This article is evidence-based, verified by Dr Ahmed Zayed
A large amount of muscle mass is something that is often sought after. There are a plethora of commercials, ads, magazines, and social media pages about gaining muscle. For some individuals, it may be simple. They work out and gain muscle very quickly. However, some people have a harder time with this.
If you are a leaner individual with small amounts of muscle, we’re going to refer to you as a “hard-gainer.”
Had enough? I know I did!
So, let’s find out how to build muscle for skinny guys.
Building muscle for leaner individuals comes down to being consistent. You have to consider energy balance, metabolism, and your macronutrient and micronutrient profile. A calorie surplus is a must when looking to gain some muscle, and this may be hard to do if you have a high metabolism.
You may be an individual who can eat everything in sight and still have issues gaining muscle. Your calorie surplus may just need to be higher than usual.
When considering macronutrients, you will need a high amount of protein, carbs, and some fats when looking to add muscle mass to a skinnier frame. This all goes into the number of calories you eat, but you want muscle, not just weight. T
his is where those macros will matter. Micronutrients will include your vitamins and minerals, which play a key role in synthesizing muscle and packing on mass for a hard gainer.
Energy balance is one of the most important concepts when it comes to either losing or gaining weight. When the body is in the negative or a deficit with energy (energy=calories) it literally cannot grow. When looking to lean up, this would be the route you would follow.
However, we want to get jacked. You are going to need to focus on having a caloric surplus. This will involve eating more than your body needs to maintain a certain weight. If you are currently eating 2,000 calories a day and nothing is changing, then you more than likely need to be eating closer to 2,500 calories a day.
This will put the body into what is called an anabolic state. This doesn’t have anything to do with steroids, all it means is that your body has the energy it needs to build. When your body is in this state, muscle mass can more readily be created. Think of this situation as building a house.
Putting the house together is going to be a lot harder if you don’t have all of the materials you need. This would be a deficit. Now if you gave the builder more than he needed, then there is more room to build the house however you please. The body needs to have enough material to work with.
When it comes to putting on muscle, yes you need a surplus, but you shouldn’t do so in a massive excess. Meaning, eat just enough over to gain muscle but not so much that you gain a massive amount of body fat.
Body fat can accumulate under the surplus conditions due to the body storing some of this energy as adipose tissue.
To ensure you are eating the right amount it is suggested that you use a slow increase of calories until you begin to notice the desired changes.
Your metabolism can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Typically, if you have a very efficient metabolism this means that your body is good at storing away needed energy. If not, then you have an inefficient metabolism and you are more readily able to expend energy.
This concept may seem quite the opposite of what you have been told but think of it like a car. The more efficient car is can slowly use fuel and not emit as much exhaust. Now consider the massive truck that is not efficient at all, it will burn through fuel like crazy and put off more emissions.
If you happen to be a hard gainer, this means that you have an inefficient metabolism. You run through all of the consumed food and cannot get into that anabolic state to gain muscle. This can be partly because of genetics, or you are an overly active person.
When looking to gain muscle on a skinnier frame, you have two options:
- Eat more to match your metabolism
- Be less active
You may just have to eat copious amounts of food to catch up. Yes, this can be exhausting and sometimes expensive. However, if you make a consistent surplus a priority you will see the muscle gain.
Your metabolism may work against your gaining goals, but you can plan and work to eat enough to grow.
The second option for you is to be a little less active. Yes, this may sound counterintuitive, but it works. Some individuals who are trying to gain muscle live an extremely active life, which is what keeps them from being in that surplus state.
If an overly active individual was to just cut back on the amount of activity, there is potential for more muscle gain.
Macronutrients or “Macros” are extremely important when looking to go from skinny to muscular. Yes, calories are the MOST important, but second, comes your macro profile. Your macro profile consists of the amount of protein, carbs, and fats you consume.
These end up equaling your total calories, but various ratios can breed different results. For example, you have the leaner looking low carb breakdown.
This person has a ratio of fat and protein that is higher than that of the carbs. This typically leads to someone being a little leaner and less muscular. Now if you were to create a ratio that favored a higher protein and higher carb diet, this will typically allow for an increase in muscle mass.
So, as someone lean and having trouble gaining muscle mass, you would be better off using a macro profile of high protein, high carb, and moderate fat. This will allow you to consume ample amounts of calories but also benefit from the additional protein and carbs.
The fats need to be there to support hormones and other processes in the body.
Every person will need a different macro profile to benefit the most, so this is a number you can play with. Try different protocols to see what your body likes best. However, you will best be given room for growth with a high protein and high carb distribution.
We’ve discussed macros, but what about micros. These are going to be the vitamins and minerals that your body needs to function. Without certain micros, you cannot operate at max efficiency. This can lead to a suppressed immune system, lackluster hormone responses, and brittle bones.
As you can see micros are important. For someone looking to improve their muscle mass, it is even more important. Just to highlight some crucial vitamins and minerals you may need:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin D is pretty much a hormone. It can influence mood and some anabolic processes. It also aids in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in the body which is important for many different processes involved with muscle mass (Source).
- Calcium is not only very important for bones, but it is a crucial component of muscle contraction. If you are looking to maximize muscle mass, you are going to have to work out. If you aren’t getting enough calcium, then that may be difficult.
- Vitamin B12
- B12 controls a lot in the body. One of the main roles is energy. For many people who are low on energy all the time, they typically have a B12 deficiency. B12 also controls a lot of interactions between the brain and the body. So, if you are trying to get reps in at the gym, you may want to be stocked up on B12.
- Magnesium is often not given enough credit. It, however, has many roles in the body. It plays important parts in your metabolism and is vital for muscle contraction. The other role is to sleep. Without sleep, you are going to have a hard time gaining muscle mass. Magnesium helps you fall asleep and stay asleep (Source).
- Zinc plays a huge role in recovery. It can impact the immune system and also help to repair damage from intense workouts. It has been shown to aid in the production and conservation of muscle mass in the elderly (Source).
These are just a few of the micros that exist, but they are some of the most important for muscle gain. If you are a hard gainer you need to put a priority on getting enough of each of these. A multivitamin supplement may prove useful for you if you are having a hard time getting all of these in the proper amounts.
We have already briefly touched on protein in the macro section; however, it is of enough importance to get its section. If you are skinny and having a tough time packing on the muscle, you have to prioritize your protein intake. If there is anything you need to be keeping in check, it is protein.
The average person only needs about .8 grams per pound of bodyweight to live everyday life. Someone who is recreationally working out and has no problems putting on muscle can usually get away with AT LEAST 1 gram per pound of body weight.
Now if you are someone who is struggling you gain muscle mass; you may need something closer to 1.2 grams per pound of body weight. That can be a lot of protein! However, this may be what your body needs to start packing on muscle mass.
It has been shown that combining resistance training with higher protein intake (particularly with shakes) yields a higher amount of muscle mass (Source).
We’ve briefly touched on this a few times in the article. You need to be lifting weights or doing some sort of resistance training. Why? This is going to elicit the adaptation response in the body that grows muscle.
Muscle is grown or gained by breaking down the fibers via weights or resistance training. The body then tries to adapt to this damage and stimulus by rebuilding itself stronger and more resilient. This rebuilding and remodeling are what “grows” more muscle mass.
Therefore, you need to be implementing resistance training into your regime.
The next thing is how. Sure, you can go into the gym and do a few exercises and leave. Or you can plan for this and do it strategically. The best way to build muscle is by manipulating your volume used (Source).
This isn’t the amount of sound, but the number of reps performed within the given exercise. If you are training your legs, you may do a lighter weight for roughly 12-15 reps. This will elicit a better muscle growth or “hypertrophy” response.
The best rep ranges increased hypertrophy is going to be 8-15 reps. Any less and you are working more on strength gains, and any more will be more like cardio.
Here are a few sample workouts that can assist in building muscle:
- Back Squat
- 5 sets of 10 reps 60% of your 1RM
- Leg Extension
- 4 sets of 12 reps at a lightweight
- Hamstring Curls
- 4 sets of 12 reps at a lightweight
- Calf Raises
- 5 sets of 15 reps
This workout is perfect for building some of the largest muscles on the body, the legs.
Kettlebell Goblet Squat
Three sets of 10 reps
DB Push Press
Three sets of 10 reps
- DB Bent Over Rows
- 4 sets of 10 reps
Superset 5 sets
- Barbell Thrusters x 8 reps
- Push-Ups x 8 reps
This workout is great for a full-body workout. Every muscle is getting hit and it has a high enough frequency to cause muscle gain.
Putting It All Together
If you are skinny and having a hard time putting on muscle mass, this is a great place to start. It all comes down to energy balance, metabolism, macros, micros, and using resistance training.
If you combine all of these, you will create the right environment for your body to build muscle.
Prioritize your protein intake and focus on keeping the volume of your training very high. This will help to ensure you are breaking down muscle and rebuilding it even stronger.
(1). Beaudart C, e. (2019). The effects of vitamin D on skeletal muscle strength, muscle mass, and muscle power: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled… – PubMed – NCBI . Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 27 October 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25033068
(2). Abbasi B, e. (2019). The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. – PubMed – NCBI . Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 27 October 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23853635
(3). van Dronkelaar C, e. (2019). Minerals and Sarcopenia; The Role of Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Selenium, Sodium, and Zinc on Muscle Mass, Muscle Strength, a… – PubMed – NCBI . Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 27 October 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28711425
(4). Liao CD, e. (2019). Effects of protein supplementation combined with resistance exercise on body composition and physical function in older adults: a systematic review… – PubMed – NCBI . Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 27 October 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28814401
(5). SCHOENFELD, B., CONTRERAS, B., KRIEGER, J., GRGIC, J., DELCASTILLO, K., BELLIARD, R., & ALTO, A. (2019). Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy but Not Strength in Trained Men. Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise, 51(1), 94-103. doi:10.1249/mss.0000000000001764