I consider myself a Hard Gainer due to my naturally thin, and narrow build. A mediocre appetite for food, and fidgety, non-stop “can’t sit still” mannerisms. Right out the gates of my weight lifting career (in High School) I knew that pounding food was absolutely key in accruing appreciable mass. Hitting the weights hard and heavy for 2 hours was no problem and a blast in the process. However, eating every few hours non-stop around the clock was difficult to sustain.
As we continue to pack in food day in and day out, our brains quickly become “Ghrelin Resistant” as our brain-reward systems become desensitized from chronic food consumption. So the question is: How do we not become resistant to ghrelin production, and how do we keep leptin levels (hunger satiating hormone) at bay and manipulated in a way we can eat food ongoing?
One way to do that is to stay ACTIVE and extremely physical throughout the day. Stand while working on a computer, always park farther away in parking lots, always take the stairs instead of elevator. Keep cardio/aerobics in your regimen to keep blood circulation primed and metabolism humming along. Most importantly though - keep cardio intact for your heart health and endurance conditioning. Now you might say “but cardio will be a bad idea during a weight/mass gain phase.” Not exactly. When you think about the relatively minuscule calories that interval cardio or steady state cardio actually burns in relation to how much it drives up hunger -- the ability to “out eat the cardio” is extremely easy to do. Let’s say you burn 400 calories during your cardio session, eating an 800 calorie meal is very easy to do, and had you never performed that cardio to begin with, you may have had a hard time eating a bite of ANY meal for that day in some cases.
How about supplements and herbs to boost appetite?
Of course there are tricks you can use to manipulate ghrelin and leptin and increase your desire to eat more.
Echinacea - Yes the “immune booster” herb. Echinacea contains alkylamides that interact with cannabinoid receptors. Yes, just how marijuana can increase hunger via cannabinoid receptor activation.
Gentian Root - Also referred to as “bitters” is a bark that has been used to treat upset stomach, indigestion and boost hunger in practice. I like to use the liquid extract form of this from Vitamin Shoppe. 10-15 drops before a meal.
Blessed Thistle - In history, this was often used as a Tea to treat stomach issues such as indigestion. Thistle contains bitter glycosides which can stimulate appetite.
Rikkunshito - A Japanese herbal medicine used to treat upper gastrointestinal disorders and anorexia, by stimulating ghrelin production. 300-600 mg a day should be sufficient.
In summation - we need to keep moving all day, keep cardio in our off-season equation, and use these herbal complements to augment our eating ability. It is very true in how the saying goes: “you gotta eat big to get big” especially when it comes to genuine hard gainer types.