Scrolling through any bodybuilding, weightlifting forum or page as a relative beginner can be quite a daunting experience. In addition to being thrown various kinds of supplements that supposedly helps you build muscle, you’re also recommended all sorts of brands that majority of “seasoned” veterans swear by.
Do they all work? In a way, yes. Majority of the advice you receive is done in good faith. But, are they necessary? Not exactly. In fact, you could save yourself a lot of trouble (and money) by simply trying to eat a balanced diet. No supplements, just healthy meals.
But, you’re not here for that, are you? You’re here because you need help. Specifically, you need help choosing a mass building supplement.
Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.
Why the Need for Smart Gainers?
“Smart Gainers” is a term used to refer to a wide range of mass building supplements that help increase lean muscle gains without bulking you up for size’s sake.
It’s important to keep in mind that not all mass gainers are the same. A huge majority did not try to improve on their old formula and may be lacking in essential amino acids, as well as being packed full of fillers such as sugar, among other things.
Five most important things that you should look for in a smart gainer:
1. A High-Quality Protein Source
A high-quality protein source is necessary for any mass-gainer, which is why protein comes in.
Essentially a byproduct of cheese production, whey used to be discarded in the past. But, once its nutritional value was discovered, manufacturers started to process it separately to become what is now referred to as “whey protein” — arguably the most common type of ingredient used in supplements consumed frequently by gym-goers and bodybuilders alike.
Most people looking to build mass get majority of their protein intake from whey protein, which is some 25-50 grams of protein, with the rest of their protein requirements being filled by their daily meals.
Another alternative to whey is casein, which is a slow-digesting protein that doesn’t stimulate muscle build-up as much as whey but can provide a steady source of amino acids during and after working out. Casein, compared to whey, is much more effective at helping reduce the amount of amino acids used by the human body to fuel the muscle breakdown process.
These are the two types of protein worth taking note of if you want to build muscle and gain mass. Science has proven time and time again that casein and whey are far superior to building muscle than any other protein out there, including vegan and vegetarian alternatives.
When looking for a smart gainer, you want efficiency above all else. That’s what you get when you go with high-quality proteins, such as casein and whey, as your supplement of choice.
2. A Good CHO:PRO Ratio
The CHO:PRO ratio, otherwise known as the carbohydrate-to-protein ratio, of a product is another important factor to consider when looking for a smart gainer to use on a daily basis, especially for your pre-workout.
Most people think negatively of carbohydrates. They think that carbohydrates = fat. But, that’s not exactly true. The truth is, carbohydrates play a key role in the muscle-building process. They give your body the necessary energy or fuel to push through your day-to-day routine, including your workouts. Not to mention, a carbohydrate imbalance in your body can result in poor recovery items.
Going to the gym and working out is a strenuous physical activity. If you’re not careful, you might find yourself low in muscle glycogen levels, which can severely slow down your body’s ability to build strength and gain muscle.
Even though both carbohydrates and protein play different roles in building muscle, they go hand-in-hand to make sure you get the most efficient gains possible. In fact, multiple studies have shown that pre and post-workout muscles paired with a healthy dose of carbohydrates and protein are great for building muscle and recovery as opposed to just consuming either one of the two.
Of course, everybody’s needs are a little bit different. You may not be as active as the next person, and vice versa. You may also have different body types. But, when it comes to smart gainers, a good CHO:PRO ratio to stick with is 2:1. But, if you need help keeping up with your daily carbohydrates needs, going 3:1 may be necessary.
Either of the two ratios are ideal and are backed by sound science. A 4:1 CHO:PRO ratio might also be necessary if you’re doing endurance-training for long-distance marathons.
3. A Variety of Carb Sources
You can’t just consume carbohydrates from a single source. If you did that, your body won’t be able to metabolize the necessary amount of carbohydrates to meet its daily needs. Because of this, more and more mass gainers in the market included mixed carbohydrates as one of its ingredients to try and keep up with the demands of the market.
By using different types of carbohydrates that are metabolized using a different transporter, smart gainers using mixed carbohydrates make it possible to meet your daily carbohydrate needs more efficiently.
Among the most common types of carbohydrate sources used are glucose, sucrose, fructose, and maltodextrin.
The use of mixed carbohydrates is one of the key reasons why you may want to ditch your old mass gainer and find something newer that actually uses multiple sources.
4. Essential Amino Acids
The human body relies on amino acids to help make its protein to help the body break down the food that we eat. Although there are many different types of amino acids (as many as 20), only 9 are referred to as essential. The worst part is that our bodies do not naturally produce these said amino acids, which is exactly why we have to rely on supplements.
These amino acids include leucine, isoleucine, methionine, lysine, threonine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, valine, and finally, histidine.
Each of these amino acids plays their own role in the human body. Some help reduces post-workout muscle damage and improves recovery, while others help minimize the amount of amino acids burned during your workout session. But, all in all, these amino acids work in conjunction with each other to make the muscle-building process as efficient as possible.
Of these nine essential amino acids, however, one stands out the most. Leucine is an amino acid that studies have shown help kick-start the biological process necessary for building muscles.
Make sure to pay close attention to the leucine content of your mass gainer. It’s not unusual for some products to try and skimp on leucine to make their products cheaper.
Ideally, a smart gainer should have a minimum of three grams of leucine and contain additional essential amino acids, as well as extra BCAAs.
5. Digestive Enzyme Blends
Just to make a quick recap, one of the key reasons why whey protein is considered the best type of protein out there for muscle-building is because of how fast our body breaks it down and absorbs it. Because of its quick breakdown rates, the human body is able to use the protein from whey protein to fuel muscles quickly.
The importance of absorption rates has led manufacturers to start experimenting and doing research on using digestive enzyme blends to help increase the bio-availability of their product, which is basically the portion of their product that enters the bloodstream and absorbed by the human body.
The results? According to the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 60 grams of pea and rice protein with digestive enzymes were able to match the muscle protein synthesis capabilities of whey protein. That is a significant jump, all things considered. This also explains why more and more manufacturers are starting to recognize the importance of using digestive enzymes to make their smart gainers more effective.
Think of digestive enzymes as the train, and key fuel sources such as amino acids and glucose as the cargo. Normally, these fuel sources travel at a pretty fast rate throughout your body and are absorbed rather quickly. But, with the use of digestive enzymes, muscle protein synthesis rates are improved. As a result, the “train” travels much faster and is able to deliver the cargo in much less time.
The increased absorption and digestion rates have plenty of benefits as well. For example, if you’re planning on building muscles and bulking up, taking smart gainers with added digestive enzymes can help your body handle your daily calorie intake better and more efficiently.
A Quick Summary of our Smart Gainer Buying Guide
Mass gainers are great. They are one of the best ways for you to meet your daily nutritional needs without overdoing it with calories. Not to mention, they’re much more convenient to take compared to incorporating more protein and carbohydrates to your typical meal.
Just keep in mind that not every mass gainer is the same. Some may have been considered high-quality in the past, but have since failed to keep up with the times. Because of this, other mass gainers may be more effective, not to mention, cheaper.
This is why it’s important that you do your research and choose the mass gainer that contains the necessary ingredients to make sure that your gains are achieved safely and in an efficient manner.
Here is a quick recap of the five key ingredients that a smart gainer should ideally have:
1. A high-quality protein source such as Whey or Casein.
2. A mixed carbohydrate source as opposed to a single carbohydrate source.
3. At least a 2:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio.
4. A high concentration of essential amino acids, specifically, leucine.
5. Uses digestive enzyme blends to help improve both absorption and digestion rates.
The Bottom Line
It’s not unusual to try and obsess on making sure that we are making the most out of our bodies. It’s only natural for us to want the best out of ourselves, which is where these supplements come in for those who prefer to bulk up and/or add lean muscle to their frame.
These supplements can definitely help in that regard. However, supplements can only do so much.
Taken from the name itself, supplements are simply what they are – supplements. They should not be your main sources of nutrition and gains. Instead, they should be used to supplement your daily workout routine and meals, which, ideally, should also contain a healthy mix of protein and carbohydrates, as well as the necessary ingredients.
Make sure that you have your meal plans and exercise routines down first before you resort to using smart gainers to help you achieve your fitness goals.