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What is a Hard Gainer?

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 lower muscle 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 Cardio will also burn much needed calories to put on mass.

Supplementation For The Hard Gainer

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

A Multivitamin to ensure that nutrients are absorbed more efficiently to promote growth. Vitamins and minerals can also help to decrease risks of infection and sickness which puts the body in a catabolic state.

Protein Powders to ensure that you are getting at least 2 grams per kilo of bodyweight per day. Having enough protein will ensure that your body stays in positive nitrogen balance, essential for packing on muscle.

Essential Fatty Acids will help 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, difficult to sustain 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 for that extra edge in the gym.

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. These gains in body mass were once considered to be mostly water weight, however 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 Gluconate (a long lasting Creatine) with carbohydrates. This type of formula may help fuel your muscles to assist your strength and endurance whilst you train.

Testosterone Support Supplements For Older Hardgainers

As testosterone is a muscle-building hormone, it must be present for muscle gains to take place.6 As we age, our testosterone levels start to decline. A variety of supplements are now available which may enhance your testosterone levels.

  • 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.
  • ECDY, a naturally occurring phytochemical found in some herbs, helps those wanting to gain lean muscle mass without excess body fat.

Useful Supplements For Hard Gainers

  • Growth Hormone supplements to aid protein synthesis in skeletal muscle, resulting in muscle grwoth. Growth hormone is secreted by the pituitary gland. With resistance training, it enhances cellular amino acid uptake and protein synthesis in skeletal muscle resulting in muscle hypertrophy.
  • 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

Night Time Protein For Nite Time Growth

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

From Hardgainers to Mass Gainer

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 following), when combined with a good training program and quality diet, will assist the hard gainer in his pursuit of adding quality muscle:

  • Weight Gainer Protein Powder, higher in carbohydrates to help add body mass.
  • Pre-workout supplement (without the stimulant constituent).
  • MCT Oil (Medium Chain Triglycerides) which act like carbohydrates as an energy source.
  • Muscle Cell Volumiser including ingredients such as Creatine.
  • Glutamine, to enhance protein synthesis.
  • Intra-training supplements will also assist the hard gainer. Look out for ones with Creatine Gluconate.
  • Testsoterone Boosters, as testosterone must be present for muscle gains to occur.
  • ZMA, to increase strength and size.
  • Methoxy to gain muscle size and strength without side effects.
  • Growth Hormone to help protein synthesis in skeletal muscle, thus growth.
  • GABA to help recovery and promote quality sleep.
  • Night Time Protein to keep the hard gainer in a positive nitrogen balance during the night

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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