Monthly Archives: November 2016
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:
- Skeletal structure
- 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.
You unscrew the lid of your pre-workout and the sweet smell of blue raspberry wafts through the air. Two scoops go in your shaker cup. You shake it like the champ you are, pop the top, and chug that “go-juice.”
Minutes later you feel a tingling sensation and itchy face sets in. You are now loaded with beta-alanine and you feel like you could tear the walls down. It’s time to train.
Despite the well-known tingly feeling associated with Beta-alanine and its use in pre-workout supplements, there is a lot of misinformation and hyperbole surrounding it as a supplement. I am here to set the record straight.
Beta-alanine is the beta form of the amino acid alanine (meaning the amino group is in the beta position). It is the rate limiting* precursor to a chemical called carnosine which acts as a buffer to prevent reductions in pH. In essence, Beta-alanine isn’t doing the work; it is providing your body with the ability to make more carnosine.
Let’s separate fact from fiction and see what beta-alanine can do for you!
1. TRAIN HARDER, TRAIN LONGER
Beta-Alanine helps you avoid “hitting the wall” a little bit longer, essentially increasing your workload by 1-2 additional reps in the 8-15 rep range.1, 2, 3 The consistent finding throughout the research is that it can increase your muscle endurance by about 2.5%.
It has also been shown to improve interval-type training, where individuals have improved performance in repeated bouts of sprint intervals.
2. FAT REDUCTION
In addition to beta-alanine increasing muscle endurance, there have been some small improvements in fat reduction reported in the literature.3
One important facet of this finding is that the research is unable to determine if it was directly due to supplementation, or if the increased fat loss was a result of the increased work during training.
3. SYNERGIES WITH CREATINE
There have been conjectures that beta-alanine works separately and synergistically with creatine supplementation. This is based upon the notion that there are two anaerobic energy systems, the phosphagen and glycolytic systems.
Creatine augments the phosphagen system, while beta-alanine augments the capacity of the glycolytic system.
As such, beta-alanine and creatine are often stacked together and sold as an excellent combination for individuals looking to increase performance in their anaerobic training. Unfortunately, there is no good evidence to show measurable and consistent synergies from stacking them.4
However, as they do have separate mechanisms and are both shown to be efficacious, it is reasonable to take both.
4. SUPPLEMENT TIMING
For years you have pummeled over the head that beta-alanine is a pre-workout. Guess, what, you have been lied to, pre-workout might actually the worst time to take it.
You can take it at any time and you will receive the benefit as the goal is to increase your intramuscular carnosine levels. One way to improve absorption and uptake into your muscles is to take it with food, as that has been shown to drastically increase its uptake and efficacy.
Creatine supplements are like the Kardashians. They aren’t going away any time soon.
But unlike the Kardashians, creatine works.
As one of the most clinically studied supplements on the market, its effectiveness is unmatched. With more discoveries about this wonder supplement surfacing, it’s no surprise gym-goers have more questions than answers.
The most common questions relate to supplement timing. Is it better to take a dose before or after training? Let’s tackle this question and others to make sure you make the most of your creatine intake.
WHAT CAN CREATINE DO FOR YOU?
Creatine is an integral piece to the energy production, expenditure, and recovery process. Since the body primarily uses ATP (adenosine triphosphate) during resistance training sessions, it breaks this compound down to ADP (adenosine diphosphate). It’s creatine’s job to replenish ADP back to ATP to support repeated work.
Since the body can only do so much with what it has naturally, supplementing with creatine monohydrate makes sense. You will be able to replenish ATP stores quicker with a ready supply.
Additionally, creatine “superhydrates” muscle cells, allowing it to easily and efficiently carry out vital processes involving cell organelles, protein synthesis, and other important jobs at the microscopic level.
The result? Hydrated and restored muscle cells enabling you to work longer, harder, and more often. In turn, you get stronger and bigger faster.