Sports Nutrition: A Guide To Weight Gainers

Those looking to pack on a few pounds know the dizzying array of weight gainer products occupying the shelves at local supplement stores. This guide helps you identify the right choice for you.

As the name implies, the purpose of a weight gainer product is to add on a few pounds to your frame. However, those pounds should preferably be of the good kind, i.e. muscle mass rather than flab. These days, this is not so much of a problem as it used to be, but there could still be a few products out there that are mostly sugar with a minor dash of protein.

Ideally, a good weight gainer has a mix of whey protein, mostly complex carbohydrates and a modest amount of fat. Let's break it down and look at the different components.

Whey protein is the most effective protein there is, i.e. the kind that the body finds most useful. Egg and milk protein is also very good, but you mostly see them in a whey/egg/milk protein blend these days - this is perfectly fine.

Soy is less efficient and may have hormonal downsides in men, where some experts argue that excess intake of soy protein may depress the natural levels of testosterone. In fairness, soy protein is also reported to have numerous positive side effects as well, but for this specific purpose you're better off with whey or a whey blend.

Carbohydrates can be very fast (or "simple") meaning they break down very quickly and produce a rapid spike in blood sugar, or they can be slow ("complex") which provides a slow but steady release of blood sugar.

Fast carbs, like grape juice, puffed rice, white bread and soda, virtually explodes into the blood stream, which forces the body to release insulin. Insulin is highly anabolic (muscle-building) but it also encourages the storage of body fat. In addition, triggering frequent bursts of insulin over a long period of time is how you get Type II diabetes.

Slow carbs, like thick pasta, yams, oatmeal, rough bread and the like, provides a more even blood sugar curve. The insulin response is relatively modest, but prolonged. In keeping the body in an anabolic state, you want your weight gainer to provide a mix of the two - mostly complex carbs with a minor portion being fast carbs to give things a kick in the pants.

Lastly, a little dash of fat is not essential but it doesn't hurt either. Let's face it; if you're taking a weight gainer, you probably have a natural tendency towards being skinny. That means you have a high metabolism, forcing you to take in more calories each day in order to facilitate growth. Fat packs more than twice as many calories per gram as both protein and carbs, so the extra fat will certainly not hurt.

Pure gainer products typically have a high carb-to-protein ratio. In other words, you may see 1 gram of protein for every 4 or 5 grams of carbs. Then there are "meal replacement drinks" which tend to have about 1:1 ratios of protein to carbs - those are not bad, but if your goal is strictly to pack on the pounds, a pure weight gainer will pack more oomph. Lastly, there are pure or near-pure protein powders - don't even consider these as they won't have enough calories.

When shopping for weight gainers, don't be fooled by the varying "serving sizes". One brand may claim to have 3,000 calories per serving - but there's only 8 servings in the can! Another may claim to have 50 servings in the can, but the serving size assumes you're a 40-lb elf. Bottom line: compare the net weight of the can and use common sense in dashing out the powder. A cup or two of powder, mixed in with enough low-fat milk to get a nice, creamy feel, is usually about right.

Lastly, remember that you usually get what you pay for. If one brand you've never heard of claims to sell the exact same thing for half as much, there's a chance they cut corners. Likewise, if you pay 50% more for the same thing by the megabrand that routinely takes out 6-page "ad specials" in the fitness magazines, you're probably getting the good stuff - but you're also paying for all that massive advertising. Caveat emptor, as always, applies.

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