What is an Ectomorph?
An ectomorph is someone who is long and lean with a thin bone structure. They also have a blazing metabolism, which helps them avoid putting on fat easily.
However, at the same time, this high metabolic rate can make it difficult for the typical ectomorph to build a lot of muscle in a short amount of time.
Furthermore, ectomorphs also tend to have a hard time building significant amounts of muscle and strength due to a combination of low appetite and a general predilection for more endurance-based activities than other forms of physical activity which are more aptly suited to building muscle and strength.
Some other common features of ectomorphs, are:
- Long, stringy muscles
- Small bone structure
- Flat (or caved in) chest
- Fast metabolism
Put all of these factors together and you have the quintessential “hardgainer.”
But, just because you may have some of the features, that does NOT mean you cannot build muscle, gain strength, or see phenomenal results from your training.
Sure, you may not have hit the genetic lottery that some other mesomorphs out there might have in that they can seemingly look at a weight and build muscle. But, you can still make massive improvements.
You’re just going to have to work harder and tailor your diet and training to suit your particular body. By that, we mean that what works for someone with superior genetics may not work for you.
But, that’s part of what makes training fun -- the journey of self-experimentation and discovery to find your own perfect workout routine.
Ahead, we’ll give you some diet and training pointers to help you structure your nutrition and exercise program for maximum results.
Training for Ectomorphs
Ectomorphs are naturally thin, which they typically don’t need to focus on losing fat so much as they do building muscle.
When it comes to hitting the gym, ectomorphs should prioritize resistance training (lifting weights) over cardio. In fact, cardio should be kept to a minimum when trying to build muscle.
The reason for this is that steady-state cardio is primarily used to increase an individual’s calorie output during the day while dieting for fat loss.
Since the ectomorph is already fairly lean and already has a hard time eating enough calories as well as consuming enough food, doing something which increases the gap between energy output and energy intake makes little sense.
Furthermore, cardio does little to stimulate muscle growth and performing too much of it can actually impair recovery and cause muscle breakdown -- not exactly something you want when trying to build muscle.
For these reasons, when you hit the gym, you should focus on lifting weights.
The next question that immediately jumps to mind is:
“Which training split is right for me?”
Truth be told, just about any workout program that incorporates progressive overload can be effective for building muscle.
But, just because any system “can” work, that doesn’t mean that every workout program is right for you.
Your goal as an ectomorph is to get in and out of the gym as efficiently as possible. You’re already burning enough calories each day without the addition of a resistance-training workout.
As such, you don’t need to be performing high-volume, body part split, bodybuilder style workouts.
Ectomorphs would do better to perform three full-body training sessions per week focusing on heavy, compound movements (squat, bench, deadlift, pull up, etc.).
Compound exercises are exercises that place tension across two or more joints. This means that they stimulate a large amounts of muscle tissue, which gives you an incredible “bang” for your exercise “buck”.
Full-body workouts also offer the benefit of high frequency training, moderate volume, and heavy weight, providing an ideal combination that helps build muscle and strength, allows for sufficient recovery, and helps ingrain good exercise form (due to the high degree of frequency with which the lifts are performed).
Now, we realize some habits are hard to break and there will be more than a few of you reading this who still want to perform cardio during the week.
You may perform cardio during the week (it is good for cardiovascular health after all), but try to keep it brief and intense.
High intensity interval training (HIIT) is an ideal cardio option when trying to build muscle. Unlike steady-state cardio, which can cause muscle breakdown and hinder recovery, HIIT has actually been shown to support lean mass retention.
Outside of your resistance training workouts, you may perform one or two short bouts of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) per week. HIIT workouts can be performed after your full body workouts or on the days in between your resistance training sessions.
Nutrition for Ectomorphs
Proper training is only part of the solution to building muscle, you also need to complement that hard training with proper nutrition.
From a nutrition point of view, ectomorphs typically struggle to build muscle for four big reasons:
A hallmark trait of ectomorphs is that they have fast metabolisms, which means that they burn a lot of calories during the day.
As you probably know, in order to gain weight, you need to consume more calories than your body burns in a day.
Since ectomorphs typically have higher metabolic rates than the average person, they have to eat a greater number of total calories in order to place their bodies in an energy surplus, thereby supporting muscle building.
But, these increased calorie needs aren’t the only hurdle holding back ectomorphs from gaining weight and building muscle.
Not Consuming Enough Calories
In order to build muscle, you’re going to need to eat a lot more calories than you are used to eating.
The prototypical ectomorph tends to have very poor appetite, which means they don’t feel hungry all that often. Further compounding the issue is that most ectomorphs tend to reach satiety (feeling full) relatively quickly.
This combination makes it that much more difficult to consume enough calories to support muscle building.
Additionally, most calorie calculators on the internet tend to undershoot the calorie needs of ectomorphs, which can make it difficult to get a handle on how many calories you should be eating each day to support muscle growth. Calorie calculators are, at best, an estimate of your calorie needs. They are rarely (if ever) 100% right on the money.
A better option for the struggling ectomorph is to track how many calories they’re eating each day and monitor their weight. If you find that you are not gaining weight, increase your calorie intake by 200-300 calories and track your weight daily for a week or two.
If your weekly weight average is trending upwards, then you know you are on the right track. If your weekly weight average remains stagnant, you’ll need to further increase your calorie intake by another 200-300 calories.
One of the most effective ways to increase your calorie intake is to eat multiple small meals (every 2-3 hours) throughout the day. Consuming more meals that are smaller as opposed to three big ones helps avoid the common pitfall of feeling stuffed (which can make you less likely to eat later on).
If you are someone who tends to not be hungry at all during the day or someone who forgets to eat, setting an alarm may help so that you are reminded when it is time to eat.
Not Consuming Enough Protein
A fundamental rule of muscle building is to consume enough dietary protein each day. Yet, as basic as this rule seems, a considerable number of gym-goers continue to no eat enough protein each day.
The reason protein is so important is that provides the body with the building blocks it needs (amino acids), to support muscle repair, recovery, and growth.
By not consuming adequate amounts of protein, you’re stunting your body’s natural muscle-building mechanisms from working to their full potential.
If you are someone who tends to not crave protein or get full rather quickly from high-protein meals, you can try adding in one or two protein shakes throughout the day.
Protein shakes provide high amounts of delicious-tasting protein while being easy on the stomach, which is great for the typical ectomorph who gets full easily from whole foods.
Mass gainer shakes are another great option to add to your diet. They are incredibly easy to make and also help you increase your total daily protein and calorie intake.
Plus, making mass gainers on your own is not only cheaper than what you’ll get from the store, but the quality will also be significantly better as the vast majority of mass gainers on the market contain cheap carbohydrate sources (like maltodextrin) and low-quality forms of whey protein.
Here’s a quick and easy mass gainer shake recipe that we like to use when trying to build muscle:
- 1 cup whole milk (or dairy alternative)
- 1 frozen banana (cut into chunks)
- 1-2 scoops 1UP Nutrition protein powder
- 1-2 tablespoons nut butter
- ½ cup dry oatmeal
- 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
Eating Too Clean
One of the beautiful things about trying to build muscle is the increased number of calories you eat each day.
While the bulk of your daily calorie needs should be met by whole, minimally-processed foods, there comes a point when you simply cannot choke down any more food.
Having some higher calorie (“dirty”) foods can make the task of consuming enough total calories considerably easier.
If you constantly struggle to eat enough food each day, stop with all the low-calorie, low-fat, low-carb foods.
Don’t be afraid to add some butter to your toast or cook your food with some oil in the pan. Also, feel free to have some “bad” foods like pizza or ice cream during the week.
Still make sure to consume enough fruits and veggies during the day, but also don’t be afraid to add some higher-calorie fare to your day so that you hit your calorie needs.
Supplements for Ectomorphs
Make no mistake, training hard and eating enough calories (and protein) each day are all you “need” to build muscle and gain strength.
Supplements are there to help support those efforts and facilitate recovery.
By that we mean that without proper diet and exercise, no amount of supplements will help you build muscle.
You can’t avoid the work, there’s no two ways about it.
With that being said, if your diet and training are in place, and you’re looking to accelerate your results, here are some supplements to consider adding to your day:
As we’ve mentioned already, consuming enough protein each day is vital to your muscle-building efforts. Whey protein shakes not only help you reach those goals, they also taste delicious!
Having a post workout protein shake is a great way to supplement your daily protein intake, kickstart recovery, and fuel muscle growth.
Consuming enough calories is a challenge for ectomorphs, as we’ve stated multiple times in the article.
Have an intra workout shake can help to increase your total calorie intake without making you feel overly full or bloated.
As an added bonus, carbohydrates also supply your muscles with energy that help you to perform better in your workouts, and carbohydrates also help prevent muscle breakdown!
1UP Tri-Carb supplies 25 grams of high-performance carbohydrates from a mix of Cluster Dextrin®, Carb10™ & MODCARB® in every serving.
Building muscle ultimately boils down to muscle protein synthesis (anabolism) outpacing muscle protein breakdown (catabolism).
Since exercise is a catabolic process, it makes sense that we would want to limit that from happening.
You can do this by consuming a pre-workout meal or intra workout shake. And you can also further halt muscle breakdown and fuel muscle building with a post workout shake.
1UP Rebuild is a post workout recovery and growth supplement delivering essential amino acids, electrolytes, and the “king” of muscle building supplements -- creatine.
Creatine is the most well-studied sports supplement in history and has been shown countless times to enhance athletic performance and muscle growth. It’s safe for men and women and also benefits cognitive function as well as anabolism.
While you may have some of the characteristics of an ectomorph, that doesn’t mean it is impossible for you to build muscle or see great results from your diet and training program.
You still can (and will) make great strides towards achieving your goals. Remember genetics are but one component of what factors into how you look, feel, and perform. A great work ethic and proper nutrition can do leaps and bounds to make up for those “hardgainer” genetics.
Use the information in this article to help break the ectomorph mold so that you can realize what’s truly possible with patience, consistency, and hard work!