Weight gainers are a high calorie powder that you can mix in virtually any beverage you want. Typically they are high in protein, low to moderate in fat with a good amount of their calories coming from carbohydrates. Weight gainers have been around seemingly forever. Back in the early 80's, you didn't get a lot of calories – maybe 600 at the most. As time went by, however, there was a “calorie war”, with each brand trying to out-do the other in terms of calorie content. During the late 80's, early 90's especially, you had products boasting calorie levels in the 2000 range all the way up to 4000, along with these huge scoopers that gave you a serving so big, it would take you half a day just to drink it! I'm sure some of you remember the old Weider “dog food” bags of Mega Mass 2000 and 4000. Since that time, there are weight gainers that provide a better ratio of carbs to protein and fat, with a lower sugar content – often a problem with gainers.
The thing is, weight gains can serve a benefit to certain people, typically any one with a very high metabolism, specifically high school/college athletes trying to gain weight for sports, although they can also be helpful for any athlete who can't gain weight. Now, when I say “weight” I mean muscle but if misused, you can easily add fat – a lot of fat – from a weight gainer. Now, gaining weight is more complicated then just simply adding a shake or two to your diet. This is how most people do it and often I hear the “it doesn't work” compliant as a result. The truth is, weight gainers do work – they can't not work, as long as you know how many extra calories you require per day over and above maintenance levels to gain weight. That last line is so important to the success of this type of product that you should go back and read it again! You have to take the time to sit down and apply some calculations and determine your calorie requirements. There are many ways to do this but one easy way is to use the Harris-Benedict formula. The Harris Benedict Equation is a formula that uses your BMR and then applies an activity factor to determine your total daily energy expenditure (calories). You use energy no matter what you're doing, even when sleeping. A BMR formula will calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR); the number of calories you burn at rest.
If you've noticed that every year, it becomes harder to eat whatever you want and stay slim, you've also learned that your BMR decreases as you age. Here is the formula:
Women: BMR = 655 + ( 4.35 x weight in pounds ) + ( 4.7 x height in inches ) - ( 4.7 x age in years )
Men: BMR = 66 + ( 6.23 x weight in pounds ) + ( 12.7 x height in inches ) - ( 6.8 x age in year )
To determine your total daily calorie needs, multiply your BMR by the appropriate activity factor, as follows:
- If you are sedentary (little or no exercise) : BMR x 1.2
- If you are lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) : BMR x 1.375
- If you are moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) : BMR x 1.55
- If you are very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week) : BMR x 1.725
- If you are extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training) : BMR x 1.9
Example: If you are very active, multiply your BMR (1745) by 1.725 = 3010. This is the total number of calories you need in order to maintain your current weight. From here, you would begin to add calories over and above the 3010 level to gain weight – say, an extra 500 calories per day. Monitor this for one week, keeping an eye on your waistline. If nothing happens, add another 250 calories per day again keeping close tabs on your waistline. Following this approach you will begin to gain some muscle weight. You may gain some fat as well but as long as you keep checking your waist and don't allow it to get out of hand, you're fine. Now, this is what I mean by gaining weight is more complicated than just drinking shakes. This is a simple supplement but to get the results, you have to take the time to work out calorie needs. Typically it's those people that don't want to do all this calculating that feel the product doesn't work – they're just shooting in the dark hoping to hit the target then when they miss they complain they can't see!
When choosing a weight gainer, consider the following:
- Compare number of servings, the required serving size and the price. Even though these products come in huge tubs, on average they only provide 16-20 servings (at the full serving suggestion). You can extend the life of a weight gain by staying with the daily calorie increase I suggested – most weight gains provide a huge calorie increase at full strength, that amount of extra calories is just to much.
- Look at the total sugar content. It used to be gainers were loaded in sugar but these days you can find good choices that are low in sugar to total carbohydrates. Check out the protein sources and total protein to carbohydrate ratio. Most gainers will be have double the amount of carbohydrates to protein. Usually, I don't advocate high carbohydrates but with these young high school/college kids that typically burn a ton of calories at their chosen sport that also do not get to eat a lot during the school day who also may have a fast metabolism, you can see why extra calories and in this case extra carbohydrates will be of benefit.
- Research quality and taste by checking out online reviews. Most sites today will provide user reviews, this is a great way to the fell of a product before you buy.
Some gainers will add things like creatine, extra glutamine and extra bcaa's, I recommend these nutrients because they are proven muscle building ingredients but be sure read the labels as you compare products to see what you are getting in each one.
Timing is usually 1-2 shakes a day in between regular meals. This could be your post workout or post sports practice shake. A second shake is added only if you have found you need to add a second shake to get enough calories. Dosage should be less than the full serving size to prevent quick fat gain, as I've suggested I would stay at about 500 calories per shake. If you need more calories than that, add in extra shakes as opposed to drinking one monster shake. Remember you want to eat 5-7 times a day, this is one method that will allow that.