Thursday, July 22, 2010

Are You A Hardgainer?

Imagine that you could eat whatever you want and not put on a pound of fat. Pizza, McDonalds, chocolate, nothing was off limits, all you could eat all day, every day, and your body would barely change. Personally, I would give my first born child, endure back to back marathons of The Ghost Whisperer with Jennifer Love-Crazy, and listen to Heidi Montag's song on repeat if you told me I could eat endless brownie sundaes and not end up with a booty with it's own zip code. But while this may sound appealing to some, it is a nightmare for many others, particularly males, who eat as much as they can in an effort to put on muscle and get rid of their super skinny frame, yet have metabolisms so high that they can never achieve the body they desire. In the fitness and bodybuilding worlds, these people are what's known as a 'Hardgainer" and today we are going to look at exactly what that is, why it is, and some tips and techniques that they, or anyone out there who is finding it difficult to put on muscle, can adopt to help them buff up and fill out.

The definition of a hardgainer is someone, who in attempting to increase muscle mass by lifting weights in the gym, never sees any increases in muscle atrophy (size and growth) no matter how many hours they spend in the gym, not matter how hard their workouts are, and no matter how heavy the weight is they are lifting. They normally have an ectomorph body type and are naturally lean and skinny with little to no bodyfat, and have higher metabolisms than most people that burn through the calories they eat at an incredibly fast rate...

Hardgainers generally inherit their ectomorph body type from their parents and stay with the same body composition throughout their life. In addition to genetics, there are numerous other factors which contribute in someone's ability to put on muscle, whether they are a hardgainer or not, including age, sex, hormone levels, diet and exercise.

Males going through puberty in their teenage years, experience rapid and large increases in their hormone testosterone, which also continues to pump through their body well into their twenties. At this age, men find putting on muscle relatively easily, but as they grow older, testosterone and growth hormone levels decline, making it harder to put on or retain muscle mass. Men also have higher amounts of testosterone than women, making it easier for them to increase muscle size. Diet and exercises play a large role in someone's ability to put on muscle and If someone if exercising too much and not eating enough calories, or if they have a diet high in processed, refined foods, they will also experience lower levels of muscle building hormones than someone in a calorie surplus or someone eating whole unprocessed foods.

Hardgainers however may do everything right, or believe they are, and still not put on muscle. But there are some techniques that they can adopt that can maximize their ability to put on body weight, so lets take a look at some of them below;

1. Eat Every 2 hours
A hardgainer will never put on mass if they stick with the standard three meals a day. With such fast metabolisms that burn through calories for energy at such as fast rate, it's imperative that hardgainers eat every 2 hours.

2. Eat More Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates promote body weight and if you aren't eating enough of them you aren't giving your muscles enough energy and fuel to grow. Hardgainers would benefit from large servings of oatmeal, bowls of whole wheat pasta, and brown rice. Some people recommend eating any types of carbs, including processed and refined sugary carbs like white bread, white rice, candy bars and other sugary treats, and the fact of the matter is they will help a hardgainer put on mass from a caloric perspective, but I don't recommend it from a health and nutrition standpoint. While you may not put on any fat, processed and refined sugary foods can still cause diabetes, liver and kidney disease and other health concerns, and those foods may be decreasing your natural muscle building hormone levels.

Optimum Serious Mass, 6 Lbs., Chocolate

3. Eat More Calories
Some people think they are eating enough, but simply aren't. Track and count your daily calories so you can see exactly how many you are eating. I remember once I thought I was eating too much food, only to count my calories one day and see I was only consuming 1700 per day! Not enough to build muscle. There are some tips to do this including eating bigger portions and eating high caloric foods such as nuts at each meal. Still find it hard to get your calories in? Buy some flaxseed oil or other Omega 3 Oil. One tablespoon has roughly 120 calories, is easy to swallow and one at each meal can add an additional 720 calories per day. Another option is to buy a weight gainer. I don't recommend protein powders and weight gainers over whole food to everyday people, but for hardgainers it is an easier way to get down some calories.

4. Drink Whole Milk
There is a bodybuilding diet out there for hardgainers called GOMAD. It stands for Gallon Of Milk Per Day. Basically they believe that drinking this much milk because of it's high caloric and fat content, will shock any hardgainer's body into building muscle. The gallon is in addition to your 6 meals a day. One gallon has 2400 calories, 120g protein, 200 carbs and 120g fat. Do I recommend it? Well it will certainly give you the calories you need and people have reported to put on 20lbs of muscle in a month with the right weight lifting routine, so if it works for you, then why not. If you are not a hardgainer though, I wouldn't recommend it as you will simply get fat. Just looking at a gallon of milk and I would bloat. If you are going to drink all that milk, make sure it is organic.

5. Eat A Meal Before Bed
Some people believe that eating late at night promotes weight gain, others believe if you are eating the right amount of calories you can eat late and not put on weight. I'm sort of on the fence between the two. I know if I eat a meal, particularly one high in carbs late at night every night for a week I will put on fat. For hardgainers though, it's a great way to get in some extra calories. Choose a meal with slow digesting carbs and protein to release a steady flow of calories and nutrients to your muscle while you sleep.

6. Lift Weights
This is pretty obvious. If you want to change your body composition you need to lift weights. Heavy ones. Don't bother with light weights and high amounts of reps, that won't spur on any muscle growth. Aim between 8 - 12 reps. Make sure you are constantly shocking your muscles by varying your rep tempo (how fast you lift and lower the weight), how much weight you lift, split routines and full body workouts, and how long you rest between sets so that no week is ever the same and you create muscle confusion causing your muscles to grow.

7. Do Compound Exercises
Don't sit there doing endless amounts of pec flies, biceps curls or tricep push downs and expect to get big. Sure these exercises are great for isolating particular muscle groups, but should only be incorporated into your routine once you have gained some muscle. Stick with compound exercises such as squat, deadlift, bench press, shoulder press and chin ups / pull ups which use multiple muscle groups to perform the movement and therefore encourage more muscle gain.

7. Cut The Cardio
If you are finding it difficult to put on muscle, then you may be doing too much cardio. Cardio while great at burning fat, will indeed boost and increase your metabolism, eating into your daily calories and inhibiting muscle growth. If you must do cardio, make sure it is light and not longer than 20 minutes, and that you eat enough calories before and afterwards. Never do cardio on an empty stomach if you are trying to put on muscle.

8. Don't Over Train
Some people it the gym every day, workout for hours each day, and call themselves a hardgainer when they don't see any muscle gains. For your muscles to grow, they need to rest, repair and rebuild themselves. If you are a hardgainer, do not lift more than three times per week, and always have a full day of rest between working out. For example, lift weights Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and rest Tuesday and Thursday and all weekend. Make sure you are also getting a minimum of 8 hours sleep a night.

Some fitness professionals out there believe that there is no such thing as a "hardgainer", but others have made a living selling products and advice to people who identify with that term. Whether you agree with it or not, there are people out there who find it difficult to put on muscle more than others. Whether you are a hardgainer or simply just want to put on a little bit of extra muscle, you can definitely benefit from implementing some or all of the tips and advice above. But remember, this isn't a free pass to go out and eat all the chocolate sundaes and drink all the caramel frapuccinos you can... if you do I am secretly envious... but you can make some changes, in a healthy way, that will benefit you on your muscle building journey to achieving the body you want.

Healthy Boy x


  1. Hrmm maybe they should enjoy a couple of KFC Double Downs a week. :)

  2. I live on the east coast. My zip code is less than yours. So by this logic I could eat all the brownies I want and end up with a smaller zip-code sized ass? :-)

  3. But will the extra calories they eat b4 bed eventually kept as fat and they'll gain weight because they gain fat?

  4. @Durrah
    I speak from experience, when I say "No!".
    First of all you also burn calories while you sleep. Further more the body needs an amount of carbohydrate/fat/protein per day in a given ratio . So if the intake of calories is under your daily need, the body doesn't run it to fat. You must eat regularly and for a hardgainer the problem is first of all to reach his daily calorie needs. So in this case it's NOT "EXTRA calories".
    BTW muscles and belly fat are sending "hormone signals" (muscle good/ belly fat bad) by themself. So the lower the bodyfat and higher the muscle mass, the easier you have it to keep you fitness level (low bf/muscle mass/good metabolism/good heart rate and so on)


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