Carbs are considered unhealthy in most diets because they taste good and they’re easy to overeat, which causes people to gain weight. Most people are overweight, so anything that causes them to gain even more weight is unhealthy. But what if you’re an ectomorph who’s trying to gain weight?
The other reason that carbs have a bad reputation is because they can cause insulin to spike higher. When insulin spikes higher, it causes people to gain weight, including both fat and muscle. But what if you’re an ectomorph who’s trying to gain muscle? Wouldn’t the insulin spike help?
If carbs cause weight gain, and if ectomorphs are trying to gain weight, shouldn’t ectomorphs eat more carbs?
Does eating more protein increase muscle growth?
Before we talk about whether ectomorphs should eat more carbs, let’s quickly cover protein. You probably already know that protein is important for building muscle. After all, muscles are constructed out of protein, so if you don’t eat enough protein, you can’t build new muscle tissue.
Not eating enough protein is a common problem for some absolute beginners, vegetarians, and vegans. They eat too little protein, and so they struggle to build muscle.
However, once that minimum required amount of protein is met, eating more protein on top of that has little benefit beyond the extra calories that you get from it. For example, in this study, the researchers fed the participants 550% of the recommended amount of protein and they still didn’t gain any extra muscle whatsoever.
In fact, most research shows that you’d gain significantly more muscle by getting those calories from carbs instead. This is because when we consume an abundance of carbohydrates (and calories in general) protein oxidation goes down, allowing us to use that protein more efficiently. Eating more carbs allows us to build more muscle out of less protein.
Furthermore, protein is incredibly filling per calorie, making it harder to get into a calorie surplus. This makes protein extremely hard to overeat, which is one of the reasons it’s so popular in the fitness industry. It helps to prevent accidental weight gain. If you’re trying to gain weight, though, that’s a problem. According to Mike Israetel, PhD:
[Protein] has such a profound effect on suppressing hunger that gaining weight by adding tons of extra protein turns into an incredibly uphill battle to get in enough calories. A battle that most people lose.
If you’re having trouble eating enough to gain weight, here’s our article about how to eat more calories.
Not only is protein incredibly filling, we also don’t digest it very efficiently, causing our metabolisms to rise. This phenomenon is called the Thermic Effect of Food(TEF) or Diet Induced Thermogenesis (DIT). Here’s an example of that:
- If you eat 1000 calories of fat, your body burns off 15 calories as heat
- If you eat 1000 calories of carbs, your body burns off 75 calories as heat
- If you eat 1000 calories of protein, your body burns off 250 calories as heat
If we’re trying to gain weight then, this would seem to point towards eating a higher-fat bulking diet. After all, if you eat a diet that’s higher in fat, your metabolism will slow down, making it much easier to gain weight. However, most ectomorphs aren’t just trying to gain weight, they’re trying to gain muscle.
If we eat a diet that’s high in fat, yes, it will be easier to gain weight, but more of that weight will be fat (study). This is especially bad if you’re overfeeding on saturated fat, which causes even more fat storage (study).
Overfeeding on carbohydrates, though, causes less fat gain (study), and it also seems to have a better impact on our longterm health (study). There’s also research showing that overfeeding on carbohydrates can cause an absurd amount of lean muscle growth (study). This makes higher-carb diets a great option for ectomorphs who are trying to bulk up.
How much protein do you need while bulking?
In our Bony to Beastly Bulking Program, we recommend aiming for a full gram of protein per pound bodyweight, which is a little higher than you need, allowing some room for error. However, even just 0.8 grams of protein per day should get you maximal muscle growth (meta-analysis).
For example, let’s say you’re an ectomorph weighing in at lean 150 pounds and you’re eating 3000 calories per day to bulk up. If you’re aiming for 0.8 grams of protein per pound bodyweight, you only need 120 grams of protein per day. If you get just 20% of your calories from protein, you’re already eating 150 grams of protein, which is more than enough.
Keep in mind that eating extra protein isn’t unhealthy (study, study, study), just that once you’ve hit that minimum dose, there’s no benefit to eating any more of it—especially if you’re having trouble gaining weight.
What happens when you bulk on a high-carb diet?
Yes, carbs are good for helping ectomorphs building muscle, especially when compared against fat. For example, in this 2-week study, they took lean participants and split them into two groups: the first group was overfed with carbohydrates, the second was overfed with fat. Neither group lifted weights or exercised.
Here’s what happened to the lean participants who were overfed with fat:
- They gained 5.1 pounds overall
- 2.7 of those pounds were fat (53%)
- 2.4 of those pounds were muscle (47%)
Here’s what happened to the lean participants who were overfed with carbohydrates:
- They gained 5.4 pounds overall
- 2.4 of those pounds were fat (44%)
- 3 of those pounds were muscle (56%)
So what we’re seeing is that bulking on a high-fat diet is causing proportionally more fat gain and less muscle gain, whereas bulking up on carbohydrates is causing more muscle gain and less fat gain.
With this study, it’s important to note that those specific measurements hadn’t reached statistical significance by the end of the two weeks. However, the study did reach statistical significance overall, proving that overfeeding on fat does indeed cause proportionally more fat gain.
The study also tested overweight participants, who gained far more fat than the lean participants. They gained closer to the standard 67% fat and 33% muscle. It goes to show that skinny guys really do have the ability to build muscle more leanly.
Now, of course, if you’re gaining 44% fat while bulking, your bulk isn’t going very well. But that’s explained by the fact that these participants were gaining a whopping 2.5 pounds per week without doing any exercise whatsoever.
While bulking, it’s important to follow a good ectomorph workout program while bulking. You’ll also want to gain weight more slowly (around a pound per week for a beginner). If you can do that, you should expect to be able to build muscle quite leanly. In fact, some ectomorphs are able to build muscle without their body-fat percentage going up whatsoever. For example, here’s one of our members after gaining 29 pounds in five months:
Why do carbs help ectomorphs build muscle?
There are a few reasons why higher-carb diets work so well for bulking in general:
- Carbs cause more of the weight we gain to be muscle, less to be fat (study)
- Carbs increase testosterone and reduce cortisol when compared to fats (study)
- Higher-carb diets produce more insulin which produces more muscle growth (study)
- Carbs can be stored in our muscles in the form of muscle glycogen, making it less likely for those calories to be stored as body fat (study)
- Carbs improve our workout performance, allowing us to stimulate more muscle growth (study)
- Carbs tend to be affordable (e.g. rice, beans) and easily prepared (e.g. bananas, oats)
- Carbs strengthen our immune system and reduce our chances of getting sick while lifting weights (study)
And there are a few reasons why carbs help ectomorphs bulk up:
- Carbs aren’t as filling as protein, making it easier to eat more calories (study)
- Ectomorphs are leaner and tend to have a higher carbohydrate tolerance (study)
- Lifting weights improves our ability to handle high-carbohydrate diets (study)
- Gaining muscle mass while bulking further improves our carb tolerance (study)
Again, I know this may sound counterintuitive, considering that carbs are infamous for causing weight gain. The difference is that we’re trying to gain weight. Furthermore, being an ectomorph who’s lifting weights gives you a higher carbohydrate tolerance than the average man, putting you in a unique position to benefit from eating more carbs.
Overall, a diet that’s higher in carbohydrates allows most ectomorphs to gain muscle more quickly and leanly.
How many carbs should you eat while bulking?
As a general rule of thumb, an ectomorph should get around 50% of their calories from carbs while bulking. That will leave enough room for protein and fat, and the higher proportion of carbs will help you gain muscle more quickly and leanly.
However, the leaner and more active you are, the higher your metabolism and carb tolerance will be. If you’re bulking on 20x your bodyweight in calories per day or more (e.g. a 150 pound guy bulking on 3000 calories) it might help to get more of those extra calories from carbs, which might drive your carb intake up closer to 60%.
If you prefer counting grams instead, getting around 3 grams of carbohydrates per pound bodyweight tends to be ideal.
For example, a 150-pound ectomorph might bulk on:
- 20x his bodyweight in calories per day (3000 calories)
- 3 grams of carbs per pound bodyweight (450 grams)
- 60% of his calories from carbs (1600 calories).
How much fat should you eat while bulking?
Now that we’ve covered protein and carbohydrate recommendations for bulking, to figure out your overall macros, just fill in the rest of your calories with fat:
- 0.8–1 gram of protein per pound bodyweight per day (around 20% of calories)
- 3 grams of carbs per pound bodyweight per day (around 50–60% of calories)
- ? grams of fat per day (around 20–30% of calories)
When it comes to choosing your sources of fat, there’s no need to intentionally avoid saturated fats, but it’s important not to intentionally drive your saturated fat intake too high. For example, sometimes skinny guys will start drinking tons of whole milk in order to bulk up (GOMAD, LOMAD), which is a great way to increase your calorie intake. However, whole milk is high in saturated fat, which can drive your saturated fat intake way too high, causing loads of extra fat gain.
Better to aim for a mix of different fats. Eat eggs, drink milk, and eat some meat, sure, but also make sure to get plenty of your dietary fat from polyunsaturated sources such as nuts and olive oil, and also get some EPA and DHA from eating fatty fish (or supplementing with fish oil).That’s going to help keep your gains leaner and it’s going to help keep you healthy as you bulk up.
Most of all, though, just make sure that your fat intake isn’t dwarfing your carb intake. It’s the carbs that will help you make quicker and leaner gains.
Should ectomorphs eat more carbs while bulking?
Yes, carbs are great for building muscle. Ectomorphs tend to build muscle the most quickly and leanly when 50–60% of their calories come from carbohydrates, which usually works out to around 3 grams of carbohydrates per pound bodyweight per day.
It’s also important to eat enough protein, given that muscle is built out of protein. Getting 0.8–1 grams of protein per pound bodyweight per day is ideal, which usually works out to around 20% of your calories coming from protein.
Dietary fat can be rich in nutrients, and eating enough fat is needed for maintaining healthy hormone function while building muscle. However, we need to be careful about overfeeding on fats while bulking, given that it can cause cause us to gain proportionally more body fat. We need to be especially careful about consuming too much saturated fat while bulking, which can cause us to gain even more body fat. Getting 20–30% of our calories from fat is ideal, with only around a third of that coming from saturated fat (7–10% of total calories).