Are you plagued by the question, “why can’t I gain weight?”
The reasons for not gaining weight can broadly vary from genetics, food habits, workout routines, Body Mass Index (BMI), metabolism and body type, to lack of appetite. There may be many other factors that contribute to not gaining weight (or at least, not enough of it) even after you routinely stuff yourself with food.
If you are one of those people who regularly sweat it out at the gym, follow your trainers’ advice on diet and workouts to a tee, and put in all your effort and time to get that chiselled muscular physique, yet finding yourself wondering “why am i not gaining weight?”, then you are a definitely a hardgainer, and this is the article perfect for you.
Is Gaining Weight Hard?
If you are a hardgainer who is eating a lot of food but not gaining weight, and your intense workout routine does not seem to be helping either, then you must be rather frustrated (and understandably so) with not making enough gains to transform your skinny build into a muscular one.
Worry not, we have analysed and tabulated the top 6 reasons that may be leading to the inability to gain weight. We have also provided helpful tips so you can work around these hurdles, so that you can essentially overcome your issues and challenges regarding weight gain.
No matter how much your body and metabolism rate try to hold you down, you should not give up on your dream body. Keep pushing hard, but also be smart and efficient with your efforts. Understand your body, and work with it instead of against it- and you will soon see it transform to your best self!
The Ectomorph Body Type: Medical Reasons for Not Gaining Weight
Who is an Ectomorph?
The body types, or in scientific terms, somatotypes, based on the metabolism pattern of the person, can be categorised into three major types– Ectomorph, Mesomorph, and Endomorph.
Out of these, ectomorphs are characterized by a thinner physical frame and higher metabolism rate.
People who fall under this category of somatotype are usually lean, and they generally find it quite difficult to gain weight. That is, they are hardgainers. Does this sound like you?
If you are one of those who have a really hard time trying to attain your weight goals despite a hefty diet that would bulk up anyone else, then you must be having the Ectomorph body type.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Ectomorph Bodytype.
The Perennial Question for a Hardgainer: Where Does All the Food Go?
Research on ectomorphs has shown that their unusually high rate of metabolism is responsible for burning up most of the calorific content of the consumed food, and the inability to gain weight.
The excess calories you consume should typically be stored in your body as fat or muscle, and then get converted into ATP (your body’s energy currency) to meet the energy requirements of your body (1). For an ectomorph, a majority of these calories get burned off really quickly due to the uber fast metabolism, and not much is left to add to your mass.
In order to gain weight, an ectomorph would require a HUGE amount of calories, and parallely, very specific workout patterns that target the big muscle groups in our bodies.
Otherwise, the weight might start accumulating around the belly as belly fat instead of getting you the necessary muscle development.
Also, muscle catabolism can turn out to be a big issue during your resting period (sleep), so it might become essential for you to eat before bed.
Recommended: If you are suffering from low appetite, here is an article on How to Increase your Appetite.
How Do Your Workouts Get Affected as an Ectomorph?
Ectomorph bodies have the tendency to produce low myogenin levels, which is a type of protein that falls under the helix-loop-helix (HLH) protein category.
Another negative outcome of low myogenin level is the limited energy reserve in the muscles that might not allow you to undergo an intensive workout routine, and hence produce a lesser stimulus for the muscles in your body to develop.
As an Ectomorph, you should keep in mind that you can actually eat more freely compared to people belonging to the other somatotypes. This comes as a blessing.
However, a lot depends completely on your genetic factors and while a calorie surplus diet is extremely important, you won’t go very far if you rely exclusively on that. How you utilise the calories, and the muscles you train are what will show tangible results when it comes to bulking.
A lot of hardgainers don’t focus on ‘tailor making’ their routine, and stick to a run of the mill set of exercises, and thus don’t see optimum gym progress.
Even if you’re not a person who is categorized as a hardcore Ectomorph, you might not be gaining weight proportional to the hard work you’re putting in.
Few of the reasons for this can be worked around, while for a few, you would need to reconsider your entire weight gain meals and exercise schedule.
So let’s dive right into it and address the elephant in the room- why are you not gaining weight?
The 6 Main Reasons You Are Not Gaining Weight
The reasons that involve creating hurdles for you in attaining the target weight can be perceived through both an inherently physiological point of view, as well as on the basis of your lifestyle.
Here, we have covered both umbrellas your weight gain shortcomings may fall under.
Ranging from your physiological body type working against you, to lifestyle hurdles, here are the 6 plausible reasons you are eating but not gaining weight:
1. You Are Doing Too Much Cardio
Yes, high intensity cardiovascular exercises have irrefutable benefits. However, if your goal is weight gain, cardio may not be the best bet for you. Too much cardio actually hinders muscle growth.
Fitness and health benefits are immense on doing cardio workouts, but most traditional cardio exercises can result in burning way too many calories and leave your body exhausted.
We are not advising you to stop or avoid cardio workouts altogether, but limiting it.
So, how does cardio inhibit lean muscle growth? Mammalian Target of Rapamycin (mTOR) is the signaling element that controls the changes in the synthesis of your muscle protein.
In simple terms, mTOR is necessary for your body to activate the building of muscles, and gaining lean mass can prove to be difficult without mTOR.
In this context, cardio workouts result in the generation of AMPK that shuts off the activation of mTOR in the body, thus hindering your physical ability to generate muscle growth.
Hence, for a hardgainer who is aiming for muscle bulk, too much cardiovascular exercise in your daily workout routine may lead to inability to gain weight.
2. You May Not be Consuming Adequate Macronutrients
It is a common complaint for hardgainers that they are eating a lot but have trouble gaining weight.
Your food consumption should be scheduled to incorporate the right amount of nutrient intake at the right time.
Along with the calorie intake, you should also be focusing on consuming the macronutrients that can involve you to get the right health benefits and, of course, increase your weight as a whole.
These essential macronutrients consist of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
For every pound of target weight, it is important to consume 1 gram of protein. That is, if you are planning to gain 176 pounds, then your protein intake should include 176 grams of protein-rich food every day.
You should have an essential amount of healthy fats in your diet. For a target weight of 176 lb, your consumption of fat should be 0.4 to 0.6 grams per pound of the target body weight. It is important to keep in mind that this fat should not be trans fat or monounsaturated fat from fast foods.
Another important macronutrient is carbohydrates. For a target weight of 170 lb, your carbohydrate intake should be 350 g.
These macronutrients are absolutely essential for building the muscle fibers and provide you with a proper nutrition that would help you attain your ideal physical build (2).
Recommeded: If you are also looking at taking supplements to help gain weight, here is an article on The Best Mass Gainer for Skinny Guys.
3. You Are Not Eating Calorie Dense Food
If you have to increase your food intake because of your high metabolic rate, you need to consider consuming more calorie dense food to get better results.
Retaining all the macro and micronutrient content necessary for developing your physical build and general health, you should also ensure that your diet also contains a high calorie content so that your body utilizes the calorific energy instead of energy generated when body muscles start undergoing catabolism.
Though fast food might sound enticing and convenient in your case, it is advisable to go for healthier food choices to maintain the caloric surplus on your quest to gain weight. After all, you want to gain weight that is healthy and uniform, right?
Nuts, butter, peanut butter, fatty meat, fish, fish oil, grains, etc. are all good sources of calorie-dense energizing food, and will also provide you with essential nutrients for your health benefits.
Recommended: Here is a complete list of Weight Gain Foods.
Also, try to segment your food intake into smaller amounts but more frequently. The primary goal for you is to consume more calories than what your body would generally burn if you have trouble gaining weight.
4. You Are Working Out Too Much
If you are eating but not gaining weight, you need to plan your eating routine smartly.
Your training should not merely over-stress your body, instead, you’re supposed to stimulate your muscles so that they grow properly. Adequate rest and recovery is also one of the important steps which we will discuss in the next point.
Your body needs to adapt and get accustomed to the workout patterns gradually. You need to gradually increase the level of your exercises, instead of consistently pushing till you drop.
This might trigger the secretion of the stress hormone, Cortisol, in your body and affect the testosterone levels responsible for your body’s development. In a nutshell, your weight gain efforts will backfire.
Keeping track of your workout routines and the outcomes can help you plan your exercise schedule efficiently. If you are struggling to gain weight, you should include proper rest, and not more than 40 to 50 minutes of high intensity workout in your schedule (3).
5. You Are Not Sleeping Adequately
We have the tendency to ignore our sleep cycle as we age. But for better physical development, and visible outcomes, you need to ensure 7 to 9 hours of undisturbed sleep for your mind and muscles to have enough rest and recovery.
Human Growth Hormones (HGH) are secreted when we sleep. So, after an intense session of workout, your muscle fibers will get rejuvenated and develop while you rest.
This will result in repair and growth of your muscles, and hence in the proper development of your overall physical build (4).
Don’t ignore the role of adequate sleep and rest in your weight gain journey!
6. You Are Not Working Out Hard Enough
Your training intensity can impact your overall muscle development and hence result in improving your body weight.
For bigger and stronger muscles, compound training is the key.
If you are struggling to gain weight, deadlifts, weighted pull-ups, overhead press, etc. are some key exercises that will help you develop better movement and will work your muscles out properly.
You need to challenge your body and keep pushing it to its limit… but be careful about overdoing it. You want to push it, not break it! Over-exerting yourself during workouts can actually exhaust your muscles too much.
Recommended: If you think you have hit a plateau and stopped seeing results, here’s a detailed article on Progressive Overload & How to Do It.
A strategic exercise plan will be the best for you. Gradually add weights and increase the number of repetitions, as well as the work-out difficulty, so you can gradually set your body to the rhythm and your muscle memory will get adapted to the flow of your movements.
This is how you can optimize your workouts while maintaining good form, which is essential for optimized weight gain.
The Three Pillars of Weight Gain: How to Best Optimize Your Body as a Hardgainer
So now that we know why you are possibly NOT gaining weight, let’s move on to how you can naturally optimize your body to gain weight despite being a hardgainer.
The three main facets that can trigger your body to gain weight healthily and sustain it for the long term are maintaining a caloric surplus in your diet, training for hypertrophy, and giving your body adequate rest.
Base your weight gain journey on these three pillars of weight gain, and you should be able to attain your dream body efficiently and naturally.
Recommended: If you are looking for more details, here is a complete article on How to Gain Weight Safely.
A caloric surplus is sometimes referred to as bulking in many scenarios. It is basically the process that involves the intake of more calories than what your body might burn on a daily basis.
For example, if your daily level of calorie usage is something around 3000 calories, then if you eat food worth 3300 calories, you’ll be having a 300 calorie surplus. Thus, if you want to gain more weight naturally, you’ll be needing to up your calorie intake over the daily amount of calories burnt in your body. That’s how the extra calories get absorbed in your system.
Caloric surplus varies for different people. Depending on your personal metabolic rate, the calorie utilization in your body can be calculated. This calculated value can help you determine how much excess calorie intake you can implement in your diet so as to give yourself the opportunity to gain weight naturally.
Caloric surplus can also have varied effects on different people depending on their body types. So it cannot be said for certain how much surplus will be suitable for someone- you would be the best judge once you try and test it yourself.
Recommended: Here is a complete article on Calorie Surplus and How to Maintain It.
What we can do, is acquaint you with the necessary factors that need to be considered while determining your total caloric surplus:
- Gender, as it would determine your hormone levels.
- Genetic factors and bone structure.
- Your training experience in the field of athletics and bodybuilding.
- Your previous record of total muscle gain over time and your responses to a regular healthy diet and exercises.
- Your training frequency and the intensity of effort that you put in.
- How close you are to your genetic limits
- Whether your present build is all natural or has been enhanced using steroids.
Caloric surplus definitely plays a major role in muscle and weight gain in an individual. What you need to do is be aware of the caloric intake that you’re considering, and ensure that it exceeds your body’s general caloric burn taking into consideration every activity you are involved in.
Also, while you are aiming for a calorie-rich diet, keep fast food at bay. While they have ample calories, they have negligible nutritional value and will eventually wreck your health.
Hypertrophy can be defined to be the growth of muscle fibers and cells in your body.
This is best achieved through exercise as working out helps to tone and grow your muscles. Muscular hypertrophy can be of two major types:
Myofibrillar hypertrophy deals with the growth of muscle contraction parts, while Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy helps with storing glycogen in the cells.
Each of these has different prospects and different utility in the field of athletics.
For people committing to myofibrillar training, their contractor muscles get activated and that helps the individual with strength and speed.
On the other hand, Sarcoplasmic training involves glycogen storing capability of the muscle fibers, and thus develops endurance and increases the person’s energy for activities.
Lifting weight helps with effectively growing muscles, and muscle growth is directly proportional to the body weight you gain.
Since this article deals with the weight gaining aspect of training, we will briefly discuss how Hypertrophy can help you with gaining weight effectively and overcome the barriers of fruitless efforts.
In your workout routines, if you are using heavy weights for lifting, presses, and curls, it will definitely contribute to the tone of your muscles. Now, it is completely dependent on how much weight would be of your maximum limit- but in general, doing multiple reps can prove more effective for the toning of muscles.
Gradual increase in the weights you lift according to sets has also been proven to be really helpful for efficient weight gain.
Here are few tips that can guide you through to get the necessary muscular hypertrophy and thus make the best out of your efforts:
- Research has shown that those training for hypertrophy should include 6 to 12 reps per set while doing heavy weight training. It is important to allow your body to rest at least 60 to 90 seconds between each set.
Now, the number of sets is completely dependent on how far you can push, but the idea is to push till fatigue, because that is when your muscle fibers will achieve hypertrophy.
- You should not suddenly start lifting too many heavy weights, but also don’t start lifting weights that are too light for you or too easy for you to lift.
This is, actually, completely subjective based on your experience. But here’s a suggestion- it’s best to gradually add weights after each set.
That will help you realize your maximum limit, and also help your muscles to use their full potential. This is how you will start noticing the gains and definition.
- Consulting your personal trainer is the best way possible to get this routine or circuit of workout ready.
They will be able to understand what your potential is and can guide you best with the weight distribution, circuit scheduling, and also the perfect form of the exercise (most important) for your body type and goals.
Our muscles have the tendency to adapt to exercises quite quickly, so you have to keep on challenging your muscles to meet the consistency of your growth and to gain weight and bulk.
Alongside, your diet should include not just calories, but adequate protein so that your muscles can get the necessary nutrition for getting built up.
Lean meat fish, plant-based protein, protein powders and weight gain supplements can help you fulfil your protein requirements.
We can add another pro-tip for you that has worked out really well for us- make yourself a nice protein shake for weight gain, and drink that within thirty minutes after you have completed working out.
We understand that you might be feeling super motivated by now and want to jump straight into the gym and start lifting those weights.
But here’s a word of advice- you need to ensure ample time for your rest.
You might feel like doing those lifts every day, but that would not help you in the long run for gaining muscle bulk and weight. You need to give the muscles enough rest for them to recover, so that they can replenish themselves and get stronger.
Also, as discussed earlier, proper sleep is one of the most important factors for effective and sustained weight gain. Infact, in the long run, it is perhaps more of a decisive factor in your weight gain journey in the long run, than increasing reps in your lifting sets.
Key Takeaways: How To Gain Weight Safely
We would like to advise you to organize your workout routine to engage different muscle groups on alternate days so that the fatigued muscles don’t have to face the stress the very next day, and have enough time to recover before the next bout. Allow yourself a full body rest day once a week.
Have a well-rounded and strategic diet with proper nutrition and enough caloric surplus to get yourself the proper gains.
Steer clear of the pitfalls we discussed earlier in this article to avoid lower or plateauing gains.
Keep the following key points in mind to make the best gains in return for the efforts you put in:
- A nutritious diet with calorie-dense food is important for your weight gain program
- Get enough sleep to help your muscles recover and allow your body to generate the necessary growth hormones.
- Have a workout plan optimized for your body type and body goals, with the ideal (and gradually increasing) sets and reps that can fully utilise your muscles.
- Work every muscle group out to their maximum, and don’t stick to just one specific workout routine. Include as much variation of movement as possible for best results.
- Involve weight lifting in your routine, but in a smart and graded manner.
- Seek guidance from your gym instructor to zero in on a tailormade workout routine and diet for you.
- Full body workout is important, but so is giving your body breathers between the different exercises.
- Work out till fatigue, but DON’T push yourself so hard that you end up injuring yourself or are left lying at home for a week recovering.
- Include some cardiovascular exercises– but it shouldn’t be the primary focus at all. Unless, of course, you really don’t have any other option and it’s mandatory for your line of sport.
- Drink enough water to keep yourself hydrated.
We hope this was an eye-opener about why you are not gaining enough weight despite your best efforts- and we are able to answer your life-long question: why am I not gaining weight?
Yes, as a hardgainer, it is indeed difficult to gain weight. You need to put in a lot of thought into designing a diet and workout routine to get over your body’s natural tendency to burn off all the calories instead of building muscle.
What we discussed over the course of this article, however, should definitely help you understand your body better and work with it and make the best gains of your life!