I’ve been very slim all my life and struggled to put on weight. In the past year, I’ve put on 30 lbs of muscle and finally figured out what I was doing wrong and wanted to share what I’ve learned with other “hard-gainers” out there looking to gain weight. I’m not a fitness pro and I’m not an expert in this subject, but below is what I’ve learned along the way and has been successful for me.
In February 2006, I joined a gym and hired a trainer. I made a commitment that for 1 year in my life, I was going to change my lifestyle and see an improvement in my life. This is what I’ve learned…
Have a Buddy
Without a doubt, I wouldn’t have gotten as far as I have if I didn’t have a commitment to go to the gym on a schedule. If you can find a friend who’s willing to go to the gym with you at the same time, it makes things a lot easier. It’s easy to talk yourself out of going to the gym. And once you’re there, it’s easy to talk yourself into quitting early. In my case, I hired a trainer. I wanted to get results as fast as possible and I wanted someone with the knowledge to get me there. Trainers aren’t cheap and it’s been a big financial commitment but it’s also been the difference between success and failure. Mostly everything I know now I’ve learned from my trainer.
Keep a Schedule
This goes along with having someone to go to the gym with. Have a time that you know is always your gym time. I know every morning when I wake up on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday that I’m going to the gym and I don’t have the voices in my head talking me out of it. Each of those days, I go at the same time, so it becomes my natural routine. This also makes organizing your eating schedule around your workout times easier. When you’re tired both physically and mentally, it’s very easy to just go home and crash on the couch. Resist the urge and go to the gym – you’ll feel very good after your workout.
Make a Plan and Goals
Write out what your goals are. For me, it was gaining a certain amount of weight. For some, it is lifting a certain amount, or losing a certain amount of weight. If you don’t have a goal, you won’t know what you’re working for. Physically write that goal out in your training book. The act of writing it out is a very powerful one. Once you have your goal, you need a plan to get there. Your plan should include your workout schedule, eating plan, etc. Once you reach your first goal, set a new goal and repeat the process. Track your progress. For me, it was weighing myself each week. I gained about 1.5lbs every 2 weeks and each time I stepped on that scale, I wrote the date and weight. Seeing progress happen was very exciting and also gave me some extra adrenaline and energy to finish my workout that day.
Change is Good
You’ll need to switch up your program every once and a while. If you do the same routine, the same workout every week for a year, you’ll be very bored and unexcited. You’ll also plateau in your progress. Change your workout every couple months to include different exercises and body parts.
Eat, Eat, Eat!
I learned early on that I wasn’t gaining weight because I wasn’t eating nearly enough, but I always thought I was. I tracked what I ate for a week and showed my trainer. He laughed. I was eating half of what I needed to put on weight. I always ate very healthy, but just never enough. And what I was eating, I was burning off each day with my active life.
Write down what you consume every day for a week. You’ll soon see it’s not very much. Now double that amount and you’ll start gaining weight, it’s that simple. It’s a hard goal to meet, but you need the energy to fuel your workouts and fuel the muscle building process. I use the word ‘fuel’ on purpose. When I increased my eating, I felt like a furnace. My body became a food processing machine, and my body temperature actually felt much warmer.
Doubling your food intake is not an easy thing to do. It’s expensive and time consuming. Start by increasing the quantity you eat at each meal. Going to the gym isn’t your only workout time. Meals will be workouts too. You’ll have to force yourself to eat more, just like you’ll force yourself to do more reps or lift more weight. Next, increase the number of meals you eat. For me, I would eat nearly every 2 hours. Here’s my schedule for an average workout day.
- 8am – breakfast
- 10:30am – eat a large snack
- 12:30 – lunch
- 3pm – eat a large snack
- 5pm – workout. sip 1 litre of gatorade through workout
- 6pm – 1litre gatorade and protein shake
- 8pm – dinner
- 11pm – protein/fruit shake
Tip: I put meeting reminders in my electronic calendar and cellphone for my snacktimes so I don’t miss my times to eat when I’m busy at work. It’s easy to delay eating a meal and forget about it altogether.
What you eat is still important. For “hard-gainers”, you don’t have to worry too much about fat, but don’t go overboard. A good burger can be somewhat healthy, but all that ketchup is fat. I could eat pretty much anything I wanted, but thankfully I enjoy eating healthy food. I never watched protein-fat-carb ratios, but I tried to limit the total grams of fat consumed each day to a certain amount. And carbs can be your best friend to someone who needs to gain weight. I love steak and baked potatoes, and thankfully that’s what I needed to eat.
Water Is Essential
Also, throughout the day, drink lots of water. Water keeps your muscles hydrated so you can use them when you need it, and a high protein diet needs more water than usual. Ensure you drink more than 2 liters of water per day.
Aim for 1gram of protein per pound of body weight. So if you’re 150lbs, consume approximately 150grams of protein per day. I try to get as much protein as I can naturally through food, but I use vanilla whey protein powder post-workout and in my shakes as a meal replacement.
2 very important parts of the workout are what you’re drinking during and immediately after. During your workout, continually sip a sports drink like Gatorade. You need a sports drink to stay fueled during your workouts. Water is not sufficient. Drinking nothing at all is even worse. After you’ve completed your workout, I think there is approximately a 30-minute window that is very crucial to getting protein into your system to supply your muscles to start rebuilding. A carbohydrate drink with a high glycemic index (such as Gatorade) slows that time period and allows you to get the protein to your muscles.
Every day when I go to the gym, I bring the following:
- 1litre Nalgene bottle
- 2 scoops of gatorade crystals
- 1 ziploc bag with 2 scoops of lemon-lime gatorade crystals and 2 scoops of vanilla whey protein(~25g protein).
I fill the Nalgene with 2 scoops of gatorade crystals and 1 litre of water and drink this during my workout between sets. It’s usually gone by the time my hour workout is completed. After my shower, I fill the nalgene with water again and pour in the gatorade/whey protein mixture. I find the lemon and vanilla mixture to be the best tasting combination. Mix well so no powder remains. Drink this over the next 20 minutes.
An hour before bed, I try to have another shake with some mass building whey protein. In a blender, I mix the following:
- 1 cup of frozen fruits (mixed berries, strawberries, etc)
- 100ml of yogurt
- 2 scoops of mass whey protein (~25g protein)
- 2 cups of orange juice
Some people might say use milk instead of juice for some extra natural protein, but i find the juice makes it all taste better and easier to drink. This is a good energy supply to your body to keep it fueled through the night as it’s repairing and building new muscle.
Best to consult with a trainer on this, or spend a lot of time trying to learn it on your own. There’s a reason why people go to school to be trainers – because they learn the right way to work out. You wouldn’t read a book to take out your appendix – you go to a doctor who has the knowledge. Likewise for a fitness professional. If you can’t afford to continue with a trainer, hire one to at least design a program for you to do on your own. Although, there is a big advantage of having a trainer there through your workout to spot you on the really heavy weights to lift a little off as you’re finishing your last couple reps. This will get you moving onto bigger weights faster. My trainer designs and adjusts my program to target areas that need to be worked on. And every couple months we switch the exercises around.
One part of my workout plan starting out was “No Cardio”. Since I was already very slim and had a very low body fat percentage, I didn’t do any cardio. Cardio wasn’t a priority for me as a goal and any cardio I did would simply burn more calories that I would have to replace again with even more food. Now I do a fast 5 minute treadmill session to get the heart going to enable fat to burn during my workout and supply energy to the muscles. As I get to my final physical weight, I’ll adjust my program to a balance of cardio and weight training.
Rest, Rest, Rest!
Getting enough rest is definitely important. You’ll feel wiped after a good workout and naps are a good way to get them in through the day. When you sleep is when your body gets to repair itself, so don’t feel guilty that you’re being lazy. Sleeping is one area I need to increase as I only get 7 hours which isn’t ideal if you want to get bigger.
One book I found very helpful and really explained a lot about eating is Power Eating by Susan Kleiner. I would highly recommend it. It really explained a lot about how foods work for your body, what you need to eat when and really made sense.
I hope this information helps some people out there and I’d love to hear some comments from you.