How To Gain Muscle As An Ectomorph

By an Ectomorph Bodybuilder and Nutrition Coach

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTUpdated: January 28, 2023

When you’re an ectomorph, it can feel like you can’t gain weight no matter how hard you try. And if you do gain weight, you get “skinny fat” instead of lean and muscular.

I know this because I have an ectomorph metabolism and struggled to bulk up for years. It wasn’t until I change the way I ate and exercised that I saw results.

So I want to teach you the ectomorph diet and workout plan that will help you add pounds of lean muscle.

Ectomorph Diet And Workout

What is An Ectomorph?

The ectomorph body type is naturally lean with a lighter bone structure, narrow waist, and small joints. So the overall body shape of an ectomorph is quite linear, with fewer curves.

As an example, picture the athletes at a track meet. The shot-putters are generally endomorphs, sprinters are mesomorphs, and the distance runners are stereotypical ectomorphs.

However, being a pure ectomorph isn’t that common, and usually, people are a mix of at least two body types. For example, an ecto-meso body type is a mix of ectomorph and mesomorph, which is lean and muscular, like the physique of a long jumper.

ectomorph body type chart

How to Know if You’re an Ectomorph

From the definition above, you should have a good idea of whether you are an ectomorph. But it can still be challenging to tell what mix you have if you’re somewhere between body types.

For that reason, I put together this quick checklist of ectomorph traits:

  • Your thumb and middle finger overlap when wrapped around your wrist

  • A size medium shirt fits loose

  • You lose weight when you don’t watch what you eat

  • Skinny jeans fit comfortably

If you can relate to all of these statements, you’re probably an ectomorph. Even if you agreed with only 1 or 2 of them, you’re likely an ecto-meso body type.

But if you’re still unsure, you can take my free body type quiz.

Take This Quiz to Reveal Your True Body Type

ectomorph body type chart

What Makes Ectomorphs Unique?

So what causes ectomorphs to be naturally skinny when most people struggle to lose weight? The main factor is metabolic rate.

Ectomorphs are more likely to have a fast metabolism. In other words, they burn more calories when just sitting around. And that means they don’t gain weight easily.

While that may sound like a blessing, a super-fast metabolism makes it difficult to gain muscle. So ectomorphs should eat and train differently than the average person.

ectomorph diet and workout

Ectomorph Diet: The FEED System

Dieting and nutrition advice gets complicated quickly. So I devised a simple four-part framework to make the ectomorph diet simple. I call it the F.E.E.D. system.

This appropriately named acronym stands for Food choices, Energy balance, Energy source, and meal Distribution. In short, you should focus on foods, calories, macros, and timing.

  • Food Choices – Healthy foods and quality ingredients

  • Energy Balance – Understanding calories in vs. calories out

  • Energy Source – Macronutrient ratio of protein, carbs, and fat

  • Distribution of Meals – Why “when” you eat matters

1. Food Choices: Junk In = Junk Out

When I was a young bodybuilder, I thought I just needed to eat more. Like many newbies, I didn’t pay much attention to what I was eating. Instead, I opted for easy calories from fast food or microwavable meals.

My lunch often consisted of an entire box of Velveeta shells and cheese (about 1,100 calories)! But junk food made me skinny fat instead of just skinny. And had other negative effects like bloating, bad skin, and high blood pressure.

So if your fitness goal is muscle gain and not just scale weight gain, then you need to make healthy food choices. As a general rule of thumb, opt for more whole foods and minimally processed ingredients.

Related: Dirty Bulk vs Clean Bulk Results

2. Energy Balance: Calories In vs Out

Energy balance is the difference between how many calories you eat and how many calories you burn. Of course, to gain weight, you have to eat more calories than you burn.

Generic nutrition advice tells men to eat more than 2,500 calories per day to gain weight. And that women generally need around 2,000 calories or more to gain.

However, as an ectomorph, you burn more calories than the average person due to a higher resting metabolic rate (RMR). When you combine that with your exercise and daily activity, you may be shocked by how much you need to eat to gain weight.

Altogether, your daily calories burned are called your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). And it’s imperative to know this number to ensure you’re eating enough to gain weight.

Next Step: Free TDEE Calculator

Ectomorph Diet Energy Balance

3. Energy Source: Carbs/Protein/Fat

Your calorie target is important to ensure you have enough fuel to grow. But almost just as important is the macronutrients that make up those calories.

These days, there always seems to be something new you’re not supposed. And low-carb diets are all the rage. However, ectomorphs burn a lot of energy, so we need more fuel from carbs than most people.

In addition, protein is vitally important in any muscle-gain diet. Finally, dietary fat is also necessary for energy, but ectomorphs can get by with a little less than other body types.

As a starting point, I recommend ectomorphs get 40-50% of their calories from carbohydrates when training. Along with 30% of calories from protein and the remainder from fat.

4. Distribution: When to Eat for Maximum Gains

Another trend in fitness these days is intermittent fasting, or only eating for a short period each day. While IF has its benefits, and I use it myself to burn fat, ectomorphs trying to gain weight need to eat all the time.

And there are specific times when certain nutrients are more important. For example, getting protein and carbs before training is good for providing fuel and preventing muscles from breaking down.

In addition, consuming protein and carbs after workouts helps promote recovery and maximize muscle gains. This “anabolic window” is another controversial topic, but the data suggests it is important when other areas of your diet are already optimized.

You only need moderate carbs to refill your glycogen stores during the rest of the day. So your other meals should be a balanced diet of fat, protein, and carbs.

Ectomorph Diet Body Composition

Ectomorph Workout Plan

As with nutrition, the ectomorph workout routine is slightly different than plans for other body types.

Like I mentioned earlier, ectomorphs need to be cautious of burning too many calories. So your workouts and daily activity need to be more efficient!

1. Resistance Training

To gain muscle, ectomorph resistance training workouts must be intense to stimulate growth. But not so intense that you can’t recover before the next session.

Therefore, ectomorphs should do the minimum work required to stimulate growth. That means heavy-weight, high-intensity workouts that last only 45 to 60 minutes. Then get out of the gym and grow!

Related: How to Build More Muscle In Less Time

With this in mind, you should allow 24-72 hours between workouts. And limit training to 3 to 5 days per week, depending on your ability to recover.

2. Prioritize Recovery

Along with high metabolisms, ectomorphs may also have overactive nervous systems. That condition manifests as a “high-strung” personality type where you feel like you can’t take a break.

This fight-or-flight mentality keeps you in a catabolic state even when you’re inactive. Therefore, ectomorphs need to chill out. Take a few moments each day to give your mind and body a break.

In addition, make sure you get plenty of quality sleep. At least 7 hours per night, but preferably 8 to 9.

3. Should Ectomorphs Do Cardio?

Ectomorphs excel at aerobic exercise due to their light frames and low body fat. However, cardio is an inherently catabolic activity. That means it can be counterproductive for muscle gain, particularly for ectomorphs.

Also, cardio burns even more precious calories! For example, 30 minutes of jogging on a treadmill burns anywhere from 300 to 450 calories. And you would need to eat another decent-sized meal to get back to energy balance.

Therefore, ectomorphs should limit cardio to 20-minute sessions three times per week. Or eliminate cardio completely for periods when you want to maximize muscle gain.

Calories Burned Calculator

Custom Ectomorph Diet & Workout Plan

The information above gives you the foundation for gaining weight as an ectomorph. But you might want a detailed blueprint to build your ultimate body.

So I’ve created a body type-specific diet plan and workout routine that shows you exactly what to eat and how to train to gain muscle. You get calorie & macro targets and personalized recipes that fit your macros (no counting needed).

In addition, you can even get custom workouts designed for your goal and schedule. So you have a complete ectomorph diet and workout plan on your computer or phone.

ectomorph diet plan example
  • Transform your body with goal-specific calories & macros
  • Easily plan meals with a daily menu built around your schedule
  • Simplify meal prep with delicious recipes formulated to fit your macros
  • Make better food choices with a grocery list right on your phone
  • Get instant access to your online dashboard

Simple 3 Minute Proats Recipe

Protein oatmeal (aka proats) makes your breakfast better. This simple proats recipe gives you a complete meal with loads of flavor.

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