Hard Gainer Nutrition
Every so often I run into someone with the metabolism of a hummingbird on methamphetamine.
They’re lean, wiry, and have trouble putting on solid weight.
Often they’ll have a tremendous appetite and can put a serious hurt on the dollar menu at McDonalds, yet still never make noticeable progress on the scale.
As a result, despite training their boney asses off, they look about the same, year after year.
If you’re part of the hard gaining club, this blog will explore a few methods to help you start seeing measurable progress from your muscle building efforts.The first thing you need to know about is the Metabolism Bell Curve.The thyroid gland, a small butterfly shaped organ located in the front of your neck, controls how your body uses energy and how your body responds to hormone signalling. It’s the master control centre of metabolism in the body.
If you took everyone in the world and plotted their metabolisms on a graph, you’d end up with a bell shaped curve. Most people are clustered somewhere in the middle (towards the top of the bell curve) with “average metabolisms.” A small minority is more towards the hypothyroid end of the spectrum (slower metabolism than normal, and these folks tend to put on weight just driving by a sweet shop) with another small percentage geared more towards the hyperthyroid side (faster metabolism than normal, the so-called “hardgainers”). Because of their freakishly fast metabolisms, hardgainers need to keep a close eye on both the “calories in” and the “calories out” part of the metabolic equation.
Calories are the energy we derive from foods. Simply put, hardgainers need more calories than people with normal metabolisms, and they need those higher calories on a regular basis. For weight gain, a good starting point for a hardgainer would be around 20 calories per pound of bodyweight. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, start with 3,000 average calories per day.
Many will need more than that, but 20 is a good starting point. If you’re not gaining weight after a consistent two weeks at 20, bump the multiplier up to 22 or more. (Some with extremely freakish metabolisms can actually lose weight at 20 calories per pound of body weight!)
Note: I said two consistent weeks, not “eat a bunch for a day or two, then start skipping meals.” Consistency is the pitfall of many young people wishing to add muscle, especially those with freakish metabolisms. A week’s worth of great eating can be ruined simply by ripping the town apart at the weekend along with high sugar intake and supermac burgers!
Prioritize your goals. If you want to get a bigger, stronger frame in the gym, you’re going to have to sacrifice a bit of your social life to get there. The long term reward will be well worth it.
Some Tips for Staying Consistent:
- Prepare all your meals the day/night before. Food preparation is the cornerstone of any strength building plan. This way you won’t have any excuses when you’re running short on time. An even better way to do this is to prepare most of your meals on one day a week (like Sunday afternoons), then freeze them (in Tupperware containers). Each night before you need them, move them from the freezer to the refrigerator to thaw overnight.
- Harness the power of momentum. Make it a priority to nail your nutrition 100% for at least two weeks. If you get through this period 100%, it will be much easier to continue as you’ll have figured out how to make it happen consistently. They say it takes about two weeks for habits to form. Stick it out.
- Associate with the right crowd. Hanging out with people that don’t train, or whose idea of fun is getting hammered and spending all night playing video games is not going to be conducive to your long term success. You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. If your five spend more time with a bar stool than a barbell, what does that tell you?
Calories need to be high for hard-gainers, but what should those calories be composed of? What sort of macronutrient breakdown? I’ve found that with hardgaining clients, a heavy dose of all three macros – carbs, protein, and fat – is the best approach.
Many lifters still shy away from dietary fat, thinking that it will only make them fat, but fat is necessary for building muscle and maintaining optimal health. And because it’s over twice as calorically dense as the other two macronutrients (9 calories per gram versus 4 for carbs and protein), it packs an energy wallop.
I like to see hardgainers consume at least 25% of their calories from fats (a mixture of saturated and unsaturated sources) and sometimes upwards of 30-35%. The remaining calories should be distributed between carbs and protein, around 30 to 40% of each.
To keep calories high, it’s important to focus on nutrient or calorically dense foods. Solid choices include whole eggs, beef, poultry, fish, nuts, oils, avocados, whole grain breads, rice, oats, and potatoes.
Though fruits and vegetables certainly have their place in a well-balanced diet, don’t stuff yourself with mammoth salads and fruit baskets and expect to be hitting the upper levels of calorie consumption. You won’t have enough room for the stuff that truly packs on the mass.
Pre, during, and post workout nutrition are critical to packing on size, regardless of your metabolism. If you’re a hardgainer, it’s even more important. Make sure you pound high quality nutrients at these times to optimize the results of your work in the gym. Liquid nutrition is an easy way to knock back much-needed calories. Just be carefull that you don’t end up taking some crap supplement from the supermarket. Get advice and choose carefully.
Eating frequently will ensure you get sufficient calories without the need to make any meals uncomfortably large. Every two hours works well for most, but if you’re hungry don’t be afraid to eat more often than that. Many are hungrier at certain times of the day (like post workout, or in the morning), so take advantage of what your body is telling you and eat as frequently as hunger dictates.
Along with daily meals, a good method to squeeze in additional growth-promoting calories is to have a “night shake” that you sip before bed and finish when you awaken during the night to use the bathroom. Small tip is to add some coconut oil to your shake just before you hit the sack.
While I don’t advocate eating a bunch of crap to get in your daily allotment of calories, sometimes it’s easier (and more enjoyable) to have some “non-bodybuilding food” rather than choke down another chicken breast with rice.
For my hardgaining clients looking to pack on mass, I usually have them take one to two “cheat meals” per week.
I advise these meals replace the last meal of the day. This way, they don’t derail a whole day’s worth of eating.
Hardgainers burn more calories both at rest and during activity than the average individual. Too much “calories out” can bring progress to a screeching halt. To counter act this, I suggest the following:
- Limit intense weight training to 4-5 days per week at most (and sometimes less is better).
- Keep weight training sessions short but intense. Sixty minutes is the maximum.
- Limit cardiovascular activity to no more than 3 times per week or less. This includes traditional cardiovascular activity like the treadmill or bike as well as extracurricular activity like playing basketball or hiking.
If you perform more activity than recommended above, or if you have a physically demanding job, your calories IN (through diet) needs to be even higher, possibly in the range of 25 calories per pound of bodyweight.
Also, remember not to skimp on recovery. Ample sleep, naps, and R&R time is crucial to making consistent gains. Shoot for at least 7-8 hours every night, and try to fit in a nap after your workout if possible. Even a short 15-20 minute nap can make a difference in the long run.
Don’t be afraid of body fat:
A common concern of the hardgainer crowd is that once they start adding weight, they lose their beloved washboard abs.
You’re going to have to let go of this mindset if you want to make muscular progress.
Holding an extra film of water from higher calories doesn’t mean you’re piling on fat, it just means you’re keeping your body in a state of abundance so it can grow.
Remember, the lads you see on the cover of magazines don’t look ripped all year long. The bulk up and then near competition time shred down.
Holding some extra weight also helps with strength. More girth and bloat equals better leverages and better strength in the gym.
Don’t worry, when it comes time to lean out, your stellar metabolism will shed the fluff very quickly, but for now, use it to your advantage.