How Can a Skinny Guy Build Muscle and Gain Weight?


question-icon-newI’m a skinny guy and have been trying to put on weight all my life. I have been weight training for a long time but never get the results that reflect my effort. When I do put on weight it always seems to be body fat and not lean muscle mass. My body remains skinny and weak looking with small arms, legs and shoulders.

My father used to be a bodybuilder and my brother is a stocky guy, so I find it difficult to believe it’s my genetics. Can you please help me as to why I’m only putting on fat weight around my stomach versus packing on pounds of solid muscle? I’m in a vicious cycle at the moment. I’m trying to put on weight, yet trying to stop because I don’t want a fat belly. I’m too scared to do too much cardio exercise fearing that even more weight will be shifted from the rest of my body and remain on my belly. Please help!

answer-icon-newEven though your father and brother are bigger guys, you could still have the primary genetics from the other side of your family who probably has a leaner and thinner body style. Some kids grow up chubby while their siblings are super skinny, even though they have the same parents. Each person is different and it sounds like you have an ectomorph body type which means you have a naturally thin body. However, the interesting thing you noted is that you tend to gain fat quickly around the stomach area when you increase your calories and eat more food in the hopes of getting bigger muscles. This issue might come down to the specific types of foods you are eating and not just the overall caloric intake. Remember, it’s the types of whole foods you’re consuming which determines how much muscle mass you will pack on. If you’ve been grubbing down on fat laden and sugar packed fast food and junk food items, then this is most likely the reason why you are not making the gains in lean muscle mass you desire.

The two keys to adding muscle mass with a lean and skinny ectomorph body type like yours is eating lots of nutrient dense food along with training super hard with the right types of compound mass building exercises. These types of exercises are multi-joint movements like barbell squats, deadlifts, bench press and the military press.


Here are some important nutrition and training tips to keep in mind when trying to pack on maximum lean muscle while keeping your overall body fat levels low:

  • Eat at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight every day. Divide the total up between 5-7 meals per day for the best results. You should always try to include a lean protein source in each meal you eat during the day.
  • For the best overall gains in muscle mass while keeping your body fat levels in check, shoot for a macronutrient breakdown of 40% carbs, 30% protein and 30% fat.
  • For the next 6 weeks, remove all cardio and any type of strenuous exercise other than your weight training workouts. Try to get as much rest and recovery after your workouts in order to let your muscles repair optimally. Weigh yourself and take photos before you start and then again after 6 weeks to see how your physique looks. Are you getting bigger and thicker or are you packing on body fat? Make adjustments if needed.
  • Include healthy fats (olive oil, flaxseed, avocados, peanut butter) in your diet to add extra calories quickly.
  • Limit your workouts to 1 hour maximum. Don’t spend all day in the gym. 2-3 hour workouts are way too long! You natural muscle building hormones (testosterone, growth hormone) start to decline after about an hour into your workout, so train hard for 45-60 minutes and then get out of the gym so you can recover and grow!

As mentioned earlier, the biggest thing you need to focus on is eating the right type of nutrient dense food and a ton of it. Cut out all the excess junk food and fast food calories. Your muscles want clean food to grow from and not empty calories that spike insulin levels and store fat. Stick with lean protein (chicken breast, turkey breast, lean steak), brown starchy carbs (brown rice, yams, whole wheat bread) and tons of veggies along with healthy fats. It’s all about calories and the wrong types of food will wreak havoc on your body and limit your overall gains in muscle mass. Think about food like fuel, since that’s exactly what it is. You can either choose super high octane food to fuel a high performance engine (your body) or cheap low octane fuel that will only make your engine run terribly. Which one do you want to choose?

Your pre-workout and post-workout nutrition is extremely important and it’s critical to maximize these windows of opportunity each day you train. A protein shake works great before and after a workout since liquid meals don’t need a long time to digest like whole food meals do. Shakes are also super convenient (take a shaker bottle with you), and the type of protein (whey) can be utilized easily for the fastest source of protein to get to your muscles quickly!

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