Should Skinny Guys Use Milk to Bulk Up? (GOMAD)
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?
Is Milk Good for Building Muscle?
The short answer is yes. Milk can be great for helping guys build muscle. This is especially true for skinny guys who are having trouble eating enough calories to gain weight. This is because a calorie surplus will make you gain weight (study, study, study), and milk is also a very easy source of calories.
However, we want to make sure that you’re gaining muscle, not just weight. To ensure that you’re building muscle as leanly as possible, you’re going to want to focus on a few factors, most of which milk can help with:
- Follow a good bulking workout program: The more muscle growth your workouts can stimulate, the more lean weight you’ll be able to gain, and the less likely you’ll be to store fat. Here’s our article about the best kind of lifting for building muscle.
- Make sure you’re gaining weight: Other than lifting weights, the best thing you can do to build muscle is to eat enough calories to allow for weight gain. Aiming to gain around a pound per week is good for a skinny beginner, which means about 500 extra calories per day. If you want to use milk for that, have a glass of milk alongside your main meals. If you’re using whole milk, have a small glass. If you’re using low-fat milk, have a big glass.
- Don’t gain weight too quickly: Even as a skinny beginner, if you’re gaining much more than a pound per week, it’s going to be hard to keep those gains lean. The main reason that so many people get fat from bulking on milk is that they drive their overall calorie intake too high, causing them to gain weight too quickly. If you’re gaining more than a pound per week, reduce your calorie intake.
- Eat enough protein: Aiming for around a gram of protein per pound body weight per day will help you build more muscle more leanly. It also helps to have at least 20 grams of protein with each meal and to have 3–5 meals each day. Drinking more milk is a fantastic way to boost your protein intake. Low-fat milk is higher in protein per calorie, so if your protein intake is low, choose low-fat milk and drink a lot of it.
- Get your macros right: you’ll build muscle more quickly and leanly if you eat a higher-carb, moderate-protein, lower-fat diet. Milk can help you with this, but if you’re choosing whole milk, make sure that it’s not driving your overall fat intake too high. If you’re having more than a couple of glasses of milk per day, that might mean switching to low-fat milk.
- Eat mostly whole foods: your diet doesn’t need to perfect, but we recommend getting around 80% of your calories from whole foods while bulking and keeping your added sugar intake to no more than 10% of your total calories. There are a bunch of amazing bulking foods, and milk is at the top of the list.
The benefits of milk go beyond it being a good source of calories and protein, too. It’s got a number of nutrients in it that help with building muscle:
- Zinc, selenium, and magnesium: bodybuilders and strength athletes often supplement with these three minerals in an attempt to boost their testosterone production. These minerals don’t actually boost testosterone production, but if you’re deficient in them, your testosterone production can be suppressed. Getting enough of these minerals helps keep your testosterone production in good working order, which can help you build more muscle more leanly. (Milk also contains vitamin A, vitamin b12, vitamin b6, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, folate, and potassium.)
- Vitamin D: milk is often fortified with vitamin D. Again, a deficiency in vitamin D can suppress testosterone production, so milk could potentially help. Mind you, a better way to get vitamin D is to spend more time in the sun, and the quantities of vitamin D in milk are quite low anyway. Still, it can help.
- Amino acids: the protein in milk has a favourable breakdown of amino acids for building muscle. Among these amino acids is leucine, which is known for stimulating muscle protein synthesis. In fact, along with whey protein, milk is arguably the best source of protein for building muscle.
- Calcium / bone health: Robert Heaney, MD, one of the more respected researchers of bone health, conducted a systematic review on the effects of milk on bone health, concluding that milk was great for building stronger bones.
- Casein protein: around 80% of the protein in milk comes from casein, which digests very slowly and steadily. Theoretically, that means that if you have milk in the evening, the casein would gradually digest over the course of the night, allowing you to build more muscle while you sleep. (Meat also digests quite slowly, yielding the same effect.)
- Casomorphins: This is a weird one. Our bodies break down casein into casomorphins, which have about 1/10th the painkilling effect of morphine.
Because of how easily milk can turn a regular diet into a bulking diet, it has a long history of helping guys build muscle. For example, check out 50’s strongman Paul Anderson:
Paul Anderson’s story is both an inspiring and scary example of milk’s ability to transform men into Beasts. On one hand, he became the strongest man in the world through smart training and consuming monstrous quantities of milk. On the other hand, he also became morbidly obese and died in his 60s.
So although milk is famous for helping guys build muscle, many guys are also nervous about drinking it.
The reason why people get fat when they drink too much milk is simple:
- Calories: bulking on too large of a calorie surplus will cause the extra calories to spill over into fat storage. If someone is doing GOMAD, where they drink a gallon of whole milk every day, then they’re getting upwards of 2500 calories per day just from milk alone.
- Fat: bulking with too much of your calories coming from fat will cause extra fat storage. If you’re doing GOMAD, that’s 128 grams of fat. 1150 calories of fat, just from the milk. Even if milk were your only source of fat, that might already be pushing your fat intake too high for making lean gains (study).
- Saturated fat: if you’re doing GOMAD, that’s 75 grams of saturated fat. 650 calories of saturated fat just from the milk alone. Yes, having enough saturated fat in your diet will raise your testosterone production a little bit (study), but a saturated fat intake that high is so far beyond the healthy limit that it will start to cause negative effects. The recommended saturated fat intake is 6–10% of your diet. If you triple that every day, it’s going to reduce your muscle growth, increase fat storage, and cause you to store proportionally more visceral fat (study).
The problem isn’t with milk, though, the problem is with aggressively bulking on a high-calorie and high-fat diet. That makes the solution quite simple:
- Don’t overshoot your calorie goals
- Make sure that your milk fits within your macros
- Switch to low-fat milk if your fat intake is too high
Is GOMAD Good for Bulking?
GOMAD was invented a hundred years ago by a weightlifting coach named Mark Berry. He believed the best way to bulk was to do high-rep squat-focused workouts while drinking an extra gallon of milk a day (alongside your regular meals). It was never supposed to be a way to gain weight leanly. In fact, Berry was more interested in “huskiness.” The idea was to get big, strong, and also kind of chubby.
GOMAD is still pretty popular. Nowadays it’s usually used to help young athletes, such as high school football players, bulk up in a hurry. It’s a very simple protocol:
- Follow a squat-based training program, such as Starting Strength
- Drink a gallon of whole milk every day
The first problem is that strength training isn’t very good for gaining muscle size. It’s great for building bigger quads and glutes. And those are the biggest muscles in your body, so it’s not bad for gaining overall muscle mass. But it’s not a great program for gaining muscle mass everywhere else—especially in your upper body.
The second problem is that you’re probably going to get fat. However, to be fair to GOMAD, the idea is to get big and bulky, not to build muscle leanly. Linemen don’t need to be lean, they just need to be big and strong. So let’s ignore that part. Instead, let’s focus on the gallon of whole milk.
The macros of a gallon of whole milk are:
- 2,300–2,500 calories
- 125 grams of fat
- 185 grams of carbohydrates
- 120 grams of protein
This gallon of whole milk is going to be fairly easy to drink because it’s liquid, it’s low in fibre, and it will pass through your digestive system fairly quickly. Even though it’s an absurd amount of milk, it’s actually not that hard to stack on top of your regular diet.
The problem is, stacking 2,400 calories on top of your regular diet is going to cause a ton of weight gain, most of which will be fat. That’s almost 5x the recommended calorie surplus, even for a skinny beginner who’s lifting weights.
However, if we put this in the context of a college football player, this starts to make more sense. If someone is spending most of their time exercising, they’re going to require a ton of calories. Besides, if the goal is simply to gain a bunch of muscle and fat, then it absolutely makes sense to eat a crazy calorie surplus like this. This is how you build a massive lineman with a ton of momentum to throw around.
Plus, college football players are incredible active, which can offset the higher intake of saturated fat. The more active you are, the more visceral fat you’ll burn. That doesn’t mean it’s healthy to eat that much saturated fat, but it becomes less bad.
So is GOMAD good for bulking? That depends on what you mean by bulking. In certain circumstances, yes. But generally, no. It’s not the best way to gain muscle quickly, and it’s certainly not the best way to gain muscle leanly. However, that doesn’t mean that milk is bad for bulking, it just means that you probably shouldn’t drink a gallon of it every day.
Is LOMAD Good for Bulking?
LOMAD is a more moderate version of GOMAD that calls for drinking just a litre of whole milk a day.
The macros of a litre of whole milk are:
- 630 calories
- 34 grams of fat
- 49 grams of carbohydrates
- 32 grams of protein
We normally recommend that skinny beginners start their bulk by adding in about 500 calories to their daily calorie intake. This is just a little bit higher than that. That’s fine. People normally need to raise their calories as they progress through a bulk anyway, so this simply starts the calories off a little higher. That’s perfect fine.
Then, if we’re talking about low-fat milk, the macros get even better:
- 440 calories
- 10 grams of fat
- 52 grams of carbohydrates
- 32 grams of protein
That adds 440 calories into your diet, with most of those calories coming from carbs and protein.
This is going to give you a good shot at building muscle quickly and leanly, especially if you combine it with a workout program that’s designed to help you gain muscle size.
My Experience Bulking With LOMAD
One summer I decided I was going to bulk up. This was back when I was 130 pounds at 6’2, and I was working at an ad agency on the illustration team. I was new there, and also newly determined to gain 20 pounds. I had read about GOMAD, where you drink a gallon of milk every day. I loved the idea, but I wanted to ease into it. I decided to start with LOMAD instead, drinking a litre of milk every day.
To do this, I brought in a 1-litre bag of milk to work with me, and I gradually worked my way through it over the course of the day. At lunch I’d walk over to Subway and grab myself a 6-inch meatball sub with extra cheese. In the afternoon, I’d snack on a protein bar or some trail mix.
That was my first experience with LOMAD. Or at least I thought it was. See, a couple of months after I started my bulk, one of my coworkers started complaining to everyone that by the end of the day, every single day, I would always finish the milk, leaving none for her after-work coffee. She was appalled that I was so consistently inconsiderate. I don’t blame her. Drinking a litre of communal office milk every day would certainly be poor etiquette.
I had to explain to her that I wasn’t drinking the office milk, I was bringing my own bag of milk in with me each morning. She’d been using my milk for her coffees throughout the day each day. I thought it was a good rebuttal, but she wasn’t impressed: “How on earth would I know that? Who brings in milk to work like that?! You even have your own milk pitcher here!“
It was an awkward situation. I mean, she was right. Who brings milk to work like that? Skinny guys who are desperate to build muscle, that’s who. I gained 20 pounds that summer:
Milk and Digestion
Most people digest milk quite quickly and easily, which is why it’s so popular for bulking. It allows us to consume more calories and protein without putting much strain on our digestive system.
It’s not that it takes up less space in our stomachs. Milk is less calorically dense than foods like olive oil and trail mix. But because it’s a liquid, it passes through quite quickly, allowing us to eat again shortly afterwards. It’s also fairly easy to chug a glass of milk after eating a meal.
However, milk contains a sugar called lactose. To digest that lactose, we use the digestive enzyme lactase, which some people have more of than others. If you don’t have enough lactase to digest all the lactose you’re consuming, you’ll start to feel bloated and nauseous.
Older studies have indicated that some cultures digest milk better than others. People of Northern European descent tend to digest milk well, whereas many people of Asian and African descent struggle with it (study). At first, researchers thought this was due to genetics, but now they think it’s due to upbringing (study). Since some cultures don’t raise their kids on cow’s milk, the kids never begin to produce lactase. They simply never need to. That doesn’t make them unable to produce lactase, though. If they gradually introduce milk into their diets, their lactase production often kicks into gear.
Generally, if you gradually consume more milk, your body will start gradually producing more lactase. This means that even people who are lactose intolerant now can often become more tolerant in the future. However, some people remain lactose intolerant despite regular consumption of milk. It’s uncommon, but it happens.
If you’re having trouble digesting milk, that’s where lactose-free milk comes in. Lactose free milk isn’t actually free of lactose, it just comes with the digestive enzyme lactase already mixed in.
Lactose-free milk doesn’t help everyone, though. Some people are actually allergic to milk, which is a whole different ballgame from intolerance. These people, and they probably know who they are, shouldn’t be consuming milk at all. Mind you, that’s fairly rare.
To be honest, though, if you don’t tolerate milk well, there’s no need to drink any. Skinny guys can even bulk up on fully vegan diets without an issue. The last thing you want to do while bulking is to introduce something into your diet that messes with your digestive system. The whole point of using milk to bulk up is to make things easier on your digestive system, not harder.
What About the Hormones in Milk?
The other concern with using milk to bulk up is the fact that milk has hormones in it, namely:
- Bovine growth hormone (bGH)
- Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1)
If we’re consuming large quantities of milk, and if the milk contains those hormones, then won’t milk have a negative (or positive) effect on our health?
When it comes to body composition, a recent study found that people who drink milk tend to have more muscle, less fat, and greater bone density. So milk is definitely healthy in the sense that it makes us leaner and stronger. Mind you, that’s just one aspect of health.
How the hormones in milk could interact with our longterm health is outside our realm of expertise, but Brad Dieter, PhD, has a great article about the hormones in milk on Science Driven Nutrition. The article is written by Morten Elsoe, who has a master’s degree in molecular nutrition and food technology.
Their main takeaways are this:
- Bovine growth hormone has no biological activity in humans.
- IGF-1 does have biological activity in humans, but our saliva has more IGF-1 in it than milk does, so “the amount of IGF-1 in milk is simply too small to have any relevance.”
- The protein in milk does cause us to produce more IGF-1, but this is a good thing. We also get this benefit from other sources of protein, and, oddly enough, soy milk causes our IGF-1 levels to rise even higher than cow’s milk (study).
- There’s no evidence to suggest that milk causes cancer. In fact, it even reduces our risk of getting some cancers (study)
- Milk doesn’t increase our production of estrogen.
Is High-Fat or Low-Fat Milk Better for Bulking?
For some reason, whole milk seems to produce the most muscle growth (study). At first, researchers thought it was stimulating more muscle growth because it was higher in calories, so they tested that hypothesis… and they were wrong.
It turns out that even if you’re consuming the same amount of calories from skim milk as you are from whole milk, the whole milk still produces more muscle growth. This is especially surprising because skim milk contains almost twice as much protein as whole milk. Other researchers thought that the IGF-1 was causing the extra growth, but again, that doesn’t seem to the case. Other sources of protein stimulate just as much IGF-1 production.
There’s no conclusive answer on why whole milk is so anabolic. It might be because the processing of whole milk is less extreme. Maybe it’s because the vitamins and minerals in milk are fat soluble, meaning that whole milk contains more micronutrients. (That’s my guess.)
However, there’s also a potential downside to bulking on whole milk. Since whole milk is so high in fat, and since dietary fat is so easily stored as body fat, whole milk can make it easy to eat a diet that’s too high in fat overall. Similarly, whole milk is high in saturated fat, which can make your diet overly high in saturated fat. This may be why a large meta-analysis of three thirty-year cohort studies found that whole milk was associated with an increased risk of mortality. Low-fat milk and cheese, on the other hand, showed no negative health effects. So it’s possible that increasing our consumption of whole milk, especially in large amounts, and especially over a long time period, could have a negative impact on our general health.
Putting that into context, if you’re only having a couple of glasses of milk per day, or if your diet is low in saturated and overall fat, then whole milk is probably the better option. It seems like a better way to get all of the micronutrients found in milk. But if whole milk would drive your saturated or overall fat intake too high, choose low-fat milk instead. It might not contain all of the muscle-building micronutrients, but it will still be high in calories and protein, and it won’t cause extra fat gain, visceral fat storage, or negative health effects.
In my own case, I’ve always chosen low-fat milk. That allows me to get some saturated fat from meat and cheese, and it leaves some room in my diet for other sources of healthy fats, such as fish oil, olive oil, and nuts. (Having room in my diet for nuts allows me to eat trail mix, which is another great bulking food.)
How to Bulk Up With Milk
If you’re adding milk into your diet with the goal of gaining weight, building muscle, and avoiding fat gain, here are a couple simple protocols that you might want to experiment with:
- LOMAD: Gradually work your way through a litre of milk every day. You could have a pint of milk as a snack, or you could have a glass of milk alongside your meals. If your diet is mostly plant-based, whole milk might work better for you. If you already eat a lot of meat or fat, maybe choose low-fat milk.
- Protein booster: Whenever you have a meal that’s low in protein (or low in calories), add a glass of milk. For example, if you have a peanut butter and banana sandwich for lunch, add a glass of milk. If you have a bowl of pasta for dinner, add a glass of milk. By adding the milk to your meals, you’re boosting their protein content. If this helps you get to 20 grams of protein in each meal, or if it helps you hit your daily protein target, then it will help you build muscle more quickly and leanly.
- Meal replacement: If you need a bulking meal on the run, dip into a corner store and buy a quart/litre of milk. If you combine that with almost anything else (e.g. trail mix), you’ll have a perfect on-the-go bulking meal.
Whichever approach you use, remember to ease into it. Start with a single extra cup of milk per day. If that goes well, add another cup. I don’t see any problem with bulking up on a litre of milk per day (LOMAD). That’s still a fairly moderate intake. However, as you push deeper, drinking closer to a gallon of milk per day (GOMAD), it’s harder to say if that could negatively impact your health.
If you’re still having trouble gaining weight after adding a litre of milk to your diet, here’s our guide for how to eat more calories. It might make more sense to start adding in calories from other bulking foods, such as trail mix. That will give you a more balanced bulking diet.
Here’s how to adjust your milk intake based on your results:
- If you’re not gaining a pound per week, add extra milk into your diet. Again, add the milk in glass by glass.
- If you’re gaining more than a pound per week, cut back on the calories.
- If you’re gaining a pound per week but too much of it is fat, check your overall fat intake. If your fat intake is too high, switch to low-fat milk. If your saturated fat intake is too high, again, switch to low-fat milk.
Over the course of couple years, having 2–4 glasses of milk per day helped me gain 55 pounds of muscle quite leanly:
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how tall is marcel? just wanna get a rough idea how i would if i was to be 200lb
Haha yeah I do the same thing. He’s 184cm, so a touch over 6′.
I’m actually 191 cm !
I have grown since I started B2B
Shane- haha! You already know how I feel about milk, BUT one thing I wanted to say that was not mentioned and that I recently found out is that IF it is available to you and from a trusted source even lactose intolerant people can (80% or more of the time) actually tolerate RAW milk. My daughter being one of them. She has not been able to tolerate cows milk, yogurt, ice cream, etc at all without serious GI problems. It was bad. Bleeding in the intestinal tract, leaky gut problems, but I switched her over and she immediately tolerated it! Up to two glasses a day within a week, and she started gaining weight! 3 lbs in the first 5 weeks. Normally it would take her a year or so to gain that amount! So I guess my point is that it’s a good weight gainer and can still be an option for those that think they can’t tolerate it.
I’ve yet to ever even try it! I’m kind of excited. Going to be keeping my eyes peeled for it.
That’s awesome about your daughter, too! Glad to hear she’s doing stellar now 😀
I’m an incredibly hard-gainer. Milk was/is hands down the most effective (and cost effective) thing I’ve added to my diet. It put on weight, good weight, like no other supplement or food.
As for the anti-milk crowd, especially those that claim it as a cause or catalyst to cancer, I frown at the claims. Even tap water now has been “linked” to many physical problems (not that I buy into the claim). Don’t believe the hype, believe what works for you.
I’m going to keep my eyes on the emerging research just incase, but right now I’m totally with you—milk is looking both wholesome and effective 🙂
Truly is the perfect weight gainer for many of us ectomorphs!
Just recently read this article, wanted to reply with the update.
This argument has been around for a bit, but recently has seemed to gain a lot of attention. Probably why the milk “alternatives” are flooding the shelves right now. But, this breaks my heart, could this all really be true? That instead of drinking a sweet nectar of results we are drinking a poison made for calves only? This is turning my world upside-down.
Milk, hands down, has brought me great results. From a nutritional standpoint, I simply cannot see how milk can be “that bad” for you; other than the possibility of added hormones and antibiotics (just buy organic).
What is everyone’s thought on this? Comfort my milk drinking self. 🙁
Hehe I always find that “milk is made for calves” argument funny. I mean … it’s not like cows themselves, chickens, eggs, many fruits and veggies, or even water were ‘made’ for human consumption either.
Some experts, like Alan Aragon, argue that hormones in milk aren’t much to worry about, as they’re digested in the stomach. I mean, it’s not like we’re injecting milk into our bloodstream or anything. Only some hormones can be taken orally.
With that said, you’re absolutely right – very easy to play it safe in that regard and opt for organic.
I haven’t come across any reason to avoid milk in my research yet, and there are TONS of studies showing that milk is incredibly nutritious:
I’m not saying it’s for everyone, or that it’s NECESSARILY safe (what is?) but just that the current body of research seems to show that it’s great for most people’s health.
A few weeks ago, I told Shane that I had just found out I had a slight milk allergy (which sucks because I love me some milk). One can be allergic to the whey or casein proteins in milk, and these proteins can be structurally different from one species to the next.
I eliminated all dairy from my diet for 3 weeks. This week, I added back in a whey protein shake (no casein) and everything was great! No excess phlegm, no bloating. Looks like whey and I are cool. As an experiment, I’ll add a whey-casein blend to my shakes in two weeks and see if there’s any reaction.
If casein is indeed the problem for me, milk from another animal (goat maybe) might be a good option for me.
To anyone with a milk allergy: try an elimination diet to determine what in milk you are sensitive to, then you’ll have options to work around it!
That’s a really cool and insightful comment Jesse—thanks man!
And pumped to hear that whey is working for you. Curious to see how goat milk treats you. That stuff is funky in a really cool way. (Or perhaps that’s just the raw-egg-drinking side of me talking.)
Also, badass Gravatar. Doesn’t hurt that your location reads “Nashville” either.
The best part about you writing this article was getting me switched to whole milk.
Tastes so good!
Grammatically speaking, it should be “What happened to Marcel and me”, not “Marcel and I”. Good article though!
Ayy you’re right! Thanks for pointing that out man! Fixed 🙂
Ahaha and glad you liked the article!
So, here’s the thing. I’m 6’5” and weigh a little below 180 lbs. This, by no means is bad, but trust me when I say this, I look thin. Skinny. Weak. Do you think I can email some pictures and get an opinion on this? I drink loads of milk, exercise very regularly, and eat a good healthy diet. I can across this blog a few days ago, and it has been immensely inspiring. I was going to start the program, but I may have to wait a while, because of heavy course load in college. Great articles though!
Hey I just noticed I missed this comment. Did you ever manage to shoot me an email? Of course I’d be glad to take a look!
I did not actually. I do not have an email ID to mail it to though. :\
Send it to email@example.com 🙂
I wanna load up on milk so that I can look like Shane who looks like a lion with a bass 😀
Thanks for the article, yet another great read! In terms of food what are your thoughts on things like Quinoa Flour as a carb mix. Whilst I have your attention I’d also love to know your thoughts on Rock climbing as a back work out, and HMB as a supplement.
Many Thanks in advance!
Hehehe such different questions packed into such a brief little comment! 😉
Quinoa flour is cool, but be careful when consuming things that aren’t designed to be consumed raw. Some things, like regular old white flour, isn’t intended to be consumed raw, so they manufacture it with the assumption that any bacteria will be killed by the cooking process, i.e., consuming it raw can mean you’re consuming bateria that you really shouldn’t be. You’d likely need to get fairly unlucky to ever run into an issue, but it’s certainly something to be mindful of!
I personally use maltodextrin, but hey there are tons of creative options out there. A few of our Australian ectomorphs (like Marcel) grind up oatmeal to use in their workout shakes.
With amino acid supplements (BCAAs, glutamine, Leucine, HMB, etc) you’ll often get all the benefits from just eating regular old protein! Especially if you’re consuming animal protein (eggs, dairy, meat, etc) you really won’t be missing anything there! Plus you’ll get all the advantages of eating whole foods, which typically far outweigh the benefits of taking an isolated and processed little bit of it (notable exceptions being creatine and fish oil).
Most rock climbers wind up with pretty fearsome backs, but if you’re looking to guarantee a fearsome one I’d approach it the other way: work out your back to become a better rock climber, not rock climb to work out your back.
I’ve gone rock climbing with a few friends and I always feel incredibly thankful that I’ve got a strong grip and a strong back from deadlifting. Makes things so much easier!
Does that help at all?
Another Aussie here, but living in Shanghai. No way to get maltodextrin here, as far as I’m aware. For me to be in shape I’ve had to forgo weight gain in the past and go for simply lean, as I’ve been working as a model for about the past 6 years.
Being half-Indian, I have that thin-boned lanky ectomorph-like body type, but can also put on weight pretty easily and end up looking like those lanky old Indian gentlemen who also rock a sizable belly and arse!
But in the last 6 months or so, I’ve wanted to put some lean size on, with mixed results. Now, however real progress has been made.
From your site, I’ve adopted drinking moderate amounts of whole milk to great effect, and also transformed my post-workout shake into a ‘during-workout’ shake packed with calories and good stuff.
So, in place of maltodextrin, I add a splash of milk and top up with water, I add 2 bananas or during summer, 1 banana and 1 mango (fruit and veg are thankfully cheap here!). I add a handful of sunflower seeds, a handful of pumpkin seeds, a handful of rolled oats, sometimes some honey and a spoon of coffee or chocolate. Some flaxseed powder if I have it, give it a whiz in the blender and it’s good to go.
In the last couple of weeks I’ve upped the protein powder scoops from 2 to 3, and hey presto, the scales are reading that I’m now 69kg, up from 66.5 about a month ago (I’m 183cm tall). All muscle mass I’m glad to report, finally!
I would love to stabilise above 70kg, we’ll see how I progress. The only times I’ve been above 73 or 74kg are times when I’ve started looking a little too flabby around the edges.
Thanks for the well-written and balanced advice!
Ah that’s amazing Ashok, congratulations!
Glad we could help and that you found value in our articles 🙂
Gaining nearly 3 lean kilos is badass, especially in just a month – that’s suuuuper badass.
Good job man, you must be pumped!
Marcel grinds up oats to use in his workout shakes too. You aren’t alone on that one.
Fruits are a good idea as well. They also contain fructose, which can be a little controversial, but I wouldn’t even bother worrying about that stuff – I say fruits are a pretty perfect alternative!
Milk is also totally cool surrounding training. There’s even a DIY group of really really smart and capable guys (like Alan Aragon and Lyle McDonald) who advocate drinking chocolate milk along with workouts. That’s an option too, if you’re looking for a little more carb power in your shakes!
“Milk is also totally cool surrounding training.”
This is an interesting idea, glad that i read through the comments.
I usually workout at noon instead of having lunch. And then go straight back to work.
I will start by drinking low quantities after the workout session (like you say, as a meal replacement). Then would be nice to learn to consume and digest it during it.
That sounds like a great muscle-building plan 🙂
i would like to know what milk are we talking about here. UHT milk? or the milks that has short shelf life. which means less chemicals
We’re talking about milk in general here. If you’ve got access to minimally processed milk that’s reliably safe … I say go for it!
Dudes, I gotta say I am so so so appreciative of this blog. And I talk about it all the time. You have given me hope as an ectomorph who thought couldn’t gain weight. When I started out I was at 150 lbs and my arms were sickly, and worked my way up to 195 lbs! It’s totally possible to gain weight, and you don’t have to do it with supplements (I didn’t use any at all). Thank you guys for your work to bring this information out into the light. I’d almost be inclined to say I love you for it.
Thanks Trevor, both for your words here and for spreading word about our blog! We really appreciate it 🙂
You gained 45 pounds?! That’s totally badass man, congratulations!! That’s huge.
195 is a totally badass weight too. I hear it’s the best weight ever, actually. (And it just so happens to totally coincidentally be what I weighed this morning too.)
What are your goals looking like these days? Have you moved on from trying to gain weight?
I had been off my game for a time. I live and work in S. America and I spent three months in Peru where I lost a bit of weight. Now, I am working on getting that weight back. I lost about 15 lbs and am back up 10 lbs, only 5 more to go.
After that, my goals are to get lean, and to work more on my legs. Living in S. America I’m really limited to what I do. I actually do all my workouts with elastic bands (bodylastics) which have worked amazingly for me. I also do weighted exercises like weighted push-ups with a backpack on filled with bags of flour, jugs of water, and books and odds and ends from around the house. Sounds ghetto, I bet, but it’s working!
I’m so excited to get back home to the States to show all my friends and family my transformation. It’s going to be great.
Again, I appreciate you guys so much.
Congrats on regaining the 10 pounds! Most people lose more fat than muscle when they lose weight, and intelligently bulking up you’ll be gaining more muscle than fat … so hopefully you come out leaner and meaner by the end of it 🙂
Ahaha ghetto workouts work too! Sometimes you run into a wall – you become too strong for the weights you have at your disposal and thus stop making size / strength gains (being too strong for calisthenics is not the worst of problems to have). But oftentimes you can overcome even that with a little creativity.
Sounds like you’re doing well! Keep it up man!
(If you want to upgrade your arsenal, a lot can be doing with a big heavy kettlebell and/or a big heavy adjustable dumbbell!)
Good luck with the last 5!
This is some good info here! I’m at the very first step here,literally. Research,trying to learn more about what I need to do to go from the measly 140 lbs that I’m currently at (standing 6′) to a desired 175-195 lbs. Milk is definitely on the grocery list for sure now.
Right on Jared, good luck man! You’re starting out at 10 pounds heavier than Marcel and I did (and we were taller!), so you’re already off to a good start haha 😉
i drink about a litre a day i do not gain weight i am not adding skin nor getting fatter but my bones are becoming stronger. my rib case is getting bigger but i want to add mass onto my body i do squats curls shrugs pull ups not working tho ?
Hey Moe, it sounds like you’re doing a whole lot right already. Are you following a plan?
Chances are you need to tweak something a little in order to get your ectomorph body a changin’.
I like milk but when I tried to drink a whole milk, my digestive system was disturbed. But, reading your article and know that some people gained their weights because of milk, I will try to drink it again.
Hey Tim, glad it inspired you! 🙂
Forcing down milk when you’re intolerant probably isn’t anything to worry about – it just isn’t digesting well and it’s passing through awkwardly.
… but it’s usually best to listen to your body and eat foods that agree with both your preferences and your digestive system.
Definitely worth trying to gradually introduce into your diet though to see if your body will start producing the necessary digestive enzymes. (And it probably will.)
Just follow that advice at the bottom of the article – start with just a cup of whole milk per day.
Good luck man!
Me again lol, thanks for directing me to this article, real encouragement and inspiration here. Marcel @ 200 lbs looks shit hot! Well done to him. My goal is 200 also. Aparently im an ecto but with high test levels (1250) my doc says. Too good to waste in my opinion. I’m still gaining fast at the mo (166 lbs) this eve with no signs of hitting the wall as of yet. I’ll email you my before and after pics. Warning, I look truley gaunt in my 138 lbs snap!
It’s pretty sweet how a lot of us build muscle impressively fast eh? From see I see from the guys in our community, currently being skinny is a very poor indicator of the potential for rapid muscle growth / genetic potential!
I’ve been doing a ton of research into ectomorphs, hypertrophy and genetic potential lately and it looks like even a naturally very very skinny dude would be able to make about 95% of the gains of a naturally muscular guy … so even worst case we aren’t doing so bad!
It’s seeming more and more like it’s less our genetics holding us back and more just a lack of knowledge of how to train and eat for our body type.
Sounds like you’re crushing it man! Keep it up!
(And definitely send those photos our way!)
so Shane you mentioned Raw eggs in a previous comment. are they good or bad for you as far as the protein aspect? Also is there a risk of getting some funky chicken disease?
They’re good as far as protein goes, although not AS good as cooked egg white protein. That’s not really an issue though.
If you were to consume loads of raw eggs over a long period of time you may run into a biotin deficiency though, so I wouldn’t base your diet around them or anything. (And if you did, you may want to either remove the whites sometimes and/or eat plenty of biotin rich foods like egg yolks, carrots, etc.)
The chances of you getting salmonella poisoning from raw eggs is very very very very very small, but it IS a possibility. Of the people that get it, it’s usually the infants, elderly and infirm who struggle with it. (It’s an afternoon on the toilet for most.) I’m not saying you should take it lightly though. You may want to ask your doctor whether you should be downing your eggs like Rocky.
Free range is apparently even safer.
I have a few raw eggs every day and I do fine.
Cooking them is totally cool too, of course.
Hope that helps!
Hi, just really wanted to thank you for the info. I just deployed to Afghanistan earlier this month so this is the perfect time to put on some much needed weight. I’m currently at 125lbs, standing at about 5’9. I’d like to get to about 150 in the next few months, which should be no trouble at all now seeing as we have a pretty decent gym put together out here, and my PL also just bought $150 worth of preworkout and protein to twist my arm
Hey Dave, thanks for the kind words man – really glad it’s helping.
That’s great that you’re using it as an opportunity to accomplish your muscle-building goals, and it’s sweet that you’ve got the support of your PL! Having people egging you on is a great asset 🙂
I hope Afghanistan goes well! Best of luck.
Hey Shane, I am a sport student in the UK who has been training in the gym for a few years now, but have recently started to taking me gym training a lot more seriously and am learning more each. I have read a few of your articles and found them very interesting, especially the one that talks about converting workouts from a split program to a full-body one in order to generate more growth. Leading on from that I was just wondering a few this about your programme;
Firstly, how many times a week do you train, I currently work a 4 day split of
-Shoulders & legs,
Secondly, how many exercises in each of your workouts? And what set and rep range do you work with?
Thirdly, are all the sessions whole body or do sometimes focus on different parts?
I have found that recently my gains have plateaued and I’m looking for something new in order to get to that next level
Hey Dan, that’s awesome man. Cool that you’ve already built up solid training habits – will make taking things to the next level much much easier!
You can divide up training volume in different ways, so there isn’t just one correct way of doing things. Hitting a muscle group just once per week works brilliantly well, don’t get me wrong … just not 100% optimally. The studies are pretty unanimous when it comes to stimulating a muscle group 2-3 times per being being the way to optimize things, so if you were doing a 4-day split you’d perhaps want to train 8 times per week so that you’re doing each workout twice and thus hitting each muscle group a couple times per week. (You’d need to make sure you weren’t overdoing it on volume though, so your workouts would be pretty short.)
(If you wanted to train 4 times per week a two-day split works well, which lets you hit each muscle group twice with just 4 workouts.)
We prefer hitting each muscle group three times per week, so we do full body workouts and use a lot of big compound lifts to hit a bunch of different muscle groups all at once.
We use a variety of set and rep schemes to optimize muscle growth! Sometimes we’ll go as low as three reps, sometimes as high as twenty. Mostly we’re in the classic hypertrophy neighbourhood of 5-12 reps though.
Our program varies phase by phase, but generally each full body workout has a different emphasis. So you’d be doing three different full body workouts per week, each hitting every major muscle group, but also stimulating each muscle group a little differently each time.
And the number of different lifts we do per day depends on the set and rep schemes we’re using. Usually it’ll involve a couple big heavy lifts to emphasize mechanical tension and strength, a couple exercises in moderate rep ranges to emphasize metabolic stress, and a couple postural (external rotation and stuff), core exercises (planks, etc) and vanity lifts (like curls) at the end.
I think you’d really get a ton out of it. Not only is our program about as conducive to building muscle as they come … but also the fact that you’ve been doing a different style of lifting for a while now will probably mean you’ll see some “newbie gains” when you switch to a different style of training. I think you’d really dig it 😀
Already having good habits in place means your chance of success is pretty damn high, too. Plus, it’s always tons of fun to work with more experienced guys, as their training needs to become more individualized and more tweaking/adjusting needs to be done to get things going optimally. We love helping guys with that stuff in the community 🙂
I really love your website and I find it pretty informative. I appreciate these articles. it shows that you guys really care about us. Thank you.
I am an Ecto trying to bulk up and I’m hitting the gym three days a week. I read this article and loved it and now I’ve incorporated whole milk into my bulking diet. I drink half a Liter a day (half of it in the morning half before I sleep) I love it and i find myself wanting more.
I was wondering though if i can switch to milk powder because it is cheaper for me. Also if there is a way i can mix the milk powder at a certain ‘ratio’ with my whey Iso and still get a good percentage of protein as long as it fits my protein demand for that meal (I’m trying to make my whey last longer because its kinda expensive and doesn’t last long ) . what do you think?
Thanks for the kind words Max, glad you’re digging the site! Hope it helps 🙂
Whoa that’s an interesting question. I hadn’t even heard of that before. I just googled the nutrition label though and I’m thinking no. Not only is it (obviously) rather heavily processed, but it doesn’t even have the same macronutrients in it! It’s almost entirely carbs.
I think in this case you’d be getting what you paid for – not very much.
Hey Shane, great posts, really informative and, thanks for putting a lot of time. I don’t problem with gaining weight, my problem is getting tall! (5″4 @ the moment). Any advice on how to increase one’s height?
Haha well in that case I hope you’re young, as you might still have some growth in you! This isn’t a height grain program haha, and your options might be limited by your genetics there.
You can, however, maximize on the height you do have by standing tall and with excellent posture. Most guys in our program will likely gain an inch or two in height simply by standing with better alignment … but that’s more about getting them to their full natural height, not making them grow taller, you know?
I wish I could help more!
Hey Shane, this is a fantastic article. I was wondering if chocolate milk leads to greater gains than regular old white milk? I know that chocolate milk has more sugar, but for an ectomorph like me this won’t be a problem right?
You mean because chocolate milk would be higher in calories (from the sugar) that it would lead to more weight gain? Yep! More calories will indeed do that. Just make sure that you get enough of your calories from whole foods that you’re getting in the vitamins, minerals and fibre that you need to be healthy and stuff, and chocolate milk is great! Some guys like to use chocolate milk as a post-workout muscle-building supplement, even!
I am interested in joining this program. From my experience I don’t have too much of a problem gaining size in my upper body but its my lower body that I struggle with it. Therefore if I was to sign up with this program will it help me gain size in my thighs, butt, calves, hamstrings and that too by just using adjustable weights? It is more so my lower body that I am interested in transforming rather than my upper body.
Ah that’s sweet! It’s a rare thing to have a guy whose favourite day is leg day. (We, err, well we train our entire bodies each workout, but you know what I mean.) Anyway, your quads and posterior chain are going to see some really solid growth for sure! If you ever run into stubborn muscle groups we customize things for ya too 🙂
You’ll need to have weights that are heavy enough to stimulate growth, and lower bodies can often get very strong. With a pair of heavy adjustable dumbbells though we can get pretty creative. When things become too light there are lots of ways we can progress them to keep them heavy enough … but at a certain point you may also want to get some heavier stuff. That’d be down the road though.
I think maybe the high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol are what make whole milk more anabolic. It’s funny I’ve wasted so much money on weight gainers when I could have bought a gallon of whole milk for $3 a gallon. Over the course of three months by supplementing eggs and whole milk as part of my daily diet with very little change to my training regime I’ve gain over 40lbs finally breaking the elusive 205lb mark. I had managed to reach 185 before with gainers but I plateaued after that. Anyways I’m glad your spreading the word about whole milk. My friends think I’m crazy but if there was one “supplement”, if I can even call it that, I wouldn’t go without it would be whole milk
That’s awesome will! Congrats on gaining 40 pounds of muscle! 😀
This is LOOOONG after the last comment, but I think you could mention coconut milk as a very nice solution if people have any troubles with milk. I don’t have any digestion problems but I know that my skin doesn’t reaaaally enjoy lots of milk, which is quite a mark of non-tolerance.
Coconut milk is a bit heavier in fats but these are medium-chain saturated fats which are very good, and I believe whey or normal foods brings enough proteins anyway. My cans have 99.9% coconut+water, and casein. That’s 1000kcal a can… and still less than $3 for these
Coconut milk doesn’t really nutritionally resembles milk. Milk is high in protein, spikes insulin and muscle protein synthesis, has unique proven growth properties, is high in calcium, etc. A pint of skim milk might have 180 calories with maybe 18 grams of protein and 24 grams of carbs. Milk with more fat would have a bunch more calories coming from fat, some saturated, some not.
A pint of coconut milk might have something like 1100 calories, with 114 grams of fat (a whole day’s worth), 26 grams of carbs and just 10 grams of protein. Since coconut milk is made up nearly entirely of saturated fat, that pint would also give you 3x the recommended amount of saturated fat for a guy consuming about 3,000 calories per day. You’d need to be checking in with your doctor to make sure your heart stays healthy! (Some would respond well, others wouldn’t.)
Both are whole foods that are nutritious for most when consumed reasonably, but the two aren’t very similar other than the fact that they’re both white liquids that can be used in smoothies? I wouldn’t recommend consuming coconut milk in large quantities as a bulking food.
You’re totally right that there’s no need for milk though. There are plenty of other whole food carb/protein sources: legumes, seeds, whole grains, and many more. Or, for another easy to drink fluid, something like a fruit/protein smoothie.
Exactly what I was looking for, thanks for posting.
[…] 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 […]
Just wondering, what would you advise as vegan replacement for this? Thanks!
You don’t really need a replacement, per se. Milk is just one of many foods that’s great for bulking, you know? Practically, though, it’s handy to have a drink on hand that’s rich in calories and protein.
Soy milk is good. Plant-based protein shakes are great. And you can’t beat smoothies for bulking up.
I’m in the midst of writing our article on plant-based/vegan bulking, by the way 🙂
Ah nice, I think many will be interested! Can’t wait to read it
“bag of milk”
What fresh hell is this.
Canada, man. Milk comes in bags!
Like water balloons? Can you fight with them?
[…] If we look at research conducted since then, we can also see that chewiness is a huge factor. The harder a food is to chew, the more filling it becomes. This means that a tough steak or overcooked chicken breast will be quite filling, whereas ground meat is far easier to chew, and thus much easier on our appetites. Even better, if you don’t need to chew the food at all—such as with milk, fruit juice, smoothies, and protein shakes—your body barely even realizes that you’re consuming calories at all. This is one of the reasons why milk is so good for helping people bulk up. […]
[…] in your gym bag than it is to pack a quart of milk. Aside from that minor inconvenience, though, milk can be fantastic for building muscle. So can a wide variety of other […]
[…] and behold, disaster strikes. And not just a run of the mill muscle disaster, like running out of milk, but the worst kind of disaster imaginable: a […]
[…] Lactose: Milk contains a sugar called lactose, which is a complex sugar that digests extremely slowly. In order to digest lactose, we need a digestive enzyme called lactase, and some people have more of it than others. As a result, some people can run into digestive issues when they consume lactose. (Here’s our article about bulking up with milk.) […]
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