Illustration of a skinny guy eating a feast in an attempt to gain weight and build muscle.

Most ectomorphs have trouble eating enough calories to gain weight. There’s a good reason for that, too: we have faster metabolisms and smaller stomachs. Unfortunately, the only way to gain weight is to get into a calorie surplus. I know that’s a tough bite to swallow, especially if you’re already stuffed to the gills, but there’s no way around it.

To make matters harder still, we aren’t just trying to gain weight, we’re trying to build muscle. That adds a few other considerations.

So what we want to do is design a diet around calorie-rich foods that improve our digestion and make it easier to build muscle quickly and leanly.

Let’s call this diet the Ectomorph Bulking Diet.

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Illustration of a beginner, intermediate, and advanced bodybuilder lifter

How can you tell whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced lifter? That’s a good question. The answer can change which bulking lifts you build your routine around, which workout program you pick, how quickly you bulk up, and how quickly you add weight to the bar.

So in this article, we’ll go over the common ways of determining your lifting level. Then we’ll demonstrate why those methods are dumb. And then we’ll cover a more useful way of doing it.

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Illustration of a man going from having bad posture to having good posture

A common issue with us skinny guys is that we develop a bony upper back that caves in on itself. Part of that is due to being skinny, so we’ll cover how to bulk up the upper-back muscles. And part of that is due to having poor upper-back posture (kyphosis in the t-spine), which is incredibly common with ectomorphs, given our longer spines and smaller muscles.

The good news is that both of these issues are the same issue. You can think of posture as simply being weakness in the muscles that are supposed to hold your body in the proper position. So if we can bulk up your upper back muscles, we can also simultaneously improve your posture. The trick is to make sure that you’re engaging all of the relevant muscles, including the prime movers and the stabilizer muscles in both your upper back and your core.

So in this article, we’ll teach you how to bulk up your upper back and improve your posture while you’re at it.

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Illustration of a sugar cube

Sugar is often criticized for causing weight gain. It’s a technically just a calorie surplus that causes the weight gain. However, sugar can certainly make it easier to get into a calorie surplus, which can ultimately lead to weight gain.

To quote Amber Bonsall, a Mayo Clinic dietitian:

Eating too much added sugar in processed foods or adding table sugar to your food and drink can quickly pile up the calories and lead to weight gain.

—Amber Bonsall, RD

Weight gain doesn’t scare skinny guys, though. In fact, when we hear that high-fructose corn syrup can facilitate weight gain, we rush off to get all the Aunt Jemima corn syrup we can find.

Or perhaps you took the opposite approach. Maybe you’re trying to bulk up while avoiding processed sugar. There’s certainly no problem with that, and most health experts recommend keeping your added sugar intake quite low anyway—often to around 10% of your total calories.

However, there are also people who try to avoid sugar completely, including the sugars found in fruits and dairy. Although there isn’t necessarily a problem with that, most experts don’t agree with that approach.

So, what effect does sugar have on skinny guys as we bulk up?

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Skinny Guy Jogging Illustration

Cardio causes a different type of adaptation from hypertrophy training. Instead of stimulating muscle growth, cardio causes us to develop more blood vessels, gain additional mitochondria in our cells, and it even increases the size of our hearts. Make no mistake, these are all great adaptations. But they aren’t muscle gains.

If you want to increase the size of your muscles, no amount of cardio will help. Cardio simply doesn’t stimulate any muscle growth. So if we’re trying to build muscle, we need to focus on hypertrophy training, which is usually done by lifting weights.

But what if we lift weights and do cardio? Most people know that cardio doesn’t stimulate muscle growth, so this article is written for skinny guys who are considering lifting weights and doing cardio.

Doing both hypertrophy training and cardio causes us to adapt in two separate, competing ways. We get something called an interference effect, which can reduce muscle growth. That’s what people say, anyway. Is that true?

Things get even more confusing because we’re naturally skinny “ectomorphs.” The more cardio we do, the more calories we’ll burn, and the more calories we’ll need to eat. For us, even just thinking about cardio burns too many calories. If you think that’s bad, though, imagine needing to write about it. I can already feel my metabolism rising. I’m going to have to eat so much trail mix after this.

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Illustration of vegan bodybuilder bulking up

Bulking on a plant-based diet can work very well, with vegans building just as much muscle as anyone else. In fact, vegans already tend to be one step ahead of the general population when it comes to their health, especially if they eat a proper plant-based diet, and especially if they exercise (study). Vegan diets can lend themselves quite well to building muscle, too, given that the best bodybuilding diets are made up mostly of plants: fruits, veggies, grains, and legumes (study). 

So bulking on a plant-based diet can absolutely be done, it doesn’t need to be difficult, and you won’t necessarily be at any disadvantage whatsoever. However, it still really helps to know what you’re doing.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • The general principles of building muscle as a vegan.
  • Considerations for pescatarians, vegetarians, and vegans.
  • What does a fully plant-based bodybuilding diet look like?
  • What muscle-building supplements should vegans take?
  • How to gain weight more easily on a plant-based diet.
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Are Bodybuilding Exercises Good for Gaining Muscle Size? (Push-Up Illustration)

Bodyweight exercises can certainly stimulate muscle growth. There’s a lot that can stimulate muscle growth, though, ranging in intensity from resistance bands all the way to heavy barbell strength training. In fact, there’s even research showing that simply flexing your muscles can stimulate a bit of muscle growth (study).

But the question isn’t whether bodyweight exercises can stimulate any muscle growth, the question is whether they’re any good at stimulating muscle growth.

  • How do bodyweight exercises compare against lifting weights for building muscle?
  • Is bodyweight training a good way for a beginner to ease into bulking?
  • How do push-ups compare to the bench press for building muscle?
  • What advantages are there to bodyweight training?
  • What are the disadvantages of bodyweight training?
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Ketogaining: is keto good for bulking up and building muscle?

The ketogenic diet has been used as a weight-loss diet for over 200 years now. In the 70s, for example, it saw a surge in popularity because of the Atkins Diet, which started off with a strict ketogenic phase. But the fact that it has a long history of helping people lose weight doesn’t tell us much about whether it’s effective for bulking up. Are there any advantages to using keto for building muscle, gaining weight, and getting bigger?

In this article, we cover:

  • How does keto affect lifting and muscle growth?
  • What happens if you bulk on a ketogenic diet?
  • Should you bulk on a ketogenic diet?
  • How do you bulk on a ketogenic diet?

Let’s dive in.

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Strength training isn't good for gaining muscle size or bulking up

Is strength training good for gaining muscle size? For getting bigger? For bulking? If we look at a recent study comparing strength training against hypertrophy training, we see that hypertrophy training stimulates more than twice as much muscle growth per set. But if that’s true, why is strength training so popular with skinny guys who want to get bigger?

Let’s dive in.

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If you’re a skinny guy who’s new to lifting weights, it’s possible to build muscle incredibly quickly. Lifters call this phenomenon “newbie gains,” and it lasts for about a year.

During that first year alone, the average man will often claim to gain around 20 pounds of muscle. Skinny guys often claim to be able to do even better, gaining upwards of 40 pounds in just a single year. Can beginners really build muscle that quickly?

However, although newbie gains seem to allow some beginners to build muscle unbelievably quickly, research shows that other lifters fail to gain any muscle when they first start working out. When that happens, they’re dubbed non-responders. Do non-responders really exist? And if they do, how do you know if you’re a non-responder?

Why are some guys able to build a lifetime of muscle in a single year, whereas other guys spend an entire lifetime unable to build a single year’s worth of muscle?

Let’s dive into the science of newbie gains.

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