This might surprise you, but there is a large group of individuals out there who struggle with their weight – they can’t seem to gain weight for the life of them. For most people this sounds like a blessing, but it is in fact a curse to them. These individuals call themselves “hardgainers.” As a reformed hardgainer I’d like to share my story and my solutions for curing this terrible condition.
The Hardgainer Myth
First, there’s something you need to hear. There is no such thing as a hardgainer.
That term was created to make you feel special and feel like it isn’t your fault you can’t gain weight. IT IS COMPLETELY YOUR FAULT.
Unless you have a medical condition which prevents you from digesting food, and trust me you would know, then you have no excuse.
It’s impossible to be in a caloric surplus and not gain weight. Being in a caloric surplus means that you consume more calories than you burn. So you either need to burn less or consume more.
You might think you’re eating a lot of food, but you still aren’t eating enough. There’s a good chance that you don’t even know how many calories you are really consuming. You also probably don’t realize how many calories you NEED to be eating.
It’s not uncommon for an athletic person to consume 3000-5000 calories a day, just to maintain their weight.
My “Hardgainer” Story
I was always the skinny kid. Growing up, I could eat anything I wanted and never gain an ounce of fat. (Not true anymore unfortunately) Being so skinny really bothered me.
As a guy, it’s better to be a little overweight than a little underweight in my opinion. I used to envy guys who gained weight easily. I know that sounds silly now, but the grass is always greener on the other side right?
It didn’t help that I had a tall and skinny bone structure and I was always very active, which meant I was burning a lot of calories.
- My early attempt to gain muscle
I decided to take action and fix this by joining a weight lifting class my freshman year of high school. I was 6 feet tall and weighed 140 lbs.
My coach taught us proper form and set us up on an upper/lower split. We worked upper body on Monday and Thursday, then lower body on Tuesday and Friday. I was on the right track, except I knew nothing at all about diet and didn’t think I needed to.
I was hungry for gains and started reading bodybuilding magazines religiously. Little did I know that those magazines are full of useless propaganda designed to scam skinny bastards (and overweight people) like myself out of hard earned money. I soon switched my lifting program to the bro splits that those magazines advocate and started looking into buying supplements.
My best friend was obsessed with bodybuilding at the time and convinced me to go to GNC (the worst place to buy supplements, by the way) with him. I walked out with my first supplement, a weight gainer product. What a sucker. Once I opened that bad boy up and saw that the scoop was the same scoop that came in the powder laundry detergent, I realized I had been conned.
I thought supplements were supposed to be convenient? One serving was 3 of those huge scoops that forced me to drink 3 shaker bottles full of pudding. I could’ve easily got those calories in one meal of food that actually tasted good. I never ate another serving from that product and eventually threw it away.
Fast forward to my senior year and I had put on 25 lbs of muscle and I also grew about 2 inches taller. Since I started at such a light weight and got taller, I was still very scrawny at 6’2″ and 165 lbs. The good news was I was very cut at least, haha.
I still had no clue about proper nutrition. I thought I did. I knew I had to eat a lot, so I did just that. I would have a big breakfast, a protein shake after working out, a big lunch that I usually had to finish in class and then I would eat dinner with my family and go get a fast food meal for dinner #2. I really thought I was eating a lot, but I wasn’t tracking my calories so I have no idea how many calories I was really eating.
That didn’t work. So eventually I thought, well if I eat healthy foods then I’ll gain muscle. So I quit fast food and soda and only ate natural foods. Of course that didn’t work because healthy foods usually have less calories and are more filling.
- My first “bulk”
Fast forward to my sophomore year of college and I decided to find a workout program that included a diet plan, since I realized that might be my problem. I’ve always loved lifting weights and have no problem getting to the gym or pushing myself.
I can’t remember what the program was now, I wish I could find it because it was very good. It was a basic push/pull split and a high calorie diet. I think I was eating about 4000 calories a day on that program.
I thought I was eating a lot before, but I really struggled to get those calories in every day. This was the first time I really understood what it takes to gain weight. After gaining about 20 lbs of muscle and fat I gave up on the program because I got tired of eating so much. This was my first “bulking” experience. I was actually proud of my progress from that.
For the rest of college I pretty much coasted from there. I always exercised regularly, but I just didn’t devote the time to eating enough food. Granted I was extremely busy with classes, at least 1 job at all times and a social life.
- Second attempt at “bulking”
After college I decided to get serious about fitness and relearn the fundamentals. I ditched the bro splits for good and found out about this old school hardgainer cure called GOMAD. I gave it a shot and it was a success! I got a lot stronger and put some meat on my bones. For the first time in my life, I didn’t look scrawny anymore.
I learned a lot during that bulk. In fact, I’d say that the knowledge I learned during that period changed the course of my life. I got obsessed about learning everything there was to know about health and fitness as a lifestyle. If it wasn’t for that period of time there would be no HealthMindPower. Fitness has taught me a lot about life.
- Third and final bulk
This time around I knew what I was doing and it made things much easier. I had my training figured out and I was tracking my macros.
I figured out during this bulk that the biggest problem for “hardgainers” is having enough appetite to eat all of the food required. Athletes, bodybuilders and active people require a high calorie diet – that comes with the territory.
This was the easiest bulk for me and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Once I figured out how to grow such an appetite it was hard to stop. I ended up gaining a little too much fat along with the muscle I put on.
That’s part of the reason why I don’t follow the traditional regimen of bulking up a lot and then cutting down. My approach is different now.
Now I try to gain weight as slowly as possible to avoid gaining much fat. You can continue to increase strength and muscle size while only in a small caloric surplus. This approach leads to much less fat gained. Then every now and then you can just cut your calories down to a slight deficit for a month and trim off that fat. Even in a slight deficit you can still make strength progress if you’re working on your recovery properly.
That’s so much better than 3 months of hardcore dieting that’s usually required to “cut” after a long bulk.
How to Gain Weight in 8 Steps
- Use a free calorie counter like MyFitnessPal and track everything you eat for a week. You need to do this for yourself, just to see how much you are really eating.
- Figure out how many calories you need by using this calculator
- Learn how to track your macros and adjust your macros and calories in MyFitnessPal. You’ll have to manually set your calorie goals on the website, then it will sync to the app if you’re using it on your phone.
- Eat your required calories, every day. If you are 200 calories short on one day, eat 200 extra calories the following day. Day-to-day fluctuations aren’t as significant as the weekly average.
- Weigh yourself every morning. For accurate readings you should wake up, go to the bathroom and then weigh yourself naked before eating or drinking anything. This is the best way to get consistently accurate readings.
- Aim for 0.5 – 2 lbs of weight gain a week, depending on your goals.
- When your weight gain stalls, increase your daily caloric intake by 50-200 calories.
- Start buying larger clothes
My Tips & Tricks
- Eating a larger quantity of smaller meals ramps up your appetite like crazy. If you eat less meals that are bigger you will have less appetite in between meals. Just do whatever works best with your schedule.
- Always look for calorically-dense foods, meaning they have a lot of calories in a small portion. My favorite bulking snack is chocolate covered cashews.
- Always keep snacks handy. Snacking builds up an appetite and allows you to eat more at meals – and snacking helps you get in lots of calories between meals.
- Short, intense cardio sessions will increase your appetite dramatically. Follow your workouts with some sprints or 10 minutes of high intensity interval training and I promise you’ll be ready to eat a horse.
There are tons of other tricks, but those are the ones that worked best for me. I prefer to increase my appetite and eat more healthier foods, instead of slamming sodas all day.
Basically, look at most weight-loss advice and do all the things they say not to do. That’s how you gain weight. It’s so easy that lots of people do it, just look around.
Well I hope that helps all you skinny guys out there! I know how you feel, but trust me if you apply these principles you will reach a point where you can’t imagine not being able to gain weight. It gets easier with time because as you gain more muscle you gain a larger appetite as well. I’m still not that big myself, but now that I’m over 200 lbs I don’t have the desire to be much bigger anymore.
What about you, are you a reformed hardgainer? I’d love to hear your story, let me know in the comments.
Until Next Time,
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