Many consumers take mass gainers or weight gain powders to help them achieve a caloric surplus and gain muscle while working out, but these are often unhealthy options. Weight gain supplements are convenient, but may not be a great idea to use long-term.
But are there natural options that are densely caloric but much healthier? What's the issue with mass gainers anyway? And can you make your own mass gainer at home?
In this article we'll answer all of these questions and more as we review the ingredients in a popular mass gainer based on medical research to explain why we consider this type of supplement to be unhealthy.
We'll also share a recipe for a homemade mass gainer made with whole foods, and highlight three natural, healthy, high-calorie ingredients than can make gaining weight easy and convenient without the need to cook.
Why Are Mass Gainers Unhealthy?
The formulation shown above is from a supplement called Serious Mass, sold by Optimum Nutrition, which is one of the most popular mass gainers on the market. We consider this product to be quite unhealthy.
This supplement provides 1,250 calories and 253 grams (g) of carbs per serving.
Maltodextrin, which is a highly processed powder derived from vegetables, provides the majority of the calories.
This ingredient is recognized by the FDA as safe when used in small doses as a food additive, but may be harmful to the gut at high doses.
A 2019 medical review found that maltodextrin caused intestinal inflammation at high doses, and 253 g would certainly be categorized as a high dose. That's the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for carbs in an entire day according to the Mayo Clinic.
Artificial flavors have been shown in clinical studies to have toxicity risks, as we documented in our review of G Fuel.
Red 40 is an artificial food dye that was found in a medical review to be contaminated with carcinogens (cancer-causing compounds).
Sucralose is an artificial sweetener which was shown in a clinical trial published in the Nutrition Journal to have negative effects on insulin function in healthy, young adults.
Put simply, commercial weight gainers provide the bulk of calories with highly processed, refined carbohydrates that may spike blood sugar and insulin unfavorably, and also contain a number of questionable additive ingredients.
In the next two sections we'll share some healthier alternatives for those who want to gain weight using whole foods.
Homemade Mass Gainer Shake Recipe
A TikTok user named Paul Atkins shares a recipe for a homemade mass gainer shake made entirely from whole foods:
@paul.atkins Save if you want to make this high calorie mass gainer shake 👀 #fitness #bulking ♬ Show Me (feat. Nikki's Wives) - Loud Luxury
Healthier Alternatives to Commercial Weight Gainers
Since mass gainer supplements typically provide around 1,000 calories per serving, they can be replaced with whole food alternatives which are cheaper, healthier and more nutrient dense.
Coconut flakes are calorie dense, providing 100 calories in only three tablespoons according to the USDA. This is an easy way to add 600-700 calories daily with minimal time or effort. The flakes can be added to a smoothie or consumed in isolation.
Coconut provides a range of nutrients according to the USDA, including 356 milligrams (mg) of potassium and 113 mg of phosphorus per 100 g.
The fruit also contains a unique compound called lauric acid which is naturally antibacterial and antifungal and not found in many other whole foods.
The brand we recommend is Anthony's Organic Shredded Coconut, because it's unsweetened and contains no ingredients other than organic coconut flakes.
Interested consumers can check out Anthony's Organic Shredded Coconut at this link to its official Amazon listing.
Most nuts are very caloric and one of the healthiest snack foods around.
A medical review published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that nut consumption was associated with reduced risk of cancer, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and reduced risk of all-cause mortality.
We recommend eating a wide variety of different nuts rather than one type alone. Every type of nut has a unique phytochemical profile and nutrient composition, so you'll be exposed to more healthy compounds by alternating nut intake rather than consuming peanut butter every day.
The nut brand we recommend is Presto as they sell an unsalted mix of five different types of nuts: Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds and pecans.
Interested consumers can check out Presto's Mixed Nut Blend at this link to its official Amazon listing.
Avocados are another calorie dense health food, with large avocados providing 300 calories or more. Eating two avocados daily adds around 700 calories depending on size. This is an easy snack that tastes great with hot sauce or seasoning, and requires no preparation.
Avocados are high in fiber which is associated with gastrointestinal health, with one avocado containing 13.5 g of fiber according to the USDA. They're also naturally rich in zinc, vitamin C and B-vitamins like folate.
Avocados are significantly more expensive per serving than the other whole food mass gainers we recommend, but they're arguably the healthiest.
For consumers who can't access fresh avocados (they're hard to find in some markets in the U.S.), avocado oil can be a decent substitute. The brand we recommend is Chosen Foods Avocado Oil because it's packaged in glass rather than plastic, and contains no questionable additive ingredients.
An animal study found that avocado oil consumption can alleviate oxidative damage in the body.
Interested consumers can check out Chosen Foods Avocado Oil at this link to its official Amazon listing.