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Mass gainers are bodybuilding supplements that are generally composed of both high and low glycemic, carbohydrates, proteins (usually in the form of calcium caseinate, milk and whey protein) and other nutrients that include vitamins and minerals. Mass gainers are used by bodybuilders and strength athletes, both amateur and professional alike as a weight gain supplement or as a recovery supplement. Pre and post-workout supplements are probably the most important supplements to take after vitamins and minerals that provide the body with the required energy to beat post work out fatigue. Usually, these supplements are composed either as single ingredient preparations or in the form of stacks – proprietary blends of various supplements marketed as offering synergistic advantages.
During intensive exercises, muscle stress can cause the release of hormones such as cortisol in the body. Cortisol helps in providing energy to the body to beat post-workout fatigue. Plus, it also helps in the breakdown of glycogen, protein (muscle) and fat deposits which are used in gluconeogenesis.
Most mass gainers use protein powders(whey protein extracts) and carbohydrates (dextrose, maltodextrine), while more advanced gainers add to their recipes, ingredients like creatine, L-arginine, long chain amino-acids, enzymes(for better digestion), vitamins, minerals and plant extracts for adaptogen effect. Higher glycemic carbohydrates will prompt a steep rise in the blood glucose levels, forcing an equal release of insulin by the body to counter the long-term negative effects of high blood sugar, inhibiting the effects of cortisol. Some of the carbohydrates are immediately absorbed by the muscles without the need for insulin. The rest is stored as glycogen in the liver and in muscles.
When attempting to increase lean body mass, an essential component that is equal to a sound resistance training program is protein consumption. Not only is protein intake required for skeletal muscle hypertrophy, but protein is also needed to repair damaged cells and tissues and for a variety of other metabolic and hormonal activities. Protein is the only macronutrient that contains nitrogen. Given the importance of attaining a positive nitrogen balance, it is vitally important that protein be ingested in our body on a daily (and meal-to-meal) basis. When discussing protein as a nutritional supplement, two main questions arise:
1) How much protein is required for an individual engaging in resistance training?
2) What are the types of protein supplements and which are the best sources of protein?
Recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein intake among healthy adults is 0.8g/kg body weight per day. This recommendation accounts for individual differences in protein metabolism, variations in the biological value of protein and nitrogen losses through urine and feces. When determining the amount of protein that needs to be ingested to increase lean body mass, many factors must be considered such as protein quality, energy intake, carbohydrate intake, the amount and intensity of the resistance training program and the timing of the protein intake. Although 0.8 g/kg/day may be sufficient to meet the needs of nearly all non-resistance trained individuals, it is more likely to be insufficient to provide substrate for lean tissue accretion or for the repair of exercise-induced muscle damage. Individuals who engage in physical activity/exercise require higher levels of protein intake than 0.8 g/kg/day, regardless of the mode of exercise (i.e., endurance, resistance) or training state (i.e., recreational, moderately or well trained). So, the question that remains is how much protein is required for individuals engaging in resistance training and wanting to increase lean body mass? General recommendations for individuals who engage in strength/power exercise range from 1.6 to 2.0 g/kg/day. Protein intake at these levels ensures that the net protein balance remains positive, a pre-requisite for skeletal muscle hypertrophy to occur.
Types of Protein Supplements
Although protein can be obtained from whole foods, many resistance trained athletes supplement their diet with protein containing supplements (e.g., protein powders, meal replacement drinks, sports bars, etc.). Advances in food processing technology have allowed for the isolation of high quality proteins from both animal and plant sources. Other reasons for supplementing the diet with protein supplements include convenience, simplicity and the fact that protein supplements have other benefits such as longer shelf life than whole food sources, in addition to being more cost-effective in many cases.
Four of the most common types of protein found in protein supplements are whey, casein, soy and egg proteins. Each of these proteins is a complete protein and all are classified as high quality proteins. Whey protein, derived from milk protein, is currently the most popular source of protein used in nutritional supplements. Whey proteins are available as whey protein concentrates, isolates and hydrolysates. The primary differences among these forms are the methods of processing and small differences in fat and lactose content, amino acid profiles and ability to preserve glutamine residues. In comparison to other types of protein, Whey protein is digested at a faster rate, has better mixing characteristics and is often perceived as a higher quality protein. Research has indicated that the rapid increase in blood amino acid levels following whey protein ingestion stimulates protein synthesis to a greater degree than casein. Individuals who consume whey protein frequently throughout the day may optimize protein synthesis. Overall, whey protein is an excellent source of protein to supplement due to its amino acid content (including high branched-chain amino acid content) and its ability to be rapidly absorbed.
Casein (80% of the total protein content in milk) is often described as slower-acting protein. It is considered a slower protein than whey protein because it takes longer to digest and absorb. This is most likely due to the fact that casein has a longer transit time in the stomach. Although casein stimulates protein synthesis, it does it to a much lesser extent than whey protein. Unlike whey, casein helps decrease the process of protein breakdown, which has made casein an anti-catabolist. It has been observed that the combination of both casein and whey enhances the effectiveness to gain lean muscle mass.
Although soy lacks the essential amino acid methionine, it has a relatively high concentration of remaining essential amino acids and is therefore considered as a high quality protein. Soy protein is made from soy beans using water or a water–ethanol mixture to extract the protein. Soy protein is similar to whey protein in a way that there is a soy protein concentrate and isolate. Soy contains compounds called isoflavones, which appear to be strong antioxidants and have been implicated in possibly decreasing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and cancer. In addition to isoflavones, soy proteins contain protease inhibitors. Given these attributes of soy, there is some evidence to suggest that soy may decrease or prevent the exercise-induced damage to muscle seen following a workout.
Egg protein is also a high quality protein and has the advantage of being a miscible protein (it mixes easily in solution). However, egg protein supplements generally do not taste good and are more expensive than other protein supplements. For these reasons, along with the availability of other high quality proteins such as whey, casein and soy, egg protein supplementation is not popular among athletes. Despite this, egg protein is still added in small quantities to some meal replacement/protein powders.
Ingestion of high quality protein is essential for increasing lean muscle mass, but equally important is the timing of the protein intake. The central idea underlying nutrient timing is to time high glycemic carbohydrate and protein ingestion so it encompasses the time frame in which the resistance training of experts leaves a hypertrophic stimulus on the trained skeletal muscles.
Inherent with the term anabolic window is the concept of net protein balance. As stated earlier, net protein balance is equal to muscle protein synthesis minus muscle protein breakdown. For skeletal muscle hypertrophy to occur, net protein balance must be positive (synthesis must exceed breakdown). To improve net protein balance, an appropriate stimulus (e.g., resistance training) must be applied to the skeletal muscles. However, when resistance training is performed alone in the absence of nutritional and supplemental (i.e., protein, carbohydrate) interventions, net protein balance still does not increase to the point of becoming anabolic.
Muscle-specific genes must be activated to initiate the process of skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Once these muscle-specific genes are activated, they are copied into Messenger RNA (mRNA) which serves as a template for which muscle proteins are then manufactured (translated).
Insulin has several roles related to improving the net protein balance following resistance exercise including increasing protein synthesis, improving the transport of amino acids into skeletal muscle and decreasing protein breakdown. Whereas insulin should never be injected (as multiple adverse events are likely to occur) for the purposes of improving net protein balance, insulin can be significantly increased endogenously via the consumption of carbohydrate. As important as insulin concentrations are to anabolic processes, it has been stated that if high levels of insulin are not supported by an exogenous amino acid supply, insulin loses its anabolic capacity in skeletal muscle.
Carbohydrates and amino acids are needed to maximize positive shifts in net protein balance and the time course for which they must be present should be considered. To highlight the importance of timing, note that when 10 g of protein, 8 g of carbohydrate and 3 g of fat were ingested either immediately or 3 hours after exercise, protein synthesis was increased more than threefold with the supplement ingested immediately versus ingestion 3 hours after exercise (with which there was only a 12% increase).
Ingestion of both proteins (whey and casein) after resistance exercise resulted in similar increase in muscle protein net balance, resulting in net muscle protein synthesis, despite different patterns of blood amino acid responses- a quicker response of blood amino acids for the whey protein and a more sustained response for the casein protein.
When whey protein was added to an amino acid–carbohydrate supplement, it indicated that there seemed to be an extension of the anabolic effect compared to that seen with amino acid–carbohydrate supplements without additional whey protein.
The sports supplement creatine has been the gold standard against which other nutritional supplements are compared. The reason for this prominent position is that creatine improves performance and increases lean body mass. It has repeatedly been shown to be safe when recommended dosages are consumed. Despite one of the most consistent side effects of creatine supplementation has been weight gain in the form of lean body mass, it has become one of the most popular nutritional supplements marketed to athletes over the past decade. Weight gain had been observed in several cohorts including males, females and the elderly.
For creatine supplementation, the typical dosage pattern is divided into two phases: a loading phase and a maintenance phase. A typical loading phase consists of ingesting 20 g of creatine (or 0.3 g/kg body weight) in divided doses, four times per day for 2 to 7 days, followed by a maintenance dose of 2 to 5 g daily (or 0.03 g/kg) for several weeks to months at a time.
A quick way to ‘‘creatine load’’, skeletal muscle requires ingesting 20 g of creatine monohydrate daily for 6 days and then switching to a reduced dosage of 2 g/day. If the immediacy of ‘‘loading’’ is not an important consideration, supplementing with 3 g/day for 28 days achieves the same high levels of intramuscular creatine.
Many of the studies performed to date indicate that short-term creatine supplementation increases total body mass by approximately 0.7 to 1.6 kg (1.5–3.5 lbs.). Longer-term creatine supplementation (6–8weeks) in conjunction with resistance training has been shown to increase lean body mass by approximately 2.8 to 3.2 kg (7 lbs.). Gain in lean body mass has been observed in women too as a result of creatine supplementation. Changes in fat-free mass in females who ingested creatine (20 g/day for the first 4 days followed by 5 g/day for 65 days) in combination with resistance exercise for 10 weeks has been investigated and reported an increase of 5.7 lbs. of fat-free mass after 10 weeks of creatine supplementation and resistance exercise. This increase was 60% greater in the creatine supplementation group as compared to the placebo group.
Q. What is the difference between whey protein and mass gainer?
A. The only difference is that mass gainer contains more calories than regular whey protein (with larger amounts of carbs and fats to boost one’s calorie intake). Both serve to aid muscle recovery & promote muscle growth.
Q. What would suit me if I want to build muscles?
A. Depending on how fast & efficient you want to build muscles. If you are someone who doesn’t gain weight easily and want to build a significant amount of muscle mass, a mass gainer would be suitable for you. If you want slow gains with controlled body fat percentage, a whey protein would probably be enough (depends on individual). Alternately, you can use both mass gainer & whey protein to avoid gaining too much fat.
Q. What if I want to build muscle but don’t want to become fat easily from all the calories?
A. Truth is, it’s really difficult to build muscle and lose fat at the same time. Building muscle (bulk up) needs calorie surplus (eat more than you burn) while losing fat needs calorie deficit (burn more than you eat). Taking a mass gainer will help you gain mass along with some fat (which is sometimes inevitable) but you won’t be fat and flabby if your workouts and proper healthy eating habits are in place.
Provided that you eat enough to allow muscle growth, with no unnecessary calories from junk/unhealthy food, you wouldn’t easily become fat while bulking. If you really want great muscle definition, you have to bulk up to build sufficient muscle mass as your foundation before you cut (lose fat) anyway. Besides, you can always add some cardio to your routine.
Everyone’s body responds to supplements differently. You just need to know how to look into the mirror, know your own body and adjust what works best for you. Alternately, you can also use only whey protein to build muscle mass even though it might be slower for some people especially for hard-gainers.
Q. What if I want to lose fat? Do I still need protein?
A. If you are someone who has already built sufficient muscle mass and is ready to cut fat, whey protein would still be essential because your body still needs to hang on to the muscles you have already built. This prevents muscle catabolism from all the cardio you do to lose fat. This is important so that after you have lost the unwanted fat, there will still be muscle definition.
Q. Isn’t whey protein only for cutting purposes?
A. Whey protein is essential for both bulking phase and cutting phase. It’s just that some people prefer using mass gainer for bulking purposes (remember that mass gainer is a higher calorie protein shake with added carbs & fat), and some people (who gain weight easily) use only whey protein to build mass because of the fear of unwanted calories (especially for women).
Q. Should women take whey protein?
A. Women who want to build lean mass to reveal a “toned” and “firm” look should consider adding whey protein to their diet. Regardless of what type of exercise you’re doing (weight-lifting/aerobic/cardio), whey protein serves only as a supplement to your daily calorie intake so that your muscles can recover and grow back stronger. When you want lose fat, it is important to add protein supplement to your diet so that you will not lose your existing muscles. That is how you can look fitter, not just skinny.
Q. What if I don’t work out and just take protein/mass gainer? Will I grow?
A. The purpose of protein is to aid muscle recovery (repair muscle tissues) so that the muscles can grow stronger. If you do not workout (to tear your muscle fibers), there is no need for recovery. Since your body does not store protein, it will just be a waste of money.
If you take mass gainer without exercising, there is a chance that your daily caloric input is more than your output, and you might gain fat instead of muscle (and you are just wasting money buying supplements). If you regularly exercise, your body has an extra requirement for protein, so that the supplement is utilised.
Q. Could I take too much protein?
A. This isn't really a risk PROVIDED you are in general good health. If you have any liver or kidney problems, or family history, please check with a medical practitioner first. The body will generally utilize the protein it needs and excrete remaining nitrogen in urine, after the protein has been broken down. This is why it is important to have healthy liver and kidney functions. If you are undertaking a high protein diet, (from supplements and diet), then you need to make sure you are drinking plenty of water.
Q. What is Whey Protein?
A. Whey is essentially a by-product of cheese, which is manufactured from cow’s milk. The curds are set and either cooked or piled upon one another and then cut to release the whey. This whey is the raw material that will eventually make up whey protein powder. The whey protein powder is a collection of globular proteins and it contains four main protein fractions and six minor ones. The four main are: beta-lactoglobulin (approx. 65%), alpha lactalbumin (approx. 25%), serum albumin (approx 8%) and immunoglobulins. These all combine to give whey protein the highest Biological Value (BV) of any known protein. Biological value is the measure of the efficiency of a protein and how well it is absorbed and used by the body for growth and repair. The higher the number, the better. With BV, 100% egg protein sets the standard with 100, with all other forms (except whey) lower. With whey protein, however, BV can be as high as 170. Whey protein isolate has the highest bio availability of any of the different types of whey protein, usually about 30-60% more than concentrate.
Q. Types of Whey Protein?
A. There are three main types of whey protein:
Whey Protein Concentrate
· Low in fat
· 75% pure protein by weight
· Lower cost
Whey Protein Isolate
· Purest form of whey protein
· Contains 90% or greater protein with minimal lactose (<1%) and virtually no fat
· Higher cost
Hydrolyzed Whey Protein
· Hydrolysis is the process which breaks down the protein chains into small fractions called "peptides".
· Easily digested and less potential for allergic reactions.
There are also many blends of the three types discussed above available. Typically the cheapest form of whey will make up the highest content with the remaining content being based on cost. So a blend would be largely concentrate, with only small amounts of isolate. This is why you can find 5 lb tubs pretty cheap, especially when compared to a smaller container of pure isolate.
Q. Why is Whey Protein Important?
A. Protein is the most essential macro-nutrient for any weight training enthusiast. It is critical for the growth and repair of muscle tissue. It's what we are made of after water. The higher quality allows for greater absorption with the amino acids, content being superior to lower quality forms of protein. Higher amounts of the BCAA's (leucine, iso-leucine and valine) as well as glutamine are also found in abundant supply, these are important for energy and recovery after a hard workout. Since protein requires more calories to digest than either carbohydrates or fat, it's important to fat loss goals as well. Additionally, it can be important medically, aiding in things such as type-2 diabetes, wound healing and even cancer.
Q. When should I take whey protein?
A. A main advantage of Whey Protein, because it is quickly digestible, is that it can be taken both pre and post workout. Generally, a larger dosage is taken post workout, so it can begin to aid the muscle repair and growth from your training session. Whey protein can also be taken in one or two of your other ‘snack’ meals throughout the day but should not be used as meal replacement.
Another good time to take whey is first thing in the morning. Overnight, your stores of glycogen can be diminished and your body will be breaking down muscle for energy. If you are bodybuilding or looking to add muscle mass, this is the last thing that you want! A quick whey shake first thing in the morning will give your body that vital protein it requires.
Q. How much whey protein do I need?
A. For any hard training bodybuilder or weight lifter, total protein intake on a daily basis should be 1 to 1.5 grams per pound of body weight. For women, I suggest about 75% of those numbers. You need to take the total number and divide that by six – the number of meals per day you should be eating. Of those six, whey protein can be used as discussed above and anytime you cannot get to a whole food meal. This is important because you never want to go more than three hours without getting in some protein. This means, depending on your school or work obligations, a protein shake may be your only option. Remember the total grams divided by six calculation? That number is what you want to use per shake.
For adults who are not training with weights but may be performing light exercise, I suggest .75 grams per pound of body weight. The reason I suggest that number is if you are trying to get in shape and lose weight, you will want a higher protein intake as well as a lower carbohydrate and fat intake. In this case, choose only lean food sources of protein. If you are doing no exercise whatsoever, drop that number to .50 grams per pound of body weight but remember, if you begin to exercise your needs will go up.
Q. Can I Mix my Whey Protein Shake Up the Day Before?
A. Yes this generally is fine, although I wouldn't recommend any more than a day before. I would also suggest you keep the made up shake in the fridge. This can be convenient to do, especially if we are trying to fit in nutrition around our busy lives. Another option is to carry one or two servings of powder with you along with a shaker cup as long as you have access to water. I've done this for years and it's quick and easy. Still another choice is to pre-make the shake in the morning before you leave and add some ice to it to keep it cold.
Q. I am Vegetarian. Can I take Whey Protein?
A. Whey can help with the protein levels that may be lacking in a vegetarian diet. As mentioned before, the whey is part of the cheese making process and therefore a dairy product. There are no involvements with any animal flesh or meat and therefore is acceptable in the lacto and lacto-ovo vegetarian diets. A lacto vegetarian will eat dairy products but not eggs and a lacto-ovo vegetarian will eat dairy products and eggs, but not meat, fish or poultry.
An ovo vegetarian however will eat eggs but not dairy products. Whey in this instance is not really suitable in accordance with the guidelines of this particular type of vegetarian diet. An alternative option if you do not want to consume dairy products may be to take soy protein instead
Q. Can I take whey if I am a Teenager?
A. It is not recommended for anyone under the age of 18 to be taking supplements. Protein is an important part of the diet but in these teenage years, it is better to get your protein from whole foods from the daily diet, rather than supplements. This does not mean supplements are dangerous but natural dietary sources of protein are more applicable up until this age.
Q. Is it right to Take Whey Protein Without Doing Regular Exercise?
A. This can depend on why you are taking the whey. The body does not store protein, so if you are looking to gain muscle mass, consuming whey on its own without exercise will not help you muscle size. Along with a weight training or bodybuilding program, whey is an ideal supplement to provide essential protein and Branch Chain Amino Acids to help build and repair muscles.
This is because the body at this time has an extra requirement for protein and so the whey is effectively utilized. If you are taking whey protein to assist recovery from cancer or help with diabetes or wound healing, then exercise isn't essential to take whey. The protein you consume will perform its appropriate function and then be excreted from the body.
Q. Does Whey Protein Have an expiry Date?
A. All whey protein products have a printed expiration date on the label or container. People have complained of severe stomach upset and other illness from taking out of date powder, this is most likely due to breakdown of the excipients in whey protein powder, such as colorings and flavors. The whey powder itself is usually dated from a couple of years after manufacture and after this, the nutritional values cannot be guaranteed as still being accurate. For these reasons, the expiration date should be adhered to.
Q. Could I take too Much Protein?
A. This isn't really a risk PROVIDED you are in general good health. If you have any liver or kidney problems, or family history, please check with a medical practitioner first. The body will generally utilize the protein it needs and excrete remaining nitrogen in urine, after the protein has been broken down. This is why it is important to have healthy liver and kidney functions. If you are undertaking a high protein diet, i.e. from supplements and diet, then you need to make sure you are drinking plenty of water.
Q. How safe is creatine?
A. Since creatine as a supplement is (relatively) new, it is hard to determine whether or not there will be long term (think 40 years down the road) health effects from associated with using creatine.
However, at this point there hasn’t been one credible study documenting any dangerous or unhealthy side effects associated with regular creatine use.
After almost 20 years with no notable negative effects, we can start to accept creatine as a safe health supplement.
Q. Can women take creatine?
A. Absolutely! Creatine is by no means a male-only product. One concern with women is that they don’t want to “bulk up” with muscle. It’s easy to understand where this misconception comes from, many women see their male counterparts taking creatine to add muscle mass and are fearful that it will do the same to them.
The truth is, “bulking up” is a result of heavy weight lifting, massive amounts of food, and aided by the male sex hormone, testosterone. Three things the majority of women can’t relate to.
Creatine is fantastic for any women looking to increase endurance, help with moderate strength gains, and increase lean muscle.
Q. How can I get creatine naturally?
A. Creatine can be obtained directly from some of the foods we eat like beef and fish (roughly 50% of most people’s stores of creatine comes from food). Through digestion, the creatine contained within these meats is released directly into the blood stream and further transported to the body’s skeletal muscle.
Q. Is it necessary to load on creatine?
A. The short answer here is no, it’s not NECESSARY to load creatine, but it may help you see results faster.
The purpose of a load is to saturate your muscle cells with creatine as quickly as possible. If you were to only take a standard amount from the start, you may not reach full muscle saturation for weeks. Loading for 4-6 days can drastically cut this time down.
The downside of this is that it might not be in your budget to use that much creatine for the first week, and it also has the potential to cause gastrointestinal discomfort (gas and bloating).
Q. Is it necessary to cycle creatine?
A. Same as the question above, the operative word here is ‘necessary’ and no, it’s not necessary to cycle creatine.
The body can become tolerant or accustomed to several widely used health supplements on the market today, leading users to “cycle” them or take the product for a given amount of time followed by a set time without use.
Creatine doesn’t create dependency in users nor does the body become tolerant to it. So though it’s not necessary to cycle creatine, it’s still never a bad idea to allow your body to function on its own every now and again, if only to reestablish equilibrium. For creatine 2-4 weeks off is more than sufficient.
Q. What is the best time to take creatine?
A. For the majority of people it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s taken consistently every day.
Now some of you out there may be consuming some sort of fast acting carbohydrate right after your workout. If this is the case then you can take advantage of the spike in insulin your body has at that time to help absorb the creatine.
The temporary spike in insulin won’t necessarily convert the creatine into creatine phosphate any quicker, but it will aid the body’s process of absorption.
For everyone else, put it by your makeup or toothbrush so you won’t forget to take it every day.
Q. Will taking creatine before a workout give me more energy?
A. No, it won’t. Theoretically it should, and many early users of creatine thought it would. Unfortunately the process of absorbing and converting creatine to creatine phosphate takes time.
The key is already having your muscles saturated with creatine hours before you touch a weight or hop on a treadmill. To accomplish this, it’s essential that you consistently maintain the muscle’s saturation level by never missing a daily serving of creatine.
Q. What is the best type of creatine?
A. For most people this is a simple answer, and its good old creatine monohydrate. This form of creatine still delivers consistently and is backed by hundreds of studies.
It’s still recommended to buy from a reputable manufacturer; the purity of the creatine monohydrate is really the most important thing.
If you feel like splurging, there are several forms of creatine that aren’t as backed by research but are advertised to be better at being absorbed by the body and delivered to the muscles. This can eliminate much, if not all of the stomach discomfort in users prone to these side effects.
Q. Can Creatine help me lose weight?
A. There’s no conclusive data to suggest creatine can directly affect weight lose. In fact, creatine fills up the muscles with water (an important component for muscle growth) and can appear to actually put weight on. A very important distinction with this question is that it relates to weight loss, not fat loss. Let me explain.
Though creatine may add additional weight (from water within the muscle cells), the strength and lean muscle gains will actually increase the body’s metabolism and aid in FAT loss!
You heard it right; creatine can help the body burn fat. So don’t worry about what the scale says, it may go up in number but you’ll soon notice your pants fitting looser and your body looking better.