Gains For Ectomorphs

By Chad Kerksick, PhD ProSource

[Editor’s Note: Welcome to Part One in our three-part series on Bodybuilding by Body Type. Achieving and maintaining the ideal physique is extremely challenging for all athletes, but it poses special challenges for Ectomorphs (or Hard Gainers) and Endomorphs (people who have difficulty ripping up and getting lean). Of course, if you’re a Mesomorph (which is to say, someone blessed with peak metabolism and mass gain potential), you’ve got a great head start toward achieving your physique goals. (Though we’ll be dedicating an installment of this series to you, as well.) Today, however, we start with Bodybuilding for Ectomorphs, or Hard Gainers, as investigated by our resident supplementation expert, Chad Kerksick, PhD. Take it away, Chad!]

Does your body not seem to cooperate when it comes to getting bigger and stronger? Are your efforts to get bigger and stronger futile? Should you just don the short running shorts and attempt to be a stellar endurance athlete forgoing your dreams of getting bigger and leaner than the next guy?

“Hardgainers” is the common term thrown around in bodybuilding circles for this type of individual. Traditional ways of describing them from a more scientific approach include “ectomorph” or someone who is tall, skinny, lanky, etc. Endomorphs are rounder, softer, shorter (not always) and sometimes thought of as fatter. Finally, the holy grail is that of a mesomorph: lean and muscular. What are the hardgainers to do? The basic recipe remains the same, but because their bodies are not as favorably programmed to pack on muscle, these considerations take on an even greater level of concern.

The Growth Stimulus: Resistance Training
Yes, this article is about nutrition and supplementation considerations, but let’s be honest, you can have the best diet in the world, but if you are not resistance training in a manner to stimulate growth, you won’t grow. Getting bigger and stronger is hard work and you must follow a few key resistance training principles.

First, overload. The human body responds to stimulus and when overloaded it adapts; when overloaded with resistance it adapts by getting stronger and increasing the size of the muscles. Common hypertrophy prescriptions recommend lifting loads that are around 75 to 90% of a person’s maximal strength for that exercise for anywhere from 6 to 12 repetitions. Another key principle is volume and high levels of volume have traditionally been associated with growth. For this reason somewhere between 3 to 6 sets per exercise are commonly completed. If you meet someone who is jacked and says they got that way performing one set to failure, you have permission to dismiss them (or envy their highly unusual genetics).

Two more final points to cover. First, growth workouts are commonly associated with lower levels of rest and somewhere between 45 to 90 seconds of rest are commonly prescribed. The final point is to pick exercises that use your biggest muscles and lots of them. Bench press, lat pulls, rows, squats, leg press, deadlifts, etc. are the exercises that should comprise every workout. If bicep curls and calf raises are your favorite growth exercises, you can stop reading now.

You Grow When You Rest
Each workout creates the environment where growth can occur. Growth and recovery takes place during rest along with proper nutrition to fuel the process. If five hours of sleep is a good night’s sleep and you often are up later than everyone else, you might want to figure out how to get an average of eight solid hours of sleep per night. And no, an extra glass of water, multi-vitamin or helping of quality protein won’t make up for crappy sleep habits.

Muscle Growth Requires Adequate Calories
For growth to occur, many factors must be in the correct balance and one of the most important factors is adequate energy to fuel the process. Relatively speaking, the biological process of building muscle demands a great deal of energy and many times hardgainers are not consuming enough calories in their diet (Genton 2010). Dr. Susan Kleiner recommends daily caloric intake levels around 45-50 calories per kilogram of body mass or approximately 22-25 calories per pound. This might seem excessive, but people who do truly train hard with high volume day in and day out can easily require this amount. Further fine tune this amount by monitoring your energy levels, recovery and body composition.

Not all calories are equal and as a result your meals and snacks should comprise a healthy balance of foods that provide optimal levels of carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats, as well as vitamins, minerals and fiber that work synergistically to put your body in a state where the energy expensive process of growth can occur. A food-first approach is recommended, but this ideal approach must be balanced with practicality and reality. For example, if your busy life hasn’t allowed for you to consistently prepare enough meals and snacks day in and day out, then various forms of supplementation are commonly recommended.

While getting enough of all the macronutrients is critically important to provide the fuel needed to drive the energy expensive process of muscle growth, getting enough protein is crucial. Building muscle means building more of the proteins that comprise our muscle tissue and its connective tissue and each of these proteins need the amino acids from your diet to efficiently build these proteins. Again, food sources should comprise a requisite portion of your protein intake, but many people decide to supplement for a number of reasons. Several studies and review papers indicate that protein needs are greater in athletes who perform heavy resistance training. Common recommendations suggest that around 1.2 – 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass is a good starting point (Phillips 2004, Campbell 2007).

Other studies involving protein tells us that 20 grams per dose seems to be an ideal amount of protein as rates of muscle protein synthesis were maximized at this dosage level (Moore 2009, Witard 2014). ProSource offers a wide array of supplemental protein products, notably their original NytroWhey and NytroWhey Ultra Elite, that will allow for more convenient and efficient delivery of needed proteins. ProSource’s NytroWhey products are justly celebrated for their purity and potency, and they pack quite the muscle-building punch.

For people that are on the go for work and moving around, packing the necessary food and finding time to prepare it can become a challenge. This is particularly true when you take into account studies indicating that optimal levels of amino acids in the blood and rates of muscle protein synthesis occur when more frequent (every 3 hours), but relatively smaller (~20 grams) doses of protein are administered (Moore 2012, Areta 2013).

Not all proteins are created equal, If you are going to commit yourself to training the way you must and get to the grocery store and plan your meals as you should, you need to make sure you are consuming the highest quality protein sources available. Studies routinely tell us that isolate versions of whey protein such as those found in NytroWhey Elite are of the highest quality and instigate favorable changes in strength and muscle mass (Kerksick 2006, Cribb 2007).

Other excellent considerations are ultra-rapid-action hydrolyzed versions of whey protein isolates such as those found in BioQuest’s MyoZene. An excellent study compared the impact of a single dose of hydrolyzed whey protein isolate, micellar casein and soy isolate both at rest and in response to a single bout of heavy resistance exercise and found that immediate changes in muscle protein synthesis in both conditions were greatest when hydrolyzed whey protein was consumed (Tang 2009).

Finally, whey protein is favorable because first it provides the highest amounts of leucine, the all-important anabolic trigger that studies have told us drives overall activation of muscle protein growth (Norton 2009). Here, again, it is useful to reference BioQuest’s MyoZene, as it has recently been reformulated to include a highly bioactive form of L-leucine called PepForm Leucine Peptides that enable leucine to remain soluble and stable, primed to facilitate muscle protein synthesis along the mTOR pathway. Also, studies seem to indicate that hydrolyzed whey protein may not only help build strength and muscle, but also have a special impact in helping to lose fat (Coker 2012). This is an essential double benefit when it comes to improving your body composition.

As a dietary supplement, many arguments can be made towards creatine being one of the most important supplements for someone to consider, particularly hardgainers. Creatine is an amino acid that is naturally produced inside your body and stored in muscle. Supplementation with creatine at a dosage of around 3-5 grams per dose for a period of 3-4 weeks significantly increases the amount of creatine stored in the muscle (Buford 2007). As a result, the body is able to more efficiently use the creatine to rebuild energy molecules that are rapidly broken down during intense exercise training.

For the past 10 to 15 years, scores of scientific studies have been published consistently showing that supplementing with creatine is an effective way to increase strength and muscle mass while also increasing the total volume of high-intensity effort that can be tolerated (Kreider 2003, Buford 2007). Put succinctly, an excellent review of these papers in 2003 by Richard Kreider of Texas A&M University stated that approximately 70% of published papers show some form of performance enhancement. No studies using creatine have consistently reported any decrease in performance. Not much has changed since then.

Various sources of creatine exist and ProSource Creatine Monohydrate carries the coveted CreaPure label which means it comes from the purest sources available. Yes other versions of creatine have been marketed, but studies using buffered creatine (Jagim 2012) and creatine ethyl ester (Spillane 2009) have both shown there to be no difference between the creatine monohydrate found in products like ProSource Creatine and these alternative creatines (other than the latter’s greatly inflated prices).

For some people getting stronger and bigger is extremely challenging! The most important consideration is motivation and dedication towards training your tail off using an exercise program that will trigger growth. Then you need to apply that same focus and drive towards eating an excellent diet. To help deliver the right amount of nutrients at opportune times means, for many people, that they will supplement their diet. An excellent first choice is a high-quality protein supplement like the protein found in both original NytroWhey and NytroWhey Ultra Elite. Your next task should be to add a top-flight creatine monohydrate like ProSource Creatine to your daily regimen, as years of scientific research show creatine to help improve strength and muscle mass.


Areta JL, Burke LM, Ross ML, Camera DM, West DW, Broad EM, Jeacocke NA, Moore DR, Stellingwerff T, Phillips SM, Hawley J and Coffey VG (2013). “Timing and distribution of protein ingestion during prolonged recovery from resistance exercise alters myofibrillar protein synthesis.” J Physiol.

Buford TW, Kreider RB, Stout JR, Greenwood M, Campbell B, Spano M, Ziegenfuss T, Lopez H, Landis J and Antonio J (2007). “International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise.” J Int Soc Sports Nutr 4: 6.

Campbell B, Kreider RB, Ziegenfuss T, La Bounty P, Roberts M, Burke D, Landis J, Lopez H and Antonio J (2007). “International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise.” J Int Soc Sports Nutr 4: 8.

Coker RH, Miller S, Schutzler S, Deutz N and Wolfe RR (2012). “Whey protein and essential amino acids promote the reduction of adipose tissue and increased muscle protein synthesis during caloric restriction-induced weight loss in elderly, obese individuals.” Nutr J 11: 105.

Cribb PJ, Williams AD, Stathis CG, Carey MF and Hayes A (2007). “Effects of whey isolate, creatine, and resistance training on muscle hypertrophy.” Med Sci Sports Exerc 39(2): 298-307.

Genton L, Melzer K and Pichard C (2010). “Energy and macronutrient requirements for physical fitness in exercising subjects.” Clin Nutr 29(4): 413-423.

Jagim AR, Oliver JM, Sanchez A, Galvan E, Fluckey J, Riechman S, Greenwood M, Kelly K, Meininger C, Rasmussen C and Kreider RB (2012). “A buffered form of creatine does not promote greater changes in muscle creatine content, body composition, or training adaptations than creatine monohydrate.” J Int Soc Sports Nutr 9(1): 43.

Kerksick CM, Rasmussen CJ, Lancaster SL, Magu B, Smith P, Melton C, Greenwood M, Almada AL, Earnest CP and Kreider RB (2006). “The effects of protein and amino acid supplementation on performance and training adaptations during ten weeks of resistance training.” J Strength Cond Res 20(3): 643-653.

Kreider RB (2003). “Effects of creatine supplementation on performance and training adaptations.” Mol Cell Biochem 244(1-2): 89-94.

Kreider RB (2003). “Species-specific responses to creatine supplementation.” American journal of physiology. Regulatory, integrative and comparative physiology 285(4): R725-726.

Moore DR, Areta J, Coffey VG, Stellingwerff T, Phillips SM, Burke LM, Cleroux M, Godin JP and Hawley JA (2012). “Daytime pattern of post-exercise protein intake affects whole-body protein turnover in resistance-trained males.” Nutr Metab (Lond) 9(1): 91.

Moore DR, Robinson MJ, Fry JL, Tang JE, Glover EI, Wilkinson SB, Prior T, Tarnopolsky MA and Phillips SM (2009). “Ingested protein dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young men.” Am J Clin Nutr 89(1): 161-168.

Norton LE, Layman DK, Bunpo P, Anthony TG, Brana DV and Garlick PJ (2009). “The leucine content of a complete meal directs peak activation but not duration of skeletal muscle protein synthesis and mammalian target of rapamycin signaling in rats.” J Nutr 139(6): 1103-1109.

Phillips SM (2004). “Protein requirements and supplementation in strength sports.” Nutrition 20(7-8): 689-695.

Spillane M, Schoch R, Cooke M, Harvey T, Greenwood M, Kreider R and Willoughby DS (2009). “The effects of creatine ethyl ester supplementation combined with heavy resistance training on body composition, muscle performance, and serum and muscle creatine levels.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 6: 6.

Tang JE, Moore DR, Kujbida GW, Tarnopolsky MA and Phillips SM (2009). “Ingestion of whey hydrolysate, casein, or soy protein isolate: effects on mixed muscle protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in young men.” J Appl Physiol 107(3): 987-992.

Witard OC, Jackman SR, Breen L, Smith K, Selby A and Tipton KD (2014). “Myofibrillar muscle protein synthesis rates subsequent to a meal in response to increasing doses of whey protein at rest and after resistance exercise.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 99(1): 86-95.


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