Hardgainer’s Guide to Building Muscle
By Myprotein Writer Mike Alexander
We all know a guy who can build muscle by just looking at some weights. For the rest of us… it’s not that easy.
Guys like us want to build muscle, but most guys get stuck spinning their wheels and going nowhere.
I know what it’s like.
Years ago, I was the skinny, clueless guy you see in the gym who never really made much progress. I was the guy who was always made fun of (jokingly, of course…) by his friends, and who always lost arm wrestles. It might sound trivial, but always being the little guy had a big effect on my self-esteem.
When I learned to eat and train properly, I made the sort of progress I never thought possible. I gained muscle, lost fat, became the strongest I’ve ever been and my self-confidence went through the roof. It was an absolute game-changer and has literally impacted on every area of my life.
…I also lose far fewer arm wrestles these days. So check out my Hardgainer’s Guide.
This is where most guys screw up. Most “hardgainers” are just guys who aren’t eating enough. If you want to get bigger, you need to eat BIG… I’m not talking about eating everything in sight to put on as much weight as possible, ‘cause that’s a great way to get fat. I’m talking about eating enough food to let you build muscle, without turning into the Michelin Man.
You want to gain around 1kg/2lb per month, maybe a bit more if you’re lucky. This will ensure that it’s mostly muscle you’re gaining, but don’t worry if your abs get a little bit less defined. This might not sound like much compared to some of the ridiculous claims in magazines, but trust me when I say that when you’ve added 10-15kg of muscle to your frame, you’ll be almost unrecognisable. That’s the sort of transformation that will make people you’ve not seen in a while ask what the hell you’ve been doing.
1) Eat mostly real food.
By “mostly”, I mean 90% of the time. By “real”, I mean stuff that runs around or grows in the ground. The odd dessert isn’t going to kill you, but try to avoid sugar and processed food. We want nutrient dense food, not empty calories.
2) Learn to cook
If you can’t already, you’re going to have to learn to cook. It’s not hard. Pick a few easy to follow recipes that are based around animal proteins (chicken, beef, fish) and a ton of veg, and some healthy carbs (rice, oats, potatoes). My go-to meals are curries, chilli and oatmeal – all delicious and nutritious.
3) Eat more
If you’re struggling to gain muscle, then you are not eating enough… Trust me, you’re not!
For a couple of weeks, count calories to see how much you’re actually eating. You’ll be surprised. Using an app like MyFitnessPal makes this really easy. If you want to gain muscle, you need to eat more calories than you use. Here’s a number to start with:
Total daily calories = Bodyweight in kg x 40 (if you use lbs, multiply by 18).
For a 75kg guy, that’s roughly 3000kcal per day.
If that’s not resulting in the gain we want, then add 250kcal to that total and check back in a week.
If you’re gaining too much, lower it by 250kcal. Find your sweet spot, and make sure you hit it consistently.
Eat at least 2g of protein for every kilo of bodyweight, and make the rest up with healthy carbs and fats.
For some guys, it’s tough to eat 3-4000kcal of food in a day, so you can use supplements to help you hit your numbers. The key word here is supplement – these are an addition to a healthy diet, not a replacement. A quality whey protein will help you hit your protein targets, and if you really need extra calories then look for a weight gain supplement consisting mainly of protein and oats.
4) Drink tons of water
2 litres per day should be your minimum. I normally drink 4-5. Keep a big water bottle nearby, and this becomes pretty easy. I see so many people who walk around in a state of chronic dehydration, and it sabotages their progress and their health.
This is crucial and absolutely non-negotiable.
No matter how good your nutrition is, if your training sucks then you’re not going to make any progress.
There are hundreds of programs out there that will get you strong and jacked, and they all have a few things in common:
Big, compound lifts are the foundation.
Deadlifts, squats, chin-ups, rows and presses are what you need.
Full body workouts
This gives you enough stimulus to grow and get stronger. A pull, a push and a lower body exercise will give you a nice balance.
Warm up properly
Do a few warmup sets with light weights for each exercise, jog for 5 minutes, stretch, and do some bodyweight squats and pushups. This gets the blood flowing and stops you injuring yourself.
No more than 5 exercises per workout
More than this cuts into your recovery.
Add reps or weight each week until you can’t anymore.
Train 3 or 4 times per week
Don’t train for more than 45 minutes
Your anabolic hormones hit their peak about 30 minutes in, and take a nosedive after that. Get in, train hard, and get out.
Keep a training journal.
This is huge and most guys overlook it. Track your progress so you know you’re getting stronger.
Aim for the following numbers:
Bench Press – bodyweight x 1.25
Chin-ups – bodyweight x 1.2
Squat – bodyweight x 1.6
Deadlift – bodyweight x 2
It might take a while, but if you hit those numbers you’re going to look a hell of a lot better than you do now.
Most guys are going to want to throw in some isolation exercises like curls. I don’t think they’re necessary, but as long as you don’t spend too much energy on them, then have at it.
You don’t need to spend hours on a treadmill or cross-trainer if your main goal is building muscle!
The big lifts in this program are demanding on your central nervous system and will take a lot to recover from, and long, steady-state cardio won’t help. If you play football or rugby, then that’ll keep your conditioning levels high enough. I play ice hockey a couple of times a week, and it’s never interfered with my goals in the gym.
If you want to do some other conditioning work, short intervals are the most effective. Nobody wants to be muscular if they can’t climb a flight of stairs without needing to sit down afterwards. Hill sprints, kettle bells or battle ropes once or twice a week or as a finisher to your workout will get your heart rate soaring without screwing up your recovery like distance running will. I’ll cover conditioning in more detail in a future article, but for now you need to focus on the iron.
You need at least 7 or 8 hours of sleep per night. This is the single biggest thing outside of training and diet that you can do to change your body. Deep sleep boosts your production of growth hormone and testosterone, and minimises cortisol. Your results will suffer if you don’t get enough sleep. So turn off your phone, turn off the TV, read a book and go to bed earlier. You’ll thank me later.
I spent a long time not making any real progress. When I got my training and nutrition right, it was like somebody had flipped a switch. It transformed my life, and it can transform yours too. You have to work hard, and be committed, consistent and patient, but the results will be unbelievable.
Now go squat…. and eat something.
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© Mike Alexander, 2014. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.