If you’re struggling to gain weight through your diet alone, you might want to consider taking a supplement to help you achieve your weight-gain goals.
Instead of seeking out high-calorie foods like creamy pasta, ice cream or cake, skip the associated health complications and gain your weight the healthy way. These foods will result in weight gain before too long, but as a result of the empty calories and lack of protein, you’ll find yourself gaining fat, rather than muscle.
Whatever your current weight, you can add mass and bulk with the help of a gainer supplement or protein shake.
It’s common to be initially unsure about taking supplements to gain weight. However, it’s actually a very effective way to get the nutrients you need without having to spend hours eating each day. Further, whole foods can be expensive, so supplements and shakes can be a cost-effective way to get high-quality nutrition at a low price.
The main types of weight gainer supplements
If you’re wary of downing a protein shake for weight gain, you needn’t be. Whether you’re currently underweight or simply want to pack on bulk, protein powders are a tried-and-tested way to add muscle to even the slenderest of frames.
Usually found in a ready-to-mix powder, protein shakes for weight gain are widely available and come in a range of flavours and types. The most common protein powder for weight gain is whey protein, which is made from milk, but other types including casin (also derived from milk), beef, soy, pea, hemp, rice and oat protein are also popular.
Protein powder derived from animal sources are ‘complete proteins’, which means they have all the essential amino acids your body needs for building muscle. Protein powder from vegan sources are ‘incomplete proteins’ – they contain some of the amino acids– but you’ll have to be sure to get the other amino acids in your diet for optimum muscle-building results.1
You can do this easily by ensuring you eat plenty of other vegan protein sources such as nuts, beans, oats or soya every day.
To achieve the desired result of increased muscle mass, weight gain supplements and protein shakes should be paired with resistance (strength) training such as lifting weights, weighted squats or push-ups. If you don’t add these types of exercises to your weekly routine, then you’ll be at risk of just packing on fat, not muscle.
Interestingly, your body can’t actually build more muscle cells, so it needs to enlarge the ones it already has. This process is what people refer to when they talk about ‘building muscle’, and it’s known as muscle hypertrophy. You need a combination of strength training and dietary protein intake to trigger this process. The way protein helps enlarging existing muscle cells is known as muscle protein synthesis.2
If you’re concerned that all that working out will cause you to burn too many calories and stop you from gaining weight – then don’t be! It’s been proven that the combination of dietary protein and exercise leads to muscle gains.
For example, a systematic review of 49 studies published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2017 found that dietary protein supplementation (such as consuming a protein shake to gain weight) showed significant improvement in lean body mass and muscle size.3
The best weight gain protein shakes are high in calories and also include a balance of other macronutrients such as vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates.
Taking extra creatine, such as in shakes, can cause an increase in muscle mass over time, as it allows you to work harder for longer, thus increasing muscle gains.
Creatine is a compound found naturally in the body. It’s mainly produced in the liver before being transported in the blood to the muscle cells where it gives you short, intense bursts of energy and strength which helps your body work harder during exercise.4
Most people get it in small amounts from their diet (with the exception of vegans, for whom there are no natural dietary sources of creatine).
Supplementing with creatine can cause some initial weight gain, which comes from your muscles holding more water than usual. This is only temporary and goes away in a couple of weeks.5
To gain a significant amount of weight, you need to ingest far more calories than you usually would. This can be difficult to do just through food alone – especially if you have a small appetite.
Some people in search of significant mass gains turn to foods like ice cream or cheese- but be warned! While they will make you gain weight, these foods can flood your body with sugar or fat which will sabotage your health goals.6
Designed specifically for weight gain, mass gain supplements tend to be packed with carbohydrates and calories, ideal if your goal is to gain weight. They allow you to take in hundreds of calories in just a few gulps.
Mass gainer powder ingredients tends to be similar to that of a protein shake, but they also include lots of carbohydrates, often in the form of maltodextrin (a starchy derivative of wheat, rice or corn).
They often contain ingredients such as ground linseed, tapioca, sweet potato.
Although vitamins and minerals are sometimes added, what unites mass gainer supplements for weight gain is that they’re heavy on calories.
How to use weight gain supplements as part of a balanced diet
Although they can be mixed with water, a powder supplement for weight gain would be better paired with milk. You could use either dairy milk or plant milk such as almond, soya or oat. This is to add extra calories, but as a bonus, they are much more palatable made with milk than with water.
Those new to weight gain supplements might prefer to introduce them gradually – especially if you’re not used to feeling full. Try taking ½ servings for the first few days before gradually building up your doses as per the label.
It’s usually advisable to take weight-gain supplements and shakes between your usual meals, after a workout and before bed. Some nutritionists suggest that to achieve muscle growth, you should consume a source of protein – around 20g – every three hours.7
Ensure you are eating three meals (or six small meals) every day, and that your diet is rich in protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals.
Once you have reached your goal weight, you should begin to rely less on weight gain supplements and protein shakes.
A word of warning – it’s important to make sure you’re exercising too. Adding carbohydrates, calories and protein to your diet either via a food or a weight gain supplement will make you gain fat, not muscle, if you’re not exercising too.
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Last updated: 9 July 2020