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What is a Hard Gainer?
A hard gainer in the world of bodybuilding is a person who finds it difficult to build muscle. This may be due to genetics or a lack of appetite or both.
The hard gainer is almost always an ectomorph. An ectomorph is a person who has a thin bone structure. He typically has long, thin bones and appears slight or "skinny."
Although I was born with a normal birth weight, it became evident that as I grew I was destined to become skinny. My grammar school picture may give some indication.
I have long, thin fingers and a small hand. As a matter of fact, my entire skeleton - legs and arms - is longish and thin.
My high school weight was around 135 to 140 pounds; my height was, as it is now, 5' 10". I was always reminded that I was skinny.
I have always had a very fast metabolism. And although I never had an eating problem, I never ate enough to gain weight.
Over time, bodybuilding taught me that I needed to eat more - a lot more. It also taught me that I was a hard gainer.
As I grew, I was constantly being picked on because of my size - or rather the lack of it. I was the typical kid who was always "getting sand" kicked in his face.
This is where I became aware of Charles Atlas and his weight gain courses through my faithful reading of comic books. I sent for the course, and was thus introduced to bodybuilding.
I was a hard gainer solely based on genetics. As a child growing up I ate normally but I especially loved sweets. These sweets took the form of ice cream, soda, and pastries and candies of every description.
A Hard Gainer Discovers Bodybuilding
I had dabbled a little with weights since the late '60s. But when I began to take it seriously as a means to build up my frail body, it became a passion.
I learned a lot of the workout side of bodybuilding from reading and studying Arnold Schwarzennegger's book The Education of a Bodybuilder. This was a major step in conquering my status as hard gainer.
From the outset however, I never separated bodybuilding from a healthy lifestyle. That means my goal to gain muscular body weight would not lead me to take anabolic steroids, or do anything else health threatening.
It was strictly good nutrition and working hard with the weights.
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.
Help For the Hard Gainer: Eat, and Eat Some More to Gain Weight
I can't stress enough how important eating is towards gaining weight. And it goes beyond merely eating. You have to eat enough.
Your intake of calories is key. The body needs calories or energy to power it. It takes energy to keep your heart beating and to support other automatic functions. This is known as the basal metabolic rate. This is the amount of calories you would burn if you did nothing all day long.
But, to gain weight through the development of muscles takes calories over and beyond what is needed to keep your body functioning and in repair. It doesn't come easy for the hard gainer, and your body will try to resist the change.
Calorie requirements to maintain body weight varies from person to person. But, generally speaking, women require 1200 calories per day while men need 1800.
Therefore in order to gain weight, additional calories must be taken in. Because you have a hard time gaining weight - any kind of weight - we will not concern ourselves with calorie calculations. We'll just keep track of waist size.
Back in the '70s I was so desperate to gain weight that I would have settled for any kind of weight. Yes, that meant that I was willing to put on fat just to get bigger.
But that was desperation thinking. I later found out that I didn't have to compromise.
However it is important to realize that if you are a hardgainer like I am, you will - and probably need to - put on some fat. It is almost impossible for a hardgainer to gain just pure muscle.
We are going to eat clean in order to obtain our goal. That means junk food will be minimized, and healthy, predominantly whole foods will be emphasized.
The building of lean body mass (muscle) will require protein - and lots of it. This protein will come from whey protein powder (from grass-fed cows), red meat and cheese from grass-fed cattle, free-ranged poultry (chicken and turkey,) eggs (whole) from free-range chickens, whole milk (preferably raw), sardines and wild caught salmon, and raw nuts (almonds, pecans, walnuts.)
Free-ranged means that the animals have access to their natural habitat. Look for a label which states pasture-raised or a label that is stamped Certified Humane Raised and Handled.
Chances are that you will not be able to buy these foods at your local supermarket. And Whole Foods only carries grain-fed - although organic - dairy, meat, and eggs. This is not good enough.
Grain fed meat and eggs have lower levels of nutrients than natural grass-fed food products. Another problem is that the grain the animals are fed is in high liklihood genetically modified.
Cattle that is grass-fed is given every natural food that you are likely to find in the pasture. And that excludes grain at any stage of the animal's life cycle.
Conventional meat and dairy products come from animals which are fed a predominantly grain diet. These animals are inhumanely treated too under a system known as CAFO (confined animals feeding operations.) This system is entirely profit-based!
Fruits and vegetables are also a part of our weight gain agenda. Fruit can and should include blueberries (and any other type of berry,) bananas, and apples.
Vegetables can include spinach, broccoli, mustard and collard greens; avoid corn which is not a vegetable but a grain. Stay away from while potatoes too. Sweet potatoes or yams are fine.
It is important to stay hydrated. So our weight gain plan will include lots of water.
Help For the Hard Gainer: Daily Eating Plan
Eating three meals a day is not the most efficient way for anyone to eat. This is especially true for the hard gainer.
You will eat 5 to 6 meals a day. These meals will be spaced three hours apart.
Following is a sample plan for one day. Other foods can be substituted on succeeding days and specific foods can be rotated among various hours.
As a hard gainer, you are not concerned with portion sizes. Eat to your heart's content.
I frequently mix 2 raw eggs with my protein shake. Contrary to what you may think or have been told, raw eggs don't taste bad at all. The taste is similar to that of vanilla.
Drink as much water as humanly possible. Strive for a half-gallon per day.
Eating 5 to 6 meals a day is not an option. Try to get them all in. If you can only take in 4 one day, don't stress. As long as it doesn't happen on an ongoing basis, it will not stop you from reaching your goal.
Supplementation is essential towards your goal for muscular development and health. I recommend taking a whole food multivitamin along with krill oil for the omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D.
Now that you have your eating plan in place, you have to train hard to ensure that most of the calories goes towards building muscle. I recommend that you concentrate on doing exercises that work large muscle groups (squats for legs, two-arm bicep curl, etc.) rather than isolation exercises such as leg extensions or one-arm curls.
Keep Track of Your Progress
Seeing that you are making progress towards your goal is very important. When I was gaining muscular body weight, I kept a training journal where I described every meal I ate, physical measurements (especially weight and waist size,) and my exercise regimen.
I also religiously had photos taken. Make certain to get an initial photo of yourself taken. You will compare that with subsequent photos detailing your progress.
Photos serve to keep you motivated and disciplined while you journey to your objective. Photo right was taken in April, 2001. Not bad for a hard gainer.
I weighed 169 pounds for this New Jersey State Bodybuilding show. But I had dieted down from 208 pounds.
From 150 pounds which I weighed after graduating from high school, I was able to reach a top weight of 212 pounds. But, since I trained very hard with the weights, much of that weight was muscle, not fat.
Along with a visual record provided by your photographs, you want to take weekly measurements of your waist. This will let you know if gaining too much fat along with the muscle.
Buy a good cloth tape measure and take an initial measurement. Wrap the tape around the smallest area of your waist which is usually just above the belly button.
When you begin to gain weight, your waist will increase in size. You don't want the gain to be excessive though.
I always liked to keep at least a 10 inch differential between my waist and chest measurements. If you find that your waist is getting too large, cut back on the cheese, milk, and red meat.
You will have to experiment to see how your body responds to the food and weight training.
Hard Gainer Wrap Up
There is another piece in this plan that will ensure success. Recuperation. Nutrition provides the fuel necessary for muscle growth, the workout provides the stimulation, but rest and recuperation is when gain and growth actually occur.
I recommend training 3 days a week - 4 max. Make certain to stay away from the weights on your off days. Get plenty of sleep - at least 8 hours daily.
Be patient. You will gain weight on this program provided that you have no medical problem which will interfere with nutrient absorption, or anything else that will prevent weight from being gained.
Unlike fat, it takes time to build muscle. I started bodybuilding in February, 1978. By October of 1980, I had gained 27 pounds (going from 150 pounds to 177 pounds.) My waist was 32 inches and I was 29 years old.
I entered my first bodybuilding competition in April, 1982 when I dieted down to 170 pounds. I weighed 180 pounds by July, 1982. I gained an additional 10 pounds by December of that year.
I reached an even 200 pounds in December of 1983. My waist was 35 inches.
(Photo Right. Picture taken in 1982; weight: 184 pounds.)
Healthy living > Hard gainer