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Hardgainer Truths That Every Skinny Person Should Know

By: Zack Mathews, NASM - CPT, CES, & PES. PN-L1

Whether you are new to hardgainer info or you're a seasoned veteran of jumping between workouts and diet plans, I want to help you get results.

Because I've been in your shoes before.

hardgainer transformation

#1 - A Hardgainer Has To Eat In A Calorie Surplus

Your body has a certain amount of calories that if eaten, your weight will stay the exact same.  This is known as your calorie maintenance.  Let’s say your calorie maintenance is 2500 calories. 

This means that your body uses 2500 calories/day to perform its regular functions; such as moving, eating, working out, sleeping, keeping your body functioning, etc.

If you were to eat 2500 calories, your body would have enough energy to perform all its functions, and your weight will stay the exact same.

But that’s not what you want.

In order to gain weight as a hardgainer, you need to be bringing in more energy (in the form of food), than your body needs to maintain your weight. 

The left over calories will create a calorie surplus, and those excess calories will be made into muscle or fat, thus increasing your overall weight.

If you think you eat a lot, but you are not gaining weight, you are not in a calorie surplus.

In the 2500 calorie example, if you bump the calories up to 2800-3000, you would gain weight.

If you would like a deeper understanding of calories and how to find your calorie targets, check out the Ectomorph Body Type guide.

hardgainer diet calorie surplus truth

#2 - Hardgainers Need Protein

You got the calorie surplus down. 

Remember how I said the left over calories will be converted and stored as muscle or fat?

You want to make sure that your excess calories are converted to muscle, and you do this by prioritizing protein in your hardgainer diet.

Protein is the building block of muscle, and eating an adequate amount of it will help build the muscle you are looking for when it is paired with a good workout program.

Examples of high quality protein for a hardgainer will be:

  • Beef
  • chicken
  • turkey
  • fish
  • eggs
  • milk
  • greek yogurt
  • cottage cheese
  • protein supplements

Need some more protein ideas? Check out the Why Can't I Gain Weight article.

How much protein should you consume?

Studies show you can be between 0.7 - 1.0 grams per pound of body weight and be able to build muscle as a hardgainer.  There is nothing wrong with going over 1.0, which often happens when you are in a calorie surplus.

Consume that protein!

Learn more about the 9 best supplements for hardgainers.

hardgainer tip for protein
diet for hardgainer protein powder benefits

#3 - Don't Overlook Good Sleep And Managing Stress


Your body needs time to repair and grow.

When you are constantly stressed with whatever is going on in your life and you are getting lousy or no sleep, you aren’t letting your body have its time to repair and grow.

It used to be cool to get as little sleep as possible and go about your crazy day.

#teamnosleep.  Remember that?

Well, it’s not cool anymore, especially for people like you.

There have even been studies that show more muscle growth when people get better sleep. HERE is the study.  So with that...

Make it a point to try and get a GOOD 7-9 hours every single night.  Closer to 9 hours is best.

Also, make it a priority to know what stresses you out and have relievers in place to combat that. 

Meditate, go on a walk in nature, spend uninterrupted time with your family. 

Find what makes your body relax, and implement it when the stress starts to build.

#4 - A Hardgainer's Workout Program Needs To Send The Right Signal To The Body

Your hardgainer workout program has to be sending the signal to your body to build muscle if you want to see any significant changes.

With the rise of new fitness modalities, from the Orange Theory Fitness to the at home Peleton bike rides, access to a workout is easier than ever.

Any type of workout is going to benefit you and make you a healthier person but the workout has to be sending the right signal to your body. 

When it comes to gaining muscle and getting over your ectomorph genetics, nothing will beat a well programed resistance training routine.

Following a plan where you are phasing in and out of different reps, sets, and exercises will send the signal to your body to gain strength. 

Follow a plan that is designed for hardgainers and takes into account experience level, proper rest, and phases you through different rep ranges so your body doesn't become stagnant.

That’s what I focus on with my online clients.  Their plans are tailored to their experience levels and goals, and the workouts are sending the right signals to their body.

If you didn't get a chance to see the ectomorph weight gain guide linked above, it also shows you a sample workout program for hardgainers.

Check it out here.

#5 - Compound Lifts Are A Hardgainers Best Friend

When it comes to exercise selection, you want to be choosing movements that give you the best bang for your buck.

That’s where compound lifts come into play.

A compound movement is an exercise that works multiple muscles at the same time.

Think about the benefit you would get from doing a heavy squat variation versus doing a seated leg extension.  A squat is requiring you to activate and use muscles all down your legs, back, and core to be able to push yourself back up.

These are the movements you want to be doing.  Remember sending the signal to your body to build muscle?

  Compound movements send that signal.

Some of the best movements to add into your hardgainer workout program will be variations of:

    • Squats
    • Deadlifts
    • Bench Press
    • Overhead Shoulder Press
    • Pull-ups
    • Rows

You must be implementing progressive overload in order to see results as a hardgainer.  This is when you continuously put added stress on your muscles through more weight, more reps, more sets, etc.

#6 - Not Many People Will Understand The Journey You Are On


Whereas most people are looking to lose weight and have to watch what they eat, you are on the other end of the spectrum.

People don’t understand that you face the same insecurities that others do.  I was ashamed and embarrassed of my hardgainer body for a long time, just like how you might feel right now. 

It’s hard to eat a lot of food and gain weight when you are an ectomorph. People may laugh at you for that. 

“I wish I had your body and could eat whatever I want”.  If only I had a dollar for every time I heard that.

It’s ok that people won't understand the journey you are on, as long as you do.  Have your goals, find a community with like minded people, and block out the noise from others if it is bringing you down.

#7 - Gaining Muscle Takes Time So Enjoy The Process

There are amazing weight loss transformations out there that can happen fairly quickly.

Losing 100 pounds in a year is hard, but it’s been done countless times.

Have you ever heard of someone gaining 100 pounds of muscle in a year?

Unfortunately, that’s not possible.

It’s important to understand that this journey takes time.  There will be times where you feel like quitting, your progress has stalled, and you question yourself.

On the other hand, there will be times where the muscle is flying onto your body and you’re getting stronger week in and week out. 

Be in the present and enjoy those moments. There’s no rush.  Build the right habits, get back on track when you fall off, have fun, and you will get results.

hardgainer tips

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is A Hardgainer?

A hardgainer is defined as a male or female who is naturally skinny and has trouble putting on weight.  They have a fast metabolism that allows them to eat a large amount of food with little to no weight gain.

Hardgainer often have long arms and legs and tend to move around a lot which makes them burn more calories than the average person.

Should Hardgainers Lift Heavy?

A hardgainer should be lifting heavy and also do it with perfect form.  Never sacrifice form for a heavier weight.

Use a wide variety of rep ranges between 3 - 5 reps (maximal strength), 6 - 12 reps (muscle hypertrophy), and 12+ reps (muscular endurance).

When picking a weight, always choose a weight that you can have around 1 - 2 reps left in the tank. This means that if you are doing a squat for 10 reps, pick a weight that you can do for 11 or 12 reps.  If you get done with the squat and could have done 20 reps, you're not lifting heavy enough.

Should Hardgainers Workout Everyday?

Hardgainers need rest for their body to recover so they can build muscle.  If you are working out 7 days per week you're never letting your body get the proper recovery it needs.

An ideal hardgainer workout program will be between 3 - 5 days per week to allow for adequate rest and recovery.