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Best Way to Bulk up if You are a Hardgainer

By Joe Talarico on Nov 17, 2020 3:00:00 PM
8 Minutes Reading Time

Hands down, the hardest part for a hardgainer is putting on size (damn you!). I, for example, have a pretty average metabolism. I will start putting on weight at about 2500-2600 calories. A hardgainer? MINIMUM 3500-4000 calories!

That may sound like not much if you were to do it all through fast food and pizza. Try doing that on strictly whole foods, minimally processed. On top of that, most hardgainers I’ve worked with all seem to have smaller appetites compared to people with slower metabolisms. That is quite the dilemma. Let’s go over some guidelines.

Eat in a surplus - Multiply bodyweight x 15-16. Shooting for .5lb-1lb of weight gain a week. You’re a hardgainer I know. You’re eating 4,000 calories and not gaining weight I know (poor you). If the scale isn’t going up, you need to eat more. Your metabolism is faster, and thus absorbs and burns through calories way more efficiently than your friends. If your appetite is small, get ready to be eating a lot of meals throughout the day. I’ve had clients tell me it feels like a second job because of how many breaks throughout the day they have to take to go eat. You want above average results, you have to do above average things.

Protein - Most people underestimate this more than anything else.

If you want to calculate - .82g-1g per pound of body weight. 30-40grams of protein a meal

If not calculating - make sure your protein serving is the size and thickness of your palm for EACH meal

            Sources: turkey, beef, steak, chicken, fish, eggs, etc.

Carbs - 30-40% of your intake to support muscle recovery, and performance in the gym.

Calculating - .30-.40 x total caloric intake.

No calculating - carb serving the size of closed fist each meal. Shoot for two fistfuls post workout.

           Sources: oatmeal, rice, potatoes, quinoa, beans, etc

Fats - 20-25% of your calories

Calculating - .20-.25 x caloric intake.

Not calculating - This should essentially be a serving give or take with each meal. That could be a tablespoon of olive oil, a quarter cup of almonds, whatever.

           Sources: nut butters, nuts, olive oil, egg yolks, etc.

That’s pretty much it for the nutrition portion of bulking. Ideally you want to be sticking to whole foods. Having said that, I do understand at such a high intake, you will most likely have to eat some processed, energy dense foods just to hit your targets. Again, if you aren’t seeing the scale move you need to be eating more.  

How to Gauge Your Bulk Phase

  • Stop skipping meals. Figure out how many calories you need to put on weight, and consistently hit that target, or in a way that allows your weight to go up week to week.
  • Your weight should be going up by .5-1lb a week. If you find too much of it is body fat, then aim more towards the lower end. But any lower than that, and it’ll be too hard to track. Adjust up or down 200 calories accordingly.
  • Stop being afraid to lose your abs! We need to be in a surplus to gain size. While that doesn’t mean you get an excuse to be fat, you don’t need to be above 15% body fat during a bulk. This means, your abs should never fully go away regardless.
  • Consistency is the key to success! Any hard gaining client I’ve worked with in the past who reached their goal, did so because they did all the above points at least 90% of the time! No one reaches their end goal in life, by half assing their approach. Make a plan and stick with it. 

The Lifting Component

I have plenty of other articles on how hardgainers should train if they want to add size so feel free to check those out for a more in depth look. For this article I’ll just go over the guidelines.

Progression - Muscle growth is ultimately increasing the amount of tension that can be placed on a muscle. If you want your muscle to be BIGGER than the week before, than you need to be DOING more than the week before. There are a couple ways you can do this. Stop wasting time focusing on eccentrics, and drop sets. Spend those 3 months focusing on either increasing the volume or intensity (more below).

Tracking - What gets measured gets improved! Track your progression so you know if your program, and consistency is actually getting you anywhere. It can be on a spreadsheet, on your notes, an weightlifting app, whatever you feel most comfortable with. It doesn’t need to be fancy. You just need to be able to see week to week, are you making progression in some form. For all body types I’ve found at the end of the day this has been their biggest flaw. They’re progressing nicely for 4-6 weeks. Then a vacation comes up so they go two steps back. Then they get stuck at a weight so they don’t properly deload, or hover at that weight for three months without realizing. You can eliminate this by tracking your workout progress! Meso to meso you should be seeing:

  • 5lbs more than week before (intensity)
  • More reps than the week before (volume)
  • More sets than the week before (volume)

When you hit two consecutive sessions where you can’t improve on your major lifts, it’s time for a deload. Allow one week to take all volume and intensity at 50% to allow your body to catch up to your progress. Then get ready for another meso.

Compound Movements - You are already struggling to put on size. Spending all your time trying to hit small muscle groups isn’t going to get you to your goal. You need to be focusing on these bigger bang for your buck movements, that stimulate as much muscle as possible. Focus on the squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, rows, and pull-ups before starting to include smaller muscles like shoulders, biceps and triceps.  

There you have it. If you follow these tips, I PROMISE you will put on muscle. Just make sure everything is progressing and staying consistent! You can’t complain you haven’t gained any size if I look at your programming, and your weights have only gone up 10 pounds over the last YEAR. I’ve made this pathetic mistake. Don’t be me.

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Joe Talarico

Joe is a certified Precision Nutrition and strength & conditioning coach. He assisted the UCLA Women’s Tennis team in winning their 2014 NCAA Championship Title, as well as study under the great strength coaches at Pepperdine University. He was a collegiate rower at the University of Rhode Island (where he got his Kinesiology degree) as well as an amateur physique competitor. He is currently the master trainer at Upgrade Labs in Santa Monica where he is combining his years of training clients in the gym with newer technology to optimize their performance and recovery. He also cohosts The RelationSH*T Show Podcast with his fiancée where they discuss all relationship topics unfiltered from who pays on dates, to open relationships.

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