When it comes to working out and gaining muscle, some guys have it easy. There’s a certain group of men who, just by looking at a barbell, can pack on mass.
Chances are though, if you’re reading this, you’re not that guy. Because if you’re a natural “hardgainer”, you most likely have a tough time putting on ANY weight, period.
So, if you’ve tried and failed to gain muscle in the past, and you think you’re doomed to a lifetime of being skinny, then this article is for you. We’re going to be talking about what it takes for hardgainers to gain muscle, and some proven strategies you can implement today to finally start gaining mass.
Hit The Weights Heavy And CONSISTENTLY
The first step should be fairly obvious- if you want to pack on muscle, you need to be hitting the gym consistently. Sounds pretty simply, right?
Well, the issue tends to be the consistent part. In fact, most guys (hardgainers or not) have a bad habit of going through vicious cycles- they get really pumped up, go hard for a few weeks…and then burn out once the motivation wears off. Rinse and repeat.
To illustrate this, imagine a car tire. In order to inflate it, you need to fill it up with air. And in order to keep it inflated, you can’t just fill it and forget about it- you need to keep pumping periodically.
Think of your muscles as car tires that take a really long time to fill. There’s no two ways about- if you want to gain muscle, you need to commit to a gym schedule, work out consistently to apply stress to those muscles, and then repair them with the proper rest and recovery (more on that later).
So, with that said, what kind of weight training should you be doing? Specifically, what kind of training should you be doing as a hardgainer who finds it a challenge to put on weight?
There are a number of different training styles out there, and there’s no “one size fits all” solution, but generally speaking, most hardgainers tend to do well by sticking to the “basics”- heavy, compound barbell movements.
A compound movement is one that works multiple different muscles simultaneously. These lifts should make up the majority of your workout- squats, deadlifts, presses, and dips. Not only are they an efficient use of your time, they’re also fantastic for stimulating the central nervous system and encouraging muscle growth.
You should aim to be hitting the gym 3-4 days per week. From there, try to pick 3-4 compound exercises each workout day (start with 5 sets of 5 repetitions for each exercise). Just remember to give yourself enough time off each week to rest.
Handle Your Nutrition
So, you’re hitting the gym consistently, sticking to compound movements, and pushing yourself to lift more weigh each time you work out. Awesome! The next step is to get your nutrition in check.
And unfortunately for hardgainers, this is the part that REALLY screws them up. Because in order to gain muscle, you need to be doing a few things with regard to your diet.
The first thing you need to do is make sure you eat enough protein. When you workout and lift weights, what you’re effectively doing is “damaging” the muscle. While that may sound counterproductive, it’s actually a good think, because the body then repairs that muscle with compounds called amino acids, rebuilding it over time so that it becomes bigger, stronger, and able to handle a larger load.
Many of these amino acids come from protein in the food you eat, so it’s critical that you’re eating enough of it. As a general benchmark, you should shoot to eat at least two grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
The second thing you need to do is to make sure you’re eating enough calories, which are an absolute necessity for your body to put on more muscle. Specifically, you want to be eating more calories than your body is using each day to maintain your current body weight (these are referred to as your “maintenance calories”)
Since each persons maintenance is slightly different, finding yours is going to be a system of trial and error. The most effective way to go about it is this- spend the next week tracking everything you eat. Keep a food log, or use an app like MyFitnessPal, and just log everything you put in your mouth.
At the end of the week, total up the calories and divide by 7. This will give you your “daily maintenance calories”. Add 300-400 calories to that. Keep track of both your calories and your weight for the next month (and no, don’t just just estimate, really meticulously keep track).
If you’re gaining weight, that likely means you’re putting on muscle. If not, add another 300-400 calories per day.
Rinse and repeat until the scale starts moving.
Tips And Trick For Getting Enough Calories
When it comes right down to it, most guys who fall into the hardgainer category tend to have a.) high maintenance calorie needs, b.) small appetites, or c.) both.
Fortunately, if packing away food isn’t your strong suit, there are a few little tricks you can use. One is to eat slightly smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day.
Another is to try getting your calories in liquid form. High calorie liquids like whole milk and coconut milk are your friends.
So are supplements like Mass Gainer from Mission Nutrition. At almost 440 calories per serving, it’s an incredibly easy way to get in those extra calories without the hassle of preparing more food. It also packs about 40 grams of protein per serving (whey and milk concentrate), as well as flax seed and MCT powder for healthy fats and Omega 3’s, and dextrose and oats for carbs.
And as a final tip, don’t worry too much about “eating clean” 100% of the time. Yes, you should try to eat a balanced diet, with plenty of protein and quality carbs and fats.
But with that said, if a little ice cream and a couple cheeseburgers are what makes the difference between you gaining weight and staying skinny, go for it.
Just make sure it doesn’t get out of hand.