If you're someone who can “eat whatever you want and not gain weight”, this article is for you.
You eat pizza, pasta, and burgers all while lifting weights, but the scale doesn't budge. You're eating and lifting big, but haven't gained a single pound.
It's a sure sign you're a hardgainer. Right?
What is a Hardgainer?
Hardgainer – an individual who doesn't build muscle despite proper training, caloric surplus, and adequate recovery.
In common practice, however, “hardgainer” is used to describe inexperienced lifters that have trouble gaining weight.
The Fast Metabolism Myth
Scene: It's 3 p.m. at a local fast food restaurant and a self-proclaimed “hardgainer” is proudly scarfing down two cheeseburgers, french fries, and a shake.
Skinny Scotty: “I eat so much, but I just can't gain weight. I have a really fast metabolism.”
Me: “What did you eat for breakfast?”
Skinny Scotty: “Um, nothing.”
Me: “What's for dinner?”
Skinny Scotty (gives me a quizzical look): “This is dinner…”
See what I'm getting at? A lot of guys think they have a blazing fast metabolism and can eat big all day. In reality, sometimes they feast, sometimes they snack, and other times they eat next to nothing. But on average, they meet their basic energy requirements and nothing more.
So the issue at hand isn't an inability to gain muscle, it's figuring out how to eat enough to get the scale moving. There isn't a person alive that can't gain weight (excluding extreme medical cases), only people who don't eat as much as they think they do.
Hardgainers: Real but Rare
The cold hard truth is that, if your bodyweight remains constant, you simply aren't eating enough. It's physiologically impossible to consistently eat more calories than your body requires and not gain a single pound.
Check out my friend Damian to see how he Gained 38 Lbs in One Year.
Don't beat yourself up if this applies to you. Muscle magazines and supplement companies spend billions of dollars to convince you that you'll look like a pro-bodybuilder in three months if you follow this “insane program” or buy this “bottle of pills”.
They're trying to keep you ignorant of the important aspects of bodybuilding. They don't make money selling steak, after all.
There are, without a doubt, people out there who have extreme difficulty building muscle, despite doing everything right. Hardgainers are real, but in an extreme minority.
So before you lump yourself in with this group, you need to eliminate a few possible hang-ups first.
Hardgainer Diagnostic Process
Follow these steps (in the order given) to find out if you're an actual hardgainer or just missing a piece of the muscle puzzle.
(Hint – missing a piece of the puzzle is a much better option than being a true hardgainer).
1) Determine if you're eating enough gain weight – If the numbers on the scale aren't going up week after week, you simply aren't eating enough. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. This must be solved first and foremost.
I'm not talking about a three-pound difference from one day to the next. That happens to everyone. I'm talking about gaining an honest 15lbs over three or four months and your clothes getting noticeably tighter.
If the scale is consistently heading in the right direction, but you still aren't getting stronger or feeling more muscular, it's time for Step #2.
2) Evaluate your training – Are you following the muscle magazine advice of blasting your muscles with isolation exercises for 60 sets per workout, 7 days a week? If yes, then cut it out and get on a basic program like this. Don't worry, you can get on a fancy program after things are sorted out.
If you're gaining weight and training correctly, then you need to…
3) Assess your recovery – Are you routinely staying up until 3 a.m. playing Call of Warcraft? You'll need 7-8 hours of sleep per night to ensure lack of recovery isn't robbing you of your precious gains.
If your weight is going up, you're training properly, and sleeping enough, the next step is to…
4) Go see the doctor – If you're absolutely sure that everything else is in line and you aren't gaining muscle, you may want to consider getting a hormone screening. If you have the testosterone levels of a 12-year old cheerleader, nothing you do in the gym will make much of a difference. If your bodyweight is increasing faster than your bench press, that's a red flag.
Let me make something very clear, though.
If you don't give the first three steps a significant effort and jump straight to #4, you're a colossal pussy and don't deserve any results. End of story.
The Skinny Guy Solution
If you realize you're shortcoming is at Step #1 (the most likely scenario), you're in luck. You're not actually a hardgainer! Seriously, be grateful for that.
More good news – guys who start out skinny and pack on muscle usually have much better physiques than naturally stocky guys. So don't get discouraged, you're at an advantage here!
All you have to do now is follow the guidance below and you'll be on your way to the body of your dreams.
1) Know how much you eat and add to that – Keep track of everything you eat for two weeks to establish a baseline, and be honest. An app like myfitnesspal will make this a breeze. Take the average calories over two weeks as your maintenance calorie level. To gain weight, simply add 200-300 calories to your established average.
For example, if you've determined you average 2,100 calories a day to maintain weight, take in 2,400 calories per day for two weeks and see where that puts you. If the scale still isn't moving, go up to 2,600 for another two weeks.
2) Be consistent! – This is the most important thing. Weight gain is about the long game. If you're really dedicated and eat an extra 2,000 calories one week, then lose motivation and come up short the next, you'll just break even like you were before.
3) Don't be perfect – If you're a guy with a small appetite, you'll never eat enough chicken and rice to gain weight. This isn't a green light to eat like complete shit, but some sweets are ok. Have dessert with dinner, milk or a protein shake with meals, and snack in between meals, if necessary. Read my Nutrition Cheat Sheet for a proper foundation.
4) Don't forget to lift some weights – Muscle doesn't magically materialize in the presence of extra calories. It's your body's response to external demands (pumping that iron). Of course, your body won't bother to build new tissue unless you consume sufficient calories. That's why food or weights alone won't be enough – you need the pair.
If this sounds too involved, don't fret. You won't have to count calories forever.
The reason most guys are underweight is that they overestimate how much they eat in the first place. Once you develop good eating habits, you can go back to ball parking calories.
The True Hardgainer Solution
If you establish that you are a true hardgainer, all is not lost. Everyone has the power to make positive changes to their physique, some just more slowly than others.
Experimentation is your new mission. You're going to have to experiment with different training programs including high volume, powerlifting, and high intensity training to find out what works best for your stubborn physique.
Be sure to give each program its fair shake – don't abandon the campaign just because it doesn't feel like something is working after a week.
Regarding diet, I would recommend finding out how you do on low-carb, paleo, or lower fat diets, to name a few.
Overall, a persistent, confident attitude and approach will be key for the hardgainer. Just because you weren't dealt the best hand, doesn't mean you have to fold on your body dreams.
So let me know. Are you a true hardgainer or do you need to up your food intake, modify your training, or increase recovery?