Brad Borland is a strength & conditioning specialist, cancer survivor and the founder of WorkoutLab.
If you are anything like me, before you started your journey in the “gaining muscle” game you were slight, skinny and just plain thin. Being classified as the quintessential ectomorph does very little for your motivation towards sports, girls and looking muscular and athletic. Listening to everyone’s opinions about how to pack on size and build an impressive display of muscle can vary to such a degree that you become easily frustrated on who and what to follow.
Maybe you’re just not cut out to build a physique of your dreams. Maybe your metabolism is too high to carry any appreciable amount of muscle. Maybe you are doomed and cursed and should take up video gaming in the comforts of your parent’s basement.
The blessing in disguise
I too harbored an ultra-fast metabolism unfairly wishing it would slow down so I could finally pack on some size. What I didn’t know was that my speedy calorie burning furnace was a hidden blessing. Not only was I able to scarf down loads of food without the consequences of layering on unwanted fat, I consistently remained lean (up to a point) while slowly gaining muscle weight.
Now, this gain in muscle came at a snail’s pace, but I was building lean muscle tissue while still seeing abs all year. To me the unwanted metabolism was an unknown welcomed ally.
However, at the time I was riddled with jealousy observing my friends lifting massive amounts of weight and having huge arms and thighs wishing and hoping to be in their shoes one day. Little did I know that every ounce of muscle I grew was to lay a foundation for a lifetime.
Yet another advantage
Although the focus of this article is diet and eating habits, another great advantage of my metabolism was that I had the ability to recover from training, faster. Since I had a high turnover of nutrients, namely protein, I was able to return to training quicker and, in turn, reap the benefits of burning more calories, namely fat and carbs.
I loved to train, putting in hours and hours at the gym. Unbeknownst to me my fast-paced metabolism enabled me to do this without overtraining so I could enjoy some extra attention on weak points in the gym.
Of course as I got older my training and diet evolved, but I will always look back to those days of the hours of dedication and packing in the food and be thankful that I was predisposed as a “skinny guy.”
A word on training and nutrition
Many so called gurus and “experts” will advocate a common prescription for the “hardgainer.” Normally they tout such protocols as eat tons of calories (no matter what it is), train heavy and infrequently with low volume as to avoid overtraining and rest as much as possible oftentimes suggesting many naps and little to no extracurricular activity.
I say… why?
If you are considering yourself a “hardgainer” or someone that has a skinny frame and a tough time putting on muscle you have an advantage. Yes, an advantage! You have the ability to be highly active and eat a little more (healthy food) than the average Joe without getting too soft.
You will recover faster, assimilate protein quicker and therefore become lean and muscular at the same time. Sure, your gains will most likely come slowly but you will steadily build a solid foundation of muscle that will be much easier to maintain later in life.
A few training and diet suggestions
- Eat plenty of proteins, complex carbs and fats. Don’t worry too much about differences between foods like white potatoes and sweet potatoes; just be sure to get in plenty of healthy, whole foods.
- Eat often. Eating to support a fast metabolism and a vigorous training program requires a steady supply of muscle-building calories. Hit your caloric marks and meals each and every day.
- If you are eating all clean food, allow yourself a cheat meal or two per week. Gaining muscle shouldn’t be a death sentence regarding a stale diet. Have fun and eat some of your favorite foods once in a while.
- Don’t go overboard. Just because you have labeled yourself a hardgainer does not give you a green light to go stuff yourself mercilessly. Nutritiously dense foods are not only best for gaining muscle but also for maintaining good overall health.
- Train! The ball is in your court. Train hard and train often. Forget training one body part per day – up the ante and train more frequently. You have the ability to recover faster – take advantage of that.
- Don’t be afraid of body weight moves. Another falsehood is the notion that you must lift massive amounts of weights loaded on barbells and huge dumbbells in order to pack on mass. To a point, yes, you must put some weight on the bar to grow, but tell me how many people do you see in the gym perform pull-up, push-ups and dips? Do them.
- Don’t be afraid to have fun. If you like basketball, play. If you like to add in some running or other extracurricular activities just go ahead and do it. Forget the idea that they will eat into your muscle gains and prevent you from building an impressive physique. As long as you are training with weights and eating properly, any extra work will only add to your performance and health.
- Enough yacking about being skinny, let’s look at some eating plans to support your muscle-building efforts and make all those hours in the gym start to payoff. Below are three eating plans for different body weights. These are only examples so adjust as necessary regarding favorite foods and daily schedules.
If you weigh approximately 120 to 130 pounds and have a goal of 150 pounds
- Meal 1 (morning) - 3/4 cup oatmeal mixed with low-fat milk, 2 whole eggs
- Meal 2 (mid-morning) - 2 slices of whole wheat bread with 2 tablespoons of jelly, 1 cup of cottage cheese
- Meal 3 (midday) - 1 large potato, 4 ounces of chicken breast or salmon
- Meal 4 (pre workout) - 1 scoop of whey protein, 1 apple
- Meal 5 (post workout) - 1 scoop of whey protein, 1 banana
- Meal 6 (evening) - 1 cup dry of rice, 4 ounces of chicken, fish, or beef
If you weigh approximately 150 to 160 pounds and have a goal of 180 pounds
- Meal 1 (morning) - 2 slices of Ezekiel bread with 1 tablespoon of natural peanut butter, 3 whole eggs
- Meal 2 (mid-morning) - 1 cup of Greek yogurt, 1 ounce of nuts, 1 banana
- Meal 3 (midday) - 2 slices of whole wheat bread, 6 ounces of turkey meat, tomato, lettuce, 1 apple
- Meal 4 (pre workout) - 1 scoop of whey protein, ¼ to ½ cup of oatmeal
- Meal 5 (post workout) - 1 scoop of whey, 1 cup of blue berries
- Meal 6 (evening) - 1 large sweet potato, 6 ounces of chicken, fish or beef
If you weigh approximately 180 to 190 pounds and have a goal of 200 pounds
- Meal 1 (morning) - 1 cup of oatmeal mixed with low fat milk, 3 whole eggs
- Meal 2 (mid-morning) - 2 slices of whole wheat bread with 2 tablespoons of natural peanut butter, 1 cup of cottage cheese
- Meal 3 (midday) - 2 cups of rice, 6 ounces of fish
- Meal 4 (pre workout) - 1 scoop of whey protein, 1 apple, 1 ounce of nuts
- Meal 5 (post workout) - 1.5 scoops of whey protein, 1 banana
- Meal 6 (evening) - 2 cups of whole wheat pasta, 6 ounces of ground beef, 1 salad with 2 tablespoons of olive oil-based dressing