5 Reasons Why Hardgainers Can’t Gain Weight Or Build Muscle

M&S Team
Written By: M&S Team
June 17th, 2013
Updated: June 13th, 2020
103.2K Reads
Man Gain Muscle Mass
Are you really a hardgainer? No, probably not. Most lifters who have trouble packing on muscle mass are making these 5 mistakes. Start building muscle size today!

I can't gain weight. I can't build muscle. Am I a hardgainer?  How many times have you heard this question? Probably one too many times, I imagine.

If you are having a hard time gaining weight or muscle, I am not trying to make fun of you. The point of this article is to rattle a few cages, and wake some of you up.

If the scale isn't moving, and you're sitting at your computer chair right now wondering if you truly are a hardgainer, please read on...

Here are 5 reasons why you can't gain weight or build muscle.

Reason 1. You Have No Idea How Many Calories You Are Eating

Nearly every skinny guy I've ever met told me: "I'm eating a lot." You know what happens next? When I ask him to tell me specifically how many calories he is eating per day a funny thing happens... silence. This "hardgainer" has no idea how many calories he's eating each day.

The solution? Take a week and detail everything you eat and drink. From there, hit one of the numerous nutrition sites online and figure out exactly how many calories you are eating per day. This is a good starting point. You will now be able to adjust caloric intake as needed.

By monitoring exactly what is going into your body, you can then know for sure if you are eating enough food. Odds are you will find out that you are eating fewer calories per day than expected.

Man cant gain weight

Reason 2. You Have No Idea How Much Protein You Are Eating Per Day

You might have a couple of chicken breasts, a protein shake or two, and maybe even a few egg whites - but the truth is...you have no idea how many grams of protein you are eating each day.

Did you know that most studies indicate a lifter needs at least 150 grams of protein per day, or one gram per pound of bodyweight, to gain muscle at an optimal rate? Yes, true story bro. If you have no idea what your protein intake is, it's time to find out.

It is very easy to undereat protein. We live in a very carb-centric world. Many lifters choose to supplement their protein intake with whey or casein protein shakes. This makes it much easier to reach daily minimum requirements.

Just like you did with calories, take a week to monitor your protein intake. Aim for about 180 to 200 grams per day each day. This is a quality ballpark range to aim for when muscle building.

Reason 3. You Are "Working Out"

While working out is great for overall heath, it doesn't guarantee that you will build muscle mass or gain weight. Breaking a sweat only assures you of one thing, and that is the fact that you're burning calories.

Working hard does not mean you are working smart. "Smart" work includes the use of the best tools in the gym - compound exercises. You also need to focus on progressive overload, or getting a heck of a lot stronger than you are now. Doing intense 15 pound dumbbell curls for 30 minutes might leave you in a pool of sweat, but it does little to build muscle.

Stop working out and start training properly. The easiest way to do this is by maximizing every set. Head into the gym with the goal to beat each previous workout's effort by at least one rep.

If you were able to hit 200 pounds for 6 reps on the bench press, push for 7 or 8 reps. This constant drive for "progression" is the magic behind the muscle building process.

Reason 4. You Are Doing Way Too Much Cardio

You are skinny. You can't gain weight. Why in the world are you trying to do 300 minutes of cardio each week?

Some cardio is great for overall health. But for a skinny guy, too much cardio only makes it harder for you to gain weight and build muscle. Limit your cardio sessions to 3-4 per week, for 20-30 minutes at a time. This is plenty. Trust me.

Get in, improve your health and heart, and get out. Save your extra time for eating and rest.

Ripped Man In The Gym With Dumbbell

Reason 5. You Are Obsessed About Having Abs, And Think You Are Fat

You are not fat. You weigh 130 pounds.

You are not fat, you simply lack muscle mass. Understand this...when you are very thin, the body will want to hold on to a few extra pounds of fat. It will be darn near impossible for you to lose them. Why? Because you are underweight and your body needs to protect itself against starvation.

Instead of worrying about your body fat levels, focus on adding 30 pounds of muscle. This extra weight will make you look like a super stud, and no one will notice those extra 2 pounds of "gut fat" you are currently obsessing over.

Have you made any of these mistakes? Let us know how you turned things around in the comments section below.

Posted on: Wed, 11/19/2014 - 04:36

i am 24, weight 58, 182 cm height, i want to improve my body weight,

Posted on: Sun, 01/26/2014 - 09:33

I am 53, and am slowly gaining, and the main reason is controlling #1 & #2. I've been counting my food since I began my mass building program around 20 weeks ago. I've been counting my macros/calories every day, and pretty much know my maintenance calories. #1 is the key in my estimation and will override most everything else. I have a trainer who's guided me to #3. I was a cardio junkie for over two decades. Now, I do it 2-3x per week max, and make sure I eat extra calories those days to cover the calories I burned. And I was obsessed over abs, but not any more.

Safiullah Khan
Posted on: Sun, 01/26/2014 - 07:08

ii thiink thiis artiicle can be helpful foh me as ii dun know how much caloriies n proteiins ii take per day ...

Chris Field
Posted on: Sun, 01/26/2014 - 06:36

I never read anything at all but this caught and kep my attention I am guilty of most if not all of the above, I did think I was a hard gainer I never checked my daily calorie intake and probably dont eat enough this article has been a huge eye opener for me so thank you

Posted on: Sun, 01/26/2014 - 03:39

This article is awesome. I really sholud start knowing how many calories i consume.

Posted on: Sat, 01/25/2014 - 22:29

Thanks, this really did help me a lot. In going to start counting next week

Posted on: Sat, 01/25/2014 - 21:36

I've never ever had bodyfat of any sort, talking as low as 2-3% when I had a medical that included measuring it a few years back. But, at the same time, I've always done a lot of training of every sort, so I've had a good basic fitness.
Now, cutting nearly all my cardio, adding supplements, larger meals (tons of meat&veg) and heavy lifting made me gain ~12% bodyweight (in this case that's 7-8kg) in 12-15 months, and even 1-2kg just since new year.
I still have so little bodyfat that the veins on my abs are visible, but I've gone up some sizes in shirts, and all jeans are tights....

Posted on: Sat, 01/25/2014 - 21:26

good info, some can even apply to those wanting to lose weight. Record your food. this is the best of all. I never did it before, but im getting older now and just counting protein doesnt cut it. I use myfitnesspal and if someone records their food it can be an eye opener. what I thought I was consuming wasnt exactly the truth. log your food because your results come from nutrition

Posted on: Sat, 01/25/2014 - 20:56

I haven't really been too set on working out till now. I've been taking things seriously 2 months ago I started taking pill packs and been focusing on doing 5lbs more than last time. I noticed a big difference in my size and strength. I learned it's not how much and fast u can lift but how slow and calm u lift and squeezing ur muscles ur working on for serious results.

Posted on: Sat, 01/25/2014 - 20:44

What about easy gainers? If I do any type of weight training, I explode. I have tried Low weight, high reps too.

gann chandler
Posted on: Sat, 01/25/2014 - 20:27

yes i was 6'2" 172lbs with incredible abs but no size....i was #5 on your list for sure!!

Posted on: Sat, 01/25/2014 - 20:26

I work out a ton and need to put on a ton of weight and have still a lot of speed...foot movement I now weigh about 170 any tips

Posted on: Tue, 06/25/2013 - 16:33

Steve, I have been lifting on and on for many years and I have always had a hard time gaining size. I have been a doing a lot of reading about this subject, including many articles from you. I'm interested in gaining lean muscle mass only and I read an article about carb cycling as a way to do this. In it it talked about your different macro nutrients and where they should be. I have been following this and have been getting trimmer but not necessarily gaining size. Then I read your article about BMR and that has me thinking I am not eating nearly enough. I am 42 years old, weigh 174.2 lbs, with a body fat % around 12.4%. I have been eating anywhere from 2300 to 3000 calories a day, with a macro nutrient breakdown of 35% of my calories coming from protein and carbs and 30% coming from fats. Again my goal is to gain lean muscle mass, Am I on the right coarse or would you recommend changes. My lifting is more of a circuit style that I developed that trains each body part twice a week. They are 30 to 35 minutes long and performed 6 times a week. 3 days a week in the morning and the opposite 3 days a week in the evening. I also perform HIIT cardio for 20 minutes 6 times a week on the treadmill. I'm a salesman so I mostly sit during the day. Any help would be appreciated.

Posted on: Sun, 06/23/2013 - 10:51

Great article thank you.

I have to admit. My abs was the big barrier to get huge, Many of us concentrate on abs instead of big shoulders and bigger chest etc.. I started to igonre my avoid watch at my abs and focus on building thiker arms and legs and of course chest and back.

Posted on: Sun, 06/23/2013 - 02:52


Sonny Ewing
Posted on: Fri, 06/21/2013 - 12:42

Another great article from Muscle and Strength!

Posted on: Wed, 06/19/2013 - 17:27

Thanks for the great article! I've been too fat and out of shape for the past 10 years so now that i'm finally around 10-12% BF it is tough to hear "ok now gain weight", but I know it is the right thing to do if I do it correctly.

Posted on: Wed, 06/19/2013 - 14:52

I'm currently cutting and trying to gain muscle. A lot of these facts, mostly charting consumption, pertain to me. Thanks. But I also think that for regiments like mine theres time to cut calories and do a lot of cardio and then times to lift, eat, rest.

Posted on: Tue, 06/18/2013 - 13:55

I am finally seeing some results. For years on end, and not without trying, I have been at 78kg. I now finally have invested in a trainer that knows what he's talking about, focusing on lifting HEAVY (or heavy for me), constant progression (even a half rep as he says), and doing serious 'foundation building' with compound exercises. If you're ignoring squats and deadlifts, you seriously need to think about adding them to your routine. If you are also neglecting your recovery, you're just breaking down the muscle before it has a chance to repair and build - very counterproductive. Finally, he shouts "EAT" in my face every time I see him. I try to eat every 3 hours. I am now going to start measuring and counting calories and specifically protein intake as a result of this article, as I was just trying to eat more, which simply isn't good enough if I want real results. One final word - you don't know what failure is until you train with a driven personal trainer that doesn't accept no for an answer. You THINK you know what failure is. You think it is the point where you feel pain and you don't want to continue, but he has taught me to push through it. Top tip he taught me: You don't fail at the top of a rep, you fail at the bottom of one, that is why you should try find a gym buddy to spot you. Luckily I train with him alone when the gym is quiet because I scream like the Wolverine on those last reps. Keep at it guys!

Posted on: Tue, 06/18/2013 - 12:19

Great article
I had same problem was not eating enough when i
start eat more i start growing

Posted on: Tue, 06/18/2013 - 11:28

Good article of some of your tips Steve, I would add tracking your workouts with a log, or like I use, a phone app. I got back in the gym a year and a half ago at 27 after a couple years off. Was a skinny fat 190, after a few months I wasnt seeing much progress so I ditched my gym buddy to workout alone and focus on compound lift progression like Steve stresses. I then took the next step and started eating big but not off the dollar menu, tracking my intake, etc.... After a few months of full body, push/pull/legs, and custom splits, all focused on weekly progression, I broke a fit 200 pounds at 5'11", I am not shredded but dont have a gut either (don't do any cardio, just max effort during lifting). I am ok with this, i wither away if I try to get my old abs back. I am currently in a maintenance mode right now, but this coming fall, I plan to break 205. Steve, and Mark W as well, have great tips for whatever your goals may be. Find what works for you, track it, and improve on it daily.

Posted on: Mon, 06/17/2013 - 20:40

I used to have the same problem until I started reading this site and doing some of dougs and steves programs. I started out in 2009 at 178 lbs and I am 6'2. Then I got over having those pesky lower abs being covered by a small amount of fat, and started trying to beat my previous weeks reps/weight. Although I can't always progress each week I TRY and even getting that last half rep or cheat rep counts. Now I am 220lbs and feel better than I did when I was a stick figure. I also learned how to cut properly with minimal muscle loss. To all beginners that are serious, this article should be bookmarked because it is 100% true.


I will be back in the forum soon!

Jean Carlos N
Posted on: Mon, 06/17/2013 - 19:14

Wow i felt like if it was magic at the last reason! I'm kinda obsessed with getting my dream abs! And besides I'm not seeing the results i want, I'm getting a little ripped but not seeing too much gain. Even though I am 16, don't know if it's because of that. Any advice?

Ps: I have 5 month straight doing natural. I bought a whey protein now, it should be delivered in a week

Posted on: Tue, 06/18/2013 - 08:47

Drink lots of Milk, a Gallon a day works wonders and Eat,EatEat! 5x a day.

Jean Carlos N
Posted on: Mon, 06/17/2013 - 19:14

Wow i felt like if it was magic at the last reason! I'm kinda obsessed with getting my dream abs! And besides I'm not seeing the results i want, I'm getting a little ripped but not seeing too much gain. Even though I am 16, don't know if it's because of that. Any advice?

Ps: I have 5 month straight doing natural. I bought a whey protein now, it should be delivered in a week

Posted on: Sat, 01/25/2014 - 23:58

Great abs are made in the kitchen. You want to make good lean gains. Try these for your macros. 1.5x your body weight in protein. 2.5x your body weight in complex carbs, and keep fat below 40g. This is your daily intake. If you weigh 100 lbs, eat 150 g of protein, 250g of complex carbs, and less than 40 g of fat per day, divided among 6 meals a day. Hit it hard at the gym. Don't be the guy who does one of everything everyday, and do legs. I can't count your calories for you, that's up to you to make the right decisions. Good luck

Posted on: Mon, 06/17/2013 - 19:02

Damn, I'm a hardgainer!! I was doing everything wrong.

Grayson G
Posted on: Mon, 06/17/2013 - 18:25

guilty as charged. Thanks for the slap on the wrist!

swaleh athuman
Posted on: Mon, 06/17/2013 - 18:11

i agree with this context perfectly right

Posted on: Mon, 06/17/2013 - 18:10

For months I thought I was a hard gainer, then I started dialing in nutrition, which is the hardest part of building a better physique. I recommend doing a lot of research before getting into the hole exercise theme...

Kristian S
Posted on: Mon, 06/17/2013 - 17:54

100%. It's been exactly one year today since I started my body building journey and I'm so glad I stuck at it. I literally use to say the same thing daily to myself, 'I eat a lot'. I'm finally on a cut and am eating more than what I thought was a lot this time last year haha

While I didn't count calories in this part year, I slowly increased my food intake, from extra meals to finally larger servings. Only because I had a lack of education. Now I'm counting my macros purely through a trial and error of that past year and my results are shouting through the roof!

Point I'm trying to make is, ROME WASN'T BUILT IN A DAY. I went from 71kg in June last year to 92kg of June this year. While I did put on a considerable size of mass on, fat was part and parcel. Because of it, my strength went through the roof and my comfort in the gym was completely different. So eat to grow people! Use that trial and error approach through calculating your macros while weighing yourself daily to find your maintenance. If the scales moving up, your in a surplus, if its going down, your in a deficit and if its staying where it is, we'll get munching!

Hope this helps some of the younger fellas out there! Good luck people :)


Posted on: Sun, 01/26/2014 - 07:57

You should write an article on your experiences Kristin. It would help out a lot of people :)

Posted on: Mon, 06/17/2013 - 17:09

i love the last reason. That applies to us all.

Posted on: Sun, 01/26/2014 - 08:45

haha exactly!