Mass Gainer vs Whey Protein: Which One Should You Pick?

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Published by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: December 12, 2023
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As an experienced fitness trainer, I often hear debates in the gym about whey protein versus mass gainers.

These discussions inspired me to write this article, where I'll delve into the differences between these two popular supplements and guide you in choosing the right one based on your training goals.

Additionally, I'll explore whether it's beneficial to use them together, ensuring you make informed decisions to optimize your fitness journey.

But before you decide on that, let me first clarify what they are and what the difference is.

Quick Summary

  • Whey protein is more effective in the cutting phase, where the goal is to minimize body fat while mass gainers are better for bulking more than whey protein.
  • Pure protein supplements have very little, if any, carbs and fats. Their main goal is to help in the muscle recovery process.
  • Studies published by the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation show that whey protein supplementation is effective for muscle recovery.
  • In my professional experience, choosing between whey protein and mass gainers ultimately hinges on your specific fitness goals and dietary preferences.

What Is A Mass Gainer Supplement?

A muscular man holding a tub of whey protein

A mass gainer supplement is a sports nutrition powder that aims to provide a large dose of calories in the form of protein, carbs, and fats.

Many bodybuilders struggle with consuming enough calories to effectively bulk up muscles.

In my role as a fitness trainer, I've noticed that this caloric deficit is often the key reason why individuals fail to gain muscle mass, despite their efforts in training and nutrition.

1. Benefits

Mass gainers, also known as weight gainers, pack a ton of macronutrients in each serving. Imagine, one 400 ml shake can slam you with over 400 calories. That's like skipping a bowl of pasta or a few chicken breasts.

2. Timing

There's a lot of head-scratching over when to take mass gainers compared to whey. Here's the deal: they're key after a workout when your body's starving for nutrients. My advice? Knock back a protein shake right after hitting the gym, then chug the mass gainer when you get home. This one-two punch is great for better nutrient uptake and muscle repair.

Recommended post: Tips on how to use mass gainers properly

Why more carbs and less fat? That’s the default macro split for gaining muscle: generally, folks go lower carb for weight loss and higher carb for weight gain. (Of course, there are exceptions, but this is a widely used rule of thumb.)

- Nick English, Health Journalist

What Is Whey Protein?

Close up shot of whey protein

Whey protein, an isolate of milk, is a staple in my fitness coaching due to its effectiveness in muscle recovery and mass gain. Often hailed as the purest form of protein, these supplements are a common sight in gyms and sports stores

From my experience with clients, its popularity is well-deserved; whey protein not only offers a complete range of essential amino acids but is also easily digestible, making it a go-to choice for athletes and fitness enthusiasts,

For vegetarians, whey protein is a viable option, but vegans may need to look for plant-based, as whey is derived from dairy.

Related postWhey protein isolate vs. Concentrate

1. Benefits

Whey protein is a game-changer for muscle recovery, as proven by studies in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation [1]. As a fitness coach, I've seen clients make huge strides in recovery and performance by adding whey to their post-workout plan. Ever skipped your protein shake and felt sore longer after a workout? That's why it's key.

2. Timing

You may want to take it immediately after you finish training. As your muscles start to relax, they will immediately start the process of repairing micro-tears. For instance, taking whey protein before bed might aid in overnight muscle repair without disrupting sleep.

Some people even try to start taking it during a cool-down phase, as it can take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes for your stomach to start absorbing the protein.

Difference Between Mass Gainer And Whey Protein

A scoop of vanilla whey protein and chocolate whey protein on a table

I’ve often heard people say that it’s just down to a different ingredient list. While there is some truth to that, there are quite a few ingredients that will overlap, especially when it comes to protein.

Pure protein supplements usually have very little, if any, carbs and fats. Their aim is to focus on one thing only, and that is to help with the muscle recovery process.

Whey protein has also been shown to work with weight loss, which helps to give you a leaner appearance as your muscles grow.

On the other hand, mass gainers help to supplement the diet with large amounts of calories mainly through protein and carbs. However, you’ll also find some healthy fats as well. If you want to build up some new lean mass in significant amounts, then mass gainer will be more effective.

Can You Take Both?

Muscular men posing for the camera

Yes, you can mix mass gainers and whey protein. It's common for athletes and bodybuilders to use both.

Different athletes pick differently: bodybuilders often go for mass gainers to bulk up, while endurance athletes might lean towards whey protein for lean muscle upkeep.

These supplements should be seen as a tag team, boosting each other's benefits. But, it all depends on your fitness goals. Let's break it down:

  1. Weight gain and bodybuilding. Aiming for muscle growth over several months? Using both supplements can hit the spot. Start by loading up on healthy carbs, proteins, and fats. Only add a mass gainer if you're falling short. Though natural foods are best, there's only so much you can eat, and that's where mass gainers step in.
  2. Cutting and weight loss. If you're after muscle definition, not bulk, don't mix the two. During a cutting phase, with the aim to reduce fat, piling on calories from mass gainers doesn't make sense.

In my experience, you're better off sticking to whey protein and a slight calorie deficit for fat loss.

Check out our best mass gainer and best whey protein articles if you’re looking for our favorite products. You can also watch this video to learn more about mass gainers and whey protein.

youtube

FAQs

Does whey protein increase mass?

Yes, whey protein increases muscle mass by providing your body with the essential nutrients called amino acids, as reported by Medical News Today [2]. Amino acids are the building blocks of new muscle tissue, and you will need a lot of them to repair and create new fibers.

Does whey protein make you stronger?

Yes, whey protein makes you stronger by providing the amino acids needed to build up new muscle fibers. As you bulk up, you will notice that you can work out for longer and with increasingly heavy weights. Essentially, the effect is indirect rather than providing you with more energy.

Is mass gainer better than whey protein?

No, mass gainer isn’t better than whey protein as the two supplements provide completely different support for your body. In fact, if you have some significant bulking goals you want to achieve, then you’ll actually need both types of supplements to succeed.


References:

  1. https://e-jer.org/journal/view.php?number=2013600407
  2. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263371
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About The Author

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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