Ectomorph Diet: Shredded Skinny, Average Skinny, And Soft Skinny

Ectomorph Diet

Ectomorphs are naturally skinny and have a difficult time gaining weight. Usually, they have narrower shoulders, thin wrists, lankier arms and legs, and a lower body fat percentage compared to most people. Because many ectomorphs are narrow, their stomach size may seem small for how much energy they need to consume.

We’re assuming that most ectomorphs are tired of being skinny and are looking to gain muscle to solve their skinniness. Along with diet, it’s essential that an ectomorph also does resistance training like lifting weights. Eating more protein will stimulate muscle-protein synthesis, which is the process of adding protein to the muscles, but challenging your muscles with resistance sends the signals to your body to grow with much more intensity. So this diet ought to be combined with an intelligent resistance training plan—whether that’s bodyweight training or lifting weights. (Ideally, bodybuilding or “hypertrophy” training which focuses on causing muscle growth through moderate rep ranges.)

But first, what type of ectomorph are you? 

  • Shredded—skinny and ripped (8–12% body fat percentage)
  • Average—skinny but definition is a bit murky (13–18% body fat)
  • Soft—skinny but with more fat than you’d like, usually with too much fat on the belly—often called skinny-fat (20%+ body fat)

Figuring out which type best identifies you will help you determine your diet. 

Shredded ectomorphs can gain weight aggressively because they’re very lean, have better insulin sensitivity, and their low body fat percentage suggests that they’re more metabolically healthy. They often don’t mind gaining a little bit of fat if it means gaining double the amount of muscle in the same amount of time/effort. For example, I gained 21 pounds in 30 days because I was so lean that I didn’t mind gaining a bit of fat. They can typically aim to gain 1–2 pounds per week.

Average ectomorphs will want to focus on gaining weight more leanly—often called lean bulking. This means that they will want to minimize fat gain as they cautiously build muscle. This means that they will be gaining weight at a slower pace, around 0.5–1 pound per week to minimize fat gain.

Soft ectomorphs  (a skinny-fat person) will not want to focus on gaining weight. They will want to simultaneously burn off their excess fat while gaining muscle and getting stronger—often called body recomposition. This means getting into a calorie deficit, which means taking in less energy than they’re eating while eating a high-protein diet. This will improve their muscle-to-fat ratio. (Sometimes being in a calorie deficit is called cutting—keeping your muscle while burning fat—but a skinny-fat person will want to build muscle at the same time.)

Female Ectomorph Exceptions

These general rules apply to female ectomorphs too, except if they may want to cut their weight-gain rate in half because it is harder for women to burn fat later compared to men. So they should gain weight a bit slower and more leanly (as a general recommendation.) For example, it might look like this for female ectomorphs:

  • Shredded female—skinny and ripped (17–21% body fat). Gain 0.5–1 pound per week.
  • Average female—skinny woman with murky definition ( 22–27% body fat) Gain 0.25–0.5 pounds per week.
  • Soft—skinny-fat woman, often with too much on the belly (29%+ body fat percentage.) Focus on body recomposition, the process of burning fat and building muscle at the same time.

The Three Ectomorphic Diets

Shredded Ectomorph Diet—Aggressive Bulking For Gaining Weight

    • Calorie (energy) surplus of 500 calories daily—250 for shredded women. More energy will help hormonally to build muscle and help with energy when you’re lifting weights.
    • High protein diet of 0.8 grams of protein per body weight pound. This protein is necessary for the building blocks of muscle gain. The recommendation is lower compared to the other groups since a calorie surplus improves the body’s hormonal processes behind muscle protein synthesis.
    • Eat 80% of whole foods. When you’re leaner, you have a bit more freedom when it comes to processed foods. However, don’t go overboard and do a dirty bulk by eating at McDonald’s every second meal. There’s no point in gaining too much extra fat. Try and aim to cook most of the foods that you eat.
    • Avoid restrictive diets that can limit calories. This includes most diets like plant-based, carnivore, low-carb, low-fat, Whole30, intermittent-fasting etc. which are usually just weight-loss diets in disguise.
    • Drink liquid calories that limit chewing. Smoothies with protein powder and milk are great options. In an inspiring example, it’s easier for Rocky to drink five eggs than to cook them up and chew them (see the muscle-nog weight-gainer recipe on Bony to Bombshell.)
    • Eat foods that limit chewing. This means choosing hamburgers over steaks, which are essentially pre-chewed. And anything that tenderizes the food, such as cooking broccoli (compared to eating it raw.)
    • Eat calorie-dense healthy foods. Foods that have the most energy-per-gram are high-calorie foods. Great sources of these types of foods are almonds, cashews, full-fat dairy (bonus points for pasture-raised) like cheese and yohgurt, avocado, etc. Trail mix is a great example.
    • Bake foods to remove water, and choose dried fruits. Water increases fullness, so when we remove the water, we can eat more food. Examples of this are baking potatoes instead of boiling them. Or eating raisins instead of grapes.
    • Eat more often by snacking between meals. Snacking easily increases daily energy intake. Main meals become slightly smaller, but over the entire day, more calories are consumed. This is a key trick for those who can’t eat large meals in one sitting.
    • Try the “buffet” effect. In a Bony to Beastly article on eating more food, Shane discusses the idea behind different flavours driving eating. It’s a lot easier to eat more food when you’re getting  variety of different sauces, spices, and types of food.
    • Eat a healthy (homemade) dessert. There’s always some room for some more food when switching from salty, savoury foods to sweet ones.

Average Ectomorph Diet—Lean Bulking For Muscle Gain

  • Small calorie surplus of 250 calories on workout days—100 calories for average ectomorphic women. In a research review, the authors covered one study, and over four weeks, the higher calorie surplus group gained 2.4kg of lean mass and 1.8kg of fat (paywall). The lower calorie surplus group gained 1.2kg of lean mass and 0.3kg of fat. So the guys who gained more slowly had a lean gain ratio of 4:1 to fat, and the high-calorie surplus group gained at a much worse ratio of 4:3. So reining in the calories and gaining more slowly and controlled will minimize fat gain while gaining.
  • Eat a high protein diet of 1g per body weight pound.
  • Experiment with calorie cycling, especially if you’re only lifting weights 3x a week. Calorie cycling is when you stack calories before and after your workouts. Eating a large, carb-filled meal in the hours leading up to your training will help to improve your workout. Then after your workout, you can load up on the calories knowing that your body is repairing and primed to build muscle (and not fat) and restoring glycogen stores. If you’re lifting 3x a week, and your last workout for the week is Friday afternoon, you won’t need a calorie surplus on Sunday or a large breakfast on Monday morning as it’s been 48 hours+ since you last worked out.
  • Experiment with lifting weights at a higher frequency, like 5x to 6x a week. This will improve nutrient partitioning by having a workout every single day—directing more of the energy you eat to repair and glycogen restoring. You’d split up your regular 3x workout in half across the days to do the same amount of work. 
  • Avoid eating food after sundown when your body gears up into nighttime clean-up mode. After sundown, our bodies’ hormones change and most calories eaten are stored as fat. Consistency is, though, so if you enjoy having a snack with a movie, then go for it.
  • Include a short walk outdoors (even as little as five minutes) after your biggest meals. This walk will help improve nutrient partitioning—meaning more will be used to build muscle, and the walk will help to prevent fat gain.
  • Eat 90% whole foods. Most of your diet should come from real foods that you cook or prepare yourself. Food that comes out of a box, a restaurant, or a cafeteria is prepared with the lowest quality ingredients and bad types of ingredients. For example, they’ll be cooked in cheap vegetable oil (soybean, corn, canola, etc.) that gets preferentially stored as fat. Instead, cook at home with high-quality extra-virgin olive oil (or another high-quality real oil of your choice) or real butter.

Soft Ectomorph Diet—Cutting / Body Recomposition

  • Calorie deficit of 300 calories per day. This will make your body begin burning regular fat (subcutaneous fat under the skin.) Don’t lose more than 1% of your total bodyweight per week. So if you’re 160 pounds, don’t lose weight faster than 1.6 pounds per week. If your weight stays steady while lifting weights, you may be burning 1 pound of fat and gaining 1 pound of lean mass—which is good. You could eat even less energy for even faster fat-burning results.
  • Eat a high protein diet of 1g per body weight pound. In a calorie deficit, protein needs to increase for a few reasons. The biggest reason is because the hormonal signals of muscle-protein synthesis decrease, and so we become less efficient with protein, so you must eat more. It is critical to avoid the yo-yo weight loss effect to eat enough protein. Otherwise, your organs will shrink due to protein loss, and your health will be jeopardized (and you’ll find it impossible to stick to a diet.)
  • Experiment with time-restricted eating like 16:8 intermittent fasting. This means stacking all of your food in an eight-hour window and fasting for the other 16 hours. The most common form of this is to skip breakfast and eat from 12:00 pm to 8 pm. What this does is removes the energy from your breakfast. Your lunch and dinner will become larger, and will still be filling and enjoyable. But these meals will not be so large to offset missing the energy from breakfast, and so research has found most people fall into a calorie deficit without tracking calories. Intermittent fasting also improves nutrient partitioning but reducing energy when you’re not exercising. NOTE* this is not necessary, and keeping a food log can work just as well. Some people don’t do well with time-restricted eating as some become shaky and easily irritated.
  • Eat mostly high protein-to-energy ratio foods. This means foods that have a high level of protein per gram compared to how many calories they are. In a nutshell, this means meat and vegetables. The top foods are fish, protein powders, meat, Greek yohgurt, and with a lower ratio—eggs.
  • Limit high energy-to-protein ratio foods. These are foods packed with energy but little-to-no protein. This includes foods like cooking oils, fruit juice, processed flour, processed sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, etc. Be careful about how you cook foods. It may be best to BBQ your steaks and poach your eggs.
  • Limit high carb/high-fat combos. This is technically covered in the last point, but carbs/fats become more powerful when combined. It’s hard to overeat table sugar or butter on its own, but when you combine them all together with flour, now you’ve got a delicious shortbread cookie.
  • Eat more fibre. Foods high in fibre lower the glycemic load of food while also filling us up more, making us feel more satisfied. If you find yourself eating some grains, opt for the fibrous versions that are labelled as whole grains. Oats, whole wheat, bulgar, quinoa, etc.
  • Avoid the appetite tricks of the “shredded” ectomorph. Do not drink calories, reduce chewing, or eat snacks. Instead, make it harder for yourself to consume calories. Drink water with meals, eat chewier foods and leave the water in the foods—eating grapes over raisins, etc.
  • Experiment with higher frequency resistance training, like lifting weights five or six times a week. You’d split up a regular workout plan of three days a week in half, making your workouts much shorter. This would improve workout quality (even while being in a deficit) while also improving the where your calories go that you eat.
  • Include more walking—especially after large meals. Walking will help increase muscle-protein synthesis, and help direct more of those calories to build muscle, and walking has a superpower ability to burn stubborn belly-fat (includes visceral fat). Burning this stubborn fat isn’t as simple as cutting calories, you need to do aerobic work like walking to deal with it as it’s a metabolic issue. Aim for 7,500 total steps as your first goal, and try and get most of them outdoors.
  • Avoid food after sundown, and wear your blue-blockers to reduce appetite cravings. Our body uses light to organize how our hormones fire. Bright, blue artificial night activates our appetite as if it were still daylight. This light also suppresses melatonin, a hormone that burns fat as our body goes into clean-up mode to restore after all the stresses of the day.

The Similarities Across The Ectomorph Diets

As you can see, there are a lot of similarities between the diets. They all hinge on:

  • Eating a high-protein diet to maximize muscle-building.
  • Eating a whole food diet that is mostly cooked at home to limit low-quality and bad ingredients like industrially processed vegetable oils.
  • Doing resistance training, like lifting weights (especially bodybuilding/hypertrophy style) and waking enough outdoors.

The biggest difference comes down to energy intake. Those who are shredded with little fat stores don’t have a lot of energy to draw from, so they need to eat more and can aggressively bulk. Those who are more average, have some energy and so they need to be a bit more cautious as they bulk leanly. Those who are soft and are skinny-fat have plenty of energy to tap into, and so they should focus mainly on eating plenty of protein and low-calorie veggies. This will help them “cut” off their fat while building muscle—what is often called body recomposition.

High Protein Diet for muscle gain

Do macronutrients (macros) matter in an ectomorph’s diet?

Macronutrients are known as:

  • Protein (nitrogen + amino acids)
  • Fats (hydrocarbons)
  • Carbohydrates

In super simple terms, it comes down to protein and energy (carbon.) (Minerals and vitamins are also necessary for life and are contained in those things as well.)

Both carbs and fats are energy, but carbohydrates are water-soluble while fats aren’t. So they get treated differently in our bodies. Carbs end up getting stored in the liver and as glycogen in muscle (with a tiny amount in the blood). Fats get stored in “adipose” tissue or fat.

Glycogen (from carbs) is fast energy—it’s powerful. The higher intensity, the higher your heart-rate is, the more carbs you’re burning. As Dr Ted Naiman says in the PE: Diet, carbs are like nitro-boost.

But carbs are a lot heavier than fats because it’s fully hydrated and ready to use. If your body was all carbs, you’d be too heavy. Carbs are around 6x heavier than fats. On a gram-per-gram basis, fats are much more energy-efficient per weight (this is why they’re nine calories per gram instead of 4 calories per gram like carbs). Fat allows us to easily and efficiently carry around this extra energy on our bodies without it being too heavy.

So your ability to handle a lot of carbs will depend on how much intense exercise you do, how lean you are, how muscular you are. There are other factors to consider as well, such as gut adaptations (if someone eats keto for a long time, their gut will become less tolerant of carbs.)

So in the mainstream world, where no one does high-intensity exercise like resistance training or sprinting or jumping—they don’t need many carbs. So they eat a diet like the ketogenic diet (low carb) and without many carbs to restore the glycogen in their muscles from daily use, their body burns fat to continually provide energy, and the weight comes off easily at first.

The problem with this is they still aren’t exercising. It would be better to exercise and to eat some levels of carbohydrates. This is especially true of high-quality, whole sources of carbs (with lots of minerals, vitamins, and fibre.) Good examples of more nutrient-dense carbs are:

  • Vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus
  • High-quality grains like oats, quinoa, bulgar, etc.
  • Legumes like beans, chickpeas, etc.

The worst macros would be to be in a high-fat / high-carb / low-protein diet, which is typical in the modern world. 

What would work best for you depends on your preferences, lifestyle, gut adaptations, and possibly genetics:

  • high protein + balanced carbs and fats
  • high protein + lower carb
  • high protein + lower fats

Those who are shredded skinny will need more total energy. Because they’re so lean (making them insulin sensitive) and will be eating a large amount of calories anyway (getting them plenty of nutrients), not only can they “get away with” higher energy sources, they may require them to get into the calorie surplus they’re looking for. Examples like high-quality flour, oil, fresh juice, copious amounts of nuts, dried fruits, etc.


Summary

  • Shredded ectomorphs
    • Skinny and ripped—8–12% body fat percentage
    • Eat a calorie surplus of 500 calories a day (250 calories for shredded females)
    • Eat a high-protein diet of 0.8gram per body weight pound
    • Eat mainly whole foods that you cook yourself
    • Avoid restrictive diets that can limit calories.
    • Drink liquid calories that limit chewing like smoothies and milk.
    • Eat foods that limit chewing like hamburgers and chilis.
    • Eat calorie-dense healthy foods like nuts and dried fruits.
    • Bake foods to remove water, and choose dried fruits.
    • Eat more often by snacking between meals to increase total daily calories.
    • Try the “buffet” effect by adding more spices and more variety of foods.
      • Eat a healthy (homemade) dessert.
  • Average ectomorph
    • Skinny but definition is a bit murky—13–18% body fat 
    • Small calorie surplus of 250 calories around workouts (100 calories more around workouts for females)
    • Small calorie surplus of 250 calories on workout days—100 calories for average ectomorphic women.
    • Eat a high protein diet of 1g per body weight pound.
    • Experiment with calorie cycling, especially if you’re only lifting weights 3x a week.
    • Experiment with exercising at a higher frequency, like 5x to 6x a week.
    • Avoid eating food after sundown when your body gears up into nighttime clean-up mode.
    • Include a short walk outdoors (even as little as five minutes) after your biggest meals. 
    • Eat 90% whole foods that you cook at home.
  • Soft Ectomorph
    • Skinny but with more fat than they’d like, often called skinny-fat—20%+ body fat
    • Calorie deficit of 300 calories per day.
    • Eat a high protein diet of 1g per body weight pound.
    • Experiment with time-restricted eating like 16:8 intermittent fasting.
    • Eat mostly high protein-to-energy ratio foods. 
    • Limit high energy-to-protein ratio foods.
    • Limit high carb/high-fat combos.
    • Eat more fibre.
    • Avoid the appetite tricks of the “shredded” ectomorph.
    • Include more walking—especially after large meals.
    • Avoid eating food after sundown when your body gears up into nighttime clean-up mode.

All of these ectomorphs will want to do some sort of resistance training, like lifting weights in the hypertrophy style.

  • If you’re shredded, you may like the comprehensive program Bony to Beastly to help you rapidly bulk up.
  • If you’re looking to do lean gains or body recomposition, you may like our True Gains program that will help you build muscle while staying lean (or getting even leaner at the same time.)
True Gains Program

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