The first thing most guys do when they decide they've had enough of their physique resembling a rake is to walk into their local supplement shop and be amazed as the salesmen begins to elaborate on the range of mutant mass gainers, super sizing shakes and bulking brews that they have supposedly formulated specifically for you to stack on slabs of lean muscle mass and fast!
Here’s the thing, although over the counter weight gainers are loaded with a plethora of calories there’s a few issues with them including…
Here in Australia a 10lb bag of weight gainer powder will set you back anywhere from $85 to $110 depending on the credibility (read: amount of advertising and endorsed professional athletes being paid) they have. 10lbs may seem like a lot of powder, but when we delve into the serving size you’ll soon realise the cost per serve isn't quite what you’d expect.
This is where the shady supplement industry reveals itself, as you read the label of your newly acquired mass gainer you’ll soon see something along the lines of:
Servings per package: 45 scoops Serving size: 3 scoops
Yes, that’s right – that 10lb bag is good for all of a fortnight. Doesn't seem like such good as you struggle down 90 grams of powder per shake does it?
This generally equates to anywhere from $5 to $8 per serve. There’s a far more cost effective way to get in the exact same nutrients which I’ll delve into a bit further on in this article.
Take a look at the nutritional information on the side of the tub or box of an over the counter mass gainer. There’s no doubt that they are loaded full of calories ,generally containing between 800 and 1200 calories per shake.
If you’re familiar with the caloric value of common macronutrients you’ll know that:
1 gram of protein contains 4 calories
1 gram of carbohydrates contains 4 calories
1 gram of fats contains 9 calories
In order to make up this dense caloric number the over the counter mass gainer supplements I used as a beginner and still to this day see on the shelves of most supplement stores have a relatively high fat content, extremely high fat content (as this is an easy and cost effective way of making up the excessive number of calories) along with a moderate dose of protein.
When you’re trying to reach a certain caloric goal and macronutrient breakdown this can be quite difficult to achieve.
If protein were higher and fat content was lower this wouldn't be a problem, however that would increase the creation cost for the supplement company. As we all know the ultimate goal in business is to minimize costs while maximizing profits.
Energy and the cultivation of muscle mass requires carbohydrates, a lot of them.
Over the counter mass gainers are loaded with carbohydrates however these are SIMPLE carbohydrates. As a refresher the two types of carbohydrates are as follows:
Simple carbohydrates are high on the glycemic index. These are the sugary form of carbohydrates that promote a large insulin spike when consumed.
Processed sugars as well as fruits (fructose) are forms of simple carbohydrates.
Complex carbohydrates are the slow release, low GI carbohydrates that are promoted as a form of healthy, clean long lasting energy.
Common food sources that contain complex carbohydrates include oats, sweet potato and brown rice.
This sucks because...
Simple carbohydrates will not cause you to get fat, in recent years it has been established that gaining fat is a result PRIMARILY of a caloric surplus. Eat too many carbs and you’ll gain weight (or fat) regardless of whether they’re complex or simple – as both contain the same 4 calories per gram.
There’s 2 reasons why I’ve found the overload of simple carbs in weight gainers to suck – these include:
Crash after the sugar rush
A weight gainer shake can often contain in the same vicinity of simple carbohydrates (sugars) as a bottle of soft drink, and if you’re like me an hour or so after consuming one of those (and your insulin levels spiking) your insulin levels drop and you ‘crash’ feeling lethargic and low on energy – making a commercial weight gainer a very bad way to start your day if you value your productivity.
Bad for your health
We’ve established that a carbohydrate is a carbohydrate and a calorie is a calorie from a body composition perspective. If your body fat level or the amount of calories you’re getting in then you’re laughing… however if you value your health excessive amounts of simple carbohydrates are not going to do you any favours in the long run. Don’t be short sited.
Weight gainers are a supplement, a supplement is just that – something you add alongside your existing diet that is high in nutrients. The protein, carbohydrates and fats found in a weight gainer shake do not contain anywhere near the amount (or quality) of nutrients as real food. Steak, sweet potato and eggs may be replaceable in terms of calories and macronutrients with your weight gainer shakes however the micronutrients cannot.
If you struggle to get in your meals through whole foods or you don’t have the luxury of being able to cook all of your meals you can’t go past liquid nutrition. Easy calories, quick preparation time.
When bulking I regularly make up my own mass gainer shakes. Below are a few of my favourites however I recommend you design your own based on your tastes and the number of calories/macronutrient ratios you’re after.
Bulking Shake Variation 1
2 scoops whey protein
1 cup oats
1 tsp. peanut butter
Bulking Shake Variation 2
2 scoops whey
1 cup oats
Handful mixed berries
Bulking Shake Variation 3
2 scoops whey protein
½ cup oatmeal
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