Dr. Andrea Middleton - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Andrea Middleton

Is Mass Gainer Bad For You?

Also Known As: gainer, weight gainer



Short answer

Mass gainers can boost calorie and protein intake, essential for muscle growth and weight gain, when used appropriately. They're particularly useful for those struggling to meet caloric needs through food alone. However, they often contain high sugar and may lead to digestive issues, insulin resistance, and over-reliance on supplements. Balance with a regular, nutritious diet and exercise is crucial to avoid negative health effects and ensure muscle gain rather than fat.



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Long answer

Composition and Caloric Content of Mass Gainers

Understanding the composition and caloric content of mass gainers is crucial in assessing their potential impact on your health and fitness goals. Mass gainers are dietary supplements designed to help individuals increase their calorie intake, promoting weight gain and muscle building. They typically come in powder form and are mixed with water, milk, or another liquid to make a shake.

One of the primary components of mass gainers is the macronutrient ratio. A standard mass gainer product may offer the following breakdown:

  • Carbohydrates: Usually the most abundant component, providing a quick energy source. The carbohydrate content can range between 75% to 85% of the total calories. Sources often include maltodextrin, oat flour, or waxy maize starch.
  • Proteins: Essential for muscle repair and growth, comprising roughly 10% to 20% of the caloric content. Common protein sources are whey, casein, egg, soy, or a combination of these to ensure a complete amino acid profile.
  • Fats: Typically lower in content compared to carbs and proteins, making up about 2% to 5% of total calories. Fats may come from medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), flaxseed, or similar ingredients.

Mass gainers are also fortified with a range of vitamins and minerals to support overall health, and sometimes contain various additives such as creatine, L-glutamine, and a blend of enzymes to aid digestion.

The caloric content of mass gainers is notably high, with a single serving often containing between 500 to 1500 calories or more. This heavy caloric load primarily serves individuals who have difficulty meeting their calorie requirements through food alone due to a fast metabolism or an extremely active lifestyle.

The sheer amount and type of calories, however, necessitate caution. Although relevant for certain fitness goals, the high sugar content often found in mass gainers can pose risks. Consuming large quantities of simple carbohydrates without burning them off can lead to unwanted fat gain, spikes in blood sugar, and potential long-term health implications such as insulin resistance.

It's not just the quantity but the quality of calories that matter. The source of macronutrients in mass gainers can vary greatly between products, and cheaper options may use lower-quality ingredients. For example, differentiated by the Glycemic Index (GI), the type of carbohydrates used can affect how rapidly sugar enters the bloodstream.

Prospective users of mass gainers should pay close attention to the product's nutritional label, assessing not only calories but the source and quality of ingredients. Insightful comparisons can be drawn from peer-reviewed research and clinical studies examining the role of caloric surplus and macronutrient balance in weight gain and muscle synthesis.

For instance, a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition highlights the importance of maintaining a balance between macronutrients rather than indiscriminate caloric increase for optimal body composition changes.

In conclusion, when evaluating mass gainers, it is essential to consider one's dietary needs, exercise routine, and metabolic rate in conjunction with the product's composition and caloric content.

Potential Side Effects of High Calorie Supplements

When discussing the potential side effects of high-calorie supplements, such as mass gainers, context is crucial. Mass gainers are designed to deliver a hefty calorie surplus primarily through carbohydrates and protein. They are typically marketed towards those who struggle to gain weight through diet alone. While they can be effective for reaching caloric goals, they come with their own set of potential side effects that users should be aware of.

Digestive Discomfort: The high-calorie density and significant amount of added sugars in many mass gainers can cause digestive issues. Symptoms like bloating, gas, and constipation could be attributed to the sudden increase in calories and the sheer volume of food required to deliver them. For some, particularly those with sensitive digestive systems, the inclusion of certain fibers and sugar alcohols exacerbates these symptoms.

Unbalanced Macronutrient Profile: Some mass gainers have an imbalanced macronutrient ratio, often heavily skewed towards carbohydrates. Overconsumption of these formulas can lead to a disproportionate intake of macronutrients, potentially neglecting fats, which are essential for hormone production and nutrient absorption. It is crucial to consider the overall dietary intake to ensure macronutrient balance.

Weight Gain Versus Muscle Gain: The rapid weight gain that might occur with the use of mass gainers isn't always lean muscle. The excessive calorie consumption can lead to increased fat storage if not coupled with an appropriate exercise regimen. Thus, monitoring the source of weight gain is imperative for those seeking to increase muscle mass rather than body fat.

Impact on Blood Sugar Levels: The high sugar content in many mass gainers may significantly affect blood sugar levels. This is particularly concerning for those with insulin resistance or diabetes. The spike in blood sugar can also lead to fluctuations in energy levels and mood.

Long-term Health Concerns: Chronic overconsumption of high-calorie supplements might contribute to longer-term health concerns, such as cardiovascular disease, especially if the product contains unhealthy types of fats or added sugars. It's vital to inspect the ingredient list and nutrient profile for any potential red flags.

Interactions With Medications: Certain ingredients found in mass gainers could interact with prescription medications. It’s particularly important to be cautious of herbal additives or other non-nutritive substances that may alter the metabolism of medications or have side effects of their own.

Allergens and Intolerances: Mass gainers may contain common allergens such as milk, soy, and gluten. For individuals with allergies or intolerances, these products could trigger adverse reactions ranging from mild discomfort to severe allergic reactions.

Users should be aware that not all side effects are immediate; some may develop over time with continued use. It's always advisable to review the raw data of scientific studies, when available, for any new supplement and to consult with healthcare providers, particularly for those with pre-existing health conditions, to understand the potential short-term and long-term side effects better.

For instance, a systematic review in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition can offer insights into the effects of protein supplementation, a key component of mass gainers, on health outcomes. Additionally, making use of resources such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements can aid in understanding the various components of high-calorie supplements.

Fostering a conversation about the consumption of mass gainers between healthcare providers and consumers is crucial. Informed decisions can lead to positive outcomes regarding physical goals and overall health.

Sugar Content and the Risk of Insulin Resistance

When examining the health implications of mass gainers, the sugar content is a pivotal factor that cannot be ignored. Mass gainers, often laden with sugars, can provide a swift source of energy. However, the type and amount of sugar used are crucial to understanding the potential risks of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a condition where the body's cells do not respond effectively to insulin, leading to elevated blood sugar levels and, over time, increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Many mass gainer products contain both simple and complex carbohydrates. While complex carbs deliver a slow and steady source of glucose, it's the simple sugars, like dextrose and maltodextrin, that are of greatest concern. These ingredients spike blood glucose levels rapidly, necessitating a surge in insulin release from the pancreas.

  • Understanding Glycemic Index: Simple sugars often have a high glycemic index (GI), meaning they lead to quick and significant increases in blood glucose levels.
  • Examining Product Labels: The grams of sugar per serving listed on a mass gainer label can be alarmingly high, with some products packing upwards of 20-30 grams or more per serving.

In a society where sugar overconsumption is already a dire health issue, the additional sugar from a mass gainer can compound the risk of insulin resistance. Prolonged periods of elevated blood sugar levels can overload the pancreas, gradually causing the insulin-producing cells to become dysfunctional. This process doesn’t happen overnight, but the habitual use of high-sugar supplements can accelerate the risk.

A study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation highlighted the link between high sugar intake and insulin resistance. Participants consuming high amounts of fructose exhibited increased fatty deposits around their liver and skeletal muscle tissues, correlates of insulin resistance (Petersen et al., 2007). These findings are significant in evaluating the long-term effects of regular mass gainer consumption.

Additionally, excessive sugar intake is associated with other metabolic disturbances, such as:

  • Inflammation
  • Oxidative stress
  • Altered lipid profiles

It's crucial to weigh individual lifestyle and dietary habits against the sugar content of mass gainers. For individuals with a predisposition to metabolic syndrome or type 2 diabetes, or those not engaging in extensive physical activity that would warrant such high caloric intake, the risks may intensify.

Healthier alternatives to manage sugar intake from mass gainers include:

  • Choosing products with lower added sugar content and better quality carbohydrate sources
  • Looking for mass gainers that utilize fiber and whole food ingredients to moderate blood sugar response
  • Incorporating regular exercise to improve insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake in muscle tissues

In conclusion, while the energy-dense nature of mass gainers can help in muscle building and weight gain goals, it’s essential to scrutinize the sugar content. To mitigate the risk of insulin resistance, individuals should consider the form and amount of sugars in their chosen mass gainer, alongside their overall dietary pattern and activity level.

Digestive Response to Mass Gainers and Lactose Content

Understanding how your body responds to mass gainers is crucial, particularly when examining the commonly experienced digestive distress associated with these supplements. Gauging your physiology's compatibility with mass gainers involves an exploration into their lactose content and potential to affect digestion.

Lactose Sensitivity and Mass Gainers:

Many mass gainers contain whey or milk proteins, which are rich in lactose—a sugar in milk that requires the enzyme lactase to digest properly. Lactose intolerance is a widespread condition affecting a significant portion of the global population to varying degrees, stemming from a deficiency of lactase. If you experience symptoms such as bloating, gas, abdominal cramps, or diarrhea after consuming mass gainers, it could be a sign of lactose intolerance.

For those with lactose sensitivity, digesting a mass gainer can be uncomfortable or even painful. However, some brands offer lactose-free alternatives, typically featuring protein sources like beef, soy, egg, or rice, which may be more tolerable.

Fiber Content and Digestive Balance:

Another aspect to consider is the fiber content in mass gainers, which can modulate the digestive response. Adequate fiber assists in maintaining bowel regularity and is essential for healthy digestion. However, too much fiber can lead to digestive issues such as constipation, especially if fluid intake is not concurrently increased.

Enzyme Blend Additives:

A handful of mass gainer supplements include added digestive enzymes like protease, amylase, and lipase to aid in breaking down macronutrients and facilitate better absorption. The addition of these enzymes can potentially ease digestive discomfort for some individuals.

Gastrointestinal Adjustments:

When starting out with mass gainer supplements, begin with smaller servings and gradually increase the amount as your digestive system adapts. This stepwise approach allows your gastrointestinal (GI) tract to adjust to the high calorie and nutrient densities typically seen in these products.

Hydration and Digestion:

Hydration also plays a vital role in the digestibility of mass gainers. Consuming adequate fluids is necessary to help the body process the high concentrations of protein and carbohydrates, subsequently reducing potential digestive discomfort.

Prevalence of AI-Induced Gastrointestinal Issues:

Scientific studies have not specifically honed in on the gastrointestinal effects of mass gainers. However, anecdotal accounts and preliminary research into similar high-calorie supplements suggest that digestive distress can occur, especially in individuals with pre-existing GI sensitivities. In particular, the high caloric density of these supplements can overwhelm the digestive system if not consumed in a mindful manner.


  • For those with known lactose intolerance, seek lactose-free mass gainer products to avoid digestive issues.
  • Pay close attention to your body's signals and start with lower doses of mass gainer supplements to assess tolerance.
  • Increase fluid intake to assist with the digestion of nutrient-dense mass gainers and avoid dehydration.
  • Consider products with added digestive enzymes if you have a history of gastrointestinal discomfort with protein-rich or high-calorie supplements.
  • Familiarize yourself with the fiber content in mass gainers, aiming for a balance to support, not hinder, your digestive health.

Ultimately, while mass gainers can be a useful tool in reaching caloric and macro targets for muscle gain, they may pose digestive challenges for some individuals. Before integrating a mass gainer into your regimen, consult with a healthcare professional, particularly if you have a history of digestive issues or food intolerances.

Balancing Mass Gainers with Regular Diet for Muscle Gain

When striving for muscle gain, the allure of mass gainers as a quick fix for increased calorie and protein intake is strong. But before you start shoveling in the powder, it's crucial to understand how to balance these supplements with a regular diet to ensure you're achieving your goals healthfully.

Nutritional Composition Analysis

Mass gainers are typically loaded with a high calorie count—ranging from 500 to over 1000 calories per serving. They contain varying proportions of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats along with certain vitamins and minerals to aid in recovery and muscle growth. The carbohydrate-to-protein ratio is often 2:1 or 3:1, which is geared towards providing the quick energy needed for workouts and aiding in post-workout recovery.

Integrating with Whole Foods

While mass gainers can provide a convenient source of additional calories, relying solely on these supplements can lead to an imbalance in nutrition. Whole foods offer a plethora of vitamins, minerals, and other vital nutrients in their natural form that mass gainers can rarely match. Including a variety of lean meats, whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables in your diet is critical for providing the body with a spectrum of necessary nutrients for muscle repair, immune function, and overall health.

Caloric Surplus and Distribution

For muscle gain, a caloric surplus is necessary, but it's essential to achieve this through a balanced combination of mass gainers and whole foods. Adding mass gainer shakes to your diet should complement your food intake, not replace it. A structured meal plan that spreads caloric intake throughout the day can assist with constant nutrient supply for muscle growth and repair.

Timing and Moderation

The timing of mass gainer consumption can make a significant difference. Post-workout is an optimal time because the body is in an enhanced state to absorb and utilize the high amount of carbs and proteins for recovery and growth. However, moderation is key. Excessive intake of mass gainers can lead to unwanted fat gain if not balanced with the appropriate level of physical activity.

Customization for Dietary Needs

It's important to consider individual dietary needs and restrictions. Some individuals may require a lactose-free, gluten-free, or lower-sugar variety of a mass gainer. Many supplements contain additives and artificial ingredients that can cause digestive upset or allergic reactions in certain individuals. Personalizing the use of mass gainers to align with dietary needs is a step towards maintaining a healthy and effective muscle gain strategy.

Professional Guidance

Consulting a registered dietitian or a sports nutritionist can provide guidance tailored to personal goals, dietary preferences, and health conditions. They can help design a meal plan that optimally integrates mass gainers with whole foods, ensuring a balanced approach towards achieving muscle gain without compromising overall health.

Concluding Thoughts

In essence, mass gainers can play a role in a muscle-building diet but must be balanced with nutritious whole foods to avoid over-reliance on processed supplements. The key to success lies in caloric control, nutritional diversity, and tweaking your regimen as per your individual health requirements.

Exploring Natural Alternatives to Mass Gainer Supplements

For individuals looking to gain weight and build muscle without reliance on mass gainer supplements, a whole-food-based approach can offer numerous benefits. As the supplement industry continues to promote quick fixes, the truth is that natural alternatives may provide a healthier and more sustainable path to achieving the same goals. Whole foods not only pack a rich variety of nutrients that supplements can lack, but they also offer a balance of macronutrients necessary for overall health.

Protein-Rich Foods: Replacing a scoop of mass gainer with high-quality protein from food sources ensures the body receives essential amino acids for muscle repair and growth. Foods such as:

are packed with protein and also provide vitamins and minerals necessary for overall well-being. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that consuming whole protein sources leads to better muscle protein synthesis compared to supplementation alone.

Healthy Fats: Incorporating healthy fats is crucial for hormone production, including those vital for muscle growth like testosterone. Foods high in unsaturated fats, such as:

contribute to a caloric surplus needed for weight gain while providing a wealth of heart-healthy benefits. A review in the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that healthy fats are beneficial for increasing lean body mass when part of a resistance training program.

Carbohydrate-Dense Foods: Carbohydrates are the body's primary energy source and are vital for fueling intense workouts. Complex carbohydrates provide sustained energy and are essential in a weight-gain diet. Opt for:

  • Whole grains like brown rice and oats
  • Starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and beetroot
  • Legumes such as lentils and chickpeas
  • Fruits like bananas and mangoes

These options offer a high nutrient density compared to refined grains and sugar-heavy weight gainer shakes. Furthermore, a study in the Nutrition Journal suggests that a diet rich in fiber from carbohydrate-dense foods is associated with numerous health benefits, including improved gut health.

Dairy Alternatives: For those who can tolerate dairy, full-fat milk and cheese are nutrient-dense choices to support weight gain efforts. However, for the lactose intolerant or dairy-averse, alternatives such as:

can play a significant role in a tailored bulking diet. While plant-based milk alternatives typically have lower protein content than cow's milk, they can be included as part of a well-rounded diet providing other macro and micronutrients.

Snack Ideas: Snacking is an excellent way to add extra calories throughout the day without feeling overstuffed. Healthful, dense snack choices include:

  • Nut butter on whole-grain toast
  • Homemade trail mix with dried fruits and nuts
  • Avocado on crackers
  • Cottage cheese with pineapple

These snacks can help reach the caloric surplus required for mass gain while offering the benefits of whole food nutrients.

The reliance on natural foods not only aligns with the principles of balanced nutrition but also limits the intake of artificial additives commonly found in mass gainer supplements. In a review published by the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, it was noted that whole food interventions provide comprehensive nutritional profiles that positively affect athletic performance and recovery, compared to their supplement counterparts which may lack those broader benefits.

Adopting a diet focused on nutrient-dense whole foods may take more planning and preparation than consuming a mass gainer supplement, but the long-term health benefits and the quality of the weight gained often warrant the effort. It's essential, however, to consult with a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian before making any significant changes to your diet, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or dietary restrictions.

Frequently asked questions

The optimal time to consume mass gainer shakes is post-workout when your body's ability to absorb and utilize the nutrients for muscle recovery and growth is heightened. Additionally, incorporating a shake as a snack or alongside a meal can help achieve a caloric surplus throughout the day.

Mass gainers should not replace whole food meals. While they can supplement your diet by providing additional calories and protein needed for muscle gain, they lack the variety of nutrients found in a balanced meal. It's best to use mass gainers as an adjunct to a nutritious diet that includes a wide range of foods for overall health.

To minimize the risk of insulin resistance when using mass gainers, look for products with low added sugar content and choose ones that use complex carbohydrates and fibers to moderate blood sugar response. Additionally, staying physically active can improve insulin sensitivity and ensure that the high-calorie intake is used effectively for muscle growth rather than stored as fat.

Natural food sources provide a broad spectrum of essential nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, that support overall health. They can improve muscle protein synthesis, enhance satiety, promote hormone balance, and reduce the intake of artificial additives. Moreover, whole foods support gradual and more sustainable muscle gain by supplying balanced macronutrients.

Ask a question about Mass Gainer and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • bloating
  • gas
  • constipation
  • rapid weight gain
  • blood sugar spikes
  • digestive discomfort
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal cramps
  • allergic reactions

Possible long-term side effects

  • unwanted fat gain
  • insulin resistance
  • type 2 diabetes
  • cardiovascular disease
  • altered lipid profiles
  • inflammation
  • oxidative stress

Ingredients to be aware of

  • maltodextrin
  • artificial sweeteners
  • sugar alcohols
  • high gi carbohydrates
  • lactose
  • common allergens (milk, soy, gluten)


  • increased calorie intake
  • weight gain
  • muscle building
  • post-workout recovery
  • convenience

Healthier alternatives

  • whole foods
  • lean meats
  • fiber-rich carbs
  • healthy fats
  • dairy alternatives
  • snack ideas
  • natural proteins
  • complex carbohydrates

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Orgain Vegan Protein Powder

  • 21g plant-based protein
  • Gluten and Dairy Free
  • No Sugar Added
  • Soy Free
  • Kosher certified
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Joey Conners
Published on: 12-15-2023

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Joey Conners
Published on: 12-15-2023

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