One of the most beautiful things about the human race is that we are all different. Personality-wise of course, but also physically. I’m sure even identical twins have their little nuances that set them apart. Sadly, this is a double edged sword, as those differences also lead to insecurities. As a lifelong skinny fella, my physique often caused me to think less of myself. School was a challenge due to minor physical bullying for which I couldn’t stand up to and a lack of confidence with girls who were far more interested in the athletic boys. I’m sure I’m not the only one who went through this.
Being a skinny fella and building muscle is not as straight forward as it seems. We are often considered ‘lucky’ but we do not feel this is the case. For years, I struggled to put weight on, especially in the form of muscle. I was convinced that what I was doing was right. Research and experience has since told me otherwise. There are a number of things that a skinny guy must consider when looking to build quality, lean muscle.
1 – We are in the minority of people looking to put on weight
America’s Biggest Loser, Celebrity Fit Camp, Extreme Weight Loss and Fat 2 Fit are just a few TV shows that celebrate people losing weight and living healthier lifestyles. Personally, I think it’s great that these people are taking action to change their lives for the better. If it inspires others, then great.
I am also a member of a few blogging groups on Facebook. Any other blogs that are fitness, health or nutrition related in these groups are about losing weight. I’m sure I’m the only member talking about the desire of skinny guys to bulk up. In fact, when I started this website, my reaserch only found two other sites dedicated to the muscular improvement of the skinny fella. Two.
Research suggests that only 3% of people are looking to gain weight. That’s a pretty small number and stands you and I out as unique. Or odd, depending on your point of view. With such a small amount of people looking to increase in size, the products, nutritional and fitness advice should be taken with a pinch of salt. What works for one man most likely has a lot to do with their body type, which is very disimilar to ours.
2 – Our genetics affect our appetite
There are no 2 ways about it, in order to put on weight, you have to eat more. Whether this weight is to be fat or muscle is irrelevant, the added calories have to be consumed. There may be stories of the man who put on weight eating only a lettuce leaf a day, but this would be the exception, not the rule. Unfortunately, for the skinny fella, we are facing a never ending battle with our appetites to consume additional food.
There are a number reasons why this is the case. Firstly, we have a heightened sensitivity to the effects of insulin, with one of those being a feeling of fullness on the arrival of food in our belly. As insulin levels rise, hunger decreases. Naturally, this a problem when trying to bulk up as within a few minutes of eating, that desire to eat soon disappears. Right now, my food is at a level that I am not fully comfortable with and some meal times feel like torture.
We also have an adaptive response to over feeding. Compared to those who are obesity prone, we are more likely to continue with our regular activity levels when eating more (study) and there is evidence to suggest that we become even more active. Our energy expenditure levels remain consistent despite the increase in calories. Combined with a shallow appetite as it is, weight gain becomes very challenging.
Personally, I have found that increasing food intake by 100 daily calories a week makes things manageable. My body is adaptive to overfeeding, but taking a measured approach to not exercise any more than I need to helps combat this.
3 – The majority of our food should be carbs
Carbohydrates have taken a pounding in health circles in recent years. During the 2000’s where food research had changed, carbs became the new fat, sworn off of by people looking to lose a few pounds. Coupled with the lack of knowledge about protein, it appeared high-protein, low-carb diets were all the rage in getting the physique of one’s dreams. I even tried this myself when I lived in Thailand and sinking to 140lbs in weight didn’t deter me.
As far as people looking to lose a bit of excess is concerned, the fastest way to do this is by dropping the volume of carbs they are consuming for a period of time. I did this during the shortcut to shred program and saw a 6-week drop from 21% to 14% bodyfat. However, as a skinny fella looking to increase in size, this is not ideal.
For starters, we need to increase the amount of calories we are taking in per day. Roughly, a gram of protein and a gram of carbohydrates contains 4 calories. A gram of dietary fat contains 9 calories. Fats have their place in our diets, but it is important they are not consumed to excess. Protein, for the great job that food marketers have done, is the not the be all and end all of food. Anything above 1-1.5 grams of protein being consumed per pound of bodyweight has no effect on protein synthesis (study).
Protein generally has a higher satiety rating than carbohydrates as well. During a study it was determined that potatoes had the highest rating in terms of leaving a person feeling ‘full’. After that meat and fish took over, with carbs such as brown rice scoring a lot lower. Not only does this mean that more can be eaten, but with carbs being less expensive it saves our wallets from becoming lighter. In terms of eating additional calories for weight gain, this is a big help.
4 – The right supplements lead to big rewards
BCAA’s, glutamine, pre-workout, intra-workout, post-workout, creatine, whey, casein, multivitamins, green tea extract etc. If you’re not careful then your food cupboard could end up looking like a mini pharmacy. Chances are that those being recommended for use are by professional bodybuilders looking for every additional gain they can get. For the average skinny guy like you and me, this is overkill. As well as keeping on top of taking them at the right time, the level of expense is ridiculous.
Supplements make up roughly 5% of our muscle growth potential. They cannot take the place of high quality nutrition. However, there are a few that can aid our results when trying to bulk up.
Whey protein is the amber nectar of supplements. Pretty much every male who has ever hit the gym has downed a protein shake post workout. It’s fair to say that marketers have done a great job. Whey does have it’s merits, especially for the skinny fella. Whey is a fast acting protein, hitting our muscles quickly and providing a big increase in protein synthesis. Whey also has the benefit of being calorie dense. Liquids are far easier to consume than food and far less filling – a huge bonus when dealing with a small appetite.
It is important you make sure that the whey protein source you are purchasing allows you to hit your macronutrient targets. Unfortunately, some of the information by companies does not match the truth behind them. This study highlights the best whey protein powders on the market. Optimum Nutrition and My Protein Impact Whey are well respected brands and trusted by most.
Quality sleep is a must for muscle growth. A lack of sleep can raise estrogen and reduce testosterone levels, neither of which is good for a man looking to change his physique for the better. However during sleep, the body enters a fasting state, running the risk of eating into muscle tissue and minimizing the impact of your most recent gains.
Casein protein is the opposite to whey, in that it is a slow release protein. It has been proven that ingesting casein prior to sleep will increase protein synthesis throughout the night (study), thus aiding the recovery and growth of muscle.
As with whey protein, you will not go far wrong with Optimum Nutrition Casein. Should you feel unsure about purchasing 2 seperate protein powders, combining a scoop of whey (for flavor) with some Greek Yogurt or a glass of milk (both made of casein protein) prior to bed is a suitable cost effective alternative.
I never believed in the benefits of creatine. For years I was convinced it was a money making scam from the supplement companies. I was even more sceptical when I heard it was evident in red meat. Why on earth would I want to buy some?! It wasn’t until I received a complimentary bottle of capsules with a whey purchase that I realized just why it has become such a big supplement.
Creatine, in layperson terms, is a “legal steroid”. I say that as it has similar effects to that of an illegal anabolic steroid, just to a lesser extent and without the ropey side effects. The body synthesizes creatine and uses it to store energy, allowing us to lift harder and heavier during workouts. Creatine has been proven to increase muscle mass when taken over a prolonged period (study).
Craetine is available in capsule and powder form and neither has more benefit than the other. Personally I prefer capules as I find it easier to remember to take.
5 – Compound lifts have more growth potential than isolation moves
Growing up I was a sucker for bicep curls. Convinced they would make my arms huge, they were a staple of every workout I ever did. Ignorant to the fact that the curling motion was mostly used when I was lifting a beer to my mouth, I carried on with reckless abandon. Needless to say, results were limited.
Compound lifts work a number of muscle groups simultaneously. They usually involve a lift, a press, a squat or a pull. As far as functional strength is concerned, compounds are the be all and end all. There is evidence that suggests a direct correlation between strength and muscle size (study). This is further supported by weight lifting in the olympics being broken into weight classes, with the larger men lifting more then those lighter.
When performing compound exercises it is recommended that rep ranges vary between 3-20. 8-12 reps exercise is seen as the ideal amount for hypertrophy, with less than 6 being strength based and over 15 focusing more on muscle endurance. Combining all 3 allows for all muscle fibers to be hit, greater increase in pure strength and greater shaping of the muscle groups. Isolation exercises can make good finishers after compounds have been performed.
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