Hardgainer? Here's How To Pack On Muscle

by DanielleBaynham 2240 views Gain Muscle

Hardgainer? Here's How To Pack On Muscle

Do you struggle to gain muscle despite weight training and eating a massive amount of food? You’re probably a hardgainer. While most people are jealous of your gifted metabolism and ability to eat everything under the sun without gaining weight, you see it as more of a burden. 

The good news is that you can pack on muscle (likely without a large amount of body fat) by simply refining your diet and adding some extra weight to the bar. 

Let's start by refining your diet!

Eat in a calorie surplus

To pack on muscle, you have to be eating in a calorie surplus - no exceptions. This means eating more calories than you burn daily. To put it simply, if you are gaining weight each week, you are in a calorie surplus. If your weight remains constant, you’re consuming “maintenance calories” and will need to increase the amount of food you are eating every day if you want to gain muscle mass. 

How to determine your surplus calories?

As a guide, you want to be eating roughly 200 - 400 calories above your maintenance calories. If you don’t work with a coach, you can track your usual calorie intake for the day to determine your “maintenance calories”. From there, you can start by eating an extra 200 calories per day and then weigh yourself at the end of the week to see if your weight has increased. If your weight remains the same after a week, you will need to increase your calories again! 

If you’re not into the whole tracking calories thing, just eat more and monitor your results!

Pack your diet with calorie-dense foods

Calorie dense foods are essential when you are actively trying to gain weight and build muscle as they contain a heap of calories for a very small volume. They are also quite low in fibre so you can consume a large amount without feeling uncomfortably full or bloated. 

Some of the best calorie-dense foods to include in your diet:

  • Fats: avocado, coconut oil, olive oil, nuts, nut butter
  • Protein: beef, fatty fish, tofu, eggs, cheese, full-fat milk, yoghurt, tempeh 
  • Carbohydrates: rice, pasta, bread, bagels, potatoes, granola, cereal

Here’s how you could incorporate calorie-dense foods into a full day of eating:

Breakfast: Egg and avocado bagels + fruit

Snack 1: A protein shake poured over cereal 

Lunch: Chicken pesto pasta with green vegetables

Snack 2: Mass gainer protein smoothie 

Dinner: Salmon, jasmine rice, sweet potato fries and avocado 

Dessert: Full-fat yoghurt topped with granola, choc chips and peanut butter 


The quantity of each food will depend on your daily calorie/macronutrient target. However, it’s safe to assume it will be a lot! 

Recommended article: The Best Macro Split for Fat Loss/Muscle Gain?

Meal prep for the week ahead 

With the amount of food you’ll be consuming, your whole day will consist of cooking if you don’t prep your meals. Allocating a couple of hours on the weekend to prepare your food for the week ahead will help you reach your macronutrient targets and save you a heap of time! 

If you’re new to meal prepping, here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Plan out all your meals in a calorie tracking app (I like MyFitnessPal) before you start cooking 
  • Stick to simple meals 
  • Include a source of protein, carbohydrates, and fat in each main meal
  • Cook in bulk and portion into individual containers

Drink mass gainer shakes 

Drinking your calories is a lot easier than eating them! Mass gainers are a simple and delicious way to boost your daily protein and calorie intake. For the ultimate calorie-packed snack, try creating a mass gainer smoothie. 

Try this 750 calorie choc peanut butter mass gainer smoothie recipe:


Recommended Products

R1 LBS by Rule 1 Proteins

Packed with protein, R1 LBS has been designed to fuel those intense workout sessions and help you gain muscle quickly.

More Info

Mammoth By Anabolix Nutrition

Scientifically formulated for hardgainers who want to put on "mammoth" muscle mass without the unwanted fat. 

More Info

Critical Mass by Genetix Nutrition

If you're on a mission to add more hardcore mass to your frame, this protein powder is perfect for you.

More Info

Now, let’s move on to optimising your training!

Don’t workout on an empty stomach

If you rock up to the gym with no fuel in your system, your body can turn catabolic and begin to breakdown muscle tissue (especially when your body fat is already low). Give your body the energy it needs to smash out a killer session!

  • 2-3 hours before your workout: consume a pre-workout meal (rich in carbohydrates and protein) 
  • 30mins before your workout: consume simple carbohydrates for an instant source of energy

Follow a strength-based training program 

If you don’t start lifting heavy, the excess calories will lead to excess body fat. To build muscle mass, you will need to get serious about your training. Compound lifts will give you the most bang for your buck when it comes to muscle gains as they engage multiple muscle groups at once.

lemon water

Compound lifts include:

  • Deadlifts
  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Bench press
  • Shoulder press
  • Dips
  • Pull-ups
  • Bent over rows

To really maximise your results and build muscle, progressive overload (increasing weight every week) is essential to keep your sessions intense so you can continue to get stronger.

Cut back on cardio

Don’t get me wrong, cardio is great for your fitness and heart health, but the more cardio you do, the more calories you burn. This means you will have to eat even more calories to be in a surplus which is not ideal with the monster amount you already have to consume. 

Don’t overtrain 

Training more frequently does NOT mean you will make more gains. It is actually important for hardgainers to prioritise rest and recovery. If you’re smashing out your sessions, training too often can lead to muscle tissue breakdown as a result of lowered strength levels and nervous system fatigue. 

Follow these training and recovery tips to maximise your results:

  • Train 3-4 times per week
  • 45-60 minute sessions
  • Make your sessions intense
  • Get in 8 hours of sleep per night

Final Notes

Building muscle takes time so don’t get discouraged if the results don’t come straight away. Maximise your ability to gain muscle and get stronger by consistently eating in a calorie surplus and lifting heavy during your workouts.



I am a Marketing Graduate from the Queensland University of Technology with a passion for all things health and fitness. I have recently embarked on my own fitness journey where I have lost over 20kg while following a plant-based diet. I love resistance training, researching fitness topics, baking macro-friendly treats and discovering the best almond lattes Brisbane has to offer.

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