Mass Gainers: What Are They, and Are They Worth It?

Mass Gainers: What Are They, and Are They Worth It?

If you’re trying to build muscle, you’ve come to the right place! There are a lot of strategies and tools that can help, one of those being mass gainers.

But, what exactly are mass gainers, and are they worth it? The simple answer is, it depends.

Let's take a deep dive into mass gainers so you know whether they'll be a good tool to help you reach your goals or not.

We’ll start by answering the question of, “What is a mass gainer?”

What Is a Mass Gainer?

Mass gainers are a type of supplement that are designed to help you gain weight. They are high-calorie powders that contain a blend of protein and plenty of carbs and fat. For this reason, you'll most often find them in large tubs or bags. 

When you're trying to build muscle, mass gainers make for a quick, high-calorie meal or snack. They also come flavored, and are designed to mix with water, milk, or really any liquid.

So, if you're trying to gain weight or build muscle, are mass gainers a good tool to use? Well, it depends.

You see, for any muscle building supplements to work ... your workouts and nutrition need to be dialed in. Really, mass gainers are just a tool to help you hit the calories and protein you need to build muscle. But, there's a little more to it than that.

For you to know whether a mass gainer will benefit you or not, you need to understand what it takes to build muscle first.

How Do You Build Muscle?

This is the golden question, right? I mean, if you didn’t want to build muscle, you probably wouldn’t be seeking information about mass gainers.

I will make this quick and concise. In order to build muscle, there are 4 things that need to happen:

1. You Must Do Some Form of Resistance Training

Mass gainer or not, if you want to build muscle, you have to do resistance training. This just means training with resistance to break down muscle tissue. This can be accomplished with free weights, machines, cables, bodyweight exercises, bands, and more.

What's important to know is that your muscles need to overcome resistance if you want them to grow. Really, your body doesn't want to grow more muscle unless you force it to. The only way to do that is by putting your muscles under stress (resistance) that it isn't used to handling.

This signals the body to grow bigger and stronger in order to handle that same stress in the future. After all, your body is the ultimate survival tool, and will do anything it needs to accomplish that goal!

Without this signal, your body has no reason to build muscle. So, the big takeaway here is this: You have to resistance train to build muscle. If you take a mass gainer and don't workout ... the only mass you'll add is fat mass.

2. You Must Progressively Overload Your Muscles To Continue Building Muscle

When you first start resistance training, you can gain muscle pretty easily. Your body just isn't used to lifting weights yet, so gaining muscle won't be as difficult.

For most people, following any sort of workout program will help when they start out.

At a certain point though, your body stops responding to the same workouts. The human body is so smart that it eventually adapts to everything you do consistently.

If you go into the gym and always do 3 sets of 10 with 150 pounds on the bench press, your body will eventually get used to it. Your body will adapt until those 3 sets of 10 are nothing out of the ordinary for it to handle.

Once it knows exactly how to handle that weight for those sets, your body no longer has any reason to adapt.

So, in order to continue building muscle, you have to overload your muscles in some way.

Examples of this can include:

• Increasing the weight you use
• Increasing the number of sets you do
• Increasing the number of reps you do
• Increasing the time under tension in each set (tempo training)
• Increasing the intensity of your workouts

As long as you keep progressing in your workouts, you’re doing what it takes to build muscle. If you don’t eat correctly though, you may not build the muscle you’re trying to build.

So even if you use a mass gainer, and the rest of your nutrition isn't on par, you can still fall short. Which leads us into the 3rd component to building muscle...

3. You Must Eat Enough Protein

Your muscles are made of mostly 2 things. Those 2 things are protein and water. When you work out, you are creating microtears in your muscle fibers.

The only way to repair this damage is by giving your body the building blocks it needs to fix it. If I take a hammer and knock a few bricks out of a wall ... the only way to fix the wall is with more bricks.

Repairing muscle is very similar in this way. If you want to build and repair muscle, you need to eat enough protein (the building blocks of muscle).

So, how much protein do you need to build muscle? Let's take a look at what the science tells us.

The Food and Nutrition Board has the RDA (recommended daily allowance) of protein set at 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. Unfortunately, studies have shown this is much lower than what's needed to build muscle (1).

When it comes to protein intake, as much as 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight is ideal for building muscle (1). This is roughly the same as 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.

This is exactly what I recommend for people when they ask me how much protein they need to build muscle.

Now, I'd say shoot for between 1 gram of protein per pound of your goal bodyweight and your actual bodyweight. So, if you weigh 150 lbs, and you want to get to 180 lbs, shoot for 150-180 grams of protein every day.

If you get more protein than that, it’s totally okay. Just try not to go below that. The important thing is that you're getting enough.

So, now you see how a mass gainer can be beneficial. If it can help you get more protein ... It could help you build more muscle. However, there is one last thing we need to cover when it comes to building muscle.

4. You Must Eat Enough Calories To Build Muscle

When it comes to building muscle, it takes energy to do it. So, not only do you have to eat enough protein, but you also need to eat enough calories.

That’s why some people will use mass gainers.

Let’s go back to the brick wall example. To build a brick wall, you’ll need the materials, and you'll need bricklayers.

The bricks are the materials, much like protein is when building muscle. The bricklayers are the ones providing the energy to do the work. They are like the calories that fuel muscle growth.

If you don’t have bricklayers, you’ll be left with a pile of bricks and no one to build the wall. You see where I’m going here? You can eat all the protein you want, but if you aren't getting enough calories, you can't build muscle effectively.

So, how many calories do you need in order to build muscle? Unfortunately, it’s not an exact science. There are a lot of variables at play, and will be different for different people.

I’ll make it simple and give you the rule I use. I like to gauge calories on activity level.

When I say activity level, I’m talking about average daily activity outside of your workouts. For this, I recommend using your daily step count and bodyweight.

If you want to add muscle, take your bodyweight in pounds and multiply it by 18-22.

• Multiply by 18 if you average 10,000 steps or less per day.
• Multiply by 20 if you average 10,000-15,000 steps per day.
• Multiply by 22 if you average more than 15,000 steps per day.

So, if you weigh 150 pounds, and you get an average of 16,000 steps per day ... you'll need 3,300 calories based on this model (150 x 22 = 3,300).

Now, this simple math equation is only an estimate. There are still far more variables that can affect how many calories you'll need to consume every day.

The key is to stay consistent with the calorie range your body needs and make adjustments when necessary.

If you aren’t gaining any weight after a handful of weeks, increase your calorie goal. If you are adding more fat than you'd like, then lower your calorie goal. I recommend making these adjustments by 100-200 calories each time.

Now that you know how to build muscle, let’s revisit our original topic: Do you need a mass gainer?

Do You Need a Mass Gainer?

Whether you need, or can benefit from, a mass gainer depends. Can you eat enough protein and calories without a mass gainer?

If you can, then a mass gainer really wouldn't be necessary. Mass gainers, and really any supplements, are not magic formulas to get your body results.

Supplements in general are tools you can use to fill in the gaps in your nutrition.

The reason a mass gainer can help you build muscle is because it can help you get more protein and calories. That’s it.

With that being said, if you still aren't getting enough calories and protein with a mass gainer ... they certainly won't be helpful!

At the end of the day, mass gainers are a convenient way to help hit your protein and calorie goals. Some people can benefit from using mass gainers, for sure. As it pertains to you, it will all depend on how you do with your nutrition.

Now, I would actually argue that there are better tools to help you see results than mass gainers. Mass gainers do have some upsides, but they also can have a lot of downsides. So, before you make a decision about whether a mass gainer makes sense for you or not, let's take a look at the pros and cons.

The Pros of Mass Gainers

Don't get me wrong, mass gainers do have a lot to offer. Here are plenty of pros to using them:

• Mass gainers are quick and easy. All you have to do is throw a scoop or two in some water and mix it up.

• Mass gainers can have a lot of protein. This can be helpful for hitting your protein goals with ease.

• There are a lot of calories in mass gainers. Again, calories will be important for achieving your muscle-building goals.

The Cons of Mass Gainers

As great as mass gainers can be, there are also quite a few downsides. Here are the cons of mass gainers:

 Mass gainers can be quite expensive per serving. In some cases, you're really just paying for the extra convenience.

 A lot of mass gainers have excessive amounts of carbs and fat in a single shake.

 Mass gainers usually use high glycemic carbs.

 Mass gainers are not customizable. This means if you are shooting for a specific amount of protein, carbs, or fats ... you're stuck with whatever comes in the serving.

 Protein and carb powders are different densities. Since mass gainers are a blend of protein, carbs and fat, the powders often settle, giving you an uneven serving per scoop.

Why I Don’t Recommend Mass Gainers

This does depend on which one you choose, but here is a typical breakdown you might see in a mass gainer...

Servings Per Container: 8
Calories: 1,245
Fat: 5g
Carbohydrates: 250g
Protein: 50g

Sure, you’re getting 50 grams of protein, but do you need 250 grams of carbs in one shake?

Keep in mind the main source of carbs in most mass gainers is maltodextrin. It’s not bad for you, but it’s very high glycemic.

This means it raises blood sugar a lot, and also causes a lot of insulin to be released. If table sugar has a glycemic index value of 100, maltodextrin is somewhere from 105-185 (2).

The higher the number, the more it will raise blood sugar and insulin.

So, every time you have one of these mass gainer shakes, you get a massive amount of carbs. Not just any carbs, but ones that spike your blood sugar and insulin more than table sugar.

That won’t hurt your ability to build muscle, but it’s not a great idea if you are trying to add as little body fat as possible.

On top of that, in my experience with them, the shakes didn’t seem to stay consistent throughout the entire tub. Near the bottom of the container, the powder color and taste seemed off. This led me to wonder if I was getting stuck with a lot more carbs in the last few scoops than protein.

This could make sense because the less-dense protein powder would be more likely to sit on top, while the dense carbohydrates seep to the bottom. So, you may never truly know how much protein, carbs, and fat you'll be getting per scoop ... especially in the last couple servings of a mass gainer.

For these reasons, I prefer a different strategy: Making my own mass gainers. This is a method that I have a good feeling you'll love too!

Make Your Own Mass Gainer!

If I’m helping someone that has trouble eating enough, this is the first thing I recommend. I have them make their own mass gainer shake with a high quality whey protein blend like Level-1.

What I’ll have them do is throw 2 scoops of Level-1 (40-50g protein) into a blender with whole foods for extra calories. They’ll typically use whole milk, a banana, oats, peanut butter, or anything else that sounds good to them.

You can control the amount of calories much better this way, and it will always be consistent. Plus, if the foods you eat change day to day, it's nice to be able to customize your shake to meet your daily protein and calorie goals.

If you want a convenient complex carb source to use that doesn’t require a blender, you can always use Carb-1 too. It’s a whole food complex carb powder made for shakes. That way, you also have more control over the type and amount of carbs in your shake.

If you want a traditional mass gainer powder, that’s okay as well. I’m not saying they are bad by any means. A lot of people have used them and seen good results.

I just believe they are unnecessary for most people, and that there are far better options available.

Need Help Reaching Your Goals?

Mass gainers are high calorie shakes that can help you gain muscle if you do everything else right. As long as you lift weights, keep progressing in your workouts, and are eating enough protein and calories ... mass gainers can help.

Do you need them though? No, you can build muscle without them. Mass gainers just make it easier to get more protein and calories.

Personally, I like to have more control over what goes into my shakes.

When you use a higher quality source of protein like Level-1, you cover the protein aspect. Now you have control over the carbs and fats that go into the rest of the shake.

Or, you can eat carbs along with your shake like some fruit. Whatever you want to do will work just fine, as long as you get the protein and calories you need.

At the end of the day, there are plenty of avenues you can take to achieve your goals.

As helpful as mass gainers can be, most people still struggle with their nutrition and workouts the most. If you need the extra help to reach your goals, that's what we can help with!

In fact, we created the 1st Phorm App to help you do just that. In the app, we give you the tools and education you need to see results. You'll also get access to your own advisor to answer your questions and help hold you accountable.

Trust me, we all need that at times!

Check out the 1st Phorm App here, and I promise we’ll do whatever it takes to make you successful!

If you're ready to start making your own high quality mass gainers, you can also check out Level-1 and Carb-1 here!

We’d love the chance to help you, and if you have any questions, please let us know. We have a full customer service team of NASM certified personal trainers and nutrition coaches. These are real people, here in St. Louis Missouri, who will pick up the phone and help any way they can!

Just give us a call at 1-800-409-9732, or send us an email at anytime! We're here to help every day of the week from 6 AM to 10 PM Central.

Level-1 Sustained Assimilation Protein


(1) Stokes T, Hector AJ, Morton RW, McGlory C, Phillips SM. Recent Perspectives Regarding the Role of Dietary Protein for the Promotion of Muscle Hypertrophy with Resistance Exercise Training. Nutrients. 2018 Feb 7;10(2):180. doi: 10.3390/nu10020180. PMID: 29414855; PMCID: PMC5852756.

(2) “Maltodextrin.” Maltodextrin - an Overview | ScienceDirect Topics, Accessed 1 Nov. 2023.