What’s a “hard gainer?”
An individual, who is naturally ‘smaller’ framed, has a lighter bone structure, and carries little body fat and muscle.

Beginning your bodybuilding journey with this somatotype isn’t exactly ideal, but you could be in a less favorable position -- as in, the polar opposite body type.  

Keep in mind, people’s somatotypes as in, ectomorph, endomorph, and mesomorph are not cut and dry. Meaning, certain individuals can fall somewhere in the middle of a somatotype.

A Quick overview of the 3 somatotypes and accompanying characteristics

  • Ectomorph - Thinner, long limbs, and narrow clavicle structure. Has difficulty gaining muscle or fat.
  • Endomorph - Naturally heavier framed individuals with a propensity to accumulate body fat and muscle easily. Portrays wider hips and shoulders.
  • Mesomorph - The natural athlete. The natural bodybuilder. This individual gains muscle easily, and can burn body fat easily too. Has a wide clavicle structure, and smaller hip structure, revealing an innate “x-frame.”

How to pack on body mass for the ectomorph

The answer is actually rather obvious….. EAT BIG & LIFT BIG WEIGHTS!

The answer was obvious, but the task at hand is far from easy. The hard gainer will typically have a poor appetite and be naturally ‘weaker’ in regard to muscle strength. This means diligent planned eating will take priority and daily appointments with heavy iron will need to be habitual. As the hard gainer slowly but surely continually gets meals down, and masters the mechanics of ‘old-school’ Olympic lifts -- his/her muscle mass & muscle strength will inevitably increase.

As time carries on, progress will stall, due to the inability to fathom more food consumption and lifting heavier weights without risking injury. Frustration sets in, and unnecessary cortisol floods your system from the stress of a plummeted appetite, and stagnant lifts.

Yes -- dedicated Bodybuilders often stress and panic over the inability to eat and train optimally for their goal, and actually make things worse from their constant worrying and fretting.     Note: - this constant stress can increase cortisol production and impair glucose tolerance and glycogen levels, which further compounds the issue of mass gain.

Please stop stressing, take a deep breath and relax -- everything will be ok,

I promise.

I have been in this position more often than I like to remember, and know the rigors and constant annoyance of having difficulty packing on mass. I have some ideas that may help you keep cortisol levels down, and boost your spirits; since you will now have tools you can use to keep moving forward.

Idea #1 - Do not be afraid of DRINKING MEALS. I know you have heard “whole food is better”, and I pretty much agree, but sometimes eating 100g of carbs and 80g of protein in an already satiated state is not feasible. I have found waxy maize starch to be the affordable carbohydrate of choice combined with a blended protein powder source comprised of whey, egg, and milk protein.

Idea #2 - Do not be afraid of the “glycemic load” or “glycemic index” of a carbohydrate or carb/protein mixture. Therefore, eating meals consisting of a kid’s cereal + full fat coconut milk mixed with whey protein isolate is a wonderful meal option.

Think about it - a 12 oz. steak plus a giant baked yam or large bowl of oatmeal is dreadful to think about. However, a sugary, tasty, and easy to eat bowl (salad bowl) of Golden Grahams cereal plus a 32 oz. carton of 100% liquid pasteurized egg whites is easy to choke down.

Idea #3 - Supplement with herbs that work to INCREASE your desire for food. Gentian root extract, also known as an herbal ‘bitter’ to treat digestion and rejuvenate the liver. Echinacea, which is most popular for immune defense, also stimulates salivary secretions, and aids in digestion. This herb also has “cannabis-like” effects from compounds called alkylamides, which interact with cannabinoid receptors, which affect appetite signaling in the brain.

Idea #4 – Try using antihistamines at your final meal before going to bed. Histamine, will suppress appetite, by mediating leptin activity, and acts as an anorexigenic agent. Antihistamines have been used in underweight children to induce weight gain and also used for treatment of anorexia nervosa patients. You would implement antihistamines before bed due the drowsiness that follows ingestion.

Idea #5 - Change your training program every 6 weeks to supply a new stimulus to your muscles. All 6 week programs should be centered on free-weights, as free weights stimulate whole body hypertrophy and augments favorable endogenous hormone production.

To summarize the ideas above we need to understand that whole food is wonderful, but not when the hard gainer has a poor appetite, and minimal desire for food. I would recommend 3 meals to consist of whole food and 3 meals to be in liquid form. The 3 whole food meals should be relatively low in micronutrients --yes, LOW in micronutrients. Dense nutritional foods supplying micronutrients could actually satiate the hard gainers appetite more.

In a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, they showed individuals implementing a daily multivitamin displayed a reduced appetite due to nutritional deficiencies being met.

Unfortunately, green leafy vegetables and high fiber laden carbs are going to be put on hold while attempting to accrue mass.

Say hello to bagels, white rice, kid’s cereals, and waxy maize starch for carbohydrate sources. Protein will come from a blended protein powder (egg, whey & milk), lean ground beef, & 100% pasteurized liquid egg whites. Dietary fat will be used strategically because too much fat can impede digestion, and put the brakes on hunger. Fat will be present in the ground beef, and the final meal of the night before ingesting appetite boosting herbs and antihistamines.

Speaking of “the final meal before bed,” let’s reveal what type of meal this is and the reasoning behind it.

This is what many would consider the “fun meal” of the day. This is when dietary fat is in the equation, along with ample carbs & protein. I will usually advise something along the lines of a Five Guys bacon cheeseburger, or a homemade pizza, where you add quality protein like chicken breast, ground beef, etc…

This meal is a nice break from the liquid meals and whole food meals due to the savory flavoring of the fats and higher sodium content. The appetite boosting herbs & antihistamines give you the intense hunger of your endomorph counterpart, making this meal a pleasure instead of a pain.

As for training - I would advise the hard gainer to experiment with high frequency, low volume, and low frequency, high volume. Some people respond well to training 6-7 days a week, while others achieve optimal results training 4-5 days a week. Regardless of which training volume & frequency suits your body type, heavy free weights using barbells and dumbbells will be of utmost priority.

It is imperative to understand the difference between each somatotype and where you fit into the equation -- are you really an ectomorph?

Are you really void of body fat (relatively speaking) and struggle gaining any type of body weight?

I would hate to see someone who has no business embarking on such a program without fitting the criteria, become outraged when they accrue too much body fat.

Let’s go ahead and conclude this topic of discussion with a sample menu for our ectomorph hard gainer.

Meal 1:

4 cups Golden Grahams cereal

1c 100% liquid egg whites

1c coconut/almond milk (higher fat, regular)

1 scoop blended protein powder

Meal 4:

4 scoops waxy maize starch

3 scoops blended protein powder

Meal 2:

4 scoops waxy maize starch

3 scoops blended protein powder

Meal 5:

4 scoops waxy maize starch

3 scoops blended protein powder

Meal 3:

8 oz. ground beef

2c jasmine rice

1 cinnamon & sugar bagel

Meal 6:

(Five Guys)

2 bacon cheese burgers

Cajun style fries


1.) Authors: G.C. Major, E. Doucet, M. Jacqmain, M. St-Onge, C. Bouchard, and A. Tremblay "Multivitamin and dietary supplements, body weight and appetite: results from a cross-sectional and a randomised double-blind placebo-controlled study"

British Journal of Nutrition (Cambridge Journals)


2.) Leibovitz E, Giryes S, Makhline R, Zikri Ditch M, Berlovitz Y, Boaz M.

Malnutrition risk in newly hospitalized overweight and obese individuals:

Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013 Jun;67(6):620-4. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2013.45. Epub 2013 Apr 3.


3.) Jørgensen EA, Knigge U, Warberg J, Kjaer A.

Histamine and the regulation of body weight.

Neuroendocrinology. 2007;86(3):210-4. Epub 2007 Sep 11.


4.) Halmi KA, Eckert E, LaDu TJ, Cohen J.

Anorexia nervosa. Treatment efficacy of cyproheptadine and amitriptyline.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1986 Feb;43(2):177-81.