Every Hardgainer Should Know About Protein

The term “Hardgainer” is frequently used in the bodybuilding community and around local gyms.

It implies some terrible abnormal condition that prevents an unlucky few from being able to build muscle.

But just look around any gym and you’ll notice that most of the population fall into the “hardgainer” category. It would be more appropriate to call them “normal gainers,” because for most people, gaining a lot of noticeable lean muscle is hard. Real hard.

The minority of “genetic freaks” out there, sometimes referred to as the 1%, are the few who are blessed with extremely growth responsive muscle tissue.

For the majority of us, though, building muscle is hard. For the true “hardgainers” amongst us, it seems damn near impossible.

Of course, any effort to gain muscle, regardless of your genetic disposition, takes great physical exertion, mental focus, willpower, and consistency. Unfortunately, not everyone is rewarded equally for their efforts. There are those who seem to gain muscle by just looking at a set of dumbbells, and those who, despite hard, consistent training at the gym, can scarcely put on a few pounds of lean mass.

The real “hardgainers” fall into the latter category. While there are exceptions to the rule, a typical hardgainer has an “ectomorphic” body type (a term coined in the 1940s by William Sheldon, an American psychologist), encompassing some or all of the following traits:

  • Fine bone structure
  • Small joints
  • Thin neck
  • Narrow shoulders
  • Flat chest
  • Small buttocks
  • Long, narrow frame
  • Low testosterone
  • Low body fat
  • Rapid metabolism

While most ectomorphic traits don’t bode well for easy muscle gains, the latter – a rapid metabolism – can be advantageous. Unlike “endomorphs” (on the opposite end of the body type scale), ectomorphs seldom need fear gaining unwanted body fat in their pursuit of increased muscle mass.

 

WHY HARDGAINERS STRUGGLE

There are many reasons why hardgainers find it so challenging to make significant progress, including a combination of the following:

  • Genetics
  • Skeletal structure
  • Metabolism
  • Hormonal balance
  • Lack of motivation
  • Ratio of Type I vs Type II muscle fibre
  • Sleep quality and recoverability
  • Neuromuscular inefficiency

The harder a gainer you are, the more closely you have to pay attention to training, nutrition, and rest.

The good news is that some of the above factors can be positively affected by one simple thing. I’m talking about protein. That marvellous, muscle-building macronutrient is the crucial key to muscle growth.

Here are five facts about protein that every hardgainer needs to know.

 

1. PROTEIN INCREASES MUSCLE PROTEIN SYNTHESIS

To maximize muscle growth in response to weight training, hardgainers need to optimize their protein intake.

Imagine muscle growth as a set of scales. On one side you have muscle protein synthesis and on the other side you have muscle protein breakdown.

The only way to achieve muscle growth is to tip the scales in favour of muscle protein synthesis. In other words, you must be synthesising more proteins than you’re breaking down to gain lean muscle mass.

Most people with a basic understanding of training and nutrition know that protein is an essential requirement for building muscle. Quite simply, eating protein stimulates the muscle building effect of protein synthesis.

But knowing the optimal amount of daily protein to consume is another thing.

In an effort to overcome the unfortunate fate of being a hardgainer, and to increase muscle size, a lot of people will turn to consuming excessively high quantities of protein. I think we’ve all been guilty of the “more equals more” mentality.

But is a 100g protein shake really going to produce greater results than a 40g protein shake?

Not according to scientific research.

Scientific studies have been conducted to find out how different doses of protein affect muscle protein synthesis levels post workout.

Two studies, one by the Exercise Metabolism Research Group, Department of Kinesiology, of McMaster University in Canada and another by the Health and Exercise Science Research Group, at the University of Stirling both found that 40g of protein was enough to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis after resistance exercise.

In fact, their findings concluded that the difference between 20g – 40g of protein on muscle protein synthesis post exercise was minimal.

So there you have it. These studies show that excessive protein consumption is largely a waste of time and money. As a hardgainer, I recommend you shoot for at least 40g of protein with every meal.

 

2. PROTEIN AFFECTS HORMONAL BALANCE

Your hormonal profile can dramatically impact the results you get (or don’t get) from working out. There are approximately 50 hormones in the human body, affecting – among other things – mood, energy, gender characteristics, autonomic nervous system response and musculature.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s take a look at just two of those dozens of hormones: Testosterone and cortisol.

Testosterone is an anabolic hormone found in both genders, but at considerably higher levels in men. It plays many roles in the human body, but of special significance to hardgainers are testosterone’s effects on mood, self-esteem, energy, concentration, motivation – and of course, muscle growth.

Cortisol is a catabolic hormone. Though it plays a number of important roles, an excess of cortisol can increase abdominal fat while reducing protein synthesis, facilitate the conversion of protein to glucose, and slow the growth of new tissue – like the muscles you work so hard for.

A properly balanced ratio of macronutrients is necessary to promote protein synthesis and prevent catabolism. Protein plays a key role in sustaining an anabolic state.