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Your Health & Wellness, Iss #81 -- Building Muscle For the Hard-Gainer (Men and Women)
August 23, 2011

(Guide to a Healthy Lifestyle)

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Building Muscle For the Hard-Gainer (Men and Women)

muscular armIntroduction

Believe it or not but everyone is capable of building muscle. Or almost everyone. The only exception I suppose is anyone who carries some physical affliction which makes it virtually impossible to add lean mass.

I am what is considered in the bodybuilding world as a hard gainer. It is extremely hard for me to gain any significant amount of muscle mass. Hard, but not impossible. My flexed bicep shown here makes that abundantly clear.

A little background on myself will shed some light on why I am so confident that I can help you gain muscular weight. Building muscles made easy is my promise.

My confidence is based on first-hand experience. I actually accomplished it. And If I can do it - so can you.

But first I must add a small disclaimer. I am not claiming that You will become a Steve Reeves or an Arnold Schwarzenegger. The size of any muscle gained will vary from individual to individual. It depends largely on genetics - and to a lesser extent desire and hard work.

My body type is known as ectomorph. It is characterized as long and lanky with a slender bone structure. In other words, I was skinny.

The easiest body type with which to build bulging muscles is called mesomorph.

In high school I stood at my present height of 5 feet, 10 inches. But my weight was only 135 to 140 pounds. When I got to college my weight had "balloned" up to about 150 pounds.

Because of my size - or rather the lack thereof - I became easy prey for bullies. I was the typical kid who was constantly getting sand kicked in his face.

In 1978 I decided to do something about my body of skin and bones. I had a few weights in the garage and I would mess around with them. Nothing serious though.

I joined a local gym and began working out seriously. As well as being skinny, I also had an extremely fast metabolism. I didn't realize it at the time but I would have to dramatically increase by caloric intake in order to gain any kind of meaningful weight.

In my quest for muscles, I was guided by Arnold Schwarzenegger's book The Education of a Bodybuilder. It proved to be tremendously helpful and inspirational.

But there was a lot I had to learn and discover about my body. That took time.

The photo at right shows the fruit of many years of trial and error. It was taken at the 2001 Mr. New Jersey bodybuilding show. I entered the over 35 year old class at the tender age of 49. My weight was about 168 pounds.

After I discovered that I had to drastically increase my food intake, I reached a top body weight of 214 pounds.

Nowhere in my wildest dreams could I have imagined weighing over 200 pounds. I wasn't being called skinny anymore - or bullied for that matter.

I was now attracting stares not from being so thin, but due to my new found bulk. People were asking how much weight could I lift, and complementing me on my physique. I was flattered to say the least.

But I'm a Woman!

Building muscle isn't gender specific - and I am not a male chauvinist. You too can build muscle.

I know a woman's typical reaction with respect to bodybuilding - you don't want big muscles. Relax. Big muscles are the least of your worries.

The average woman doesn't have the necessary levels of testosterone to build "man-sized" muscles. And generally, the rare woman who is able to build huge muscles are taking illegal steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. They are also seriously endangering their health.

I have been working out in a gym for over 30 years. The women I have encountered still look feminine. Their physiques are lean, firm, and nicely shaped.

The women still retain that quality that sets them apart from the male of the species. But building feminine muscle has its perks. Apart from the health aspect, their strength skyrockets.

The only difference between men and women in regards to building a muscular physique is the caloric intake. Women need less calories to accomplish their goal.

So go ahead. Don't be afraid to pick up that dumbbell.

Ingredients For Building Muscle

After much trial and error, I finally discovered how to put pounds of muscle onto an ectomorph's frame. The "formula" consisted of:

  • sharp increase in caloric intake
  • 5 to 6 meals a day instead of the standard 3
  • working hard with the weights

We'll look at each one of these steps individually. First is a huge increase of food eaten.

This is especially important if you, like myself, are a hard gainer. Because your metabolism is so fast, you need not only enough calories for daily activities, but a surplus to build larger muscles.

Lifting weights causes micro-tears in your muscles. Actual physical damage is being done. But it's all good. Without the damage you simply cannot build new lean body mass.

Muscle growth occurs not when you are working out, but afterwards during R and R (rest and recuperation.) During this period the micro-tears heal and the muscle stressed grows in size as it adapts to the imposed stress and weight.

Genetics will determine how fast your muscle grows and the ultimate size it will become. As I said earlier, anyone can build muscle. Some more than others.

It is imperative that all your meals contain a source of protein; the source can be a protein shake (whey or egg), nuts, or various meats and poultry.

Protein is the most important macro-nutrient in the goal of building muscle. It's a muscle's essential building block.

Ingesting protein in each of your 5 to 6 meals ensures that your body remains in a positive nitrogen balance. If that doesn't happen, your body will rob the very thing you seek to build - muscle - in order to meet its nutrient needs.

If you are a hard-gainer, you may need 5,000 to 6,000 calories in order to gain weight. I had to use weight gain powder rather than just protein powder in order to gain weight. I ate plenty of eggs (whole) and bananas too.

Never, ever miss a meal. Get them in. You need to eat every three to three and a half hours.

You may find supplements useful in your muscle building journey. One I would heartily recommend is creatine. The scientific research proves beyond a shadow of a doubt its ability to augment muscle. Make certain to drink plenty of water though.

The protein powder of choice is whey. It has more branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) than any other protein source. BCAAs (leucine, valine, isoleucine) make up one-third of the amino acid profile of muscles. Its most important job is helping to synthesize other amino acids that building muscles requires.

Working hard with the weights requires desire, patience, and discipline. Don't allow anything or anyone to deter you. You may find a workout partner helpful. But don't become dependent on one.

Don't allow your workouts to become a marathon session. Get to the gym, workout, and go home. Keep rest periods between sets to a minimum.

Remember, you're at the gym for a specific reason. It is not a social club

Rest is as essential to building a muscular physique as is working out and eating. I once did not understand that concept. That may have hindered my progress because it led to overtraining.

Make certain to get plenty of sleep. And when you are finished at the gym, if at all possible, pursue more leisurely activities.

I once thought I could incorporate basketball into my schedule. I learned the hard way that it was not possible. Not for a hard gainer like myself anyway.

Final Thoughts

Through diligence and hard work, I was able to achieve my goal. I built my body from a frail and puny 150 pounds to 210 pounds of solid muscle - a gain of 60 pounds.

With the growth in physical size there was a parallel growth in strength. You can imagine the usefulness of a strong body.

You might want to keep a journal chronicaling your progress. I began one in 1980. In it I detailed my exact workout - exercise, number of sets and reps (repetitions.) I tracked my meals and weight prior to working out and afterwards.

I also tracked my measurements. I kept a tape measure and would periodically tape my upper arms, chest, and waist.

I broke the 170 pound barrier in 1980. Two years later, I reached 180 pounds. I gained another 10 pounds by December of 1982. By December of 1983 my weight reached 200 pounds.

My first journal entry is dated Tuesday October 28, 1980; my last entry was Thursday June 28, 1984. In that period, I accumulated four journals.

I also had plenty of photographs taken.

In the near future I hope to scan some of my physique photos and show you a pictoral journey. In the meantime, train hard and always focus on a lean, muscular body. It will come - most assuredly!

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Joseph Elijah Barrett, Webmaster
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