6 Tips for Hardgainers Looking to Eat More Calories

Brad Dieter
Written By: Brad Dieter
November 16th, 2017
Updated: June 13th, 2020
Categories: Articles Nutrition
18.3K Reads
6 Tips for Hardgainers Looking to Eat More Calories
Are you someone who struggles with getting enough calories to build muscle during the day? If you are, try these 6 ways for hardgainers to eat more calories!

Stuff my face with food
Pray to the god of all gains
Biceps still will not grow

That’s right people. You just got hit with the first ever haiku about hardgainers. If that doesn’t make your whole week you have no soul.

Now, a haiku to help you reflect on your struggles can offer some solaces and a smirk as you contemplate your lack of gains, but you know what would be more helpful? An article that can actually solve your problem of not being able to gain muscle mass.

So here is what I am going to do, give you 6 tips that will help you get over the hump and onto more muscle mass.

All I ask in return is a little haiku of your own about the inches you add to your biceps, preferably in the comments section of the article.

1. Stop Worrying about Clean vs Dirty

One of the biggest mistakes I usually see people that are trying to gain weight make is they are too focused on eating clean. In general, when these people key in on doing a “clean bulk” their food is super low in energy density.

For example, sweet potatoes and other potatoes have become staples in most people’s “bulking” diet because they are rich in carbohydrates and people assume they have a lot of calories. Truth is, foods like this don’t.

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The average medium sized sweet potato only has ~30 grams of carbs and is actually one of the most satiating foods. This means that even if you think you are loading up on carbs by eating 5 medium sized sweet potatoes a day you are only getting 150 grams of carbs, that just isn’t enough calories from carbohydrates to build muscle tissue.

This usually extends beyond carbs and into protein sources as well. Chicken breasts, which are also a staple, are also really low in energy density and really high in satiety factor (meaning for each bite you take, the food will make you feel fairly full).

Related: The 4 Pillars of Dietary Success for Any Fitness Goal

If you are a hard gainer, you need to maximize your calorie intake at every single place in your diet. Choose protein sources that are more energy dense like chicken thighs, 80/20 ground beef, fatty fish like salmon, etc.

Same thing can apply to fat choices as well.

2. Liquid Calories as Staples

If you are a hard gainer and you aren’t drinking a decent amount of your calories you are doing it wrong.

Using liquid calories is a go to method for cramming in extra energy, and is an ideal way to get a lot of calories in the system without taking up a ton of stomach space, going through the pains of prepping food, and taking the time to sit down and eat yet another calorie heavy meal.

M&S Athlete Drinking her calories

For example, you can throw 2 full cups of milk, 2-3 bananas, some whey protein, 2-3 tbsp. of peanut butter, some spinach, and god knows what else you can think of into a blender, hit the magic blend button, and 60 seconds later you have a 1,000-1,500 calorie meal that you can drink while driving to the gym.

Typically these liquid meals are also digested faster and often leave people less full than a solid meal at the same caloric intake, allowing someone to get more calories in throughout the day.

In reality, these large calorie liquid meals become “snacks” for people.

3. Sneak in Calories by Mixing Foods

After working with thousands of people and having 5’0”, 115 pounds females eating over 4,000 calories a day, there is one trick that really helps people get more food in: mixing food together.

Let me explain a little bit more of what I mean.

For example, whenever hard gainers are prepping rice it is fairly easy to throw butter or olive oil into the rice at the end and add an extra 200-300 calories per serving. That adds up really quickly if you have two servings of rice a day.

Same goes with prepping proteins. Instead of just grilling some chicken and throwing it in a Tupperware and calling it good, make a sauce that goes with it. It could be a simple olive oil based chimichurri or a decent barbeque sauce.

If you make a salad, pack that thing full of avocados, nuts, and a fairly robust salad dressing. I mean look, if you try hard enough you can easily take a 200 calorie salad and make it a 2,000 calorie salad.

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4. Hijack Your Brain

Besides communes, strange music, psychedelics, and questionable fashion, some other interesting things came out of the 1970s: designer food.

Between the 1970s and the early 2000s there was a boom of food science research that figured out how to design foods that hijack your brains pleasure responses to food.

By finding combinations of salt, sugar, fat, energy density, crunchiness, and other key aspects of food, food manufacturers have made many foods hyper palatable to the point they can override your natural food behaviors and hunger signaling.

Think about it like this. After you finish a big dinner of your roasted chicken, broccoli, and brown rice and you are feeling pretty full, someone offers you a bowl of plain baby carrots and you think, “I am so full, no way I can eat more” and you decline.

However, someone offers you a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies and you say, “IDGAF, I can find room for 4 of these bad boys”.  That is the power of enticing, rewarding food.

When you are dieting these hyper palatable/rewarding/brain hijacking foods can cause serious problems as they become almost empty calorie sources we usually don’t plan for. However, if you are having a hard time getting enough calories these foods can be super helpful tools.

M&S Athlete Nixing the Veggies and focusing on macros

5. Nix the Veggies

Before you go all rage face on me… I get it. Veggies are important for your health and longevity but over your 70-100 years on this planet we can let veggies go to the wayside for 6-12 months. You won’t die.

Why nix veggies? It comes down to simple math. If you are having serious trouble gaining weight we can’t be wasting precious room in our stomach for essentially empty calories.

I mean, broccoli is cool and all but it is not going to be helping you pack on pounds (or even ounces) of muscle tissue. Save that room for the calories we need to grow.

6. Prep, Prep, Prep.

People think meal prepping is key when dieting. I would argue it is more key for hard gainers trying to add mass.


Related: How to Make Meal Prep Sunday an Easy Habit

Simple. You can fairly easily snag a protein bar or a RTD whey shake and call that a meal if things get busy while you are dieting. It is much harder to hit your protein and calorie needs when you are trying to eat 5,000+ calories a day.

If you have ever had to eat 5,000+ calories a day for more than a day or two you know how much food that actually is and how much work it takes to eat that every day. If you have to stop and cook every meal you will spent 16 hours a day cooking, eating, and cleaning -- meal prep starts to become an essential part.


I opened with a haiku, let me summarize with a limerick:

Clean or dirty, hardgainers must eat foods of all types
Liquid calories and mixed foods must be consumed without gripes
Hijack your brain
Veggies are a pain
You gotta prep a lot of food if you wanna grow pipes.

1 Comment
Posted on: Thu, 12/28/2017 - 16:28

Thanks for this article, Brad. As a hardgainer in his 40's who started lifting just over two years ago (after a 20 year hiatus), I've found that there are two issues at the top affecting my progress. One is the plateaus. Finding an effective new rep scheme and combo of exercises to overcome my genetics takes listening to the body (while of course tracking progress). I'm learning that time, consistency, and good habits helps with that.

Second, after a "bulk" it takes a long time for me to lose the fat that goes on around the middle. Luckily I enjoy weightlifting - I enjoy the process. So, while it may be frustrating at times to achieve the gains and then lose the fat (which probably comes with my age), I never think of quitting because the benefits of lifting go beyond my appearance. The way I feel physically and mentally keeps me going. Besides, as a hardgainer a person has to accept the fact that building one's body is a marathon, not a sprint.

Anyway, cheers and I look forward to more "hardgainer" advice at M&S!