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.
Ectomorphs Need to approach supplements differently
Most supplements are targeted at the average guy. The average guy is overweight and looking to get leaner. Maaaybe he’s also looking to pack on muscle while he’s at it. This is the world that the supplement companies are presented with, and they respond by making supplements that are targeted at these guys. We need something a little different.
Look at BCAAs, one of the most common workout supplements available these days. They’re an ingredient in pretty much every workout supplement out there … yet us ectomorphs don’t need them at all.
See BCAAs are found in protein, and different protein sources have different amounts of them. As naturally skinny guys we’re much better off eating their calorie-rich cousin—whey protein. A classic 30g scoop of whey protein actually has about 6g of BCAAs in it, which is more than a typical 5g scoop of BCAAs has. (Obviously.) Besides, the other nutrients present in whey boost muscle protein synthesis post-workout far higher than BCAAs alone, making whey far superior for us ectomorphs. (study) But if you were the average guy, calorie-light BCAA supplements become a valid option.
This supplement protocol has one type of guy in mind: the naturally skinny ectomorph.
Do ectomorphs need supplements?
Hell no. And we aren’t trying to con inexperienced trainees into buying supplements they don’t need, so I’m going to tell you right now: if you aren’t training and eating properly these supplements are not for you. They aren’t magic, and they won’t build muscles out of thin air. You still need wicked muscle stimulation from a solid strength training program, and a great nutritional foundation that’s able to build muscle.
A good program (like ours) that includes both training and nutrition is the #1 place that you want to invest. The next crucial ingredient for success is actually doing the program. These two things will get you further than any combination of supplements—guaranteed. No amount of supplements make up for a sub-par training plan. And no amount of supplements make up for not getting your ass off the couch.
The benefits of investing in a solid plan last for life. You won’t eat your way through $200 of information and then have to go buy more—you can invest in it once, develop a solid training and nutritional foundation, and collect your results. Until you know what you’re doing all the money you spend on supplements will be wasted, because you won’t be getting anything out of them. In fact, once you know what you’re doing, you’ll probably realize that you don’t even need supplements, because your results will be so good without them.
- Crappy program + supplements = no results, frustration, and giving up
- Mediocre program + supplements = slow and unpredictable results, if any
- Great program + no supplements = great, steady, reliable results. You’ll soon have a sweet physique and bear-like strength.
- Great program + intelligent supplements = “holy $%& man! Where did all those muscles come from!”
So, this supplement plan assumes that you’re an ectomorph with a plan. I’ll even take this one step further—this supplement list is for guys that can already get consistent results out of that plan. If you’re still working out the kinks save this stuff for later.
With those two elements in play these supplements will help you transform yourself much faster. All of these supplements are tried and true, and we’ve personally used this combination with great success. They’ll make you more muscular, stronger, and perhaps even healthier. Quickly.
We recommend a nearly identical protocol to our members, too. Albert’s a good example of someone kicking ass with a busy schedule (young doctor with 14+ hour shifts), finding a way to eat enough good food anyway, training as consistently as he can, and supplementing intelligently as the cherry on the cake. The supplements aren’t the key factor in his gains, but they probably helped.
Why this supplement protocol kicks serious bony ass
You can do fantastically well without any supplements, and some of our guys do go that route. In practice, though, this protocol can have a huuuuge impact on your results. The reason is simple: this protocol isn’t just a bunch of vitamins and fancy patent protected formulas—it contains a hell of a lot of calories, and calories are exactly what us skinny guys need. Consuming the perfect types of calories at the perfect moment is a pretty big deal when it comes to building muscle. The fact that you’ll be consuming these supplements as a calorie-dense liquid makes this combo even more powerful for us ectomorphs, because it makes it a breeze to down 1000+ post-workout calories.
And it’s cheap. It’s cheap compared with other supplements and even with regular boring old food. I mean if you want to build muscle your calories need to come from somewhere. Whey protein is a very affordable type of high efficiency protein (compared with meat, eggs and dairy, which are also high efficiency protein sources). Carbohydrates are usually pretty cheap, but the maltodextrin that we’re recommending is extremely cheap. Best of all, these simple ingredients we’re recommending don’t just undercut the price of the fanciest and most complicated supplements out there—they perform just as well or better.
As far as brands go we’ve done our best to hook you up with the best ones. Full transparency: these are affiliate links, so you’ll get us 5-15% commission if you buy them via the links—which would be fantastic. We’ve used these guys ourselves in the past and we really like them. They’re reliable and affordable and stock our favourite brands. You may save some money too, because we’ve tried to hook you up with the best deals we could find.
I’m going to explain the four different muscle-building powerhouse supplements that we recommend for us strength training ectomorphs. At the end of the article I’ll outline the specific protocol we’ve designed so that you know exactly how and when to take all this stuff.
Oh, and, of course, consult your doctor before beginning any supplement regime that you find on the internet
Creatine is the most powerful legal muscle-building supplement. Ever. It’s also 100% safe, with no reported disasters after decades of rigorous testing. The studies are pretty impressive. This stuff actually works. Secretly mixing creatine into a trainee’s coffee in the morning radically improves his muscle gains? Pretty fearsome.
Some guys joke that creatine supports the entire muscle-building supplement industry, and that isn’t so far from the truth. When you start reading supplement ingredients you’ll be amazed at how many of them have a few grams of creatine tucked away into every serving. The stuff is cheap and it actually works. How many supplements out there would still produce results if you yanked the creatine out of them? Not many. Not many at all.
Think of most supplements like mix drinks. There are a lot of cool colours, flavours and ingredients, but the whole point of them is the alcohol. Creatine is the alcohol. We aren’t really fans of mix drinks, so we’re recommending that you skip all the fancy proprietary blends and just head straight to the good stuff: creatine monohydrate. (There are other types, like creatine ethyl ester, but they’re more expensive and less effective.)
Creatine helps your body replenish ATP, which increases anaerobic power—the type of power you need to haul heavy-ass weights. Being able to lift more weight increases the load you’re placing on your muscles and on your body, meaning that you’ll have pretty fantastic muscle stimulation and a greater hormonal response to your training. The real benefit comes from the increased skeletal muscle synthesis and glycogen storage that comes along with having high concentrations of creatine in your system. This means that you’ll get more muscle out of the food that you’re eating.
Now, as with virtually everything in the supplement world, there are a lot of extremely expensive and fancy variations out there. You don’t need them. Simple creatine monohydrate is still the king of creatine. You’ll save a ton of money and get all the benefits. You also don’t need to get fancy with how you take it, as you may have heard. Mix it into your tea, coffee, water—whatever.
Check out this study showing that following a great training program for 8 weeks with post-workout sugar produced 6 pounds of muscle growth, and 9 pounds of muscle growth with post-workout sugar + creatine. Not bad. That’s a 50% improvement in muscle mass due to creatine. And the post-workout sugar? That’s up next.
Most fancy recovery drinks are packed full of dextrose or maltodextrin and cost an enormously scary amount of money. This particular tub is scary because it’s so cheap. At 24 cents per serving it’s almost too cheap to believe. You’d think you were buying a tub of sugar … and you’d be pretty much correct.
Sugar is a little confusing, since there are a few different common types. The carbohydrates that you eat are all converted into glucose, at which point your body can store them for use as a fuel source. If you consume them properly you’ll keep all that fuel stored in your liver and muscles (glycogen), instead of converting them into fatty acids (flabs).
One option is dextrose. This particular type of sugar, glucose derived from corn, is one of the cheapest foods on the planet, digests extremely quickly, and is a dirt cheap source of muscle-building carbs. Taken while working out it’s a pretty effective supplement for ectomorphs trying to build mass. It’s a valid option, but it’s hard to find and hard to stomach (because it’s so damn sweet).
The supplement that we’re recommending is maltodextrin – a glucose polymer. It’s made up of many glucose units bound together. It’s a starch, so instead of tasting like sugar it tastes more similar to flour. It digests a teensy bit slower (probably a good thing), and we’ve found that our members prefer the taste.
That study in the creatine section is said to have produced “some of the highest non-steroid increases in lean mass”—badass. While the study was technically studying creatine, the carbohydrates they were giving them were a huge factor in producing muscle growth, which is why both training groups did so well. The training program itself was also a factor. It was a really well designed strength training program, which is surprisingly rare for studies.
We picked this brand because it’s so pure. It has one and only one ingredient (maltodextrin). It’s also really damn cheap.
It’s a processed animal-based protein source. Nothing all that weird about it—drinking unflavoured whey protein powder is quite simply drinking a concentrated version of the quickly digested protein found in dairy products: whey protein.
Whey is a little bit cheaper and has a slightly smaller amount of corollary vitamins and nutrients when compared with meat, since it’s pretty much pure protein. It’s an easy, cheap and convenient way of getting in your daily protein, but there’s really nothing special about it. In fact, since it’s highly processed, it’s actually a little bit less effective than, say, a chicken breast. A chicken breast would taste pretty funky blended up into a fruit smoothie though, so whey is sometimes best
The only time when whey really shines is when you mix it with maltodextrin and drink it while working out. Whey digests extremely quickly and is really high in branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). Combined with maltodextrin it will have a powerful anabolic effect and provide your body with exactly what it needs to build muscle.
This particular brand is good for three reasons:
- It’s a reputable company, and the whey protein itself is very high quality. An interesting (indie) study was recently done into many of the popular brands of whey protein. The study got a lot of attention because of how controversial it was – a lot of popular brands were making false claims. This brand (Optimum Nutrition) wasn’t, and was thus ranked the highest.
- It’s a whey isolate / hydrolysate mix, which is very quickly digested and absolutely perfect for drinking when working out.
- It has 4g of glutamine in every scoop. If you buy a brand that doesn’t contain glutamine, you can buy it separately, but this is a much cheaper and more convenient way of doing it. Glutamine is great at keeping your immune system strong and helping you recover from workouts, and it has a slew of other benefits as well. The main reason you want it mixed in with your protein powder though is that it’s acid-neutralizing. Everything else in this workout drink is quite acidic, which can leech nutrients away from your bones and muscles. The effects of this are fairly negligible if your diet is balanced overall, but the glutamine prevents it, meaning you’ll do an even better job of building up your muscles and bone density.
*If you want a non-workout protein powder to take along with meals use this casein protein, but keep in mind it presents no advantage over real food. It’s handy and affordable though if you’re not much one for cooking.
**If you don’t handle whey protein well (allergies) or you’re avoiding it for moral reasons (vegan) then you can go with rice protein. Most rice protein tastes like dirt and isn’t all too effective but this one, Sun Warrior, is actually pretty fantastic both from a quality standpoint and from a taste standpoint.
My personal favourite. It directs more of your calories towards muscles and less towards fat. It improves carbohydrate storage, protein storage, metabolic rate, and, most importantly, muscle protein synthesis (MPS).
What effect will this have? You’ll gain more muscle and less fat.
The powerful type of omega-3s in fish oil (EPA and DHA) do this by making the plasma membranes in your cells healthier, and thus function like they should. Modern diets are deficient in omega 3s, so our bodies are a little off-kilter by default. This will help bring you back to the way you should be already. The side effects include better cardiovascular health, a reduced risk of developing cancers, and a reduced risk of diabetes. Many people report feeling “better” after spending a few weeks supplementing with fish oil. This likely because it can help reduce anxiety, improve your mood, increase motivation, and reduce inflammation and soreness.
The studies done into this are extremely promising, and fish oil is something that I highly recommend to everyone—including my parents.
Most of the body composition studies done with fish oil were conducted on obese males with sedentary lifestyles, so don’t follow the advice on the box. As a skinny guy you want to rack up about 2g EPA and 1.5g DHA every day. That’s a tough challenge to do with those dinky little fish oil capsules—so don’t use the capsules. Liquid fish oil is higher in purity and a hell of a lot easier to take.
Jared and I love NutraSea and it comes highly recommended by most nutrition experts we come across. All natural ingredients, a powerful blend of a key fish oils, EPA and DHA content that dreams are made of, and it has a pleasant subtle lemon flavour (no fish oil breath).
A typical guy would want 30g whey, 60g maltodextrin, 5g glutamine (already in the protein) and 5g creatine to create a good hormonal situation (insulin and growth hormone, primarily) and optimal recovery from his workouts. This is similar to what you’d find in a pre-made workout drink or “recovery” formula. Some of them, like SuperPump, have just BCAAs + creatine instead, because they don’t want the calories from the whey and the maltodextrin. This is good—most guys eat too many calories, which is why most guys are chubby.
We aren’t typical guys who need to be avoiding excess calories though. We also aren’t trying to just “recover from our workouts”. We’re naturally skinny ectomorphs who are trying to add tons of lean muscle mass to our bony ‘bods. We want record-breaking results here that people gasp and whisper about, not three years of arduous work for a few pounds of muscle. We want you guys being (falsely) accused of rampant steroid abuse and top secret military muscle-building experiments.
As, say, a mid-sized 150 pound skinny male you’d want two or three times that amount to build the maximum amount of muscle. If you’re skinny-fat, take a double dose. If you’re skinny skinny—a ripped ectomorph—then take a triple dose. (And scale back the dosage as you grow.)
I’m a true ectomorph and I personally mix up 90g of protein, 180g of carbs, and 15g of creatine when I’m really trying to gain weight. (When I’m coasting I eat fewer calories and try to get more of them from whole foods.) I start sipping on it as I warm up, and I chug whatever’s left when I finish my workout. That bad boy racks up 1080 calories of exactly the kind of nutrition we want when training. It tastes pretty crappy (think liquid cake), but nothing will guarantee muscle growth like consuming tons of extremely effective calories at the most crucial muscle-building moment. For most of us skinny guys, who often have trouble consuming enough calories, this is the magic formula we’ve been missing.
“But Shane won’t this make me fat?!”
Hell no. This has to do with the glut4 transponders that are activated when training, and the synergistic anabolic effect that the protein creates—but that’s a lesson for another day. Don’t drink this beast if you aren’t training though. You’d get fat. If you are training, don’t worry. All you’ll build is muscle. And you’ll build a lot of it.
Daily Creatine: Take 3-5 grams every day. Sprinkle it on your cereal, put it in your coffee/tea, mix it with water—whatever you like. On workout days you don’t need to worry about it, since it will be in your workout drink.
It will take a few weeks for your body to reach maximum levels from steadily taking it, so If you want to load up on creatine quickly just take three or four 3-5g doses for the first week (if you take more you’ll just pee it out). Research is unclear about whether there’s an advantage to loading up quickly vs steadily—both ways work wonders. I personally load up steadily.
Daily Fish oil: 2g EPA, 1.5g DHA daily.
If you go with NutraSea this works out to one tablespoon of fish oil every day. Pretty simple. Ideally you won’t want to have it right before or after training, as your body won’t need to the slowly digesting fats. Any other time is good.
And there you have it!
If you use our links to buy the supplements, thank you! We appreciate it. If you don’t, that’s cool too. The supplements will work just as well wherever you find them.
And once again, if you aren’t ALREADY getting results, don’t spend any money on supplements. They aren’t the magic solution—you need a better plan. Think of supplements like a multiplier. If you gain 0 pounds of muscle and increase your results by 50% you’ve still got 0 gains. If you’re gaining a pound of muscle every week and you add in that same 50% increase, you’re now gaining 1.5 pounds of muscle every week. As an ectomorph who’s tired of being skinny that may be worth your hard earned money. Or it might not be, because, see, either way you’ll end up a beast!
Questions? Ask ‘em in the comments!