These eating tips will help you to capitalise on the hard work you do in the gym to gain lean muscle.
Nutrition is vital to building muscle. If you don’t eat enough to grow, all the training in the world won’t make a difference. Think of it this way, training creates the potential for muscle gain. Your diet dictates if you achieve that potential.
So, here are my 6 top tips that I have used time and again myself and with clients to gain 20, 30, 40, even 50 pounds of muscle.
1. Ditch the pre-workout:
Most pre-workouts are just a bunch of overpriced stimulants designed to give you a bit of a buzz to trick you into thinking they are doing something magical for you.
These stimulants drive cortisol (a stress hormone) up. That’s ok for regular guys as it can help training performance, but most hardgainers tend to stress and overthink their life 24/7 meaning they have chronically high cortisol levels. That is not good!
Cortisol is a catabolic hormone. It’s almost like the body’s in-built alarm system. The best example of it in action is the “fight or flight” instinct. Short-term rapid increases in cortisol due to a specific stressful event are perfectly normal. Long-term high levels are not. Too much cortisol for too long can actually cause you to gain fat and lose muscle. This is not something anyone wants but, for a hardgainer it can be catastrophic!
So, stop aggravating the issue by slamming pre-workout supps.
2. Increase Variety Instead of Eating More of The Same
Many skinny guys think that a diet of eggs, chicken, rice, and broccoli is what is needed to build muscle. No wonder they don’t make any progress!
Those foods are all great and can have a place in a muscle building diet but, trying to get big only eating them is mission impossible.
You see the most important thing to gaining weight is eating enough to grow. This is known as a calorie surplus. To gain weight you need a calorie surplus (aka eating more calories than you burn). If you do not consume enough total calories then you will not gain weight.
There are no magical muscle building foods!
Trying to eat a very limited menu of foods means you get palette fatigue. Basically, you stop eating because you are bored of the same tastes and textures of the limited selection of foods you allow yourself.
Instead, increase the variety of foods you have. This will make it easier to cram in the calories needed to grow.
Think of it this way, at the end of a plate of chicken, rice and broccoli if I offered you more of the same would you want it? Nope, of course not! Now, say I offered you some ice cream, or a PB&J bagel could you keep eating? Almost certainly!
Use this to your advantage. Add spices, sauces, dressings to meals. When you struggle to hit your total calorie needs, include some super tasty food to get you across the line. Treat yourself to some “junk” from time to time. As I said at the outset, total calories are the most important thing so you have to find ways to meet your calorie needs consistently.
3. Learn to Cook
This one really doesn’t need much explanation. If your meal-prep skills extend to opening a tin and emptying it on to the plate or switching a microwave on then, you will benefit from learning some basic cooking skills.
The ability to cook tasty meals will dramatically increase the amount of food you can stomach.
4. Pick Easy to Digest Foods
Another one that doesn’t really need much explanation.
In my experience, most hardgainers suffer with poor digestion. Many supposedly healthy foods seem to cause bloating, gas, reflux for the typical hardgainer. Common culprits I have seen are cruciferous vegetables, whole grains, and beans.
If you have noticed certain foods don’t sit well with you then, I’d suggest choosing foods that are easier to digest. This will allow you to get the nutrients you need in and keep your motivation to eat large quantities up. It’s hard to keep power-shoving food in when you feel like crap all the time.
Foods, I have found to be calorie and nutrient dense, and easy to digest are:
Rice cakes (especially when covered in chocolate)
5. Drink Your Calories
When you can’t face more food, drinking your calories can be a life-saver for the hardgainer. I make what I call anabolic super-shakes. I use these to keep my intake topped up. There are two key strategies I use with my super-shakes:
- Eating first and drinking second
- Nutrient Timing
A bit like the point I made about palette fatigue earlier, if faced with more of the same food you will struggle to keep chowing down. By eating a meal and then following it with liquid calories you can keep the muscle building nutrition you need flowing. You almost always have space for a drink even if you can’t face another mouthful of food. Try blending a scoop of protein powder, 1 banana, and a tablespoon of nut butter in some almond milk and having that after meals as a muscle building chaser.
From the nutrient timing perspective, I mean getting nutrients in at times you might otherwise lack the appetite for food. Most commonly there are three key times hardgainers struggle to eat.
- In the morning. If you are anything like me you enjoy a good breakfast but, very often just don’t have an appetite when you wake up. Other people struggle for time in the morning and can’t bring themselves to wake up earlier to make breakfast. Having a super-shake at this time is a time-efficient, tasty, and convenient way to get 5, 6, 7 or even 800+ calories and a good hit of protein without affecting your appetite.
- Post-workout. Often after training the hardgainer can find their appetite suppressed for a few hours. In this case, getting a shake in makes a lot of sense
- Pre-bed. I find that many hardgainers get to dinner with loads of calories still to spare. Even with a massive dinner they still haven’t satisfied their needs for the day. As a result, an easy to digest, protein rich snack pre-bed is needed. A super-shake can be just the ticket in this situation.
6. Plan & Prep
Make your meal-prep part of your weekly schedule. Assign an hour twice per week for it. I suggest Sunday and Wednesday evenings. In an hour of meal prep you should be able to knock up at least 6 meals of food to stick in the fridge and eat over the coming days.
If you know you are prepping on a Sunday night you know you need to go grocery shopping earlier that day or on Saturday to have a fully stocked kitchen.
Schedule grocery shopping and meal-prepping in your diary like workouts. They are that important to your muscle building potential! Give them the priority level they require.