There’s a lot of information out there about losing weight and looking good. Well, another problem that people have is the exact opposite. Some people, generally young men, have difficulty putting on muscle and gaining weight. Hardgainer is a term that is used to describe these guys.
I single out young men here, because gaining muscle – and weight in particular – is not something that most females generally hope to do. Women have the idea that lifting weight is synonymous with bulking up, which is untrue, but that will have to be the topic of another article.
The person that has a hard time putting on muscle is generally young and has a raging metabolism or is new to working out and has a naturally light frame.
Don’t worry young guys, a few changes in your approach will help you start putting on some muscle. It’s the older, naturally skinny guys that will have their work cut out for them because it gets harder to put on muscle as you get older.
The person who wants to gain weight and muscle has the same considerations as the person who wants to lose weight. That is, they need to consider nutrition and exercise.
The Hardgainer Nutrition
Just as I’ve talked about keeping a food journal for those who want to lose or maintain weight, it’s important for an aspiring ripped muscleman to pay attention to what they are eating to ensure enough calories are consumed to increase size.
In general terms, a skinny guy in the 130 to 150 pound range may want to eat over 3000 calories per day in order to gain weight.
You will want to get approximately 50% of those calories from carbohydrate sources, 25% from protein, and 25% from fats. Now I’m not talking about sweets and junk food when I mention higher carbs. You will still need to workout, and those foods won’t fuel you properly for intense-strength sessions. Let’s go over some good additions to your nutrition plan.
- Oatmeal – Eating oatmeal will allow you to increase your calories without feeling extremely full. Eat oatmeal for a high-caloric breakfast and throw in some protein powder, milk, and a banana.
- Eggs - Eat whole eggs with your breakfast. Eggs are a super food that consist of 72 calories, 6.5 grams of protein, less than half of a gram of carbs, and just over 4 grams of fat. Cholesterol is probably not an issue for you if you are a hardgainer, and therefore a few eggs a day will help you reach your daily protein goals. I usually have 3 every morning with breakfast.
- Bagels – Bagels are a convenient way to quickly add 300 calories to your total. They are good as a snack as well as for breakfast.
- Nuts – As long as you’re not allergic, a cup of nuts can provide 800 calories, muscle-building energy, and increased testosterone to help in gaining muscle.
- Olives – Eat actual olives themselves or use the oil on salads or meats. Olive oil is one of the healthiest sources of fats and also helps your body absorb antioxidants.
- Dried Fruit – It has a lot more calories than regular fruit and is packed with fiber and vitamins. I usually toss a handful of raisins on my salads to make them a little tastier.
- Protein Shakes – Protein shakes are an essential part of every fitness person’s nutrition repertoire. I try to keep it to one a day and get most of my protein from solid foods; however, as a hardgainer you may want to consider two shakes a day. Some things that you could add to your shakes for extra flavor and calories include: yogurt, peanut butter, fresh fruit, and milk.
- Potatoes – Potatoes are one of the world’s most versatile foods. There are countless ways to eat potatoes. Adding butter and cheese will add a lot of calories to your meal. I’d recommend eating potatoes baked or mashed.
- Whole Wheat Pasta – If you eat pasta, stay with the whole wheat kind to avoid processed white flour. Add some cheese and you’ll have a 1000 calorie meal with no problem. This is why people who want to lose weight should absolutely stay away from pasta!
- Fish – Fish contains good protein and essential omega 3s. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least 2 sources of fatty fish per week. Fatty fish have the highest amount of omega 3s and include salmon, mackerel, herring, trout, and tuna.
- Meat – Meat is easily the best source of muscle-building protein. For putting on muscle look to lean cuts of red meat and pork.
As you can see, most of what I have listed here are whole foods and not processed. Granted there are a few exceptions, but the main idea here is that you can eat healthy and gain weight and put on muscle.
The Hardgainer Exercises
Even though I talk frequently about working on everything and all around general fitness, there are a few exercises that reign supreme in gaining mass and muscle. Let’s go over the ones that stimulate the greatest hormonal responses (increasing fat-burning and muscle-building growth hormone, testosterone, etc.)
- Squats – If you want to have nice, shapely quadriceps you have to do squats! Front Squats would be best for gaining size, but do whatever squats you have equipment for. Do them with bars, do them with dumbbells, do them with bodyweight. You can build nice quads doing high-rep bodyweight movements.
- Deadlifts – The deadlift is a really important exercise due to the number of muscles that get worked in this move. Lats, traps, erector spinae, glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and psoas (hip flexors) are all working during this compound movement. Go heavy with a bar or do high reps with your dumbbells.
- Bench Press – It goes without saying that the bench press should be a part of every guy’s program. Do them with bars or dumbbells or do maximum rep push-ups.
- Military Press – With the shoulders linking the chest, back, and arms, we can’t afford not to work these muscles. Do the overhead press standing, seated, with barbells, or dumbbells. You can use bodyweight to work the shoulders too. Pike presses are a great bodyweight exercise for the shoulders. Stop before failure, you don’t want to fall on your head!
- Pull-Up – Finishing this list of essential exercises for increasing mass is the pull-up. You can’t avoid this move just because it’s hard! This exercise is the very best way to work the biggest muscle in your body, the lats. If you want to bulk up, you must work this muscle. The chin-up variation is also fantastic for working the biceps.
Do these exercises with perfect form in mind. The form is more important than the amount of weight that you use! Not doing these in perfect form causes other muscles to help out which defeats the purpose of working these mass-gaining muscles and can lead to injury.
I have a post on Weight Lifting Basics for those of you just starting out who could use some additional information.
A couple of other articles related to this topic that would be helpful for you to read are:
Keep your workouts under an hour. Keep rests between sets to 90 seconds or less. Don’t weight train more than 2 days in a row, and don’t work the same body parts on successive days. Keep repetitions for each exercise in the 6-15 range, unless you are using bodyweight; in that case, do maximum repetitions. Always work for increases. Try to progressively increase either reps or weight each workout.
If gaining size is your goal, you will want to limit cardio to 20-25 minutes no more than twice per week. Too much cardio will make it difficult for you to gain muscle. When you start reaching the size and weight that you want to be, you can start introducing more cardio back into your routine to lean out.
Get plenty of sleep. Your muscles recover and grow when you sleep, and not getting enough will be counterproductive.