Let’s talk about the hardgainers.
Fact or fiction?
There’s an ever-running question in the bodybuilding community about whether a person can actually be a hardgainer.
Hardgainer refers to a person that has a difficult time adding muscle and gaining weight.
Some swear that true hardgainers exist, while others believe hardgainers just have holes in their diet and training.
Here’s my stance on it.
There are definitely body types better suited for gaining muscle, but most of the “hardgainers” I met failed to eat enough and train properly.
That’s almost always been my experience.
That being said, I do believe there are some people out there that truly have a difficult time adding muscle despite doing the right things.
I’ve studied this and hardgainers quite a bit and have come up with my list of muscle building tips for hardgainers.
It’s not exhaustive, but it covers all the issues I’ve seen with people over the years who have had a hard time packing muscle onto their skinny frame.
In no particular order, here they come!
# 1- Take in more calories than you burn
Almost every single person I ever met who claimed to be a hardgainer ate like a bird.
They would peck at food here and there, but could never put down a full-size meal.
These people would always tell me that they just had a high metabolism.
I have a friend like that.
He always has difficulty gaining weight.
When he asks how to gain weight my answer is always the same.
Eat more food!
It really is that simple for most people.
What does he do?
Continues to eat low-fat foods and shy away from anything not deemed clean eating.
When I had him actually add the food he was eating into the My Fitness Pal meal tracker, he found out he was eating about 3000 calories less than he thought.
Yes, you read that right. Three thousand.
Food is the most anabolic substance on earth.
If you want to gain muscle, you need to be eating.
If you’re skinny and want to gain weight, you especially need to be eating.
You cannot be afraid of food.
Not everything has to be low-calorie or fat-free.
If you’re looking to gain weight, high-calorie foods are going to be your friend.
To look like a king, you need to eat like a king.
# 2- Shakes are you friend
So, most hardgainers will acknowledge that they’re probably not eating enough.
Just eat more right?
In my experience, hardgainers generally have a poor appetite and have a very difficult time getting and keeping all the food down.
It’s hard for me to understand because I’m the complete opposite, but I do know that it’s a big problem.
No matter how much they try, they never seem to be able to hit their calorie goals.
If you have this problem, a blender is going to become your best friend.
I highly recommend using a whey protein powder to make sure you’re getting enough protein.
For people with a poor appetite, whey protein is helpful because it’s much easier to drink something than eat it.
Aside from increasing your protein, you can use shakes to add significantly more calories into your diet if you just can’t get the food down.
Just do a search for some recipes to make your own mass gainer shake and you’ll find some great options.
Things like peanut butter, milk, ice cream and chocolate syrup can be added to a whey protein shake to easily give you a few hundred extra calories.
It’s not hard to make a shake that nears in on 1,000 calories if you pick the right foods.
When you can’t eat all the calories, drinking them is a great option.
Overtime, your appetite should improve and you won’t have to depend on drinking so many of the calories if you don’t want to.
# 3- Cheat meals
If you’re skinny and want to gain weight, cheat meals are your friend.
You cannot be afraid to let loose when it comes to eating.
Cheat meals work well because they obviously add more calories, but they also tend to improve and increase your appetite.
Nobody wants to eat chicken and broccoli, but everyone starts drooling for a brick oven pizza or some penne alla vodka.
I would never suggest fast food to anyone as a diet strategy just because most of it is pure garbage and bad for your health, but if that’s your thing then fine.
Skinny people seem to have a high tolerance for junk food for whatever reason.
A few cheat meals a week will do most hardgainers well in the beginning to help them put on some quick weight.
Just be careful that you’re not gaining all fat.
This shouldn’t happen if you’re following a high-quality training program.
Check out some bodybuilders having some cheat meals on YouTube and you’ll quickly see they aren’t afraid of calories
# 4- Increase your appetite
This runs along with cheat meals.
Since appetite is a real problem for most hardgainers, it typically needs to be an area of focus.
Increasing your appetite doesn’t happen overnight unfortunately.
If you’ve been eating like a child for years, you can’t expect to just start slamming calories down.
My suggestion is to increase your food intake gradually until you get to a level where you start to gain the weight you want to.
This can be a slow and sometimes painstaking process that requires tremendous discipline.
To do this effectively, you really need to track and record your macros and calories.
Down to the calorie!
I know it might seem tedious, but it’s really the only way to make sure you are actually increasing your calories.
You first need to figure out what your baseline calories for maintenance are and start there.
I highly suggest using a macronutrient calculator like this one.
Once you have that number, you can begin to make a plan to increase your calories, which will increase your appetite overtime.
I’d definitely smart small with something like an extra 200 calories a day.
Once you do that for a while, you should see that your body and appetite adjust and you can keep going from there.
Everyone is different and you’ll have to play around with it a bit, but that’s the smart way to do it.
Keep in mind that at first it will feel like force-feeding yourself because you are, but overtime your body and appetite will adjust.
You need to stick with it and be persistent.
It takes time and patience!
# 5- Track your macros
I know I just covered it above, but I can’t emphasize how important this is for people looking to gain (or lose) weight.
Tracking your macros is everything.
If you’re happy with your weight than maybe you don’t need to, but if you’re reading this because you have had a hard time gaining weight than this is for you.
Most people overestimate or underestimate what they’re eating on any given day.
Like my friend I mentioned in the beginning, they’re shocked when they actually put their food in a macro tracking app and see how off they were.
Tracking your macros is the necessary evil that has to come to see the results you want.
What you track improves be it your weight, finances, workouts etc.
Do it and you’ll see.
# 6- Increase your protein
You’re looking to gain weight, but you obviously don’t just want it to be sloppy fat.
Anyone can eat pizza and ice cream 6 times a day and gain a ton of body fat.
Muscle is what you’re after.
Everyone knows that protein builds muscle so I’m not going to beat a dead horse.
Just like your macros, you need to calculate your daily requirement and make sure you hit it every day.
The typical suggestion is to take in a gram of protein per pound of lean mass.
So, if you have 170 pounds of solid mass (not fat) on your body, you’d take in 170 grams of protein a day.
I’ve played around with this a lot recently and found those guidelines to be pretty effective.
Some days I will go quite a bit over, but that can definitely cause some stomach distress.
You just have to play around with it and see what works for you, but 1 gram per pound of lean body mass is a good starting point for most.
# 7- Limit cardio
This doesn’t get a ton of focus, but there are different types of muscle fibers.
Not everyone is necessarily created the same.
There are fast twitch muscle fibers and slow twitch muscle fibers.
Fast twitch muscle fibers are best suited for explosive strength and speed.
Slow twitch muscle fibers are best suited for endurance activities and events.
A sprinter uses mostly fast twitch muscles while a cross-country runner uses mostly slow twitch muscles.
When you look at people and see the different body types, you can usually figure out which type of muscle fiber they have more of.
Skinny hardgainers in my experience are mostly dominated by slow twitch muscles.
They can run all day, but struggle to try to increase their lifts.
Since people typically like to do what they are naturally good at, hardgainers generally do a lot of cardio or endurance type workouts.
If you’re looking to gain muscle and weight, that’s not going to help.
During the time you are to try to gain weight, you need to limit cardio.
You don’t have to totally eliminate it, but running the daily 5 k is going to have to take a back seat for a bit.
Focus on strength training.
# 8- Carbs are your friend
Carbs are definitely a hardgainer’s friend.
While protein is important, the focus should be on carbs for those looking to gain weight.
Nothing puts on weight quicker than carbs.
Although they’ve become demonized, they’re important for packing on lean mass.
You can follow a keto diet and get ripped, but it’s very difficult to gain new muscle mass with it.
Carbs are also the easiest food to eat.
More food equals more calories.
More calories equal more weight.
Stick with clean carbohydrate choices like rice, pasta and wheat bread.
As I said earlier, the occasional cheat meal of junk food carbs will help most, but it shouldn’t make up the majority of the diet.
# 9- Heavy basic lifts
A lot of people that aren’t seeing results in the gym think they need complicated routines.
Nothing can be further from the truth.
Basics are and always will be the best path for getting real results in the quickest time possible.
I’m talking squats, bench press, barbell rows, pull-ups, military press and barbell curls.
I left deadlifts out because I’m not a fan personally, but many swear by them so you should at least give them a shot.
Heavy compound movements are the way to gain real strength and real muscle.
Lay off the cable exercises and machines.
Aim to get your numbers up and get stronger.
When you get stronger, you can use heavier weights which will in turn help you to gain muscle.
That’s what I started out with as a young kid and that’s what I’ve always found delivered the best results.
Time and time again I learn that you don’t need to be fancy in the gym.
# 10- Be persistent
You get nothing out of life without persistence.
If you are a true hardgainer and struggle with gaining weight, you will need a lot of persistence to make it happen.
That’s just the way it is.
Most people will turn to steroids when they hear that hard work is required to gain weight.
Dumb idea and not one I suggest.
Aside from the side effects, all your gains will be gone when you stop because you never really learned the basics about gaining weight and your body.
This is not complicated, but it is hard for most people.
You have to focus on this every single day and make it a priority.
Real results are reserved for the hardest working and most persistent people.
Get your weight up
Most hardgainers will see this list and immediately start making excuses.
They’ll say they do all these things and still see no results.
Be honest with yourself.
Go through each thing on this list and ask yourself if you are really doing it and giving it your all.
Every single day.
The few who actually use these principles as a guide will see true results.
Don’t just give yourself the label of hardgainer and accept you can’t build the body you want.
It’s not true.
You have the power to do it.
P.S. Are you a hardgainer? Do you think true hardgainers exist? I’d love to hear your questions, thoughts and comments below along with any other tips for hardgainers that you’ve found to work!