Skinny? Hit a plateau? Want more muscle? Follow our 20 laws and add 15 lb of lean mass in only 15 weeks.
Getting big isn’t easy. Never has been. But some find it harder than others. In a refreshing blast of logic, these people are referred to as “hardgainers.”
Being a hardgainer is not a lifelong sentence. If you’re frustrated by your fast metabolism and your body’s seeming inability to add mass, take heart: Time is on your side. As you age, your metabolism slows naturally, making it easier to put on both muscle mass and body fat.
With that being said, you’re probably looking for faster results than your natural aging process allows. By implementing M&B’s 20 training, nutrition and diet strategies, you can put yourself on the path to a physique that carries a pleasing amount of lean muscle. We’ve set up a program that will allow you to add up to 15 lb or more of quality mass in 15 weeks.
Here are the 20 rules you need to get growing. Follow them closely.
Hardgainer Rules: Training
#1 Weight train only four days a week.
If you want to grow, you have to stimulate your muscles, right? Right. The problem is that many hardgainers work out hard — too hard, in fact. They don’t see gains from their training, so they assume that they need to train even longer and more frequently. But training itself tears down muscle mass (muscle grows in the period after training, when you’re recovering). For best results, hardgainers should work out no more than four days a week.
#2 Include three full rest days to encourage recovery and growth.
Just so there’s no confusion, when you’re training four days a week, you should also include three full rest days. Rest days are those days where you not only stay away from weight training, but you also don’t perform cardio or participate in other strenuous activities such as basketball, football, running or swimming. These activities burn a lot
of energy, and for hardgainers, a likely source of this energy is muscle mass. When your primary goal is to increase body weight by adding muscle mass, it’s important to stimulate muscle growth through weight training, provide your body with excess calories for growth and keep other activities to a minimum.
#3 Emphasize compound exercises.
These moves are multijoint moves such as squats, deadlifts, pullups and bench presses. They take more energy to perform, but they also stimulate the most muscle growth. Part of the reason they do so is that these exercises allow you to use the most weight. This has the added benefit of giving a bigger boost in increasing your body’s release of testosterone and growth hormone (compared to the increase in these hormones from performing isolation moves while weight training).
#4 Keep training volume moderate per session.
As a hardgainer, you may be tempted to perform five, six or even more exercises per body part in one session, believing that your body needs more stimulation for growth. Couple that with multiple sets of each of these exercises, and you’ve created a formula for overtraining your body, one body part at a time. A better rule of thumb is to train large body parts (legs, back and chest) with three or four exercises per session, and smaller body parts (biceps, triceps, shoulders and abs) with two or three exercises per session. Complete 3–4 sets of each exercise for no more than a total of 20–22 total sets per workout.
#5 Keep short to moderate rest periods between sets to decrease total training time.
When you rest for a few minutes between sets, you’re able to lift more weight or perform more reps. But longer workouts lead to higher increases in the catabolic hormone cortisol, disrupting your ability to make gains. For best results, strive to complete your entire workout in one hour. Keep rest periods to about 60–90 seconds between sets. You may have to reduce the weights or the numbers of reps performed for a few sets, but you’ll be stimulating growth more effectively.
#6 Reduce cardio and include interval training.
Research shows that short, intense cardio workouts burn off more fat, and the shorter time means that you also spare more muscle. Consider using a stationary bike, as research shows those who performed cardio on a stationary bike along with weight training gained more mass and strength on their legs than those who just lifted without cardio. Also, perform your cardio sessions after your weight training, either right after or later in the day so that you’ll be able to take full-growth advantage from your three rest days.
Hardgainer Training Workout*
|Follow this weekly workout on your 15-week hardgainer program.|
Legs and Abs
Chest and Triceps
|Incline dumbbell press||4||8–10|
|Triceps dumbbell extension||3||8–10|
Back and Biceps
Shoulders, Traps and Abs
|* For exercise instruction and form, Muscle & Bodyrecommends “The Encyclopedia of Muscle and Strength” by Jim Stoppani, PhD (Human Kinetics, 2006).|
Hardgainer Training Split
Keep in mind that a rest day means that you shouldn’t go to the gym or burn lots of energy with activities such as basketball or other sports.
Tuesday Chest and triceps, cardio*
Thursday Back and biceps
Friday Shoulders, traps and abs, cardio*
* Follow Training Rule #6 when performing cardio.
Hardgainer Rules: Nutrition
Of course, you want to add muscle mass rather than body fat, but often you have to accept a small increase in body fat in order to encourage muscle growth. Based on the fact that you’re also following these hardgainer training and supplement programs, the following tips are designed to encourage your body to put on more quality muscle mass than body fat as you add 15 quality pounds over this 15-week program.
#7 Add 25% more calories per day than you consume for maintenance.
If you typically eat 2,000 calories a day, bump that up to 2,500 calories a day; if you’re already consuming 2,500 calories for maintenance, take it up to about 3,200 daily. The number one rule of adding quality mass is that you must consume more calories than you burn or you simply won’t add body weight. Job one for hardgainers is getting in more calories than it takes to maintain your body weight every day.
#8 Take in more carbs.
Many serious weight trainers believe that carbs will make them fat, so they avoid them. But carbs are also important for building muscle mass. Carbohydrates boost levels of the anabolic hormone insulin, which stimulates muscle growth. Hardgainers who are trying to add body weight should take in at least 50% of their calories from carbs. If you’re consuming 3,000 calories a day, you should be eating 1,500 or more calories from carbs. This translates to about 400 g of carbs every day. While you can take in sugars around the time of your workout, you should emphasize slow-digesting carbs such as sweet potatoes, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice and whole-grain breads at other meals.
#9 Consume more healthy fats — and even some saturated fats.
Another diet mistake that many hardgainers make is that they don’t take in enough healthy fats. (The hardgainer tendencies are to either eat too much unhealthy junk food or too little fat altogether.) But healthy fats play an important role in muscle growth. Emphasizing fats such as avocados, fatty fish such as salmon, healthy oils (e.g., canola, olive) and nuts and seeds will help you get in more healthy fats and make better muscle gains. Couple that with saturated fats, found naturally in lean meats and dairy (which are beneficial for testosterone production), and all in all, you should be eating at least 20% of your daily calories from fats, with at least half of these coming from healthy sources. For the person taking in 3,000 calories a day, that translates to a total of about 70 g of fat each day, at least 35 g of which should be from healthy sources.
#10 Eat adequate protein.
One mistake hardgainers often make is to overeat protein at the expense of carbs and fats. When you’re trying to add muscle mass, you need to take in at least 1 g of protein per pound of your target weight (your current weight plus 15 lb). Many protein foods such as lean cuts of red meat and chicken breasts are hard to eat in large quantities, especially for hardgainers. But even a 6–8-oz serving contains plenty of protein (approximately 35–50 g of protein per serving). If that’s the bulk of your meal, you’re getting all the protein you need, but you’re falling short on total calories. Make sure you’re getting the protein you need for growth, but not at the expense of total calorie consumption. Protein foods tend to be filling, thus reducing the amount of total calories hardgainers take in. As a rule of thumb, try to get only about 30% of your daily calories from protein. For the hardgainer who’s taking in 3,000 calories a day, that’s still more than 200 g daily.
#11 Eat more meals a day.
Consuming more meals per day is one of the easiest ways for hardgainers to ensure that they’re getting in more calories. Often, the biggest hurdle for hardgainers is overcoming a small appetite. One of the best ways to do this is to eat at least five (if not six or seven) meals a day. Be sure to take in a pre- and postworkout meal or shake, and add a meal before bed. This last meal of the day will provide your body with energy and aminos while you sleep so your body is less inclined to break down muscle mass when your tank is empty.
#12 Take in more calories per meal.
Add liquid calories at the end of a meal. You can drink a large glass of milk or take in a protein shake after you’ve eaten your solid-food meal. Liquid calories are much easier to consume in higher amounts than are solid foods.
Hardgainer Meal Plan
|The following calorie breakdown is recommended for a hardgainer trying to consume at least 3,000 calories a day. Divide these calories into 50% carbs, 30% protein and 20% fats. These breakdowns should hold more or less across the board, with these exceptions: Stay away from fats before and after workouts, and reduce carbs in your dinner and late-night snack.|
Hardgainer Rules: Supplements
Some supplements contain calories for growth, and other supplements work in conjunction with other physiological processes to help keep you growing. Here’s a rundown on which ones you should include to help you overcome your hardgainer status.
#13 Use whey protein and whey/soy blends.
Start your day with a whey protein shake. Whey is fast-digesting, so it will rapidly stop the muscle breakdown that occurs while you sleep. Whey is also ideal for your pre- and postworkout shakes. For best results, use a soy/whey blend after your workout. Soy’s intermediate digestion rate complements whey’s faster rate, and takes advantage of your postworkout anabolic window much more effectively than using whey only.
#14 Drink a casein shake at bedtime.
When you want to take in a shake between meals, casein (a fraction of milk protein) is the best option. Research has found that casein does not stimulate hunger-blunting hormones as much as whey does, allowing you to feel hungrier after consuming the same amount of casein as whey.
#15 Use weight gainers.
Weight gainers are high-calorie protein products that supply 500–1,000 calories a serving. In addition to protein, weight-gainer products have added carbs and fat to pack as many calories into a serving as possible. Most products provide at least a 1:2 ratio of protein to carbs, with some offering as high as a 1:4 ratio. Most products provide about 5–10 g of fat, with some packing well over 10 g. Fat is not a problem for hardgainers as long as less than half of it is of the saturated variety. If you consume a weight-gaining protein shake in addition to other meals, you’ll ensure your body will have all the protein and calories necessary for muscle growth.
#16 Take creatine.
Creatine is the undisputed heavyweight champ of packing on size. Some people can expect to gain upward of 10 lb in as little as two weeks. Go with 3–5 g pre- and postworkout with your protein shakes. On rest days, take one 3–5-g dose with breakfast.
#17 Take arginine.
Arginine is converted in the body to nitric oxide (NO), which enhances blood flow to muscles. This enhanced blood flow means that muscles reap the benefits of more blood, nutrients, hormones and oxygen, which in turn enhances muscle energy during the workout (allowing you to be stronger and fatigue less). It also provides a greater muscle pump (which stimulates muscle growth) and aids recovery and muscle growth after the workout. Take 3–5 g of arginine about 30–60 minutes before workouts.
#18 Use digestive enzymes.
Digestive enzymes break down the protein, carbs and fat we eat so they can be absorbed and used by our bodies. Supplementing with digestive enzymes enhances digestion so that you’ll be hungry again soon, and helps utilize more of the nutrients you consume. The most critical enzymes to take are the proteases, which digest protein. Take 200–500 mg of protease enzymes with meals. Look for products that contain bromelain, chymotrypsin, pancreatic enzymes, papain, pepsin and trypsin.
#19 Use echinacea to boost appetite.
Echinacea is commonly used to boost the immune system during the cold and flu season, but research shows it can also boost appetite. Echinacea contains active compounds called alkylamides, which interact with receptors in the brain that are involved in appetite control. When they bind to these receptors, they increase hunger in a manner similar to cannabis, thus you essentially get the munchies and can eat more of the nutrients you need to grow. Take 800–1,200 mg of echinacea immediately before meals for up to about 8 g total daily.
#20 Take ginger root to increase appetite.
Research shows ginger root can relieve nausea and vomiting. Since force-feeding yourself to get in extra protein and calories can also lead to nausea, taking 1–2 g of ginger root before meals can help relieve stomach upset and help to stimulate appetite.
Hardgainer Supplement Action Plan
Follow this hardgainer supplement schedule for the best results.
|Whey proteinProtease enzymes
|40 g200–500 mg
|Midmorning||Weight gainer||500–1,000 calories*|
|1–2 g800–1,200 mg
|3–5 g3–5 g
|3–5 g40 g
|1–2 g800–1,200 mg
|Before bedtime||Casein protein||40 g|
|* Add to your midmorning snack, or substitute.|
The Worst Habits of Hardgainers
M&B’s countdown of the worst habits of those who can’t get their bodies to grow.
5] Gorging once or twice a day.
Often, hardgainers will eat one really large meal after several hours without food. Luckily, the hardgainer metabolism is less inclined to turn these excessive calories into body fat, but it also forces your body to feed off of stored energy (often muscle mass rather than body fat) in between these infrequent meals. This makes it harder for your body to maintain muscle stores.
Solution: Eat at least five or six meals every day.
4] Consuming too much junk.
Eating is hard work, especially for hardgainers. One solution hardgainers often hit upon to boost calories is to eat more fast food, burgers and pizza. But these foods contain sugar, refined flour and too much fat. In other words, they’re not ideal for supporting muscle growth. They’re much better at adding that small amount of fat at your waistline.
Solution: Emphasize quality whole foods, and liquid calories when it’s too hard to get solid food, to reach the number of calories you need each day. Weight gainers are a great way to keep your tank full.
3] Using too many energy drinks, which inhibit appetite.
Caffeinated energy drinks play an important role in spurring energy and encouraging gains from enhanced training, but they can also be a crutch. Caffeine and other energy supplements decrease appetite, making it harder to take in the clean calories necessary for quality weight gain.
Solution: You don’t need to eliminate your caffeine fix, just keep it moderate so that you don’t impact your ability to take in the quality calories you need.
2] Inconsistent eating.
A lot of hardgainers will eat well for two or three days in a row, then on that next day they get busy and neglect to get in the calories they need to keep up the growth. This pattern undermines your ultimate goal.
Solution: You have to eat consistently to continue to grow. Make sure you hit your target calorie consumption every day. Again, using weight gainers regularly will ensure that you maintain a nutrition regimen consistent for muscle growth.
1] Training too much.
Hardgainers often think that the more they train, the more their muscles are going
to grow. Remember, muscles grow after you train, not while you’re doing it. Also, too many hardgainers train for too long per session and/or too frequently.
Solution: Follow M&B’s hardgainer training program.