Building more muscle can be a challenge for lean and underweight people even if they spend many hours at the gym. You’re what’s called a hardgainer in bodybuilding circles.
Veteran weight trainers say that seasoned body-builders put on less muscle mass in a month more than beginners, who can gain about two pounds per month. Gains can plateau after three years, with regular lifters adding only about half a pound per month.
So let's face it: While some body-building techniques and trainers can offer to help you develop well-defined muscles with bulk and weight, wouldn't you want to pack on more muscle within a shorter period given the chance?
International Society of Sports Nutrition co-founder Dr. Douglas Kalman says that gaining muscle mass has more to do with the way you eat and exercise than the speed of your metabolism.
As a result, many ectomorphs—a term that refers to people with skinny body types—are turning to mass gainers or mass gain supplements because sometimes sheer determination and other motivating factors can’t carry people through their body-building journey long enough.
What Mass Gainers Are and Their Benefits
Mass gainers are supplements rich in carbohydrates, protein, and possibly fats that aim to add to your current muscle mass. Their amounts vary, depending on the product. Carbohydrates are usually in the form of maltodextrin (white powder made of wheat, rice, corn, or potato starch), waxy maize, or dextrose. Meanwhile, protein ingredients mostly include soy, casein, whey, or other plant-based protein. For best results, look for products with a 3:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio.
Flax is a common source of fats. Go for supplements that contain only one to two grams of saturated fat per serving. Gainers with over five grams per serving won't be good for you.
Mass gainers are recommended for the following benefits:
They increase muscle mass.
Mass gain powders help bodybuilders bulk up quickly by meeting their protein and carb nutrition targets.
They build up strength and dexterity.
Supplements fortify your muscles through essential protein and amino acids, providing extra support for the agility and strength gained from endurance workouts and weight training.
They hasten muscle recovery.
Tiny tears or "micro-tears" occur in your muscle fibers when you work out. But the repair of these tiny injuries is actually what forms muscle mass. Supplements can ease muscle fatigue and aid in the recovery process of micro-tears.
They help reduce the fat cell content of muscles.
Fat cells burn when you lift weights to work out your muscles. Drinking a "mass" gainer supplement can help you shed these cells faster.
They can increase energy levels so you can go for more intense training.
You can take a gainer supplement before your workout if you need more energy for doing more repetitions or lifting heavier weights.
Besides hardgainers, people who will benefit from mass gainers also include:
- individuals with hectic schedules and don't have enough time to prepare for a proper diet
- individuals who have weak appetites and are unable to get enough calories from natural food
Potential Side Effects
You may experience some stomach discomfort, cramping, or diarrhea if you take mass gainers, especially products containing creatine.
Recommended Dosage, Intake
The amount and frequency of mass gainer intake really depends on your fitness goals and diet plan. Setting your objectives from the start will improve the success of your bodybuilding program.
Some manufacturers may recommend a daily allowance of 50 to 150 grams, but your individual nutrient requirement is a better determiner of the actual quantity.
You may have to start every other day or once a day to see how your body responds to the product, then adjust as necessary. You can take the gainer in larger amounts and more often if you're on the lean and skinny side.
Try taking your first dosage in the morning. Then schedule the next intake one to two hours before your work out and the final intake after your training.
Consuming a mass gainer before training can boost your energy and delay fatigue symptoms. Meanwhile, taking it after your workout can help more easily build your muscle tissues and glycogen, a type of glucose that's stored in your skeletal muscle.
Our Top Picks
Here's a list of the best mass gainers available to help you choose the product that matches your nutrient goals and personal taste:
1. Serious Mass by Optimum Nutrition
AMOUNT PER SERVING:
The recommended dosage is two heaping scoops (334 grams) for every 24 fluid ounces (709 milliliters or three cups) of milk or cold water. Beginners are advised to start with just half a serving daily for the first week before taking one or more full servings several times during the day.
Each dose or serving of Serious Mass contains 252 grams of carbohydrates, 50 grams of proteins, 1,250 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, 20 grams of sugar, 25 vitamins and minerals, plus creatine and glutamine. The product contains dairy, wheat, corn, soy, and egg. Hypoglycemics and diabetics should consult their doctors before using the mass gainer.
It's available in vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, banana, chocolate peanut butter, and cookies and cream flavors. For added nutrition, its manufacturer, Optimum Nutrition, suggests adding fresh or frozen fruits, nuts, and other ingredients when you prepare the powdered drink. You can take Serious Mass between meals, after training, and before bedtime.
2. Pro Gainer by Optimum Nutrition
AMOUNT PER SERVING:
The recommended dosage is one heaping scoop (165 grams) for every 16 ounces (473ml or two cups) of water or your favorite drink. You can also try mixing one scoop of the supplement to non-fat milk (six to eight fluid ounces or 177 to 236ml) so you can enjoy a shake.
Each serving of Pro Gainer contains 85 grams of carbohydrates, 60 grams of proteins, 650 calories, 8 grams of fat, 6 grams of sugar, and 31 vitamins and minerals. The product, also produced by Optimum Nutrition, contains wheat, milk, egg, and soy.
Pro Gainer also has carbogen and aminogen, which increase the quantity and speed of carbohydrate absorption.
It's available in vanilla custard, double rich chocolate, banana cream pie, and strawberry cream flavors.
Just like Serious Mass, hypoglycemics and diabetics must first get their doctors' advice before trying this product.
3. True-Mass 1200 by BSN
AMOUNT PER SERVING:
The recommended dosage is two scoops (314 grams) for every 16 ounces (473ml or two cups) of cold water or your preferred beverage. Pour into milk so you can have a milkshake.
Each serving of True-Mass contains 215 grams of carbohydrates, including ground whole oats, 50 grams of protein, 1,200 calories, 17 grams of fat, 19 grams of sugar, 12 BCAAs, and medium-chain triglycerides. True-Mass contains milk, wheat, soy, and egg.
The product comes in vanilla ice cream, chocolate milkshake, cookies and cream, and strawberry milkshake flavors. Its manufacturer, BSN, recommends the supplement to be taken as part of a healthy diet and exercise program.
4. Super Mass Gainer by Dymatize
AMOUNT PER SERVING:
The recommended dosage is 2.5 heaping scoops (333 grams) for every 24-32 ounces of water (710-946ml, three to four cups) or 32 ounces of milk.
Super Mass Gainer from Dymatize has 245 grams of carbohydrates, 52 grams of proteins, 1,280 of calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 23 grams of sugar, 17 vitamins and minerals, and 10.7 grams of BCAAs. The product contains soy, eggs, and milk. Dymatize recommends adding your favorite fruits and other ingredients for a tastier drink.
The supplement comes in gourmet vanilla, rich chocolate, and cookies and cream.
The product has passed Informed-Choice's test for banned substances.
It is not recommended for pregnant and lactating women.
5. Less Naked Mass by Naked Nutrition
AMOUNT PER SERVING:
The recommended dosage is four scoops (333 grams) for every 24 ounces (709 milliliters or three cups) of milk or your chosen beverage. Less Naked Mass contains 251 grams of carbohydrates, 50 grams of proteins, 1,360 calories, 15 grams of fat, 58 grams of sugar, and 12 grams of BCAAs. It comes in plain, chocolate, and vanilla flavors.
Less Naked Mass is made from naked whey, an organic maltodextrin that’s made from gluten-free organic tapioca, naked casein, organic raw cacao, and organic coconut sugar. It contains no soy, additives, and genetically modified organisms.
Its producer, Naked Nutrition, recommends that the supplement be taken between meals and before bedtime. This product also passed Informed-Choice's test for banned substances.
6. Mass-Tech Extreme 2000 by MuscleTech
AMOUNT PER SERVING:
The recommended daily dose is 6 heaping scoops (569 grams) for every 16-20 ounces of water or skim milk. Use eight to 10 ounces (236-296ml or 1 to 1.25 cups) of liquid for half a serving or three scoops. The product contains soy, milk, and coconut.
Mass-Tech Extreme from MuscleTech has 220 grams of carbohydrates or 400 grams when it's mixed with 20 ounces of skim milk, 30 grams of protein from whey or 80 grams when combined with 20 ounces of skim milk, 1,030 calories or more than 2,000 when you add it to 20 ounces of skim milk, three grams of fat, 20 vitamins and minerals with 10 grams of creatine, 17.8 grams of BCAAs, and 8.2 grams of leucine.
MuscleTech uses multi-phase filtration so that the whey content of the supplement will have less lactose, fat, and other impurities that can be found in cheaper protein sources.
The supplement is available in triple chocolate brownie and vanilla milkshake flavors.
7. Super Advanced Mass Gainer by Body Fortress
AMOUNT PER SERVING:
The recommended dosage is three scoops (133.5 grams) for every 12 fluid ounces (355ml or 1.5 cups) of water. This mass gainer from Body Fortress contains soy and milk. It's free of gluten, yeast, aspartame, and other preservatives.
Super Advanced Mass Gainer contains 99 grams of carbohydrates, 20 grams of proteins, 520 calories, 5 grams of fat, and 48 grams of BCAAs, plus essential and non-essential amino acids. Each 6-scoop serving also has 2.5 grams of betaine. Betaine prevents the buildup of homocysteine, an amino acid that can harm blood vessels and contribute to heart and circulation problems as well as bone and skeletal problems.
The product is available in chocolate and vanilla flavors.
Pregnant and nursing women are advised to consult their doctor before consuming this product.
8. High Protein Gainer Powder Supplement by Muscle Milk
AMOUNT PER SERVING:
The recommended dose is four scoops (162 grams) for every 10-16 fluid ounces of water (296-473ml or 1.25 to 2 cups).
This supplement from Muscle Milk has 110 grams of carbohydrates, 32 grams of proteins, 650 calories, nine grams of fat, 5 grams of sugar, 3 grams of leucine from milk proteins, and 9 essential amino acids.
The product, which contains whey and other milk products, can be used as an added ingredient for smoothies, pancakes, and other meals to boost protein content. It comes in chocolate and vanilla creme flavors.
It’s recommended as a pre- or post-workout drink and as a protein-rich meal replacement or snack.
9. Carnivor Mass by MuscleMeds
AMOUNT PER SERVING:
The recommended dose is 4 scoops (193 grams) for every 16 fluid ounce of water. Pour less water for a thicker, sweeter shake.
Carnivor Mass has 125 grams of carbohydrates, 50 grams of proteins, 720 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, five grams of creatine, medium-chain triglycerides, and BCAAs, including 4-hydroxy isoleucine, an amino acid from fenugreek seeds.
The supplement boasts being an anabolic all-beef mass builder, containing 50 grams of hydrolyzed beef protein isolate (BPI) that is said to be 350% more packed in amino acids than steak or whey. Anabolism refers to building new tissues and compounds, including muscles, using amino acids and proteins. Weight training maximizes anabolic muscle building. The opposite of anabolism is catabolism, or loss of muscle, which may happen if you exercise hard for long periods without replenishing your energy reserves with water and food.
Carnivor Mass also makes use of iSpike Technology, which banks on the role of your body's insulin to command cells to absorb blood sugar for energy or storage.
Carnivor Mass is free of gluten, lactose, sugar, and cholesterol. It is also Informed-Choice-certified. The product is available in vanilla caramel, chocolate peanut butter, chocolate fudge, and strawberry flavors.
10. Clean Gainer by Rivalus
AMOUNT PER SERVING:
The recommended dosage is two full scoops (136 grams) for over 14 ounces of water.
Clean Gainer contains 90 grams of carbohydrates; 30 grams of proteins; 560 calories from organic quinoa, wild blueberry, ginger root, brown rice, monk fruit, oat fiber; 7 grams from flax, avocado, and sunflower; BCAAs; and medium-chain triglycerides.
Clean Gainer contains soy, milk, and egg. It is produced using equipment that also processes goods with wheat, peanuts, and fish oil. This supplement is also Informed-Choice-certified.
The supplement comes in vanilla, s'mores, chocolate, chocolate peanut butter, cookies and cream, cinnamon toast cereal flavors.
Additional Information and FAQ:
Will Mass Gainers Make You Fat?
Mass gain products contain varying amounts of calories so check the nutritional information about how many calories there are in each serving.
The mass gainers per se don’t make you gain weight; it’s consuming more calories than you burn that does. But the supplements do help you get more calories in a short amount of time.
You should also verify the sugar content of your chosen product and make sure it's not over six grams per serving.
How Long Will It Take to See Results?
You can start seeing the results of your mass gainer intake within the first two weeks, provided you are also diligently following a weight program and diet plan.
Do Mass Gainers Cause Kidney Problems?
Although there are rumors that creatine damages the liver and kidney, research on its use by healthy individuals have shown that they’re not harmful to these organs.
Do Mass Gainers Cause Hair Loss?
There's also a rumor that the creatine in mass gainers causes baldness. It's based on the result of a 2009 study on rugby players who showed an increase in the levels of a hormone associated with hair loss, known as dihydrotestosterone (DHT), after undergoing creatine supplements for three weeks.
DHT can lead to briefer hair growth cycles when it attaches itself to specific hormone receptors in hair follicles. Higher DHT levels only put you at risk of baldness if you're genetically predisposed to such conditions. Researchers of the study concluded that further tests were needed to establish the link between DHT and hair loss.
Are Mass Gainers Better than Protein Powder?
Both products are used by bodybuilders to support post-workout recovery, as well as bodybuilding and weight gain goals.
Protein supplements have concentrated protein, which is designed to add to the protein you get from whole, natural food. As a by-product of milk and cheese processing, whey protein is considered the purest form of protein. Being easily digestible, it can get quickly released into the bloodstream. It helps burn fat and reduce weight by improving satiety.
Mass gainers also include protein ingredients but primarily aim to meet the goals of people who want to be huge so they have higher calorie content—through higher amounts of carbohydrate and fat ingredients—than protein powder. Mass gainers can offer 1,250 to 1,500 calories per serving compared to the 100 to 150 calories offered by every serving of a protein supplement.
Mass gainers also have at least a 2:1 ratio of carbs and protein.
Mass gain supplements can assist you in gaining muscle and putting on weight faster, but you may develop some unnecessary fat that must be shed after your "bulking phase."
Once you've reached a point where you want to only put on quality, lean muscle over time, then whey protein will be the best supplement for you. Protein powder is also recommended for athletic agility, speed, and endurance because there are fewer chances of fat or weight gain compared to regularly drinking a mass gainer.
How to Make the Most of Mass Gainers
You have so far read that following the proper dosage and timing your intake is necessary for your mass gainer to work. Here are more tips so that you can maximize the benefits of your supplement:
1. Meet your calorie surplus level.
The best way for you to build muscle mass is to ensure you’re in a calorie surplus. Figure out how many calories you need per day by multiplying your body weight by 15. You can then use a fitness app to track your calories like MyFitnessPal, FatSecret, MyPlate Calorie Counter, MyMacros+, and Lifesum.
Your calorie surplus should range from 500 to 600 on your training days. Then stick to your maintenance calories on your non-training days.
2. Go for quality food.
Eat plenty of complex carbohydrates, such as potatoes, oats, brown rice, and pasta, and protein-rich food such as lean meat and fish. Meanwhile, eggs and coconut or olive oil are good sources of healthy fat.
Bananas, pineapples, oranges, and honeydew are good for breakfast. They restock the glycogen that your liver burned up while you were sleeping and used for the production of glucose needed by your brain.
Meanwhile, pears, apples, cantaloupes, watermelons, grapes, raspberries, and strawberries are best consumed before and after workouts. The fructose from the fruits will replace the liver glycogen that your body has already used up so far.
3. Train for strength.
Muscles must go through wear and tear to repair and build themselves up. The way to achieve hypertrophy or the growth and increase of muscle cells is to increase your load factor or lift heavier weights. Your higher calorie intake should give you more power to go past your previous limits.
Do multiple sets of exercises. Alternate between flat bench, incline bench, and decline bench to target different muscle areas. Do six to 12 repetitions per exercise to generate muscle tension. Rest for 60-90 seconds.
Train thrice weekly in one month, then four times in the next month, and so on. Keep a workout log so you can monitor your progress.
There's no miracle supplement that can offer instantaneous results, although their ingredients may claim to be individually effective in some experiments or studies.
Hardgainers may not have it easy in the world of weightlifting, but it is their success stories that inspire a lot of people to leave their insecurities behind and hit the gym. With the combination of good nutrition, consistent training, and support from mass gainers, your journey to more muscle mass can be the next success story yet.