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What is a Hardgainer?

Hardgainers are a common bodybuilding term for those trainers who just can’t seem to gain substantial weight or muscle mass no matter how hard they train or how much they eat. A lot of trainers mistakenly consider themselves as hardgainers due to the fact that they aren’t gaining muscle as fast as they want to, but in reality, building muscle is hard. A lot of these trainers can also easily gain fat if they wanted to, a trait that’s absent in true hardgainers.

A true hardgainer is someone who finds it hard to gain muscle or fat. Interestingly though, there is actually a very, very small percentage of people who are actual hardgainers. Most ‘hardgainers’ experience one or more of the following problems:

a) They aren’t complying with their diets
b) They aren’t complying with their training
c) They’re getting and using poor advice

In terms of training for hardgainers, you can read more tips about how to design the perfect hardgainer workout in our ‘Hardgainer Workouts’ article or just simply follow our sample ‘Hardgainer Routine Workout’. This article looks specifically at hardgainer diets and tips to make them work.

Hardgainer Diet for Bulking & Muscle Gain

At its simplest, gaining weight is all about eating more. However the old saying ‘a calorie is a calorie’ is not entirely correct. In general, someone who bulks by eating as much processed and junk food as possible will invariably gain weight, but may not gain as much weight in muscle as that of a person who utilises less processed foods and foods with greater nutrient density. Those trainers attempting to bulk using junk and processed foods also have an increased risk of negative metabolic side effects later on. Of course there are always going to be exceptions, but in general, a successful hardgainer diet for bulking means focusing on the quality of foods you put into your body. There are three things that you need to consider when creating the best hardgainer diet plan and they are:

  • Macros or Macronutrients
  • Micros or Micronutrients
  • Compliance

Hardgainer Diet Without Supplements

Supplements are always going to be one of the most convenient ways to quickly consume the nutrients that your body needs in order to perform and grow at its best. However, it’s not always possible to always supplement when you need to, whether it be due to financial reasons, feasibility reasons or otherwise. As such, we’re going to be focusing on the best hardgainer diets without supplements.

Hardgainer Diet Macros or Macronutrients

The term macronutrients is defined in a variety of ways, but in this case, we’re considering a macronutrient as any chemical compounds that provide the majority of our energy. This includes three different edible compounds including carbohydrates, protein and fats (lipids), which make up our total energy intake. With respect to macronutrients and overall caloric intake; as a bodybuilder you should follow these best practice rules:

1. Caloric Intake should be 15-20% greater than your current actual intake.
2. Carbohydrates should make up 55-60% of your total daily Caloric Intake.
3. Protein should make up 25-30% of your total daily Caloric Intake.
4. Fat should make up 15-20% of your total daily Caloric Intake.

To figure out all these numbers would involve keeping track of your current diet and doing a whole lot of calculations, which would be quite time consuming. So to make it easier for you, here is a quick guide to what a hardgainer’s macros should look like:

 

Total Energy Intake (Calories)

Carbohydrates (g)

Protein (g)

Fat (g)

Weight

Male

Female

Male

Female

Male

Female

Male

Female

40-50

2968

2694

408

370

186

168

66

60

51-60

3253

2990

447

411

203

187

72

66

61-70

3524

3271

485

450

220

204

78

73

71-80

3795

3553

522

489

237

222

84

79

81-90

4067

3835

559

527

254

240

90

85

91-100

4338

4117

596

566

271

257

96

91

 

Hardgainer Diet Micros or Micronutrients

Micronutrients generally refer to those nutrients that consume in smaller quantities than the macronutrients. These will include vitamins, minerals, polyphenols and other compounds. Hardgainers and those trainers wanting to bulk up don’t really need to worry about their micros or micronutrients all that much as they are already eating so much food that they’ll most likely be meeting their recommended intakes for these nutrients. However, two nutrients require more attention to including zinc and calcium. It is generally wise that hardgainers supplement with at least a multivitamin and mineral supplement during their bulk.

Hardgainer Diet Compliance

By far the most difficult thing with bulking and gaining weight is sticking to your diet. Most ‘hardgainers’ are hardgainers because they stick to a diet for an extremely short period of time before returning to their original diets. This is either due to sheer laziness or some other reason. Here are some of the top reasons why hardgainer’s fail when it comes to their diets:

  • They’re afraid of getting fat – This is an inevitable situation and bulking will mean gaining both muscle and fat. Maintaining a high intensity training load will help to minimise fat gain and further fat loss will occur when you start to cut.
  • Not tracking their progress – The more you weigh, the more you need to eat in order to continue to gain. Many trainers forget this and stick on the same amount of calories throughout the entire bulk. This may work for some, but just as you need to alter the intensity and volume of your workouts to keep growing, so too does your diet need to change in order to continue growing.
  • Failing to plan – Because bulking requires changes in how much you eat and what you eat, you need to plan everything in detail for the duration of the bulk, taking into account your work and social life. ‘Winging it’ won’t cut it for the majority of bulkers.
  • Lack of variety – Bulking does not mean eating chicken breast, steamed veges, sweet potatoes and rice every meal. While this makes it easy, it’s also boring. Spend the time planning a diet that is varied and includes the foods you enjoy to help you stick to the diet.

Hardgainer Diet Tips

Planning the perfect hardgainer diet takes time and requires constant reviewing in order to maintain its effectiveness. Here are some top tips to keep you on track:

1. Less Fibre – Increasing the amount of food you eat will make you feel quite full, which can impede your mass gain progress. While fibre is important, try to avoid including too many high fibre foods to assist with diet compliance.

2. Calorie Dense Foods – Foods high in fat tend to be calorie dense; that is they contain lots of calories and not much bulk so you aren’t feeling full all the time. Pick foods which are high in unsaturated fats.

3. More Frequent Meals – This can be a helpful strategy for people who have smaller appetites to help them fit in their macros throughout the day. Try to aim for 4-6 meals depending on just how big your appetite is and aim for a minimum to avoid having to plan too many meals.

Sample Hardgainer Diet

With all the tips, tricks and information you’ve just read, it’s time to plan your perfect hardgainer diet. If you’re running short on time however, why not check out our Mr Supplement Sample Hardgainer Diet Plan.

1. Helms ER, Aragon AA, Fitschen PJ. ‘Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation.’ J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014 May 12;11:20. eCollection 2014.
2. Manore MM, Thompson J, Russo M. ‘Diet and exercise strategies of a world-class bodybuilder.’ Int J Sport Nutr. 1993 Mar;3(1):76-86.
3. Lambert CP, Frank LL, Evans WJ. ‘Macronutrient considerations for the sport of bodybuilding.’ Sports Med. 2004;34(5):317-27.
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