08 Feb Increasing calorie intake for hardgainers
Diet is as equally important as the quality of the workouts themselves when building muscle. A poor diet will void all the hard efforts made at the gym. It’s crucially important for hardgainers to be eating enough to sustain muscle growth on-top of an already high metabolism. Although this may seem overwhelming to a beginner, it is manageable.
You need to consume more calories than you burn, and have enough to sustain muscle growth. This will take some trial and error to get right, but it’s vitally important that you do. If you want to add mass to your body you need to have a surplus of calories. Put simply, you need to eat more food than your body is burning. 1 Not consuming enough calories puts your body into a calorie deficit which will hinder your body’s ability to create muscle proteins. 2
Likewise you don’t need to eat too many calories that you end up putting on fat as well. Eating 10 to 15% more calories than you burn every day primes your body for muscle gain just as much as eating 30% more. 2
Eating 10 to 15% more calories than you burn every day primes your body for muscle gain
Before beginning it’s helpful to know where you stand at the moment. Start logging your food for a week to see what sort of foods you normally would eat day-to-day, what the macro-nutrient breakdowns are of these foods, and how many calories. You can use an app like MyFitnessPal to track each meal, and get an understanding of what your diet looks like. You may be surprised to discover that your daily intake is nothing like you probably expect. With this new information you should be able to start planning how you’re going to change your diet to accommodate for the meals you need to be eating.
You can calculate from your weight an approximate number of calories to be eating per day. Our programmes start from 18 calories per pound of body weight (e.g. someone weighing 140 lbs would be needing around 2,520 calories per day). This amount will vary from person to person, but it’s a good starting point for a beginner.
Getting to this amount may be a challenge if you’re significantly under, but you can do it. First look at the number of meals you are already eating and what foods they contain. Can you swap any of those foods for something with more calories? Or could you look at increasing the size of that meal by an extra 100 calories? For example you could add an extra 72g of brown rice to a meal, which may not be that difficult to achieve. You can also look at the sauces you’re including as a way of adding in extra calories.
The other option is to break your meals down so you have smaller meals but less often. 2,520 calories over three meals is an average of 840 calories per meal, which may be hard to manage if you’re not used to it. However if you split this between four meals it comes down to 630 calories per meal, which could be more manageable. Our programmes split the daily calories between six meals which works out at an average of 420 calories per meal for this example. Obviously time restraints may prevent the amount of meals you can have, but look at your schedule and see if adding in more meals could be an option to increase your daily calorie intake.
If you find it to be a struggle to increase the calories all at once then make gradual increases over the first week instead. If your goal is to add an extra 500 calories to your daily intake, then rather than do it in one go try and split it over a week and make smaller increases each day so your body can adjust to it. Increasing by 72 calories every day will probably be easier on your body to manage than taking a 500 calorie increase in one day.
If you find it to be a struggle to increase the calories all at once then make gradual increases over the first week instead
Once you have got used to eating the amount of food you need, you should start monitoring it for a couple of weeks. Plan your meals out for the week, bulk cooking will help ensure you have meals prepped and ready for when you need them. Make sure you are eating the calories you need to, and following a workout programme that encourages progressive overloading. If you are doing all this, you should hopefully be noticing a gain in weight. If you are not, then you most probably are not eating enough calories still. In which case increase your daily intake by 200 calories and track again for another couple of weeks. Keep repeating this until you hit enough calories to start noticing weight gain.
This is why recording and experimenting with your diet is important to understand where you are going right and what areas need improving. If you’re attempting to do this blind (without tracking your calorie intake and what you’re eating) you will probably end up with results you weren’t hoping for.
Eating the right foods, and getting enough of them can be a challenge for hardgainers, but it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Work out how much extra you need to be eating, how you can split that into your day (and split your meals if needed), and try to increase your calorie intake daily until you reach your goal.