“Hard-gainer” is term used for someone who has difficulty packing on lean muscle mass for reasons that can include genetics, improper/inadequate training and poor nutrition. We’ll focus on nutrition.
If you’re someone who has trouble building muscle, don’t give up hope. A few simple adjustments to your diet can kickstart your muscle-building efforts and have you packing on quality weight.
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Macros and Micros
When it comes to nutrition, you have to eat the right nutrients in the right amounts to make muscular gains. Nutrients fall into two categories: macronutrients and micronutrients. The former includes protein, carbohydrates and fats (water can also be considered a macro). The latter consists of vitamins and minerals. You need micros in lesser quantites than macros, hence the name.
Protein is mainly used for tissue repair and rebuilding. Recommended sources of protein include meat and eggs. Carbohydrates provide you with a source of energy. Recommended sources of carbs include oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice and vegetables. Fats also provide you with energy and serve as building blocks for cell membranes and for many hormones—including testosterone. You should primarily eat the unsaturated form of fat, while minimizing saturated fats. Excellent sources of unsaturated fat include macadamia oil and olive oil.
Vitamins and minerals have many functions, including helping your body use nutrients and allowing your muscles to contract. Supplementing your diet with a daily multivitamin will ensure you aren’t deficient in vitamins and minerals.
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The Right Ratio
No precise percentage of macronutrient breakdown can guarantee you will put on muscle. Everyone is different. However, a solid, time-tested ratio is 30 percent protein, 40 percent carbs and 30 percent fat. Most of your meals should follow that breakdown. But building lean muscle is not just about hitting the right ratio—it’s about hitting the right ratio while consuming the right amount.
Eating six to eight times a day is must for hard-gainers. This doesn’t mean you should stuff yourself with a ton of food at every sitting. That will bog you down, overwhelm your digestive system and make you feel sluggish all day, hampering your performance. Rather, your meals should be moderately sized and spaced out throughout the day.
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Space your meals out every 3 or 4 hours, and drink one or two cups of water with each meal. Each meal should be close to the 30-40-30 ratio and deliver between 500 and 800 calories. Tweak these guidelines a bit to fit your specific needs. To start things off and get a baseline, begin eating six meals a day at 500 calories per meal and keep track of your weight gain over the course of a week.
If your weight is stagnant, increase your calories to 600. Or, bump your meals up to seven a day. Do this for a week and check your progress. Continue to manipulate your diet on a week-to-week basis until you have fine-tuned the process.