To gain weight you need to eat more calories than your body burns.
It doesn’t matter if you think you eat a lot. If your average calorie intake is smaller than your calorie expenditure, you won’t gain weight. To get bigger you must create a caloric surplus. You have to eat more food than you do now to put on weight and stop being skinny.
This is the definitive guide to gaining weight naturally for skinny guys, hardgainers and ectomorphs.
Why You Can’t Gain Weight
Skinny guys usually think they can eat anything they want without gaining weight. They believe they can eat junk food all day because they have a fast metabolism. Some think they can’t gain weight because they don’t digest the food they eat, are stressed out, or “have worms”…
Here’s the truth: you can eat everything you want without gaining weight because you don’t eat a lot. I know you think you do, but you don’t – otherwise you wouldn’t be skinny. Really.
Track your daily caloric intake for proof. Spend the next week logging everything you eat in an app like myfitnesspal. You’ll see you’re not eating that many calories. This is the main reason why you’re not gaining weight. Skinny guys always overestimate how much they eat.
This doesn’t mean a high metabolism doesn’t exist. Some people have a harder time gaining weight because they’re more active (hardgainers tend to fidget more). Others are naturally skinny because they have small frames and thus aren’t born to be big and strong (ectomorphs).
But every skinny guy, hardgainer and ectomorph who eats more calories than he burns gains weight. It doesn’t matter if you have a high metabolism, skinny build, or bad genetics. The only difference is that you’ll need to eat more food than the average person to put on weight and get bigger.
Stop believing you can’t change your body because of your metabolism. Stop thinking you’ll always be skinny because everyone in your family is. Start understanding this is mostly a matter of nutrition. Eat more calories than you burn – consistently – and you’ll gain weight. It’s that simple.
How to Gain Weight
The three ingredients to go from skinny to muscular are nutrition, training and consistency. Here are the most important tips to gain weight for skinny hardgainers and ectomorphs…
- Eat More. Eat more calories than your body burns. How much depends on your metabolism and activity levels. But if you’re not gaining weight, you’re not eating enough. Eat caloric dense foods like pasta and nuts. Eat more frequent meals. Drink milk and make shakes.
- Lift Heavy. Stop wasting time with curls and flies. Do free weight, compounds like Squats and Deadlifts instead. These exercises work more muscles with heavier weight. They trigger more strength and muscle gains, and will make you go from skinny to muscular.
- Be Consistent. The total calories you eat on a weekly and monthly basis must be higher than the calories your body burns. If you eat a lot today but then little the rest of the week, you won’t gain weight. You have to consistently eat more than you burn to increase your weight.
How much weight do you have to gain to stop looking skinny? A simple rule is to take your height in centimeter, substract 100, and that’s your goal weight in kg. Anything less you’ll always look skinny. Here’s a table with minimum goal weights for skinny guys, and maximum muscular weights.
|Height||Minimum Weight||Maximum Body-weight|
|1m62 / 5'4"||62kg / 136lb||78kg / 172lb|
|1m67 / 5'6"||67kg / 147lb||82kg / 181lb|
|1m73 / 5’8”||73kg / 160lb||86kg / 190lb|
|1m77 / 5’10”||77kg / 169lb||90kg / 199lb|
|1m83 / 6’0”||83kg / 182lb||94kg / 207lb|
|1m87 / 6’2”||87kg / 191lb||98kg / 216lb|
|1m93 / 6'4"||93kg / 204lb||102kg / 224lb|
|1m98 / 6'6"||98kg / 215lb||106kg / 233lb|
As an example, I’m the ectomorph type with a small frame, narrow wrists and long limbs. I weigh 77kg/170lb at 1m73/5’8″. I’m not a big guy but people I meet always notice I lift weights.
Eat More Food
You need to eat more calories than your body burns to gain weight. Don’t go by feeling since it’s easy to overestimate your calorie intake. Instead start by tracking everything you eat. Find out how many calories you need to gain weight. Then consistently eat more calories.
Good calorie calculators will suggest about 16kcal/lb of body-weight to maintain your weight. For the 135lb/60kg skinny guy that’s about 2112kcal/day. This number doesn’t need to be 100% accurate. You’re just looking for a starting point and will adapt your food intake based on your progress.
Add 500 calories per day to gain weight. For the 60kg/135lb skinny guy 2112 maintenances calories becomes 2612kcal/day. Round this down to 2600kcal to keep things simple – this isn’t surgery, and the calories on food labels aren’t 100% accurate anyway. Ballparking it is fine.
If you want to gain weight fast and don’t care about gaining some extra belly fat, add 1000kcal/day. So for the skinny 60kg/135lb guy, that’s 3100kcal/day. It’s however easier to start with 500kcal/day extra so your body has time to get used to eating more food.
Keep in mind it’s your daily average calorie intake at the end of the week and month that determines if you’ll gain weight. If you eat 3100kcal today but then only 1500kcal the next three days, you’re unlikely to gain weight. You have to consistently eat more food. Hit your numbers every day.
It’s normal to struggle to eat your calories every day in the beginning. But your stomach will stretch as you eat more food. Within two weeks you’ll have an easier time eating your calories. You’ll actually get more hungry. But the first week is usually the hardest. You may have to push yourself to eat.
Track your progress by weighing yourself every week. Do it the same time and day every time, ideally first thing on waking up, after you pee. Don’t weigh yourself every day. Your weight fluctuates daily based on your stomach/bowel content, water/salt intake, etc. This will confuse you.
Aim for 0.5kg/1lb of weight gain a week. Skinny guys who start malnourished often gain more the first weeks. But this is mostly because of increased bowel/stomach content, and extra water weight. Remember you can gain max 0.5lb of lean muscle a week on average.
If you gain weight, keep eating the same amount of calories. If you don’t gain weight for two weeks, despite eating the same amount of calories every day, then bump your calorie intake. Add another 500kcal/day and check what happens. Repeat until you gain weight.
This means the food intake that makes you gain your first 10kg/20lb won’t make you gain your next 10kg/20lb. Skinny guys with less muscle need less calories than big and strong guys because they burn less calories at rest. The bigger you get, the more you have to eat to get even bigger.
Eat More Protein
Eat 1g of protein per pound of body-weight per day for muscle building and recovery. That’s 135g of protein per day for the 135g/60kg skinny guy. You can easily hit these numbers by eating a whole source of protein with every meal. Here are some of the best proteins sources for gaining weight:
- Steaks, ground round
- Chicken breast, chicken thighs
- Tuna, salmon, mackerel, sardines
- Yoghurt, cottage cheese, milk
- Whole eggs
The macronutrient ratio of carbs and fats matters little for gaining weight. What matters most is that you eat more calories than your body burns. Hit your 1g of protein per lb of body-weight per day for muscle building. Then fill the rest up with carbs and fats so you hit your calories. Keep it simple.
Don’t make the mistake of avoiding carbs and/or fats because you’re afraid of gaining fat. Carbs and fats have more calories than proteins. If you avoid them, you’re making it harder and more expensive to gain weight. Most people can’t gain muscle and weight without gaining some fat anyway.
Eat More Meals
Let say you need 3500kcal/day to gain weight. It’s easier to eat 5 meals of 700kcal than three meals of 1150kcal. Your stomach is small from eating like a bird for years. Bigger meals force you to push yourself to finish your meal, and can make you feel like throwing up. Eat small meals instead.
Increase your eating window by waking up early and eating breakfast. Many skinny guys eat nothing for breakfast, a bagel at noon, then a pizza for dinner. Their eating window is less than 10 hours long. That’s why they can’t gain weight – it’s only two meals with zero calories before noon.
You need eight hours of sleep. That leaves you 16 hours to eat. It’s easier to gain weight if you spread your meals over 16 hours. Your meals can be smaller, your stomach has a break inbetween, and you don’t feel stuffed all the time. Here’s an example meal plan to gain weight…
- Breakfast at 10am – oats, raisins, yoghurt, milk
- Snack at 10am – mixed nuts, banana
- Lunch at 1pm – chicken, pasta, parmesan
- Snack at 4pm – dried fruits
- Dinner at 7pm – steak with potatoes
This meal plan is hard if you only eat between noon and bedtime. You have to eat five small meals every two hours, or three +1000 calories every three hours. Most skinny guys can’t do this for more than a day or two before quitting. They don’t have the appetite and their stomach is small.
Intermittent Fasting is therefore a terrible idea for skinny guys who want to gain a lot of weight. It shortens your eating window to eight hours a day. This is a great strategy if you want to limit how much you eat for fat loss or maintenance. But not to increase your body-weight.
Wake up early, eat breakfast, and then eat three to four more meals each day.
Eat Caloric Dense Foods
Vegetables are healthy but don’t have many calories. 100g salad only has 25kcal while 100g pasta has 380kcal – 15x more. It’s easier to gain weight if you eat foods that contain more calories per serving. You have to eat less food to reach your daily caloric surplus.
The best foods for gaining weight are high in carbs and/or fats. Vegetables are low in both. They’re therefore great for fat loss but not for getting bigger. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat veggies. But most of your diet should consist of caloric dense foods. Here are the best to gain weight…
- Nuts: walnuts, almonds, peanut butter, mixed nuts, trail mix, …
- Dried fruits: raisins, dates, prunes, apricots, …
- Dairy: whole milk, full-fat yogurt, cottage cheese, …
- Grains: pasta, rice, oats, bread, sandwiches, …
- Potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, …
- Fats: olive oil, coconut, avocado, …
- Meat: chicken, beef, fatty fish, …
Junk food is tempting for gaining weight because it’s caloric dense. McDonald’s is cheap and high in sugars and fats. Same with kebabs, chips, cookies, fries, ice cream, etc. But eating too much junk food builds bad eating habits that will get you fat in the long-term, especially around your belly.
Yes, food quantity matters most for gaining weight. But food quality matters too. You’re going to lift heavy to convert all that food into extra muscle mass. Eating quality food supplies your muscles with vitamins and minerals for muscle recovery. This maximizes strength and muscle gains.
This doesn’t mean you should turn into a health freak that never eats junk food. You can eat a cheat meal once in a while – I do. But that beer, cake or icecream should be a treat. It shouldn’t make up the bulk of your diet. Pareto’s rule is a good guideline – 90% quality food, 10% junk.
Drink Mass Gainer Shakes
Blending your food in liquid form makes it digest more quickly than solid food. The blending acts like pre-digestion by breaking down the food for you. You don’t feel full as long and can eat again more quickly. It’s therefore easier to gain weight if you get some of your calories in liquid form.
The easiest way is by making your own mass gainer shakes. They only take five minutes to make which makes it easier to hit your calorie surplus every day. Here’s a simple 1000 calorie home-made mass gainer recipe for skinny guys who want to gain weight…
- 100g Oats
- 1x Banana
- 1tbsp Peanut butter
- 300ml Whole Milk
- 2 scoops Whey protein
Just mix it all in your blender. This shake will get you 1048 calories from 80g protein, 120g carbs and 28g fats. Drink one for breakfast and you’re a third of the way to your daily calorie surplus. You’ll gain weight easily if you eat two solid meals and some snacks during the rest of your day.
Avoid weight gainer supplements. They’re usually filled with cheap sugars that will make you fat and fart. Buy regular whey protein instead, and make your own weight gainer with oats and milk. This is cheaper but also healthier because instead of fake sugar you get vitamins, minerals and fiber.
And if you’re lazy, then just drink milk. One liter whole milk has 600kcal and 33g protein. Two liters has 1200kcal, four liters 2400kcal. Milk is tasty, portable and requires no preparation. Drinking a gallon of milk a day is extreme but it’s effective for gaining weight. Check the GOMAD guide.
Treat Food Like Training
Most skinny guys wanting to gain weight find that the eating is harder than the training. This is normal since you’re only training three times a week for about an hour on StrongLifts 5×5. But you have to eat four to five time a day, seven times a week, during an eating window of 16 hours.
Failing to plan is therefore planning to fail. You don’t go to the gym and then wonder what to do. You have a plan – StrongLifts 5×5. Similarly, you don’t open your fridge to find it empty and then wonder what to eat. You’ve done your weekly groceries and have a meal plan to gain weight.
On StrongLifts 5×5 you’re doing the same exercises every week. There’s no variety except the weight. One of the many advantages of this is that it’s easier to stick to the program (and the one you stick to is the best). You can apply the same strategy to your nutrition by eating the same every day.
This means you get variety by eating a different meal each time. But you eat the same four to five meals every day. If this sounds repetitive, most people eat the same most of the time anyway (80/20 rule). Plus, when you get bored of your diet, you just switch some meals and continue.
Eating the same every day will make your grocery list easier. You have less ingredients to buy, and just multiply by seven days. It’s also cheaper because you can buy more in bulk. The better you do your groceries, the less likely you are to run out of food mid-week and then skip meals.
Cook in advance. Prepare your food for the day in the morning (wake up 45 mins earlier) or when you’re back home. Or spend Sunday afternoon batch cooking your meals for the week. Don’t leave home without food and then wonder what to eat at school/work.
Put some mixed nuts or trail mix in your bag just in case. 100g has over 500kcal.
Lifting weights triggers your body to build muscle mass. Your body uses the food you eat to recover your muscles and build new ones. Lifting also increases your appetite which helps you eat more.
If you don’t lift weights or don’t do it correctly, then all the excess food you’re eating will be stored to fat. This is what happens to people who eat more calories than they burn. Their body stores the extra energy as fat, usually around their belly. You want to go from skinny to muscular, not chubby.
You must therefore lift. Here are the basic rules of lifting for skinny guys. If you’re hardgainer or ectomorph like me, this is the only way to lift that will increase your body-weight naturally…
- Free Weights. More effective than machines because you must balance the weight yourself. Safer because you control how the bar moves. More effective than dumbbells because the weight is heavier, and you can add as little as 0.5kg/1lb per workout.
- Compound Exercises. Squats, Deadlifts, Bench, Press, Rows. These exercises work several muscles at the same time, with the heaviest weights. They trigger maximum strength and muscle growth in your entire body. The big fives must be the bulk of your routine.
- Progressive Overload. Always try to lift more weight than last time. This forces your body to gain in strength and muscle mass to lift the heavier weights you’re exposing it to. You can’t build muscle if you lift the same weight all the time. You must add weight.
- Proper Form. You must work your muscles through a complete range of motion for proper muscle development. Half Squats give you half the gains. Proper form also prevents injuries and help you lift heavier so you gain more strength and muscle mass.
- Rest. Muscles need rest to recover from your workouts. They can’t grow if you train them every day with gazillion of exercises. Skinny guys don’t need more than three full body workouts a week. Doing more won’t make you gain weight. Eating more calories will.
The more you do in the gym, the more calories you burn, and thus the more you have to eat to create a caloric surplus. Cardio is therefore not a good idea. Do the strict minimum to gain muscle.
Do a training program proven to work instead of making your own. You don’t want to risk wasting time and effort without getting anywhere. Just do StrongLifts 5×5 – it only takes three times a week, and comes with a free app to guide you through each workout.