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What is a Hardgainer?

An Ectomorph has a delicately built body, flat chest, fragile, lean, and lightly muscled frame. If this describes you, and it takes you longer to gain muscle, you would be described as a ‘Hard Gainer.’1 This body type is particularly common in younger trainees.

Training For The Hard Gainer

An ectomorph’s muscles are lean and of high quality, but dense and stubborn in response to training. Higher reps in the 10-15 range give this trainer a deep burn, however higher reps discourage size gains. For mass gains, lower repetitions in the 6-8 rep range would be of greater benefit. While an ectomorph can build considerable strength, this unfortunately, does not normally relate to muscle gains. An ectomorph’s muscles recover faster due to the better muscle density and muscle lower body fat. Decreasing the training volume per body part to 5-8 sets, yet shortening the interval of days rested to 3-5 before training a body part again, can help the ectomorph exploit this quick recovery. Training intensity must be very high, without going beyond failure. Cardio should be used sparingly, especially for an ectomorph with weak legs who wants to build mass.2

Bodybuilding Supplements For The Hard Gainer

In addition to a balanced diet, the following supplements will help the hard gainer:

  • A multivitamin, as vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients are the body's fundamental building blocks. They not only support a strong foundation, but are responsible for our energy levels, performance and vitality.
  • A protein powder to ensure that you are getting at least 2 grams per kilo of bodyweight, and helps rebuild muscle tissue and also protect joints. A Weight Gainer Protein Powder, rather than a low carbohydrate/fat loss formula, can help create a calorific surplus. To grow, the hard gainer muscle must consume more calories than is used. This could be achieved by increasing food intake, but this can be expensive and time consuming. These protein powders are generally higher in carbohydrates than their ‘leaner’ counterparts, and fortunately are relatively less expensive than other protein supplements.
  • Stack this protein powder with a pre-workout supplement which is often composed of arginine. This constituent has been shown to have the ability to increase blood flow. When blood vessels are expanded, greater blood flow is possible. This is particularly important during exercise and recovery from exercise because at these times muscles need greater amounts of oxygen and nutrients. This product is useful taken before training.3 Hard gainers should use a pre-workout supplement without the stimulant component, such as caffeine.
  • MCT Oil (Medium Chain Triglycerides) are medium-length fatty acid molecules that act like carbohydrates as an energy source. MCT oil is calorically dense, making it a convenient way for the hard gainer to add all important calories to the diet.4
  • Muscle Cell Volumisers include ingredients such as Creatine, which is well documented as demonstrating gains in body mass, as well as decreases in body fat. Once considered to be mostly water weight, a significant proportion is now understood to be pure muscle and only a small portion of water.5
  • Glutamine, the most abundant amino acid in the body, is mostly stored in muscle. Glutamine may assist with cell hydration, or cell volumisation, thus stimulating protein synthesis and decreasing its breakdown.
  • Intra-training supplements will also assist the hard gainer. Look out for one with Creatine Monohydrate combined with some carbohydrates. This type of formula may help fuel your muscles to assist your strength and endurance whilst you train.

Testosterone Support Supplements

As testosterone is a muscle-building hormone, it must be present for muscle gains to take place.6 A variety of supplements are now available which can enhance your testosterone levels, thus improving muscle gains.

  • Tribulus terrestris can lead to a rise in the production of Luteinising Hormone (LH), thus increasing the natural production of testosterone.
  • Horny Goat Weed is believed to increase LH and natural testosterone production, as well as reducing elevated cortisol levels, a by-product of resistance training.
  • Longifolia stimulates testosterone production and reduces the levels of bound and metabolically inactive testosterone in the body through LH production.
  • Viraloid, a blend of plant alkaloids, may increase the amount of testosterone produced, as well as improve your body’s utilisation of testosterone and synthetic androgens.
  • ZMA, (Zinc, Magnesium and Vitamin B6) will raise testosterone to increase strength and muscle size.
  • Methoxy could be suitable for anyone wanting to gain muscle size and strength without adversely affecting their hormone levels or health. It decreases cortisol levels, increase protein synthesis, and improves overall recovery from exercise.

More Supplements for Hard Gainers

  • GABA is an amino acid which became popular with bodybuilders. This product assists with exercise recovery and promotes sleep, important to the hard gainer.7
  • Growth Hormone supplements can aid protein synthesis in skeletal muscle, resulting in muscle growth.
  • Night Time Protein (Casein) is a slow release or digested protein which can be slowly released during the night time fast when your muscles can be starved of quality nutrients. Casein Protein’s slower release rate and its ability to maintain blood amino acid levels for a longer period of time will help keep the hard gainer in a positive nitrogen balance during the night.8

Hardgainer Supplements

What separates the hard gainer and many that have succeeded in bodybuilding, is their diligence paid to the above factors to achieve eventual success. Supplements, such as the above, when combined with a good training programme and quality diet, will assist the hard gainer in his pursuit of adding quality muscle.

1 Reflections of a Natural bodybuilder, Mario Strong, p. 248
2
Extreme Muscle Enhancement, Carlon M Co
3
Nutrient Timing by John Ivy, Ph.D., and Robert Portman, Ph.D., p. 113
4
Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding – The Complete A-Z Book on Muscle Building, Robert Kennedy, p. 235
5
Power Eating by Susan Kleiner, PhD, RD, p. 160
6
Boost testosterone and muscle gains without drugs: the latest research by Paul Cribb, B.H.Sci HMS
7
Power Eating by Susan Kleiner, PhD, RD, p. 126
8
Macrobolic Nutrition – Priming your Body to Build Muscle and Burn Fat by Gerard dente and Kevin J. Hopkins, p. 48
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