Six Reliable Diet Tweaks for Frustrated Hardgainers

October 20, 2016

About the Author: Eric Bach


Many people struggle to build strength and muscle. And for most, an important part of the solution is simple: eat more.

But simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy, especially for the classic hardgainer.

You know the type. Hell, you might be one. Hardgainers are long-limbed, narrow jointed guys, wired to the gills like they’ve guzzled down three scoops of pre-workout protein. Despite their efforts, they have one hell of a time adding lean muscle.

And if you’re a hardgainer, you probably have the “I’ve tried it all feeling.”  You’ve shoveled your face with Taco Bell.  You‘ve tried gut-busting Mass Attack 3000 gainer shakes, along with drinking a gallon of milk a day to add weight. But even in this case, the weight you added was blubbery fat, not lean muscle.

I’m a former skinny guy who feels your pain. I’ve  been there, too. I won’t say I didn’t enjoy guzzling  mint-chocolate chip ice cream with protein powder to maintain weight, but I added more fat than lean, athletic muscle.  And on that note, I’m sure you want the same–to build lean, athletic muscle, not inches of blubber around your waistline. 

It’s time to end the madness.

Let me offer my experiences as a former overwhelmed skinny dude, plus my experience helping thousands of clients transform their bodies. You’ll pack on pounds of lean muscle.  

This post reveals seven (yes, I know the title said six…but I added one more because I love you) actionable steps you can take to get high quality calories into your diet and gain muscle, not fat. 

Attention: Join the Minimalist Muscle Movement today. It’s a state-of-the-art weight-lifting and nutritional blueprint for “skinny” guys who want to pack on muscle without living in the gym. On sale here, this week only.

No more crash diets that add pounds of fat rather than muscle. No more information overload.  Let’s get to it.

1) Track Your Calories for Self-Awareness

Read this, write it down, and tattoo it on the inside of your eyelids if necessary:

Getting in enough calories is the key to gaining muscle. If you’re not gaining weight, you’re not eating enough. Period.

It doesn’t matter if you’re eating every three hours. If the scale isn’t moving, you need more food.

Got it? Good.

The best way to see whether you’re eating enough is to track calories. While tracking your food isn’t an exact science, it’s a great tool for building awareness about what you’re putting into your body. Tracking calories, even for just a few days, opens your eyes to the holes in your diet that hold back progress.

You could be way off on your intended macros. You might be consuming only 100 grams of protein when your goal is 150 grams. Or you might be eating only one serving of vegetables when your goal is much higher. (This answers the question of why you haven’t had a decent poop in three weeks :).


Awareness is key, especially for the classic hardgainer. Know what you’re putting in your body and in what proportions. Know whether your calories align with your goals. This is a foundational step to getting lean and muscular.


Basics of Calorie Tracking

There are any number of equations to calculate the number of calories you need for building muscle.

I keep it simple and use bodyweight in pounds x 18. This provides a slight caloric overload.

Therefore, if you weigh 160 pounds… 160 x 18 = 2,880 calories

Using this as a starting point, work with a basic macronutrient split.

I prefer 40:30:30, meaning 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat.

Let’s break down the numbers.


Carbs: 2880 x 0.4 = 1152 calories from carbs.

Since carbs have 4 calories/gram, we’ll divide 1152/4.

1152/4 = 288 grams of carbs.

Protein: 2880 x 0.3 = 864 calories

Since protein has 4 calories/gram, we’ll divide 864/4.

864/4 = 216 grams of protein

Fat:  2880 x 0.3 = 864 calories.

Since fat has 9 calories/gram, we’ll divide 864/9.

864/9= 96 grams of fat

Therefore, the 160 lb. hardgainer will aim for 2,880 calories, with”


288 grams of carbs

216 grams of protein

96 grams of fat

Making Adjustments

All muscle building equations are estimates at best.  

If you’re not increasing weight:

Add 200 calories in the form of carbs (50 grams) after two weeks.
If another two weeks goes by without progress,  add another 50 grams of carbs. Continue the process until you start adding lean muscle. No, the carbs won’t make you “fat” unless you’re sucking down Mountain Dew and Skittles.

Getting’ Tubby?
Drop your calories by 150 per day, starting with fat. That’s roughly 16 grams. Or try adding a sprint workout once or twice per week and keep your calories the same.

Why not the See-food Diet?

The Seafood diet, popularized by anxious bulkers who eat everything is sight, is a great way to add tons of fat, rather than lean muscle. And while it’s fun to say, “I’m bulking bro,” before crushing VooDoo doughnuts and pizza, it’s a terrible way to create a clean and sustainable bulk.

Eat carbs sources like potatoes, rice, squash, and whole wheat if you tolerate it. Most of the time, eat lean animal protein like fish, ground beef, and poultry. Crush veggies and fruits.

10% of the time relax, have a beer and a pizza.

Stay disciplined, enjoy yourself a little, and hit your calories as best you can.

Get your Calories:  Altogether, you need to eat 300-500 more calories than you’re burning to gain muscle.

Once again, If you’re not gaining muscle: eat more!

But if you add much more than 300 to 500 calories,  you’ll add fat faster than a paleo convention can add MCT oil and butter to their morning coffee.

A little common sense goes a long way. Track calories, establish sound eating habits, and get it done.

2) Consuming Liquid Meals Before, During and After Training

Strange but true: when I’m working with people who want to lose weight, the first task is eliminating liquid calories.

The opposite is true for the skinny hardgainers. We add liquid calories ASAP.

Now, this doesn’t come in the form on Chile Mocha or Pumpkin Spice lattes. Instead, we use whole food shakes, or super shakes as popularized by Precision Nutrition

These shakes have a number of benefits.

Easy to prepare and consume: Skinny hardgainers and busy dudes struggling to build muscle often think they eat a lot but still aren’t doing enough to gain muscle. Shakes take five minutes to create and can add 500-800+ calories to your diet…plenty to jumpstart muscle growth. They’re convenient and easy to consume when compared to preparing and eating yet another batch of rubbery chicken and potatoes.

Mindless Caloric Surplus: Most dudes are overwhelmed with the amount of dietary information at their fingertips. They get so overwhelmed, they just say  “fuck it” and give up. This usually happens after a couple of hard weeks chasing any fitness goal.

If you’re approaching the “fuck it” stage, focus ONLY on consuming one additional shake per day and keep your diet the same. This in itself can be enough to get the calories needed to optimize exercise recovery, jump start protein synthesis, and get your gains going in the right direction.

 P.S. Join the Minimalist Muscle Course today and find the 5 Reasons Skinny Guys are DEAD WRONG in their approach to building muscle. Enroll today.

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 won’t 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.


-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: Supplements make things much easier. If you’re busy,  $2 for two scoops of protein per day is a no-brainer compared to cooking up an extra ½ pound of chicken and shoving it down your throat between meetings.  Make two shakes before you go to bed each night. Crush one at breakfast and one between meals and you’ll mindlessly add muscle.

Attention: Join the Minimalist Muscle Movement today. It’s a state-of-the-art weight-lifting and nutritional blueprint for “skinny” guys who want to pack on muscle without living in the gym. On sale here, this week only.

3) Eat More Often.

Don’t Fast If You Want to Gain Muscle. Listen, I understand the benefits of intermittent fasting.
It can be a godsend during fat loss diets as it allows bigger portion sizes. Hell, the health benefits as outlined by my bro John Romaniello are incredible.

But the last thing the skinny hardgainer needs is a limited eating window. Remember, eating more calories than you burn is the number one rule for building lean muscle.

Until you’re in a caloric surplus, nothing else matters.


It doesn’t matter how many bricklayers you have; if there aren’t enough bricks you won’t build a foundation. The same logic applies to building muscle.

All your training is for naught unless you eat enough calories to support muscle growth.

Eat breakfast. Have a super shake during the middle of the morning.

Eat lunch. Have a super shake in the afternoon. Crush dinner.

There. It’s that simple. Three squares and two calorie and nutrient dense snacks.
Now please: go eat.

4) Boost Your Digestion

Like most guys in college and their 20’s, I had an iron gut. I could guzzle bottles of hot sauce, dairy, and gainer shakes without issue.

Then, after years of guzzling milk in my home state of Wisconsin, it all came down to a…..

…well, change. I’ll spare you the explosive details.

The point is when you’re consuming more calories than your body is used to, your digestive system pays the price. We’re talking protein farts, stomach aches, or feeling like a toxic dump after overeating. Let’s just say If you’re having digestive issues, your health is compromised.

Health is the first wealth even when bulking.

If your body isn’t healthy, your performance will suffer along with your physique. If your GI tract is a huge indicator of internal health, affecting everything from your skin and immune system to cognitive function. Personally, I’d rather avoid revisiting my acne-infested teenage years. I also like to avoid annoying head colds and mental fog. Wouldn’t you?

Adopt these basic behaviors:

  1. Have veggies with every meal. If you want to be healthy, you need vegetables. Beyond keeping you regular, they’ll fill your body with phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals to keep you humming’ at full speed.
  2. Eat fermented foods. Being a good German boy, I’ve had my fair share of sauerkraut (and brats.) Now, I recommend keeping a jar of raw sauerkraut in your fridge and eating a forkful before big meals. The magic at work is that fermented foods like sauerkraut are natural sources of probiotics, the “friendly” gut bacteria that helps optimize health and digestion by aiding intestinal bacteria in performing their tasks more efficiently.
  3. Apple Cider Vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is touted as a “ miracle food.” Supposedly, it improves everything from digestion to allergies and blood pressure. I’m not sure about all that, but I since I started ripping’ a shot of it before big meals my digestion has improved dramatically. 
  4. Cut out “trouble” foods. Dairy, wheat, and “junk food” seem to be the biggest culprits. Don’t battle me on junk food, you know what’s good for you and what’s not. Eat. Less. Shit. 

5) Don’t Fear Fat. 

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. Increase your intake of fatty foods like grass-fed meats, raw nuts, and cooking with virgin unrefined coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil is a simple way to make sure you’re getting sufficient calories. As a side note, research has shown there may be some validity to higher fat intake increasing anabolic hormone levels like testosterone. Keep it within reason, but try not to drop fat intake below 20% of your calories.

Tips to add more fat (and calories) to your diet:

  • Use 2 tbsp. of olive oil to prepare your meals twice per day to “sneak in” over 60 g of fat and 540 calories into your diet.
  • Eating three handfuls (1/4 cup) of mixed nuts a day can add an extra 300-400 calories, depending on the size of your hands.
  • Eating four whole eggs for breakfast instead of three egg whites and one whole egg adds an extra 18g of fat and 162 calories.
  • IF fat intake is higher on a given day, make a corresponding decrease in carbohydrate intake. Remember, you want to build lean muscle, not gorge on sticks of butter between cans of Pepsi.

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

P.S. Most “Muscle Building Diets” Are Completely Wrong for You – And Here’s Why… There’s no practical strategy behind them. Enroll in the Minimalist Muscle program today and I’ll show you how to build a practical diet for long-term gains. Enroll Today.


6) Don’t Fear Carbs

Similar to the fat bashing of the 90’s, carbs have been vilified through the 2000’s.

If you’re extremely overweight drinking Pepsi and eating potato chips for breakfast excess carbs can be detrimental. And higher fat, low carb approaches work extremely well for fat-loss diets.

But what if you’re an athletic, relatively healthy hard-training person? You need plenty of carbs for optimal health and performance. I recommend carbs compose 40% or a muscle building diet.

bodyweight training, Hardgainer

In the most basic sense, your body prefers carbs as a main source of energy. Sure, you can use fats and proteins for energy. But it’s not optimal for performance. For the hardgainer, carbohydrates are protein sparing. This means your body will break down stored carbs for energy first rather than your hard earned muscle.

For building muscle, eating a moderate to high carbohydrate diet provides the energy and support needed for performance and recovery. You’ll have better training sessions. You’ll spare the muscle you’ve already built. And you’ll get an awesome pump when lifting.

“But Eric…can’t carbs make me fat?”

Carbs, proteins, and fats can all make you fat…IF you’re consuming too many calories. Remember, our goal is a surplus of 300-500 per day. No more, no less.  This is where tracking comes in. It’s easy to overeat when the food source is fat. If you’re eating lots of carbs, dial back on fats to compensate.

Watch your consumption of oils  nuts, and other high-fat foods to keep your calories inline. The opposite applies as well. When fats are higher, dial back your carb intake.


7) Hyper Hydrate

While there are no calories in water, proper hydration is essential and often neglected by those looking to build muscle. Think about it…while hydration needs vary with age and sex, your body is composed of 40-60% water. Than means for a 160 lb. dude 80+ pounds of your body is composed of water.

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
  • 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.

You don’t need to be a gallon-jug tooting meathead, but keep a water bottle with you at all times. Fill it up 4-5 times throughout the day and stay hydrated for maximum growth, performance, and health.

Implementing the Goodies

All the information is the world is great, but it takes a thorough plan to implement change and leave hardgainer hell. Here’s the plan. 

  1. Start for the first two weeks by adding a super shake like the recipe listed above after every workout and on off days for breakfast.
  2. Drink more water.
  3.  Next, start tracking your calories for the following two weeks.
  4. Within a 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.
  5. At the end of one month, that’s a bump of at least 15,000 calories or an extra 7.5 days worth of food for the average Homo sapien to boost muscle growth. Slowly add calories and additional water. Keep your health a priority while you bulk.
  6. Join the Minimalist Muscle Movement today. It’s a state-of-the-art weight-lifting and nutritional blueprint for “skinny” guys who want to pack on muscle without living in the gym. Enroll 

Commit and Persevere

Ending your hardgainer hardships isn’t about the perfect plan.

It’s about consistent behaviors that lead to long-term change.

I’m a compassionate guy, but all this fitness stuff is hard work. If you can’t take the necessary steps, grind, sacrifice, and take an extra five minutes per day to track your calories, then maybe building your best body isn’t for you. Just sayin’.

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.

The lessons with changing your body expand far beyond the mirror: the discipline and focus you’ll gain will improve your career, relationships, and discipline.

You’ve got this. Now go win the day.

P.S. Are YOU Tired of Muscle-Building Programs that Just Don’t Work?Enroll in the Minimalist Muscle program today and I’ll show you how to build a practical diet and training program to build 8-12 pounds of muscle over the next few months.  Enroll Today.




  1. malin pegenius October 26, 2016 at 8:56 am - Reply

    thanks eric! just what i needed right now:)

  2. Orlando October 28, 2016 at 7:07 pm - Reply

    Coach Eric , tengo una duda .
    Peso corporal x 18 = calorías por día para aumento de masa muscular…

    Es el peso corporal total o masa libre de grasa???


  3. Orlando October 28, 2016 at 7:10 pm - Reply

    Coach Eric, I have a question.
    body weight x 18 = calories per day to gain muscle mass …

    It is the total body weight or fat free mass ???

    Thank you

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