The Skinny Guy’s Guide: Eating to Gain Muscle

If you have less than stellar genetics then take that as a challenge, move forward, and meet it head-on.

Are you the stereotypical skinny guy struggling to pack on any appreciable amount of muscle mass? If I have your story right it might go something like this: You eat everything in sight, train your butt off, and check all of the correct boxes when it comes to traditional advice regarding skinny guy eating with little-to-no results to show for all of that hard work.

You sometimes feel like banging your head against the wall out of frustration and are tempted to throw in the towel altogether, relegating your genetic potential as unfortunate. Pretty bleak thinking, really.

Here’s the deal: Forget that line of thinking. If you have less than stellar genetics then, good. Let’s take that as a challenge, move forward, and meet it head-on. Let’s break down what constitutes the typical skinny guy advice, throw it out, and then rebuild a brand new mindset that will get you on the right road to muscle growth, one bite at a time.

A balanced diet full of quality protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats is still the best way to go. [Photo credit: Cara Kobernik]

How Skinny Guys Are “Supposed” to Eat

Everything you may have read about skinny guys eating habits for muscle gain might have had you simply eat anything and everything. The thought process was to eat as many calories as you can—since you supposedly have nothing to lose. Copious amounts of carbohydrates, fats, and sugar were suggested and ingested without any regard for health, wellness, or optimal metabolic processing.

Many from the skinny camp who religiously stuck with said practice gained weight—but the wrong kind of weight. Skinny-fat bodies were constructed replete with twigs for arms and legs and a belly to store unwanted fat. Yes, weight was gained, but at a horrible and needless expense.

A Flawed System of Mass Gain

This unofficial skinny guy principle backfires in many ways. Let’s take a look at a few flaws in the system:

  • Blindly eating all amounts of anything will trend the lifter to eat foods that they enjoy most. Since the flood gates are opened for a free for all most will steer toward junk food, fast food, and other unhealthy choices. The result is fat gain because an excess of carbs, namely sugar, are eaten haphazardly.
  • Protein isn’t prioritized. Carbs are filling and eating the proper amounts of proteins and healthy fats take a backseat to the latest buffet special. The result: Less protein equals less protein synthesis which means less muscle building.
  • A massive amount of carbs slows you down. Playing yo-yo with your blood-sugar levels isn’t the best scenario for muscle growth. Complex carbs are still as important to the skinny guy as they ever were. Plus, excess sugar intake will only be stored as useless body fat.
  • There is no rhyme or reason. Blindly eating massive amounts of food with no plan in place isn’t the best approach either. Imagine trying to build a house without a blueprint. Making stuff up as you go is good for a night out, but not for the skinny guy trying to add quality weight.

A Better Approach for Muscle

There is a better, more effective way to pack on the good type of weight. This may sound a bit dull and mundane, but a balanced diet full of quality protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats is still the best way to go. Why not just eat everything? It’s way too much fun to pass up, right?

Eating the correct portions of macronutrients will always be the best option in the long run. You’ll be leaner, have more energy, and you will build more muscle in the meantime. Let’s now break down what constitutes a healthy eating plan that will add quality, lean muscle without the excess.

Diet Principles for the Skinny Guy

  • Eat frequently enough. Yes, meal frequency is a hotly debated topic as of late, but if you’re struggling to add muscle then you need to eat often, period. This is for the simple fact that you need to eat more quality food each day than the average Joe. Shoot for at least three square, balanced meals and two nutrient dense snacks per day. The objective isn’t to stuff yourself silly for only a meal or two, but eat more moderate-sized meals more often.
  • Eat around one gram per pound of bodyweight of high-quality protein per day. Yes, you need protein but not pounds and pounds per day of the low-quality stuff. You need your protein to work for you in an efficient way without the added calories from fat or other foodstuff fillers. Go with one gram per pound from lean meats, turkey, fish, eggs, low-fat milk, low-fat cheeses, Greek yogurt, and trustworthy protein powders.
  • Start with two grams of complex carbs per pound of bodyweight. After around four weeks or so you can increase that to three grams per pound if you aren’t gaining any weight and/or feel as if you’re not recovering from training or just simply feel drained and in need of a calorie boost. In rare cases you could have a few days of high carbs where you would increase your intake to four grams per pound, but if you find that you are gaining too much fat, cut back.
  • Eat healthy fats. Healthy fats such as avocado, nut butters, olive oil, and all types of nuts help in many ways. They provide extra energy, help regulate hormones, and provide satiety at mealtime. Since one gram of fat provides more than twice the amount of calories as carbs and protein, try not to go overboard too much.
  • Cheat. No, this isn’t a green light to go all out and eat everything in sight without any rhyme or reason. Let’s not fall back into old habits. Here I am talking about having a cheat day or two during the week. During each cheat day choose one or two meals and go wild. This way you’re not going off the deep end and jeopardizing your steadfast effort to stay on the lean side of the fence. Have a cheat meal or two and then get back on the horse.

Sample Skinny Guy Diet Plan

Now it’s time to put your money where your mouth is, literally. The following eating plan is for the average skinny lifter wanting to gain lean muscle weight. It contains around one gram of protein per pound, 2 grams of carbs per pound, and healthy fats for the 180 pound lifter.

Meal 1 – Breakfast

  • 3 whole eggs and 3 egg whites scrambled or omelet-style, 1 cup of Greek yogurt (or 1 scoop of whey protein instead of yogurt)
  • 2 slices of wheat bread (toasted) with low-sugar jam or jelly or 1 cup (dry) oatmeal mixed with skim milk or water

Meal 2 – Lunch

  • 6 to 8 ounces of chicken breast, salad with ½ avocado with an oil-based dressing, and other favorite vegetables
  • Baked potato, sweet potato, or 2 cups cooked rice


  • 2 slices or wheat bread, 6 to 8 ounces of chicken or turkey, 2 slices of cheese, low-fat mayo or mustard, and 1 piece of fruit

Meal 3 – Pre-Workout

  • 1 apple or other piece of fruit such as blueberries or banana
  • 1 cup of Greek yogurt and 1 scoop of whey protein powder
  • Handful of mixed nuts

Meal 4 – Post-Workout

  • 1 scoop of whey protein powder, 1 piece of fruit

Meal 5 – Dinner

  • 4-6 ounces of fish, chicken, ground meat or turkey, as much green vegetables as you want, salad, 1 potato or 2 cups cooked rice

The Best Advice Is to Stay Balanced

An all-day every-day buffet isn’t the best option to pack on quality, lean muscle. You still need to adhere to the basic healthy eating principles set out for every individual. Lean proteins, complex carbs, and healthy fats will work for you without all of the extra baggage that comes with daily binging. It’s time to pack on muscle one quality bite at a time.

More on mass gain:

A Simple Workout Plan for Mass Gain

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