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Can't Gain Weight No Matter What You Do? Here's How To Bulk Up.

Updated on June 30, 2013

Hard Gainer?

Take a look in the mirror. Stand sideways on. Did you disappear?

A lot of people think skinny people are lucky. They'd love to be able to eat whatever they liked and not put on a pound. Given the human predilection for wanting what we do not have and never appreciating what we've got, however, it becomes clear that being skinny is considered a problem by a lot of people.

Maybe you're a hard gainer - someone who works out and thinks they eat well, but somehow never seems to bulk up no matter what they do.

What can you do about it? Take a well thought out, consistent approach to the problem and deal with it. Like this...

Put On Weight

Keep track of your weight
Keep track of your weight | Source

How To Gain Weight

First of all, figure out why you're not as heavy as you'd like to be. Just telling yourself, 'Oh I just can't gain weight at all, no matter how much I eat,' won't help. Anecdotes are not evidence. You need facts to work with - so keep a food diary for one week, in which you list every single item that you eat and drink, and when. Every single item, from meals to snacks to drinks after work. If you have a habit of skipping meals, or substituting a snack for a proper meal, this will help you find out. Don't cheat - you'd only be cheating yourself. Your food diary will help you establish the facts in the case, and once you have the facts you can start to make changes.

At the same time, keep a daily activity log, writing down a short simple description of any work related activity or exercise routine you follow. Do you have a physically demanding job? Write down what it entails. Go for a run? Write down how far you ran. Work out? List your exercise moves and reps.

Putting the two together will help you match up calories in versus calories expended, and maybe help you see why you can't gain weight.

Medical Causes For Being Underweight

Three possible causes are:

An overactive thyroid gland - hyperthyroidism

Your thyroid gland, which sits in your neck, in front of your windpipe, makes hormones which regulate your body's growth and metabolism. Hyperthyroidism occurs when an overactive thyroid gland produces excess thyroid hormones which make the body's functions speed up, and lead to symptoms like shaking, anxiety, and weight loss.


Anaemia is a deficiency of healthy red blood cells, which can be caused by several underlying conditions. These include pregnancy, a lack of vitamin B-12 or folic acid, irregular red blood cells, and heavy bleeding. The most common form of anemia is iron deficiency anaemia. Iron is essential to haemoglobin production, so a lack of sufficient iron in the body's system leads to a shortage of red blood cells. Weight loss can occur when anaemia causes a loss of appetite, and is a medically recognized indicator of anaemia.


Malabsorption is a failure to absorb nutrients from the gastrointestinal tract. There are many possible causes including abnormalities of the gut wall, a lack of digestive enzymes and abnormal gut flora. The outcome is malnutrition. All of these conditions have clearly recognizable symptoms which your GP can spot. If you suspect any of them may lie behind your failure to put on weight, see your doctor for a check up. If you get a clean bill of health, it's time to look at other possible causes for your low body weight. Which means it's probably down to what you eat - or maybe what you don't eat.

Nutrition Tips : How to Put on Weight


There could be one more medical mystery behind your apparent inability to bulk up.

Myostatin is a substance, secreted naturally by the body, which inhibits muscle growth. Myostatin is mostly made in skeletal muscle cells, circulates in the blood and acts on muscle tissue.

Animals lacking myostatin, or treated with substances that block the activity of myostatin, grow significantly larger muscles. A common mutation among whippets produces dogs with a more muscular build than most of the breed, and there are genetically engineered cattle with substantially improved muscle growth.

Mutations in both copies of the human myostatin gene results in individuals with significantly more muscle mass - which may explain why some people build muscle easily, while most of us struggle and call ourselves hard gainers. Finding a way to block the action of myostatin might prove useful in developing drugs to treat diseases like muscular dystrophy, though the search is not without its difficulties. New Jersey pharmaceutical company Wyeth has, at time of writing, ceased development of one such drug after clinical trials.

Myostatin inhibitors would also find an immediate black market among bodybuilders seeking an easy path to muscular hypertrophy, but at the moment this leaves them open to snake oil salesmen selling supplements which probably offer nothing beyond a placebo effect.

Bottom line? Myostatin might be keeping you from bulking up - but it probably isn't. And since you can't, at present, do much about it, concentrate on what you eat and working out. You might find out you don't need new wonder drugs to help you put weight on.

Wendy the Whippet - no myostatin.

Whippets are friendly dogs. Just as well, in this case. Nice doggy.
Whippets are friendly dogs. Just as well, in this case. Nice doggy. | Source

Do myostatin blockers work?

Your Weight Gain Diet

When you keep your food diary, take a long look at exactly what you eat in that week. Junk food? Proper meals? A proper meal is some protein, maybe meat or fish, with a variety of fresh vegetables, in case you were wondering. Are you leaving any food group out of your diet? Diet is prone to junk science, which is where loony ideas come from. Just read the best selling book list for any week of the year and you'll find the latest diet fad selling like... well, like hot cakes. Otherwise sensible people take on board the crazy ideas, and immediately banish whole food groups from their table.

Does that sound like you? Then you might be orthorexic. This is a non-medical term first used by Steven Bratman to describe people who obsess about avoiding foods perceived to be unhealthy. He claims that in rare cases, this can turn into a problem that could lead to severe malnutrition or even death. You can find out more at his website, which is in the links below.

Are you avoiding some foods because you suspect, or have been told, that they're not healthy? Think again. If your information came from a suspect source, you might want to ignore it.

Food To Gain Weight Fast - Build Muscle By Eating This

How To Build Muscle

There are two ways to add mass to your body: build muscle, or store fat. Building muscle has benefits - increased strength and well-being, and an improved appearance, leading to greater confidence. But how do you build muscle?

First, ease up on the cardio if you're a runner. Then start a weight training regime - free weights are best, because the movements involved are more natural and recruit more muscles than exercise machines. Go to a gym two or three times a week, and lift heavy. Keep your workouts below forty minutes. Stop if you get stressed or achey. Within an hour after your workout, eat a light meal with some protein, and get plenty of rest - minimum eight hours sleep a night, and a nap when you can.

Never, never, ever, skip a meal. Eat five or six small meals a day, so you have a constant supply of food in your gut but you never feel stuffed or uncomfortable. Never go more than three hours during the day without eating. Eat protein with every meal, whether it's meat or fish, tofu or lentils. When you go shopping, buy healthy foods but never, ever buy the 'healthy option' - the low fat, no flavour version of real food. That stuff isn't food. I'm not sure what it is.

So what is healthy food? Wholemeal bread, a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy products, and meat and fish as close to the animal as you can get.Stop worrying about fat. It's not poison; it's a necessary part of your diet. Eat real butter, not margarine, and get more fats from nuts and vegetable sources like olive oil and avocado, and from oily fish. Steer well clear of any foods that contain corn syrup, and cut back on sugar in general.

Hardgainers Workout Routine

When you're in the gym, focus on big compound movements that work your whole body. That's the

  • squat
  • deadlift
  • bench press
  • standing military press
  • bent over rows

These five exercises will work your whole body. Just remember you have to feed it, too. If you've never lifted weights before, get expert instruction. Ask the gym owner to teach you how to do those exercises with good form and the correct amount of weight. Making it up as you go along is a recipe for injury.

Muscle Beach Swimsuit

Waiter? I'll have whatever she's having.
Waiter? I'll have whatever she's having. | Source

Hard Gainer Tips

You probably eat less than you think. If you feel too full to face another snack between meals, eat a spoonful of peanut butter instead.

Or, if you feel stuffed after a meal, replace your snacks between meals with a protein shake - it's an easier way to get calories into you.

Oatmeal with banana makes a high calorie nourishing breakfast, especially if you add a handful of chopped walnuts. Slow release carbs and healthy fats, to keep you going all day.

Healthy snacks that aren't too filling? Keep a bag of trail mix handy. If you cook an omelette, add a handful of grated cheese. Buy plain yogurt and add a handful of chopped nuts and a spoonful of honey.

How To Put On Weight For Women

Do exactly the same as the men. Eat more, lift heavy, rest. You'll get stronger and bigger. Except if you're fat, in which case you'll build muscle and burn that fat off.

The whole diet industry is geared towards a weird notion of skinniness as health, which just isn't true. Underfed and scrawny is neither a good look, nor a sign of health. If you want to get some notion of what a real woman looks like, check out hardbodies on reddit*, where you'll find athletic women with muscles, and body fat that's probably a bit on the low side. While you might not want to grow as big, or get that cut, their bodies show what's possible for women who lift weights and eat well.

* Some of the pictures linked to are NSFW, and are marked as such. If you're offended by the sight of a beautiful woman, don't click through.

How To Put On Weight - Summary

  1. - Keep track of what you eat
  2. - Eat more
  3. - Lift heavy, twice a week
  4. - Eat more
  5. - Get plenty of rest
  6. - Eat more

Get the idea? While your genes have a lot to say about your size and shape, you yourself have at least as much input into making the best of what Nature gave you. If you're not happy with the way you look, it's within your power to change that, using consistent, practical methods that work.


Submit a Comment

  • geoffco23 profile imageAUTHOR


    6 years ago from Mansfield, UK

    Thanks, jaybird. When I started working out I lost so much weight I began to worry about it. Then someone told me I had to eat more. Doh. Live and learn.

  • jaybird22 profile image


    6 years ago from New York

    Great hub! I was actually going to write a hub on this exact topic but think you pretty well summed it up. Great usage of video.


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