THE FITNESS BLOG

My online fitness journal, sharing my thoughts and experience


the fitness journal

Hard gainer or just no plan?


Blog Post

Over the past 12 years, I have been working in the fitness industry I have seen people achieve amazing results. But I have also seen people struggle to change.
What is it that causes some people to succeed where others fail? There is a lot of talk about metabolism, genetics and being "lucky" but when it comes to building muscle what really makes you a hard gainer?

I do acknowledge that some people are genetically predisposed with a greater potential to build muscle, but they still need to follow the same systems as everyone else. Often the "hard gainer" diagnosis is thrown in far too early, generally to excuse poor planning, misunderstanding and lack of consistency for progress.

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So what makes a hard gainer?

A hard gainer is a person that struggles to gain muscle mass. They go to the gym, workout but they see little change.
The science of hard gaining,

First up, you workout. Causing damage to your muscles. After your session has finished your body replaces or repairs damaged muscle fibre. It fuses muscle fibres together to form myofibrils, the increase in number and thickness is behind the muscle growth. This will happen so long as the rate of muscle protein synthesis is greater than that of muscle protein breakdown. Integral to the muscle building process are satellite cells. When activated, they add nuclei to the muscle cells and contribute directly to the growth of myofibrils.

There is a possibility that you have low levels of satellite cell activation. Some people do have a lower level of activation. But chances are you are not providing your body with the resources it needs to build muscle.

  • Adequate training stimulus
  • Adequate calorie intake
  • Adequate protein intake
  • Suitable recovery
  • Optimum hormonal levels
  • Patients

With all the will in the world, you will struggle to build muscle if you are not supplying your body with the demand to create change and the fuel that change requires.
So are you a hard gainer or just not training and eating right?

Are you providing your body with a reason to change? To build muscle you need to create an overload. In order to do this you need to apply a stress to your muscles greater than they have previously adapted to. Doing this repeatedly over time is essential to build more muscle and is known as progressive overload.

If you keep doing the same thing, you will keep getting the same result. If you want to build muscle, you need to challenge yourself and be organised with your overall plan and your weights lifted each session.

Are you eating for your goals?

To build serious muscle you need to be in a calorie surplus. Muscle building requires energy, and if you feed your body less energy than it burns, you've created a calorie deficit that will result in weight loss if maintained for a sustained period of time.

If you restrict your body's energy intake so you are in a calorie deficit, it will shift to an "energy conservation" mode wherein certain bodily functions are given priority over others.

Big muscles are not vital for survival. They, in fact, require a lot of energy to be created and maintained and therefore will be reduced when in a calorie deficit.
Once you have created the training stimulus, you also need to provide adequate protein for recovery. The greater the protein synthesis, the more muscles grow. Over time, without exercise, muscles will decrease in size: protein breakdown. For the muscles to increase in size overall, protein synthesis must be greater than protein breakdown.
If you find yourself gaining strength but not gaining muscle mass, you are not eating enough calories or providing enough protein or both.

So ask yourself these questions

Am I eating enough calories consistently?
I generally aim for 10-20% increase on maintenance calories when guiding someone through a muscle building program. If you don't know how many calories you need to eat each day to build muscle, then you have missed a major part of what is needed to get some serious gains.

Is my training creating the demand for change?
Are you running through the motions or pushing your boundaries? I focus on tracking sessions and progressive overload to create long term and consistent change. In order to make progress you need to make progress with sessions you are following. Don't fall for the next big thing or excessive exercise variation. Get good at the basics.

Are you getting enough protein?
We all have different demands for protein based on our levels of exercise, muscle mass and goals. Do you know the percentage of your daily calories that are coming from protein, or how many should be coming from protein? Don't waste your efforts in the gym by not providing your body the fuel it needs to grow.

Do you need to gain muscle or lose fat?
Building muscle alone will only get you so far. You have to be able to see muscle for it to have impact. Often in the pursuit of muscle people gain excessive fat covering it all up and reducing the muscular look. When you see people looking shredded and muscular it has more to do with low levels of body fat than you might expect. The quickest way of looking like you have gained 10lb of muscle is to lose 10lb of fat in some cases!

To lean out and show your hard-earned muscle focus on being in a consistent calorie deficit. Keep protein levels high and continue to keep your gym sessions concentrated on resistance work.

We do have inherent limits when it comes to building muscle. We cannot build muscle consistently at the same rate forever. Before you blame the lack of results on being a "hard gainer" make sure you have been training and eating for your goals for long enough to warrant a change. I'm not talking about guessing your way through this either.

Guess work simply won't cut it if you are struggling to get in the shape you wish to be in.

If you want help to make sure you are doing everything right then get started with me today.