Building Lean Muscle, Part 6: Ten Quick Tips for Skinny Athletes

Head’s up: in this article, we use the word “skinny” to describe an athlete with low body fat and lean muscle percentages, and do not attach any meaning to it, derogatory or otherwise.

If you’re a skinny athlete looking for the fastest way to gain muscle, there’s one thing that you absolutely must take into account. That thing? Your diet.

As much as you may hate to hear it, your diet will essentially determine your results. Especially for skinny guys and gals, if the right diet to get muscle is not in place, you will stay the same size you currently are regardless of what you do in the gym.

For you skinny athletes, your metabolism is faster than most normal guys or girls and as such, it’s going to feel that as you eat more and more food, your metabolism just keeps getting faster and faster. It’s almost like your body is out to get you – and prevent you from gaining any weight whatsoever.

Fortunately, if you use the right techniques in your diet to get muscle, you can get around this. It won’t necessarily be easy, but it can be done and you can unveil new lean muscle mass like you’ve never done before.

Let’s go over 10 QUICK TIPS that you need to know if you want to learn the fastest way to gain muscle.


1. Eat nuts on the reg.

The very first must-do for the skinny guy/gal is to start snacking on nuts regularly. Nuts are easy to pack and carry around with you and can easily provide a good 300+ calories per handful.

This is a very easy way to instantly boost your calorie intake and experience safe weight gain. Plus, they take up so little room in the stomach, you will hardly even know you’ve eaten.


2. Eat dried fruit (and fresh).

Another quick trick to help get more calories in is to also opt for dried fruit rather than fresh fruit more often. While fresh fruit is definitely healthy and part of a good muscle-building diet, it will fill you up more quickly than dried fruit will.

If you’re really struggling to meet your calorie intake, opt for dried fruit more often. In fact, mix some dried fruit with the nuts mentioned above into your own nutritionally dense, calorie-packed trail mix. It’s a great snack to take to munch on between classes.


3. Eat oats cold.

Oatmeal is a fantastic carbohydrate source that’s recommended in any diet for gaining muscle, but for you skinny athletes, you’ll want to serve this one up cold. Cooked oatmeal takes up far too much room in the stomach and will instantly cause you to feel full, on very few calories.

Eat it raw however and you can easily down 400-500 calories’ worth of oatmeal, plus the added milk you pour on top of it. Toss in some slivered nuts, raisins, and maybe even a tablespoon or two of peanut butter for more flavor and you have a very high calorie breakfast to start your day.


4. Eat plenty of lean meat and fatty fish.

Two of the top protein sources that you should have in your muscle-building arsenal are lean red meat and fatty varieties of fish. Both of these are going to be excellent for the skinny guy and gal because they not only provide the protein you need to build more lean muscle mass, but they’re also going to give you some healthy fat as well. This means you’ll take in more calories overall with these choices, moving you closer to your goal to experience safe muscle gain.

While chicken and turkey can also definitely be eaten, make sure you are consuming higher-calorie protein sources at least a few times per week.


5. Drink your calories.

The next quick tip for the skinny athlete is to make sure you drink some of your calories. Most people won’t register liquid calories like they will solid food calories, so you won’t feel as stuffed throughout the day with higher calorie beverages in place. Chocolate or regular milk, protein smoothies, or V8 juice for extra nutrients are all terrific options for you. Frappucinnos? Not so much.


6. Eat six times per day.

You must eat 6 to 8 times per day on your diet to put on muscle. The more frequently you eat, the smaller those meals can be, so the more tolerable it’ll be to get them in. Plus, you’ll likely be able to eat more total calories over the course of the day as well, so it’s a win-win on that front.


7. Avoid low-density food.

The next piece of advice that all diet plans to build muscle for skinny athletes should use is to avoid too many low-density foods. This includes high volumes of fresh fruits and vegetables, soups, cooked oatmeal, popcorn, and any other food that offers high volume for few calories. Instead, you want the opposite: foods that have the highest calorie density so you can get the most bang for your buck.


8. Smear on the almond butter.

As a skinny guy putting together a diet to build muscle, almond butter is your best friend. Smear natural almond butter on everything possible: fresh fruit, whole-wheat toast or bagels, etc. This is a fast and easy way to boost your calorie intake and get safe muscle gain.


9. Pre-cook your meals.

Pre-cooking your meals is also a must as you go about your diet to build muscle. Most skinny guys and gals will have trouble finding the time to cook enough food each day, but if you cook in larger batches, this becomes far more manageable. Remember: you can easily freeze most foods for later consumption as well to further reduce your prep time.


10. Avoid weight-gain shakes.

Finally, one thing you don’t want to do with your diet to get muscle is consume weight-gainer shakes. Commercial weight-gainer shakes generally are high in sugar and poor in nutritional quality, so prepare your own instead. Make them with protein powder, ground oats, and ground flaxseeds or dried coconut for healthy fats. Mix with milk and, if you have a blender available, some frozen fruit as well.



Remember: no muscle-building diet is complete without a proper training plan. If you are going to ask your body to turn excess calories into lean muscle tissue, you must put that muscle to work. Strength training on a periodized program, along with following these 10 quick nutritional tips, will help skinny athletes put on lean muscle safely and quickly. Stay tuned for Building Lean Muscle, Part 7, where I'll share some of my favorite muscle-building snacks to help you stay on track all day.


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Mike Bewley, MA, CSCS, C-SPN, USAW-I is a guest contributor to the Volt blog. He is a Strength and Conditioning Coach at Clemson University, a specalist in sports nutrition, and the founder of online nutrition platform NutraCarina.