Written by Andi Martin-Wagner | Photography by Paul Buceta

Six non-negotiable rules for hardgainers.

The health and fitness world tends to obsess about weight loss — but what about the women out there who struggle to gain weight? If you would describe yourself as being naturally lean, always eating but never putting on weight, and struggling to build muscle in the gym no matter how much you lift, you’re likely a member of the hardgainer’s club. Unfortunately, in an attempt to add size and shape, hardgainers often make common mistakes that can prevent them from seeing the results they’re striving for. Here’s a list of do’s and don’t’s to abide by if your goal is to gain:


  • Eat high-quality, nutrient-dense whole foods, and a lot of them. It’s important to put an emphasis on lean protein, plus carbohydrates (including starch, veggies, and fruit), and healthy fats. When determining how much protein you should consume, shoot for at least 1 g per lb of bodyweight, so if you weigh 140 lbs, shoot for 140 g of protein per day. Also, be sure to fuel your workouts both before and after, getting that post-workout meal into your body within approximately 30 minutes of finishing your session. Meal replacement shakes can be used to increase calories and protein and provide convenience, especially post-workout. When choosing a protein supplement, be sure to look for high quality whey protein — no artificial ingredients or soy.
  • Lift heavy and make your workouts count. Include compound, multi-joint movements to get the most bang for your buck. Exercises such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses, pull-ups, and overhead presses, require maximum muscle recruitment, and lead to faster muscle growth. It is also important to change up your program to keep your body guessing, and prohibit adaptation. Vary the exercises, rest intervals, rep range, grip, or other factors, to keep it fresh and stimulate growth.
  • Get some rest. Sleep is essential to the muscle-building process, and should not be compromised. Relaxation and stress reduction can also help in this process. Moving through some yoga poses or listening to a guided meditation before bed or first thing in the morning can be beneficial in clearing your mind and reducing stress.


  • Eat junk. You may think that high-calorie meals are the way to go but if they aren’t nutrient dense, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Even though you don’t easily gain weight, you still need to focus on quality calories over quantity.
  • Go crazy on the cardio. Shoot for 2-3 days of low-impact cardio, keeping it to a max of 20-30 minutes, and get the rest from heavy lifting and compound exercises. Too much cardio can be detrimental to lean muscle, but you still need to get your heart pumping to benefit your cardiovascular health.
  • Overtrain. Hardgainers need more recovery time than others. Four intense 60-minute weight training sessions per week are sufficient for you to build muscle. Never train the same body part two days in a row, and after two intense days of training, take a day off.
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