To put on pounds the healthy way, you'll need to increase your calorie intake and do some strength training. You may have tried a weight-gain supplement as an easy way to boost calories but then found the flavor to be lacking. Many supplements taste chalky and artificial, or they contain additives and extra sugar you don't need. Often, the best-tasting and most effective supplements are ones you craft yourself from natural ingredients. If you do reach for a packaged version, make sure the ingredients are of the utmost quality.
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Weight gainers promise amazing weight gain if you consume their products. Oftentimes, a product claim that seems too good to be true really isn't, and it won't give you the results you expect.
Weight gain requires work -- often as much effort as weight loss. From a dietary perspective, adding 250 to 500 calories per day from nutritious foods such as unsaturated fats, whole grains, starchy vegetables and extra protein will help you put on 1/2 to 1 pound a week. Turn those extra calories into muscle by strength training at least twice per week. Muscle is a healthy addition to your body -- it helps with sports performance, greater stamina, functional strength and your appearance. Extra calories from protein are especially important when you're trying to add muscle. Eat at least 0.6 to 0.9 gram of protein per pound of body weight, and get it from a variety of sources, including meat, dairy, fish, poultry, eggs and soy.
Weight Gainer Pros
Weight gainers are convenient. They provide calories in a powder or premixed form that you can carry with you, and this can be especially helpful if you have a jampacked schedule that keeps you away from a kitchen. Weight gainer supplements can also help if you don't have the appetite to take in all the solid food required to boost your calorie intake. The products are easy to measure, and their labels tell you exactly how many calories, protein, carbohydrates and fats they contain.
Weight gainers come in all sorts of tempting flavors, including chocolate, berry, graham cracker and cookies and cream. Which ones taste the best is quite subjective. If you dislike strawberries, for example, no matter how good someone says a strawberry weight gainer tastes, you're probably not going to like it.
Taste Testing to Find Your Favorite
You'll have to taste-test to find the best-tasting weight gainer for you. When you do a test, though, choose the ones with the best ingredients. Many weight gainers contain a bunch of fillers that don't really offer the nutrients you need for good health. Weight gainers are highly processed, and even if the nutrition label says it contains numerous added vitamins, minerals and protein, the nutrients just don't have the same positive effect on your body as they do when they come from whole foods.
Sugar or artificial sweeteners are often used in weight gainers to mask the taste of the processed ingredients and any added supplements. When you test shakes for taste, look for one that doesn't list sugar or corn syrup as the first or second ingredient. Nutrient specifications that you do want to seek out are 10 to 20 grams of protein per serving, about 40 grams of carbohydrates and around 6 grams of fat. Check that the fat is largely unsaturated and that the product has no trans fats.
Milk proteins, especially whey and casein, are among the best to promote muscle protein synthesis, the process by which muscles grow after a strength workout, reported a review published in a 2012 issue of the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition. The amino acid leucine is particularly critical in muscle building and is found in both milk proteins.
Glucose or maltodextrin might be forms of carbohydrates found in weight gainers designed for consumption after a workout. These are fast-acting carbs that help raise insulin after a workout. This enables your body to better use leucine to build muscle tissue.
Precautions About Weight Gainers
Weight gainers are a quick way to take in extra calories and protein, but you can easily get those nutrients from whole foods too. Some weight gainers may include ingredients that they claim will help you build muscle. Substantive evidence that supports supplement claims is lacking, however, and some could even be harmful. Consumer Reports published a review in 2010 warning consumers away from unregulated supplements, specifically ones targeting body builders, because some contain undisclosed steroids and prescription drugs.
If you're using weight-gainer products to beef up your calories to help you gain a few pounds, it's still good to be cautious and buy products that only contain recognizable nutrients. Also look for the USP label when purchasing a weight gainer. This label indicates that the manufacturer has consulted U.S. Pharmacopeia to verify the the quality and purity of its ingredients. The "USDA Certified Organic" label is another indication that a product's quality has been evaluated. You're most likely to find these labels on protein powder supplements.
Real Food Weight Gainers
A weight gainer can help you add calories, and sometimes extra protein, but you can just as easily get the extra from whole foods, which taste natural and delicious. Suppose your store-bought weight gainer provides 320 calories per serving with 16 grams of protein and 52 grams of carbohydrates. A homemade shake made with a large banana, a cup of milk, 6 ounces of plain Greek yogurt and 2 tablespoons of peanut butter tastes like a shake, contains all-natural and pronounceable ingredients and offers more than twice as much protein and a lot more calories. This peanut butter and banana shake gives you 560 calories with 34 grams of protein and a similar number of carbs.
Dry milk powder, ground flaxseed and avocado are other ways to boost the calorie content of your foods without having to resort to an expensive supplement. Add these foods to a homemade shake made with yogurt and fruit, add flax or avocado to salads or stir the dry milk into casseroles and soups for tasty, high-calorie additions.