Many hard-gainers and people who struggle putting on mass use a mass gainer to help build muscle.
There are a lot of reasons you might want to put on mass–extra muscle is useful for athletic performance, overall strength and power.
The core ingredients are always high-energy density foods, like starches and proteins, but different mass gaining supplements target different processes of the muscle gaining process.
Some provide the protein and amino acids that are the building blocks of muscle, while others try to more directly stimulate your body’s muscular growth pathways, signaling it to increase muscle fiber synthesis. We’ve gone through the best mass gainers on the market and ranked them according to their effectiveness.
1. Optimum Nutrition Serious Mass
The incredibly popular Optimum Nutrition Serious Mass does a fantastic job of not neglecting micronutrients. Too often, mass gainers get caught up in “macro,” trying to ensure the carb, fat, and protein ratios are right, but forget that your body needs vitamins and minerals too.
Not this one. Optimum Nutrition practically puts a multivitamin into every serving of Serious Mass; your daily requirements for most vitamins and minerals are met or exceeded in one 1250 calorie serving.
The sugar content, 20 grams per serving, is somewhat high, but at least there are 4 grams of dietary fiber to slow the sugar-rush a bit. The protein comes from a blend of whey, egg, and milk protein, which is nice for variety, but it does rule out more people who have dietary restrictions.
2. MHP Up Your Mass
If you want to shift your macronutrient intake strongly towards protein, MHP’s Up Your Mass does it best. Even though each serving only has about 800 calories, each one has 62 grams of protein.
You’d need almost twice as high of a caloric content of most other mass gainers to get as much protein. In addition, it’s also got lots in the way of vitamins and minerals.
Extras like medium-chain triglycerides and omega-3 fatty acids sweeten the deal. On the subject of sweets, though, the sugar content of Up Your Mass is very high considering its lower caloric content, so it’s a better choice for people adding moderate amounts of calories to their diet.
3. BSN True-Mass
BSN’s True-Mass is another mass gainer that focuses on a greater caloric content coming from protein. At 46 grams per 700 calorie serving, it shifts the caloric balance more strongly away from carbohydrates.
The sugar content is fairly low, and there are a few extras, like medium chain triglyceride powder, but on the whole, this mass gainer does not really distinguish itself in any particular way.
4. Naked Mass
If you want to go hyper-minimal with your mass gainer, Naked Mass is the way to go. The ingredients list is astonishingly short.
There are only three things in this mass gainer: maltodextrin, whey protein concentrate, and casein. Do keep in mind that you will be lacking the micronutrients that you need (i.e. vitamins and minerals), but you can get them from the rest of your diet.
Another major advantage of Naked Mass is that its sugar content is very low (only five grams per 1250 calorie serving), meaning you can consume a lot of it without worrying about the negative metabolic effects of high sugar consumption. Even when you are trying to gain weight, keeping sugar consumption low is never a bad idea.
5. Mass Tech Extreme 2000
Mass Tech Extreme 2000 lives up to its name–at the recommended serving size, it delivers nearly 2000 calories by itself, and hits the mark if you add it to a glass of milk.
For a mass gainer with this many calories, its sugar content is very low. Seventeen grams in almost 1900 calories isn’t going to do much harm The protein is also all from whey, which is widely regarded as the highest-quality protein source.
6. MusclePharm Combat XL
Combat XL from MusclePharm goes pretty heavy on the carbs, with over two-thirds of its weight coming straight from carbohydrates. At 50 grams per serving, the protein content is very solid.
The sugar content (17 grams per serving) isn’t outrageous, but it would be nice if this sugar was offset by a little fiber or more vitamins and minerals. As it stands, the blend is pretty weak on these extras.
7. Dymatize Super Mass Gainer
Dymatize Super Mass Gainer keeps the macro and micro nutrient content high in their mass gaining supplement.
The protein blend could be a little higher-quality–currently it’s a bend of whey protein concentrate, milk protein isolate,and whey protein isolate, and the sugar content is pretty high at 24 grams. It doesn’t have too many other perks or advantages, so it lends itself very much in the middle of the pack.
8. Body Fortress Mass Gainer
Body Fortress does what a lot of other mass gainers do, but not quite as well. Its protein content is high, but not as high as the best mass gainers out there.
The same is true for its sugar content–at nine grams per serving, it keeps the metabolic shock low, but other products keep the sugar content even lower.
Its caloric efficiency is not quite as good as some other products out there, and it doesn’t have much in the way of vitamins and minerals. It’s not that Body Fortress is bad; it’s just outclassed by other mass gainers.
9. Champion Performance Heavyweight Gainer 900
Champion Performance’s Heavyweight Gainer 900 has some solid ingredients, but it misses the mark on a few too many essentials.
The protein content is lower than average, and the sugar content is higher than a lot of better options. It’s got some vitamins and minerals to balance out the macronutrients, but even with this, it’s hard to justify ranking Heavyweight Gainer 900 any higher.
10. Labrada Muscle Mass Gainer
Bodybuilding champion Lee Labrada’s mass gainer is surprising in that its ingredients aren’t particularly innovative or groundbreaking.
In fact, they seem like pretty much any boilerplate mass gainer: maltodextrin, 50 grams of protein, and a moderate amount of sugar. There isn’t much in the way of extra bonuses, like vitamins, minerals, or supplements that help with mass gain, either.
Mass gainer benefits and side effects
If you want to put on weight (and ideally, muscle too), your normal food intake can become a limiting factor pretty quickly. In natural foods, the caloric content is locked up in plant cells and fiber, so it takes a lot of chewing and digesting to extract the calories.
This is great for people who are trying to lose weight; this is why one of the best things you can do to lose weight is eat natural and raw foods. But if you are trying to gain weight, often you’ll need a mass gainer to give your system the calories it needs to increase your mass as quickly as possible.
There are several things you should look for in a mass gainer that optimize your weight gain with the minimum number of side effects.
Number one is the most simple: the straight-up caloric content. The facts are pretty simple: if you want to gain weight, you have to take in more energy than you expend.
So, if you want to full benefits of hitting your mass gain goals, you need to make sure the caloric content of your mass gainer is high.
Most high quality mass gainers accomplish this by delivering a mixture of maltodextrin (a simple but not overly sweet carbohydrate), protein, and often, fat.
A mass gainer with a relatively high fat content is especially attractive because of the caloric content of fat. It’s got twice as many calories per gram than carbohydrates or protein, so it’s an incredibly efficient energy source for adding mass.
The other two major macronutrients are, of course, carbohydrates and protein. According to recommendations by researchers at McMaster University in Canada, people attempting to gain body mass and maximize muscle mass gains at the same time should aim for approximately 1.7 grams of protein intake per kilogram of (current) body mass (1).
Of course, as your mass gaining program takes effect, your body mass will increase, as will your protein needs. So plan ahead.
The source of protein in your mass gainer could have some effect on the rate at which you gain mass. Protein derived from whey is metabolized faster, and may be slightly more effective at adding muscle mass, compared to soy protein (2).
Soy protein does have a slight edge when it comes to antioxidant protection, but given that mass gaining programs are usually measured in months, not years, the oxidative damage issue is less of a concern (3).
The best possible combination might be whey protein and casein protein, another milk derived protein. This is because whey protein is metabolized quickly, while casein protein is metabolized slowly. These together in combination should keep a steady supply of protein available to your body for mass gain (4).
Speed of metabolic absorption also affects the carbohydrates of choice in a mass gainer. Ideally, you want carbohydrates with a low glycemic index.
This is a measure of how quickly the carbohydrates are absorbed into your body and turned into sugar in your bloodstream. A rush of sugar after a big meal is not healthy; over time it can cause metabolic syndrome and eventually even type two diabetes.
Maltodextrin, the main source of carbs in many mass gainers, has a fairly high glycemic index. To make things even more difficult, other simple carbohydrates, like fructose, have a low glycemic index, but only because the sugar is going straight to your liver instead of your blood.
This leaves you in a tricky spot: you can’t gain mass without a heft carbohydrate intake, but you should still do your best to keep the sugar content and the high glycemic index carbohydrates under control.
One of the ways to do this is via the fiber content: fiber slows down the absorption of carbohydrates in your stomach (5).
This, too, has its drawbacks with mass gainers: too much fiber fills you up, and makes it difficult to eat more. That’s why fiber is such a great supplement for weight loss–it helps your body tamp down on its hunger.
Since mass gainers are really just very efficient macronutrient sources, the only side effects are related to the macronutrients they provide.
The first risk, alluded to earlier, is the metabolic effects of very high carbohydrate intake, especially when it’s high glycemic index carbs.
As reported in the scientific journal Diabetes Care, high intakes of high glycemic index foods over long periods of time is associated with the development of insulin resistance, the classic precursor to metabolic syndrome and type two diabetes (6).
Assuming your mass gain program is not too long, however, this shouldn’t be a major concern. If you are worried about this, choose a mass gainer that is high in fiber and low in carbohydrates.
The other issue you may encounter with mass gainers is constipation, and it’s also related to the high caloric intake relative to the fiber content.
Research consistently demonstrates that low fiber intake is a risk factor for chronic constipation, and mass gainers are perhaps the epitome of a high calorie, low fiber food (7).
To fix this, try taking a fiber supplement at night, right before going to bed. This way, it won’t interfere with your caloric intake goals.
Most online calculators for gaining muscle recommend modest increases in caloric intake, but the scientific literature tells a different story.
To get maximum results, don’t be afraid of a massive increase in caloric intake. One study, published in 2002 in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, demonstrated that a 2100 Calorie intake increase from a mass gaining supplement resulted in a consistent gain of one pound per week more than a control group on a similar exercise program that did not receive a mass gaining supplement (8).
Gaining mass is all about calories in and calories out. Specifically, you want a lot more coming in than going out.
The best way to do this is with a mass gainer that has a fairly high protein content, including a mix between whey and casein protein.
Do your best to keep the sugar content under control, and don’t be afraid of high doses of a mass gainer if your goal is to put on pounds as quickly as possible.