The path to gaining muscle mass is not for the faint of heart. Especially if you affectionately refer to yourself as a “Hard Gainer.” You know who you are!
If you have gone to the gym regularly for over a year and discovered that you have gotten considerably stronger but haven’t achieved your goal of gaining size, your workout isn’t necessarily the problem!
You can be doing everything right in the gym; ensuring proper progression as you get stronger, prioritizing the compound lifts, and sticking to short interval training for cardio, but if you are not eating enough outside of the gym, you will never gain any appreciable mass. If this sounds like your problem then I have a simple solution for you:
Start thinking about what you can do to increase the calorie density of each meal. There are many great foods that you can eat to help boost calorie density, and here are my top 11.
One of the best ways to increase the calorie density of each meal is to increase the amount of high quality fat in each meal. Avocados are a great source of healthy fat and go great with any number of dishes including sandwiches, soups, salads, and my favorite guacamole.
By adding one medium avocado to your meal you can increase the calorie density by 250 calories! Plus, avocado is available year round and tastes amazing!
A medium avocado has 21g fat, 13g carbs, and 3g protein.
2. Sweet Potato
If you are trying to gain weight and are not consuming some variety of potato, you are just plain wrong! Sweet potato is a cheap, quality source of complex carbohydrates that goes great with a just about every type of meat. My favorite way to eat them is baked fork tender with butter, cinnamon, and raw honey drizzled over the top.
This is an awesome side for any dinner, but you don’t have to limit the sweet potato to dinner. It is also great prepared as home fries with eggs in the morning for breakfast or as wedge fries with a burger for lunch.
One large sweet potato is 162 calories and has 37g carbs, 1g fat, 4g protein.
3. Ground Beef
If you are a hard gainer, you need to be packing as much food into your body as possible. If you have to thoroughly chew every bite of food it will take darn near an hour to finish a meal.
That’s why I love ground beef! It’s already in small morsels so your jaw doesn’t get tired from chewing! That’s a great thing to have when you are consuming up to a pound of meat at each meal.
One 4 oz serving has 243 calories, 17g fat, 0g carbs, and 21g protein.
4. Nut Butters
All natural nut butters are an awesome source of quality fat and taste amazing. Try adding a couple of tablespoons of almond butter, cashew butter, or peanut butter to your oatmeal in the morning for a nice calorie spike. Toss a tablespoon in the blender with some chocolate protein powder and milk for a life changing peanut butter cup shake.
These are just a couple of ways to enjoy the goodness of nut butters. I gained 30 pounds in three months by consuming peanut butter and jelly sandwiches throughout the day!
There are 200 calories in a two tablespoon serving of almond butter with 18g fat, 6g carbs, and 6g protein. That means an entire jar of almond butter has 2400 calories!
If you are looking to gain some size, pasta is not a bad way to go! You can shove down a lot of calories when you consume a pasta based meal!
Pasta comes in many forms for you to choose from, but most have about the same caloric density. Just pick a pasta type that goes well with the rest of your meal and you will be set. If I am eating pasta for a meal I usually stick to spaghetti noodles.
One cup of cooked, plain noodles has 221 calories, 43g carbs, 0g fat, and 8g protein. Believe me, one cup of pasta is easy to tear through in a single meal.
Everything is better with bacon! Well almost everything. Bacon is a great way to add some extra calories and flavor to all kinds of dishes.
If you are healthy and trying to add on some size, harness the power of bacon to get you to your goals. Bacon is great in salads, on sandwiches, sautéed with vegetables, and I’ve even seen it on doughnuts and dipped in chocolate. Those last two might be taking bacon to the extreme, but the point is that if you are trying to gain some size, bacon works.
There are 42 calories per slice of bacon with 3g of fat and 3g protein each so enjoy the process of gaining weight and enjoy having bacon a couple times a week.
7. Grass-Fed Butter
Butter was framed! Butter has been made out to be a villain over the last decade and described as one of the unhealthiest foods to consume. This is just simply not the case, especially if you are looking for ways to add additional calories to your meals so you can gain size!
The argument for keeping butter out of your diet is that it is high in saturated fat, which is true, but most of the saturated fat in butter is actually MCTs, or medium chain triglycerides, which are a great easily digestible source of energy.
Butter is great to use for sauteeing vegetables, over sweet potato, and for finishing steaks on the grill or cast iron skillet.
Just one tablespoon of butter can add 100 calories to your meal, all of them coming exclusively from fat (12g).
No surprise here, rice should be a staple source of carbohydrates in your diet while you are trying to gain size! The great thing about rice is that it is affordable and there are so many different varieties so you don’t get bored quickly.
Also along the same lines as ground beef, rice is easy to eat and you don’t have to chew it too much so you can always eat more than another chewier carb source. Try different varieties like jasmine, basmati, brown, yellow, wild, or even cream of rice to keep things interesting.
One cup (cooked) rice has 216 calories, 2g fat, 45g carbs, and 5g protein.
9. Heavy Cream
That’s right - forget the Coffeemate and reach for the real stuff! You can add some additional calories by adding heavy cream to your morning coffee, protein shakes, and oatmeal. It tastes amazing and adds a nice creamy texture to your breakfast.
Two tablespoons of heavy cream add 100 calories and 12g of fat to your breakfast without having to worry about how you are going to cram down another half a cup of oatmeal!
10. Ribeye Steak
If you are trying to put on some size, it’s okay to reach for the fattier cuts of beef! There is nothing better than a perfectly cooked, bone-in, ribeye steak!
Red meat in general should have a place in your diet if you are trying to gain size because of the additional fat content in each cut. For dinner a couple of times a week, treat yourself to a good cut of beef, a sweet potato, and some asparagus spears, and you can easily consume the necessary amount of calories to pack on some extra mass.
One 8oz bone-in ribeye steak has 600 calories, 46g fat, 0g carbs, 44g protein!
11. Whole Milk
It does your body good as well as your gains! I am not going to go as extreme as some have suggested about consuming a gallon of the stuff a day, but if you are looking to gain some size, and you’re not lactose intolerant, add a couple of glasses of whole milk into your diet and see what happens.
Drink it by itself with your breakfast, add it into your protein shakes, or drink it at night right before bed to get a nice calorie bump before you sleep.
There are 100 calories in an 8oz glass of milk with 3g fat, 12g carbs, and 8g protein, drink up!
As you can tell, gaining size is all about increasing the amount of calories that you consume with each bite! There is no better macronutrient for doing that than fat. Most of the foods on this list have a higher fat content, and if size is your goal, you need to be thinking about how you can eat more without feeling like you want to throw up after every meal because you are increasing your food volume.
Feel free to ask questions or share your favorite gain friendly foods in the comments!