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How To Gain Muscle For a Skinny Guy: Tips, Exercises, Diet…

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

There’s a common school of thought that certain genetic factors decrease your ability to gain muscle. This may be true, but it doesn’t mean skinny guys can’t increase muscle size and even bulk up. But in that case, how to gain muscle for a skinny guy?

Anyone can experience muscle hypertrophy if they have the right strategies and tools at their disposal. We’ve put together a guide any skinny guy can use to achieve the body composition and size they’ve always wanted.

A skinny guy working out to gain more muscle
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How To Gain Muscle For a Skinny Guy: Is It Even Possible?

Yes, anyone can build muscle, even if they seem to be at a genetic disadvantage in size. It simply takes the right workout routine, healthy foods, and healthy habits to get the muscle results you want. 

It’s a matter of weight training regularly, focusing on compound exercises in multiple muscle groups. It also requires eating a lot of calories, getting enough sleep, and implementing healthy habits to support muscle growth. 

Why Is It Harder for Skinny Guys to Build Muscle?

There may be a few reasons that skinny guys have a harder time building muscle. Genetics may play a factor, so if you’re from a long line of skinny guys, you have your work cut out for you.

Men of this stature often have a faster metabolism that disables them from getting enough calories to build the muscles they need.

If you can figure out what’s preventing you from bulking up, it can help you implement the best strategies for overcoming your skinny composition.

A man at the gym wondering how to gain muscle for a skinny guy
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What Food Should a Skinny Guy Eat to Bulk Up?

Before we get into the workouts you should be doing to build muscle, let’s talk about nutrition. What you eat will always affect your body composition. You’ll need a combination of healthy foods and a caloric surplus to gain weight. If you’re trying to build muscle, you need plenty of calories, fats, and nutrient-dense foods. Let’s get into it.

Healthy Fats

Good fats fuel your workouts and boost your good cholesterol. They also help to store vitamins and minerals that your muscles need during recovery. 

Good fats are also high in calories, so they can help you get the calories you need without relying on simple carbs. Eggs, fish, nuts, chia seeds, canola oil, olive oil, butter, and beans are excellent sources of fat for building muscle. 

Starchy Carbs

You’ll need a calorie surplus to increase your muscle size, and carbs are the easiest way to get them. Aim for starchy carbs like rice, potatoes, and oats. While you can indulge in sugary treats and junk foods here and there, focus on whole, complex carbs instead of empty carbs.


Dairy like milk is an excellent source of healthy fats and high-quality protein that’s easily absorbable. It’s rich in calories and can help you improve your net muscle protein balance. It increases muscle protein synthesis, which helps with resistance training.

Vitamins often found in milk and dairy products include micronutrients like B vitamins, calcium, and phosphorus. Any of these nutrients are excellent for muscle building, and they help you get enough calories.

Dark Leafy Greens

Dark leafy greens are a superfood brimming with nutrients your muscles need during the growth phase. they contain carotenoids, folate, fiber, vitamins C and K, iron, calcium, and antioxidants. All of these micronutrients fuel the body’s ability to repair muscles, improve blood flow, and release lactic acid buildup.

Protein, Especially Lean Meat

Any good bodybuilder knows you need adequate calories from protein. Meat in every variety is a good source of protein, but you want to avoid overly fatty meat. Fatty meat is high in cholesterol, which won’t help your body or gain weight.

Chicken, turkey, lean beef, and pork are dense in high-quality protein. Beans, dairy, and nuts are also good sources of protein. You can also try a scoop of whey protein powder every once in a while.

A cup of protein powder used to gain muscle for skinny guys
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Does Protein Powder Work for Building Muscle?

Whey protein powder can be a good way to supplement your protein intake if you’re struggling to get enough of the nutrient in your diet. However, eating a scoop of whey protein is not nearly as effective as a chicken breast, for example.

If you choose to use protein powder, choose a good quality option that your body can absorb best.

Best Workouts for Skinny Guys to Build Muscle

For muscle hypertrophy, here’s a day-by-day workout program that will have you feeling swole in no time. Note the numbers of sets and reps we suggest. If it’s too easy or difficult for you, consider using heavy weights or dropping weight before you adjust the number of sets and reps. 

After each set, take a 2-3 minute rest. The longer rest period can make it easier to lift heavier weights and increase your max. But the goal is to do the next set when you’re ready. You don’t need to pull out a timer for an exact rest period.

This workout program is a combination of strength training and bodyweight exercises. It offers a full-body workout with compound exercises and adequate sets per muscle group to give you the results you want.

Day 1

Deadlift: 4 sets of 5 reps

Weighted Reverse Lunge: 3 sets of 8 reps

Bench Press: 4 sets of 5 reps

Wide Grip Pull Ups: 3 sets of 8 reps

Day 2

Weighted Split Squat: 3 sets of 10 reps each leg

Floor Dumbbell Press: 4 sets of 8 reps

Planks (Side or Regular): 3 sets of 60 seconds

Dumbbell Rows: 3 sets of 8 reps each arm

Day 3 

Barbell Front Squat: 4 sets of 5 reps

Pushup: 3 sets with as many reps as you can

Barbell Weighted Dips:  3 sets of 10 reps

Inverted Bodyweight Rows: 4 sets of 8 reps

A former skinny guy gaining muscle at the gym
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What to Do on Recovery Days

In between your three heavy lifting days, take time to rest and let your muscles recover. While your muscles require 24-48 hours to recover after a heavy lift, you don’t want to sit idle all day. Doing so will make you more likely to eat unhealthily and decrease blood flow to your muscles.

So on recovery days, you want to be active enough that you maintain steady blood flow to your muscles without delaying their recovery.

Plan your off days in the same way that you plan your workouts. Consider stretching routines, walking or cycling, or mobility training. Movement on your rest days will improve your range of motion for your lifts too.

Keep it light but active to ensure the best recovery and fastest growth of your muscles.

5 Proven Tips for Building Muscle

When you’re bodybuilding, spending time in the gym is only half of the bodybuilding routine. To reach your weight gain goals, you’ll want to learn the right way to do your workouts, which healthy foods you need, how many grams of protein your muscles require, what to eat for your post-workout meal, and more.

There are a few more things we can share with you to help you build muscle. Here are five tips that will help.

1. Eat Enough Calories

Professional bodybuilders are precise with their daily calories, and to achieve your weight gain goals, you should be too. Bodybuilding isn’t necessarily an exact science, but you’ll want a variation of what a professional bodybuilder might eat.

Muscle growth is much different than weight loss. You need a surplus of calories, not a deficit. As long as you’re sticking with a heavy lifting routine, increase your calorie intake by about 3,000 to 3,500 calories per week.

However, you don’t want to fill your days with empty calories. For example, avoid liquid calories that do little for energy and strength training. Instead, focus on complex carbs and nutrient-dense foods.

2. Enjoy a High Carb, High Protein Diet

Low-carb diets are popular among weight loss enthusiasts, which is not what you want. You want proper portion sizes of carbs and lots of protein to reach your calorie goal.

Hypertrophy researchers suggest increasing your carbs to help maintain your strength and improve your recovery time. The added carbs in your diet will help you maintain an anabolic muscle-building state. To get the daily calories needed, you’ll need a calorie surplus and carbs offer one of the best ways to do that.

Protein is also a must for a bodybuilder routine, as it aids in muscle recovery. The amino acids in protein become building blocks to repair muscles quickly and increase your mass.

Including lots of protein in any part of your diet is great for bodybuilding, but it’s ideal for your post-workout meal.

A skinny guy at the gym drinking protein shake to gain muscle easier
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3. Limit Your Cardio Workouts

Previous workout routines might have involved heavy cardio workouts, which work out your entire body. However, your foundation of strength will be in heavy strength training and not in cardio.

Cardio workouts are good for recovery days but don’t overdo it. Too many cardio workouts alongside a strength training session might actually hurt your gains. Most bodybuilding programs will include small cardio workouts on rest days, and you’ll notice they don’t intermingle with the strength training sessions.

The other reason cardio workouts can be damaging to your bodybuilder routine is that they burn lots of calories per session. You might struggle to get adequate calories per day if you’re spending your rest days doing cardio.

4. Get Adequate Sleep

Sleep is the time that your muscles do their best recovery work. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Studies show that getting even as little as 30 minutes less than that can decrease your gains by 20-80 percent!

Proper sleep allows your body to synthesize the muscle fibres and promote gains. Those who don’t get proper sleep are more likely to experience muscle loss, despite a good bodybuilding routine.

Additionally, those with sleep apnea were more likely to experience muscle loss. Sleep apnea is a life-threatening illness that inhibits oxygen flowing through your body while you sleep. You can’t experience the muscle fibre repair necessary for strength gains without proper sleep.

5. Employ Undulating Periodization

Undulating periodization is a process of increasing or decreasing your reps and sets to better meet your goals. It’s one of a few basic principles of muscle growth that yield positive results. It’s best used when more advanced lifts of harder full-body lift programs aren’t giving you the same results.

Essentially, undulating periodization means if you increase your sets and decrease your reps, you can use heavier weights. If you decrease your sets and increase your weights, you can work on building endurance.

Hypertrophy researchers suggest that this strategy can help you work through a plateau. It can help your body more efficiently clear lactic acids and reduce fatigue while challenging your muscles in a new way.

A skinny guy at home doing push ups to gain muscle
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FAQ for Skinny Guys Trying to Grow Muscle

If you’ve still got a few questions about bulking or growing muscle as a skinny man, let’s see if we can answer a few of them.

Is It Harder to Gain Muscle If You’re Fat or Skinny?

Both fat and skinny men will have a  more difficult time gaining strong muscles, but it’s hard to say which will have a harder time building muscle. Your ability to gain muscle usually depends on the type of body you have.

Some endomorphs tend to collect a little more fat. They also have a good potential for gaining muscle quickly. However, for every pound of body weight they have, it makes it a little more difficult to gain muscle.

Mesomorphs are natural muscle builders. Most professional bodybuilders will be mesomorphs. When they focus on working out, gains are easy. But if they’re on an idle lifestyle path, their metabolism will turn those calories into fat.

Ectomorphs are the skinny ones who have a difficult time building muscle. Usually, it’s their metabolism that keeps them thin, and the quick calorie burn makes it difficult for them to gain muscle. They typically need more protein grams per pound to build amino acid chains and boost growth.

So those who have extra fat may have an easier time putting on muscle, but their body is also putting a lot of effort into metabolizing fat. This can slow down the gains process.
Skinny guys may have an easier time building muscle more quickly if they can put in the hours at the gym and eat enough calories to make it happen. Their base of strength training involves plenty of strength training and a calorie surplus.

How Many Hours Should a Skinny Guy Workout?

The hours you spend in the gym are among many aspects of strength training you’ll want to consider. You should devote three days per week to heavy lifting, but how many hours should you devote per session? The answer is less about how many hours you spend and about maxing out in your sessions. You’ll gain formidable strength if you put in the hours.

But if it helps you get an idea of how much time you should be devoting to lifting, you can expect to spend between 45 and 60 minutes per training session.

How Long Will It Take a Skinny Guy to Grow Muscle?

It’s difficult to give a blanket answer to how long it will take the average skinny guy to grow muscle. There are many factors that influence the timeline like your starting point, your age, and your workout routine.

Popular strength training programs promise workout results in a week or two. While you might notice some change to your body in that time, most will notice a difference within about 4 weeks of starting a training plan. But the most noticeable changes will appear after about three months.

On average, you’ll gain between one to two pounds of muscle per month. So don’t expect giant muscles right away.

Your results are dependent on your consistency and varied lifts. For versatile muscles, you want to split your workouts into different parts of your body, including upper-body strength, core exercises, lower-body strength, and full-body workout routines.

Both your workout routine and diet should reflect your efforts to gain muscle. So keep with it to see results.

Are High-Calorie Foods Good for Skinny Guys to Get Big?

Yes, high-calorie foods can help you gain muscle, but you want calories dense in nutrition. Empty calories found in simple carbs are not ideal.

Whole grains, peanut butter, full-fat milk, yogurt, and butter, potatoes, rice, fish, bananas, and other high-calorie whole foods are great for giving your body the calories and nutrition it needs to increase muscular size.

What Are the Best Whole Food Sources of Protein?

While supplementing with protein can be beneficial, it’s better to eat whole food sources of protein. The best sources of protein are lean meats (poultry, lean beef, pork, etc.), which are filled with amino acids that grow and repair muscles quickly.

Eggs, nuts, fish, dairy, and beans are also great sources of protein that support muscle growth. 

How Much Protein Should You Eat to Build Muscle Quickly?

Aim for your diet to be about 30 percent protein. If you’re consuming 3,000 calories per day, aim for around 1000 calories of protein. That’s about 225 grams of protein.

This number may differ slightly based on your weight, height, and physical makeup. You can use a macronutrient calculator to figure out how much protein you’ll need for your height, weight, activity level, and age.

Are Certain Eating Strategies Better for Bulking Up?

If you’ve read thus far, you should have a pretty good idea about bodybuilders’ favorite bulking eating strategies. Here are some quick points to sum up:

– Eat enough calories, focusing on nutrient-dense foods that promote muscle growth.
– Focus on high-quality protein and only supplement with whey protein as needed.
– Increase your carb intake, particularly complex and starchy carbs.
– Limit sugary foods, bad fats, and simple carbs.

Is Bodyweight Training Good for Building Bulk?

You should rely on a mixture of heavy lifting workouts and bodyweight workout routines to build muscle. When performing compound movements, your body will act as weights, and it’s an easy and natural way to get resistance into your training.

As you gain strength, you can increase your bodyweight training’s effectiveness by adding bands to your workouts. It’s an easy way to naturally increase your weight and resistance as you grow.

Should a Skinny-Fat Guy Focus on Losing Weight or Gaining Muscle?

The most effective way to lose weight and keep it off is to build muscle. Doing so increases your metabolism when you’re both active and at rest.

Developing a workout and healthy eating routine like the one we’ve shared here will provide you with the tools you need to simultaneously lose fat and build muscle. It’s all about consistency and pushing yourself to your limits, but as you do, you’ll see the results you desire.

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