You may be thin. You may be tall and thin, and you may very well burn calories very quickly. If that’s the case, then any calories you consume quickly get “torched” by your more than eager metabolism, which in turn means that gaining weight is a heck of a struggle.
But don’t you be afraid, ectomorph! You certainly are not necessarily an alien. But you are what is called a “hard-gainer”. There’s no doubting it that for you, it’s difficult to put on weight, but it’s certainly not impossible. Time to come up with your own rules in order to play this game.
You need to exert yourself even more than you have been up until now. You need to set up your own rules of how to “get huge”. You need to struggle and go through hell in order to put on the extra muscle. Your nutrition and your training need to work together in harmony.
Check out these 10 tips for success:
1. Get “Dense” as Opposed to “Full”
If you like the feeling of being stuffed, then that’s fine. But if you don’t, avoid consuming too many high-volume, low calorie foods as part of your daily diet. They don’t really help you to achieve your overall goals in terms of target calorie intake.
Don’t be tempted to simply go for foods such as low-calorie carrots or similar. Instead, choose calorie-dense foods.
In order to add more lean muscle mass, the vast majority of hard-gainers need to consume at least 20 calories for each pound of bodyweight. Now, if you are consuming all of this in the form of fruits, vegetables, cooked oatmeal, egg whites, then life is going to be a struggle for you. They are healthy foods, that’s no doubt, but for the hard-gainer, they are not the ideal. Instead, opt for calorie-dense foods, like dried fruit, raw oatmeal, steak, pureed vegetables.
2. Enough Sleep
The hard-gainers often lack the recovery abilities that most other gym-rats do. If you are not achieving enough sleep during the night, then your progress will become hindered. Try for eight to nine hours of sleep per night.
If you are not fully recovered, and yet hit the gym again, it will have the opposite effect of what you want, and muscle mass will be broken down. In an ideal world we want to achieve this simple life equation: rest, recover, sleep, growth!
3. What You Drink
Solid calories will fill you up far more than liquid calories, and therefore it’s easier to achieve your daily totals.
You should look to drink pre- and post- workout protein shakes, plus at least one other shake in a day, if not more than one other.
In your shakes, add plenty of calorie-dense ingredients: ground flax seed, ground or raw oats, natural nut butters, coconut oil, Greek yogurt, frozen fruit, cottage cheese, milk powder. If you are still struggling to reach your calorie totals, then add in a weight gainer to the mix.
4. The No-Go Area – Isolation Exercises
You may love them now, but they are not helping you with the big gains. Do away with the isolation exercises. Knocking out 12 sets of bicep exercises will not aid in building the muscle you want any time soon.
So, instead of bicep curls and triceps extensions, go for movements like bench press, shoulder press, incline presses. In this way, you are targeting the large muscle groups while at the same time, focusing on smaller muscles too.
Less volume is normally better for a hard-gainer. So, leave out the fluff and focus on heavy weight goals instead. Go for compound moves for maximum muscle mass gains.
5. Cardio the Smart Way
You’ve probably heard that it’s best for hard-gainers to do away with cardio entirely. Yes, that seems to be logical, but it’s not exactly true. If performed correctly, then cardio is still a suitable type of exercise even for the hard-gainer.
What’s more, you don’t want to ignore the health requirements of your body’s most important muscle – the heart. After all, big muscles will not stay big for too long if they are in a coffin.
For best results, keep cardio to 20 – 30 minutes worth of low or moderate intensity. All it takes is a couple or three cardio sessions in the week in order to retain a healthy heart. What’s more, it will help to improve muscle cell nutrient delivery, and can actually improve recovery time.
6. Heavy Weight, Lower Reps
Keep the reps on the low side – 6 to 10 should be plenty. And because there’s no need for isolation movements, there’s no need to expend, say, 10 to 15 reps on triceps alone. Big, heavy, and a low number of times is where it’s at.
7. Heavy Weights With Lots of Rest
And because you are focusing on heavy weights, make sure you get plenty of rest. You may normally only rest for 30 seconds, but that’s not long enough when lifting heavy. A longer rest period offers more strength for each set.
The over-all knock-on effect being better muscle growth. Go for two or three minutes rest between each set.
If you force another set prior to recovery, progress will be slower. So, let the body have more time for recovery.
8. Fear of Fats
If you are a hard-gainer and you don’t include many healthy fats in your diet, then it’s time for change. These fats are not only calorie dense, but they are packed full of muscle-building benefits. Nevertheless, that’s not to say turn to all-fats and forget about carbs. Both are required in a hard-gainer’s dietary plan.
9. Carbs – What’s Right?
After a heavy training session, your body will be in prime repair and muscle-building mode, so you can help recovery by providing the right nutrients in order to replenish glycogen levels.
Part of the post-workout diet should include simple carbs such as dextrose, Vitagro, waxy maize, maltodextrin. If you don’t partake in these sorts of carbs post-workout, then it’s time for change. If you do change, you’ll soon see fuller muscles and a faster recovery time with added strength too.
10. Persistence and Patience
Building muscle is not a sprint, and that applies to the hard-gainer or anyone else for that matter. Patience, consistency, and an ethic for hard work are all part of this game. If you find that gains are slowing up after a few months, eat more, lift more (heavier weights, rather than more reps), then eat more again. Increase your training intensity, and your calorie intake, and you’ll soon see an increase in gains.