How to Eat More – Ectomorphs, Appetite and Building Muscle

(Updated April 11, 2014) As a skinny guy, each and every time I tried to build muscle people would tell me two things: “just eat more” and “just lift heavy.” Then they’d look at me like they’d just solved all of my problems – totally confident they’d given me the information I’d been missing all my life. I was quite familiar with being skinny though, so I was also quite familiar with that advice.

I’d even tried it. Many times.

We’ll cover the lifting heavy part in another post. Both are really misunderstood and fascinating topics, and I think going into some depth could be really helpful. In this article we’ll cover the eating more part – the part that hits really close to home for me. Literally close to home – even my mother would tell me to just eat more.

That’s because in a world where the average first worlder is overweight, us skinny guys, hardgainers, ectomorphs, dreamboats – whatever you want to call us naturally thin guys – we’re outliers. Even when it comes to building muscle we’re often slotted into a footnote – “Oh yeah, and for hardgainer ectomorph body types, you’ve got a fast metabolism and stuff so you’ll need to eat more. Eat carbs – lots of carbs.”

That “just eat more” advice would work fine for most people, but the fact that we aren’t most people is precisely why they’re giving us that advice … and also why that advice is rather naive. I mean, for most people eating lots of food and gaining weight is second nature. If you tell the average dude to “just eat more” he’d be able to. He’d probably get fat, but he’d be able to do it. Hell, he’d probably even like it.

Little do people know that they’ve just casually told us to climb the mount everest of ectomorph challenges.

Eating more is rough. First, our physiology makes it hard to get into a caloric surplus. Second, most mainstream approaches to muscle make it even harder, since they either totally ignore appetite issues or, worse yet, they’re cleverly designed to reduce our appetites. Third, even when we do manage to get into a caloric surplus, our adaptive metabolisms kick in.

By trying to simply eat more and lift heavy we often find our results underwhelming and unsustainable. Ironically, as skinny guys we often have the most natural potential for muscle growth … since, err, we’re so far away from our genetic potential …

Anyway, we should be seeing extremely rapid gains – especially at first. Gaining 2+ pounds of muscle per week is pretty much unheard of in the muscle-building world, and yet us skinny guys are able to do it pretty consistently.

Appetite can bottleneck our results, yes, but most of the news is actually pretty good. In this article we’ll cover ectomorph physiology and appetite, and how overfeeding, building muscle and staying lean differs for guys like us. Turns out we’ve even got some incredible natural advantages when it comes to leanly building muscle – advantages that we can leverage.

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Bony to Beastly – How to Build a Badass Home Gym / Train at Home to Build Muscle

I gained my first 20 pounds using a rusty old barbell and bench that my dad and I found on the side of the road. It wasn’t expensive, it wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t safe and it worked pretty damn well. It wasn’t the first time I’d tried to build muscle – far from it. I’d already tried a couple gyms, a personal trainer and martial arts. This time though, in my minimalistic rickety home gym, things finally started coming together.

… sort of. I didn’t really have any idea what I was doing. I was awkwardly following an advanced bodybuilder routine and just skipping all the exercises that I couldn’t do or didn’t understand. At first I had my burly friend Louis pick up the barbell, curl it, and put it on my back so that I could squat. You might be thinking that my friend Louis was a really strong guy. He was a lot stronger than me … but I could only squat 60 pounds … so when Louis quit after a couple workouts my little sixteen year old sister was able to do it for me.

Anyway, my training was good enough for me to grow, but it was far from great. Very far. Luckily I was just starting to fall madly in love with performance nutrition, which more than made up for my questionable setup and awkward pro-bodybuilder approach to training.

You don’t need any kind of fancy setup to build muscle. If you’re smart about this, you don’t even need the rickety bench and rusty barbell that I had. You do need to master some not-so-fancy lifting fundamentals though. The fundamentals are what pack on slabs of lean mass, get your adrenaline firing, ramp up your testosterone, and let you effortlessly lift your girlfriend up over your head without shaking uncontrollably and straining your lower back. That’s what actually gets you big and strong. Done properly, they’re also what build up rock solid posture and radically improve your health.

Best of all, the big heavy fundamental lifts don’t require much equipment. Hell, you can build tons of muscle with just one brutally efficient piece of equipment.

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75 responses

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The Gym: Etiquette & Equipment

Written by on September 12, 2013 and it's about

Have you ever been to the gym and seen the poor shy skinny guy wandering aimlessly around, clumsily trying out machines? Chances are you only saw him once, because I quickly … errr, I mean “he” quickly gave up and went back to doing what skinny people do. In my case that meant going home to earn strength points for my Asheron’s Call avatar, because, well, at least I knew how to do that properly – slay a bunch of dragons. The gym’s no different. Once you learn the ropes you can get fearsome results and build up your strength and size points just as effectively in real life … but like anything else there’s a learning curve, and it can be frustrating, overwhelming and intimidating at first.

The gym is a place you need to master though if you want to become an impressively strong dude, whether that’s the local Goodlife, the neighbourhood boutique gym or the campus athletics centre. (Or the rusty pile of weights that you found on the side of the road … which is how I gained my first 20 pounds. More on building a home gym next post.)

I remember going to the gym for the first time, eyes carefully kept on the floor for fear of accidentally catching a buff man’s eye and being found out as a first-timer. My 10″ biceps probably made that pretty evident, but at the time pretending to be a pro still seemed like the right move. Unfortunately I was so nervous and clueless that I hardly even got any lifting in. Plus when I would get nervous I would get clumsy too, so all the fumbled weights just drew even more attention to me.

It was only years later, and right after I’d spent a solid month researching strength training, that I finally worked up the determination to go back and stick it out. I marched in, workout sheets and workout drink in hand, ready to successfully complete my first non-nonsensical workout … and was promptly kicked out because my carefully selected denim shorts violated the dress code. Dammit.

So this post will help you conquer both problems: not being a total dork in the gym and help you make sure that your time spent there winds up getting you somewhere ;)

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Marcel's Bony to Beastly Transformation + Milk

Milk, Muscle and Marcel

Written by on May 9, 2013 and it's about ,

One summer I decided I was going to bulk up. This was back when I was 130 pounds and sick and tired of being 130 pounds. I was working at an ad agency as a junior designer on the illustration team. I was new there, and also newly determined to gain 20 pounds. Drinking an entire bag of milk (1.3 litres) each day was part of my plan to do that.

Err … okay that’s not entirely accurate – I didn’t quite drink the entire bag each day. A couple months into the summer one of my particularly caffeinated coworkers started complaining to everyone that by the end of the day, each and every day, I would always finish the milk, leaving none for her afterwork coffee. She was appalled that I was so inconsiderate. I don’t blame her – drinking 1.3 litres each day of communal office milk is certainly an office foul. Shame on Shane.

When this was brought to my attention I felt awful. This was a really awkward situation. First, I had to tell her that I knew what she was saying behind my back, then that I understood her concerns … and then that I wasn’t drinking communal milk – I was bringing my own bag of milk in with me each morning. She’d been using my milk for her coffee throughout the day each day. At that point someone pointed out that there were communal milk and cream cartons in the door of the fridge. She wasn’t impressed: “How on earth would I know that? Who brings in milk to work like that?! You even have your own milk pitcher here … ”

Who brings milk to work like that? Desperate skinny boys who are trying to build muscle, that’s who. Milk’s a controversial drink though, and I’ve learned a lot since then about building muscle. So what’s the lowdown on milk?

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Ectomorph body type Strengths and Weaknesses

There are two things us ectomorphs often forget when it comes to weightlifting. The first is that when we first start taking it seriously, well, we’re still novices. We can’t be expected to perform lifts that require high degrees of athleticism – athleticism that we don’t necessarily have yet. We can develop mobility, strength, stability and power simultaneously with size, so that’s not the end of the world. We do need to learn how to move and lift while we’re getting bigger though, otherwise we’re setting ourselves up for building an imbalanced body that looks funky, performs poorly and is vulnerable to injury. Hardly what we’re trying to accomplish by hitting the gym.

The second thing we forget is that we don’t have the same bone or muscle structures that most bodybuilders and powerlifters have. Most of those guys have highly specialized bodies, accomplished both through decades of training … and also their genetics. They’re often born with proportions that suit the lifts they do. Just like the tallest guys are drawn to basketball, weightlifters typically gravitate towards the lifts that they naturally excel at. This means that the guys you’re watching do the bench press are often the worst ones to get your cues from – the lift is very different for them. They’ve got big muscle bellies, short thick bones, stubby limbs and barrel chests. We’ve often got long tendons, long slim bones, long lanky limbs and shallower rib cages. Taking their cues is like asking a 7’2 guy how to dunk a basketball – he may very well say “uh just reach up and put it in.”

Overall we’re just longer people. We make better decathletes than shot-putters; better quarterbacks than linebackers. Hardly anything to be upset about. It’s not like thin guys can’t kick ass at athletics and build amazingly powerful bodies … but we do need to take a different approach, and it’s not the approach you’d likely see the biggest guys in the gym taking.

So let’s talk about lifting like ectomorphs so we can turn ourselves into big strong ripped athletic dudes. Time to turn to the physics of lifting. Let’s dig into the three main lifts a little bit:

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top-ways-to-save-money-muscle-bulking-costs-protein

It’s May 1st, 2010 and Shane and I just graduated from university a few days earlier. We’re living in a high-rise apartment with our good friend Payam in a less than ideal neighbourhood. We’re just starting our “Muscle May” experiment – a one month challenge Shane presented to Payam and me. The idea was to have all three of us roommates hold one another accountable for 30 days of extreme diet and exercise change.

At this point I have about $500 dollars left on my nearly maxed out credit card, $38 dollars in my bank account, and $0 savings. To make matters worse I have no income, as Shane and I just started up our design business a few days earlier. We’re looking for our next client, are in the process of applying for a business loan, and rent payments are coming up.

“Wait, so I’m going to need to spend more money on groceries?” I say, weighing in at a soaking wet 130 pounds of pure bone and a large head.

“No, you’re going to need to spend a normal amount on groceries. You’re horribly underfeeding your body right now. We all are.” Shane said in response.

“How the heck am I supposed to pay for rent, more food and these supplements you keep talking about … like this nitrous oxide–

“– it’s nitric oxide. Nitrous oxide is what you put in your car.” Shane cut me off. “And it’s only for 30 days. Plus, some supplements, like protein powder, are actually cheaper than real food.”

Fast forward 30 days and I’m now 30 pounds heavier than I was before. (22 pounds from the nutrition and training + 8 pounds from the creatine.) I feel pretty damn incredible. Looks like I had better figure out a way to pay for this new “normal” amount of groceries. Inside are the top 17 tricks I’ve found for cutting costs over the past 2 and a half years without compromising results.
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Best-ectomorph-muscle-building-supplements

We’ve gotten a lot of questions about the best supplements for ectomorphs, what brands we recommend, and whether we need them at all. The answer to that last question is simple: of course you don’t need them. You can build muscle just fine with or without them. In fact, until you know how to build muscle without them you really shouldn’t be buying them at all. Once you’ve got the fundamentals down though, adding in some key supplements can drastically improve your results, make your life a hell of a lot easier, improve your health and even save you some money—if you’re smart about it.

These probably aren’t the supplements you expect though, and you might not be taking them for the reasons you expect either. Us ectomorphs need to supplement a little differently. So we’ve put together a protocol. We aren’t just recommending supplements, we’re recommending a specific combination of supplements taken at particular times that work incredibly well for strength training ectomorphs looking to build muscle and stay lean.

(This is a research based article, and there’s a lot of research being done into muscle-building nutrition and muscle-building supplements. We’ve been updating this post every month with all the relevant new studies that come out.)

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Ectomorph Aesthetics

Every straight guy knows how a girl’s femininity can tug on our heart strings. And our lust strings. Sometimes a woman’s shape, personality, face, voice—it all just adds up to make her absolutely irresistible. (Here‘s an article on the most attractive female body.) Women feel the same way about us men … just based on a whole different set of traits.

For better or worse, the impression we give off can have a huge impact on our life. Even if we train and eat well for our health and performance, we also want to attract great women, and ultimately spending the rest of our lives with the one we want is a pretty damn big deal. And of course, even once we have her that doesn’t mean we should stop striving to be the man of her dreams.

It’s not just about women either—getting the respect of other men is important to us too, both in our personal and work life. Aesthetics, muscle, health and masculinity are all so closely related that how we train and eat can roll over into every area of our life. It makes sense for us to care.

The tricky part is that some of the traits we portray are obvious … but some we’d never even think to think of. Moreover, sometimes it’s those elusive traits that make or break us.

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113 responses

should-ectomorphs-do-cardio-run

Weightlifting, training for a triathlon and chugging along on your mum’s treadmill will all result in your body adapting to the given training stimulus. You’ll create more blood vessels, develop more mitochondria in your cells, trigger gene expression and transform your body right down to a molecular level. You’ll become better at what you’re training to do and collect on the corollary benefits: health, fitness, energy, longevity, intelligence, etc. You’ll also spend more of your life feeling awesome, since exercise affects your neurotransmitters and releases endorphins.

Exercise in general is great, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who disagrees. Different types of exercises accomplish different goals however, and since there are limits to how quickly you can adapt, and training for several goals at once can mean that it takes you longer to accomplish them.

… or maybe not. Is it possible that cardio could help us skinny guys build muscle even more rapidly and even more leanly than just weightlifting alone? An even more controversial question is whether doing only cardio is effective at improving our body composition, health and handsomeness. Not all of us skinny guys are particularly inclined to lift weights, after all, and not all of us ectomorphs are looking to build up big burly biceps. In fact, many of us, because we’ve struggled with weightlifting, strength training and muscle-building in the past, would rather stick to our natural strengths – endurance stuff.

This is a blog for ectomorphs looking to leanly build muscle, be healthy and look awesome. So, how does cardio fit in? What are the pros and cons of cardio?

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38 responses

ectomorph-muscle-building-sugar-artificial-sweeteners

Sugar’s a pretty sensationalized nutrient these days among the health-conscious. Many people rave about how high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is the evilest of sugars, that fruits are a bad choice when trying to lose fat, that sugary foods are bad for you, artificial sweeteners are devilish chemicals, or say, that agave nectar is a more healthful choice than typical sugar.

It’s a bias-ridden topic, and most people weighing in seem to be pushing something. I feel like we showed up to the sugar party naked, because we don’t have an angle. I mean, we aren’t funded by the corn industry, we aren’t dogmatically defending an ideal, we aren’t trying to become the next fad—Hell we don’t care if you’re a paleo carnivore or a vegan, we simply care about what you can accomplish through your nutrition and training.

So where does the sweet truth lie if you turn to science? What does the experience of us and our members tell us about applying that research in the real world? If you’re trying to build muscle and lose fat who’s your ally? And if you want to lead a healthy life which artificial sweeteners are on your side?

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24 responses