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 6, 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.
  • Mass gainers help to supplement the diet with large amounts of calories mainly through protein and carbs.
  • 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 (sometimes labeled weight gainers) provide a large volume of condensed macronutrients in each serving. It wouldn’t be uncommon for one 400 ml weight gainer shake to provide 400+ calories.

Basically, you can save yourself from eating a bowl of pasta or several chicken breasts.

2. Timing

The confusion in the whey vs. mass gainer debate often stems from uncertainty about the optimal timing for taking mass gainer supplements.

While it's crucial to consume them post-workout when the body needs nutrition the most, I advise my clients to first have a protein shake right after their gym session and then take the mass gainer once they're back home.

This approach ensures a more effective nutrient absorption and muscle recovery process.

Recommended postTips 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 commonly used by athletes for its muscle recovery benefits, a fact supported by studies in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation [1].

As a fitness coach, I've seen clients achieve remarkable improvements in muscle recovery and overall performance when incorporating whey protein into their post-workout routine.
If you've ever been in a situation where you've forgotten or run out of your protein supplement, you might have noticed a significant increase in the time it takes for muscle soreness to subside after a gym session.

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.

Additionally, the timing of supplement intake can influence sleep quality and muscle recovery. 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 take both mass gainers and whey protein. In fact, most high-performance athletes and even bodybuilders take them both.

It's however interesting to note that the choice between these supplements can vary among different sports disciplines. Bodybuilders often prefer mass gainers for bulking, while endurance athletes might choose whey protein for lean muscle maintenance.

Rather than considering them in isolation, they should be viewed as complementary supplements that enhance each other's effects daily.

However, the choice to use both should align with your specific fitness goals, which I'll break down into two main recommendations.

1. Weight Gain And Bodybuilding

If your goal is steady muscle gain over a period, like three months or more, combining both supplements can be effective.

In my experience, it's best to first focus on increasing your daily intake of healthy carbs, proteins, and fats. Turn to a mass gainer only if you're struggling to meet these nutritional needs through food.

While natural food sources are preferable, there's a limit to how much you can consume, which is where supplements like mass gainers can help.

2. Cutting And Weight Loss

Now, If you're aiming for muscle definition rather than size, it's not advisable to take both supplements.

In a cutting phase, where the goal is to minimize body fat, loading up on calories from mass gainers is counterproductive.

Based on my experience, sticking to whey protein and maintaining a slight calorie deficit is the better strategy 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.



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.


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