Eat lots, Train some, Sleep more; An Ectomorph's guide to building muscle

Sometimes it seems like all I ever do is talk about how to lose body fat, dieting, calorie and macro amounts and all that other stuff related to ‘losing weight’. Truth be told it gets a little bit boring after a while. Don’t get me wrong, I love helping people achieve their goals and dreams, but what really interests me is the science and application of training and nutrition with regards to building muscle.
That's why when someone gives us a question on building muscle I'm chomping at the bit!

The same can be said for body fat reduction of course but I love that there is no one size fits all approach to muscular development, how I gain weight for example will differ hugely to someone who is naturally very lean.
This boils down to differences in the genetic makeup of us all individually, we all know one of those lucky so an so’s who just seems to eat and eat and eat without so much as gaining an ounce of weight. And conversely there are those among us that the mere mention of “carbs” has us pinching at the love handles and adjusting the light above the mirror for a more flattering reflection.
I personally lean somewhat towards the latter category and this might be viewed as a disadvantage, however when it comes to building muscle it’s relatively easy for me. Where we may view those who can eat freely without gaining weight as ‘lucky so and so’s’, for someone struggling to build muscle due to their genetics it could seem like a terrible hardship. Still, I can’t feel too sorry for them!
Body Types (Somatotypes):
Before we continue we must have a basic understanding of the three body types that make up our diverse population; Ectomorph, Mesomorph and Endomorph, and that it’s possible to be a mixture of two of these body types.
Ectomorph: Male or female who is generally; tall, thin, slim, struggles to gain weight, fast metabolism, small frame.

Mesomorph: Male or female who is generally; athletic, muscular, lean, naturally strong, gains muscle easily, broad, gains fat easier than Ectomorphs.

Endomorph: Male or female who is generally; short and stocky, gains muscle easily, gains fat easily, finds it hard to lose body fat, soft and round body.

Everyone wants what everybody else has, this is classic grass is greener syndrome, but there is absolutely nothing we can do about our genetics. We must play the hand that we’re dealt.
For an Ectomorph that hand must be played strategically if you want to succeed in building your physique without wasting your hard efforts. The following are 3 rules to follow in order to make sure you’re doing just that...
Because you are an Ectomorph you have a very fast metabolism, this means that your body is able burn up energy (calories) like it’s going out of fashion. In order to build muscle mass (regardless of body type) you need to be ingesting a surplus of calories, for the Ectomorph this will be a greater amount than others. Actual amounts will differ between individuals however a good place to start is to determine your BMR (google), times this by 1.5 to take in to account your crazy-fast metabolism and then add 1000Kcal on top of that, every day. Keeping a log of everything you eat is vital, you may feel like you’re eating enough to cure world hunger when in fact you could be a thousand calories shy of what you actually need to make your efforts in the gym worthwhile.
You will also need to keep an eye on the scale, if you haven’t gained any weight in two weeks add another 500kcals to your daily intake, repeat the process until you start making gains.
In terms of meal timings and macronutrient intake your job is simple; take your desired calorie intake and divide it up into 5-6 meals over the course of the day, making sure one of them is a pre-bedtime meal. Then make sure your diet contains plenty of the following foods:

  • Red meat

  • Poultry

  • Oats

  • Eggs

  • Olive oil

  • Nuts

  • Butter

  • Potatoes

  • Fish

  • Water

  • Vegetables

  • Rice

  • Apples

  • Bananas

  • Milk/ Goats milk

When it comes to training a lot of true Ecto’s make the same mistake- too much volume, too often.
Think intensity instead of volume, following the classic 4 exercises per muscle group, 4 sets of 12, 6 days a week formula simple isn’t going to cut it for an Ectomorph. Spending 1.5-2hrs in the gym doing endless sets to failure will simply have you burning up more calories and even more of that precious muscle mass.  Your training must be simplified with a focus on loading and stimulating as many muscles as possible with each move. Compound exercises that allow you to shift higher loads in the 6-8 rep range are you friends here...

  • Pin presses

  • Deadlift (any variation)

  • Box squats

  • Chest assisted rows

By focusing on pushing greater loads over fewer repetitions you will stimulate more of the fast twitch motor units that have a greater potential for growth.
As far as cardio is concerned, keep it to a minimal time and frequency while you’re trying to build muscle mass.
Follow these guidelines during your training sessions:

  • Spend no longer than 45mins per session.

  • Target heavier loads in the 5-8 rep ranges.

  • Use a maximum of 3 sets for each exercise.

Once again, too many Ectomorphs make the mistake of training themselves to death thinking that it’s the answer to quicker and greater gains. For your body type you need to give your body the opportunity to grow. Every time you hit the gym for another punishing session you’re tapping into more of that precious lean tissue, it is during your rest time that your muscles will grow.
Follow these simple guidelines to maximise muscle growth while doing less work:

  • Leave at least one full day between training sessions.

  • A rest day means actual rest, as in, DO NOTHING except stretching/recovery exercises.

  • Prioritise sleep, aiming for 8hrs+ per night.

Whether you still see the grass as being greener on the other side or not, is irrelevant. Like I said, we have no control over the genetics we were born with, all we can do is play the hand we were dealt the best way we can- statically and methodically- no matter what your body type.
Go lift stuff,