Using a weight gain product doesn’t mean that you’re going to wake up the next day with huge muscles, but they can have their place if you know the difference between the good and the bad ones, what to look for, and when to take them.
While getting a six pack involves reducing your calories and therefore your body fat, building a substantial amount of new muscle instead means increasing your calories. Sometimes by a lot. But if you aren’t someone who has much of an appetite, has a fast metabolism, or is just too busy to eat a lot of meals, weight gainers might be for you. Similar to a protein shake, they also contain carbohydrates and fat, with the emphasis on how high the amount of calories is per serving. Plus some also contain vitamins and minerals, creatine, glutamine or other supplements.
Like anything there are good weight gainers and bad ones, but it’s not as simple as the most expensive being the best. First there is the amount of protein it contains which might be too much for your needs and therefore an unnecessary expense, or a type that you are intolerant of. A good weight gainer will have low GI carbohydrates, such as brown rice or oat fibre which will be digested slowly to minimise an insulin spike and blood sugar drop. A poor one will be made up of a lot of high GI sugars such as dextrose or maltodextrose, which are cheaper ingredients but not what you want.
Some weight gainers contain fat, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if they are essential fatty acids or unsaturated oils, and not saturated fats or cholesterol. Be aware however, that any carbohydrates you have will cause any fat taken with it to be immediately stored as fat. You can avoid eating the two together with real food, with a weight gainer you can’t.
Finally there are the added extras that come with weight gainers which vary with each product, but a lot of them include creatine. This might not seem like a bad thing if creatine is something you’re happy to take, but often the amount is the average person’s requirements in a single serving. That means 3 servings a day, which is the usual amount recommended by the weight gain companies, gives you far more creatine than you need or can use. Not only is this a waste of money it’s not advisable, plus it makes it impossible to take a break from creatine and still have your weight gainer. The best thing to do is get one without any, buy a creatine-only supplement, and control your own intake.
Bear that in mind when choosing a weight gainer and check what other “extras” are in there, then decide for yourself if you’re happy to take it on their terms, or if you’d prefer to take it separately so you’re more in control.
While a weight gainer might seem easier and more convenient that preparing real meals consisting of real food, you’ll still have to do that. The products are intended to be consumed between meals, not instead of them. If however, you’re someone with little appetite I can tell you from personal experience, eating a good meal an hour or 2 after drinking a weight gain milkshake that is in excess of 1000 calories is not always easy.
If you can manage this however, ready-made weight gainers are still not the best solution. A cheaper, more nourishing, and less synthetic way is to make your own. That way you know exactly what you’re getting and can adjust the ingredients each time to change the flavour and amount of calories.
A good base that I have used for many years is milk, rolled oats and some protein powder, then whatever I feel like adding each time I make one. Whether this is banana, berries, oils, low fat cottage cheese, yogurt or something else.
While there is no substitute to eating real food, a milkshake made up of real food is a close second.
As always, any feedback or questions leave a comment below.