Gaining muscle or even putting on weight can be quite hard for some people. Commonly referred to as “hardgainers”, these people tend to have thin frames and a very fast metabolism. A lot of the time, less experienced bodybuilders automatically falsely classify themselves as hardgainers, just because their progress is not as fast as expected. It is important to understand that to build your ideal physique requires long term lifestyle changes, and it is not a casual hobby you can simply pick up when you feel like you have time. This is especially true for hard gainers, and they often do need to put in a lot more effort compared to some others. There is simply no quick fix or magic pill that will make things much easier. This article would therefore look at the many adjustable aspects to assist hardgainers with building muscle and gaining weight.
Despite what many think, the single most important aspect of a hardgainers lifestyle is not training, but diet. You can spend 10 hours in the gym, working your arse off every day, but unless you give your body the nutrients it needs, you will see next to no muscle building progress. Diet also happens to be the hardest part to get right. It is not too difficult to work out and implement a perfect training protocol, after all, it only takes about an hour of training per day. However eating correctly is very time consuming, requires utmost dedication, and there are often few shortcuts.
The biggest mistake hardgainers make regarding diet is they underestimate how much they actually eat. A commonly muttered phrase is “I eat like a horse but can’t seem to gain any weight”. However, if you actually sit down and worked out how many calories you are actually eating, you would be surprised.
This is where the work begins. Step one is to learn how to count calories. This is covered by our How to Count Calories article. Once you have worked out how much you are currently eating, you will set this as your baseline. An average diet these days is considered to be around 2000 calories. For a hardgainer, this is nowhere near enough. To put this into perspective, top level bodybuilders are eating around 6000 calories or more during bulking phases.
Step two is to gradually increase the amount of calories you are consuming until you are consuming around 25% to 50% more calories than your baseline. In other words, if you are eating 2000 calories, try to increase this gradually between 2500 to 3000 calories. If this doesn’t work, bump it up again.
The type of food you eat also matters. Simply increasing your protein alone is not going to be your answer. You would also need to increase your carbs and fats too. Hardgainers are more carb tolerant than other people, so some extra wouldn’t hurt. We would recommend not dropping below 55% to 65% carbs.
A high calorie diet is definitely difficult. Trying to consume 3000 calories in 3 meals will be challenging. It is therefore recommended that you split this into many smaller meals. The more calories you need, the more meals you will need to consume. You will also need to be absolutely religious with your planning. Every skipped meal is a lost opportunity for mass gain. To learn more about meal planning be sure to read our Meal Planning article.
Be sure to also consume a good meal before bed. This will be the longest your body goes without food, and it is a good idea to stay fuelled during the night so your body does not have to resort to eating itself.
It is an absolute must for hardgainers to focus mainly on all the big compound lifts. If you are not bench pressing, rowing (or pull ups), squatting, deadlifting, and shoulder pressing, you are robbing yourself of gains. These are the bread and butter exercises that should make up a hardgainer’s routine. Don’t like leg days? Too bad, because those days make the biggest difference when it comes to mass building and there is no alternative. Simply put, when you train your legs hard, you get the biggest anabolic response, and hence the best stimulus for building muscle.
Around your big compound lifts you can incorporate some accessory lifts. For example, you can supplement your bench pressing with other chest exercises including flies, push ups, dumbbell presses, etc. There is however no need to focuses endlessly on isolation exercises such as bicep curls and tricep extensions. These should only be the accessories that complement your compound exercises.
If you are a beginner, it is a good idea to start with heavy lifts (after you have learnt proper form). Work around the 5 rep range and use your time to build your strength. You can build muscle more effectively if you are stronger to begin with. Afterwards, you can do some lower weight cycles and lift in a rep range that you can manage between 12 to 15 reps. This should help stimulate your muscles for maximum growth.
Finally, do not overtrain. More is not always better. Have at least a couple of days off per week, and it also quite beneficial to have have a rest week after every 5 weeks or so. However, this principle does not apply to your diet, there are no rest days or rest weeks for food!
As touched upon before, there is no magic supplement to give you fast results for building muscle or mass. Only once you have learnt to do everything else right, will you get the most out of your supplements. Hereon, supplements can make things slightly easier.
For hardgainers, the following supplements are recommended, in order of importance:
- High calorie mass gainer: These mass gainers contain very high amounts of carbs and moderate levels of protein, perfect for hardgainer metabolisms. Many of these provide around 1000 calories per serve, and consuming one of these on top of your regular diet can help you meet your requirements. Some excellent examples include Mutant Mass, Optimum Serious Mass, and Ultimate Nutrition Muscle Juice Revolution.
- Creatine: Creatine has countless studies to support its benefits for building muscle and strength. Although a straight up creatine monohydrate combined with one of the above mass gainers can be highly effective, there are also creatines designed specifically for hardgainers. These contain high amounts of carbs to assist with creatine absorption, and of course to provide the much needed extra calories. Examples include MuscleTech Cell Tech, Gaspari SizeOn, and Musashi Bulk Creatine Stack.
- Casein protein: Perfect for before bed, a good casein can help your body stay fuelled during the night. Combining this with some slow digesting carbs such as oats soon before bed is recommended for a hard gainer. Recommended examples include Optimum 100% Casein Gold Standard, Max’s Nitetime Protein, and Gen-Tec Casein Custard.
- Pre workouts: A very popular category, pre workouts do not directly get you any bigger. However, they do help to improve the quality of your workouts, which in turn helps you to get bigger. Recommended products include Cellucor C4, MusclePharm Assault, and BSN NO Xplode.
- Multivitamins: Generally speaking, when trying to put on weight, multivitamins are not needed as you should be eating plenty of nutrient rich foods. However, for those new to meal planning, a safety net such as a multivitamin can be a great insurance policy. Recommended products include Swisse Mens Ultivite F1, Natures Own Mens Multivitamin, and Gaspari Anavite.
- Testosterone boosters: Often jumped to as a first resort, it cannot be stressed enough that testosterone boosters are not very beneficial if any of your other lifestyle aspects are not 100%. These products are most effective for men who are over the age of 30 and are experiencing naturally declining levels of testosterone. In that case, it can help with improved gains, faster recovery, and simply better overall vitality. Recommended products include Elemental Nutrition Massive Muscle Fuel, BSc Triandrobol, and Beast SuperTest.