Once upon a time, my friend Eric was working out with me.
I’ll never forget the look on his face one day…
He stepped on the scale, and then looked back at me.
Before he could say anything else I looked him right in the eyes and said,
“You’re not eating enough.”
Which is the case with most skinny guys who want to build muscle. They get all gung-ho about working out, but they don’t change up their diets. Worse, they increasing caloric expenditure without increasing caloric intake.
That’s when the pounds actually go in reverse! (like my friend, Eric)
If you’re a skinny guy who wants to build muscle, then listen up!
Your diet will be the most important part.
It’s the ultimate factor in your success (or lack thereof).
The Problem With Most Diet Advice For Skinny Guys
Generally, nutrition advice favours the guy who wants to shed a few pounds and tone up. In this instance, goal is body fat reduction and an increase in lean muscle mass.
The result is an arsenal of diet strategies geared towards this general fitness goal (ie. Intermittent Fasting, Keto, Low Carb, High Carb, etc.). But do you know what the problem is with diets like these for scrawny guys?
Intermittent Fasting, for example, restricts your feeding window. Martin Berkhan of Leangainz popularized the 8:16 method, where you eat within an 8 hour feeding window and fast for the other 16.
It works great! I’ve had many friends get amazing results with it.
BUT those results were fat loss.
Trouble is – most skinny guys have a hard time eating enough calories in their waking hours. And then you take hours away, it gets even harder.
Other approaches you may have seen are things like Paleo, Keto, low-carb, high-carb etc.
The problem is the same. They all have restrictions. While IF restricts your feeding window, the popular dietary strategies mentioned above restrict the food you eat.
For example, Keto restricts carbs from your diet. You have to make those up!
Truth is, restrictions like these make it harder for you to bulk up. I’m not saying you can’t. It just makes it more difficult. Whereas a diet for skinny guys to build muscle can benefit from an alternate approach…
Go ahead and loosen the reins, a bit. Don’t eat like garbage. In fact, I suggest you eat plenty of single ingredient whole foods. And cut the refined sugars.
Yeah… Ok so maybe I am an advocate of some restrictions.
But if you eat more of the food that’s good for your body, your physique will reflect it more in the mirror.
Keep it simple. And don’t be afraid to loosen the reigns a bit. Because you gotta eat!
A Diet For Skinny Guys To Build Muscle Requires A Caloric Surplus
Simply put, you need to consume more than your body will expend in a day.
Before we talk about the actual foods you should be eating, you need to understand how much energy you will require to gain weight.
Let’s break it down a little more…
You’ll need a diet strategy that sustains an increased amount of calories over your TDEE.
Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) (also referred to as “maintenance level calories”) is a measure of how many calories your body will burn in a day. It is a combination of these three things:
- Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR)
- Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)
- Energy expended from physical activity
Basically, it’s the calories your body will use just to exist. Plus any additional energy used for physical activity.
If you’re taking in more calories than this amount, you’ll gain weight.
And that’s the goal.
Simple enough, right?
Don’t worry, we’ll talk about how to do this. But first, let’s determine your TDEE.
Use this calculator to find yours:
Input all of your information and select ‘Gain Weight’ for the goal.
The calculator will then give you your TDEE and some caloric targets for gaining weight.
Don’t be shy with the calories.
There’s evidence to suggest most of the weight gain can come from Lean Mass in favour of the untrained adult (which is typically most skinny guys who are looking to bulk up).
Now, I’d better mention there is another study that showed a different story. The outcome showed that with elite athletes, a caloric surplus provided more of an increase in Body Fat.
This suggests that when you’re just starting out, you can go bigger on the caloric surplus. The initial phase of a solid workout program for hardgainers will promote a lot of stress and allow your muscles to grow faster. As you become more advanced, the bigger surpluses will go more towards storage (fat).
But if you’re reading this, my assumption is you’re more like the subjects in the first study. So don’t focus too much on a certain caloric number above your TDEE. Ensure you’re eating above that amount and you’ll see results.
Protein For Skinny Guys To Build Muscle
In order to build lean mass, the body needs amino acids.
These are the building blocks your body will use to build lean tissue. It’s a key component in a diet for skinny guys to build muscle.
Essential amino acids cannot be synthesized by your body and must be provided through diet.
For this reason, it’s absolutely essential your meals are providing you with enough protein (from quality sources).
How Much Protein Should You Consume To Gain Weight For Skinny Guys?
Firstly, the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kg of bodyweight.
However, this recommendation is based on an untrained population. Someone who is working out for hypertrophy and strength will benefit from having more. In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that approximately 100% more protein (~1.6 gr/kg) is required to maximize results with a resistance training program!
This heightened recommendation is necessary due to the oxidation of aminos during exercise, and for the repair of muscle damage during your workouts.
For the goal of building muscle, you should aim for a daily consumption of 0.73-1g/lb.
If you weigh 150 pounds (or 68 kgs), for example – then you should be consuming 110 – 150 grams (440 – 600 calories) of protein daily.
Timing and frequency can also be beneficial in your muscle building strategy.
For one, exercise has been shown to increase the anabolic effect of protein intake. And there’s a window of approximately 45 – 150 minutes post-workout where dramatic increases in muscle protein synthesis occur. But despite this increase, your body will be in a negative protein balance without consumption of the macronutrient.
For this reason, supplementing with protein post-workout is a good idea. It helps you maintain a positive protein balance and sustained anabolic sensitivity. A study suggests 20 grams or more of a high-quality protein post-workout ensures your body maximizes the effects of this heightened anabolic effect.
There’s also a case for consuming protein-rich meals every few hours throughout the day. This is to keep muscle protein synthesis elevated while limiting breakdown.
Research around timing suggests 20 grams every 3 hours is superior to other intervals.
There are many sources of good protein available. Chicken, turkey, fish, beef, eggs, soy, legumes, whey, and more.
Remember, consuming a quality source of at least 20 grams protein every few hours is part of a good diet for skinny guys to build muscle.
Quick tip: get yourself some whey protein powder. Ideally from isolate without fillers. Something clean – like this protein powder #affiliatelink.
You’ll want to supplement with protein post workout, anyways. And it will help you reach your protein requirements easier.
Additional Macronutrient Requirements For Skinny Guys To Build Muscle
Protein takes priority for skeletal purposes. Then once you calculate your protein requirements (0.73-1g/lb/day), you’ll fill in the blanks with the other two macros.
Carbs are compounds that provide the body with energy (either immediate or stored).
You may have heard of them referred to as ‘simple’ or ‘complex’. Complex carbohydrates contain longer chains of sugar molecules and take longer to break down and use for energy. Complex carbs (brown rice, quinoa, etc.) provide more lasting energy than simple carbs (table sugar, syrup, etc).
Interestingly, carbs aren’t actually required by your body. Human’s can manufacture glucose through gluconeogenesis or use ketone bodies instead.
However, there is a case for including carbohydrates in your diet for hypertrophy and performance reasons (especially for skinny guys).
This is especially true considering the energy requirements of resistance training. Being depleted of muscle glycogen has been shown to limit ATP regeneration, which is the main source of energy to power your movements.
Another study showed that restricting carbohydrates “caused a significant reduction in the number of squat repetitions performed.”
This info suggests that without adequate energy from carbohydrates, your exercise performance may suffer.
What’s uncertain is an exact requirement of carbs required in your diet. For example, a look at diets consisting of 65% carbs vs 40% showed no difference in performance.
Another study concluded that performance suffered on a low-carbohydrate intake (25%) vs high (70%). But one thing to note here is that the high-carb diet did not improve performance from the control diet of 50% carbohydrates.
With that in mind, it’s safe to say 40-65% is an acceptable range from carbohydrates. Reducing this amount may negatively impact your weightlifting performance.
Finally, we can’t forget about the last macronutrient. And of the most dense in energy, it’ll be a good ally in bulking up.
Dietary fats (aka lipids) are the most energy dense of the macronutrients. Whereas protein and carbohydrates both contain 4 calories per gram, fat contains more than double that at 9!
Fat is important for both structural and metabolic functions. And because it’s the most dense macro, it’s the most efficient for energy storage.
Further, it becomes an easy variable to manipulate for your caloric goals.
But not all fats are created equal!
The two main categories of fats are saturated and unsaturated.
Saturated fatty acids (SFAs) contain a hydrogen atom on both sides of every carbon atom. Unsaturated fatty acids contain one (monosaturated) or more (polyunsaturated) double bonds in their carbon chain. These are the one’s you want in your diet.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are classed as either omega-6 or omega-3 fatty acids. What you should know is that these fatty acids cannot be manufactured in the body and are essential from food.
Further, there’s evidence to suggest the type of fat consumed plays a role in body composition. In one instance, omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids showed ~3-fold increase in lean tissue mass over the consumption of saturated fats.
PUFAs are said to enhance fluidity in cell membranes. SFAs have the opposite effect. And cell membranes play a critical role in shuttling nutrients, hormones, and signals in and out of cells. Thus, PUFAs will have a positive impact on muscle protein synthesis vs the negative effects of SFAs.
The most important PUFAs are your Omega 3s. Numerous studies have shown the importance of this fatty acid on protein metabolism. One study showed a correlation with Fish Oil supplements having a significant increase in lean mass and reduced fat mass.
(sidenote: this makes a good case for the benefits of supplementing with Omega 3 fish oils).
What you can take away from all of this is that your fat intake should focus on Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) over saturated fatty acids (SFAs).
You should especially be getting Omega-3s in your diet to ensure proper hormonal functions and maximize muscle protein synthesis.
There are so many sources of healthy polyunsaturated fats available. Fish, nuts, avocados, coconut, oils, eggs, dark chocolate, etc. – the list goes on.
Similar to carbs, there’s no conclusive evidence towards the amount of fat required to maximize muscle growth.
However, what we can determine from all of this is that once protein needs are met (0.73g – 1g/lb); carbs should then take up 40-65% of your diet.
That leaves you with roughly 10-40% from dietary fat.
Remember, its energy dense structure makes it a good variable for increasing your calories.
To recap, your total macronutrient distribution should look something like this:
- Protein: 20-25% (0.73-1 g/lb/day)
- Carbs: 40-65%
- Fat: 10-40%
Eat Frequent Meals and Snacks Throughout The Day
If your goal is to bulk, 5+ meals throughout the course of your day is recommended.
Spacing your intake throughout the day makes it easier to hit targets.
Remember when we talked about protein. You should try to include a source of protein every few hours.
I’d recommend you include a source of carbs and fat as well.
For example, I’ll prep meals like fish, rice, and roasted veggies topped with Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO).
I’ll also have snacks like plain greek yogurt with banana and blueberries, and a handful of almonds.
Both meals have around 20+ grams of protein and include fats and carbs.
Keep in mind: you shouldn’t feel hungry very often when bulking. Because you’ll be eating more than you’re used to. So, if you can maintain an eating schedule of 5 meals/snacks per day, you’ll see results faster.
Remember, your diet is the most important part is your diet.
Bonus Diet Tips for Skinny Guys
Finally, I’d be remiss if I spent all this time without mentioning some of the easier ways to gain calories.
Here are 3 final tips for ensuring you’re getting enough calories.
Drinking your calories
Liquids are an easy way to consume more calories.
In an extreme example, you may have heard of the ‘GOMAD’ diet…
Of Starting Strength fame, Mark Rippetoe popularized this method for skinny guys who want to bulk up fast.
It’s an acronym for Gallon Of (whole) Milk A Day.
If you do that, it’s somewhere in the ballpark of 2500+ calories on top of your day!
But can you imagine drinking all of that milk!?
Still, you may want to add more liquid calories into your diet. The nice thing is that liquids will pass through your system faster. Leaving space for calories from food.
With this in mind, drinking protein shakes or chocolate milk after workouts is beneficial for skinny guys. Or a few glasses of whole milk on top of your meals.
Pour On The Calories
A neighbour to ‘drinking’ calories, but pouring calories on top of meals helps increase caloric intake.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is great to have on hand. A few tablespoons adds a calorie dense bomb of healthy fat into your meal.
Even if you just eat a salad with your protein, EVOO can help you increase the calorie content.
A handful of Almonds
Another simple, yet healthy hack for your diet is by adding a handful of Almonds.
Just one ounce (around 23 almonds) provides an additional 163 calories. And they have a good macronutrient profile for protein and healthy fats.
What I like about adding almonds in, is that it’s simple. If you kept your diet the same but added one handful of almonds, you’re increasing your TDEE and should see the small effects of a caloric surplus.
It’s a good way to ease yourself into eating more calories.
A diet for skinny guys to build muscle requires you to be in a caloric surplus, consuming adequate protein every few waking hours, and including a source of carbs and protein along with it. Finally, eating frequent meals and snacks throughout the day makes it easier to achieve a caloric surplus.
I also shared with you three big tips to help with meeting caloric requirements: drink them, pour them on, and add one handful of almonds into your diet per day.
Looks like you have the info. Now, go and eat! ?
PS Have you gone through the M2M Crash Course (100% free) yet? NO!? Why not? It’s packed with insightful information, specifically for skinny guys who want to build muscle.
You can learn more about it and enrol for free here.