Summertime can be tough for lean guys. No, really.
It can be tough because everything in sight is talking about “leaning out” or “losing fat” or getting a “beach body.” And all those things are great. Except that not every body is the same, and neither are everyone’s goals. For some of us who are taller, longer-torsoed and leaner, building and maintaining muscle is a constant process, throughout the year, one that doesn’t have a “cutting phase.”
The summer months make this especially difficult, as hotter temperatures make eating more of a chore, and so do the activities that usually go along with the dog days — it’s tough to plan enough quality calories over the course of a fishing trip, a day on the jet ski, etc. Plus, the increase in heat means your body has to work extra hard just to maintain those calories in the first place.
For these reasons, and because we know not everybody is looking to simply lose weight, we have the Hard Gainer’s Guide to Summer this week — a comprehensive plan of attack for adding muscle size with the proper gym, diet and supplement strategies. We skinny guys can already take our shirts off at the beach and show some abs — we want to build some more muscle to put on display while we’re at it.
First things first: We’ll start with the diet.
EATING FOR HARD GAINERS
If you’re reading this, it more than likely applies to you: Hard gainers are classified as “longer” body types, with typically fast metabolisms, lean frames, smaller joints (narrow wrists and ankles) and narrow waists. Usually, hard gainers are longer-limbed and taller than our stockier gym friends. That’s OK — many find the “lifeguard” body type to be the most desirable. If you fall into this category, where you find that you simply can’t eat enough to ever get fat or, sadly, gain the muscle fast enough, you’re a hard gainer.
The bottom line for you if you want to add muscle is this: YOU MUST EAT. Many hard gainers make the common mistake of undereating because they don’t want to gain body fat, a reasonable concern. However, take into consideration that you are skinny for a reason! You’re blessed with a fast metabolism and the amount of calories will almost never be an issue as long as the quality of calories is premium. If you’re serious about adding muscle, your workouts will be so intense and you’ll gain enough muscle that you won’t gain significant levels of fat, and that just leaves you with the task of using food for building material. Muscle just doesn’t come from thin air — new tissue needs to come from a source. It’s food, in the form of quality proteins, fats and carbs.
Three meals a day ain’t gonna cut it anymore. It’s time to eat with a purpose and a plan. And here is that plan:
4-5 whole eggs, spinach, tomato, piece of fruit (grapefruit, orange, banana, apple, peach, etc.), 1 c milk, 1 c instant oatmeal with 1 Tbsp. peanut butter.
SNACK (2 1/2 hours after breakfast)
Protein shake in milk, peanut butter/banana/honey sandwich on whole wheat bread
LUNCH (3 hours after first snack)
Tuna* or chicken sandwich on whole wheat bread, sliced apples with peanut butter, greens salad with balsamic vinaigrette.
SNACK (2 1/2 hours after lunch)
Two string cheeses, handful of almonds, banana.
1 serving meat (lean beef — filet mignon, loin steak, etc. — salmon, tilapia, shrimp, ahi*, etc.), 1 leafy/green vegetable (broccoli, spinach), 1/2 C brown rice or whole wheat pasta OR a sweet potato/yam. Avoid white potatoes.
1/2 C cottage cheese, 1 slice whole wheat toast with peanut butter.
*Because of potentially high mercury levels in fish, do not eat tuna more than 3-4 times per week.
There obviously is some wiggle room for variety, which is the way you want it, but the important thing is to notice the approximate ratios of proteins, carbs and healthy fats with each meal and emulate it as closely as possible.
TRAINING FOR HARD GAINERS
Next, it’s time to come up with a plan to put all that fuel to use. The goal every time you hit the gym should be hypertrophy — the increase in muscle volume. To achieve this on a lean frame, you won’t be able to simply use a generic workout plan. Like all lanky guys experience when we clothes shop, you need something a bit more custom-fitted, tailored to you. Forget three sets of 10. We need to reach deep muscle fibers, building the slow-twitch ones larger and the fast-twitch ones stronger. To do that, we’ve set up this workout plan that will not only add size, strength and endurance of strength, but will provide just enough of a calorie burn to ensure that you’re not storing up fat.
Follow this plan for 4-6 weeks (in four weeks, we will have the second stage of this plan), and DO NOT cheat yourself — make every workout, do every set and get every rep. Anything less than full effort is a failure! It is a four-day split, with three rest days, ample time to get both physical and mental rest before you’re back in the gym, so there are no “burnout” excuses here.
MONDAY (Chest and Back)
5 Supersets: Wide-grip pull-ups (failure)/barbell bench press (x12). Clear the bar with your chin and lower yourself all the way down; likewise, on bench, pull the bar down to your chest and, without bouncing it, drive it back up. Perfect form is the biggest key.
5 Supersets: T-bar rows (x12)/dumbbell incline press (x12).
5 Supersets: Seated cable rows (x12)/dumbbell flys (x12).
5 Supersets: Wide-stance squats (x12)/narrow-stance leg press (x12). On the leg press, keeping your feet close together, toes pointed straight forward, will target the upper leg’s outer sweep more, while a wider squat with the toes pointed slightly outward allows for a deeper, more engaging movement.
5 Supersets: Romanian deadlifts (x12)/wall sits (x15 seconds).
5 Supersets: Hamstring curls (x12)/seated calf raises (x20).
3 Supersets: Hanging leg raises (x8)/decline crunches (x10)/planks (x30 seconds).
5 Trisets: EZ Bar Curls (x6)/French triceps press (x12)/Reverse-grip cursl (x6)
3 Supersets: Weighted dips (to failure)/preacher curl machine (x25)
3 Trisets: Hammer curls (x10 per arm)/V-bar cable pushdowns (x20)/incline dumbbell curls (x10 per arm)
THURSDAY (Shoulders and Abs)
4 Supersets: Arnold Presses (x12)/Upright rows (x12)
Standing overhead press: 4×12
5 Supersets: Lateral raises (x15)/front raises (x15)
3 Trisets: Hanging leg raises (x10)/decline crunches (x12)/planks (x30 seconds)
SUPPLEMENTS FOR HARD GAINERS
If you’re a hard gainer, we can assume a few things about you: 1) You need a lot of calories, 2) your existing muscle mass is difficult to maintain and 3) your body naturally isn’t inclined to grow much more. None of these are complete roadblocks; rather, they’re just small speed bumps you can get over with some help. Now, we can address the first issue with the diet plan we’ve put in place, but really, you’ll need more. The supplement plan that works best for hard gainers is one that addresses the need for a calorie surplus, muscle recovery and rebuilding and even hormonal issues that aren’t as uncommon as you might think.
Absolutely, if you’re a hard gainer trying to build muscle fast, we recommend:
- High-quality gainer shake. GAINER7, MASS COMPLEX or MASS FUZION are all effective at delivering quality calories in a hurry post-workout.
- BCAAs. Around the clock, your body needs amino acids to prevent catabolism, where the body feeds on muscle storage for energy. Go with BCAA SPORT or IBCAA by Katalyst.
- Creatine. Abundantly researched and shown to increase muscle volume and strength, there is no reason to pick a low-quality version anymore — it’s mostly a very affordable supplement. Kre-Alkalyn is a buffered form of creatine that ensures nearly 100 percent of this product goes to the muscles and doesn’t get converted into useless creatinin. N’FUZE and KRE-ALKALYN COMPLEX by VitaSport are great options.
- Pro-testosterone products. Hard gainers are, well, hard-wired to simply not produce much muscle mass. This can be changed with more natural testosterone production. As many lean guys can attest, during puberty there was one massive growth spike where we got taller and filled out (at least as much as we were going to). Natural testosterone, which caused that spike, decreases dramatically as men get older, leading to increases in body fat and decreases in muscle mass. We simply can’t afford that! ANITEST, ARABOL, AUGMENT, 1-XD and HGH-191 are outstanding options to get your body back to growing, the natural way.
- Pre-workout products. A supplement that increases your body’s nitric oxide production is a supplement that will flat-out increase your workout quality, and the stronger you feel and the more endurance you have, the better your results will be. Imagine how much benefit you’d get from just two last reps at the end of a set, or from using a heavier weight. Pre-workout products like N’SANE, NOX-P3, ANX-P3, and THERMOVEX deliver more energy, both of mind and body, for the most high-quality workouts you can get. Plus, the increased blood flow means your other supplements are working more efficiently. Remember, to gain muscle as a skinny guy you’ll need to be working with heavy weights, and doing a lot of reps. Focus and energy are absolute MUSTS.
OTHER TIPS FOR HARD GAINERS
- Stay hydrated. Shoot for at least a gallon of clean, cold water a day. It will take the stress off your body in the summer heat, allowing it to concentrate on the ultimate mission you’re giving it: to build muscle! Plus, with the increased calorie intake and supplements, your liver and kidneys will thank you for keeping the system hydrated. On top of this all, it helps digestion, helps keep the body’s tissues healthy and ensures a flushed system that won’t bloat the body.
- ALWAYS have snacks on hand. If you’re stuck in an office, running errands, or going on a trip, be prepared. Don’t let a lack of nearby food sidetrack your mission. Bring along jerky, string cheeses, fruit, trail mix, a shaker cup and Ziploc full of PRO7, whatever — just have food handy. You HAVE to eat. Don’t put yourself in a position where you’ll miss healthy meals — it’s nearly as bad as missing a workout.
- Pre-cook. Most guys who need to eat a lot suffer the pitfall of being unprepared, especially if they live busy lives. Well, most of us have a least one day a week off — use that day to prepare for all seven. Cook up a week’s worth of chicken breasts and put it all in tupperware for salads, to mix in with pasta or beans, or even just to eat alone as a snack. Do the same with broccoli or squash, or even sweet potatoes and pasta. My fridge looks like I’m storing rations in preparation for a natural disaster — in a way, that’s exactly what I’m doing!
- ALWAYS eat a complete breakfast. You are most susceptible to muscle-wasting at the only time you can’t do anything about caloric intake — while you sleep. Do not let it continue when you wake up! Even if it means waking up 30 minutes early to account for the time to make breakfast, you have to eat this meal.