Whether you’re just starting your fitness journey or are a gym veteran, getting your supplementation right can be tough. Unless you’re a professional sports nutritionist or have consulted one recently, it’s hard to know exactly what your body needs. And even if you do, with so many products available, picking the best one can seem like an impossible task.
Take protein supplements, for example. You probably know that they’re an important part of many people’s diet and exercise regime. You may even be aware of the different options you have for increasing your protein intake. But do you actually know what these products do… or which is best suited to you and your goals?
A quick visit to your nearest health food store will show you how many protein supplements are currently on the market. In fact, most brands will sell a range of different products designed to help you achieve different goals. Knowing what each does and which you need will help make sure you get the best bang for your buck.
The two most popular protein products currently on the market are whey proteins and mass gainers. Depending on your goals, these may sound like the exact same thing (you take whey protein to gain mass, right?) However, they are distinctly different products, and picking the wrong one could actually make your body work against you.
We’re going to delve into the whey protein v mass gainer debate to help you avoid this. We’ll look at what each of these products does, how they are different, and why you would use them. We’ll also share our tips on picking the perfect protein product for you and your goals.
Why would I use one of these products?
Before we get into the specifics of each product, let’s look at why you would take protein supplements in the first place.
Protein products – like whey protein and mass gainers – are easily some of the most widely used supplements in the world. Everyone from professional athletes through to the most casual gym-goer uses some kind of protein product. In fact, protein supplementation has become so commonplace that most supermarkets and many vending machines now stock some protein products.
The main reason for this is that protein is an essential building block of muscle. Once consumed, the body breaks it down to help repair muscle tissue and feed muscle growth. As such, high-quality protein is considered crucial to achieving a range of fitness goals.
There’s a lot of research backing up this belief, with multiple studies linking post-workout protein supplementation and increased muscle mass. Increased protein consumption has also been found to help speed up post-workout recovery and improve training performance. All of this makes protein products a great choice for anyone looking to get the most from their workouts.
In further good news, protein has also been shown to help with weight loss. Of the three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat), it’s the most filling and can help you control your appetite. In fact, many weight loss products add in extra protein to increase feelings of fullness.
What’s more, protein helps protect your lean muscle mass, even when you’re reducing your caloric intake. This is particularly important as lean muscle burns more calories than fat when the body is at rest. As such, increasing your protein intake can speed up your metabolism and help your body burn fat.
With all of this in mind, it’s easy to see why so many people use protein products. Whether you want to improve your athletic performance, maximise your muscle gains, or simply get lean, high-quality protein can help. But which protein product should you be taking?
What is whey protein?
Let’s start with the most popular protein product – whey protein.
Whey protein is one of the most widely used and most widely available supplements on the market. This is in no small part due to how effective it is. Whey protein, considered one of the best sources of high-quality supplementary protein, has been shown to provide many health benefits.
Importantly, whey is considered a ‘complete’ protein, meaning that it contains all of the amino acids your body needs. This includes all of the essential amino acids that your body needs but cannot produce itself. While all protein supplements contain at least some amino acids, whey is one of the few complete proteins.
As a complete protein, whey supports good overall health. The amino acids it provides are required for many crucial biochemical processes. Certain amino acids are particularly critical to your fitness goals – like leucine, which helps the body process its protein intake.
Best of all, whey protein is usually quite affordable. As a milk extract, it is readily available and cheap and easy to source. In fact, whey is actually a by-product of the cheesemaking process, and cheesemakers traditionally had to pay to dispose of it.
In its natural form, whey is a thin liquid with an extremely high protein content. This is usually dried out and further refined to make the whey protein products most people are familiar with. Broadly speaking, these come in three main forms:
- Whey Protein Concentrate: Natural whey is filtered and dried to make a powder product that is generally about 80% protein. This is the most cost-effective whey product and widely considered to have the best flavour and texture. Often, other ingredients are added to make the product more palatable, including additives (natural or artificial) for colouring and taste.
- Whey Protein Isolate: A more refined product, where additional filtration is undertaken to remove most of the sugar, fat, and cholesterol. This creates a more concentrated product (generally about 90% protein) that is better suited to those with sensitive stomachs. Again, other ingredients are usually added to the final product to improve the taste and appearance.
- Hydrolysed Protein: This is the most refined and – as a result – most expensive of the three main whey protein types. Hydrolysate is exposed to an enzyme that partially breaks down the protein, making it quicker and easier to absorb. As such, this is the best option for people with sensitive stomachs.
Some products will be one of these types (e.g. whey protein concentrate powder). Others will be a blend of more than one. Blending different whey protein types helps keep the production cost down without compromising too greatly on the overall protein content. It can also create a more well-rounded product that releases protein into the system over a longer period of time.
What is a mass gainer?
Many people see mass gainers as a form of whey protein blend, but they are so much more than that. They are a specialised product that combines a number of ingredients to help support muscle growth. What’s more, they are usually designed to specifically support those who struggle to put on weight.
While most mass gainers feature some whey protein, there are also options featuring different protein sources. For example, it’s possible to get a plant-based mass gainer if you are lactose-sensitive or on a vegan diet. However, as whey protein is one of the most complete, high-quality protein sources, mass gainers with whey protein are usually more effective.
In addition to the protein, mass gainers have other ingredients that provide everything you need for muscle building. Specifically, they usually have high levels of high-quality carbohydrates and fats. These can come from a variety of sources, but those with the highest carb content usually use glucose and maltose.
Depending on the product, a mass gainer will generally have a carb-to-protein ratio of between 2:1 and 3:1. This means that there are two to three times more carbs in each serve than there is protein. It also means that mass gainers tend to be quite high in calories, thanks to all the extra carbs.
This is particularly important for those with fast metabolisms who struggle to put on any additional mass (muscle or otherwise). These people often burn calories as quickly as they consume them, so simply increasing their protein intake has minimal effect. Moreover, if they train harder and don’t have the right supplementation, they burn even more calories and actually lose weight.
This is where the extra carbs in a mass gainer really come in handy. They provide the body with additional fuel to burn, allowing the extra protein to be put toward muscle growth. They also allow you to comfortably consume many more calories than you would be able to through dietary sources alone.
The best mass gainers also use a mix of carbs to help keep the body fed for longer. Specifically, they usually have a combination of high and low glycaemic carbs to fuel your body post-workout and beyond (respectively). In addition to helping boost your energy levels, this helps further protect your protein intake and muscle gains.
An important point to note here – supplements are only one part of the muscle-building equation. Because of their high-calorie count, mass gainers will help most people to put on weight. However, if they are not taken in conjunction with regular resistance training, this could be the wrong kind of weight.
How are these products different?
As alluded to above, there are some important similarities between whey protein products and mass gainers. Most significantly, they both contain high-quality protein and can help you build serious muscle mass. Also, when taken correctly and in conjunction with a structured workout plan, both could help you achieve your fitness goals.
However, there is one key difference. Where whey protein is a pure protein product, mass gainers contain other ingredients. This means that they are processed differently and, ultimately, have notably different impacts on the body. It also means that each of these products has a distinctly different use.
Taking a slightly more detailed view, there are a few important differences between whey protein and mass gainers:
- The macronutrient balance: The whole point of a mass gainer is to provide higher levels of carbs and fats. As such, most products have much higher levels of these macronutrients than they do protein. This is the exact opposite of whey protein, which has a high protein content and virtually no carbs or fat.
- The total calories: Building on the macronutrient balance, the total calories provided by a mass gainer is also much higher. Most whey protein products are relatively low in calories, providing 100 – 150 per serve. By contrast, mass gainers are much more calorie-dense, clocking in at about 1,250 – 1,500 per serve.
- The price: Generally speaking, mass gainers are more expensive than whey protein products. This is partly because of the greater range of ingredients and partly because of the higher cost of production. That being said, most mass gainers are still fairly affordable when compared to other supplements.
All of this means that depending on your body type and goal, one of these products will be more suitable. It also means that choosing the wrong product could mean you see minimal benefit – or even worse, negative effects. As such, it’s important to select the product you need based on your situation and requirements carefully.
Whey Protein v Mass Gainer – which should I be taking?
So… with all of this in mind, the question remains – which would work best for you?
As already noted, one of the biggest determinants of this will be your body type. For example, if you’re someone who struggles to put on weight, the extra calories of a mass gainer could help. However, if you put on weight easily, those extra calories could turn into the wrong kind of mass.
Similarly, your goals will also help determine the best product for you. If you’re on a bulking cycle and want to build serious muscle, a mass gainer could help supercharge your progress. However, if you’re trying to shred or lose weight, the last thing you can probably do with is the extra calories.
With all of this in mind, here are the products we’d recommend, based on body type or goals:
- If you’re a hard gainer looking to build muscle: If putting on weight is difficult for you, building muscle will mean taking in more protein and a lot more calories. As such, a mass gainer will usually be better, giving your body the fuel it needs and protecting your progress. Also, if the extra calories do end up increasing your body fat, this should be relatively easy to burn off.
- If you’re trying to build lean muscle: Regardless of your body type, whey protein is usually better as it allows you to control your overall caloric intake. This is critical if you’re someone who is trying to get, or stay, lean, as it helps avoid any unnecessary calories. And, if you’re a hard gainer, you can bring your overall caloric intake up through further supplementation.
- If you’re trying to lose weight: When you are trying to lose weight, controlling your calories is critical. As such, whey protein is the best option as it is a purer product and can help suppress your appetite. It can also help protect your lean muscle mass, which, in turn, could help you burn fat faster.
- If you’re trying to support or improve athletic performance: Generally speaking, whey protein is better because it allows you more control over your macronutrient intake. That being said, both whey protein and mass gainers have been linked to improved strength and performance. As such, if you want to put on weight (as well as improve your performance), mass gainers could be better.
- If you’re a bodybuilder: The best product will depend on which phase you are in – bulking or shredding. During your bulking phase, a mass gainer is probably better as it will help you put on maximum size. However, when shredding, you should switch to whey protein to bring down your caloric intake and protect your gains.
If you’re still not sure which product you need, you can always give each a try and see which you prefer. However, if you do this, it’s important to give each one enough time (at least a few weeks) to see real results. You should also have clear goals and regularly measure your progress to see which works best for you.
Also, don’t be afraid to switch it up and change between products as this could actually help increase their effectiveness. For example, if you’ve been taking a mass gainer for a while, switching to whey protein could help you lean out your gains. Conversely, if you’re taking whey protein and your progress has slowed, switching to a mass gainer could help you push through the plateau.
How do I pick the perfect protein product?
By now, you’ve hopefully worked out which type of protein you need – a whey protein or a mass gainer. However, you now need to pick your perfect product. And, given the wide range of each of these products that are now available, this can be a little tricky.
Regardless of which type of protein you’re after, the main thing you should look at is the quality of ingredients. Some manufacturers choose to cut corners and use lower quality raw materials to keep production costs down. Others pad out their products with cheaper and less effective fillers.
While this does mean a more affordable product, it also means less of the good stuff. As such, it’s generally worth paying a little bit more and actually getting the results you’re after. Because, after all, supplementation should be all about helping you achieve your goals!
At MAX’S, all of our protein products are sourced from the highest quality producers and manufactured here in Australia. We also have a team of experienced biochemists and food scientists who are dedicated to formulating blends that deliver peak results. This means that when you choose a MAX’S protein product, you can be sure you’re getting the best.
What other supplements should I be taking?
Depending on your goals, you may want to consider adding further products to your supplement stack. The good news is, whatever support you need, there’s a product that can help. Here are a few we recommend you consider.
- Burner Blend: If you’re looking to lose weight, a burner blend could help speed up the process. These contain whey protein and other protein types and ingredients to help with fat loss (e.g. guarana and green tea). If this sounds like something you’d like to try, check out our advanced fat burning protein, Super Shred.
- Slow-Release Blends: If you’d like to speed up your recovery or want to improve your sleep, a slow-release blend may be suitable. These usually contain whey protein, slow-release proteins (e.g. casein), and ingredients that support HGH production (e.g. L-Arginine) and good sleep (e.g. chamomile). If this sounds like something you would like to try, check out our Anabolic Night.
- Amino Acids: If you’d like to get even more from your workouts, amino acids can help boost both performance and recovery. They can also help promote muscle growth and improve overall health. Check out our range of amino acid products for more information.
For more advice on what to take, check out our guide to the best supplements for muscle growth and bodybuilding. If you’re trying to trim down, have a read of our articles on the best BCAAs and best fibre supplements for weight loss.
Also, whatever supplements you choose to take, remember that they are just that – supplements. While they should help you achieve your fitness goals, they can’t do it by themselves. In fact, no amount of supplementation can overcome a poor diet or an unstructured approach to your workouts.
If you’re having trouble perfecting your diet and exercise, plans check out our Ultimate Nutrition Guide and Ultimate Training Guide. These provide all the information you need to come up with your own plans and tailor them to your goals. There’s also example nutrition and workout plans designed to suit different goals, experience levels, and body types.