By Rob Sulaver, C.S.C.S. Men's Fitness
Ectomorph /ˈektəˌmôrf/ n. - any dude who tries to "eat big and lift big" but ends up looking more like Napoleon Dynamite than Thor. See also: manorexic.
In a world that keeps getting fatter, it's not easy being an ectomorph. When everyone around you can't seem to keep the weight off, you have trouble keeping weight on. Your girlfriend looks at you with envy because you can pound a cheeseburger and fries without adding an inch to your waist, but the same fate seems to curse you when trying to add an inch to your arms.
The fact is, ectomorphs have trouble adding fat and muscle. Commonly referred to in the gym as "hard-gainers," they are thyroid dominant, their sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive, and Oprah would do anything for their carb tolerance and metabolic rate. Their natural state is skinny and lightly muscled, which is perfectly fine if you're into that sort of thing. But often, ectomorphs were bullied in the third grade and ergo would like to add some lean muscle to their frame. That's when things get tricky.
If you are an ectomorph and you are trying to add lean body mass, you need to take some of the rules that apply to weight-loss and turn them on their head.
Take Advantage of Carbs
A much higher percentage of your caloric intake should come from carbohydrates. The nice thing about carbs is that we can eat boat-loads of them without getting full. Use that to your advantage by eating a generous serving of carbs at every meal. Starchy, unprocessed, whole grain carbs will help you feel and look your best—opt for sweet potatoes over white bread.
Drink simple carbs during your workout. If anyone should be drinking calories, it's the ectomorph. You'll feel energized and have more to give, especially towards the end of a grueling workout. Don't get in the habit of drinking sugary carbs all day, however. Outside of your workout window (from the start of your workout until about an hour after your last lift), keep your carbs unprocessed, starchy, and whole, as mentioned above.
Don't Skimp on Protein
Also have a post workout protein shake. That's right, in addition to a carb drink during the workout, you should have a protein shake immediately after your workout. Post workout protein does wonders for recovery and allows your hard work in the gym to pay off. Adding some carbs to your shake (berries, honey, almond milk) is a way to sneak in some extra calories and make your shake delightfully delicious.
Push your calorie intake until you start gaining mass. You want to do the exact opposite of someone trying to lose weight. Add about 500 calories to your diet and see if your weight starts to increase. If it doesn't, try reducing your non-resistance exercise (any cardio-based exercise). Still no weight-gain? Add another 500 calories to your diet. Repeat until the scale starts to move.
You need to eat every two to four hours. Because your metabolic rate is so fast, you need to constantly be fueling your engine. If you want to get bigger, eating needs to become your job. Endomorphs (naturally broad and "thick-boned") also need to eat often but for exactly the opposite reasons. For endomorphs it helps with control, for ectomorphs it helps with excess.
All About Balance
Protein requirements are still important. Like all good eaters, you should be eating protein with every meal. That means eggs for breakfast, mid-morning nuts (which are mostly fat, but contain protein), chicken for lunch, a post workout protein shake, and steak for dinner. Mmm. Manhood.
Fruits and vegetables are still important. Vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients are in these foods that are absolutely essential for you to grow and be healthy. Don't allow ectomorphia to be an excuse to eat crap. A healthy diet always includes plants also with every meal.
Ultimately, getting bigger is not an easy task for the ectomorph. Most of the information out there is about weight loss. Some of those rules need to be broken and some of those rules still apply. But a smart nutrition plan will make all of the difference when going from she-man to He-Man.