Once upon a time, I was 23 years old and 130 pounds at 6 feet tall. I was dangerously skinny and clinically underweight with a BMI of 17.6. I had just graduated from university and was not a beacon of health as I stood hunchbacked from all my time spent at the desk during my graphic design studies.
Shane, my roommate at the time and now business partner, and I had made a pact to change our skinny ways. We called it Muscle May and spent much of April preparing. But just before I started lifting weights and eating like a Beast to grow, there was a crazy transformation already beginning to take shape.
I started taking creatine monohydrate in the morning just after waking up, during the last week of April before the Muscle-May experiment would kick off.
With a spoon, I would mix in 5g of Allmax Creapure creatine into this blueberry Fruitopia juice. The creatine was a bit grainy at the bottom of the dark purple juice but tasteless. It was the first supplement I ever took unless you count taking some multivitamins as a kid.
Every morning I’d faithfully drink this. And by the end of the week…
I had gained 8 pounds. I hadn’t even started working out or changing what I was eating. It was crazy.
If you’re a skinny guy and have struggled to gain weight, this might sound incredible. Maybe even unbelievable. But it’s a common “side-effect” of creatine by drawing more water into your muscles.
This initial success with creatine is what set the stage for Shane and my skinny guy transformations.
In our four-month experiment, I had gained 33 pounds. We had such extreme results that random people on BodyBuilding.com were commenting that our transformations were either photoshopped or that we were using steroids. Neither of which was true, oh boy.
Obviously eating a bulking diet and lifting weights were the key to building rapid amounts of muscle (see our how-to article about gaining weight here), but creatine played a meaningful supporting role.
So, what exactly is creatine? How could it help build muscle easier—faster? How much does it improve our strength and muscle-building potential? Perhaps the skeptic in your head says that anything this effective and this cheap must ultimately be bad for us, right? But should you decide to try it, how exactly should you take it?
Have you ever wondered if intermittent fasting was good for bulking? After all, it helps you produce more growth hormone, which could help with muscle growth; it increases increase in insulin sensitivity, which could help make your gains leaner; and research shows that it helps preserve muscle when losing weight. This could theoretically make intermittent fasting a good bulking diet… right?
On the other hand, most bodybuilders bulked up by doing the exact opposite of intermittent fasting. The guys with the most famous physiques in history all ate at least a few meals per day. Why?
Furthermore, we hardgainers and ectomorphs are notorious for having tiny stomachs, raging metabolisms and small appetites—all of which make bulking up way harder. Will intermittent fasting work for our naturally skinny body type?
There are good arguments to be made for and against intermittent fasting. In this article we’ll go over the muscle-building advantages and disadvantages of intermittent fasting, then take a look at some studies that compared it against a traditional bulking diet. By the end, you’ll be able to decide if it’s a good approach for you while bulking.
It’s rare to want to learn how to eat more calories. Most guys feel like their stomachs are too big and their metabolisms are too slow. And they’re right. Their stomachs really are too big, and their metabolisms really are too slow.
However, there are also a small minority of guys—guys like us—who are naturally underweight. We struggle against our small stomachs and fast metabolisms, and most people have absolutely no idea how insanely difficult it can be for us to eat enough calories to gain weight.
People will tell us to “just eat more calories.” Yeah, sure, that’s technically true, but we know that already, and it doesn’t help. How can we possibly eat more calories when we’re so damn full all the time?
But the thing is, if we want to bulk up, we need to find a way to eat more. I know that’s a tough bite to swallow, but that’s just the science of bulking up. It takes roughly 3,500 extra calories to gain a pound, so if we want to gain around a pound each week, we need to find a way to eat around 500 extra calories per day.
That’s what we need to do to gain weight, but it doesn’t teach us how to do it. And the “how” is actually quite complicated for guys like us, especially since our problem is so rare.
So that’s what this article is about—about how to eat more calories.
We’ll go over:
- How not to reduce your appetite by accident
- What makes a food filling
- Whether you should be clean or dirty bulking
- How many meals you should be eating per day
- What the best bulking foods are
- Tips to improve your bulking diet
Shane, Marco and I all built muscle. But our reasons for building that muscle in the first place couldn’t have been more different.
For Marco, as a teenager, his initial reason for getting into lifting was that he wanted girls to like him and he was dealing with injuries from sports. For Shane, he wanted to feel like a protector, instead of shyly taking jokes about being the one protected.
For me, at 23 years old, building muscle (45+ pounds) wasn’t even on my radar.
But pain was.
More specifically, my tendonitis—chronic tendonitis—or the newly coined term, tendinosis…. whatever name you’re familiar with. Well, my heavy computer use was keeping me up at night and kept me worried about work.
Long story short, I had tendinosis in my right arm by the time I was 18 years old. Shortly thereafter I became ambidextrous to continue to support my heavy computer use. I was spending all day on the computer building and running websites. It wasn’t long until I had tendinosis in my left arm. My physiotherapist said she had never seen tendinosis in someone so young, let alone someone who was suffering in both arms.
Whatever you believe about destiny, materialist chance, or providence—I feel so incredibly blessed to have been to be connected to Shane with his passion for bodybuilding, and his connection to Marco with his passion for helping people reach their full potential with athleticism and fix their injuries.
Because of lifting and eating well, I no longer deal with crippling tendonsis. It is a non-problem for me.
With this huge burden removed, I’ve come to discover some of the less talked about benefits of lifting weights that I didn’t know about when I was skinny. And my own hope would be that perhaps this article could play a minuscule part of passing these same blessings I experience onto you in your own story.
Did you know that being skinny means you can’t use the normal way of measuring your body fat percentage?
Or that being just a little bit too skinny-fat might sabotage your ability to build muscle leanly?
Or that most body fat percentage charts are ruined by a fatal flaw?
In this article we cover why your body fat percentage matters even as an ectomorph, how to measure it properly, and then we’ll run through some real-life examples (with pictures) so that you’ll know exactly what to do next.
But first, let me show you just how ridiculous this can be for skinny guys.
Let’s take a totally average guy in this study. He goes to get a DEXA scan, and he’s told that he has a body fat percentage of 20%. Then he goes to sit in the BodPod, which puts him at 22%. A bit of a discrepancy, but he can be reasonably confident that he’s between 20–22%. Moreover, both of those body fat percentages have the same implication for his health and appearance: he’s a decently healthy guy who looks a bit out of shape.
The overweight guy goes in next. DEXA puts him at 34%. BodPod puts him at 32%. Now it’s DEXA that’s estimating high, but the discrepancy is still just 2%. Again, not a big difference at all. He’s overweight either way.
Now you walk in. DEXA puts you at 9%. Amazing! Not only are you lean enough to bulk aggressively, but you’re also leaner than most professional athletes. Next, you get your BodPod done. They tell you that you’re 16% body fat…
Huh? 16% is a high enough body fat percentage that you shouldn’t even be bulking at all yet. You should be cutting.
You’ve spent a few hundred dollars and an entire day getting two of the most accurate body fat percentage tests in the world, and you can’t even tell if you should start bulking or not. For guys who are underweight, DEXA and BodPod can be off by up to 13%. Totally useless.
So what should you do?
…and wait a second—why shouldn’t you bulk if you’re 16% body fat?
Being a man is about being a good person, and part of being a good person is knowing how to fit into society. Demonstrating that social savvy will make you more attractive to women, earn you more respect with other men, and make frailer people feel safer around your strength instead of threatened by it.
As you gain more strength, that last point becomes more important.
There are a few things we can do. Being polite, knowing when to smile, improving our posture, and knowing what to wear.
Even by just fixing up our style, we can start living better almost instantly.
But for us ectomorphs, things are not quite so simple. We’ve got a rarer bone structure, and it can be hard to find clothes that fit and flatter us.
Then as we build muscle, we look better in clothes, yes, but new challenges are introduced. Having a butt means switching to a whole different cut of jeans. If you don’t, you’ll blow out the crotch.
Building up bigger shoulder muscles will bring you up a shirt size, but that bigger shirt will be enormous around your still-slim waist.
So now that you’ve bulked up and you need to buy new clothes anyway, let’s see if we can help you do it right.
You could think of your body as having a built-in bodyweight thermostat. You might have your weight set at, say, 130 pounds. If you go above 135, your appetite automatically turns off until you get back to 130 pounds. If you go below 125 pounds, your appetite automatically turns on until you get back up to 130 pounds. There’s more at play here than just your appetite, but you get the idea: your body is automatically regulating your weight around a given “set point.”
When you’re bulking up, you’re fighting that set point. It’s trying to regulate your bodyweight back down. It’s trying to eliminate all the progress you’ve made.
So how do we get your set point to 150, 180 or even 200 pounds? Is that even possible? That’s what this article is about.
(Updated July 2018) Is it possible to build broader shoulders? If you’re an ectomorph, chances are you have a thinner bone structure, and perhaps that’s why you’re interested in finding out if you can build broader, and bigger shoulders.
And lots of guys want broad shoulders… but why? Inside we’ll discuss why men want broad and big shoulders, what we can control and what we can’t, and some action steps to help you add a few inches to your shoulder circumference.
There is something about a straight back that screams power. It makes me think of a person who can accomplish whatever they want. Take, for example, the venerated George Washington, who was well known for his formidable posture. To quote social psychologist Amy Cuddy from her moving Ted Talk, “Our bodies change our minds, our minds change our behaviour, our behaviour changes our outcomes.”
Inside this article, we cover how having a strong upper back is important when it comes to building muscle and looking your best. We also cover how to improve your posture and strengthen your upper back with 4 instructional videos.
We’ve got a new guest post for you guys. This one from a naturally skinny science communicator who reads a lot. You might think some of his points are controversial, and we’d love to hear what you think. We think his perspective on dealing with body image issues as a skinny guy is incredibly thought provoking in the best way. Without further ado, Will Chou:
Recently, I met with some old friends for a reunion lunch. As we walked out of the restaurant, the conversation turned to what I looked like when I was young. Two of the guys mentioned that I was not just skinny: I was bony and scrawny. One of them even emphasized it with his tone like it was a huge deal.
They weren’t being mean; they were just giving me some constructive honesty. Having said that, I was still very surprised because I didn’t think I was that weak. But it turns out, that’s how they viewed me.
For 80% of my life, I have found myself in frequent situations where I was left out. I had focused on school and struggled with any weight training programs, so I was as skinny as they get.
The worst parts of my day was lunch. My school had a huge, noisy cafeteria with hundreds of people in it. And as you got to higher grade levels, you got to sit in more exclusive areas. The seniors had their own VIP area with its own curtain. But when I was a senior, I still sat alone in the freshmen section.
Sitting there alone for half an hour while everyone around you chatted away creates a constant reminder of isolation. I felt horrible because every few seconds, I was reminded that I was left out. You can’t help but wonder why. Was it because I was Asian? Socially unskilled? Skinny?
If you have ever felt insecure or excluded, you are not alone. Body image is a constant problem in modern society.
But my story doesn’t end there. Your past doesn’t have to destroy your future. Nowadays, I am healthier physically and mentally than I have ever been. You can become secure with yourself no matter where you are in your progression. You can and should change your self-esteem so that you stay resilient no matter how you look. You can and must change your perceptions about the world so that you develop good mental health for your own success in life.
I’m going to share with you some cool science-backed advice on how to have badass self-esteem. First, let’s tackle a big myth about “looks being superficial”…