Maybe you know that skinny guy who gets totally amped up to gain some weight and build muscle. He’s tried and given up in the past but blames his failure on not trying hard enough—on not having enough motivation. He starts off strong: hitting the gym 5 times a week, eating 100% clean (whatever that means to them), and spending hundreds of dollars on bizarro supplements that he read about on the Internet that even the supplement salesman is confused by.
A few weeks go by and after sacrificing so much in his life: time, energy, money… the scale hasn’t budged. Or maybe his weight even dropped because he cut out the easy calories he was getting from junk food.
Feeling disappointed and burnt out, he slowly stops going to the gym and throws in the towel.
Why does this keep happening? Some people might say that he didn’t have the grit or willpower to tough it out. But honestly, this guy has incredible willpower and motivation—that’s a brutal routine that many professional fitness models couldn’t even keep up. His willpower isn’t the problem. Anyone with that routine will either reach capacity and burn out, or switch their energy to something else—something new and exciting (new job, holidays, new relationship)… and then there’s no room left for the crazy muscle-building routine.
I’ve been that guy too many times to count. (And not just with building muscle, either.)
Us skinny guys aren’t even having a hard time building muscle because we’ve got bad genes, although that was an excuse I once used. No, us skinny guys are actually pretty great at building muscle!
In the Bony to Beastly Bulking Program, partially thanks to a phenomenon called newbie gains, the average member will gain ten pounds in the first five weeks and twenty within the first three months. You can see some examples of their muscle-building transformations here.
While this may sound crazy, especially if, like us, you’ve tried and failed to bulk up in the past… these results line up well with what’s found in research. The largest and most thorough muscle-building genetics study found that skinny guys build muscle faster than anyone else (study). Some guys in the study added two inches to their arms and doubled their strength in just the first three months.
Because we’re so far away from our genetic muscular potential, we’re able to build muscle at an accelerated pace.
So why do so many of us skinny guys fail at building muscle over and over again?
Most men want to have an attractive physique. Trouble is, few know exactly what that means. When men guess the degree of muscularity women prefer, they’re off by thirty pounds (study). To make matters worse, some guys have an even deeper misunderstanding, failing to realize their appearance reflects their fitness and strength. They try to become more attractive on a purely superficial level, muscle by muscle. That never works. It’s never as convincing as the real thing.
So in this article, we’ll dive into attractiveness research, explaining the ideal degree of muscularity and the ideal body proportions. Then we’ll go over how strong you need to be to achieve different tiers of muscularity. Finally, we’ll talk about the law of diminishing returns and whether it’s possible to become too muscular. By the end, you’ll know exactly how to improve your appearance.
But be warned: this article is long. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, here’s a simple trick to improve your appearance: have a drink. It will boost your attractiveness (to yourself) by 50%. This is called “The Reverse Beer Goggles Effect,” also known as Beauty is in the Eye of the Beer Holder (study). It’s not a perfect solution, but it could save you a good half hour of reading.
It can be hard to figure out what the best diet for ectomorphs is. When you search for the healthiest diets, you’ll find diets that are designed to help people lose weight. And that makes sense. After all, at least in the United States, the CDC estimates that only 1.9% of people are underweight. Wanting to gain weight is quite rare.
The reason the CDC cares about this stuff is because so many people are running into health problems from being overweight. As a result, most people need to adopt various diets to help them lose weight. This has become the standard recommendation for improving health: choose a diet that helps you lose weight.
In fact, the very term “dieting” implies that we should be restricting foods and calories to help us eat less. But what if we’re trying to gain weight? Do ectomorphs need an anti-diet?
Yes. We do.
If you’re a naturally skinny guy who’s been having trouble bulking up, milk can often help. There’s a simple reason for that: by drinking more milk, you’ll be adding more calories and protein into your diet. Milk is also a rich source of nutrients that are helpful for guys who are trying to build muscle. Finally, milk is extremely easy on the appetite, making it easier for us ectomorphs to gain weight.
However, if you add too much milk into your diet, then you may find yourself gaining quite a bit of fat along with your muscle (study). Worse, since whole milk is so high in saturated fat, going overboard with it can cause you to store proportionally more visceral fat, which can negatively impact your longterm health (study). That’s why GOMAD, where you drink a gallon of whole milk every day, is so infamous for making guys fat.
You could avoid some of those problems by choosing low-fat milk, yes, but higher-fat milk has some unique muscle-building properties that you might want to take advantage of.
So, what’s the best way to bulk up with milk?
Posture is a tricky thing. There’s not much research to show that transforming our posture will improve your health or athletic performance. After all, what often happens is that our posture adapts to our lifestyle. If you play a sport that benefits from a certain posture, your posture will adapt to help you. For example, sprinters will often have hips that are tilted forward. Is that stereotypically good posture? No, but it makes them better sprinters.
The problem is, a lot of us spend most of our time sitting at desks, and so our bodies adapt to become even better at sitting at desks. Our bellies pop out (lordosis), our upper backs hunch over (kyphosis), our shoulders tilt inwards, and our neck juts forward. That may not cause us any problems, at least not right away, but it makes us look weak and unathletic, because we are.
If you took a look at the famous Hollywood sex icons, you’ll find some commonalities. They tend to have well-developed shoulders, chests, and upper backs. They often have abs. And they all stand tall and straight, projecting confidence and strength. They have great posture.
And it’s true. If you can transform your posture, you can improve your appearance. There’s no doubt about that. Having strong posture looks great.
But how do we do it? How can we transform our posture?
Bodybuilders used to think that they needed to eat five, six, or even seven meals per day while bulking. If you asked him why he was eating so often, he would tell you that he needed to stoke the metabolic fire, prevent muscle catabolism, keep his blood sugar levels steady, and keep his muscles fuelled with a steady supply of protein. Perhaps most importantly of all, he would tell you that he needed to prevent his body from going into starvation mode, which would cause him to store more body fat. That’s a lot to worry about, and most of it isn’t true.
Now that intermittent fasting is becoming popular, that idea is starting to die out. Instead of eating seven meals per day, it’s common for bodybuilders to experiment with eating as few as 1–3 meals per day. Now the idea is reversed. Those periods of fasting are good for limiting fat gain while bulking. But there’s a problem here, too. Going through periods of fasting slows down our muscle growth.
So. How many meals per day should you be eating while bulking? What meal frequency is going to produce the most muscle growth with the least amount of fat gain?
Obe is a student in studying commercial aviation. He’s married, naturally skinny, and he spends his free time playing soccer and watching movies. A little over 5 weeks ago, he started doing our Bony to Beastly Program. He isn’t doing anything crazy, he’s just following a conventional bulking routine:
- He’s following a weight training routine, doing 3 full-body workouts per week, and training for muscle size (hypertrophy training). It takes him about 3 hours per week, all told.
- He’s eating enough protein to maximize his rate of muscle growth. Around a gram of protein per pound bodyweight per day. He used protein powder to make that easier.
- He’s eating enough calories to gain weight. Every night, he makes sure that he’s hit his calorie target. And he’s gaining weight quickly, so that’s a lot of extra calories. He doesn’t have to gain weight this quickly, but he’s taking advantage of his newbie gains, bulking very aggressively.
His routine isn’t anything wild. Just 3 workouts per week. And although we recommend creatine, he isn’t using it. He’s just taking a multivitamin and fish oil. Every week, he gained 4 pounds. It only took him 5 weeks to gain a full 20 pounds, and without any visible fat gain.
A lot of us so-called “ectomorphs,” hardgainers, and skinny-fat guys assume that we have bad muscle-building genetics, but that’s rarely the case. We can often gain weight quite quickly and leanly. Let’s talk about how to do that, and how long it will realistically take to gain 20 pounds.
The skinny man on the left is Jeff before starting the Bony to Beastly Bulking Program. He started the program at 136 pounds with internally rotated shoulders, a head that jutted forward, and a posture that made his belly stick out—issues that he was eager to fix. Most of all, though, Jeff was tired of being skinny and eager to bulk up.
The muscular man on the right is Jeff 5 weeks later, weighing in at 146 pounds and with most of his postural problems greatly improved. He also succeeded in balancing out most of his muscle asymmetries. Most of all, though, he had succeeded at gaining 10 pounds. In just 5 weeks, he had overcome his skinniness. And he was still just getting started.
May 2010—the month that two skinny guys decided they were fed up with being skinny. Did we know how to lift weights? Did we know how to eat a bulking diet? Nope. We didn’t know anything about building muscle. All we knew was that we were underweight, weak, and fed up with feeling so scrawny. That was how “Muscle May” began. In fact, that’s how our entire Bony to Beastly business began.
That first day of May, the two of us made a bulking pact: we would do thirty days of whatever it took to gain muscle—naturally, of course. It’s not like we were going to take steroids or anything. Hell, we were even scared to take creatine. But skinny genes be damned, we were growing out of our skinny jeans.
At the end of those thirty days, we had gained over thirty pounds between us, which was, well, maybe a bit much! But it was working. We were finally gaining weight! So we doubled down on our efforts, extending our bulking pact for another three months. And by the end of those three months, we had built enough muscle that we weren’t skinny anymore. And we haven’t ever been skinny again.
Here’s the story of how we went from skinny to muscular.
When I first started weight training and eating for muscle growth, I expected to have more energy, to become stronger, and to look better. But the first thing I noticed was that my stomach started to bloat up like a blowfish. It wasn’t fat, either. I still had abs. But instead of having a flat, washboard stomach, it was curved outwards like a turtle shell.
As I continued to pound down the calories, I started feeling perpetually full, bloated, and gassy. I’d often get indigestion, I struggled with acid reflux, and sometimes I’d even get diarrhea. Something wasn’t going right, but I didn’t know what it was.
I considered going back to my old diet, but that would mean going back to being skinny, and there was no way I was doing that. Fortunately, I realized that this was a fairly common issue with bodybuilders, and that there were a few good ways to improve digestion. Now, even after gaining 65 pounds, it’s easy for me to get into a comfortable calorie surplus.
So, what’s the best way to fix bloating, gas, indigestion, and acid reflux while building muscle?