I'm Skinny And I Want to Build Muscle

By Sal Di Stefano on Sep 14, 2020 10:00:00 AM
9 Minutes Reading Time


Most people want to lose weight. Many people struggle with being overweight, especially in America. You on the other hand would LOVE to be able to pack on some SIZE. You would do almost anything to gain some muscle mass. The problem is, there isn’t a lot of good information out there for people like you. Because we are currently in an obesity epidemic, most fitness and health information are geared around weight loss. Meanwhile, you are struggling to build any muscle at all. Very frustrating.

I know exactly how you feel. I am a natural skinny guy, an ectomorph. A hardgainer. When I started lifting weights, I could care less about having abs, I just wanted muscle. I wanted bigger arms, shoulders, chest, back and legs. I wanted to GAIN weight not lose it. I struggled for years to gain any traction too. It seemed like nothing worked. My body stubbornly seemed to WANT to be skinny. If this is all resonating with you, keep reading. I eventually figured out the skinny guy conundrum and I packed significant amounts of muscle on my body. I got so good at the mass gaining process that it became one of my specialties as a professional trainer.

For over 20 years I helped people with skinny genetics add slabs of beef to their bodies.  Through trial and error, AND through careful research, I figured out exactly what hardgainers need to get their bodies to respond and GROW. If you follow my advice, your body will change, you will get stronger and you will work WITH your genetics to build an impressive and muscular physique.

Before I get into the nuts and bolts, we should talk about the differences between hardgainer skinny types and everyone else. Let’s start with the muscle building process itself. When you lift weights properly, you stress the body. Your body then reads this stress signal and attempts to CHANGE to prevent similar stress from happening in the future. In other words, your body tries to adapt. This adaptation process is muscle building.

When it comes to muscle building, we can actually measure how much muscle building adaptation is being signaled by looking at something called muscle protein synthesis. Although the process is complicated, we can generally assume that your body is adding new active tissue anytime your muscle protein synthesis levels are higher than baseline. When these levels spike, it means your body is building.

Studies show that muscle protein synthesis levels spike after a good workout but then they quickly begin to drop. After about 24-72 hours, muscle protein synthesis levels are back down to normal. Your body was actively building muscle at first ever so slightly, but then after a short period of time it stops. If you time your workouts just right and maximize your muscle protein synthesis levels, you build muscle faster than if you do not time them right. Notice how studies show a range of when protein synthesis levels drop. Want to guess where skinny hardgainer types fall in that range? You guessed it, the shorter window.

It is highly likely that people with good muscle building genetics have a spike in muscle protein synthesis (muscle building), that lasts much longer than people who are naturally skinny with hardgainer genetics. This may be one of the main reasons why typical resistance training routines don’t put muscle on your body like they do on other people. Most routines have you hitting a muscle group once or maybe twice a week. The idea behind these routines is to blast a muscle group hard and then leave it alone to “rest and recover” for half a week or, usually, a full week. This strategy DOES NOT work for hardgainers.

Although you may still be sore and need the extra time to recover, the muscle building signal is gone. Recovery is NOT building, it is healing. How do we build muscle then? How do YOU keep the muscle building signal elevated while NOT overdoing the damage?? Simple, you triple the frequency you train a muscle group, but still do the same total volume.

Let’s say your normal not so effective current routine is having you do 15 sets for chest once a week. Take those total sets and divide them over three weekly workouts. Now you are hitting the chest THREE days a week for 5 sets each workout, for 15 total sets in the week, instead of hitting the chest once a week for 15 total sets. Same total work but triple the frequency which keeps the muscle building adaptation signal elevated ALL WEEK LONG.

How do you structure this? Honestly there are many different ways, but the most effective in my 20 years of experience was to have my naturally skinny hardgainer clients train the whole body three days a week. All body parts were hit in three workouts a week every single week. This simple approach often triggers significant strength and muscle gains in hardgainers.

Another challenge skinny hardgainers tend to have is a roaring hot and fast metabolism.  Although most people would LOVE this “problem,” you find it to be annoying and troublesome.  You eat more food than your friends, yet they gain weight and you gain NOTHING. This sucks.

What I am about to tell you may irritate you, but the truth is, you still aren’t eating enough. I know it sounds crazy since you feel like you eat more than most, but you need to consider that your metabolism is FAST. It’s burning up everything you are eating and there isn’t anything left over to build with. 

You MUST eat more calories than you burn if you want to gain any mass. You need to have EXTRA calories to build with, otherwise nothing will happen regardless of training. You can even take steroids and you would not build muscle without the building blocks. If you don’t have an objective calorie strategy your metabolism will make gaining any size impossible. 

How much should you eat? How many calories are “enough?” Although the right number can vary from person to person depending on metabolism and activity levels, studies show that generally speaking, hardgainers need around 22 calories per pound of bodyweight. That means if you weigh 150lbs, you need to eat a whopping 3,300 calories EVERY SINGLE DAY. Take your body weight and multiply it by 22. Start there. Use a food tracker to make sure you hit that number every day, even on weekends. Just one or two days short will slow down progress or even cause progress to halt.

Overall calories are king when it comes to mass gain, but what makes up those calories can also have a huge impact. I am sure by now you know that protein is the macronutrient that is most responsible for muscle gain, and this is true. A high protein diet can make a huge impact on how much muscle you gain when your calories are high. How much? Studies show 0.6-0.8 grams of protein per bodyweight to be ideal. But I don’t agree with that range. Those studies were likely performed on people with average muscle building genes. You are a hardgainer.

In my experience, hardgainers need MORE protein than the average person. Aim for 1 gram per pound of bodyweight. The best source of protein for mass gain is well sourced red meat. Steak and ground beef are the best. Not only are they high in protein, but they are also high in one of the most effective non calorie, non-hormonal muscle building nutrients ever discovered.  Creatine.

There are a LOT of supplements out there that promise to build muscle. Almost none of them work. It’s not just my opinion either, studies PROVE this. If calorie, protein, and nutrient demands are met, supplements won’t speed up muscle growth at all. Except for creatine. On its own, creatine reliably and safely boosts strength, muscle recovery and muscle gain. As a hardgainer you will benefit from taking a creatine supplement every day. I recommend sticking with creatine monohydrate since it is the most studied form. Most of you will do great with 3-5 grams every single day.

Now for the not so sexy piece of advice. Sleep. It is the biggest missing piece for hardgainers. If sleep is just a little below adequate, your body’s ability to build muscle is severely hampered.  In my experience training hundreds of hardgainers, sleep is usually one of the most neglected.  It may be because hardgainers tend to be a bit more “wired” than most, making them feel like they need less sleep. It may be true that your body needs less sleep to function, but it still needs lots of good sleep to GROW.

Ask any mom or dad what their kids do when they go through a growth spurt. They sleep.  Adequate sleep RAISES testosterone and growth hormone and it increases insulin sensitivity.  High testosterone, growth hormone and a body that is sensitive to insulin is the perfect hormonal environment for muscle growth. In fact, this is the environment professional bodybuilders try to artificially create through steroid and drug use. 

Aim for 8 hours of GOOD sleep every single night. This means you will likely have to prioritize sleep. Give yourself a set bedtime and stick to it. Trying to make up for a late bedtime by sleeping in doesn’t work well either. Consistent bed times have been proven to ensure good quality sleep. 

Also, make sure to prep for good sleep. You cannot expect your brain and body to produce all the amazing recovery chemicals for as long as you need, if you go straight from computer or phone to bed. The light from the screen tells your body the sun is up which means the first hour to two of sleep is just your body and brain receiving the signal that its nighttime. Either wear strong blue light blocking glassed two hours before bed or (better yet), shut off all electronics two hours before bed. No joke, just two weeks of consistent good sleep will add strength to your lifts ALL BY ITSELF. That’s how important sleep is.

Apply the advice in this article to yourself consistently, and you are all but guaranteed to see new muscle gains and progress. If you don’t, then you can expect to see the same thing you are seeing now, which is little to no progress. Take this seriously. Utilize this knowledge and apply it to yourself and wait…the gains are coming.

Hardgainer Guide | Mind Pump

FREE Flat Tummy Guide


Free Resources

Everything You Need to Know to Reach Your Fitness Goals

Learn More

Sal Di Stefano

Sal is one of the hosts of the Mind Pump Podcast. At the age of 18 his passion for the art and science of resistance training was so consuming that he decided to make it a profession and become a personal trainer. By 19 he was managing health clubs and by 22 he owned his own gym. After 17 years as a personal trainer he has dedicated himself to bringing science and TRUTH to the fitness industry.

Read more from the Mind Pump Blog

Have a question for us?

Feel free to send us an inquiry and allow up to 24 hours for a response.

Contact Us