Get Growing: 7 Ways To Gain Weight For The Hardgainer
Name: Greg Robins, CPT
Education: University of Massachusetts Boston
Occupation: Strength and Conditioning Coach at Cressey Performance
Location: Hudson, MA
Gaining weight can be incredibly difficult and stressful for certain people. For these folks, commonly called "hardgainers," adding even a little size can seem like a monumental task. Personally, I'm skeptical about the extent of this difficulty. From my time in the military to setting recent personal powerlifting goals, I've had my fair share of experiences gaining healthy weight.
At my lowest weight of 173 in the military, I had the energy of a bull and personal bests that included a 435-pound deadlift, a 315-pound squat, and a 285-pound bench press. Later, when I flew up to 230 pounds, these same lifts shot up over one hundred pounds apiece, and I still boast a better-than-average work capacity.
Over the years, I've learned that tackling any goal comes down to being honest, acknowledging how much work it will take, and pushing through that work. If you're a hardgainer who wants to gain weight, you probably won't feel hungry all the time, but you'll still have to eat. If you really want to grow, you need to silence your fears of getting fat, of your performance suffering, and of eating 100 percent clean.
I don't care how hard it is for you to gain weight. With proper training and willingness to do the work, you can build quality muscle and add healthy size. Do you have the courage to actually step outside your comfort zone and get something done? If you want to grow, start with these seven tips!
1 Use data over guesswork
The guessing game and going by "feel" never give you an accurate picture of what you eat on a daily basis. So do the math and figure it out!
Write down your daily diet in a notebook or food-tracking mobile app, crunch the numbers, and seek help if you need additional eyes. You may be surprised by what you find. Perhaps you thought you ate 3,300 calories one day when, in fact, you ate only 2,900. That's a 400-calorie difference that can add up overtime.
Often, you just need something as visual as a food log for a couple weeks to fully grasp what you put into your diet—or not, in many cases.
Action point: Spend at least one month writing down your meals, snacks, and calories of any form that touch your lips. This serves as a mental exercise to get yourself used to eyeballing portion sizes and grasping the frequency and size of the meals you can consistently suck in on a daily basis.
Take advantage of this experimental period to tweak your diet according to results and how you feel, and learn how your body responds. For example, if you haven't been gaining as much muscle as you'd like, check your protein intake to see if it's adequate; if not, bump it up by increasing protein portion size or shift foods around a bit. One gram of protein per pound of bodyweight is a solid daily target.
One month is all you need to get a good picture of your caloric intake, but if you feel like it really helps, by all means, continue doing it until you can confidently start assembling meals through approximation and still achieve the results you want.
Just be sure to avoid getting consumed by the idea that you need to count every calorie all the time.
2 Add calorie bonuses in addition to planned meals
Hardgainers don't gain weight for a slew of reasons. Chief among them is that they don't sneak in enough extra calories into their diet. Finding something to add as a surplus source of quick and easy calories is clutch for major gains.
Sure, this might be easier said than done, but it's a matter of identifying foods and recipes that are calorie-dense but light on stomach space. These foods include nut butters, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, grass-fed butters, honey, full-fat coconut milk, and full-fat Greek yogurt. Some other viable options consist of drinking milk throughout the day, making peanut butter and (insert your choice of condiment) sandwiches, homemade 1,000-calorie protein shakes, and homemade energy bars or "cookies."
Once you figure out the foods which bloat the calorie count but not the stomach, plan to put them into your meals. That means making things in advance, thinking ahead, and having foods like full-fat Greek yogurt and nut butters within arm's reach and ready. Don't be lazy about it.
More calories = more growth, so pack on the calories and cram them in where you can.
Action point: one of my favorite quick and easy snacks
- Grab a jar of all-natural peanut butter (none of that added sugar and oils funny business!) and empty it into a bowl.
- Add two or three scoops of quality protein powder, a little honey to taste, and about 1/2 cup of dried oats.
- Add just enough water to make it mixable but not soupy at all.
- Mix all together.
- Separate into little balls that can hold together and refrigerate.
- Eat one with each of your meals over the next few days.
Other good options include many awesome high protein recipes by Protein Powder Chef, Anna Sward.
3 You need to eat carbs (yes, even the starchy ones)
This tip seems pretty straightforward, but you'd be surprised by how many people ask me why they're not gaining weight when their only carbohydrate sources come from vegetables, trace amounts of sugars, fruits, and legumes.
I'm not saying to go completely crazy on trashy carbohydrates, but your body will gain better results from additional carb sources such as rice, oats, sweet potatoes, and—dare I say it—bread. This is especially true with heavy weightlifting, since carbs are needed to replenish glycogen stores that a particularly grueling lifting session devours. Some studies suggest that timing the majority of your starches around when you train may shunt unnecessary fat storage. For example, eat these starches either pre- or post-workout.
Action point: Add two bananas, a bowl of oatmeal (one cup measured uncooked), or half a cup of rice (measured uncooked) to your post-training meals.
4 Fat is where it's at
Fats are essential to your diet because they cushion your vital organs, help you digest certain types of vitamins, maintain optimum brain function, and more. Plus, fats are the easiest way to add extra calories. Fat sources are calorically dense, go down quickly, provide a lot of energy, and of course, they're damn tasty. Before you go to town on heavy cream and lard, fats should come from quality sources, like raw nuts, sunflower seeds, nut butters, avocado, fattier cuts of meat, olive oil, real mayonnaise, and some cheese.
Fats should comprise most of your meals when you're not training or close to training times.
Action points: things you can do to add more fats and thus more calories to your diet
- Liberally douse your veggies in grass-fed butter or olive oil.
- Pat some butter in your sweet potato.
- Add extra olive oil in your marinara sauce.
- Use real mayonnaise in your sandwiches.
- Eat a whole avocado with your meal (they go with everything!).
- Snack on macadamia nuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, and any of the other more nutrient-dense nuts throughout the day.
5 Eat faster
Before your body has the chance to feel satiated, fill 'er up! If you eat too slowly, you give your brain a chance to catch up on your stomach's actual satiety levels, which is usually about a 20-minute delay. When you sit down to eat, start shoveling as much food as you comfortably can into your gaping maw. That means the opposite of what most weight loss experts will tell you. Never put your utensils down during your meal.
Action point: Make it a point to eat your meals with training buddies or friends who eat more food than you do. That way it becomes sort of a competition. It also puts "eating a lot" into a humbling perspective when you can see how much other people eat in comparison to yourself.
6 Drink more calories
Chewing takes work and time. Drink your calories whenever you can, whether that ends up being milk, coconut water, or a simple shake. Big, nutritional shakes you make at home are the real moneymaker here. You can add extra calories from coconut milk, nut butters, high-quality protein powders, and fistfuls of greens to make that shake give you both weight and nutritional gains.
Action point: Drink beverages like coconut milk, milk, or coconut water with each meal.
7 Have a positive relationship with your food
Far too often, people get consumed by the act of eating that they forget to savor food and view food as more than just numbers. Learn to cook, enjoy your food, and stop eating alone.
Having a positive relationship with food will do wonders for the poor habits you don't even realize are taking place. It's often the negative association that stems from the "need to eat" and makes hardgainers less likely to be able to adhere to consuming more calories. In these cases, it just helps to have a friend to be there along the way.
Action point: Plan to have dinner with a friend at least twice each week over the next month. As I already mentioned, try to make plans with friends who aren't afraid to say yes to two entrees or second (or even third) helpings!
Do you have any other weight-gaining secrets to share with other hardgainers? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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I don't mean to sound harsh of any writer on BB.com. But I'm getting sick and tired of writers on BB.com referencing scientific studies of nutrient timing and not providing the actual scientific study, reference, or even going into detail about the study. As a matter of fact I have done much research on this and the only studies I have found via Layne Norton and Alan Aragon who provided actual peer reviewed scholarly articles, and in those mentioned articles they seemed to rather down play nutrient timings importance and find it rather null. Can someone please direct me to other scientific studies that say otherwise?!?!?
good to see some one not haunting you about starchy carbs. i experience better workouts and lift heavier when i have had more carbs in my breakfast and lunch
Spam filter won't let me post a link, just do a Google search for carb timing studies. The first one that popped up for me found that a high carb/protein post workout meal worked to replenish glycogen stores and prompt a greater protein synthesis. However, this was only tested for fasted training.
In the grand scheme of your greater diet, you are correct. For most people nutrient timing will yield no better results than meeting TDEE and macro goals by the end of the day. One meal means little in the totality of your diet.
This includes carb timing. Even the study that tmittan referenced found little value could be distilled from the studies they looked at.
Worked very well versus what? How much "better" did it work?
It's all anecdotal man. That's the problem. There is zero science that says any timing (or one meal) creates relevant differences in body composition versus your total diet focus for either bulking or cutting.
versus what I use to do, which was eat carbs with every meal everyday. I did put on lots a "weight" but it was a lot of unnecessary fat. The way I diet now keeps me at a lower bf% and still allows me to build muscle
Your body treats carbs, protein and fat equally. You gained fat because you were at too great a caloric surplus versus your TDEE, not because you ate too much of a specific marco.
If you want to bulk clean (you don't gain too much fat) you should eat at roughly 10% over TDEE. It isn't carb cycling. You were eating too much.
you wanna gain weight people?!?!?! EAT A LOT OF FOOD!!! CHICKEN, RICE, BEANS, AVOCADOS, SWEET POTATOES, BROCCOLI, STEAK, SPINACH, CHUG MILK THE WHOLE DAY! JUST FLIPPIN EAT!!!! ok secrets out...
You *******! Now the whole world will know :P... until they get lazy and want to google search "how to gain weight" in hopes of finding some miracle pill or food.
The problem is, that beginner guys who are just started to workout has no patience. Most of them are touching steroids after few months to grow faster but they do not taking care about the consequences. I mean You need to eat , but if you are avoiding the daily minimum, you are just throwing away your money. I think nowadays the bodybuilding became more functional than lifestyle and this makes some people forget what it can give you. 17 years old guy started to go to gym, using steroids, screwing up his hormone system. He is getting gain, I am getting patience, stamina, self-discipline and self-control. People give no **** about eating :) :(
When they were writing their responses and hit the post button, they got impatient and hit it again. So it posts multiple of the same comment.
Okay, I'm a hardgainer and found the opening paragraph a bit condescending. I've tried many different techniques to gain weight including additional food (straight-up calories), increased protein only, etc. The result? I do gain weight (up to 10lbs in 6 mos) but it mostly goes to my stomach as fat. Not a good look, lol. This is why I'm back down to 155 lbs which looks much better on me. I have yet to found a way to increase my muscle only.
I in no one pretend to be a professional, or a nutritionist, but I am definitely a hardgainer. I couldn't break 195 for the longest time. I increased my protein intake (from about 180g/d to about 340g/d) and started eating healthy carbs (around 300-400) on an average day and slowly put on muscle mass. Here I am about 3-4 years later at 230lbs (I'm 6'1 by the way) and not fat at all. It can be tough to do it the right way, but you gotta stay vigilent. I'm actually about to drink a protein shake right now.
Great example. You nearly doubled everything. Most people don't have the discipline to see that through year after year. Thanks for reading!
etrotter, Sometimes you need to let your body sort things out. You also need to increase the volume along with the added calories. I'm 5'9 225lbs. It didn't always look pretty but I stuck with it. Now I look fine, and am over 200lbs.
me. I gain weight when I feel like it and I lose weight when I feel like it .. as long as im focus . and when I said focus I mean focus . im a track runner. I practice 5 days a week. that my cardio right . enough said .