So you know all about protein powders and how they can help you achieve you goals. But the more experienced readers will know that there's no such thing as an "average" protein powder. Instead, there are different categories including blended whey protein, WPIs, hydrolysed proteins, fat loss proteins, weight gainers, and more. In this article we'll take a closer look at what makes up a weight gainer and how they can be used to help you in your quest to get bigger and stronger.
What is a Weight Gainer?
The major difference between weight gainer protein powders compared to other protein powders is that these often include high levels of carbohydrates and also a moderate amount of fat. Not only does this help increase the caloric value of the shake, but they also combine to form a more balanced source of nutrition, beneficial for packing on the muscle. They can be consumed in between meals throughout the day, or as a post workout shake. Weight gainers are generally more complex than other protein powders and contain the most number of ingredients. It is therefore not an ultrahigh purity form of protein. Because of this large number of ingredients, weight gainers are typically consumed in much larger serves compared to other protein powders.
Best Protein in Weight Gainers
Very rarely do weight gainers use only one type of protein. Often a blend of up to eight different proteins can be found in weight gainer products. The best weight gainers have a combination of proteins such as whey protein concentrates (WPC), whey protein isolates (WPI), hydrolysed whey, whole milk protein, calcium caseinate, micellar casein, egg protein, and soy protein. Combined, these provide a full spectrum of fast, medium, and slow release proteins. The reasoning for this is simple. Unlike post workout, you're not as reliant on a huge hit of fast proteins. During the day, you need a steady release of amino acids to keep your muscles fuelled and growing during those hours that you're not eating. For this reason, a blended protein approach is best.
Best Carbs in Weight Gainers
Similar in principle to protein, there are often a variety of different carbs in weight gainers, ranging from simple sugars to complex carbs. The rationale for this is similar to that of protein. Simple carbs are great for post workout recovery, but because you are consuming these shakes throughout the day, you do not need or want a huge insulin spike, followed by a sugar crash soon after. The best gainers therefore have some simple sugars for immediate energy, but predominantly have complex carbs such as waxy maize starch and maltodextrin.
Best Fats in Weight gainers
People often associate dietary fat with getting fat. However, it is important to know that moderate levels of fat can actually be beneficial to both aspiring and hardcore bodybuilders. Not only are fats packed in valuable calories, ideal for weight gain, but some fats are essential for health and have some specific benefits. Look for weight gainers that are low in saturated fats and high in unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats such as omega 3s and 6s can help to increase lean gains and can actually decrease body fat while helping to protect your overall health.
Best Carb to Protein Ratio
Regardless of what body type you have, there is an ideal weight gainer out there for you. For those ectomorphs who struggle to put on weight, something with a very high carb to protein ratio would be beneficial. Something that contains from 3 to 5 parts carbs to 1 part protein would be good. This is because ectomorphs need the additional calories from carbs to help put on the weight. For endomorphs or those who are more likely to put on fat, consider a 1 to 1 ratio. Excess carbs for those groups may promote too much fat gain. A ratio in between would be ideal for mesomorphs and those with in between body shapes.
Vitamins & Minerals in Weight Gainers
Weight gainer proteins also tend to be fortified with a whole range of vitamins and minerals. These nutrients are needed by the body for general health and optimum body function. The demand for vitamins and minerals are increased during periods of heavy training and rapid growth, so the better weight gainer powders will always have a solid serve of these nutrients.
Other Ingredients in Weight Gainers
Some high end weight gainers have a comprehensive range of other ingredients. These include ingredients that are more typically found in pre workout supplements such as creatine, arginine, citrulline, beta-alanine. These type of products are a great all in one product that will eliminate the need to purchase other supplements individually. Also in some weight gainers are digestive enzymes to help improve the digestibility of both the carbs and proteins in the product. Of particular noteworthy mention is the inclusion of lactase. Lactase is the enzyme that is responsible for breaking down milk sugar (lactose). It is the enzyme that disappears in people with lactose intolerance. The addition of lactase to such products therefore increases their suitability for people with lactose intolerance.
Weight Gainers Benefits
The first and foremost benefit of weight gainers is the most obvious. They are designed to provide additional, high quality calories to help put on weight. We all know that a calorie surplus combined with weight training is the easiest way to put on muscle. However, many people often struggle to meet their protein and calorie requirements because of busy lifestyles or they are simply unable to eat that much food in a day. This is where weight gain powders come in. They are not only a convenient supplement, but quiet often can be tasty too. Unlike some other protein powders, the manufacturers of weight gainers are not restricted to certain ingredients and limitations (eg low fat, low carb, fast proteins only etc). Having access to every ingredient under the sun means that they are able to produce an uncompromised product that is both nutritionally sound and tasty.
The combination of ingredients in a good weight gainer also makes them the ideal post workout shake. First of all, protein is very important immediately post workout because in this vital period the protein is better able to contributes to both muscle building and increases in strength (Cribb & Hayes, 2006). The faster proteins such as whey protein isolates (WPI) and hydrolysed whey proteins found in some of the better weight gainers are ideal for this purpose. The slower micellar casein and egg proteins can then take over from there. It has been shown that the combination of both fast and slow proteins post workout were best for increasing strength and muscle building (Kerksick et al, 2006). Not only that, but the sugars and carbs that are in weight gainers are also ideal for post workout recovery. It has been shown that muscle glycogen is replaced at a much faster rate when carbs and proteins are consumed together (Zawadzki et al, 1992).
Finally, it might sound quite counterintuitive, but weight gainers can also be effectively used as a weight loss aid. Using a small serve of weight gainer as a meal replacement can actually lead to reduced calorie consumption compared to eating a full sized meal. The more balanced nutritional profile makes it more suitable as a meal replacement compared to a regular protein shake.
Tips for Choosing a Weight Gainer
First of all, you need to make sure your weight gainer has all the nutrients you want. That is, a full spectrum of protein and carb and good fats. Secondly, it is important to consider calories. Sometimes it can be a little deceptive just to look at the "calorie per serve" that is stated on the label. This is because suggested serving sizes vary greatly between products. One product may appear to have a lot of calories, but it may be because the manufacturer is recommending a huge serve. To make the best value for money choice, sit down and try to work out the cost per calorie of the product. Try to find the weight gainer with the best ingredients for the least cost per calorie. Once this is done, taste is the next most important factor to consider. Because weight gainers are consumed for up to three or more times per day, it is important you find one you actually like drinking. Try to buy a smaller tub to try for taste before committing to buying the largest possible size. This could save you a lot of dread when it comes time for you to actually drink your shake.
Cribb & Hayes (2006), Effects of supplement timing and resistance exercise on skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 38:1918-1925
Kerksick et al (2006), The Effects of Protein and Amino Acid Supplementation on Performance and Training Adaptations During Ten Weeks of Resistance Training. J Strength Cond Res, 20: 643-653
Zawadzki et al (1992), Carbohydrate-protein complex increases the rate of muscle glycogen storage after exercise. J Appl Physiol, 72: 1854-1859