The first and most common problem for skinny guys is not eating enough calories.
The irony is that most people that call themselves hard-gainers think that they eat so much. But that’s usually not the case.
On top of that, some people out there are passing along misinformation claiming that you don’t need a calorie surplus to build muscle.
That it’s a myth and that you just need to be doing the “right things” in the gym to get the results.
But the truth is that aside from the quick newbie gains that you might see in the beginning, not eating enough calories makes it very tough for your body to build muscle mass.
That’s because, if you are in an energy deficit or even an energy balance, there are physiological changes that don’t support muscle growth the way that a calorie surplus would.
For example, not eating enough calories increases your levels of AMPK which is an enzyme that impairs muscle growth.
At the same time, it also reduces levels of mTOR. This is an enzyme that’s essential for muscle growth. (1)
If your mTOR activity is low, it’s going to lead to decreased cell growth and decreased protein synthesis rates.
So we want to make sure that we’re eating enough calories to keep mTOR high and AMPK low.
The other problem with being in a calorie deficit is that it’ll negatively affect hormones that promote muscle growth, like testosterone.
You’re also going to be increasing your levels of the catabolic hormone known as cortisol (2). This is once again going to make it harder to build muscle.
Now, don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean that I want you to just start loading up on massive amounts of food.
Consuming more and more calories doesn’t always lead to more and more muscle growth. And if you eat too many calories, at some point, the extra calories will be stored as fat.
That may be why some people are getting confused and abandoning the entire idea of a calorie surplus.
The truth is that it’s only an extreme surplus that creates unnecessary problems.
For example, a 12-week study that compared weightlifters that ate a small calorie surplus of around 3,000 calories per day to another group that was eating about 3600 calories per day found that both groups packed on the same amount of muscle.
So, the extra 600 calories didn’t help the second group build any extra muscle. But the researchers found that they did gain 5 times the amount of fat as the other group. (3)
So instead of having you use some complicated formula, I’ve already created a calculator that will give you the exact amount of macros that you should be having to build muscle without gaining excess fat.
All you got to do is click here for the macro calculator. Then enter in your stats and click the hard-gainer option.
Once your macros load, you’ll want to start counting and tracking them daily. That’s because most skinny guys consume far fewer calories than they actually think they do, as we discussed.
You can use an app like MyFitnessPal to do this easily.
If you’re a skinny guy struggling to build muscle, do increase your carbs.
This is because studies show that when you compare very low-carb diets to very high-carb diets, the high-carb groups maintain their strength better.
They also recover faster from their workouts and STAY in a more anabolic muscle-building state. (4)
One reason for this is because carbs help increase testosterone while reducing cortisol.
And you don’t have to compare a very low-carb diet to a high-carb diet to see this. A diet that’s made up of 30% carbs is by no means low-carb.
But an even higher-carb diet (60%) will still lead to significantly higher free testosterone levels and lower cortisol levels as you can see in this graph. (5)
Another reason why more carbs are favorable for muscle growth is because glycogen is an excellent energy source for weightlifting.
Without carbs, or with a low-carb intake, you’re going to reduce the amount of glycogen that’s stored in your muscles. This in turn will lower your performance at the gym.
You can see this in one study in which participants were carb-depleted before training.
In that state, the number of reps that they could do on different exercises dropped significantly. (6)
The good news is that the opposite is also true. If you enrich your diet with carbs, your muscles will have enough energy to be able to train harder in the gym and make faster progress with progressive overload.
This is another common reason why skinny guys have trouble gaining mass. Even though they hit the gym, workout after workout, they fail to apply progressive overload.
In other words, they don’t consistently place a higher and higher level of tension on their muscles.
Instead, they constantly do what their body is used to and comfortable with. This sends their body a signal that there’s no need to improve since the muscles have already adapted to that particular level of stress.
The reality of the matter is – if you want to build muscle, you must apply progressive overload.
And you can do that in many different ways. But the most effective way is by gradually increasing how much weight you lift.
Not only is it easy to track progress this way, but it’s also a potent way to force muscle growth. That’s because there’s a close relationship between strength and muscle mass.
This can be seen in a number of studies. But one study in particular found that there’s an almost linear correlation between chest size and one rep max strength on the bench press. (7)
This doesn’t just apply to your chest. Research on powerlifters shows that the primary difference between muscular and less muscular lifters is how strong they are.
The stronger a lifter is the more muscle mass they tend to carry. (8)
That’s why you want to gradually increase the amount of weight you use during your workouts.
For example, let’s say you did 4 sets of squats for 8 reps with 200lbs during your last session.
Your goal for your next squat session should be to do the same amount of sets and reps with 205lbs and then 210lbs the following session.
While this may sound easy in theory, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to move up 5lbs for every session without ever hitting a plateau.
#4 Undulating periodization
But the goal should always remain the same. So if you are stuck, you can start doing things like undulating periodization where you cycle your rep range during each workout.
A low rep range like three reps would allow you to use a lot heavier weight and build strength.
While a higher rep range above 10 reps will make your body more efficient at clearing out lactic acids helping you feel less fatigue.
By changing your reps from low, to moderate, to high, you’ll find it easier to break through strength plateaus when you get stuck.
This is just one of the many methods that can help you break a plateau.
But the point is you need to make a conscious effort to constantly increase the amount of tension that’s placed on your muscles over time.
Now, with all the muscle breakdown that you’ll get from applying progressive overload, you’ll want to make sure you eat enough protein. That is – eat all the protein that’s recommended in your macros.
This is important because the amino acids found in protein are the building blocks for your muscles.
In fact, protein is extra important because muscle growth is all about building up more amino acids in a muscle than the amount that gets broken down.
Whenever you maintain a positive protein turnover a muscle grows. However, if you maintain a negative protein turnover, you’ll lose muscle.
Picture your muscles as a wall, and amino acids as the bricks that make up that wall. The more bricks you add to the wall the bigger it becomes.
But if you remove bricks, the wall becomes smaller.
To maximize muscle growth you want to have at least 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This is about 0.8 grams of protein per pound. (9)
So if you weigh 200 pounds, you should be having at least 160 grams of protein per day.
You should also do your best to spread that protein evenly throughout the day as that leads to more muscle growth. (10)
Studies show that a balanced protein distribution may lead to more protein synthesis than an imbalanced distribution.
So if you’re having four meals per day and your goal is to build muscle, you’re better off having a quarter of your daily protein intake in each meal.
Conversely, having something like 70% of your protein in one meal and then having 10% in each of the other meals wouldn’t be beneficial. (11)
#6 Don’t exceed with cardio
Next, let’s talk about something that you don’t want to do. That’s over-doing cardio, especially as a skinny lifter.
That’s because cardio hurts muscle growth as shown by a 2012 meta-analysis.
Researchers found that adding cardio to a resistance training plan lowered muscle growth affect size by almost 50%. (12)
It’s important to note that this study was isolated to the lower body. Also, most cardio exercises like running, stair climbing or cycling happen to fatigue the legs.
Even though upper body muscle mass isn’t as effected by cardio, you’ll be better off keeping it to a minimum to bulk up.
This is primarily due to the influence that cardio has on mTOR and AMPK pathways.
Like I said earlier, we want to have higher mTOR levels and lower levels of AMPK to stimulate muscle growth.
And lifting weights will help you accomplish just that. The problem, however, is that cardio triggers the exact opposite.
It reduces muscle growth by increasing AMPK a while reducing mTOR.
On top of that, cardio decreases your caloric surplus. Therefore, you may find it harder to eat even more calories than the large amount that you already require, just because you’re doing a ton of cardio.
Overdoing cardio will also create excessive amounts of fatigue. This can further reduce muscle growth by reducing your performance levels at the gym.
So, if you’re a skinny guy and you’re struggling to build muscle, you should avoid cardio for the most part.
Instead, your entire focus should be on strength training.
Finally, the last thing you’ll want to make sure you’re doing is getting enough sleep.
Good-quality sleep can truly help you gain pounds of muscle. However, if you’re not getting enough sleep, not only can that hurt your health, but it’ll definitely hurt your body composition.
For example, in one weight loss study they found that when people slept just 40 minutes less per day, the amount of muscle weight they lost shifted from 20 to 80%.
What’s even more interesting is that the people participating in this study were allowed to catch up on sleep over the weekend.
So if you don’t sleep during the week and you save it for the weekend, you might want to reconsider that strategy. That’s because it doesn’t seem to have the same effect as getting enough sleep consistently.
The good news is that by getting enough sleep you’ll speed up recovery and take advantage of all the muscle-building benefits that sleeping provides.
To fall asleep faster and get higher-quality deeper sleep, the first thing you want to do is maintain a consistent sleeping schedule.
You shouldn’t be going to bed one day at 11pm, the next day at 3am, and the next day at 9pm… Keep it consistent.
You’ll also want to avoid caffeine after around noon. It’ll take about six hours to get out of your system.
And the other thing you can do to get to sleep faster is you can eat carbs before going to bed. Most people are afraid of doing this.
However, it’s a myth that eating carbs before bed will make you fatter. If you’re intaking the macros that are based on your body, it doesn’t matter if you eat your carbs in the morning or at night. (13)
Instead, studies show that carbs can help boost serotonin which will help you get to sleep faster. (14)
That’s about it, guys. Now, if you want to get a scientifically proven solution for building the maximum amount of muscle in the next 12 weeks, without all the fat gain that’s typically associated with most other bulking programs, then check out my lean bulking program.
Not only will this program lay out exactly what you should be eating for the next 12 weeks, but it’ll also teach you advanced training concepts, and much, much, more to help you break through plateaus, get stronger and build more muscle.
There will be a full video exercise library and a coach to help guide you through the whole program and answer any questions you might have.
To find out more, click the link below.
- “Consumption of amino acids, in particular leucine, stimulate increased muscle protein synthesis via the mTOR signaling pathway”.
- “Long-term severe CR reduces serum total and free testosterone”.
“Restricting calories increased the total output of cortisol”. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20368473
- Extreme calorie surpluses provide no muscle-building benefit but do cause fat gain. See figure 1 of the study.
- “resulting in an increase in AMPK activity after endurance exercise” & “AMPK”… “leads to the inactivation of mTOR and a decrease in the rate of protein synthesis”.
2% Carbs vs 77% carbs effect on Muscles.
- Testosterone to Cortisol Ratio 60% carbs vs 30% carbs.
- “The carbohydrate restriction program caused a significant reduction in the number of squat repetitions performed”.
- Bench press strength is associated with chest size. See figure 1.
- “Successful powerlifters typically have higher degrees of muscle mass expressed per unit height and/or bone mass”.
“The significant differences were for muscle mass and muscular girths. These differences may contributed to the stronger lifters’ superior performance.”
- Ideal protein intake is 1.6g/kg or about 0.8g/lb. See Figure 5.
- “Greater protein intakes and a more even distribution across meals are modifiable factors associated with higher muscle mass”.
“An even distribution of daily protein intake across meals is independently associated with greater muscle strength”.
- “A balanced distribution of daily protein intake acutely stimulated the synthesis of muscle contractile proteins more effectively than a skewed distribution”.
- Concurrent training: The negative effect that cardio has on lower body strength/muscle mass. See Figure 1.
- High-GI meal resulted in a significant shortening of SOL in healthy sleepers.
- “Approximately 1hr of SR on five nights a week led to less proportion of fat mass loss despite similar weight loss”.