The Hardgainer's Nutrition Guide

August 22, 2011

Author: Steven Stiefel; Photographer: Paul Buceta; Model: IFBB Pro Craig Richardson

Within the realm of nutrition, bodybuilders tend to fall into one of two camps: 1) Those who have trouble keeping their weight up, having to force in calories during the offseason; or, 2) those who have no trouble adding mass in the offseason but have to deal with the unwanted bodyfat that tends to come with it. Both of these genetic types come with their advantages and disadvantages.

IFBB pro Craig Richardson clearly fits into the first category. To keep growing in the offseason, he has to consume three weight-gaining shakes a day in addition to pre- and post-workout shakes and five whole-food meals. That’s 10 meals a day in the offseason totaling more than 6,000 calories daily.

For hardgainers, the upside of having to consume this extraordinary amount of food and meals is that they often find it easier to get in shape for a bodybuilding competition. That’s true for Craig as well. “The biggest changes I make to my diet between precontest and offseason are that I drop the weight gainers from my program and I back off on the carbs a little bit.”

The results have paid off. This fall, Craig plans to step onstage at the 2010 Olympia at a ripped 250-plus pounds. This will be Craig’s third time on the Olympia stage (he finished 17th in 2005 and 13th in 2008). This year, Craig has greater expectations because of how much effort he’s put into his year-round nutrition plan.

Here are the strategies and approaches Craig has implemented in his nutrition regimen during his offseason and precontest prep for the 2010 Olympia.


While getting in shape is critical for all bodybuilders, hardgaining bodybuilders often face more of a challenge during the offseason. That’s because even though they’re taking in more total calories and more of the nutrients they need for growth, packing on size and lean mass is still difficult for many guys.

>> “I make sure to get in all my protein.” To provide raw material for maximal growth, bodybuilders need a constant supply of protein. Craig consumes more than 550 grams of protein a day during the offseason. While this is probably more than his body can use for amino acids to build muscle mass, he prefers to err on the side of extra protein. With 10 set meals per day (all containing some form of protein), Craig knows his system is getting a constant supply of amino acids so his body doesn’t have to break down muscle tissue to harvest aminos needed for biological processes.

>> “I make sure to consume all 10 of my daily meals. Every day.” This is one of Craig’s cardinal rules. He knows that skipping a meal is one of the biggest mistakes he can make in the offseason. “If I miss a meal, I’ll weigh a pound or two less the next day,” he says.

>> “I make sure to get in all my calories.” Craig takes in approximately 6,000 calories a day during the offseason. “Some people have a hard time believing I eat that much, but I’ll start to lose weight if I eat fewer than that amount per day.” This rule relates to the latter because not only does he need to eat all 10 meals, but he must also ensure those meals add up to approximately 6,000 total calories and are consumed evenly throughout the day. “Without enough calories, at a single meal or at the end of the day, you miss an opportunity for growth,” Craig explains.

>> “I make sure to eat plenty of quality carbs.” Craig takes in a large number of carbs every day. He likes to have ample carbs in his offseason diet because they help bump up his caloric intake and they provide fuel to the body for continued growth. And, beyond a certain point, taking in more protein becomes pointless for adding muscle. Craig explains that once you’ve eaten more than roughly 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight daily, your body will simply start using protein as energy, essentially going through the process of turning protein into carbs. So, at that point, it’s simply more efficient to go straight to the source and consume carbs (which are much cheaper in terms of your food dollar). Craig likes the efficiency of both slow-digesting and fast-digesting carbs of which he consumes more than 500 grams a day in the offseason.

>> “I can eat cheat foods in the offseason, but I restrict them to after I’ve eaten a clean meal.” One of Craig’s common cravings is a burger, but he knows that if he decides to eat a cheat meal, he’s likely to consume three burgers. “I don’t need that many bad calories, so my rule of thumb in the offseason is to allow myself whatever I have a taste for, but only after I’ve had my bodybuilding meal. If I’m still hungry for a burger, then I probably need the calories.”

>> “I don’t worry too much about how much fat I take in.” During the offseason, Craig’s M.O. is to consume all the protein and carbs he needs for growth; the amount of fat he takes in each day is secondary. He figures the fats fill out the balance of his total daily calories once he’s achieved his goal of consuming all other nutrient needs in his nutrition plan. If Craig weren’t a hardgainer, however, he’d likely be paying more attention to his fat intake even during the offseason.



The good news for the hardgaining bodybuilder is that the precontest (or cutting) phase is typically easier than it is for bodybuilders who grow readily in the offseason but who add excess bodyfat that they end up having to shed. While a leaning-out period is always more difficult for all bodybuilders, compared to the offseason, Craig doesn’t find it to be too much of a challenge.

>> “I cut back moderately on my calorie intake.” For Craig, the decrease amounts to a reduction of more than 2,000 calories a day. While the reduction itself is more calories than some Americans consume in a day, Craig still takes in a healthy 3,500–4,000 calories a day while he’s prepping for a bodybuilding contest.

>> “I don’t take my carbs too low.” A lot of bodybuilders slash their carbs to the bone during their precontest phases, but Craig has learned that doing so not only shrinks his fat stores, but it also reduces his muscle mass. “I’ll still consume more than 250 grams of carbs a day while I’m preparing for a competition,” he says. Generally speaking, that’s a lot of carbs for a precontest bodybuilder, but it makes up just slightly more than half of Craig’s total caloric intake. He explains that if he goes too low with his carbs, he begins to drop weight too quickly, including muscle mass. “If that starts to happen, I just bump up my carb intake a bit.”

>> “I keep my protein intake consistent.” Many bodybuilders increase their protein consumption during a precontest phase, but Craig is already taking in a high amount of protein, so he doesn’t need to bump it up at all. He loses some protein intake because he’s cut out three of the mass-building shakes he takes during the offseason.