Bulking can be difficult for individuals with high metabolisms. While some people may wish they had this issue, hardgainers often find themselves stuffing their face with calories, feeling full, and frustrated; as nothing seems to nudge the bodyweight upwards more than a few pounds.
As a hardgainer myself, I wanted to share some advice and tips on how to gain mass and muscle in a sustainable way. I want to really hone in on advanced bulking techniques to help intermediate and advanced lifters who are not beginners reap many of the same muscle building highs as they did when they first started lifting.
My 8 tips for bulking with a fast metabolism are:
Increase Liquid Calories
Increase Meal Frequency
Decrease Non-Lifting Caloric Expenditure
Progressively Eat More Every Week
Bulk for Longer Periods of Time
Might Have to Eat Less Clean at Times
Be Patient and Consistent
Supplement with Protein Shakes and Carb Powders
Let’s discuss these concepts further!
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Bulking for Hardgainers 101
Before we fully dive in, I want to make sure that you understand how to properly set your macros and build a diet plan that works for you.
Without this strong foundation and understanding of how bulks work and how you as a hard gainer will need to combat common bulk pitfalls differently than non-hard gainers, you will not succeed as best as you could.
Therefore, be sure to brush up on articles below:
Why Can’t You Gain Weight?
The answer to this question is not a straightforward answer, as it comes down to a few variables that are highly dependent on your behaviors.
At the end of the day, to gain muscle mass and weight during a bulk, you need to be in a calorie surplus, which means you need to be consuming more calories than you expend. How many more calories is highly variable depends on the individual, which is why it can be frustrating and time-consuming to find something that works.
For best results, review the tips below and learn to master them.
Odds are you are off on a few of them, and the sooner you fix that the easier it will be to gain mass and weight.
Additionally, it is important to remember that as a hard gainer, gaining weight will be hard. It is easy to get discouraged, but just realize it can be done.
Related Article: Bulking After A Long Cut: 8 Tips For A Successful Bulk
8 Tips to Help Hardgainers Bulk with a Fast Metabolism
Below are eight tips to help hardgainers bulk, even with a fast metabolism.
It is important to understand that in order to gain weight, you need to be in a caloric surplus.
That said, the amount of surplus can vary, however for most hardgainers this will depend largely on the rate of gain you are tracking at on a weekly basis, and it will change usually every week.
Therefore, be sure to read every tip below as it’s best to build out a long-term bulking strategy to help you gain mass and muscle.
1. INCREASE LIQUID CALORIES
Increasing calories from liquids is a great way to boost caloric intake and not have foods linger too long in the GI tract.
When we eat heavy fat meals, and large volumes of foods, we often feel bloated and diminish our appetite for hours. As a hard gainer, you most likely will need to eat MORE OFTEN, which means moderate size meals, and a lot of them.
Protein shakes, juices, smoothies, and any other beverage that contains carbs or protein (or both) are great ways to pack a bunch of calories into your diet and not stuff yourself so much that it impacts your next meal.
These liquid calories should still fit your macro needs, so be sure to map out a perfect meal plan custom to you.
2. INCREASE MEAL FREQUENCY
If you are a hardgainer, chances are you need to eat way more than you already are. The issue is, every time you eat you get full, which impacts your ability to eat again in a few hours. To fix this, you need to eat more frequent meals, and space your calories out across the day rather than adopting the standard 2-3 meals a day.
The harsh reality is that you may need to eat 500-1000 or even 1500+ calories more per day above what you are already eating, and do that daily for a few months to get significant results.
For example, my baseline maintenance calories per day is about 3,500 calories per day, however, in my current bulk stage I didn’t start gaining weight until I was eating over 5,000 calories per day (and weight gain took about 3 weeks until it started to show up on the scale).
There is no way I can comfortably eat 5,000 calories per day and only eat 2-3 times a day. I would have to eat a ton of food, get bloated, and most likely have those calories come from very poor bulking sources (which would most likely end up in excessive body fat gains).
Therefore, I suggest you eat AT THE VERY LEAST, four meals per day, however, I find 5-6 meals per day is your best option if you are someone who needs to eat a lot more to gain weight.
And remember, meals can also be composed of liquids.
Related Article: Foods to Avoid When Building Muscle
3. DECREASE NON-LIFTING CALORIC EXPENDITURE
While cardio is not a bad thing while bulking, it can be something that burns more calories and in turn, will force you to increase your calorie intake to remain in a caloric surplus.
For individuals who have a fast metabolism and have issues eating more calories, another option is to try to decrease your calorie expenditure by cutting out cardio and other forms of exercise that do not directly correlate to increased muscle growth (weight training).
You may also find that if you are doing a lot of cardio, especially high-intensity cardio, you may be burning a ton of calories AND actually impeding your ability to gain muscle and weight at a sustainable rate.
Therefore, if you are severely active, and cannot seem to eat any more food, you could try to decrease caloric expenditure.
Just note, however, that if you can learn to gain weight and still be very active, this will help increase your resting metabolic rate which will pay off big time when you go to cut (you can eat more calories than someone with a lower metabolic rate, and still lose fat).
Related Article: Female Bulking Workout Plan (Complete Guide)
4. PROGRESSIVELY EAT MORE EVERY WEEK
Most hardgainers are eager to gain weight, and in turn, try to eat a ton of calories to start a bulk. What often happens is that they try to eat too much, too soon, and find themselves not able to continue at the same eating pace for days, weeks, and months in a row. Instead of increasing calories by drastically out of the gates, start by trying to eat 200-300 more calories per day than your baseline for the first week.
Be sure to read our article discussing how to bulk if you have a low appetite.
Most likely you will not gain any weight the first week, which you then can increase your calories by another 200-300 calories per day for the second week.
By progressively ramping up your intake on a weekly basis, you can often let your appetite adjust over time. You also are able to monitor your rate of gain, making sure that you are gaining at a slow and steady pace to insure muscle growth and minimize excessive fat gain (keep in mind, you most likely will gain some fat and that is normal).
You can continue to increase calories on a weekly basis until you gain weight consistently at 0.5lbs – 1.0bs per week.
Any more than that may suggest that you may be gaining too quick, so be sure to take you time and play the average weight loss game, which may mean you gain three pounds in the first week (food weight), and maybe nothing in the second week, and 1lb over weeks three and four (so you gained 3.5 total pounds in a month).
Your average would be .75lbs per week, exactly where you want to be.
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5. BULK FOR LONGER PERIODS OF TIME
As a hard gainer, bulking will not be easy. No matter how many tricks and tips I give you, the harsh reality is you have been blessed with a fast metabolism, which is great for keeping weight off, but can be hard to combat when trying to gain weight.
That said, if you can commit to longer periods of bulking (at least 12 weeks of progressive eating and gaining weight), you will find better results and actually muscle gain and RETAINING THE MUSCLE AND NEW WEIGHT POST BULK.
In my most recent bulking cycle, I actually did a series of two bulks, with a 4-week break in between to slow down body fat gain and desensitize my body to muscle growth. My full bulk cycle consisted of a 12-week bulk phase, 4-week maintenance phase, and another 8-week bulk phase.
I choose to keep my max bulk between 12-14 weeks to not gain too much body fat during the process (again, your body fat will go up a few percent, but that will drop easily during the cut).
6. MIGHT HAVE TO EAT LESS CLEAN AT TIMES
Food quality is a key aspect of any diet, as the healthier the foods, the better digestion and internal health you can have. That said, make sure to be eating ample fruits, vegetables, fiber, and whole grains.
The issue comes, however, when you are eating those foods and cannot seem to eat anymore. Anyone who has tried to eat three servings of oatmeal and some eggs for breakfast will know that it can be very, very challenging to eat only clean food sources during a serious bulk.
This is why you may have to use foods that are higher in fat and sugars at times to fill in your macro needs.
Of course, if you find yourself eating a ton of processed foods and sugars, just be sure to have some blood work done pre and post-bulking to make sure you are good to go.
For most healthy, individuals, who are also very very active (which is why they might need to turn to these types of foods), doing this for the short term may not be an issue in the long run. And once you are done bulking, cut calories by cutting out the less clean food sources first.
7. BE PATIENT AND CONSISTENT
There is nothing fast about the bulking process if you are a hard gainer. The harsh reality is that your rate of weight gain will be slower than most people, however that could work to your advantage if you are patient enough and consistent enough to do longer term bulking phases (10-14 weeks).
You see, by increasing weight slower, for longer periods of time, you can potentially save yourself from gaining weight too quickly and increasing the rate of fat gain during the bulking process (to be clear, you will gain fat, but less quickly than if you were to blindly bulk eating too much, too soon).
Be patient, and understand
that you may only gain at a rate of 0.5.-0.75lbs per week on average (meaning some weeks you may not even gain weight, or may lose some based on water and food weight).
The longer you can bulk, the more time you give yourself to find progress over the long term.
8. SUPPLEMENT WITH PROTEIN SHAKES AND CARB POWDERS
Supplements are helpful only if you are already eating food and training hard. Most people will think supplements can magically help them achieve their goals, however they are merely tools that you can use (if you even need to use them) to help you fill out your macros.
Using protein and carbohydrate powders are great ways to add calories and fulfill your macronutrient needs via liquid calories. These are also great ways to sneak in carbohydrates during workouts to increase performance, refuel the muscles during and after training, enhance recovery, and boost muscle growth.
The bulking process can be a very frustrating phase of your training cycle.
As a hard gainer, you will find yourself struggling to eat enough calories to fuel hard training AND weight gain, however with the tips above you can begin to modify your behaviors and plan to increase weight gain over time.
Keep in mind that progress will come much slower for you than individuals who are able to gain mass and body weight quicker, however, do not get discouraged.
After a successful bulk (most people should aim to gain 1-2% of your body mass per month, for at least a few months in a row), you should make sure to spend a few more weeks re-establishing your bodyweight at that new weight, by dropping calories slightly to stabilize your new weight, but not too much that you lose weight.
Do this for a few weeks, and then either go back into another bulk phase, stay in that maintenance phase, or start a cut phase.
About The Author
Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.
Mike has published over 500+ articles on premiere online media outlets like BarBend, BreakingMuscle, Men’s Health, and FitBob, covering his expertise of strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, fitness, and sports nutrition. In Mike’s spare time, he enjoys the outdoors, traveling the world, coaching, whiskey and craft beer, and spending time with his family and friends.