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Steve Theunissen is a freelance writer living in Tauranga, New Zealand. He is a former gym owner and personal trainer and is the author of six hardcopy books and more than a hundred ebooks on the topics of bodybuilding, fitness and fat loss. Steve also writes history books with a focus on the history of warfare. He is married and has two daughters.

5 Hardgainer Hacks to Pack on Muscle

Are you giving your all in the gym, only to find that your net results in terms of muscle gain are, to say the least, disappointing? If you’re measuring your progress in terms of ounces rather than pounds of muscle, you need to seriously reassess what you’re doing.

The following 5 hacks will get you out of the hardgainer rut, so you can start seeing some real results for your hard work in the gym.

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Hardgainer training arms

Eat More Food

Adding muscle to your frame requires building material in the form of protein. That protein comes from the food you eat. As a hardgainer, however, you likely burn calories at a faster rate than the average person. Unless you compensate for that higher metabolism by eating more food, you simply won’t have the raw material you need to build muscle.

Most moderately active guys need approximately 2500 calories daily to meet their energy needs. If you’re a hardgainer, you can add 10 percent to that figure. That means that just to maintain your current weight, you have to take in around 2750 calories per day. To build muscle you should add an extra 500 calories above that maintenance level.

Those 3250 calories should be spaced out so that you are getting protein into your body every 3 hours.

Women generally require 500 fewer calories than men to achieve their caloric maintenance level.

Hardgainers, then, should be taking in around 2750 calories per day to add muscle mass to their frame.

Focus on High Quality Protein

As a hard gainer, you need to have muscle building amino acids coursing through your body continually. This will keep you in an anabolic state where your cells can synthesize protein constantly. To make that happen you should aim to consume 30-40 grams of protein at each of your 5-6 meals.

The bulk of your protein should come from whole food. Focus on lean protein sources that are easily digestible and that have a high bioavailability.

Here are 5 great sources:

  • Eggs
  • Tuna
  • Chicken
  • Salmon
  • Beef

Two of your meals should be in the form of a protein shake. One of those shakes should be taken within a half hour of your workout. It should contain 30-40 grams of whey isolate protein powder. This is the fastest absorbing protein powder form and will fast-track amino acids directly to your workout stressed muscle tissue. That protein shake should also contain 40-50 grams of carbohydrates to replace the glycogen levels that your workout has consumed. You should take your second protein shake in the evening, about an hour before bedtime. This shake should contain about 30 grams of casein protein. Casein is a slower release form of protein than whey, allowing it to be steadily released into the bloodstream over the hours that you are sleeping.

If you're a hardgainer, it’s recommended to focus on high quality protein 4-6 times a day

Pay Attention to Recovery

As a hardgainer you must have a structured workout recovery plan. Always remember that your body doesn’t get bigger and stronger in the gym. It actually does the opposite; the stress of weight training makes your muscles smaller and weaker. It’s what you do after the workout that determines whether it stays that way or rebuilds to be better than it was.

You should cut back on the exercise that you do apart from your muscle building workouts. That means no cardio, no long sports sessions, and no exhaustive weekend hikes. Those types of activities will only eat up the extra calories you’re taking in to build muscle.

The most important recovery tool that you possess is sleep. That is when your body undergoes the bulk of its recovery. It's also when your prime muscle building hormones - testosterone and human growth hormone - are at their highest levels.

Establish a set nighttime routine that sees you going to bed and getting up at the same time each day. You will need at least 8 hours of quality sleep to provide your body with the recovery it needs to sufficiently recover from your workout and rebuild your muscle cells.

Train Hard and Heavy

Your training goal as a hardgainer should be to get into the gym, work the muscle to maximum stimulation, and then get out. You don’t want to be in the gym for longer than an hour.

Each body part should be worked just once a week using heavy weights in the 6-10 rep range.

Focus on compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, bench press, overhead press, and pull-ups

Increase Time Under Tension

Your goal when working out is to put the working muscle under the maximum amount of stress you can to cause trauma that will later be treated by the amino acids you consume. Time under tension relates to the amount of time during each set that you can stress the muscle before reaching the point of failure. The longer, the better.

There are two key ways to increase time under tension. One is to slow down the length of your reps, especially on the negative portion. This is actually the most important part of the rep in terms of muscle building. Consciously try to take twice as long to lower the weight as to raise it and your set will be far more productive.

The second way to increase time under tension is by performing drop sets. Let’s say that you’re doing the dumbbell bench press. Line up four pairs of dumbbells at the head of the bench, starting with your heaviest weight for 6 reps, and then going down in 10-pound drops. Start by doing six reps with the heaviest weight. Now, drop those weights and grab the next ones down. Pump out as many as you can. Keep doing this until you’ve gone through all four pairs of dumbbells. You will have quadrupled your time under tension - and your chest will be on fire!

Increase TUT (Time Under Tension) by using drop sets / supersets and keep your workout short and intense

Wrap Up

As a hardgainer you need to outsmart your body’s natural aversion to change. That means providing it with an excess of calories to compensate for your faster metabolism, getting in 30-40 grams of protein every few hours, prioritizing your recovery, and going hard and heavy in the gym. Do those things consistently, and you will finally start to get the results that your hard work deserves.

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