown of glycogen, protein (muscle) and fat deposits which are used in gluconeogenesis.
Most mass gainers use protein powders(whey protein extracts) and carbohydrates (dextrose, maltodextrine), while more advanced gainers add to their recipes, ingredients like creatine, L-arginine, long chain amino-acids, enzymes(for better digestion), vitamins, minerals and plant extracts for adaptogen effect. Higher glycemic carbohydrates will prompt a steep rise in the blood glucose levels, forcing an equal release of insulin by the body to counter the long-term negative effects of high blood sugar, inhibiting the effects of cortisol. Some of the carbohydrates are immediately absorbed by the muscles without the need for insulin. The rest is stored as glycogen in the liver and in muscles.
When attempting to increase lean body mass, an essential component that is equal to a sound resistance training program is protein consumption. Not only is protein intake required for skeletal muscle hypertrophy, but protein is also needed to repair damaged cells and tissues and for a variety of other metabolic and hormonal activities. Protein is the only macronutrient that contains nitrogen. Given the importance of attaining a positive nitrogen balance, it is vitally important that protein be ingested in our body on a daily (and meal-to-meal) basis. When discussing protein as a nutritional supplement, two main questions arise:
1) How much protein is required for an individual engaging in resistance training?
2) What are the types of protein supplements and which are the best sources of protein?
Recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein intake among healthy adults is 0.8g/kg body weight per day. This recommendation accounts for individual differences in protein metabolism, variations in the biological value of protein and nitrogen losses through urine and feces. When determining the amount of protein that needs to be ingested to increase lean body mass, many factors must be considered such as protein quality, energy intake, carbohydrate intake, the amount and intensity of the resistance training program and the timing of the protein intake. Although 0.8 g/kg/day may be sufficient to meet the needs of nearly all non-resistance trained individuals, it is more likely to be insufficient to provide substrate for lean tissue accretion or for the repair of exercise-induced muscle damage. Individuals who engage in physical activity/exercise require higher levels of protein intake than 0.8 g/kg/day, regardless of the mode of exercise (i.e., endurance, resistance) or training state (i.e., recreational, moderately or well trained). So, the question that remains is how much protein is required for individuals engaging in resistance training and wanting to increase lean body mass? General recommendations for individuals who engage in strength/power exercise range from 1.6 to 2.0 g/kg/day. Protein intake at these levels ensures that the net protein balance remains positive, a pre-requisite for skeletal muscle hypertrophy to occur.
Types of Protein Supplements
Although protein can be obtained from whole foods, many resistance trained athletes supplement their diet with protein containing supplements (e.g., protein powders, meal replacement drinks, sports bars, etc.). Advances in food processing technology have allowed for the isolation of high quality proteins from both animal and plant sources. Other reasons for supplementing the diet with protein supplements include convenience, simplicity and the fact that protein supplements have other benefits such as longer shelf life than whole food sources, in addition to being more cost-effective in many cases.
Four of the most common types of protein found in protein supplements are whey, casein, soy and egg proteins. Each of these proteins is a complete protein and all are classified as high quality proteins. Whey protein, derived from milk protein, is currently the most popular source of protein used in nutritional supplements. Whey proteins are available as whey protein concentrates, isolates and hydrolysates. The primary differences among these forms are the methods of processing and small differences in fat and lactose content, amino acid profiles and ability to preserve glutamine residues. In comparison to other types of protein, Whey protein is digested at a faster rate, has better mixing characteristics and is often perceived as a higher quality protein. Research has indicated that the rapid increase in blood amino acid levels following whey protein ingestion stimulates protein synthesis to a greater degree than casein. Individuals who consume whey protein frequently throughout the day may optimize protein synthesis. Overall, whey protein is an excellent source of protein to supplement due to its amino acid content (including high branched-chain amino acid content) and its ability to be rapidly absorbed.
Casein (80% of the total protein content in milk) is often described as slower-acting protein. It is considered a slower protein than whey protein because it takes longer to digest and absorb. This is most likely due to the fact that casein has a longer transit time in the stomach. Although casein stimulates protein synthesis, it does it to a much lesser extent than whey protein. Unlike whey, casein helps decrease the process of protein breakdown, which has made casein an anti-catabolist. It has been observed that the combination of both casein and whey enhances the effectiveness to gain lean muscle mass.
Although soy lacks the essential amino acid methionine, it has a relatively high concentration of remaining essential amino acids and is therefore considered as a high quality protein. Soy protein is made from soy beans using water or a water–ethanol mixture to extract the protein. Soy protein is similar to whey protein in a way that there is a soy protein concentrate and isolate. Soy contains compounds called isoflavones, which appear to be strong antioxidants and have been implicated in possibly decreasing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and cancer. In addition to isoflavones, soy proteins contain protease inhibitors. Given these attributes of soy, there is some evidence to suggest that soy may decrease or prevent the exercise-induced damage to muscle seen following a workout.
Egg protein is also a high quality protein and has the advantage of being a miscible protein (it mixes easily in solution). However, egg protein supplements generally do not taste good and are more expensive than other protein supplements. For these reasons, along with the availability of other high quality proteins such as whey, casein and soy, egg protein supplementation is not popular among athletes. Despite this, egg protein is still added in small quantities to some meal replacement/protein powders.
Ingestion of high quality protein is essential for increasing lean muscle mass, but equally important is the timing of the protein intake. The central idea underlying nutrient timing is to time high glycemic carbohydrate and protein ingestion so it encompasses the time frame in which the resistance training of experts leaves a hypertrophic stimulus on the trained skeletal muscles.
Resistance training in the absence of nutritional intake
Inherent with the term anabolic window is the concept of net protein balance. As stated earlier, net protein balance is equal to muscle protein synthesis minus muscle protein breakdown. For skeletal muscle hypertrophy to occur, net protein balance must be positive (synthesis must exceed breakdown). To improve net protein balance, an appropriate stimulus (e.g., resistance training) must be applied to the skeletal muscles. However, when resistance training is performed alone in the absence of nutritional and supplemental (i.e., protein, carbohydrate) interventions, net protein balance still does not increase to the point of becoming anabolic.
Insulin, amino acids and protein synthesis
Muscle-specific genes must be activated to initiate the process of skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Once these muscle-specific genes are activated, they are copied into Messenger RNA (mRNA) which serves as a template for which muscle proteins are then manufactured (translated).
Insulin has several roles related to improving the net protein balance following resistance exercise including increasing protein synthesis, improving the transport of amino acids into skeletal muscle and decreasing protein breakdown. Whereas insulin should never be injected (as multiple adverse events are likely to occur) for the purposes of improving net protein balance, insulin can be significantly increased endogenously via the consumption of carbohydrate. As important as insulin concentrations are to anabolic processes, it has been stated that if high levels of insulin are not supported by an exogenous amino acid supply, insulin loses its anabolic capacity in skeletal muscle.
Importance of combined carbohydrate-protein supplements and timing of ingestion
Carbohydrates and amino acids are needed to maximize positive shifts in net protein balance and the time course for which they must be present should be considered. To highlight the importance of timing, note that when 10 g of protein, 8 g of carbohydrate and 3 g of fat were ingested either immediately or 3 hours after exercise, protein synthesis was increased more than threefold with the supplement ingested immediately versus ingestion 3 hours after exercise (with which there was only a 12% increase).
Ingestion of both proteins (whey and casein) after resistance exercise resulted in similar increase in muscle protein net balance, resulting in net muscle protein synthesis, despite different patterns of blood amino acid responses- a quicker response of blood amino acids for the whey protein and a more sustained response for the casein protein.
When whey protein was added to an amino acid–carbohydrate supplement, it indicated that there seemed to be an extension of the anabolic effect compared to that seen with amino acid–carbohydrate supplements without additional whey protein.
The sports supplement creatine has been the gold standard against which other nutritional supplements are compared. The reason for this prominent position is that creatine improves performance and increases lean body mass. It has repeatedly been shown to be safe when recommended dosages are consumed. Despite one of the most consistent side effects of creatine supplementation has been weight gain in the form of lean body mass, it has become one of the most popular nutritional supplements marketed to athletes over the past decade. Weight gain had been observed in several cohorts including males, females and the elderly.
For creatine supplementation, the typical dosage pattern is divided into two phases: a loading phase and a maintenance phase. A typical loading phase consists of ingesting 20 g of creatine (or 0.3 g/kg body weight) in divided doses, four times per day for 2 to 7 days, followed by a maintenance dose of 2 to 5 g daily (or 0.03 g/kg) for several weeks to months at a time.
A quick way to ‘‘creatine load’’, skeletal muscle requires ingesting 20 g of creatine monohydrate daily for 6 days and then switching to a reduced dosage of 2 g/day. If the immediacy of ‘‘loading’’ is not an important consideration, supplementing with 3 g/day for 28 days achieves the same high levels of intramuscular creatine.
Effect on lean body mass
Many of the studies performed to date indicate that short-term creatine supplementation increases total body mass by approximately 0.7 to 1.6 kg (1.5–3.5 lbs.). Longer-term creatine supplementation (6–8weeks) in conjunction with resistance training has been shown to increase lean body mass by approximately 2.8 to 3.2 kg (7 lbs.). Gain in lean body mass has been observed in women too as a result of creatine supplementation. Changes in fat-free mass in females who ingested creatine (20 g/day for the first 4 days followed by 5 g/day for 65 days) in combination with resistance exercise for 10 weeks has been investigated and reported an increase of 5.7 lbs. of fat-free mass after 10 weeks of creatine supplementation and resistance exercise. This increase was 60% greater in the creatine supplementation group as compared to the placebo group.
Should I use a weight gainer?
It depends on a lot of things. If the diet does not deliver the right amount of proteins to the body, it is advised to use mass gainers. Food is anabolic. Food is the first line of defense for the body. If the meals are not in order, then supplements just aren’t going to work as effectively. A weight gaining supplement is not meant to be a substitute for food. It should “supplement” your existing food/meal plan.
So then who should use a weight gainer?
A weight gainer can be used to add extra to the diet. It might be a convenience issue—it’s a lot easier to mix up a pre-made shake than prepare a full meal. A solid weight gainer, because it digests quickly and efficiently (improved “gastric emptying”), will make it possible to eat another meal without feeling overly “full”. Food like oatmeal and beef, for example, take a while to digest.
What should one look for in a weight gainer?
A weight gainer should provide a nutritionally dense blend of the core macronutrients (i.e., protein, carbohydrates and essential fats). Second, it should be low in simple sugars and high in complex carbohydrates. Third, it should contain high quality proteins such as whey and casein--these provide both a quick and a sustained release of key amino acids into the body. Fat content should also not be overlooked since added essential fats help to increase the calories of each shake and aid in natural hormone production.
When is the right time to use a weight gainer?
There really is no “right” time. Depending on the goals that have been determined, a weight gainer can be taken first thing in the morning, between meals, post-workout or before bed.
How often should I use a weight gainer?
A weight gainer is to be used to supplement the calories that the body is already getting from a balanced, bodybuilding diet consisting of numerous daily whole food feedings. Depending on the diet and particular goals, consuming anywhere from one to three times daily can lead to marked improvements.