Dear Mark: Hardgainer

Dear Mark,

I am 6 feet 2 inches tall. I have been eating and exercising in the “evolutionary” or “primal fitness” way for about 18 months, and I was in good physical condition prior to that. I have been lifting weights for years. I am fit and active with a low percentage body fat. My stomach is flat. You can tell that I have abdominal muscles. But here is my hang up: I can’t seem to pack on any extra muscle. I weigh in at 150 pounds. I am the ultimate hardgainer, as they say in the iron game. I’m not looking to become huge. I have a lanky, Jimmy Stewart kind of frame, and no amount of training will turn me into Arnold. But what the heck does a guy have to do to gain a lousy 5-10 pounds of muscle? — Ed

First off, keep doing what you are doing. You’re building the most important base, namely that of health and strength. Eating and training like you are, your body is able to find and develop its perfect, natural design. Ultimately, if you have low body fat, good strong muscles and lots of energy, the most important ratio is power-to-weight.

Your goal of adding a few more pounds of muscle seems doable with intensive effort. Most hardgainers can add 10-20 pounds of muscle with some work. Beyond that it gets increasingly difficult to gain and/or maintain.

Since I don’t know the specifics of your diet and lifting routine, I’ll offer some general pointers here. In terms of diet, extra protein is critical. I’d recommend at least 1 gram of protein per pound of lean mass per day. If you’re older than 50, check out the Mature Muscle post from last month. In it, we mentioned research suggesting that a high protein post-workout snack was especially important for the more seasoned crowd and that high protein food might be a more effective source for the snack than a protein supplement.

I would also suggest including more healthy fats in your diet. We mentioned in the same post that fish oil, which I always recommend for various reasons, can enhance the conversion process of food protein to muscle protein. That suggestion holds for anyone.

In terms of your workout, you can always see a good trainer to ensure you’ve perfected your form. Otherwise, I don’t see any way around the necessity of lifting harder to get the results you want. I’d specifically recommend CrossFit” style work for you. That means compound movements using larger muscles, which generates human growth hormone immediately post-workout. Again, a trainer who is experienced in CrossFit can offer tips and help you take things to the next level.

On that same note of human growth hormone, it’s essential to get enough sleep. HGH is secreted during sleep, and building takes place during good old shut eye as well.

Good luck, Ed, and let me know how it goes.

Telstar Logistics Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

How much protein should I be consuming?

More of My Personalized Advice

Eating Fabulous: Fish and fish oil supplements equally effective sources of omega-3s

The IF Life: Building Muscle 101

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About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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