“The seafood diet, bro. You see food, you eat it.”
That was the number one piece of advice I received from “experts” when I was a desperate, frustrated, 107 lbs weakling who felt doomed by his “skinny genetics”.
So I did just that.
I began eating 4-5 meals per day, consistently, while intermittently chugging protein shakes like they were going out of style.
But no matter how much I thought I was eating, and regardless of how many hours I put in at the gym, the scale wouldn’t budge.
Does this sound familiar?
Are you finding it damn near impossible to put on any muscle, no matter how many meals you consume, or how hard you train?
If you’ve asked around, you’ve probably been told that you have to eat every 2-3 hours or chug a gallon of milk every day to gain weight or build muscle.
Either way, it’s not true.
You’re not gaining weight or putting on muscle mass for the same reason I (and the thousands of other guys I’ve had the pleasure of helping over the years) couldn’t do it.
And guess what…
It has nothing to do with:
• Your Genetics
• Your Metabolism
• Your Somatotype (i.e. ectomorph, endomorph, etc.)
• Or the Frequency of Your Meals
If you’ve been skinny your entire life, regardless of how much you eat, how hard you train, or how many supplements you’ve taken, then it is critical that you pay very close attention to what I am about to share.
Not only am I going to lay out, for you, the exact reason(s) you’re not able to put on muscle mass (or weight in general), but I am going to give solutions so simple that a monkey could do it.
The Truth About Why You’re Not Gaining Weight
Let me start off by saying that there is one reason and one reason only for not gaining weight.
You’re not eating enough, period.
I know exactly what you’re thinking…
“I am already eating 6x times a day, bro.”
“I eat more than anyone I know, dude.”
Asking a hardgainer how much he eats is as useless as asking an overweight person the same question.
The hardgainer will tell you he eats everything in sight while the overweight person will tell you their diet consists of nothing but spinach leaves and chicken breast.
3 Reasons You’re Still a Skinny Bastard
1. You Don’t Defy The Laws of Thermodynamics
The one thing that matters when it comes to gaining, maintaining, or losing weight, is energy balance.
Energy Balance: the relationship between “energy in” (food calories taken into the body through food and drink) and “energy out” (calories being used in the body for our daily energy requirements).
Energy cannot be created or destroyed, bro.
In simple terms, if you want to gain weight you must consume more calories than you’re expending, period.
If you’re not gaining weight, you’re not in a positive energy balance.
But if you truly do believe you are eating a good deal of food, you may be right.
So let’s quickly go over why your body seems resistant to gaining weight.
It’s because we are, what Lou Schuler calls “NEAT freaks”.
And no, it has nothing to do with how tidy we keep our rooms.
NEAT or Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis refers to the amount of calories we burn from everyday, conscious or unconscious movements (i.e. brushing our teeth, thrashing around in our sleep, fidgeting, etc.)
Not exactly a bad problem to have…
With this is mind, let’s answer the question you’re asking yourself right now.
“How much should I eat to gain weight?”
This is not a one-size-fits-all question/answer. There are many things we must consider when determining caloric needs; however, what I can do is give you a starting point and a strategy for figuring this out.
First off, I am going to assume that you’re interested in putting on lean mass and not just bodyweight in general.
Nobody’s physique goal, in my experience, has ever been Mr. Potato Head (scrawny arms and round torso).
With that said, we have to consider the macronutrient ratio (i.e. fats, carbs, and protein)
Eating in a caloric surplus while consuming too little protein and too many fats will certainly put weight on you…
But when it comes to body composition (i.e. muscle:fat), achieving a caloric surplus in the proper macronutrient ratio is critical.
Here’s a starting point:
Bodyweight x 0.8-1 = Protein Intake in Grams
Example: 125 lbs x 1 = 125 grams of protein per day
Bodyweight x 0.3-0.4 = Fat Intake in Grams
Example: 125 lbs x 0.3 = 37-38 grams of fat per day
Bodyweight x 2-3 = Carbohydrate Intake in Grams
Example: 125 lbs x 2.5 = 312 grams of carbohydrates per day
Go ahead, take a second to put your numbers together.
Now you’ve got a starting point.
Here’s what I want you to do:
1. Start hitting these numbers, daily.
2. Start weighing yourself every morning under the same circumstances.
3. After week 1, get an average of your daily weigh-ins.
4. Repeat steps 1 and 2.
5. After week 2, get an average of your daily weigh-ins and compare it to week 1.
Simple enough, eh?
If your average weight has stayed the same, then you’re at maintenance. All you’ve gotta do is add a few grams of carbs (15-25 grams per day) and that should be more than enough to put you in the green.
If your average weight has increased, then viola, you’re in a caloric surplus and you’re putting on size.
If, for any reason, you end up losing weight, that’s fine too. This simply means that the current intake is not enough to sustain your current weight and thus we need to make adjustments. In this case, up the carb intake by 25-50 grams and repeat.
Something to consider
There is only so much muscle mass we can put on in a single week. With that in mind, if your surplus is too high, it will result in unnecessary fat gain.
If your average weight is increasing by more than 1-2 lbs per week, I would suggest taking down the carbs a bit.
“What if I wanted more fats (or protein) instead of carbs?”
1. We don’t need more than 1 gram per pound of bodyweight in protein. In fact, even 1 gram per pound may be overdoing it. With that said, increasing your protein intake beyond this amount will do very little (if anything at all) to aid in the growth of new muscle tissue.
2. Like protein, there are plenty of studies out there that give us a good idea of how many fats we should be consuming, daily, in order to achieve the maximum benefit (i.e. hormone production, reduced inflammation, etc). Increasing your fat intake in order to reach a caloric surplus may be a more viable option than increasing protein; however, you must keep in mind that fats are more efficiently stored as body fat than carbohydrates (especially in active people).
3. Carbohydrates are converted to glucose which becomes our main source of energy. Therefore, the more carbs we can consume (without spilling over), the better we can perform in the gym. The better our performance, the more muscle we build, the happier your girlfriend becomes.
More Carbs = More Muscle = Happier Girlfriend(s)
That’s pretty much all there is to that…
But as you begin this journey to finding your caloric needs, you may run into another issue that could potentially make this meaningless (or torturous).
Which brings me to my next point…
2. Your Energy Needs > Your Appetite
Knowing exactly how much, of what foods, is not enough to put size on you.
Unfortunately, you’ll actually have to eat enough, consistently, before you can expect to move the scale.
But here’s the problem…
We have been skinny all of our lives for a reason.
The Bad News
Our energy needs exceed our appetite.
Sounds like a pretty good problem to have, right? I mean who wouldn’t love to have to stuff their face in order to put on a single pound?
I’ll tell you who…
The guys who are stuck walking around with 9 inch biceps, that’s who.
The Good News
Our appetites are adaptive and they can be increased (or decreased) fairly easily. (Read This: 5 Skinny-Guy Life Hacks for Increasing Appetite)
• Wake Up Earlier
Have you ever heard of intermittent fasting?
Essentially it’s just a tool that guys (or girls) use to reduce caloric intake, effortlessly, by reducing their “feeding window”.
Well if decreasing the amount of time per day that you’re allowed to eat can work as a tool to ensure we are not overeating, then increasing that time frame in order to eat more makes perfect sense.
So if you’re getting up at 11am and going to bed at 12am, for example, then you’ve got 13 hours to stuff your face.
So try waking up a couple of hours earlier (8-9am) and that’ll allow you to, fairly effortlessly, fit more meals into your day.
Already getting up early?
Maybe you’re just not hungry upon rising. Understandable. I’m the same way.
Once you’ve gotten up, brushed your teeth, and made your bed, head to the kitchen.
Throw some protein powder into the blender, add some fruit, oats, milk, and anything else you can think of to add calories, and chug it.
Downing that shake first thing in the morning may seem torturous in the beginning, but eventually your appetite will adapt and you’ll notice yourself starving in the morning without it.
Adding this additional 250-500+ calories to your day could be the difference between being at maintenance and reaching that positive energy balance.
• Reduce Your Protein Intake*
Earlier in the article we talked about the necessary protein requirements for building muscle mass.
Those requirements, when compared to the suggestions you get from most “experts”, seem to be a bit on the low end.
This stems from two places.
1. They’re fucking idiots who don’t know shit.
2. Their agenda is to sell us protein supplements, so they tell us we need more than we actually do.
Problem with that is 1) its bullshit and 2) protein is the most satiating macronutrient of the three and has been shown to reduce appetite dramatically.
This is due to how slowly proteins are digested.
Quite frankly, it’s going to be much more difficult for you to get 500 calories from chicken breasts than it would from a bag of chips.
Do you remember the last time you went out to eat and ordered the biggest, leanest steak on the menu?
Chances are you skipped dessert, am I right?
And if I had to guess, you probably ended up feeling stuffed for the rest of the day.
This isn’t to say that you should avoid protein; it’s been well established as the most important macronutrient when it comes to building lean muscle tissue. But aiming to stay within the required amount (0.8-1 gram per pound), while increasing your carbohydrate intake instead, could make it much easier to fit in more meals, daily.
But let me guess…
You have the appetite of a Blue Whale and often your peers refer to you as a bottomless pit when it comes to food consumption.
On top of that, you weigh and track all calories/macros, and it’s just not doing the trick.
Highly unlikely, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.
For you, I’ll throw in the last possibility.
3. A Large Margin of Error
I am a huge advocate of flexible dieting. It’s what I recommend for most clients and it’s the diet approach that I personally follow.
But it can sometimes become a double-edged sword.
This is particularly true for those who:
1. Eyeball their calorie/macros
2. Eat out a lot
3. Track macros 80% of the time and guesstimate 20%
For myself and numerous clients, these three strategies have absolutely no negative impact on our ability to make consistent gains.
But I will say that there are people who, for whatever reason, cannot achieve consistency in bodyweight or body-composition changes, if they apply any of the strategies on the list above.
There are also people who, frankly, just don’t want to track their macros every day.
If you fall under either of those categories, don’t worry, I have a solution for you as well.
Drum roll please!
I know, I know. Ever since the rise in popularity of flexible dieting, meal planning has gotten an extremely bad rep.
But here’s the deal.
The main reason meal plans tend to suck is 99% of them are not calculated and typically consist of 4-6 meals made up of bland foods with no variety.
The problem then becomes, you still have no idea what your macronutrient intake is (as most coaches only provide cookie cutter templates that “work for them”), and you run the risk of developing micronutrient deficiencies (due to lack of variety).
But if the macronutrient ratio is not effective, you’ll never maximize your results. And if you’re consistently eating the same exact foods, you may be missing out on certain vitamins and minerals.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s talk a little about the pros of proper meal planning.
For one, there is consistency. Assuming that your meal plan includes different options, variety in food choices, and takes into account your personal macronutrient needs, it solves the issue of inconsistency in your diet.
Another big pro of meal planning is that it completely eliminates the guess work.
I mean seriously, how much time are you spending, daily, trying to figure out what your next meal should be?
If that isn’t enough, how about the simple fact that you won’t have to track every single meal or snack in your phone?
For me, it’s become second nature. For some, this could become an obsession. And for others, it could potentially reduce their quality of life.
Lastly, meal plans can be easily scheduled and structured to fit your life.
If you have a job, school, a family, or any other obligations, it can be extremely alleviating to know exactly when, what, and how much of it to eat.
The art that is gaining weight, although not an easy one, is quite simple. Consume more calories than you expend, in the proper macronutrient ratio, consistently.
Whether you want to follow a structured meal plan, track your calories/macros, or both, this is easily achievable.
Embrace your superhuman N.E.A.T. and your gift to handle more calories than the majority of the population, without getting fat.
Be appreciative to have been given the endowment of kicking off this muscle building journey from what I believe to be the most optimal start point. Leanness.
Let the gains begin!