Illustration of vegan bodybuilder bulking up

How to Bulk on a Vegan Diet (Plant-Based Bulking)

Vegans can build muscle just as quickly and effectively as anyone else, provided they eat a proper plant-based bulking diet. Vegans tend to be healthier than the average person (study), and plant-based diets lend themselves quite well to building muscle. After all, many of the best bulking foods are plants: bananas, oats, rice, legumes, leafy greens, carrots, garlic, and so on (study).

We’ve been helping skinny guys bulk up for over a decade now, and our vegan members have always done just as well as everyone else.

Still, there are a few common mistakes vegans make. And there are some extra considerations to keep in mind. Let’s go through all of it.

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Illustration of a skinny guy building muscle on keto.

Can You Build Muscle On Keto? Most Research Says You Can’t

People have been using keto to lose weight for the past 200 years. For example, in the 1970s, it saw a surge in popularity because of the Atkins Diet, which started with a strict ketogenic phase.

During that same time period, bodybuilders have leaned towards higher-carb diets. Conventional bulking diets get most of their calories from carb-rich foods like rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, oats, bananas, yogurt, beans, and lentils.

What happens if you try to use a ketogenic diet to build muscle? Will it hinder muscle growth? Can it yield leaner gains?

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Illustration of a powerlifter doing strength training.

Is Strength Training Good for Building Muscle?

Is strength training good for building muscle? Some of the most popular programs that skinny guys use to bulk up, such as StrongLifts 5×5 and Starting Strength, are designed for gaining strength. But what if we’re trying to become bigger and stronger? Are strength training programs good for building muscle?

If we look at a recent study comparing low-rep training strength training against moderate-rep hypertrophy training, we see that hypertrophy training stimulates more than twice as much muscle growth per set. Does that show that hypertrophy training is better for building muscle?

There’s new research coming out showing that doing metabolic training in higher rep ranges increases muscle growth by increasing the amount of fuel in our muscles—sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Lower-rep training is thought to stimulate muscle growth via myofibrillar hypertrophy. Does that mean that strength training builds harder, denser muscles?

Are the big three powerlifting lifts—the back squat, the bench press, and the deadlift—the best lifts for building muscle? And how crucial are isolation lifts when bulking up?

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The Growth Mindset

One of the biggest obstacles to transform our bodies might not be in our genes. It’s not about being skinny. It’s not about being ectomorphs. Many times, what holds us back are our beliefs. We want to change our bodies, but… how can we get started on a new journey when—deep inside—we believe we won’t make it?

We say we want to gain weight and put on muscle, but part of us holds back. Otherwise, we should have already solved this, right? If you are still struggling with being skinny, chances are you need to take a look at your mindset.

In fact, if you can adopt the right mindset, it won’t just change your psychology, it will also change your physiology. It will improve the rate that you build muscle through a process akin to the placebo effect, where simply believing that you can grow will physically increase the rate that you’re able to gain muscle.

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Muscle Size and Strength Standards for Ectomorphs

How much muscle and strength can an “ectomorph” gain? There’s plenty of research looking into rates of muscle and strength gain. But what if you’re a naturally skinny guy? Are there different strength standards for ectomorphs?

Ectomorphs do start off with less muscle mass, but what effect does that have on how quickly we can grow? Do we have an extended period of newbie gains, allowing us to gain muscle and strength more quickly? Or does having less muscle mass indicate that our genetics are poor, causing us to build muscle more slowly?

We have thinner bones and narrower frames. We tend to start off weaker. Does that limit how strong we can become, or can we still expect to become as strong as any other lifter?

In this article, we’ll go over two main questions from an ectomorph’s perspective:

  1. How much muscle can an ectomorph gain in his first year? Most guys can expect to gain around twenty pounds of muscle during their first year of lifting weights. How does that change for an ectomorph?
  2. How strong can an ectomorph get after a year of lifting weights? With a good workout routine, most guys are able to bench press 225 pounds (100kg), squat 315 pounds (140kg), and deadlift 405 pounds (180kg). Are these numbers realistic for ectomorphs?
  3. What’s an ectomorph’s lifetime muscular genetic potential? If we lift for a lifetime, how big can we hope to get?
  4. How strong can an ectomorph get with a lifetime of serious training? If we develop our muscles to their full potential, how strong can we hope to become?

Let’s dive in.

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Should you lift while sore? Is it bad not to feel sore after a workout? Is soreness in your lower back normal?

DOMS: Is Muscle Soreness A Sign of Muscle Growth?

When I first started lifting weights, I was absolutely crippled by muscle soreness. I would wince when sitting in chairs, struggle to lift my knees high enough to climb stairs, and barely be able to get glasses from the cupboard. I loved it. I was sick and tired of being skinny, and I thought muscle soreness was a sign that my muscles were growing.

A couple of months later, my soreness faded away to almost nothing. I could sit down in a chair without everyone in the room grimacing. I could even hold myself upright in it. I started to feel less like a burning puddle of oil, more like a human being. It was awful.

My gains had started to slow down as well, and I was convinced that my waning muscle growth was connected to my fading muscle soreness. Was my fading muscle soreness causing my plateau?

Muscle soreness is intimately connected to muscle growth, but most have no idea how it works, making the process more confusing. So in this article, let’s go over a few of the more common muscle soreness questions that we get:

  • What’s the link between muscle soreness and muscle growth?
  • How much muscle soreness is good?
  • Should you work out if you still feel sore from the last workout?
  • Can muscle soreness interfere with muscle growth?
  • What can you do to reduce muscle soreness?
  • Can you build muscle without getting sore?
  • What if a muscle never gets sore?
  • What if your joints or tendons get sore?
  • What if your lower back gets sore?
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Illustration showing a 16:8 intermittent fasting meal schedule (with no breakfast).

Is Intermittent Fasting Good for Bulking?

Intermittent fasting is popular for weight loss. But what if you’re a skinny guy trying to bulk up? Can you use intermittent fasting to build muscle faster or more leanly? After all, intermittent fasting raises growth hormone production, which purportedly helps with muscle growth; it increases insulin sensitivity, which could help make your muscle gains leaner; and research shows that intermittent fasting may help preserve muscle when losing weight.

On the other hand, bodybuilders are known for eating frequently—every few hours. They eat more often than the average person. Why is that? Could there be an advantage to eating more meals more often?

Finally, does intermittent fasting make it harder to eat enough calories to gain weight? Skinny guys are notorious for having smaller stomachs, faster metabolisms, and more meagre appetites, all of which can make it harder to eat enough calories to gain weight. Will intermittent fasting make that even harder?

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How to know your bodyfat percentage using the mirror as a skinny or skinny-fat guy

The Skinny Guy’s Guide to Body-Fat Percentage

As a skinny guy, it can be hard to figure out what your body-fat percentage is. Imagine the average man. A DEXA scan measures him at 24% body fat. Then he sits in the BodPod, which puts him at 26%. A bit of a discrepancy, but he can be reasonably confident he’s between 24–26%.

Now you walk in, and DEXA puts you at 9%. Not only are you lean enough to bulk aggressively, but you’re also leaner than most professional athletes. You may even want to gain a bit of fat. But when you step into the BodPod, it measures you at 22% body fat. That’s a bit high. You might want to lose some fat.

You’ve spent a few hundred dollars getting the two most accurate tests, and you don’t even know if you have too much or too little fat. For guys who are underweight, DEXA and BodPod can be off by up to 13%!

So in this article, we cover why your body-fat percentage matters, how to measure it properly, and then run through some real-life examples (with pictures).

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The Best Clothes for Skinny Guys

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 body type, 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.

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How I Overcame My Skinny Body-Image Issues & How You Can Too

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”…

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