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Escape from Hardgainer Hell: Nutrition for Hardgainers

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For some dudes building muscle is easy. Add protein and creatine to their diet mixed with any  training and voila: 10 pounds of muscle in a month.

I’m not that guy.

In fact, I could pull off skinny jeans and small t-shirts no matter how much I thought I ate or how hard I trained.

It sucked.

That all changed one hot, muggy afternoon.

I just got done peeling myself off the turf at Football practice after I was absolutely trucked by a teammate. My teammate wasn’t a prick; I just provided less resistance than a blade of grass.

It was embarrassing, humiliating, and a huge wake up call to change. I read everything on nutrition and training I could, trying to implement it all at once.

Still, I failed miserably. My desire desire to change was so great that I changed everything whenever I read a fancy supplement label with giant promises or a new training routine.

When it comes to building muscle, information overload is a surefire way to fail.

Much like a Hail Mary pass your efforts will probably end up with a turnover and failure. It’s much better to dink and dunk your way down the field, taking what you can and creating small wins on a daily basis until you spark a big play.

Much like training, you wouldn’t jump into heavy singles without first building up and practicing technique with heavy loads.
Nutrition for hardgainers is no different.

It’s time to stop being the object of ridicule despite busting your ass. By implementing these hardgainer nutrition laws one at a time you’ll see the light and earn your pass out of hard gainer hell.

 1)Drink Liquid Meals Before, During, and/or After your Training

Ironically, when I’m working with clients looking to lose weight one of the first things we look to clean up is the intake of liquid calories. As it stands, my number one strategy to gain the first few pounds of hard-gainer muscle is to incorporate liquid calories before, during, and/or after training. The benefits are huge. Since you’re already guzzling fluids to rehydrate during workouts it’s easy to sneak in 500+ calories for improved exercise recovery, protein synthesis, and tissue repair.

Nutrition for hardgainers

What you need:

-Blender because well, you need to blend the damn thing

Fruit for flavor, high quality nutrients, and carbohydrates for energy

-Spinach or Greens, you wont even taste it and the added veggies are vital to balance a high-protein diet

Protein to support muscle growth and tissue repair

Topper/Texture adder for additional nutrients and to bring the whole recipe together

Optional: Creatine monohydrate to support high performance training, or a greens supplement to fill nutritional gaps.

Raspberry Chocolate Goodness:

This shake is an awesome post-workout shake, quick breakfast, or a healthy sweet treat option. If you are looking for fat loss keep this decadent treat for a post-workout treat due to the carbohydrate count.

Ingredients

-1 Cup Raspberries (frozen)

-2 Scoops Chocolate Whey Protein

-1.5 Cups Raw Spinach

-1 Cup Coconut Milk

– ½ cup water, ½ cup ice

Bottom Line: In all seriousness supplements make things much easier. If you’re busy then $2 for two scoops of protein per day is a no-brainer compared to cooking up an extra ½ pound of chicken for a similar protein equivalent. Both from a financial and time perspective protein supplements like Biotrust or Onnit are a godsend. Make a batch of Supershakes like the shake listed above.

 2) Track Your Calories for Self-Awareness

Tracking calories is a pain in the ass.

Tracking Calories is an in-exact science at best.

Still, if you’re not gaining weight the reason is simple—you’re not getting enough calories. Simple and straightforward, multiply your bodyweight by 18 to find the minimum number of calories you need.

Therefore, if you weigh 160 pounds… 160×18= 2880 calories

Thermogenics are simple–if you’re in a caloric surplus you will begin adding weight to your hard gainer frame. When it comes to “energy out,” the body’s energy needs include the amount of energy required for maintenance at rest, physical activity and movement, plus food digestion, absorption, and transport. “Energy in” is simpler: how many calories you’re putting into your body. Altogether, you need to put in 300-500 more calories than you’re burning for a positive energy balance.

How to Create a Positive Energy Balance:

Seriously—EAT MORE

If you’re not gaining weight the hard truth is you need to eat more. All the training in the world won’t do anything for you if you’re not putting enough fuel into your body. You need tons of fuel to support your hard training and even more to build muscle. You can’t build a brick wall without bricks—get your calories in.

Bottom Line: The science is in-exact, but self-awareness is priceless. The biggest most jacked guys in the world count their calories because it instills self-awareness and discipline on exactly what it takes to accomplish your goal. Count calories using Myfitnesspal for the next two weeks and monitor your weight every other day. This way you’ll see the amount of food needed to reach your goals and develop eating habits that match your goals.

3) Don’t Fast if you want to Gain Muscle

I understand the draw of intermittent fasting for fat loss, overall health, and working around a hectic schedule, but a restricted eating schedule is the last thing under-eating hard gainers need to gain muscle. Hardgainers simply can’t eat 4 cups of rice and 16oz of steak at dinner- they think a chicken breast and one sweet potato is eating big.
While you don’t need to eat every two or three hours or drag a cooler to work you must make time to get your calories in. If you’re dead-set on intermittent fasting for muscle gain don’t go over twelve hours without eating, you wont get enough calories in to support muscle growth.

Bottom Line: It doesn’t matter how many bricklayers you have; if there aren’t enough bricks you won’t build a foundation. The same logical applies to building muscle—all the training is for naught unless you eat enough calories to support muscle growth.

4.) Balance Acids and Bases:

Look bones: You’re crushing your diet, training hard, and making headway in your escape from hard gainer hell. Problem is, you reek like a toxic dump, your stomach is in fits, and your digestion is garbage.

What gives?

Digestive health is huge indicator of what’s going on side your body while you’re preoccupied with pumping your pecs and squatting a house. When muscle building is the goal, hard gainers opt for high-protein foods like tasty dead animal flesh to support their hard training. The tradeoff is on imbalance between having too many highly acidic foods (meats) and not enough bases (leafy greens) that results in symptoms from increased inflammation, acid reflux, diarrhea, and constipation. Any way you look at it health suffers unless the body is in balance between acidic foods and base foods.

Nutrition for Hardgainers
Get your greens while knowing at bambi’s femur

Without a balanced approach to eating training, recovery, and overall health suffer due to an acidic environment. Basically, you should be eating a handful of veggies while you’re gnawing away at your next sirloin.

Tips to Balance Your Diet:

– Have 2 “handfuls” or two cups with of veggies with each meat based meal. Eat one before diving into your protein source to jump-start the digestive process.

– Incorporate fermented foods like raw sauerkraut to improve digestion. Not only is it great on Brats (I’m from Wisconsin, dontcha know), raw sauerkraut and other fermented foods are rich in digestive enzymes and bacteria to aim in digestion.

  • Kudos on the Scrawny to Brawny program, blending spinach into protein shakes is an easy way to balance acids and bases in your diet. From here on out, blend spinach into your shakes. Trust me, you won’t even taste it.
  • Take a greens supplement like ONNIT Superfood. Not only can these replace a multi-vitamin, but they’ll also improve your digestion, immune function, and counteract a high protein diet. Plus, most of us struggle to get our veggies. Pick up ONNIT Superfood and have it you’re your creatine first thing in the morning.

Bottom line: Health is the first wealth and an unhealthy body is unlikely to be optimal for training. Without our health in line, we won’t ever build lean muscle and improve performance anyways so it is always best to focus on health first.

5.) Don’t Fear Fat

If you haven’t caught onto the theme yet calories are the supreme ruler for your hardgainer nutrition. Without enough calories your muscle building workouts are all for naught. One of the easiest ways to increase your calorie intake is to increase your intake of higher fat foods because fat contains 9 calories per gram of fat.

Avoid fat phobia—an increase intake of fatty foods like grass-fed meats, raw nuts, and cooking with virgin unrefined coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil has been shown to increase anabolic hormone levels like testosterone to support healthy energy, libido, and muscle building.

 

hardgainer nutrition
Behold the power of grassfed beef
  • For example, by using 2 tbsp. of olive oil to prepare our meals 2x per day, we can “sneak in” over 60g of fat and 540 calories into our diets.
  • Further, if we eat 3 handfuls (1/4 cup) of mixed nuts per day, which may be an extra 300-400 calories, depending on the size of your hands.
  • If we go with 4 whole eggs for breakfast instead of 3 egg whites and 1 whole egg, that’s an extra 18g of fat and 162 calories.

 

Bottom Line: Fatty foods are the most calorically dense and will drastic bump in calories for building muscle. Furthermore, fats in your diet will support anabolic hormone levels, libido, and energy for better workouts, more muscle, and 2000% more awesome manliness.

6.) Hyper Hydrate

Body water in humans varies with age and sex, but the body is composed of 40-60% water. Than means for a 160lb dude 80+ pounds of your water are composed of water.

80 pounds.

Needless to say, proper hydration is key for tons of bodily functions:

  • Water acts as a solvent to dissolve chemicals
  • Water transports nutrients to and from cells
  • Waste management
  • Water plays a role in the synthesis of proteins, glycogen, and other molecules
  • Water acts as a catalyst for metabolic reactions in the body
  • Water lubricates joints and tissues
  • Water helps regulate temperature

Our demands for water obviously increase with hard training. The enhanced metabolic rate of muscle contraction requires a larger delivery of nutrients and oxygen along with faster waste and heat removal from the body to continue training. Even the most experienced athletes struggle with water intake despite the fact that 1-2 % reduction in bodyweight from water loss leads drops in performance through muscle cramping, decreased endurance, loss of motor skill, and a loss of muscular strength.

Bottom Line: As much as 60% of your body and 75% of muscle tissue is water. If you’re dehydrated you’re not performing up to your maximum potential and limiting growth. After training, muscle repair requires fluid for nutrient absorption to maximize recovery. Get dat water bruh.

 

Implementing the Goodies

All the information is the world is great, but it takes a thorough plan to implement change.

All the information is the world is great, but it takes a thorough plan to implement change. (yes, it bears repeating)

Start for the first two weeks by adding a super shake like the recipe listed above after every workout and off day for breakfast.

Next, start tracking your calories for the following two weeks.

By one month from now you’ll be consuming an extra 500 calories/day in shakes with a huge bump in awareness of what’s going into your body.

At the end of one month that’s at least a bump in 15,000 total calories, or an extra 7.5 days worth of food to help you build muscle. Slowly add fats, additional water, and keep your health a priority while you bulk.

COMMIT AND PERSEVERE

Ending your hard gainer hardships isn’t about the perfect plan; rather, it’s about consistent behaviors that manifest into long-term change. If you’re a scrawny dude who sticks to a routine and diet for three days and then flips out when his abs lose a vein, only to switch to a fat loss diet this is for you.

The road is tough, but you must stay the course and persevere through the tough times. Muscle growth and getting jacked only take place in the presence of excess calories and amino acids for muscle fiber repair. If you’re gaining too much body fat look back at your food log and clean things up—health is still important.

Keep your goal, persevere, and crush your nutrition. If your goal truly matters I’m challenging you to step to the plate and see things through.
You’ve got this—now win the day.

P.S. 

[Stuck as a Hardgainer? I’ve been there and I’m here to help. This week I’m taking 20% off all Bach Performance Online Training until 11:59 pm Friday Only. That means four months of World-Class workout programs, Nutrition, Weekly and Monthly Skype Calls with a fifth month 100% Free. Apply NOW before spots are gone.]

 

Now, let’s hear it from YOU – what are your TOP SOURCES for muscle gaining information? Drop your comments below!

photo credit: cranrob via photopin cc

photo credit: ratterrell via photopin cc

Seven Nutrition Muscle Building Mistakes

For most guys building muscle seems impossible. I understand, I’ve been there.

As a 103lb pipsqueak I tried it all. Show 14-year old Eric a flashy label promising “big gainz” and I’d give it whirl. As it pertains to nutrition and supplementation it’s impossible to know what works and what’s bullshit.

Should you be bulking and cutting?

How about Paleo? Intermittent Fasting?

Low carb…right? I heard carbs make you fat.

It becomes more difficult when you’re trying to build a lean, athletic physique without tons of body fat. Most guys try everything and remain in a constant “bulking cycle,” only to wind up fat, confused, and deflated. You don’t want to be a massive blob that can’t move off the platform.

I get it.

You want a body that projects confidence, athleticism, and health. That’s where I come in. Instead of reading (and trying) every new diet method you need to relax. Sit back. Now breath. There’s no perfect diet. Stop making it so damn complicated and make sure these nutritional mistakes aren’t preventing muscle growth.

Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple”- Dr. Seuss

  1. You Don’t eat enough food

Every skinny dude in the history of skinny dudes says “ I eat a lot,” but still can’t gain muscle. I’ve done it too.

Here’s the hard truth: If you’re not building lean muscle then you aren’t eating enough. Obvious right? Well, it’s still the biggest problem for most dudes. It’s not easy, but without excess calories you won’t gain muscle. muscle building mistakes

Start with these caloric calculations to gain lean muscle.

Bodyweight in pounds x 18-22

Ex.) 155 lbs x 18-22 =2790-3410 calories per day.

For 2790 calories:

Protein: 25%= 697 calories/ 4 cal/g= 175 g Protein

Fat: 25% = 697 calories/ 9 cal/g= 77.5 g Fat

carbohydrates: 50%= 1395 calories/4cal/g= 348 g Carbs

Tinker with these percentages slightly, but the bottom line remains the same: you need to eat a serious amount of food. Anything less than 2790 calories per day for this person won’t result in muscle gain. Hate counting calories? More on that later, but start consuming Super Shakes on-top of your regular diet, they’re a game changer. Instead of struggling to eat more drink your calories with  a high quality protein, veggies, fruit, and healthy fats in a shake on-top of your current diet.

P.S. Major props to Precision Nutrition Certification and Scrawny to Brawny for this method

  1. You don’t know how to cook

I often hear guys complain about the cost of eating healthy and building muscle on a budget. These are the same dudes who tell methey ate Quiznos four times this week. What gives? For the same cost of a sandwich or burrito at your favorite lunch spot you can buy two pounds of chicken at your local grocery store. If you don’t know how to cook you’ll never develop the body you want. You need to be able to cook. Learning  3-5 awesome meals should be a perquisite to your adulthood.

Bottom Line:You need to be able to cook. You’ll make healthier choices, save cash, and impress your next date.

Check out these awesome resources:

  1. Paleo’s Keeping You Skinny

A high fat Paleo diet is great for  general public and those looking to maximize fat loss. If everyone ate a cleaner Paleo diet we’d have a lot less obesity and sick people. Problem is, with the limited food selection and all around “cleaner” food options it’s harder to consume the calories needed for muscle growth. Always staying low-calorie and low-carb will keep you lean, but its a huge muscle-building mistake. If you’re eating Paleo and not seeing gains its time to let loose and expand your food repertoire to gain lean muscle.

  1. You’re fasting too long

Intermittent fasting has risen to the forefront of nutrition from guys like Martin Berkhan and books like Engineering The Alpha. I’m a big fan of fasting, it works great for people trying to lose weight. Problem is, for guys trying to build muscle it’s hard enough to get a caloric surplus in 24 hours, let alone eight. Taking 12-16 hours off from food and then attempting to horde 3000+ calories in 8 hours is too steep a task for scrawny guys. There are awesome benefits for fat loss and digestive health to fasting, but it’s not ideal for gaining lean muscle mass. If you prefer this style of eating shorten your fasting window to no longer than 10-12 hours or only fast on non-workout days.

  1. You Suffer from carb phobia

Low carb diets are great for the sedentary couch-dweller looking to lose fat. However, when you’re looking to build muscle staying “low-carb” sucks. Too few carbs is one of the biggest nutritional muscle building mistakes possible. muscle building mistakes

Here’s why: Muscle tissue glucose uptake is stimulated by insulin, which triggers the migration of glucose and amino acids to muscle cells. This promotes protein synthesis, which is kinda important. Muscle contractions increase the facilitated diffusion of glucose into muscle cells more, promoting greater insulin sensitivity. Simply, when glucose is present in the blood the blood the body uses it as energy over stored fuel – an ideal recipe for building muscle mass. Yes, your body synthesizes glucose from other substrates through gluconeogenesis, but this process takes time and potentially breaks down amino acids for fuel.

Since your muscle-building workouts have all-out bouts of activity like sprints, jumps, throws, and heavy lifting then you’ll need readily available carbs rather than breaking down muscle for energy. If you think you’re getting pudgy by eating a banana before your train look at rest of your diet, there’s something else wrong. Carbs fuel high-performance.

  1. You rely on Bodybuilding Supplements

Most Supplements are Flat out a waste of money. Sketchy “cutting” of supplements with fillers occurs to the detriment of your wallet and health. (Read Protein Pixie Dust by Bryan Krahn) That said, supplements that aid a your health will also you help you build lean muscle.

Proteins are the building blocks for muscle and muscle repair. Besides their muscle-building properties proteins manufacture hormones, enzymes, cellular messengers, nucleic acids, and immune-system components. Bottom line: Protein is essential for numerous bodily functions besides muscle growth.

  • Creatine Monohydrate

Creatine is the most researched dietary supplement in exercise science. Creatine is proven to increase strength, power, muscle, and endurance with high-intensity exercise. Although creatine is in the diet from red meat, supplementation increases saturation to increase force production of the muscles. It’s important to stick with creatine monohydrate. Leave the fancy marketing aside, creatine monohydrate is the most researched and effective variation of creatine available.

To learn more about Creatine click here: Creatine:Cutting to the Chase

  • Greens Supplement

Most guys struggle to get enough fruits and veggies in their body. With a high protein diet , it’s important to have a balance between acids and bases. Get your greens. Bonus: Some Greens supplements also contain vitamins and minerals to replace a multi-vitamin. Check mineral levels to avoid over consumption.

On day’s I’m not eating fatty fish like salmon I’ll take Omega-3 supplement. Research on Omega 3 supplementation has shown improved nervous system function, cardiovascular function, immune function, and insulin sensitivity. As a starting point take 2-3 grams daily to notice the benefits of fish oil, split up between meals throughout the day.

Bonus:When shopping for a fish oil supplement look for each gram 1 soft gel in pill form) to contain 500 mg out of 1000 mg of DHA and EPA. I recommend 500 as the number to look for, but these products are more expensive. When the levels are below 500 mg they’re pumping the product full of fillers.

7a.You haven’t tried Carb cycling

If you’re looking shred fat, build muscle, and improve your health then carb cycling is your answer. Problem is, most make it so inconvenient that they only last a few days.  I’m a realist: I know you’re too busy to track down every damn detail. Here’s my simple chart:

Workout? Difficulty Starchy Carbs
No X Avoid em’
Yes I almost died As many as possible
Yes Solid Workout 1-2 meals with starchy carbs
Yes I took it easy 1 meal post-workout with carbs

Carb cycling doesn’t need to be complicated. Focus on healthy food options, base your carb intake off of your activity level, and reap the rewards of nutrient timing.

7b. You don’t track calories, ever.

Tracking calories sucks. I hate it. Labels are often wrong, it’s time consuming, and a pain in the ass. I like to keep things simple with my clients rather than have them worry about every detail.

Still, without any tracking you’re limiting your lean muscle gains. Rather than track everything take a few days per month to see where you’re at. Guys who build muscle eat the same foods and meals pretty consistently, so you’ll be able to re-use the calories.  If you track periodically it will keep you on-point with portion sizes and give a realistic view of what you need to eat.

Nutrition Muscle Building Mistakes Wrap Up

Rather than crying yourself into a corner about you need to take action. The solution is often more simple than your question: eat more. Pick any strategy below and follow it for the next two weeks. From that point, move on and adopt another habit. Soon, you’ll be avoiding these muscle building mistakes and build new, swolltastic habits.

  • Eat. More. Food.
  • Drink a supershake daily.
  • If you fast, shorten it to 8-12 hours
  • Occasionally track your food.
  • Learn to cook.
  • Dirty up your Paleo.
  • Supplements are only a small part of the picture, focus on food and health first.
  • Maximize insulin sensitivity with carb cycling.

About Eric:

Eric Bach, CSCS, PN1 is a strength coach at Steadman Hawkins Sports Performance in Denver, Colorado. As an author Eric has been featured in publications such as T-Nation, eliteFTS, and the PTDC. He is the owner of Bach Performance where he coaches clients to take control of their lives, helping them become stronger, shredded, and more athletic.

Need Help Implementing These Tips? No problem, I’ll guide you through the process and help you build your ultimate body with Premium Online Coaching

Citations:

Berardi, J. , and Ryan Andrews. “The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition.” 2nd. Toronto : Precision Nutrition Inc., 2012. 115. Print.

Berardi, J. , and Ryan Andrews. “The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition.” 2nd. Toronto : Precision Nutrition Inc., 2012. 358-361. Print.

Amino acid catabolism” by Mikael HäggströmOwn work. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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