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Nutrition, Hardgainers

Nutrition Mistakes Skinny Guys Make

By Sal Di Stefano on Jul 7, 2020 9:00:00 AM
12 Minutes Reading Time


Socrates once said, “No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”

Being skinny and physically weak for a guy doesn’t feel great. You do not fill out your clothes the right way, you feel “small” around your normally built friends, and your lack of physical strength and presence can have a negative impact on your confidence. As men we instinctually want to feel physically solid, strong and capable. We evolved to be the hunters and the protectors. It’s not only important to have strong minds, but to also have strong bodies. We are SUPPOSED to be strong and have visible solid muscle.

Having classic “skinny guy” or “hard-gainer” genetics makes things much more difficult. Human bodies can be placed into three super general categories when it comes to our genes. Endomorphs tend to be heavier, thicker boned and carry more body fat. They tend to gain ALL weight relatively easily. Mesomorphs are the natural athletes who are naturally muscular and relatively lean. They build muscle and strength easily. Ectomorphs are the naturally skinny people with thinner bone structures, less muscle and body fat. Ectomorphs have a tough time gaining any weight whatsoever. Most people are a combination of those three body types, but some of us seem to fall square into one category. If you are a naturally skinny guy who doesn’t seem to put on weight no matter what you do, then you are a classic ectomorph.

If you are looking to pack on some serious size but you are also cursed with a body that does not want to build any muscle keep reading. I am going to help you put together one of the most important factors for muscle gain that all ectomorph types tend to screw up on. We are going to talk about DIET. Aside from training, your diet will fully dictate if you gain a lot of muscle, a small amount, or none at all. Even if you follow the best muscle building program on the planet for skinny guys (like my program Maps Anabolic), you won’t gain a single pound if you aren’t following a diet designed for hard-gainers ectomorph like yourself. This is a fact.

I know what you’re thinking. You think that if you increase the amount of food you’re eating and aim to consume more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. There is a lot of truth to this, your body will not have the necessary extra building blocks and materials for muscle gain if your body is not left with extra calories at the end of the day. If you don’t eat enough raw calories nothing will happen, but it’s much more complicated. What the food you consume is made up of can determine if you gain muscle or fat. The single largest mistake ectomorphs make with diet is that they eat a lot more food with little concern for what the food is, they only aim to increase their calories. HUGE mistake.

Look, I know you probably just want to be bigger and gain weight, and maybe you’re not super particular about what kind of weight, but trust me, you want most (if not all) of it to be solid strong muscle. Gaining a bunch of body fat for a skinny guy just makes you skinny fat, and your physical strength will not improve much. Still, total calories are important which is why at the end of this article I will give you tips on how to eat more food when your roaring metabolism requires so many calories.

Your food is made up of many components and chief among them are the three macronutrients. They are proteins, fats, and carbs. Let’s start with the most important muscle building macronutrient, protein. Protein is what your muscle fibers are made up of. You NEED protein to build any muscle whatsoever. To be even more clear, your entire body needs protein just to survive. It is an essential macronutrient; you must eat at least some if you want to live. Protein is most easily found in animal products like meat, milk, fish, fowl, eggs and cheeses. To a lesser extent it is also found in some plant sources like soy, hemp, nuts, seeds and some grains. Since protein is essential and since it is what muscle fibers are literally made up of, it’s logical to think that a high protein diet is very helpful for muscle building. This logic is completely accurate and backed by decades of athletic and muscle building dietary research.

Even old-time strongmen and strength athletes knew this. Before we fully understood what macronutrients were or before we knew what protein did, these muscle building pioneers observed that they built more muscle and strength when their diets were high in high protein foods such as eggs, milk and meat. Arthur Saxon, an incredibly muscular strong man in the 1870’s, would consume as many as 24 eggs in one day in order to fuel his muscle building endeavors. Although that is a bit extreme, it is safe to say that we have known of the muscle building power of a high protein diet for a long time. The real question is, what is considered “high protein,” and what is the ideal amount for muscle building?

Thankfully for you, we have extensive studies on this very topic. These studies all clearly show that the ideal amount of protein for muscle building to be between 0.6 to 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. In other words, if you weigh 150lbs and you want to maximize your body’s muscle building potential, you should consume between 90 to 150 grams of protein a day. One caveat, all protein studies were done on regular healthy men. They were NOT performed on genetically skinny ectomorph types.

In my personal experience (I am also an ectomorph), those of us who have a really hard time gaining muscle do better on the higher end of the scale. If your goal is to build muscle in the fastest and most effective way possible, you should stick to no less than 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. Take your total protein target and divide it up between your meals. If your objective is to eat 150 grams of protein that would be a little over a full pound of chicken breast, or one and a half pounds of red meat, or 25 eggs to give you some context. Protein should be the priority in your diet, so make sure you hit your protein target every single day. Studies do show that animal sources of protein work the best with muscle building, but plant sources can also work. Before you go off and just start consuming a ton of protein, you also need to understand that protein alone will not cut it. You also NEED carbs and fats.  

Carbohydrates fuel our bodies with quick energy, and carbs help protein do its muscle building job. Carbs are found most simply in plant sources like potatoes, rice, wheat, fruit, corn and other starchy grains. Animal sources provide very little carbs, but you can get some from dairy products. Carbohydrates give us the power we need to flex and move our muscles, and they help our muscles stay hydrated and full. That pump you love so much in the gym? Carbs help make that happen.

Lately there have been low carb fitness influencers who preach that carbs are evil, and that muscle building does not need carbs. Although it is true that carbs are not essential for survival (you can live your whole life without eating a carb), and your body can build muscle without carbs, it is NOT the ideal way to go about packing on solid muscle. Especially for naturally skinny men. I have been in the fitness space professionally training people for over two decades and I have NEVER met a natural ectomorph who could gain size effectively on a diet that was low on carbs. It is possible, but going low carb is a slower approach and it is unlikely that you will reach anywhere near your muscle building potential.

Aim for 2-3 grams of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight. This would be 300 to 450 grams of carbs a day for a 150lbs man. If that sounds like a lot of carbs to you, you’re right, it IS a lot. If you are eating 4 meals a day, that would be roughly 100 grams each meal. In order to reach this number, you might be tempted to fill it with any carbs you can get, but that would be a mistake. Aim for carbs that are dense and that give you good clean energy. Although sugars are carbs, eating a ton of sugars tends to give people wild energy fluctuations which can make training properly or even living properly a nightmare. You also don’t want to eat foods that are unhealthy. If your health declines you can kiss your muscle gains away. The best sources of good energy carbs in my experience are white rice, buckwheat, pasta (so long as you are gluten tolerant), and some fruit.

Just like proteins, fats are another essential macro nutrient. You MUST eat a certain amount of fats to survive and thrive. Fats are essential for nerve health, brain health and hormone health. In fact, low fat diets can actually lower a man’s testosterone levels. Since testosterone is a potent muscle building hormone, you do NOT want to go low fat with your diet. There is no need to eat a ton of fat, unless you need the extra calories or your carbs are on the lower side, but you definitely should not avoid them. The best sources of fats come from well sourced meat, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy, olive oil, coconut oil, and nuts and seeds.

When it comes to animal sources of fats, they tend to ride along side with proteins. When choosing animal protein sources go for the fattier tastier cuts of meat and chicken. You will kill two birds with one stone this way. My favorites are 85% lean ground beef, lamb, salmon, and chicken thighs. For maximum muscle make sure your total calories are made up of around 20-25% fat calories.

Back to calories, studies show that hard-gainer types need at least roughly 22 calories per pound of body weight. Sticking to the 150lbs man example, that would be 3,300 calories. Let’s break down what this would look like in its entirety including proteins, carbs, fats and total calories.

150lbs man

150 grams of protein (600 calories)

450 grams of carbs (1800 calories)

100 grams of fats (900 calories)

Total calories: 3300

Now that you have an idea of how much you need to eat, you may be wondering how the hell you will be able to eat so much and do so consistently. Eating the amount of proteins, fats, and carbs it takes a natural ectomorph to gain muscle for one day is one thing, but to do it day in and day out is another story. It can feel daunting and it can be hard to do when you feel full or unmotivated to eat anymore. Below are my favorite strategies that can help you eat enough consistently in order to gain the size you want.

Eat More Meals

It is a LOT harder to eat three big meals than it is to eat six smaller meals. With the example above of 3300 calories, you would need to consume 50 grams of protein, 600 grams of carbs and 33 grams of fat for 1100 calories for EACH meal. That is a very difficult process. Instead, try breaking this up into smaller meals eaten more frequently. It is an old bodybuilder trick and it makes the process much easier.

Focus on Easily Digestible Food

If you eat foods that make you feel bloated or that cause digestive distress, eating more will be a nightmare. Stick to foods that do not make you feel overly full. Getting a lot of protein from plants can cause bloat for a lot of people, so try to stick to animal sources. For carbs, white rice is one of the easiest carbs to digest. As far as fats are concerned, fried foods can really hurt your appetite, so try to stick to healthier fats like the ones that naturally come with your meat or some olive oil on your veggies or salad.

Drink Some Calories

After all is said and done, you may still find it very hard to hit your protein and calorie goals. This is where protein shakes, milk (if you can digest it easily), and juices can help. Drinking a protein shake in between meals or having a glass of milk with your meals is an easy way to add extra protein, fats, carbs, or calories.

If your workout is effective and you follow the above advice, you will put on muscle size and you will gain strength. The key is consistency. A consistent workout with a constant well-planned diet can add mass to even the most stubborn skinny physiques. Stay disciplined and your body will change and morph into a better, stronger, and more muscular version.

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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.

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