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  • Writer's pictureMuscle Nation

Building Muscle When You're Stuck Skinny

During my teen years I was skin and bone. It wasn't until college when I started gaining muscle and even then I was pretty lean. And throughout all that time I have felt stuck skinny.

Even today, trying to bulk up from 210lbs to 230lbs during my pre-contest prep phase I still feel the challenge. My body does not want to grow muscle.

You're not alone, skinny people. And I'm one of you. I just do things a little differently and my body is responding. So I'm going to share with you what I do, what I've done, what's worked and what hasn't.

First off, I'm not talking skinny vs. fat. I'm talking skinny vs. the Hulk. In essence, we're talking muscle growth for ectomorphs.

Our bodies don't want to carry muscle. It's an evolutionary adaptation to our advantage to have as little muscle as possible and still be able to survive. Why? Because muscle requires nutrients and nutrients for most of homo sapien existence has been tough to come by. That's the reason why our body produces myostatin, an organic chemical that signals the body to stop building lean muscle. Presumably, if we didn't have myostatins we could hit the gym once or twice and keep growing muscle as long as we were well fed. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen. And unfortunately experiments into myostatin inhibitors (using folistatin) hasn't proven to be all that successful.

So what's a skinny person to do?

Eat More, and More Frequently

Right off the bat, if you want to build muscle you need to have a surplus of the nutrients and calories needed in order to do so. Stop eating the same way you have been and expect the same results.

Do not immediately increase your caloric intake with complete disregard to the quality of nutrients, ratio of nutrients or amount of calories per day.

  • Increase your protein so that you're getting a minimum of one gram of protein per pound of body weight (not muscle weight).

  • Gradually (over the course of three weeks), increase your low glycemic index carbs so that you're getting a minimum of one gram of protein per pound of body weight.

  • Decrease your fat intake to half of what you're currently ingesting to counterbalance the increased calories from protein and carbs. If you're already eating a low-fat diet, then ignore this tip.

As I said, slowly make this change over the course of several weeks. The point isn't to get your body used to the change, it's to make sure that you don't inadvertently put yourself into such a caloric surplus that your body starts storing it as fat.

And here's a big change for some of you: "three squares" a day isn't going to cut it. Our bodies don't grow based on having breakfast, lunch and dinner. That works fine if you're plowing the fields or sitting behind a desk, but three meals a day is not what's needed for muscle growth. Here's when to eat:

  • When you wake up.

  • Before your workout.

  • Protein shake during your workout.

  • Full meal after your workout (this is the most important meal so make it high quality food).

  • Lunch.

  • 3pm.

  • Dinner

  • 8pm (have a small meal that's high protein, low glycemic index carb and a small amount of fat).

The quantities may be somewhat small and that's ok. And focus your highest quality ("eat clean") meals before and after your workout.

Workout Harder & Smarter

Are you really surprised if you keep doing the same thing and you don't see results? Shake things up. Remember, your body adapts and it adapts quickly. You need to keep signaling your body to grow more muscle and the only way to do that is to push hard (and smart).

  • If you're stuck at the same weight for your workout, push yourself a little more.

  • Increase the weight by 5lbs. If you need to, do fewer reps for two or three sets with a heavier weight.

  • If you're used to doing certain exercises, find alternatives.

  • If you don't do exercises because of injuries, find alternatives.

In the coming weeks I'll begin publishing videos of exercises and my workout routines to show you how I deal with injuries and alternative exercises. Keep an eye out for the addition of videos to!

Stop Doing Cardio

Cardio burns calories (energy) that your body would otherwise use to process the proteins and amino acids to build muscle cells. Yes, that includes walking on the treadmill, tennis, step-mill, etc. Vigorous (safe, consensual) sex is still allowed. And yes, you can tell your partner that I recommended it. In fact, engaging in sexual activities helps increase testosterone, human growth hormone and blood-flow. You're welcome.

But seriously, folks. Your cells need energy. If you work out hard you'll already need to replenish your glycogen. Adding cardio on top of this is going to do more harm than good if you're an ectomorph.

Keep At It

Don't lose faith if you haven't gained muscle after the first month. It may mean that you're still operating at a calorie deficit. It may mean that you just haven't noticed the change in your body. And keep in mind that bodybuilders work for DECADES to gain solid, quality lean muscle mass. That's right. The top professional bodybuilders start when they're in their mid-to-late teens and don't hit their prime until their 30's. In fact, the winning-most bodybuilder of all time, Dexter Jackson, is competing his final year at the age of 50. Ronnie Coleman ("The King") didn't get his pro-card until he was 27 and didn't win his first Mr. Olympia until he was 33. And those two guys are truly genetically gifted.

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