- Muscle growth, or hypertrophy, requires a caloric surplus. Therefore, you must take in more calories than you burn to build mass and gain weight.
- Nutrition, training, and recovery are equally important when it comes to building muscle. You need a diet that fuels your gains, a training plan that promotes muscle growth, and adequate rest to recover from training and keep your hormones in balance.
- Traditional bulking doesn’t take calories, macros, and food quality into consideration. Because of this, it can lead to fat gain, affect your health, and make it harder to get leaner later on.
- One way to maximize your gains and keep body fat to a minimum is to go on a clean bulk. This approach involves getting your calories from nutrient-dense foods.
- Certain supplements, such as creatine, protein, testosterone boosters, and mass gainers, can make it easier to gain muscle when bulking up.
Wondering how to gain weight and pack on mass? Struggling to build a carved physique with big arms, huge pecs and ripped abs? We have some good news and bad news.
The good news is that if you’re new to weight training and bodybuilding, you’ll find easy to build mass. The same goes for mesomorphs and those with good genes. Some folks are naturally muscular and can pack on the pounds quickly.
Unfortunately, things are not as easy for ectomorphs aka hardgainers. We all have that one friend who can eat everything in sight without gaining a pound.
If you fall into this category, it could take you months to gain just a few pounds.
But that doesn’t mean you should give up. With the right diet and training plan, you can build a decent physique and get past your skinny-kid genes.
Today we’ll go beyond the usual “just eat more” guidance and show you how to gain weight fast, regardless of your body type. These proven lifestyle, workout, and dietary changes will help you get bigger and stronger while keeping fat gains to a minimum.
Let’s dive in!
What Is a Hardgainer?
First things first, make sure you know what a hardgainer is and whether it applies to you. The thing is, if you’re the skinny type, you must use a different approach to gain weight than an endomorph or mesomorph.
Ectomorphs, or hardgainers, tend to have a faster metabolism than other body types. This allows them to stay lean effortlessly, but it can also hamper their gains.
Another drawback is that their metabolism slows down over the years. As a result, they gain fat and lose muscle. The only way to avoid these issues is to be consistent with your diet and training routine.
Physical Characteristics of an Ectomorph
So how can you know whether or not you’re an ectomorph? Well, there are some telltale signs to watch out for. This body type has specific characteristics, such as:
- Long arms and limbs
- Small joints
- Low body fat
- Narrow hips
- Lean mass
- Small shoulders
- Delicate frame and bone structure
- Difficulty gaining weight and building muscle
Mesomorphs, on the other hand, are naturally athletic and have well-defined muscles. They gain mass and fat easily, so they need to constantly watch their calorie intake.
Endomorphs, by contrast, tend to have a soft, round body and find it hard to lose fat. Their metabolism is slow, which increases their risk of weight gain and obesity. For this reason, their workout routine should include both cardio and weight training.
As mentioned earlier, ectomorphs have a hard time gaining weight. Yet, they can be skinny fat.
Let’s say you eat a ton of carbs and barely work out. Even if you don’t gain weight, your body fat levels might be higher than those of a bigger guy who eats clean and hits the gym regularly.
And this brings us to the next point.
Whether you want to bulk up or lose fat, clean eating is paramount. If you’re trying to pack on mass, your best bet is to lift heavy and go on a clean bulk. This way, you’ll build size and strength while minimizing fat gain.
What’s Clean Bulking All About?
As you probably know, hypertrophy requires a caloric surplus.
Basically, you must take in more calories than you burn. Fat loss, on the other hand, requires a caloric deficit, so your energy intake needs to be lower than your energy expenditure.
When you’re saying that you want to gain weight, what you actually mean is that you want to build mass. Those big guys you see in bodybuilding magazines have a lot of muscle, not fat.
But there’s a catch. The moment you start to eat more (without burning the extra calories), you’ll gain muscle and fat.
That’s why athletes go through periods of bulking and cutting. They bulk up to gain size and strength and then they cut calories to get leaner. Each period can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.
According to the Mayo Clinic and other health experts, 1 pound equals about 3,500 calories. While this isn’t an exact science, it should give you a rough estimate of the calories needed to lose or gain weight.
If you’re trying to gain 20 pounds, you should take in an extra 70,000 calories. But it’s one thing to gain 20 pounds of muscle and another thing to gain 20 pounds of fat.
What you eat is just as important as how much you eat.
A better way to maximize muscle growth and minimize fat gain is to go on a clean bulk. This approach requires you to do just two things:
- Watch your energy intake
- Prioritize nutritious foods
You see, not all calories are created equal. A 5,000-calorie meal plan based on junk food will affect your metabolism and body composition differently than one consisting of steak, raw nuts, brown rice, and other nutrient-foods.
Why Traditional Bulking Doesn’t Work
Traditional bulking has a bad rap — and for good reason. If you feel comfortable looking like the Michelin Man, go for it. If not, there are more efficient ways to bulk up and build mass.
This method focuses solely on the number of calories ingested. Many folks don’t even track their calorie intake — they just try to eat as much as possible to pack on pounds.
If you want a lean yet muscular physique, try to slowly gain weight over several months. This way, you’ll have more control over your weight and find it easier to shed fat later on.
With traditional bulking, your body fat levels rise quickly, which in turn, affects insulin sensitivity and hormone production. Your estrogen levels go up, while your testosterone levels decrease.
These hormonal changes promote muscle loss and fat storage.
To put it simply, bulking increases body fat levels, messing up your hormones. This further contributes to weight gain, slows muscle growth, and makes it harder to torch fat after bulking.
Another problem with this approach is that it doesn’t take food quality into consideration. Your muscles need quality protein, carbs, healthy fats, and micronutrients to grow and become stronger.
Food Quality Matters
Junk food, cookies, pastries, fries, and other processed foods have little or no nutritional value. They’re loaded with sugar, sodium, and trans fats and only contain small amounts of protein, fiber, and micronutrients.
A 3.5-ounce serving of chicken nuggets, for example, provides the following:
- 326 calories
- 16.5 grams of protein
- 14.3 grams of carbs
- 22.6 grams of fat
- 6% of the DV of zinc
- 5% of the DV (daily value) of magnesium
- 30% of the DV of sodium
- 14% of the DV of vitamin B12
The same amount of roasted chicken breast isn’t just lower in calories but also more nutritious, offering:
- 165 calories
- 31 grams of protein
- 3.6 grams of fat
- 7% of the DV of magnesium
- 9% of the DV of zinc
- 3% of the DV of sodium
- 14% of the DV of vitamin B12
As you can see, roasted chicken breast has half the calories and twice the protein in chicken nuggets. On top of that, it’s 10 times lower in sodium and has no carbs.
Although weight gain requires a caloric surplus, your macros matter too. That means you need optimum amounts of protein, carbs, and fats to build mass and strength.
Maintain a high protein intake is particularly important, whether you’re bulking or cutting.
High Protein Intake
This macronutrient helps your body build new cells, repair damaged tissues, and recover from training.
Under certain circumstances (such as when you’re on a low-carb or ketogenic diet), protein can be used as a source of energy for muscle contractions and daily activities.
If your diet consists largely of junk food, you’ll have a hard time meeting your macronutrient needs. This can hamper muscle growth and affect your overall health.
Processed foods, such as fries, chicken nuggets, pizza, and breakfast cereals, have been linked to obesity, elevated cholesterol, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, and cardiac events, according to a 2018 review in Current Obesity Reports.
Another research paper, which was published in the journal Nutrients, has found that eating four or more servings of processed foods per day may increase the risk of death from all causes by a whopping 62 percent.
Furthermore, these products contain additives and other chemicals that may lead to cancer, as reported by the BMJ.
While traditional bulking may help you gain a few pounds of muscle, getting fat in the process isn’t healthy or necessary.
How to Gain Weight on a Clean Bulk
Clean bulking isn’t as simple as cutting the junk. You also need to make smart food choices and get the most out of your calories.
Although it’s not necessary to count calories and macros, it doesn’t hurt to keep track of what you eat. Increase your calories gradually and set a daily limit.
For example, if you want to gain 20 pounds, consume an extra 700 calories per day.
This way, you should be able to reach your goal within three months or so. Get those calories from nutrient-dense foods that provide your body with the energy needed to function at its peak.
Fill up on protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats. Protein and carbs supply 4 calories per gram, while dietary fat has 9 calories per gram.
By tracking your calories and macros, you’ll find it easier to measure your progress and adjust your diet along the way. It may seem difficult at first, but it becomes second nature once you get used to it.
Note that you’ll most likely gain some fat when bulking, regardless of how clean you eat. That’s perfectly normal. The best approach is to eat enough calories to build mass but without getting sloppy.
As a rule of thumb, aim for 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight daily. If you find it hard to do that, add protein shakes to the mix.
Vintage Brawn™, our signature formula, delivers 100 calories and 24 grams of protein per serving. Plus, it provides 34% of the daily recommended calcium intake and contains no GMOs, gluten, or artificial colors.
The protein comes from three different sources — eggs, beef, and milk — to fuel your muscles over several hours and speed up post-workout recovery.
Food List for Clean Bulking Faster Gains
So what can you eat on a clean bulk? The key is to focus on nutrient-dense foods.
Keep this clean bulking food list at hand the next time you go shopping:
- Nuts and seeds
- Peanut or almond butter
- Lean turkey
- Lean beef
- Lean jerky
- Chicken breast
- Cottage cheese
- Greek yogurt
- Tuna, salmon, mackerel, and other fatty fish
- Oysters and other seafood
- Whole grains
- Whole-grain bread
- Skim milk
- Brown, black, or wild rice
- Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.)
- Sweet potatoes
- Whole pasta
- Citrus fruits
- Olive oil
Dry roasted almonds, for example, provide 170 calories, 6 grams of protein, 15 grams of fat, and 6 grams of carbs, including 3.1 grams of fiber per serving (1 ounce).
They’re also rich in magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron, zinc, and B-complex vitamins. Use them as one of your primary sources of fat.
Oatmeal, on the other hand, is a great source of carbs and fiber. Each cup delivers 166 calories, 6 grams of protein, 3.6 grams of fat, and 28.1 grams of carbs, including 4 grams of fiber.
You’ll also get 21% of the daily recommended intake of zinc, 15% of the daily recommended magnesium intake, and 12% of the daily recommended allowance of iron.
Lean meat, fish, eggs, and low-fat dairy are all rich in protein.
All in all, clean bulking has pretty much the same rules as clean eating. The difference is that you’ll eat more than usual.
Try delicious, healthy meals like:
- High-protein waffles
- Chicken and sweet potato bowls
- Mushroom and spinach quiche
- Turkey quinoa salad
- Salmon sushi bowl
- Braised chicken with roasted potatoes
- Beef and veggie skewers
- Beef and veggie skewers
- Pork tenderloin with black rice
- Baked salmon with grilled asparagus
- Oatmeal banana pancakes
- Baked granola bars
- Peanut butter fudge
- Cottage cheese brownies
Are Cheat Meals Allowed on a Clean Bulk?
Bodybuilders and other athletes resort to “cheat meals” to prevent boredom and keep their metabolism up. This strategy is perfectly fine as long as you don’t overdo it.
A weekly cheat meal is unlikely to derail your diet. However, you still need to watch your calories.
If you know that you’ll go overboard, “save” calories earlier in the day.
For example, eat nothing but protein before dinner if you’re planning to hit your favorite restaurant.
Speaking of restaurants and dining out — beware that most restaurant dishes are higher in calories than their homemade versions.
According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, excess calories from meals consumed away from home contribute to the obesity epidemic.
After evaluating several restaurants, scientists concluded that 92% of meals exceeded the energy requirements for a single eating occasion.
The dishes served in Italian, Chinese, and American restaurants were the highest in calories (close to 1,500 calories per meal!).
Be Smart about Supplements
Like everything else, bulking comes with its challenges.
On one hand, you need to track your calories and macros, which can be difficult for those with a busy schedule. On the other hand, you may find it difficult to eat more.
That’s where mass gainers come in handy.
These sports supplements are high in carbs and protein, making it easier to get more calories in your diet. Some brands boast up to 1,500 calories per serving.
However, we’re not saying that mass gainers are the best choice. Ideally, your calories should come from real food.
Plus, many of these supplements contain additives, preservatives, and other fillers that can affect your health in the long run.
Although they’re high in protein, large doses of this nutrient cannot be fully absorbed and used by your body.
The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends consuming 0.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per meal across four or more meals to maximize anabolism.
In clinical trials, muscle protein synthesis was greatest in subjects who consumed 4 servings of 20 grams of protein. Higher doses had no additional benefits.
Weight gainers aren’t the worst option, but there are better supplements available.
For example, you may use creatine or make a healthy mass gainer at home. Simply mix protein powder with a tablespoon of dextrose or add raw honey or peanut butter to protein shakes.
Another option is to try our stack for hardgainers, which includes:
- Vintage Blast™, our energy-boosting pre-workout formula
- Vintage Build™, our post-workout recovery formula and muscle builder
- Vintage Boost™, a quality testosterone booster to balance your muscle-building hormones
For best results, use Old School Labs’ Hardgainers Stack along with Vintage Brawn™, our muscle-building protein blend.
Make Lasting Lifestyle Changes to Build and Preserve Lean Mass
Now that you know how to gain weight, take the steps needed to change your diet.
Remember, your training plan and lifestyle habits matter too. Heavy lifting, for instance, increases overall strength and boosts your T levels, leading to muscle growth.
Adequate recovery is just as important. If you’re skimping on sleep, your body won’t be able to build and maintain mass.
Once you’ve reached the desired weight, find a way to preserve your gains.
Cut calories gradually to lose fat, track your progress, and keep eating clean. Follow the five rules of workout nutrition to improve your physique and get the most out of your diet.
What’s your strategy for gaining weight? What are the biggest challenges you’re facing when bulking up? Share your story below!