Scrawny To Brawny│Q & A

It’s been a while since we last had a question and answer session.

As you may have noticed, we have been busy making adjustments to the site – much of which is still yet to be carried out. Today however, I had some time to rummage through my inbox and reply to the backlog of emails I have received over the past week. Somewhere deep within, I found this:

“Hi Aqil. Great blog, really inspiring, keep it up! I recently read an article you wrote on body types, which I found interesting especially as it addressed an issue I have. I would consider myself to be an ectomorph since I find it really hard to gain weight, especially muscle. I eat well, don’t drink or smoke and train to the best of my ability while doing cardio a minimum of twice a week. Are there any pointers you could give me in terms of any supplements I should take (weight gainers) or anything that I should be doing that could potentially help me build muscle? Thanks. [sic]”

Thank you for the kind words. As for your question, you can read my response after the cut.

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Firstly, I’m sorry to hear about the challenges that you’re facing in regards to gaining muscle. Though I will say this: why are you doing “a minimum” of two cardio sessions a week when your goal is to climb up the scale?

In order to gain weight, whether its muscle and/or fat, an energy surplus is required. In other words, you need to be taking in more calories than you’re burning off. Ideally, the calories that you do burn should be a result of building muscle via weight training – not cardio. Following your workouts, it’s vital that you refuel your body with the right nutrients so as to restore a positive nitrogen balance in the muscles and therefore, dodge catabolism (a state in which muscle is broken down for energy).

When weight training, keep your workouts short, but intense. I would recommend that you train for no longer than 40-50 minutes. The reason for this is two-fold: first off, although weight training stimulates muscles to grow, it also uses up energy. Therefore, lengthy sessions will force your body into an energy deficit – the opposite of what you want! Secondly, weight training inflicts stress upon the body, which triggers the release of cortisol. As I have mentioned in earlier posts, if cortisol levels peak beyond normal, then this can adversely affect testosterone levels, consequently causing the body to become catabolic.

Finally, when training, make compound exercises such as squats and deadlifts your main priority. Such exercises involve recruiting muscles across multiple muscle groups. So, not only will this help keeps your workouts short, but will also bump up the intensity too! Always begin your workout with a compound movement and finish off with isolation exercises, as the former tends to demand more from our bodies.

With energy surplus in mind, eat well and eat often! Ectomorphs tend to have a fast metabolism and as a result, find it difficult to add on size. While some may tell you otherwise, don’t be fooled into believing that you can binge on junk food, as this will only lead to a fatter you – not a fitter you! Same applies for “weight/mass gainers”; these are packed with nessercary amounts of calories and sugars, which again will result in fat gain.

Finally, I’m glad to see that you don’t drink or smoke; simply put, your muscles don’t grow inside the gym – they grow outside of the gym! By adhering to a healthy lifestyle, you are in turn creating an optimal environment for your body to grow – kind of like a plant; without sunlight, carbon dioxide, water etc. that plant will not have the means to grow. Your body is no different. Make sure that you’re getting enough sleep too as this is the time in which your muscles really recover and grow. It’s also worth mentioning that there is a strong correlation between a lack of sleep and increased levels of cortisol. Therefore, I would suggest getting anywhere between 7-8 hours of sleep per night.

Once again, thank you for your question – I hope my answer was sufficient!