Our genes make us special. Just as some of us have brown eyes and others blue eyes, some people are naturally predisposed to gain muscle mass easily while others may have to use all kinds of tricks to achieve the same results.
In bodybuilding, we usually call such people “hardgainers” but they can almost always be described as ectomorphs (read more on body types here).
An ectomorph is naturally skinny, although men can develop a round belly after 30 or 35 years of age. Ectomorphs have thin, delicate bones: the common test is to circle your left wrist by the thumb and middle finger of your right hand. If you can do it, you are almost always an ectomorph.
Energy loss through futile cycling
Futile cycle (also called substrate cycle) is a process in which two metabolic pathways run simultaneously in opposite directions. Typically, glucose is converted to pyruvate by glycolysis and pyruvate is converted to glucose by gluconeogenesis.
The net result is energy loss in the form of heat. Naturally thin people tend to lose much of their energy through futile cycles and therefore need to ingest more food in order to gain weight.
As a rule, ectomorphs tend to be nervous and psychologically less stable than average persons. Higher levels of catecholamine hormones, especially epinephrine (adrenaline) are associated with catabolism that can be actually quite significant if the increased catecholamine levels are a long-term situation.
Motivation and bodybuildingSome people think that they must defeat their naughty genes by training more. This is completely wrong. As a hardgainer, you actually have to train LESS. Why? Because your fragile body is simply not made for heavy training. Your training sessions must be shorter and you must take extra caution to prevent joint injuries (unfortunately, your joints are also weaker and smaller than those of an average person).
Eliminate all exercises that put much strain on your shoulders, knees and wrists. It means that sooner or later, you may have serious problems doing bench press. I know it’s extremely painful to avoid such beautiful and basic exercise. But please trust me – it’s not for you. Bench press is an exercise with fixed grip-width. You need something that respects the natural path of the hand – namely dumbbell press.
There are several other exercises you should avoid – read about them here.
You should spend about 45 minutes in the gym. More training will only lead to muscle loss. Never combine aerobic and anaerobic exercise (if your training aim is muscle growth). Do less cardio that most people, ideally once or twice a week.
Avoid very heavy loads. You can successfully train with 50% - 75% of 1RM if you follow the correct training techniques. Lift the load slowly (3 to 5 seconds) and release it slowly (also 3 to 5 seconds). This way you will exhaust your muscles even with lower weight which will lead to good increases in lean muscle mass.
Eat a lot but do not exaggerate. You can’t get huge overnight. Gradually increase your food intake to the point that it doesn’t make you sick. If you add 1 or 2 meals to your normal food intake, increase the size of every meal and make sure to eat about 50% proteins you will start gaining muscle mass without problem.
You don’t need to avoid high-starch foods unless you have problem with visceral fat (as I already said, this is not uncommon after you reach certain age).
Being ectomorph often means (among other things) that your metabolism is much faster than that of an average person. Metabolic rate is easily measurable and you can ask your doctor (or a specialized medical practitioner) to measure it for you. Many ectomorphs who do not engage in any sport have metabolic rate equal to that of top athletes.
This means they simply need higher caloric intake to gain weight.
Hardgainers need supplements more than other bodybuilders. Protein powders and creatine are very useful but the use of “gainers” is very controversial.
Many “gainers” are based on simple sugars. Theoretically they contain huge amounts of calories but those calories are often not available for metabolism or are turned into fat deposits.
Carbohydrates can play important role when mixed with proteins in correct ratio. However, soothing the excited, catabolic state of mind can prove more important in many ectomorphs than supplementation by sugars.
Using nerve-soothing supplements can help a lot, although it’s necessary to make sure they do not inhibit or limit testosterone production (many herbal extracts do).
Adaptogens like Siberian Ginseng can help. Magnesium supplementation sometimes does wonders for ectomorphs.
Enzymes can help digesting your food better and you will also use less energy for digestion – it can be instead stored in form of muscle-proteins. Some protein powders contain proteolytic enzymes for better digestion.
Basic rules for hardgainers
-Never skip meals. 4-5 large meals a day are a must.
-Do not overtrain. The ideal training length for you is 45 minutes or about 15 sets.
-Take care of your over-excited mind and nerves.
-Stimulate the appetite by B12 supplementation.
-Avoid caffeine and other stimulants.