One of the biggest struggles I’ve had my whole life has been with food. With sports requiring me to eat more, and fashion modeling requiring me to eat less, I couldn’t help noticing that food was the common denominator affecting my weight.
There’s a big misconception about the way ectomorphs eat. People think that we have it made. They marvel that we can eat anything and not gain weight, when the fact is we struggle because we can eat all day and not gain anything. While others sit and stare at someone with a thin frame horsing down food (more than likely out of jealousy), the hardgainer is tearing up inside because no matter how much we fill our bellies, we just can’t seem to get the body that we want.
So, how does a hardgainer eat to compete in physique contests and hold the gains?
Eat Smart, Eat Often, and Eat a Lot
I organize my meals by how often I eat and how much I eat. My main consideration is the quality of the food. It’s easy to tell an ectomorph to eat burgers, fast food, and other high-calorie, low-nutrient garbage all day when, in fact, all that may do is compromise long-term health. There are many diet options when it comes to losing weight and so few for gaining weight the right way that it can be daunting. In facing this challenge, I realized that if I were going to eat a high-calorie, high-fat diet, I would have to choose my nutritional sources carefully. That meant including lots of nutrient-dense foods, with a variety of vegetables, lean-protein sources, and good fats, like avocado and coconut oil.
Most of what I’ve learned has come through years of research and self-experimentation; for example, by observing the results of various diets and tweaking the macronutrients. A simple Google search produced many articles. I read them, looking for common themes, and then I based my meal plan and schedule on those common points.
Breaking down the diet into proteins, fats and carbs was the next step. It’s expressed as a percentage of calories coming from each of the macronutrients. My nutritional plan includes a large amount of protein, a large amount of carbs, and a moderate amount of fats, roughly 40-40-20 percentages.
I found this formula through experimentation. I would eat more carb and less protein or visa versa, trying to find the right mix. I needed the protein to help build muscle, but I also had to have enough energy to get in a really great, productive workout. This combination seemed to work best for me, and other ectomorphs I’ve talked with report working off the same formula. It has the right amount of protein, carbs, and fats to maximize muscle building without leaving you feeling too bloated and heavy. These percentages are my overall goal for the day, but I find it easier to maintain them in each meal so I can keep up my energy throughout the day and not have to make up any one nutrient. The exception is the protein shake I have before bed.
Meal timing has a strong impact on the absorption rates for hardgainers. I have learned that ectomorph bodies best absorb nutrients at night, when our speedy metabolisms are slowed. When the body can absorb the nutrients it needs, it can start the muscle-growth process. That is the goal of every hardgainer—not just weight gain, but muscle gain.
Sample Meal—Keep It Simple
Based on the above, here’s what a typical day of eating looks like for me year-around, when my goal is to keep the build I have.
Meal 1 (5:30 a.m.)
4 whole eggs scrambled with 1 cup veggies in unsalted butter
2 slices whole-wheat toast with strawberry or fig jelly
Meal 2 (8 a.m., postworkout)
2 scoops ProFight Sports Whey Vanilla blended with 2 cups spinach, ½ avocado, ½ cup whole milk, and ½ cup water. Add ice to make it chilly.
Meal 3 (10:30 a.m.)
Turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread with 3 ounces turkey, lettuce, tomatoes, squash, and light mayo
1 cup carrots or 1 cup strawberries or blueberries
Meal 4 (1:30 p.m.)
1 large sweet potato
4 ounces chicken
3 tablespoons peanut butter with a banana or dates (depending on how crazy the day gets)
Meal 5 (4 p.m.)
4 ounces chicken, fish, or (about once a week) red meat
2 cups seasonal veggies
Meal 6 (usually 9 p.m., before bed)
Protein shake or 1 cup cottage cheese with 1 teaspoon cinnamon
I would love to be able to tell you that I have killer curves like Michelle Lewin’s, but to be honest, I haven’t even come close to developing my muscle the way she has. Still, with a better understanding that food is my friend and that it can take me closer to my goals, I have been able to gain the mini cupcakes I saw on other women and so desired.