Mass Gainer vs. Whey Protein: Which is Right For You?

Mass Gainer vs. Whey Protein: Which is Right For You?

Nutrition and dietary supplements play a critical role in how our body functions during and after exercise. Experts agree that most protein supplements, especially whey protein powder, can significantly benefit muscle growth and recovery as part of a resistance-training regimen and adequate energy intake (1). 

Along your continuum of building muscle and improving body composition, you may find yourself questioning the difference between mass gainer and whey protein.

In short, mass gainers are supplements that contain a combination of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats to aid in weight gain. Whey protein powders, on the other hand, are a purer protein source that supports lean muscle growth without the added calories from fats and carbs.

In this article, we'll elaborate on the basics of mass gainers and whey protein powders so you can determine the best option for reaching your fitness goals. 

What Is Mass Gainer?

A mass gainer, sometimes called "weight gainer," is similar to a meal replacement powder but designed specifically for gaining muscle (mass). As such, most mass gainers are rich in carbohydrates, protein, and fat to promote an energy surplus and muscle protein synthesis. Mass gainers may also contain other muscle-building ingredients like creatine monohydrate and beta-hydroxymethylbutyrate (HMB) to facilitate recovery.

Mass gainer products are an excellent option for individuals who are naturally thin/have a faster metabolism, and struggle to gain weight through their diet alone. 

Classical "hardgainers," for example, have a tough time packing on lean body mass despite consistently training and force-feeding themselves. Cases like these are where a mass gainer, like Transparent Labs MASS, really comes in handy by providing a calorie-dense source of quality protein, carbohydrates, and fats. 

What Is Whey Protein?

As a popular dietary supplement among athletes, bodybuilders, and everyday fitness enthusiasts, whey protein confers numerous benefits for overall wellness and body composition. These include supporting muscle growth, weight/fat loss, post-exercise recovery, immune functioning, and cardiovascular health (2, 3, 4, 5). But what is whey protein, exactly?

Whey protein is a high-quality protein source derived from cow's milk. Specifically, "whey" refers to the liquid byproduct of the cheesemaking process after milk has been heated and allowed to coagulate. The protein "leftovers" in whey are a mixture of albumins and globulins containing all nine essential amino acids necessary for optimal muscle growth and repair. 

So, "whey protein" collectively denotes the whey-derived protein fractions found in dairy milk. These protein fractions can be isolated/filtered out of the whey liquid and spray dried or micro-encapsulated to form a powder, ultimately creating "whey protein powder."

Types of Whey Protein Powder

There are three types of whey protein powders: isolates, concentrates, and hydrolysates. 

  1. Whey protein isolate

This is the purest form of whey protein containing over 90% protein. Whey isolate supplements undergo additional processing (e.g. micro-filtration) to eliminate nearly all fat, cholesterol, lactose, and other non-protein nutrients. 

  1. Whey protein concentrate

Whey concentrate is another form of protein that contains only 70-80% protein. Similar to isolate, whey protein concentrate is also processed to remove some of the fats, lactose, and carbs; however, these components are still present in modest amounts in the final powder.

  1. Whey protein hydrolysate 

Hydrolyzed whey protein powder is formulated from either a concentrate or isolate in which some of the peptide bonds have been hydrolyzed (read: split apart) due to exposure to heat, enzyme, or acid treatment. As a result, this type of protein can be rapidly absorbed and digested more easily by the body. 

Top 3 Differences Between Mass Gainer And Whey Protein

While mass gainer and whey protein may appear similar at first glance, their unique compositions help them serve different purposes. 

Here are three key differences between mass gainer and whey protein:

  1. Calorie Content

Compared to whey protein, most mass gainers are much more calorie-dense, ranging anywhere from 500 to 1,200 calories per serving. As a way to boost our daily calorie intake, mass gainers support healthy weight gain in a convenient way. 

On the other hand, whey protein powder is a great option when you want a convenient, lower-calorie supplement to support muscle growth and repair (6).

  1. Protein Content 

Mass gainers and whey protein are rich in protein, but mass gainers give you far less protein per gram of powder. Whereas protein powders like Transparent Labs Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate can boast nearly 90% content by weight, mass gainer supplements are made with a balance of carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and nutrients to give you more calories in every scoop.

Hence, the serving size of a mass gainer may be upwards of 120 grams, but only 25 of those grams are from protein. On the other hand, whey protein is designed to provide you with pure protein and little-to-no carbs or fats. Naturally, whey protein supplements play a pivotal role in stimulating muscle protein synthesis (7, 8). 

Being rich in essential amino acids (EAAs), particularly the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), whey protein also helps to minimize muscle damage and soreness after a bout of intense training, enabling faster recovery (9).

  1. Intended Use 

As we've mentioned, mass gainers are designed to help users gain weight, particularly muscle. Along with a consistent resistance-training program, combining more calories with high protein intake will help you pack on muscle mass; a mass gainer makes this more achievable for individuals who find it hard to eat enough through whole foods alone.

But whey protein powder is a bit more versatile than mass gainer given it can be used to support muscle growth and recovery without tacking on a ton of calories to your diet. Compared to mass gainers, whey protein powders can also be helpful for those that want to lose body fat while preserving hard-earned lean muscle mass (10).

Which is Better: Whey Protein vs. Mass Gainer?

Mass gainers and whey protein are popular options for people looking to build muscle mass, enhance their physique, and improve their overall fitness levels. Neither supplement is intrinsically "better" than the other since everyone is unique and may wind up using both of these supplements during different training phases.

Remember, mass gainer powder is typically higher in calories and is the preferred option for individuals looking to gain weight and "bulk up." However, whey protein powder is a dense source of complete protein to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, making it better suited for individuals seeking a low-calorie option to support muscle growth.

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