Guys who struggle to put on size need substantially more calories than the average person.
I’ll start putting on weight if I eat more than 2500 calories. Most of my hard gaining clients need at MINIMUM 3500 calories. Think about how much that is. In a bulk, it can go even higher up to 4000-4500 calories just to see the scale move up ½ a pound. That’s double the amount of calories I eat in a day.
The issue is...
For those of us who put on weight easily, that sounds like a dream. And it is!....for a couple days. Try eating 4500 calories every day, all week, even just for two weeks. Oh, also you can’t cheat with poptarts and shakes. It has to be all high quality, whole foods. You will feel so bloated and full all the time, you’ll probably start crying. The average eater probably has a good appetite too. Most hardgainers I know don’t have as big of an appetite. If they eat a 500 calorie meal for breakfast, they won’t be hungry again till dinner. This just adds to the dilemma.
The other issue is most leaner guys are afraid of losing their coveted abs. In fact, they’re SO concerned, that they knowingly or not, eat at maintenance or lower if they look in the mirror one day, and feel like their abs look “soft” that day. 4000 calories x 7 days = 28,000 calories. That’s your goal. Let's use an example:
Day 1 & 2 - 4,000 felt great
Day 3 - 2,500 because you thought you started to look soft
Day 4 & 5 - 3,000 to build back up to 4000
Day 6 & 7 - back at 4,000
Total = 24,500 calories out of the 28,000 needed
That’s a deficit of 3500 calories. Guess what else is 3500 calories? A pound of weight (probably the amount of surplus calories you needed to move the scale). Quickly looking at your week, you wouldn't think you did too bad. In fact, you’d be impressed with yourself, cause for the most part it looked like you ate a lot of calories. Yet you’re still a pound’s worth of calories short. And THAT’s the problem.
The harsh truth
If weight gain is the goal, you absolutely need to be in a surplus. Calories in vs calories out. No, I’m not talking about long term health or wellness, I am talking about hitting a very specific goal. The scale needs to be moving up in order to gain muscle, otherwise how do you know if you are even gaining any? Weight, and strength in the gym, are the only measures (short of getting your body fat tested at a lab every week), for us to gauge whether we are progressing so we have to use what we have.
I stress the need for consistency, because especially for a skinnier individual, the moment they let their foot off the gas pedal, unlike the rest of us who easily hold onto our excess weight, their weight drops quickly. I once had a friend who was consistently eating 4,000 calories every day for a month straight. He put on 5lbs, looked a little more solid and was loving it (other than forcing himself to eat that much everyday). Then the next two weeks his schedule got busy, and most likely ended up however many calories he ate prior to the surplus. He lost the 5lbs it took him so much work to gain, in half the time, and even a little extra (probably because he wasn’t lifting as much, and therefore wasn’t sending a strong signal to hold onto the newly earned muscle he gained). It happens that quick.
I know, I know. It’s going to feel like a second job. Especially if you have no appetite, or aren’t closed to eating anywhere near 4,000+. For those wondering how to start this process, you can either just start eating more each week until the scale starts moving up, or, if you’re more metric oriented, multiply your bodyweight x 15-16.
Ex. 180lb guy x 15-16 = 2,700-2,880 calories a day.
Again this is just a rough starting point to get you going. Don’t get caught up on what numbers to start with. You will most likely have to check your weight each week.
Not gaining .5-1lb a week? Increase your calories by 200 and see if your weight goes up in 2 weeks.
Gaining more than 1lb a week and feeling soft? Decrease your calories by 200 and see if your weight slows back down in 2 weeks.
Find how many calories you need to put on weight, and keep at it. While I definitely push eating higher quality foods, if you are struggling to get calories because of hunger, feel free to eat more calorie dense items or create higher calorie shakes in conjunction to help hit that goal.
I’d also like to clarify one more thing. People have been long taught “bulking” means just gaining as much weight as possible. It doesn’t. If you are a naturally skinny guy, you’re most likely 10% bodyfat or lower. Keep adding weight using guidelines above, but don’t allow it to get you above 15% body fat or the point that you truly feel you’re starting to soften up. If you don’t have calipers, this is usually noted by eventually only seeing faint outside lines of your abs. It usually takes 3-6 months to get to that point depending on how aggressive you go. The point is, the guy who puts on 20lbs a month isn’t getting bigger than the guy only putting on 10lbs a month. It just means they put on fat. Muscles can only grow so fast per month and eating more doesn’t equate to more muscle. It’ll only make you more depressed and give you more fat to lose.