Naturally skinny guys usually have a hard time bulking up and adding some lean muscle to their small frame. But the bigger part of this difficulty originates from having the wrong approach to training and dieting, and not their genetic makeup on its own.
The truth is that the majority of mainstream bodybuilding articles and tips are focused on helping mesomorphs, or natural athletes, sculpt their bodies to perfection.
And when ectomorphs, or the naturally skinny guys, try to train and eat like their counterparts should in order to gain muscle size, their efforts are more often futile than not.
So before adopting a new program, you have to make sure it fits your body type and emphasizes your genetic strengths. This is actually the key to bodybuilding success – bench pressing until you drop dead won’t lead to substantial muscle growth by itself.
But if you take some time to build a program that suits your body composition and fitness goals, you could experience groundbreaking progress in a short period of time.
Not sure where to begin? Read our guide to efficient muscle building designed specifically for ectomorphs.
#1 Eat right
The rule is that if you don’t regularly supply your body with more calories than it needs, it won’t grow, period. Ectomorphs have trouble adding both fat and muscle, which is a blessing and a curse.
On one hand, they can eat tons of junk food without changing the numbers on the scale, but on the other, their muscles seem to refuse to grow no matter how hard they lift.
This is because ectomorphs have a very active thyroid gland, an incredible metabolic rate and a higher ability to assimilate carbs than the other body types, which means that their bodies require more carbs to get an insulin spike after training.
While the rest of the world runs away from those delicious carbs like they’re the root of all evil, ectomorphs get to eat A LOT of them. In fact, carbs are the ectomorph’s best friend.
Eat generous servings of carbs at every meal – opt for complex, unprocessed, whole grain carbs most of the time, but also eat some simple carbs before, during and after your workouts. A good rule of thumb is to eat between 2 and 2.5 grams of carbs per one pound of bodyweight.
For the ectomorph, muscle growth is all about creating an optimal caloric surplus. Don’t be afraid of food – you need to eat enough good quality food to gain and maintain the desired level of muscle mass.
Aim for a daily surplus of 500 calories for best results. To calculate exactly how much calories you need to consume on a daily basis, use this equation:
Your bodyweight in lbs x 15 + 500 = ideal calorie intake
For example, if you’re a 170lb man: 170 x 15 = 2550 + 500 = 3050 calories
That being said, since you should be getting the biggest part of your daily calorie intake from carbs, your macronutrient split should look like this: 55% carb / 25% protein / 20 % fat.
It’s advisable for ectomorphs who seek extra muscular size to spread 5-7 meals out evenly throughout the day instead of eating 2-3 meals per day.
In addition, since most guys have a trouble meeting their recommended daily calorie intake by consuming only whole foods, introduce liquid meals to your diet to make sure you’re getting all the calories you need for a significant growth.
Eat high-quality food
Food choices should include quality sources of protein such as lean meats, eggs and fish, slow-digesting carbs such as sweet potatoes and whole grains (except around workout time, when fast-digesting carbs are preferred because of their ability to fuel a workout and speed recovery) and healthy fats found in olive oil, coconut oil, avocados and nuts.
#2 Train smart
Traditional approaches to training for size don’t work well for ectomorphs. Instead of hitting the gym 5-6 times a week and training a different body part each day, these guys should focus on strength training and perform fewer and shorter intense workouts that emphasize major compound lifts.
High intensity, low volume workouts
The goal is to trigger muscle growth as a by-product of strength gains, instead of doing tons of high rep, high volume exercises that have proven to be terribly ineffective for ectomorphs.
Even though ectomorphs, with their delicate bone structure and stringy muscles, don’t possess a great deal of strength and power in general, these men can train to be strong and significantly improve their endurance, and this should be their main goal.
As they gain more strength and muscle size, progressive overload should be implemented to ensure sustainable progress. In addition, this style of training diminishes the ectomorph’s natural tendency towards muscle catabolism.
Here’s a sample training split:
Bent over barbell row, 4 x 8
Barbell shrug, 4 x 8
Wide grip pull up, 2 x failure
Upright barbell row, 2 x 5
In addition, while it’s true that most types of cardio are counterproductive to bulking efforts, performing some steady state cardio exercises such as low intensity jogging and cycling two or three times per week can help you meet your fitness goals and support better health without endangering precious muscle mass.
Don’t forget – muscles grow at rest and not during the actual training session. And since ectomorphs have a naturally higher tendency to burn muscle as fuel, getting enough rest is a crucial part of their bulking process.
In addition to the low-volume trainings, ectomorphs need to make sure they get 8 hours of sleep every night, leave at least 24 hours between strenuous workouts and rest longer during their training sets as well – 2-5 minutes of rest will allow their nervous system to recover from the stress of training.