Are you a hardgainer who is struggling to pack on just a few solid pounds of lean muscle mass? If you have been working out hard in the gym and you’re still not gaining any weight, then this article is for you! There are a few key things you need to focus on to optimize your workout routine and diet plan in order maximize your muscle building efforts. Here are the top 5 tips for gaining weight, packing on pounds of solid muscle and getting huge!
Tip #1 – Eat More Nutrient Dense Calories
You absolutely have to eat big if you truly want to get big! Nutrition is the key for adding lean muscle mass to your physique. If you want to grow, you need to eat, keep eating and then eat some more. So many hardgainers who are having a tough time packing on any size really underestimate the amount of food they consume each day. This is why a food journal comes in handy since it allows you to actually see exactly how many calories you are eating each day. Make sure you focus on nutrient dense whole foods for the bulk of your diet. It’s fine to add some supplements into your regimen but make sure they are just that, products that are “supplemental” to a solid nutritional program. Things like whey protein powders are perfect for before and after your workout for a quick and clean source of fast acting protein. Also, make sure to eat every 3 hours during the day and focus on consuming 5-7 meals (or even more). This constant feeding will provide your muscles with the nutrients they need to optimally grow. If it’s difficult for you to eat that many calories or meals throughout the day (busy job, etc) then prepare a few high protein shakes and put them in a cooler for quick access during breaks. Add whey protein, 2-3 tablespoons of all natural peanut butter and some almond milk to your shakes. The easiest way to add calories to your diet is through healthy fats like olive oil, nuts and peanut butter since they contain 9 calories per gram (as opposed to only 4 calories for protein and carbs).
Tip #2 – Use Basic Mass Building Exercises
Just like eating big, you need to lift big if you really want to see changes in your physique. In order to stimulate muscle growth you should be using multi-joint compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench press and military press. By using these key mass building exercises, you will be forcing your body to grow by taxing multiple muscle groups during these types of movements. It’s also important to go as heavy as you can on these exercises and stick with a lower repetition range of 6-8 reps per set (after warming up) to get the true mass building benefits. Your goal is to overload your muscles with the most demanding movements in order to break down muscle fibers on each and every workout. It’s always very important to have a spotter during these high intensity workouts, so bring along a friend to train with you or ask someone else in the gym to spot you during heavy sets. You want to make sure you are always safe during your workout in order to avoid injuries and to get the most out of each exercise.
CrossFit style exercises also come in very handy when trying to pack on size. Exercises like clean and jerk, snatch, front squats and deadlifts are all killer mass building movements to stimulate muscle building hormones like testosterone and growth hormone. The key here is to choose multi-joint compound exercises (deadlifts activate the knees, hips, elbows and shoulders) and stay away from single-joint isolation movements (chest flys only activate the shoulder joint). Using multi-joint exercises help to overload your muscles to the extreme so you can prime your body for growth!
Tip #3 – Rest Properly To Recover and Growth
Your muscles do not grow in the gym when you’re training, they grow after your workout when you are resting so it’s absolutely critical to get enough recovery time between training sessions to let your muscles fully recuperate and recover. Optimal recovery is at least 48 hours between workouts for the same muscle group. Most experienced bodybuilders usually train one body part only once per week to allow for optimal recovery time. They will often use a split routine where they train different muscle groups on different days. A popular 4-day split would look like this:
- Monday: Chest and Triceps
- Tuesday: Back and Biceps
- Wednesday: Rest
- Thursday: Legs (quads, hamstrings, calves)
- Friday: Shoulders and Arms
- Saturday: Rest
- Sunday: Rest
If you want to gain as much weight as possible, cut out all cardio and extra strenuous activities during the day (basketball, tennis, etc). You want to focus on muscle growth only and adding in a bunch of extra aerobic style exercise will only hinder this process. Lift heavy and then be lazy for the rest of the day to allow your body to recover and grow. Sleep is also crucial to your success in packing on muscle. You should be getting at least 8 hours of sleep per night to allow maximum REM sleep and spur the recovery process. If you go out partying with your friends every weekend and can’t seem to pack on any solid weight, this could be a big factor since the lack of sleep along with high alcohol consumption can wreak havoc on your testosterone levels.
Tip #4 – Include a Lean Protein Source at Each Meal
You should include a lean protein source at every meal you eat during the day. When in doubt, go a little extra on your protein portions. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and your muscles need protein to grow big and strong. Protein is needed to repair, maintain and facilitate growth in your muscles. Protein is also used in many other ways by the body, specifically by enzymes, blood and other cells. In addition to building cells and repairing tissue, amino acids form antibodies to combat invading bacteria and viruses, are part of the enzyme and hormonal system, build nucleoproteins (RNA and DNA) and carry oxygen throughout the body. The human body requires 22 different amino acids of which 8 are referred to as “essential” amino acids and this means they cannot be synthesized by the body. There are 14 “nonessential” amino acids which can be synthesized by the body.
The 8 Essential Amino Acids Include:
The 14 Non-Essential Amino Acids Include:
- Aspartic acid
- Glutamic acid
Adding protein at each meal will also help to reduce the glycemic index of the meal which means less blood sugar spikes and issues with excess insulin being released. Focus on getting at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. So, if you currently weigh 175 pounds then try to eat at least 175 grams of protein per day. Divide this number up into 5-6 meals during the day and you will end up with about 30-35 grams of protein in each meal. Focus on lean protein sources like egg whites, fish, chicken breast, lean meat (top round, top sirloin), turkey breast and lean pork (pork loin).
Tip #5 – Maximize The Post-Workout Window of Opportunity
Always eat a post-workout meal consisting of a high quality protein and a high glycemic carbohydrate. After your workout is the ideal time to spike your insulin levels in order to rush those key nutrients to your starving muscles and to resupply your body with glycogen as soon as possible. You also want to decrease high cortisol levels. Cortisol is your “fight or flight” hormone and is increased when you’re under stress (physical, emotional, psychological, etc). High intensity workouts spike cortisol and your goal should be to decrease your levels post-workout. A great post-workout meal consists of 2 scoops of high quality whey protein powder (I recommend Optimum Nutrition) and about 50-75 grams of carbs coming from either dextrose or maltodextrin.
Stay away from fat post-workout since it will slow down the digestion and absorption process. Fruit is also not the ideal choice since the natural sugars in fruit (fructose) gets stored in your liver glycogen and your goal is to replenish your muscle glycogen. If you really like fruit and want to add it to your post-workout shake, then opt for bananas since they are among the higher of the glucose containing fruits. Bananas get sweeter as they ripen. This is because bananas actually change chemically during the ripening process, turning from starch to sugar. Unripe bananas (green ones) have more starch than sugar. Ripe bananas (yellow) have much more sugar and will primarily replenish your liver glycogen stores and not your muscle glycogen which is exactly where it’s needed after your workout.
Post-workout is the crucial time during the day where you want important nutrients rushed to your muscles in the fastest way possible. Liquid meals are great after your workout because you don’t have to deal with the heavy digestion which happens when you eat whole foods. The goal post-workout is to have very quick digestion and absorption so all of those important nutrients can be transported and utilized swiftly and efficiently to your hard working muscles!