The research suggests that excess calories greater than 500 calories per day can lead to greater increases in lean mass but also fat mass. If you are looking to minimize gains in fat mass, it’s recommended that you start will smaller calorie surpluses (i.e., 200-300 calories) and then add more calories if needed.


  • A mass gainer protein powders contains extra calories to gain muscle, however this could result in more weight gain.
  • Whey protein contains fewer calories and is associated with increased lean mass and reduced fat mass when used with a balanced diet.
  • A smaller surplus of calories is recommended (i.e., 200-300 calories) to gain muscle without excessive fat gain.

Looking in the health food stores, you will see “MASS GAINERS” containing anywhere from 1000 to 5000 calories per serving. If you are old enough, you can remember that these weight gainers came in what appeared to be 10 lbs. dog bags, and some came in giant buckets.

So how many extra calories does it take to build muscle? Some of the most popular weight mass gainers protein powders on the market include Transparent Labs mass gainer, Optimum Nutrition Serious Mass, Naked Nutrition Naked Mass, Dymatize Super Mass Gainer, etc. Check


Mass gainers protein powders work by providing extra calories, usually from higher protein, carbohydrates, and sometimes fat. Most lifters think that mass gainers contain more protein, but the typical mass gainer contains a higher ratio of carbohydrates to protein. The typical weight gainer can have anywhere from 200 to 300 grams of carbs. The serving size is much larger than the standard serving size of protein powders; often, mass gainers will recommend 2-3 scoops compared to the standard 1 scoop for whey protein powder.

Mass gainers protein powders are commonly recommended as a meal replacements. Mass gainers with protein powder is an easy way to get additional calories and added amounts of protein. High-calorie liquid foods are easier to consume than whole foods.

Whey protein powder (i.e., pure protein powder) is lower in calories than mass gainers and contains fewer carbohydrates and fats. The difference between mass gainers and whey protein is the calories. When consumed with a calorie-controlled diet, whey protein is associated with gains in lean mass and reductions in fat mass.

Understanding Mass Gainers

An energy deficit is never anabolic. It’s always easier to gain muscle with a higher calorie intake. People who have never trained before can start a training program and gain muscle in a calorie deficit.(1) This is often seen in overweight patients who often lose body fat while gaining muscle in a calorie deficit. (2)

Advanced athletes will need fewer calories to gain muscle without the risk of gaining excess body fat. Overfeeding has been well-documented to increase both lean mass and fat gains. Consuming more calories than you burn can result in excess fat gain. The response is variable among individuals.

It has been found that 100 days of energy surplus (1000 calories per day) among young, lean male identical twins resulted in a significant individual change in body composition. The average weight gain was about 18 pounds, but the weight gain ranged from 4.3 kg to 13.3 kg (9.46 pounds to 29.26 pounds). For every 2 kg (1.1 pounds) of fat mass gained, there was 1 kg (2.3 pounds) of lean mass gained.(3)

The most common recommendation in nutrition textbooks is to consume 400-500 calories per day to increase muscle mass. The energy content of muscle is estimated to contain approximately 700 to 800 kcal per pound (454 g) due to its high water content (~ 70% water, ~ 22% protein).

These estimations have been further improved by Slater et al., in which it was calculated that skeletal muscle contains (543 to 565 kcal/lb; 370 kcal from protein, 152–164 kcal from fat, and 32–50 kcal from glycogen).(4)  Thus, a weekly surplus of 330-500 calories would result in additional increases in lean mass; however, this has not been scientifically validated.(5)

Mass gainer, mass gainer protein powders, mass gainer protein, how to gain muscle mass, best mass gainer protein evidence based muscleAthletes risk a high fat to lean mass gain with excess calories.


Much of the research has shown that 500 calories per day can lead to additional gains in body fat. Garthe et al. found that athletes consuming 500 calories extra a day had a 15% increase in fat mass compared to the control diet, yet lean mass gains were similar. The authors suggested a 200-300 kcal surplus may be more appropriate for increasing lean mass while minimizing fat mass.(6)

Similar results were demonstrated when subjects consuming a high-calorie diet (4000 calories daily) gained more muscle and fat compared to a moderately high-calorie diet (2500 calories daily).(7) Thus, the moderate surplus group gained a lean mass: fat mass of a 4:1 ratio, and the high-calorie surplus group gained lean: fat mass at a 4:3 ratio.

Kreider et al. found that taking a 1000 kcal mass gainer protein whey shake per day led to similar increases in lean mass as a carbohydrate drink but greater gains in fat mass.(8)

Mass gainer, mass gainer protein powders, mass gainer protein, how to gain muscle mass, best mass gainer protein evidence based muscleThe best mass gainer protein powders  usually contains 500-1000 additional calories. The research suggests that excess calories greater than 500 calories per day can increase lean mass and fat mass. If you want to minimize gains in fat mass, it’s recommended that you start with smaller calorie surpluses (i.e., 200-300 calories) and then add more calories if needed.
The simple answer is that scientists don’t know the calories recommended to gain muscle while minimizing fat mass gains. If you want to gain muscle and fat, then the mega mass gainer protein powders are perfectly fine, but it’s clear that you don’t need 1000-calorie shakes per day as once thought.


You should increase your protein intake to minimize fat gain with a caloric surplus. As mentioned earlier, the studies by Antonio et al. on protein overfeeding suggest that excess protein will not contribute to excess fat gain. The extra protein can help lifters increase protein synthesis, which can contribute to increases in lean muscle mass.

It should be mentioned that a previous study in experienced lifters who were in caloric maintenance were able to gain muscle (~2.2 lbs.) with protein intakes greater than 2.1 g/kg/bw in a 10-week study. Interestingly, the control group that consumed similar calories but had less protein (1.6 g/kg/day) gained no lean mass during the 10 weeks. (9) In sum, it’s helpful to be in a caloric surplus to gain muscle, but some studies show you can gain muscle without being in a caloric surplus.

Mass gainers are very easy to make to gain muscle; you can buy dessert-flavored such as rich chocolate whey protein which is rich in essential amino acids and branched-chain amino acids. Buy an carbohydrate powder, sweet potato powder is a great tasting powder to add to a whey protein shake to boost carbohydrates and calories.


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