Illustration of a guy who is skinny and strong.

Can You Be Skinny and Strong? Yes, Kind Of

Some skinny guys with good strength genetics are stronger than they look. However, they would be even stronger if they built more muscle.

I’m a naturally skinny guy who was underweight into his twenties and then gradually gained 70 pounds. I’ve struggled to bench press an empty barbell. I’ve also benched 315 pounds. Gaining weight and building muscle is what made the biggest difference.

This is surprisingly controversial, and I see why, so let’s go deeper.

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Illustration showing someone bulking fast versus someone bulking slowly. The fast bulker is like a hare. The slow bulker is like a tortoise.

How Fast Should You Gain Weight While Bulking?

Bulking faster almost always causes faster muscle growth, but if you bulk too fast, you’ll gain more fat. Bulking slower gives you a better chance of making lean gains, but you’ll build muscle more slowly, and you might go through periods of not building any muscle at all.

Most people split the difference, bulking at a moderate pace. I didn’t. I was desperate not to be skinny anymore, so I gained weight as quickly as I could, gaining 20 pounds in 3 months (1.5 pounds per week). That’s 3 times faster than most experts recommend, but I finished leaner than when I started.

Since then, I’ve helped over 10,000 other people bulk up at varying paces and tracked their results. Most guys who want to bulk up are thin, but I’ve also coached hundreds of skinny-fat and overweight people. It’s easy to see the patterns.

There are some interesting studies we can look at, too. In particular, the famous Ribeiro study.

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Illustration of a skinny person building muscle fast.

How Fast Can Skinny People Build Muscle?

I want to talk about how quickly skinny people can expect to build muscle. It’s a contentious topic. I’ve gained 70 pounds and spent the past decade helping over ten thousand skinny people bulk up, and I’ve noticed that most experts either get this wrong or forget to even mention us.

Most experts warn that gaining weight too quickly will make you fat, but they’re almost never talking about skinny people. When I ask them specifically about skinny people, their answer usually changes, sometimes quite dramatically.

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Before and after illustration showing a man bulking up his jawline by chewing tough mastic gum.

Can Chewing Gum Help Your Jawline?

I don’t have a jawline. My jaw just blends straight into my neck. I’ll show you in a second. But I wasn’t particularly bothered by it. George Lucas created wonderful things without a chin, so I didn’t see why I needed a jaw. Still, whenever I saw an ad about chewing on rubber Jawzrcise balls, I was tempted.

The problem with those Jawsrcise balls is they don’t replicate regular chewing patterns, so they don’t do a very good job of bulking up your bigger jaw muscles. They might also create imbalances in your chewing muscles, changing how you bite. I confirmed this with an orthodontist. More on that in a moment.

Chewing gum is much more promising. You chew it just like you chew regular food, and it does a great job of working your muscles of mastication (including your masseters). Chewing gum could help your jawline, but it depends on what type of gum you chew and how you chew it.

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Illustration of a skinny guy bulking up and building muscle. Illustrated by Shane Duquette.

What Does Bulking Do?

Bulking is when you gain weight to support muscle growth. Not everyone needs to gain weight to build muscle, but some people do. That’s because you need to do two things to build muscle:

  1. Stimulate muscle growth, usually with weight training.
  2. Give your muscles enough protein, calories, and time to recover and grow.

Any good muscle-building program combines those two things. What sets bulking apart is that the diet puts you into a calorie surplus—it causes weight gain.

There are many different ways to bulk, each with a slightly different purpose. If you want to build muscle as fast as possible, you can bulk aggressively. If you’re worried about gaining fat, you can bulk leanly. If you want to bulk in a healthy way, you could do a clean bulk. If you don’t care about any of that, you can do a dirty bulk.

Bulking has a controversial reputation, but I think that reputation is almost wholly undeserved. The criticism usually comes from people arguing against a specific style of bulking, then falsely applying that criticism to bulking in general. For example, someone might say that bulking will make you fat, forgetting that lean bulking exists. Or that bulking means overeating junk food, forgetting that clean bulking exists.

Let’s delve into some of that nuance.

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Illustration showing two skinny guys with different bone structures and muscle-building genetics.

Do Skinny People Have Bad Muscle-Building Genetics?

I think it’s important to talk honestly about muscle-building genetics. I don’t mean that in a pessimistic “blackpill” way. Every skinny person can build muscle. I’m naturally skinny. So is Marco. We’ve each gained around 70 pounds. And over the past decade, we’ve worked with over ten thousand skinny clients, both male and female, ranging from desk workers to Olympic athletes.

But our genetics do indeed influence those results. Even among naturally skinny people, we all have different bone structures, different muscles that lag behind, and different muscles that pull ahead, causing us to build bodies that look rather different from one another.

So, I don’t think we should take the overly optimistic “whitepill” approach, either. If we don’t understand and account for our genetic weaknesses, we won’t ever succeed at building muscle.

Finally, for every genetic downside you have, there’s probably a genetic strength you can leverage. For the most obvious example, if you have a hard time gaining weight, you’ll have an easy time staying lean. That genetic leanness will be a powerful ally as you bulk up.

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Illustration of a skinny bodybuilder eating a bulking diet.

Bulking Diet Plan: How to Eat for Muscle Growth

This bulking diet guide covers everything you need to know about eating for muscle growth. This is how bodybuilders have traditionally bulked up, how athletes gain lean mass, and what modern science shows is the most effective way to fuel muscle growth.

Cassandra used this diet to gain over twenty pounds, I’ve used it to gain over sixty pounds, and Marco used it to gain over seventy. We also use it to help our clients bulk up, both in person and online. Those clients range from desk workers to college, professional, and Olympic athletes.

There are five parts to this guide:

  1. How much do you need to eat?
  2. What if you stop gaining weight?
  3. How much protein, carbs, and fat you should eat?
  4. What does a healthy bulking diet look like?
  5. What foods and meals should you eat?

Don’t expect to be shocked or thrilled. There’s nothing controversial here. These are well-known and well-studied principles with decades of tradition behind them. That’s by far the best way to get reliable results.

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Illustration of a skinny guy trying to build muscle but failing to gain weight, even though he's eating in a calorie surplus.

Why Aren’t You Gaining Weight in a Calorie Surplus?

You used a bulking calorie calculator, which told you how many calories you needed to gain weight. Then, you meticulously tracked your calories for several weeks, logging every single food that went into your mouth. And yet, somehow, you haven’t gained any weight. Or perhaps you gained weight during the first few weeks, but now the fount has run dry.

I struggled with this for years. It’s one of the most common questions we get from skinny clients. It’s rooted in a basic misunderstanding, and the solution is very simple, but you won’t like it.

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Illustration of a vegan bodybuilding eating a high-calorie plant-based bulking diet.

High-Calorie, High-Protein Vegan Bulking Meals (With Recipes)

We’ve already covered whether vegan diets are good for building muscle and explained how to bulk on a plant-based diet. Now, let’s arm you with some vegan bulking meals. All of these recipes are nutritious, high in calories, and high in protein.

You might worry you won’t get enough protein, but most plant-based foods have some protein, and with all these extra calories coming in, it adds up quickly. I think you’ll be surprised at how simple this can be.

If you make your diet out of these meals, they’ll give you 3,000 calories and nearly 200 grams of protein. That’s more than enough protein to maximize your rate of muscle growth.

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