If you’re a hardgainer, I can relate. I remember eating everything in sight just to try to put on size only to look down at the scale and not see the number budge. It was frustrating! But that’s when I took a deeper dive into nutrition and started to see some results. Now, if you do some searching online for how to eat as a hardgainer, you’re going to see so many different numbers and ratios thrown around that it’ll make your head spin. Personally, I like to keep things simple and I’m going to explain what I did and how you can utilize the same strategy. Mind you, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to this. What works for me may not work for you and vice versa since we are all different. My metabolism, hormone levels, etc. may not align perfectly with yours. It’s for that very reason why we see so many variations of how to eat as a hardgainer online. But with all that being said and out of the way, let’s jump into things.
Pay Attention to What You Eat While in a Caloric Surplus
Most of you already know in order to put on any size at all, you need to be in a surplus. And for most hardgainers, you’re already trying to eat everything in sight to put on size – sometimes with little to no results at all. The hardest thing to do is eat healthy and nutritious foods as many of them are lower in calories compared to all the junk that’s out there today. Let’s go over some of the key foods you should be focusing on while trying to put on muscle mass. Remember, what you eat is just as important as how much.
Lean Cuts of Beef
Whole Wheat Pasta
Natural Nut Butters
Olive Oil (for cooking)
If you want to get the most out of your training, time your carbohydrate-heavy meals around your training so that you can eat your meal a minimum of one hour before you train. You may also be wondering why I recommend still eating clean foods when trying to bulk as a hardgainer. The reason is, they not only contain better micronutrients, but they will help prevent your caloric surplus from adding fat-weight instead of lean muscle mass. Even as a hardgainer, you run the risk of getting “skinny-fat” if you aren’t careful.
What Macro Ratio Works Best for a Hardgainer?
Finding ways to reduce stress is also a great way to keep your immune system functioning There’s much debate on this topic and I’m not going to tell you that what I have below is the holy grail, but it’s what has worked well for me and many of my clients who are considered a hardgainer. What I like to do is take in one gram of protein per pound of body weight. So, if I weigh 200 pounds, I’m going to take in 200g of protein each day. From there, I like to take 20-30% of my calories for the day and use that for my fat intake. Again, remember that you’re looking to be in a surplus, so don’t simply use your maintenance number when you’re calculating your calories from fat. After I figure out my protein and fat, I fill in the rest of my calories with quality carbohydrates. If you have a tough time managing your nutrition, I would highly recommend you use something like the MyFitnessPal app on your smartphone. It’s a free download and can help you track your daily nutrition to make sure you’re hitting your numbers. There is a free version as well as a paid. The free should work just fine for you but you may need to simply look at the numbers as you won’t be able to specifically change the grams for each macro with the free version to achieve the goal they set for you based on the information you provide when you set it up.
How Many Meals Should You Eat and When?
Thanks to science, the notion that you need to eat every 2-3 hours has been put to rest. When it comes to how often you should eat (meal frequency), there is no right or wrong answer. However, being that you’re consuming a surplus of calories, you may need to increase the total number of meals you consume simply because the volume of food you’ll need to eat is going to be increased. If you were used to eating three meals a day when at maintenance, you may need to go up to four or five meals a day. Now, some of those meals you may consider “snacks” but they should still contain some sort of protein to help you reach your daily recommended intake. Having a pre-workout meal is always a good idea as well as having a protein shake post-workout to help speed up the recovery process – regardless if you consider yourself a hardgainer or not. Outside of those two specific meals, fit the remainder in where you can during the day.
The Use of Protein Shakes and Bars
I’m big on consuming whole food meals and not trying to substitute meals with supplements such as protein shakes and protein bars. However, as a hardgainer trying to put on size and take in as many calories as necessary, to see size increases you may need to supplement with a protein shake or bar. The reason being, you may not be hungry at all due to how much you’re eating, yet, you still need to take in some calories to hit your numbers for the day. That’s where a quality protein shake or bar comes into play. Find a protein powder or bar you enjoy and time them between meals, if necessary. But more importantly, make sure you have a protein shake post-workout as mentioned earlier.
Matt Weik, owner of Weik Fitness, LLC, is a well-respected fitness expert/author with a global following. His work has been featured all over the globe as well as having published numerous books. He is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, personal trainer, and sports nutritionist. Find out more at www.weikfitness.com or on social media @weikfitness.