I am a prototypical hardgainer, 23 years old and never weighed over 10 stone until recently when I started lifting weights again (lifted in the past and never saw any noticeable gains).

I read in an article that I should just overload my body with calories (currently taking in between 3300 and 4000 per day). Whilst this has worked for me so far (I've gained 14lbs in 4 weeks) I am worried that if I continue to load up on calories that my body will soon start to pack on fat rather than muscle.

I work out three times a week for approx. 40 mins, and have just started doing two sessions on the bike a week also (around 30 mins each session). I am taking Sci-MX Mass System twice a day currently, but am switching to Optimum Nutrition Serious Mass instead (will only take half the specified serving a day because I think 1250 calories a day is far too much for me given my workout). I plan to complement this with a low calorie whey protein also throughout the day.

My diet consists largely of chicken soups, tuna with low fat dressings, eggs, fruit (apples and bananas), yoghurts (not low fat), cheese and bagels.

The bottom line is, every article/workout I read says to burn calories to get leaner, but as a hardgainer I need to add a large amount of calories to my diet in order to grow in size. I'm gaining size no problem, but my abs are invisible and my general muscle tone is lacking. Is my diet incorrect and should I cut down on calorie intake?

I don't want to continue in the wrong direction and have a load of fat to try and shift further down the line.

EDIT: Example Diet for a Week Day

Breakfast (8:30am): Quaker Oats with 300ml Semi Skimmed Milk 1 serving (or half serving of Optimum Nutrition) Mass gainer 2 Apples Handful of unsalted and unflavoured red skin peanuts/cashews

Mid Morning (11am): Tuna Sandwich, or Bagel with Philadelphia and Ham

Lunch (1.30pm): Chicken Soup / Tomato Soup (600ml) with Cheese/Ham sandwich, or Tuna pasta salad with sweetcorn

Mid-Afternoon (4pm): Bagel with Philadelphia and Ham

Dinner (6pm): Steak, Potatoes, Carrots, Cabbage Muller Light (no fat)

Mid Evening (8.30pm) Toasted Bagel with philadelphia and ham, or Tuna sandwich

Before Bed (11.30pm) Mass Gainer shake (will be swapping this with a low calorie protein shake) Banana Tuna Sandwich

  • Spell out exactly what your diet consists of for one day. Include the time of your meals, and portion sizes. Diet plans should be very specific, and if you don't know your total grams of protein, carbs, and fat, you're not going to be able to make the right adjustments. Commented Apr 26, 2011 at 3:31
  • @Natalie Barnett I've added my diet in now (an example day)
    – Jaitsu
    Commented Apr 26, 2011 at 10:14
  • You should never eat more than 8% above TDEE. Zero purpose to it. Commented May 25, 2018 at 21:01

4 Answers 4


I agree that you are gaining too much too fast. You aren't putting on lean mass at that rate, so you should really cut your calories back some.

Quick critique on your current meal plan...

Breakfast needs more protein. Dump the mass gain and just use whey protein.

Mid meals are fine with tuna, but ham is not an appropriate substitute because it has significantly less protein.

Lunch, like your mid morning meal, needs to have consistent protein intake. Tuna is fine, but ham is not enough. I don't really understnd the purpose of the chicken or tomato soup. It's not normally part of a gaining diet.

Dinner is better without the mass gainer.

My suggestions...

You should really stick to more "clean foods" which would exclude soups, breads, cheeses, and sugars. Even though people probably tell you that you can have all the sugar you want because you're so thin, I do not agree with this. You should limit your sugar as much as possible and try to stick to low glycemic foods that will process through your system slowly enough to give your body the opportunity to absorb the nutrients.

Oatmeal is good for breakfast. You should have at least a cup measured before cooking. Add a banana, and some natural peanutbutter instead of 2 apples and so many nuts. Although I suggested switching to a whey protein, it would be better to have a solid protein like egg whites with breakfast if you can.

Have a 40g whey protein shake with some nuts and rice cakes or natural peanutbutter on rice cakes for your mid meal snacks.

For lunch, have tuna with brown rice and a large salad.

Your dinner should be similar to lunch in that you will have a large protein serving, a low glycemic carbohydrate, and some vegetables.

You may also want to use a caesin protein as your meal before bed as it is absorbed more slowly than other proteins and will be more available to your body while you recover throughout the night. Casein is made from cottage cheese, so you can also choose to use low fat or fat free cottage cheese before bed. Have it with some nuts.

Lastly, make sure you only train each body part once a week because you need lots of recovery to grow. If you're doing fast paced full body lifting sesssions, you will not get the results you want.

  • +1 for a great answer, I'm ditching the mass shake as a daily solution and will only be using it 3 times a week - switching to a whey protein isolate shake instead, what are your thoughts on pasta?
    – Jaitsu
    Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 8:53

You're eating way too much. Aim for an increase of 1 pound per week, i.e. a daily calorie excess of 500 kcal. That should be plenty for good muscle growth. There's no such thing as a hardgainer, you just haven't been eating as much as you thought in the past.

Your abs won't start showing until you get your body fat below 10% or something. Spend a year or so bulking first, then cut your weight by 1-2 pounds per week until you're happy.

  • Thanks for the response, I have added my diet (edit is pending review). I find it difficult to manage calories, because they recommend eating every 2-3 hours I always end up loading up on too much, hence me swapping out the mass gainer for a half serving and moving a leaner protein shake.
    – Jaitsu
    Commented Apr 26, 2011 at 8:46
  • Get a cheap digital food scale and keep a journal on some diet site/app, at least until you get a feel for how much you're eating. Just eat varied/balanced and hit your kcal target, that's your main priority.
    – eevar
    Commented Apr 26, 2011 at 9:58
  • I did this for the first 14 days and realised I was hitting my calorie intake (but was always a little short of my RDA on fat - I put this down to incorrect nutritional information on the food database). I stopped doing it shortly after that because I knew I was taking in the 3300+ calories I thought I needed. Do you recommend any good sites?
    – Jaitsu
    Commented Apr 26, 2011 at 10:16
  • @Jaitsu: I just use a spreadsheet atm, and that's a lot more work than neccessary.
    – eevar
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 13:56

I would recommend stop using mass gainers, That ON Mass you are using has 10g of sugar per serve, I suppose if you are halving it, it isnt too bad.... but yeah not the best for carb intake!

I'd also try to get the tuna in spring water and also get some healthly fats in there like flax seed oil (omega 6 & 9).

I'm almost amazed you are making that many calories on that diet.. you must be drinking/eat a fair load of chicken soup :), I'd be worried if that is even real chicken in there?

  • I eat porridge in the mornings, and I have a main meal in the evening too, I just listed the things that I eat through the day that are potentially unhealthy (my main meals usually consist of a portion of lean meat, potatoes and vegetables - I steer clear of frozen foods)
    – Jaitsu
    Commented Apr 26, 2011 at 8:01
  • I don't see anything wrong with mass gainers - I've used them to great effect.
    – Nick
    Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 19:19
  • @Nick - Sure, they do do their job well (putting on mass) but nothing that cant be achieved with eating real food to get those calories up. The biggest gripe I have about them is in every 24g of protein served its usually a mix of casein, egg and whey. Sometimes you really only want whey protein!
    – Jared
    Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 23:22
  • 1
    Sure, it's nothing that can't be achieved with food, but there are a few benefits the gainer has over food: 1) You get the calories without the fat. 2) At high levels of calories, it's sometimes difficult to have the appetite for more food. 1,000 calories from a gainer is often less filling than 1,000 calories from regular food.
    – Nick
    Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 23:38

It all depends on your goals. Many bodybuilders go through a bulking/off-season and cutting/competition phase. Basically, when they don't need to look cut they pack on as much muscle as possible while gaining a bit of fat. Then when it comes time to look lean, they switch to a fat burning diet that is muscle sparing (ex. Cyclic Ketogenic Diet or a simple calorie deficit). For non-professionals, this usually coincides with winter and beach seasons. If you want to put on mass as fast as possible, you have to accept that some of it will be fat gain. If you want to put on mass while remaining relatively lean, your gains will not be as quick.

The approach that I've personally taken (I've had a difficult time adding size as well) is to have massive bulks over the winter where I add lots of muscle, but also a decent amount of fat, then cut down over the summer a bit. Cycle this each year until you get to the body size you want, and at that point you can lean out and maintain. With this approach I've managed to gain 20 lbs. of lean muscle in 2 years (Now at 200lbs. with 10% body fat). If you are relatively new to lifting (ie. less than 3 years of serious lifting), you'll probably be able to see some fantastic results this way.

  • Nice answer, thanks. From what I've heard on here so far this is probably the approach I'll go for. I'm bulking up (cutting down on the mass gainer shake though and using natural proteins instead) for now and mixing some light cardio twice a week to stay fit. I'll burn fat towards the end of the summer with a heavier cardo regime. +1
    – Jaitsu
    Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 21:45
  • A bulk/cut cycle certainly is the way to go. However, I think your post could be read as if the poster isn't grossly overeating. Maybe on juice, spending hours in the gym every day, 3.5 lbs per week would make sense. With Jaitsu's workload, I'm sure there's still a lot of fat gain from just 1 lbs per week.
    – eevar
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 13:54
  • @eevar - Good point. 3.5k-4k calories are likely too much for Jaitsu. I was eating that much to bulk from 200lbs. to 215lbs.
    – Nick
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 17:59

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