Lean and Mean
July 31, 2009 11:26 AM   Subscribe

Help a skinny guy shape up! more after the jump!

some facts:

i do some sports, used to jog almost every day (although in the past few weeks ive slacked off)

I eat a lot, but i dont eat healthily (i.e. no fruit and veg)
A typical week would see me eating meat pretty much every day with pasta or potatoes. Fast food (mcdonalds/burger king) is also consumed at least once a week . I drink a lot of unhealthy sugary drinks and fruit juices. Greasy meatloaf or full english for breakfast (ocasionally) .

I need a goal and results. Im pretty lazy, and slack off if i dont see results, but can get very motivated if it's a foolproof plan and i see results after a while.

Right now i want to put on some weight, yes also fat, because i look pretty skinny. I dont know if that's advisable, or if i should just look at starting with a tabula rasa and gaining muscle mass (which would probably be more difficult).

I have mild scoliosis, which affects my posture a bit and makes me slouch. I try to work actively against slouching by pushing my upper chest forward and my stomach in. is that the correct thing to do? I think gaining weight, especially muscle, would help my posture too, right?

I have a fast metabolism, i think, so what should i do guys?
posted by freddymetz to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I think gaining weight, especially muscle, would help my posture too, right?

Eh. Back muscles, perhaps. Abs, pecs: Nope.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:32 AM on July 31, 2009

6'6" 170 lbs here, also interested!

I've asked people about this topic and the usual answer I get is to pretty much eat 4 meals a day.

We're "hard gainers".
posted by Groovytimes at 11:33 AM on July 31, 2009

Response by poster: oh yeah i forgot. im 182 cm tall and i weigh 65 kg
posted by freddymetz at 11:34 AM on July 31, 2009

oh yeah i forgot. im 182 cm tall and i weigh 65 kg

6 ft 143 lb
posted by Groovytimes at 11:36 AM on July 31, 2009

If it's a goal you want, why not pick out a race or something to train for? Maybe a half or full marathon, but if you're already a runner then maybe that wouldn't be much of a challenge or enough of a change. Perhaps a triathlon? You'd get to work on some muscles that you don't normally, and swimming would really help strengthen your core, which would help with your posture.
posted by csimpkins at 11:39 AM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm an ectomorph as well and it is very difficult for me to gain weight and keep it on. What has worked for me in the past has been lifting weights about four days a week and eating CONSTANTLY. Ideally, you should eat about six times a day which can and should include a couple whey protein shakes. I would cut out the cardio for a while and concentrate on gaining the weight.

You'll want to eat a ratio of 25/50/25 of protein/carbs/fat. If you'd like to make weight and muscle gains quicker (at the cost of those calories being clean) you'll want to go through the process of "bulking." Boiled down this means eating the same amount on off days from the gym as you do on on days. You will gain some extra fat but it sounds as though this isn't too much of an issue for you. You could see gains of 1-2 lbs per week if you stick to it.

Nutrition and weight lifting programs are down to a science these days so do your research.

For lifting videos of proper form check out exrx.net
To keep track or plan your calories, use fitday.com.

Once you start working out you will see gains early since you're new to lifting. You'll probably plateau at some point a month or two down the line but adjust your routine and work through it. Your posture will improve with core and back strength.

It is hard, but not impossible. It is one of the most rewarding things you'll do. Good luck!
posted by premortem at 11:43 AM on July 31, 2009

Response by poster: what do u mean by cardio? What would that ratio mean in practice? i.e. what foods should i eat in a day?
posted by freddymetz at 11:45 AM on July 31, 2009

Response by poster: Another thing i forgot! In one month i wont have access to a fitness studio (im moving to a small village in mexico). i could bring weights with me, but what alternatives are there that do not require much equipment?
posted by freddymetz at 11:47 AM on July 31, 2009

(i am not a nutritionist, i am not your personal trainer, i am not really qualified to give too much advice) but....

7am: yogurt, bagel, and fruit
10am: protein shake
12pm: sandwich, salad, fruit
3pm: snack
5pm: chicken, veggies, potato
8pm: protein shake

That is just an example and I don't even know if the ratios fit into something like that. When I was doing it I was more concerned about the calories than what was in those calories. That is where fitday.com is handy. Type in what you're eating to determine the type of calories (protein, carb or fat) and then tweak it to get to a desired ratio. If you're bulking, you can up your carb and fat calories since they will provide.

By cutting cardio out, I mean any running or swimming. These will expend calories (and keep your heart rate and lung capacity to a healthy level) but will not help you gain any weight. I would cease cardio for a few months at most - once you see a decent amount of weight gain, work it back into your routine.

If you want to gain weight you need to eat first and foremost, and second, lift a shit ton of weights. A weight bench and some barbells would suffice, but access to a full gym would make your life much easier.

I've got reams of information on this stuff which I will dig up and memail you. Doing your own research (I got most of my info from forums) will give you a better understanding of it all. There are plenty of bulking routines and bulking diets available on the web.
posted by premortem at 12:03 PM on July 31, 2009

Check out Starting Strength. This is about the best beginning weightlifting book out there -- it's a simple program based on compound free-weight exercises, and it shows you exactly how to do each of the lifts safely, with proper form. If you get this book and follow the beginner's program, you'll gain plenty of weight and strength as long as you're eating properly (premortem's advice looks good -- get fitday.com to count your calories, eat lots of the stuff he mentioned above, and you'll be fine). Don't worry about starting out skinny -- just follow the book, and you'll see results surprisingly quickly.

The Starting Strength wiki has lots of additional advice, including nutrition basics for gaining muscle. It's a good place to start if you're not sure about buying the book, too.

on preview: FitDeck is a good way to build strength without any equipment whatsoever, especially when traveling. It's a deck of cards with 50+ different bodyweight exercises on them; you deal some out to yourself, then follow the instructions on the cards. They make booster sets you can get, also -- combining the Bodyweight set with the Dumbbell set would be great for you, if you can bring a couple dumbbells with you to Mexico. Of course, you can always opt to create your own program based on bodyweight exercises, but IMHO the cards are worth the money; they're cheap, they're fun, and you always get a nice blend of exercises.

Note that it's hard to gain weight with bodyweight exercises alone. If you can bring some equipment with you to Mexico, even if it's just a couple dumbbell handles with plates, I'd strongly suggest it!
posted by vorfeed at 12:18 PM on July 31, 2009

For posture work your abs and all your back muscles...shoulders too. I went to physio for posture and that is what they told me: the abs are your support system.
Good posture is: shoulders back, tummy tucked and ass squeezed, without locked knees.
posted by smartypantz at 12:18 PM on July 31, 2009

Eh. Back muscles, perhaps. Abs, pecs: Nope.

False. You need strong abs for good posture.

*For weight gain, figure out how many calories you currently use, then add a few hundred to it (use the Harris-Benedict formula on this page). Use Fitday.com to keep track.

*Making meals in advance -- like cooking a crapload of chicken and pasta one day a week -- can save you A LOT of time. For pasta: cook it, run cold water over it, individually wrap it in baggies, and it will keep for days in the fridge. Reboil it for 30 seconds when you're ready to eat.

*Weight gainers can be a cheap meal-substitute, but real food is better for you.

*There's tons of good info at http://forum.bodybuilding.com/ for people like you (and me!), but tons of bad info there, too. It isn't hard to spot the difference.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:48 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have same build as you but eat the opposite (ie foods considered healthy).
I believe some people (myself included) just can't build significant muscle mass. If I forced myself to eat a lot I would just get fat. Lifting weights just makes muscles hard (not bigger) & soon results in repetitive strain injuries.
posted by canoehead at 12:50 PM on July 31, 2009

My experience:
I was always a constant 170 @ 6ft no matter what I ate but it wasn't a lot of muscle and around 10% bf. I started lifting and eating bird like healthy (like the diet premortem listed) and while I gained muscle\lost fat I stayed at around the same weight because I wasn't taking in enough calories. My lifts didn't improve very quickly either.

I took the diet aspect more seriously and then over the next year I got myself up to 205 with a lot of muscle. The past 3 months I've been cutting and am at a nice 180 but my body is completely different than before.

If you want to put on weight you're going to need a good lifting routine and eat like a beast.
The starting strength guide is a good recommendation. Do you have any friends that are competent lifters? Get them to work with you so you can get the right forms down. If not hire a personal trainer for a few weeks. Focus on squats\Olympic lifts.
As far as the diet part I just started eating until I felt absolutely stuff 2\3 times a day.
Buffets will probably be your friend.

I'm saying all this because based on what you said I could see you getting demotivated really quickly by starting a bird diet and not getting any results.
posted by zephyr_words at 12:59 PM on July 31, 2009

canoehead: I'm sorry but that is just a really misinformed post.

1. It's true while people may have a harder time building muscle there isn't any truth that they just CAN'T. (In fact some people their muscles continue to appear larger but they don't really manifest in any strength gains) If you tear down a muscle the body will build it back up and build it stronger than before.

2. Lifting weights doesn't make muscles "hard." Your muscles don't really change in hardness. The hardness is determined in how much, water, fat, etc, surround and are in the muscle.

Your amount of muscle cells and fibers are basically determined at or around puberty. People don't naturally make more of these cells when they start training the size of the muscle just changes.
Sarcoplasm and myofibrils are the fibers and filaments where most the changes occur depending on the amount of reps\max weight used.

A lot of it comes down to genetics but most people can get impressive results - it just comes down to how much work one wants to put into it.
posted by zephyr_words at 1:25 PM on July 31, 2009

So, when I started with weights, I was 6'2" 143 lbs. About like you. The trainer I paid to teach me what exercises to do just said "eat." One day, she saw me in the gym and asked what I'd had for breakfast. I said eggs and bacon. She thought for a second, then said "well, if it was anybody but you I'd say "no" to the bacon. But in your case, just eat!"

In other words, enjoy that fast metabolism while you've got it. But let me tell you - it almost certainly won't last and at some point you'll have to deal with the consequences if you don't establish good eating habits. So I think your meat, potatoes, and pasta are fine. But stop neglecting the veggies and fruit!

My go-to meal nowadays, when I don't feel like cooking anything special, is assorted variations on the concept of "chicken caesar salad." Get bagged lettuce - either Romaine, or spring mix, or whatever you like (just not Iceberg). Add chopped cooked chicken breast. Add whatever dressing you like, and whatever other extras you want - other veggies, croutons, cheese. You can vary this a million ways, its easy, it's just as satisfying a meal as meat and potatoes, and it's healthier. Get into that kind of habit now and you won't be in trouble later. :)

You sort of mention "wanting" to put on fat too because you're skinny. Don't. Just focus on the muscles, and the size will happen in a much better way. You may never be bodybuilder size, but truth is most people don't want that anyway. After a year of 3x a week weight lifting, I went from 143 lbs to about 170. I could totally see the difference and it felt awesome.

As for the lazy - once you start seeing the changes from weights and exercise, that will help. But not totally. I still always face the little voice saying "I don't want to go to the gym today." It helps sometimes to remember that whenever I think that, but then go anyway, I always come home feeling a LOT better both physically and mentally.
posted by dnash at 1:42 PM on July 31, 2009

- cardio is aerobic exercise. It is a healthy thing but it burns calories without really increasing muscle mass. You want to shift your exercise more toward focused strength building.
- get a good book, plenty recommended above. try really following the regimen for at least 6 months, and don't check the scale every single day. it's a really slow process.
- free weights are better for you than exercise machines. you are less likely to get injured.
- if you don't like exercise for its own sake, try to mix it up with a sport like rock climbing or swimming.
- posture is aided by a strong core and back. I'm about an inch taller after a few years of climbing.
- don't focus on the "vanity" muscles. Go for all-around fitness.
- always stop if you feel on the edge of an injury. the only way to cure a strain injury is to stop working out for a long time, and you don't want to do that.
posted by Chris4d at 1:57 PM on July 31, 2009

I believe some people (myself included) just can't build significant muscle mass. If I forced myself to eat a lot I would just get fat. Lifting weights just makes muscles hard (not bigger) & soon results in repetitive strain injuries.

I don't buy this. Excess calorie intake plus lifting increasingly heavy weights equals muscle growth; this equation is the same no matter what your body type is. It may be easier to exploit for some body types rather than others, but everyone can build significant muscle mass (with respect to their sex and body type, of course), barring some sort of severe endocrine disorder.

That said: proper diet, proper workout frequency, properly increasing weight, and proper form are all essential. "Lifting weights just makes muscles hard (not bigger) & soon results in repetitive strain injuries" sounds to me like a description of what (can) happen when you're lifting light weights over many repetitions (i.e. training for endurance). It does not happen when you're following a proper diet and lifting heavy weights for a few repetitions (training for hypertrophy).

In particular, if you're doing significantly more than 3 sets of 5 reps each (or 1 set of 5 for the deadlift), you're not lifting as heavy as you could be, and would probably benefit from lifting heavier weight over fewer reps/sets. As a rule of thumb, you should always be lifting roughly the heaviest weight you can manage with proper form. That means if your form is consistently failing at 4 or fewer reps instead of 5, you should take a little weight off next week, and if you consistently make it to 5 with solid form throughout, you should add a little on next week. And I mean a little -- slow and steady wins the race. Paradoxically, you'll get the most improvement if you start light and move up slowly and steadily. Add weight conservatively, and concentrate on form. Keep an Excel spreadsheet or notebook to record the weight you're lifting for each exercise.

If you're doing that three times a week, concentrating on compound lifts with proper form, and eating lots of extra protein and calories, there's no way you won't grow. Starting Strength explains all this stuff, so try it for 6 months and see -- most beginners will be more than happy with the results.
posted by vorfeed at 2:11 PM on July 31, 2009

The only fitness regime that could be considered "foolproof" is the one you are willing to commit yourself to unwaveringly for an extended period of time (6-12 months, depending). Luckily though, if you are willing to do this, pretty much every fitness regime will yield results.

That said, I think your best bet is to start a weight training program of some sort. Yes, it will be significantly harder to gain muscle mass than it would to gain fat mass (all that is really required to gain fat is limiting the amount of calories burned per day by ceasing to exercise, and increasing the amount of calories consumed, in your case probably by quite a large margin). However, excessive fat gain isn't really healthy, and will likely make you feel like crap while almost certainly proving detrimental to your overall athleticism.

Starting Strength is a good program to start with, and a great book to buy for the detailed tutorials given on proper form for the major lifts. I will probably prove to be a voice of dissent here, though, in stating that I don't feel its utility extends much past the 16 week mark, and there are other beginner splits that are more well rounded (for instance, Joe DeFranco's West Side for Skinny Bastards). But In the end, if you bust your ass and put weight on the bar every session, you could probably follow SS for a whole year and still see some progress.

Nutritionally, posters above are correct to say that you shouldn't stress too much over having a perfect "bird like" diet. You definitely need a caloric surplus. However, you don't want to go overboard with the junk-food in order to maintain this surplus either. This page has a calorie calculator that you can use to figure out your approximate maintenance level caloric intake (how much to each to keep your weight steady) Given that your metabolism is so fast, try taking the maintenance number and adding 1000 to it. Aim for a gain of around 1-1.5lbs per week, and adjust accordingly.

Some foods to add quick and healthy calories to your diet include nuts, avocados, coconut milk, cows milk, rhino milk (no, j/k, don't milk a rhino) and if you're so inclined, taking shots of olive oil (extra virgin tastes less disgusting). You can also try gainer shakes, though they are expensive and not as good for you as whole foods. I wouldn't really worry too much about macronutritional breakdown at the moment. The only thing to remember is that, if you want to build muscle you are going to need to take in 1.5-2 grams of protein per pound of body weight, daily.

For posture corrective exercises, take a look here and here (incidentally, the website, T-Nation, is a good recourse for all things lifting).

Personally, I began lifting seriously at the start of the year after a lifetime of being thin. I've managed to go from 144lbs to 170lbs (+26lbs) in 7 months with little fat gain on a vegetarian diet. If you put your head down and work hard, you will see results.
posted by camneely at 2:58 PM on July 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

Speaking only to the posture point, an old choir director used to have us take our shoulders UP and then BACK and then let them DROP. This seemed to put us in a good, relaxed position. The grain of salt here tastes like "this girl knows way more about singing positions than muscle groups." But the exercise always seemed to take the thought out of pushing out your chest and using your stomach/abs to breathe better.
posted by lauranesson at 3:43 PM on July 31, 2009

You are a hardgainer... My experience tells me based on your own self-assessment that you need a COMPLETE plan. You need to know what supplements to take, what to eat every day and what to do at the gym. I know of a pdf that can help you with just that, MeMail me if you'd like. Generally speaking, however, this:

1. Diet
-Simplify your diet to the point where you eat basically the same thing every day. The more you "schedule" your diet and know exactly what you need to eat next...the more likely you are to follow it. No guesswork. You meal should be about a third healthy carbs, a third healthy fats and a third protein. The easiest way to get healthy complex carbs for cheap is to buy a rice-maker and always be making and eating brown rice, and to buy tons and tons of oats. The rest of your diet will come from lean meat or eggs and vegetables.

2. Supplements
-Supplements will help you as a hardgainer get bigger. You will want to take, at the very least, a whey protein supplement and creatine. Ideally you will purchase Myoplex - a meal replacement shake, and consume two or more daily. Flaxseed oil for omega-3s and healthy fats is also important, as is vitamin C and glutamine. Consider a post-workout complex carb drink like Ultra Fuel to deliver healthy carbohydrates to your muscles.

3. Gym
-Avoid lots of cardio like running or biking, at least early on. Hit the gym 3-4 times per week and keep your time there under an hour. Concentrate on the following - Benchpress, Squat, Deadlift, Pullups, Military press, back rows. Perform low reps of heavy, heavy weight for these exercises and do a full-body workout each time you go (no targeting) to maximize testosterone release. Heavy weight, compound exercises, little cardio...and EAT EAT EAT.

A typical day looks like this:

Meal 1: 1 myoplex shake mixed with a scoop of whey protein and a teaspoon of flaxseed oil. Two eggs with microwavable chopped spinach.

Snack 1: 1 scoop of whey protein with three hard boiled eggs

Meal 2: 6 oz. of chicken breast with 1.5 cups of brown rice and frozen veggies (broccoli or spinach).

Snack 2: outmeal mixed with a scoop of protein and peanut butter

Meal 3: Same as Meal 2.

Pregym supplements and snack: 1 scoop creatine, 1 tsp glutamine, 1 scoop protein, vitamin C.

GYM - Benchpress - 3 x 8 reps of heavy weight
- Squats - 3 x 10 of moderate weight (don't risk hurting your back on squats)
-Pullups - 3 x 10 or as many sets as it takes to do 30
-Deadlifts - 3 x 8 moderate weight
-Back Row - 3 x 8 of heavy weight
-Shoulder press - 3 x 8 of heavy weight

Do this for 4 weeks and then change your routine up...your body will always try to adapt...keep it guessing

Postgym supplements: 1 scoop protein, an Ultra Fuel drink or some other healthy carbs (oatmeal with peanut butter would be good here)

Bedtime snack: 2 scoops protein, 2 tsp Flaxseed oil.


On non gym days keep the diet pretty much the same but you can go easier on the protein. If in doubt, eat more oatmeal and brown rice. Always try to eat at least 10 oz of animal protein PER DAY. On Saturdays or whatever, eat whatever you want. Go wild. McDonalds, Ice cream, cake all day. I don't care. Just stick to clean eating the other days of the week. Don't forget those veggies.

Posture - You need to tighten your abs to pull your sway back in and also work on tightening your upper back to "unroll" your shoulders. Practicing concious posture is a great way to do this. If you see yourself slouching, push your chest out and tighten your abs. Imagine you have a batman logo on your chest...no keep your head level and try to show your logo to the sky. Now clench your butt cheeks and tighten your abs. Feel whats being tensed to hold this...these are the muscles you need to strengthen to fix your posture. Hold this posture WHILE doing your gym sets...if you need to use less weight to hold these muscles tense...do it. Always imagine you are pinching a penny between your buttcheeks when doing squats, deadlifts...pretty much any big standing gym exercise.

That's pretty much it. The trick is having the wherewithal to follow through. You won't see big results without a tremendous amount of dedication. Maybe try it for a month and see if the tradeoffs are worth it.

Note on Computer posture: when using the computer, tie a string from your belt to the second button on a button down shirt....always make sure this string is taught when you are sitting...you will be engaging your errector spinae and keeping a straight posture. Don't slouch, don't let your head hang forward.

Follow this for 3 months and you will see DRASTIC results. You are a beast...go get 'em tiger.
posted by jnnla at 4:07 PM on July 31, 2009 [4 favorites]

I've always been a skinny guy. I gained 30 lbs. of bodyweight in about 8 months with Starting Strength. Read the book, follow the program exactly, drink the gallon of milk a day, and you'll be on your way.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:03 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

A typical day looks like this:

Meal 1: 1 myoplex shake mixed with a scoop of whey protein and a teaspoon of flaxseed oil. Two eggs with microwavable chopped spinach.

I find it hard to believe that this incredibly clean diet is going to help this guy gain the weight he needs to actually get some muscle. I'm pretty sure I would lean out on this diet and I am not particularly big (actually, quite small, and female). So little fat and carbs, most people don't get hyooje on protein alone. He needs caloric excess if he is going to gain real mass.

All that being said, dude, you're going to a rural village in mexico soon? This seems a bit of a fool's errand given that... try to gain some weight now, sure, but the kind of exercises you'll be able to do in a village with little access are not going to make a skinny man big. At best you could become bodyweight strong (better than nothing certainly). Whatever you do, eat more. More more more, don't worry about clean, just worry about calories. You won't get anywhere without this.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:40 PM on July 31, 2009

The guys over at the Stronglifts 5x5 forums swear by GOMAD for weight gain. GOMAD = Gallon Of Milk A Day.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 5:39 AM on August 6, 2009

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