If you are genetically skinny and lift weights in an effort get bigger and more muscular only to see little or no results, you have predictably received the following advice from people:
“All you have to do is eat more.”
“You aren’t eating enough.”
“Eat more protein.”
It can be incredibly frustrating to hear this kind of advice when you are a naturally skinny ectomorphic (ectomorphs: a somatotype that is genetically skinny, does not gain weight easily, and has a skinnier bone structure) guy because you have likely been TRYING to eat more for a long time. Since you are naturally skinny with genes that make it hard to gain any weight, you have likely been working on gaining some size for years by eating more food than everyone around you. Hearing someone say, “all you have to do is eat more,” makes you want to say “DUH, I KNOW!” or, “WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK I’VE BEEN DOING!?”
I know what this feels like because my body is also this way. As a teenager I felt like I could eat ANYTHING, and my body would refuse to gain a single pound. When I would talk about my frustration to the average person they would laugh and tell me they wished they had my “problem.” People do not understand that it is just as frustrating to have genetics that make it feel impossible to gain muscle, as it is to have genetics that make your body want to be overweight. I KNOW what it feels like for you.
Therefore, I am going to ask you to bear with me. All that frustrating advice you get, although insensitive and partially ignorant, is based in truth. If you are following a good workout program that is signaling your body to build muscle properly and you are not gaining muscular size, then it is HIGHLY likely the problem is your diet. You are not consuming enough calories, regardless of how much you are eating now.
In order to gain any kind of weight or muscle, you MUST consume more calories than you burn. This is a rule of physics, there is no way around it. It does not matter how many calories you are eating now, if you aren’t gaining weight then your calories are too low. One factor contributing to this could be that you have a fast metabolism. If you are a naturally skinny male, it is highly probable that you have a metabolism that is MUCH faster than the average person. So, you can eat more than your overweight friends and still not gain a single pound.
The average ectomorphic skinny hard-gainer type will start to gain weight by eating a diet that contains roughly 22 calories per pound of bodyweight. In other words, take your total bodyweight and multiply it by 22 (this could vary depending on the person). That number is where you should start. Example: If you weigh 150lbs that’s 3,300 calories every single day. If you start tracking your current food intake with a calorie tracking app, you will likely find you are not getting consistently close to this number. 22 times your bodyweight is generally a lot of food, probably more than you are used to eating daily.
Aside from total calories, you will also need to consume a diet that is very high in protein. Studies show that a diet comprised of 0.6 to 0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight is ideal for muscle gain. Since you are a natural ectomorph, you should stay at the upper end of that scale. I personally recommend that my ectomorph clients go slightly higher and aim for 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. That is a LOT of protein. For a 150lbs man, that would be 50 grams of protein for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 50 grams of protein is roughly 6.5 ounces of chicken breast, steak or fish. Since protein is so satiating (it fills us up and kills our appetite) it is very likely that you won’t hit your ideal number.
As far as carbs and fats are concerned, you can allow whatever mix of them to make up the difference in your calories that works for you. In my experience, hard-gainer skinny types do better on a higher carb diet, but this is not super important. So long as total calories and protein are hit, carbs and fats can be almost any mix, so long as one of them isn’t too low.
Consistency is key to success. If you eat the right number of calories and proteins Monday through Friday, but then sleep in on the weekends, skip one meal or lose track of time missing your calorie and protein targets, you will massively hinder or even stop your progress. Say your target calories are 3000 a day, that would make your WEEKLY goal about 21,000 calories. Even if you hit your target of 3,000 calories five days a week, but two days you slipped up and only ate 2000 calories each day, that means you are off by 2,000 calories a week (19,000 calories total). This brings your daily average down to just over 2,700 calories, which is likely breaking even with your daily calorie burn. In other words, being off for only 2 days can completely kill your muscle gain progress.
Now that I have made my point about calories, protein and consistency, and you are likely realizing you do not eat enough, you need solutions. It is not an easy task eating enough calories day in and day out to gain quality mass when your metabolism burns like a nuclear reactor. Throughout my years of successfully training people just like you, I have some very effective strategies I can share to help.
Tip 1: Eat More Meals
This one can make a HUGE difference for you. Eating 6 smaller meals of 500 calories and 25 grams of protein a day is far EASIER to accomplish that eating 3 large 1,000 calorie 50 grams of protein meals from a hunger and getting full standpoint. Eating small meals takes more structure and planning, but it is easier to eat more frequently, than to feel like you are force feeding yourself three times a day. Trying to eat big meals can be such a grind when your appetite is satisfied and you feel stuffed. Small meals are easier to digest and don’t take as long.
Tip 2: Drink Shakes
Drinking high calorie-high protein shakes, can be a game changer when you are struggling to eat the right number of calories. If your goal were to eat six 500-calorie meals each containing 25 grams of protein, you could significantly LOWER this number by drinking one shake in between meals and another before bed. If you had two shakes a day with each of them containing 250-calories and 25 grams of protein, now your six meals only need to contain roughly 415 calories and 16 grams of protein. This makes things MUCH easier.
Tip 3: Eat Foods That are Easily Digested
Stay away from foods that make you feel bloated, stuffed or that kill your appetite for hours. One of the worst feelings in the world is to feel stuffed and bloated from a previous meal while trying to eat your next. Force feeding yourself is not a healthy eating practice, and no one lasts long doing this.
Foods that skinny ectomorphs should probably stay away from due to bloat and digestion include greasy fast food, fried foods, gluten containing grains, candy, and heavily processed foods. Foods that tend to be easy to digest that allow you to eat again later include white rice, fruit, natural meats and fowl, eggs, dairy (if you are dairy tolerant), nuts and starchy veggies.
Tip 4: Always Have High Calorie and High Protein Snacks Around
During this mass gaining process, you will inevitably be caught in a situation where food or optimal food is not available. Maybe you are out with your friends or you are in class. Skipping a meal can make catching up extremely difficult. Therefore, I always recommend that you have easy to eat snacks for quick calories and protein in stock or on you. My favorites are nuts, beef jerky and dried fruit. Those three things give you the fats, proteins and carbs you need to pack on some size.
I know how hard it can feel to constantly fight your skinny genetics, but you are not doomed. Your body CAN build impressive muscle when you apply the right factors. I have personally seen some of the most stubborn hard-gainers pack on 12-15lbs of lean muscle in their first year of PROPER training and diet. You can do this if you track your food and stay consistent every day. Use the tips above to help yourself along this process.