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Do you struggle to put on size and label yourself a ‘hard-gainer’?

Let me tell you this, you’re not a hard-gainer, you’re an under-eater.

It’s no secret that if you want to build serious muscle mass, you’ve got to consistently eat a lot of calories.

One reason why most skinny guys stay skinny is they just don’t eat enough on a daily basis.

When it comes to fat loss, I’ve always thought that the closer you are to eating ‘clean’ most of the time, the better. This isn’t to necessarily demonise certain foods; it’s more to say that if you’re in a hard calorie deficit, you want your energy consumption to be nutrient dense and satiating to provide you with the most bang for your buck.

However, in muscle building phases, I think most skinny guys eat too clean. And with their naturally small appetites and large calorie demands, it makes consistently being in a calorie surplus tough.

If you want to add a considerable amount of muscle tissue, there’s definitely a time and place for less conventional foods to help reach your calorie targets and make life more enjoyable.

For clients who are aggressively in pursuit of added muscle tissue, I think taking a 90:10 rule to your nutrition is the way to go. Sometimes 80:20, but it really depends on what’s going on with your life, and how you can stay consistent.

Remember, muscle-building phases aren’t quick fixes; so you need to settle on a diet that you can follow day in, day out for a long period of time. Always think long term.

So how would I do it?

1. Post Workout Window

The debate as to whether the ‘anabolic window’ makes a difference is still undecided in the literature.

Anecdotally though, it is a great time to take advantage of increased insulin sensitivity and glut-4 translocation, and hammer a TON of easy digestible calories, especially from carbs.

When I’m going through muscle building phases, my carbs are typically at or above 500 grams on a daily basis. As a naturally skinny guy with a small appetite, trying to reach this target all from rice, oats and potatoes is hard work.

My favourite way to chip away at this 500g target is to have 150g Coco Pops with 2 scoops of whey poured on top as the ‘milk’.

If you ever watch me eat when my calories are high, you’ll know that I take at least 30 to 45 minutes to finish a box of chicken and rice.

However, if you give me 150g Coco Pops, I can get it in within 10 to 15 minutes! The best thing about this is that you’re getting 130g carbs in one hit, and FAST.

Other good options include:

  • Bagels and Jam
  • Any Cereal with Whey poured on top as the ‘milk’
  • Soreen Malt Loaf
  • Sorbet
  • Rice Krispies Squares

The common theme is that they’re all super easy to digest and won’t bloat you like a big box of chicken and rice would do straight after training.

Of course, you could use carb powders post training, but I’ve always found them to be unappealing because I’d rather eat something tasty. If I were to use carb powders, I’d use them intra-workout. This isn’t anything magical - it’s just another way to make hitting your calorie targets a little easier.

flexible diet_cereal

2. Cheat Meals / Spike Days

There comes a point during a muscle building phase where adding more food through traditional methods just isn’t possible without feeling terrible.

If you’re someone who’s body is ‘stubborn’, but stays lean and can burn through a lot of food on a daily basis, implementing strategic ‘cheat meals’ can help coax further muscle growth.

Here’s how to do it. Either the night before a heavy session, or immediately after, replace your normal meal with a burger and chips, pizza or something similar.

Provided all the other meals are within the required macros, I’ve found this to be a great way to add muscle tissue without accruing too much body fat.

Start with once a week, assess how your body responds, and then maybe increase it to twice a week.

flexible diet_burger

3. Living Life

There’s no point in trying to look good if you can’t ever live like a ‘normal’ human being.

When I’m in prolonged muscle building phases, I don’t want to be a slave to my Tupperware boxes or miss out on social occasions. If I made my money from bodybuilding, then sure, I might make that extra sacrifice all year round.

But I don’t, so what I’ll do is just swap a meal out for something similar when eating out. For example, if I’m due to eat a load of chicken and rice for a meal, and I’m meeting friends at Olive Garden, I’d just order half a chicken and spicy rice instead. Because it’ll taste so good and be ‘different’ to the taste buds, it’ll go down a lot easier too, making calorie targets in the day more manageable.

Now, if you’re in a fat loss phase, it’s not as simple as this. It requires a lot more diligence, planning and discipline. But for lengthy periods of muscle building, this is the 80:20 rule we spoke about earlier being applied.

flexible-diet_chicken and rice


We all know that to build muscle we need two things: PRs on the plate and PRs in the gym.

To fuel the training and the body’s stubborn ability to build muscle, we need to feed it with a lot of calories. If you’re a skinny guy who doesn’t put on fat easily, this will be tough to do just by eating chicken and rice all day.

Applying the rule of being ‘clean’ 80-90% of the time will allow you to be more flexible in your food choices to help meet calorie targets, strategically spike calories and ultimately, enjoy your life too. The key is to not take the piss with it, and know that if you want the best results, you still need to be smart to ensure long-term progress.


Akash Vaghela is the co-founder of RNT Fitness. He specialises in transforming the bodies of City executives, CEOs, actors, physique athletes and regular people who want to be in the best shape of their lives. Akash has written for T-Nation, Men’s Fitness, Men’s Health, the Square Mile and Ultimate Performance. He blends scientific knowledge, evidenced by his 1st class Sport Science degree from the University of Birmingham, with the practical experience of successfully competing in both powerlifting and bodybuilding, to generate maximum results in minimum time for his clients. Akash can be best found on Facebook by clicking here.

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