The first month of the year has ended and some of us have likely given up on our resolutions to transform for the better. However, there is no wrong time to commit to a healthy change.
The constant bombardment of images of perfectly sculpted bodies have resulted in many falling into the trap of comparing themselves to others and feeling inadequate. Besides, playing on people’s desire for quick results, questionable supplements that promise rapid weight gain or loss enter the scene.
Frequently, unregulated ingredients found in these concoctions can be dangerous for our health. Moreover, these quick results are often not sustainable and can lead to a yo-yo effect, where one loses the weight gained as soon as one stops taking these supplements.
Read more about yo-yo dieting here.
“As with other supplements, excess intake of muscle mass gainers will cause unhealthy weight gain, digestive issues, risk of diabetes mellitus, liver and kidney damage,” says Svasti Upadhyaya, sports nutritionist currently residing in Hyderabad.
Moreover, these supplements are filled with empty calories. Several mass gaining powders lack vital vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, A, B complex, iron, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, and magnesium, adds Upadhyaya.
Why it is time to replace mass gainers
While social media hashtags on weight loss and gain become more popular, a plethora of supplements have taken over the nutrition market. And while crash diets and mass gainers promise faster results, they cannot compete with nutrition from fresh produce.
Sports nutritionist Srishti D Chatlani, from Bengaluru says, “Other than the protein component, mass gain powders contain a carbohydrate (like banana flour powder) and maltodextrin that are usually sourced from wheat or maize.”
Maltodextrin, a tasteless white powder, is chemically a carbohydrate with a remarkably high glycaemic index (raises blood sugar levels very quickly). Although The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) deems maltodextrin as safe for consumption, several studies suggest they negatively affect our overall wellbeing.
Maltodextrin is a common ingredient in most processed products such as pasta, salad dressings, cereals, desserts, and instant foods. It is also used as a thickening agent in foods and several skin care products.
A 2018 study published in the journal of Cellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology indicates that maltodextrin has the potential to cause damage to the intestinal environment. Researchers suggest maltodextrin is especially risky for those with inflammatory bowel disease.
Side effects to look out for
The side effects of consuming mass gain powders include water retention, nitrogen imbalance, mood swings, constipation, and hormonal disruption, according to Chatlani.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism found that consuming mass gain powders high in protein can lead to kidney and liver damage, especially when taken without clinical supervision.
Additionally, mass gain powders may contain harmful ingredients such as androgenic steroids (substances that trigger production of male hormones) or illegal substances such as peptide hormones, growth hormones, steroids and stimulants that can lead to serious health issues. Long-term use of these supplements can also lead to hormonal imbalances and increased risk of certain cancers.
Another study published in the journal Australian Prescriber reported that the use of mass gainers can lead to an increase in oestrogen levels in men, which could cause gynaecomastia (swelling of breast tissues.)
The alternative is a slow and steady weight gain by modifying one’s calorie intake, which is not only safe but also more likely to lead to sustainable results. However, it is best to consult a healthcare professional before making any changes to the diet.
Mindfully monitoring calorie intake
Keeping a check on one’s calorie intake for weight gain is an important step in achieving a healthy weight. One effective way to do this is by starting with a gradual increase of 300-500 kcal per week. This allows the body to adjust to additional calories without overwhelming it.
Chatlani advises maintaining a 65:15:20 ratio of carbohydrates, protein, and fat when planning meals, to ensure a balance of macronutrient intake. “Reviewing progress every 2 weeks and adjusting the calorie intake accordingly is also crucial,” she adds.
While increasing calories from food, the focus should be on a high fibre diet, preferably from millets, vegetables and whole fruits. Protein sources such as eggs, pulses, paneer, tofu, poultry, and fish can help with gradual increase in calories. Including healthy fats from nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and pistachios and seeds like chia, flax, and sunflower can make up a wholesome diet.
Read about how to make your vegan bowl wholesome here.
Upadhyaya is an advocate of exercises and a diet rich in nutrients for gradual weight gain. She recommends not taking supplements unless absolutely necessary and under clinical supervision. “Incorporating a variety of fruits and vegetables into your meals can help you gain weight in a healthy way,” she adds.
Both experts advise that if one has been prescribed supplements by a physician, one should drink plenty of fluids to reduce the strain on the liver. Weight gain should be gradual and done with a healthy and balanced approach, rather than through quick and unhealthy methods,” cautions Chatlani.