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:
- 40g Oats
- 100g Banana
- 20g Peanut butter
- 250ml Whole milk
- 60g Mammoth by Anabolix Nutrition (chocolate)
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.
Compound lifts include:
- Bench press
- Shoulder press
- 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.
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
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.