Are you really a 'hardgainer'? Or just using the wrong strategies?
Here at Optimised Personal Training we regularly hear from many frustrated trainees who have identified themselves as a ‘hardgainer’.
They believe that they have tried everything they possibly can, but they simply do not see any muscle gain progress.
I was once there myself. Putting the hours in the gym. Cooking away in the kitchen.
Searching through google, fitness magazines and internet forums for the answer to my muscle gain problems – I hear the cool kids use social media now!
I wasn’t a hardgainer. Neither are our Optimised clients.
I just lacked a simple evidence-based nutrition and training strategy that consistently took care of the basics.
This article shall expand upon the common muscle gain mistakes and how as Manchester personal trainers we support our clients.
Before we dive in to the common mistakes, I can hear you asking that question,
“Can you gain muscle and lose fat simultaneously?”
Yes, you can gain muscle and lose fat whilst in a calorie deficit. However, this comes with a but!
The ability to gain muscle in a calorie deficit is dependent upon certain factors.
For example, muscle mass is gained in a calorie deficit when individuals are:
Trainees with greater training experience ,or those who are leaner, may struggle to gain muscle mass in a calorie deficit.
Moving forward this article shall focus on gaining muscle mass in a calorie surplus.
Mistake #1: Not hitting daily energy intake - calorie surplus
Probably the most common issue we see from personal training enquiries is that they are simply not eating enough.
It is common for many trainees to be unaware of how many calories they actually should be consuming to aid their muscle gain goals.
The issue with this is that this often leads to a calorie surplus not being implemented, which is very often a big problem.
The result is a lack of muscle gain progress, or less progress than expected.
This, for some, may prove demotivating and possibly results in the end of their muscle gain pursuit – not what we want to happen!
Gaining muscle isn’t a free pass to hit the buffet every night either.
What we want to do is effectively increase muscle mass, whilst minimising unwanted fat gain – this is the sweet spot of muscle gain!
At Optimised we are guided by the latest research, which suggests implementing a calorie surplus of 200 to 500 calories per day, could be an effective way for individuals to progress their muscle gain goals, whilst minimising fat gain.
We appreciate it can be daunting for people to increase their calorie intake, and that trainees may not be use to consuming such amounts.
Eating so much can feel like really, really hard work, especially at first!
That is why at we place great emphasis on education to improve the nutritional knowledge of our personal training clients.
By focusing on education, our clients gain an increased awareness of foods that will enable them to individualise their approach, and meet their daily calorie and macronutrient targets for muscular development.
You would also be amazed at the number of our clients who actually say that the increased fuelling has helped them have their best training performances ever in the gym!
Mistake #2 Diet composition - getting your macro right
I am sure we are all aware of the role protein plays with regards to muscle growth and repair. It is pretty important!
However, some people fall into the trap of placing all their nutritional focus upon protein intake, leading to its overconsumption at the expense of other macronutrients.
It is suggested that for individuals engaging in regular resistance training, and eating at maintenance or calorie surplus, to consume a protein intake of approximately 1.6g to 2.2g per kg of body mass.
Note: this can be slightly increased for individuals in a calorie deficit.
Going above this range when eating in a calorie surplus will provide no further benefit to muscle gain.
In fact, excess protein intake will either be used for energy or broken down and excreted via urination.
Rather expensive urine given that protein is typically the most expensive food item in the weekly shop!
It is also important to be aware of the role protein intake plays with appetite. Protein is the most filling of macronutrients.
If you’re over consuming protein this then could have consequences upon consumption of your total calories and the contribution of carbohydrate and fat to your overall calorie goal.
And this could mean you end up in a calorie deficient – not what you want!
A final common mistake is the underconsumption of carbohydrate.
If wanting to increase muscle mass, then it is important that you are performing in the gym.
Carbohydrate is the predominate fuel source for high intensity, high volume training often associated with muscle gain training.
So, under fuelling with carbohydrate might not be the smartest idea.
Mistake #3: Initial nutrition strategy
An issue for some trainees may be that they have inappropriately set up their initial nutrition strategy.
To give us an approximate idea of daily calorie intake, energy expenditure prediction equations are utilised.
Energy expenditure equations are derived from a variety of populations, and this can be considered a limitation as they are not specific to the individual.
Further confusion can be caused when trying to quantify daily expenditure and selecting the relevant physical activity level (PAL).
For those unfamiliar with PAL, this refers to your daily activity, as well as your planned exercise.
Some people may under or over predict their activity which can then influence the total energy expenditure prediction.
It is important to understand that prediction equations provide an initial starting point from which you go away and implement.
It is then important to re-evaluate this starting point based upon your progress and then make any changes if necessary.
This is part science and part art, which is why it can be a good idea to seek the help of an expert personal training team who are experienced in setting up individualised nutrition strategies correctly.
Mistake #4: Diet consistency
For a lot of people, this is where they may struggle. The ability to consistently implement their training or nutrition strategy.
They may be able to meet their nutritional targets Monday to Thursday, but when the weekend hits, it all goes out the window!
Perhaps you can relate to this?
This is why it is so important to base your approach on personal preference.
Not just following a diet you are told to follow, or one you found on insta.
You are an individual.
Your nutrition and training should reflect this.
Our Manchester city centre personal trainers understand the demands placed upon our clients.
Many are busy individuals, with limited, or variable, time to train and eat consistently throughout the week.
This where our expertise in programming and education allows us to create individualised solutions that have helped many busy Manchester professionals achieve outstanding training progress.
Mistake #5: Energy expenditure
As we discussed above, if you’re looking to optimise muscle gain then it is important that a calorie surplus is implemented.
Remember though, when it comes to energy balance it is important to be mindful that there are two sides to the equation.
Energy intake and energy expenditure.
Knowingly, or unknowingly, the amount of daily energy expenditure can reduce the targeted calorie surplus. In some instances this could actually be eradicated!
For example, take the trainee who thinks the best way is to gain muscle is to live in the gym with daily 2 hour sessions.
Or the person who adds in excessive cardio to minimise fat gain whilst looking to gain muscle.
It is not just planned exercise activity we should be mindful of, but also have an awareness of non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT).
This refers to non-planned exercise activity such as fidgeting and walking.
Interestingly, research has shown that when overfeeding (calorie surplus) the NEAT response can be individual.
When non-obese adults were overfed 1000kcal above maintenance each day for 8 weeks, on average only 4.6kg body mass was gained, with a range of weight gain of 1.4kg to 7.2kg.
Energy expended from NEAT varied from -98 to +692kcal. This highlights the individual response to overfeeding.
This would therefore have implications upon the imposed calorie surplus and helps explain the variation in weight gain.
This is further evidence of how hard it actually is to estimate daily expenditure, but also shows the importance of monitoring your progress, and reviewing your initial nutrition and training strategy.
Mistake #6: Eating Clean
This is a phrase that is often repeated within the fitness industry.
Although I am in favour of promoting a dietary intake that is based upon the inclusion of nutrient dense, minimally processed foods, the phrase ‘eat clean’ is not helpful and can be easily misunderstood.
First of all, foods should not be viewed as ‘clean’ or ‘dirty’.
Sure there are options that have greater nutrient density which should form the foundations of daily dietary intake.
However, this does not mean that you cannot enjoy other foods in moderation. This also helps maintain a healthy relationship with food.
Nutrition is about enjoyment. If your nutrition is based upon personal preference then this helps with adherence.
But what does this have to do with muscle gain? Well, if we are unnecessarily putting restrictions upon certain foods, this then restricts the options available to you when trying to meet you daily calorie intake.
Here at Optimised we regularly work with busy professionals who want quick meal ingredients.
One carbohydrate example is microwave rice. Is this food ‘dirty’ because it comes in a packet? Of course not.
It can be a convenient carbohydrate option for those individuals short of time.
Another potential issue with the ‘eat clean’ phrase and muscle gain, is some may perceive this to mean loading the plate up with protein and a mountain of vegetables.
This could see the over consumption of low energy, dense, high fibre foods which will fill you up.
This can potentially result in failing to implement a calorie surplus.
This is not to say you should not include nutrient dense foods – we don’t want you missing your vegetables!
It is about learning to find the right balance.
This is why at Optimised, when working with individuals who have muscle gain goals, we place great emphasis on improving our clients’ nutrition knowledge to help them build plates to optimise both their health and muscle gain goals.
Mistake #7: Supplement focus
Too many times people look for shortcuts when it comes to achieving their muscle gains.
This often sees them looking for that quick fix in the form of supplements.
Sorry to break it to you, but no legal supplement will magically provide muscle gain overnight.
It doesn’t help with ‘fitness influencers’ offering us their latest promo codes and favourite supplement suggestions.
The hard yards are put in during training sessions backed up with nutrition. Not just for a couple weeks, but over a prolonged period of time.
We place great emphasis on ensuring our client’s nutritional intake is optimised before even considering supplements.
Then we may consider evidence-based supplements that can assist the diet, such as helping to meet nutrient needs, as well as supplements that can aid work capacity or recovery.
Mistake #8 Sub-optimal training programme design
Nutrition plays an integral role in muscle gain.
However, we should not look past the importance of what applies the initial stimulus on the muscle you want to grow – resistance training!
Without the reps in the gym you won’t be developing your muscle mass.
For those of you already throwing the weights around in the gym, ask yourself this, “Is my training programmed optimised for muscle development?”
What should you be considering?
A periodised training plan that manipulates training variables (e.g. reps and sets) to enable progressive overload to be applied.
Here at Optimised our team of expert Manchester personal trainers look to provide all our clients with individualised training and nutrition strategies to help them make the best possible progress.
Training and nutrition play an important role.
Don’t overcomplicate it. Keep it simple.
Most important of all, be consistent and enjoy the journey!
To your lean, healthy, optimised future,
Josh & the Optimised personal training team