So you want to gain weight and some muscle mass. Welcome hard-gainer, or HG as I will affectionately refer to you as. You see, contrary to your belief, you can gain weight and I will help you. I’m the opposite of a hard gainer. I’m a former fatty, who lost 50 pounds and can gain and lose weight fairly easily. I envy you HG, to an extent, as the copious amount of food you get to eat makes me jealous. While yes it might seem impossible to gain weight, I can assure you it’s not.
Unfortunately, the demise of most HG’s is they think they’re eating enough, when in reality they aren’t. Or, they eat enough, and are obsessed with killing themselves in the gym and burn too many calories to keep them in a caloric surplus. Anyone, and that means anyone, can gain weight; you just need to be in a caloric surplus.
Now finding this surplus, or your maintenance point, varies for everyone. Some people just don’t venture high enough to find out the caloric total needed for them to gain weight, but we’ll find it, don’t you worry. All-time Olympian Michael Phelps would have to eat over 10,000 calories a day to maintain his weight during his intense Olympic training!
Many of these hard gainers are just folk with EXTREMELY fast metabolisms. I’m talking it takes them 3,500 calories to even maintain their weight! Now while you might think this is impossible to hit on a daily basis, and while you might need 4,000 calories to gain some quality muscle, the scope of this article will portray some tips and tricks I give to some of my clients to rid themselves of the stagnant “skinny” guy status, to adding pounds of quality muscle.
Training for the Hard Gainer
Why would training for the HG be any different? Well, their metabolisms are ridiculous fast and burn through calories like it’s going out of style. So how do we combat their extremely fast metabolism?
Limit Training Times
HG’s should avoid the marathon 90-120 minute training sessions. In my opinion, someone who has a tough time putting on weight should strive to be in and out of the gym in 60 minutes. Routines that are short and intense are perfect for HG’s, as they can stimulate the growth of muscle tissue, and can limit caloric expenditure through training. 45 minutes is even better, but shoot to keep it under 60 minutes. Remember, you grow outside the gym, not inside the gym!
Notice I say limit cardio, not abolish cardio. Everyone in my opinion should be doing some form of cardio, 1-3 times a week, year round. Why? Well, cardiovascular exercise is very important for the heart, and very important to keep your conditioning levels up to par. Cardio can help with your endurance, and can help your weight training portion by allowing you to bang out more reps without running out of breath. 1-3 sessions a week of High Intensity Interval Training is perfect.
Train For Strength
Lifting for strength increases is the best way for HG to add some quality muscle mass. Again, marathon lifting sessions are not beneficial for someone who seemingly can’t add weight, so by keeping your sessions, short, intense, and heavy, you’ll have a lot more success in building quality muscle mass. My article on progressive overload is perfect for you to read up on when it comes to adding strength, especially the idea of adding even something as simple as 2.5 pounds to your lifts each session. It’ll add up over time, trust me!
Nutrition For the Hard Gainer
So the moment you’ve been waiting for, nutrition to gain some mass. Remember, a HG’s metabolism is usually extremely fast. They typically do well on high amounts of carbohydrates, and can burn through these carbohydrates like crazy. While a HG’s metabolism can let them get away eating some of the more “unhealthy” foods, I still recommend eating nutrient dense foods, such as rice, oats, vegetables, and healthy fats even if you have trouble gaining weight. While your metabolism might give you an excuse to get away with eating like crap for now, that metabolism will eventually slow down as you age. Also, consuming boxes of pop tarts and gallons of ice cream might put weight on you, but they’re void of specific nutrients that your body needs every day to perform optimally.
In the end though, a caloric surplus is the best way to promote anabolism. So how do we keep those calories high?
Carbohydrates and the HG usually fit together like a glove. A match made in heaven if you will. They’re the guys we all envy, as it seems they can eat all sorts of junk and it doesn’t negatively impact their physique. Their metabolism usually rips through carbohydrates.
So if we crush these carbohydrates, should we avoid them? No! Carbs are extremely important in maintaining energy levels, and they are protein sparing to an extent. Protein sparing meaning that the body will use glucose from carbohydrates as energy rather than breaking down proteins for energy through gluconeogenesis.
HG’s should try to eat lots of carbohydrates, to keep the protein they consume spared, and focusing on pre, during, and post workout carb nutrition can be extremely beneficial. Consuming carbs pre workout will allow carbs to be used as energy rather than hard earned muscle tissue. Intra workout carbs, usually in the form of a liquid (Such as Gatorade, or even some powdered carb supplements like Dextrose powder) can help keep energy levels up and continue the protein sparing battle you seek. Finally, post workout carbohydrates can help promote insulin secretion through the pancreas, which helps drive amino acids and the glucose from your carbohydrates into your muscles as glycogen for growth and recovery.
Aim for: Slow-digesting carbs such as oats pre workout, fast digesting carbs in a liquid form intra workout, and a mix of carbohydrates post workout.
Rich’s Hard-Gainer Post-Workout Shake Suggestion (Macros are estimates):
2 Scoops protein powder ~ 300 Calories, 5g Fat, 10g Carbs, 50g Protein
2 Cups of whole milk ~ 300 Calories, 15g Fat, 20g Carbs, 15g Protein
2 Tablespoons of All-natural honey ~ 140 Calories, 0g Fat, 35g Carbs, 0g Protein
2 Tablespoons Peanut Butter (Or any nut butter) ~ 190 Calories, 16g Fat, 8g Carbs, 7g Protein
3 ounces (1 large) banana ~ 75 Calories, 0g Fat, 20g Carbs, 0g Protein
½ Cup (40g) Oats ~ 150 Calories, 5g Fat, 27g Carbs, and 5g Protein
3-4 ice cubes
Blend and drink up!
Roughly 1,155 Calories; 41g Fat, 120g Carbs, and 77g Protein. The perfect post-workout recovery shake, and I’ll add it’s delicious!
Protein is essential to build muscle. Just because your metabolism crushes carbohydrates like it’s its job, without adequate protein intake, muscle cannot be built. Try to hit at least 0.8 g/lb to build muscle, but hitting 1g/lb of bodyweight is my usual recommendation. Protein powder can help if you’re in a rush and need a quick protein snack, but whole foods is the way to go.
Fats and essential fatty acids are the x-factor in my opinion when it comes to gaining weight for the HG. Proper fat intake ensures proper hormone production and provides all sorts of other health benefits. In terms of benefiting the HG though, fat’s are very caloric dense.
By caloric dense, I mean fats carry more calories per gram than carbs and protein. Carbs and protein carry about 4 calories per gram, but fats carry 9 calories per gram. So how do we use that to our advantage?
Foods that are high in fat content can help provide ample amount of calories. Examples of such are nuts, nut butter, olive oil, fatty cuts of meat (steak and salmon), and avocados. For an example, 28g, or about handful of almonds, give you 160 calories! Think about how easy it is to scarf down a handful almonds. When you need an ample amount of calories to grow, don’t be afraid to take a shot of olive oil or a spoonful of peanut butter from your mom’s food pantry. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or even peanut butter-banana (my personal favorite) will be your best friend. Those extra calories will really add up.
|Eat more then!|
While weight-gaining shakes have a place for some in terms of ample amount of calories for an on-the-go shake, they’re far from necessary. The shake listed above can give you over a thousand calories, and will cost much less than a 10-pound bag of the latest weight gaining powder. It’ll also be void of the preservatives and fillers, that many, not all are chock full of. You can Google recipes for all sorts of different flavors of weight gaining, all natural shakes, or even create your own! Experimenting is key, and if you lack the creative touch, feel free to email me and I’ll be happy to share some recipes: Aponte.Rich@yahoo.com
There you have it Mr. Hard Gainer. While it may seem impossible to add that muscle mass you so desire, I can assure you it’s not. I just helped a client go from a skinny 122-pounds to 145-pounds in 6 months, and you can do it too! With proper training and nutrition, and even employing some of the tips in the article, you’ll be on your way in no time!