Ectomorph Diet Guidelines
This is one long article precisely because it is an extremely important one.
Not only can it help you gain weight effectively, it will also help you achieve a lifetime of health.
So please read through this article and adhere to the guidelines shared.
Ectomorph Diet Guidelines
1. Eat Regularly
Spread your ectomorph diet into 6 smaller meals daily, with an interval of 2-4 hours between each meal.
Eating regularly will prevent your body from switching into starvation mode.
It will also negate the problem of heavy meals in one sitting – where excess calories are stored as fats since your body cannot use up all the calories.
This is also a common problem with ectomorphs, me included, who can’t stand eating so much all at one go.
2. Drink Lots of Water
If your muscles become dehydrated by only 3 per cent, you will lose 10% of your contractile strength and 8% of speed (1)!
Water balance is the most important variable in sporting performance and the maintenance of good health.
Drink loads as you need water to transport nutrients (namely protein) around your body!
The quality of water you drink also affects the quality of your muscles. If possible, get a trusted water purifying machine, though it is not necessary.
3. Eat Foods High in Complex Carbohydrates
First, a short primer on carbohydrates.
There are three types of carbohydrates: starch, sugars and fibers.
They can also be classified into two categories – simple (e.g. sugars) and complex (e.g. starch, fibers).
Simple carbs include sodas, sweets, chocolates, white rice etc while complex carbs include fruits & vegetables, whole grains, nuts & seeds, brown rice etc
In layman’s term, simple carbs are easily digested by the body whereas complex carbs take longer to break down.
Next, I want to shoot down a myth. Theoretically, it makes sense to consume simple carbs post workout for two reasons:
- To quickly replenish the depleted glycogen stores (carbs stored in the muscles for energy)
- When you ingest simple carbs, it will quickly raise the levels of insulin (function: regulate blood sugar level), which will also help you improve the uptake of protein
Why the myth of ingesting simple carbs post workout is wrong
- Your glycogen stores will typically not be depleted by more than 30% post workout, unless you are performing exhaustive endurance work or if you are planning to train the same muscle groups in the next 24 hours (2) (3)
- Your muscles are temporarily insulin resistant post workout due to tissue micro-injuries which impair the mechanism that utilizes glucose in your muscle. By ingesting high levels of simple carbs, it will disrupt your insulin sensitivity (4)
- The real issue is insulin sensitivity, not levels of insulin. Studies have found that when insulin sensitivity is high, a low level of insulin is enough to trigger the protein deposit process for muscle growth and repair (4)
- Studies have also found that post workout insulin levels that were 30x higher did not affect protein synthesis (5)
Make complex carbs your primary source of carbs
- Numerous studies have shown a positive association between higher and increased risk of type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease with simple carbs (6)
- Simple carbs lead to large spikes in blood sugar resulting in crashes and subsequent food cravings. Complex ones keep you going consistently throughout the day
- Complex carbs tend to be high in various other important nutrients, vitamins and minerals
Understanding this about carbs is important, it makes your weight gain healthier and might even save your life.
But hang on, the thing about the “simple” and “complex” classification does not tell the whole story..
This is because some simple carbs actually do not have much of an effect on blood sugar and vice versa.
As such, the Glycemic Index and the Glycemic Load were born. To learn more, join my free inner circle.
4. Consume Enough Protein
You need protein to build muscles, which is pretty obvious.
Protein also ensures your body functions well. This is due to the amino acids found in protein which is needed to form enzymes.
They are also used to make neuro chemicals that are used in your brain and nervous system. Since our nervous system controls our muscles, it makes sense to keep them well nourished.
The million dollar question then is how much is enough?
This article by builtlean gives a pretty good breakdown (7), which I will show briefly here.
- The American Dietetic Association’s recommended daily allowance is 0.36g of protein per pound of bodyweight
- The National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends 0.4g to 0.6g for active people and 0.8g for competitive athletes.
For ectomorphs aiming to put on muscles, aiming upwards of between 0.8g – 1.2g seems to be a good range.
To be honest, I would not recommend going above 1g of protein per lbs body weight, as many studies have shown that going above that does not have a statistically significant difference with 0.82g/lbs for protein synthesis.
This is unless you have unusally high levels of anabolic hormones.
Menno has written a really good article to explain why from an analysis of many studies, do check it out. (8)
The good thing is it’s still safe to test it on yourself.
Going above till 1.2g or 1.4g/lbs will not harm your body (maybe your wallet), but don’t go crazy and consume 2g or more.
5. Don’t Fear Fats
Fats is a really misunderstood topic.
The traditional hypothesis that was believed is as shown below (9):
- Bad fats:
- Saturated fat: Animal sources. Raises cholesterol levels and unhealthy LDL cholesterol which leads to heart diseases
- Trans fat: Made from oil through a process (partial hydrogenation). Raises unhealthy LDL cholesterol and lowers healthy HDL cholesterol
- Good fats:
- Monounsaturated fat: Improves blood cholesterol level, benefits insulin levels and blood sugar control
- Polyunsaturated fat: Essential because our bodies can’t produce them. Improves blood cholesterol level
- Omega 3 fatty acid: Numerous body functions (e.g. blood clotting, building cell membranes, protect against heart disease and many other diseases)
- Omega 6 fatty acid: Lowers LDL cholesterol, reduces inflammation and protective against heart disease
It actually turns out that the culprit of heart diseases was really sugar, rather than saturated fats. (6)
Recently, from a meta-analysis of 72 published reports, Dariush Mozaffarian of the Harvard School of Public Health and a group of researchers found that saturated fats had no effect on heart disease. Neither did monounsaturated fats, which are supposed to help the heart. (10)
However, trans fat was still linked with a higher risk of heart disease while omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids appeared to help (flaxseeds, walnuts, sardines and salmon are good sources) reduce that risk.
Of course, there were doubts raised. For instance, Walter Willet, chair of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health believes that the harmfulness of saturated fats depends on what you compare it to. If you had replaced it with polyunsaturated fat, it does reduce heart disease risk (11).
The lesson for us here is simple – nutrition is a complex topic and even the experts themselves cannot agree.
So diversify your sources of nutrients and don’t fear fats, which are essential for many body functions and are the most calorie dense amongst the essential nutrients (provide 9 calories per gram) which is useful for ectomorphs.
But of course, definitely cut out trans fat from your diet (e.g. fries, fried or battered stuff, cookies, ice creams, pies, etc) by checking the nutrition labels.
6. Know How to Identify “Good” Processed Foods from the “Bad” Ones
First, you need to understand that processed foods fall on a spectrum and should not just be marked as “processed” or “non processed”:
- Minimally processed: Pre-prepared for convenience. Nutritional quality and freshness are locked in
- Moderately processed: Have ingredients added for flavour and texture
- Highly processed: Ready to eat foods such as frozen pizzas. Avoid.
Processed foods can actually be beneficial, as they are really convenient and some food products might even be fortified with extra nutrients.
However, the flip side with convenience is that chemicals must be added to extend shelf life of the food product.
Now, there are three things you need to look out for:
- As mentioned earlier, recent studies have shown that added sugars are the real cause to heart disease rather than saturated fats
- Too much sugar is also obviously bad as they are empty calories and cause crashes in energy levels + increased insulin resistance (which is not good for muscle gain)
- Be wary of high-fructose corn syrup, sugar, maltose, brown sugar, corn syrup, cane sugar, honey and fruit juice concentrate
- You would be surprised how much more sugar you are consuming than required even if food labels show “organic” or “natural”. This is because businesses only care about sales, and one of the best ways to achieve that is to have better/sweeter tasting food
- This is commonly added as it enhances taste and extends shelf life
- According to the FDA, sodium intake should be limited to 2,300mg per day (12)
- Most canned vegetables, soups and sauces have them. This does not mean not to buy them, but look for those with lower levels of sodium
- This is added as it makes food shelf-stable and gives it body
- Be especially wary of trans fat, as I have mentioned earlier how it increases the risk of heart disease
- Note that a product can still be advertised as having zero trans fat as long as it each serving has less 0.5g of it (13)
- Also be wary of products containing hydrogenated vegetable oils
7. Reduce Salt in Your Ectomorph Diet
Too much salt upsets our body’s water balance and affect our health and fitness performance.
Some salt is still required by our body, but not too much which is the case for most people.
As mentioned earlier, according to the FDA, sodium intake should be limited to 2,300mg per day (12).
It is found that Amercians consume 3,300mg of sodium per day and 77% of that came from processed foods and restaurants!
So start by reading the nutrition label or even preparing your own meal (minus the salt).
Some of the more common sources of sodium are (more than 40% of sodium intake came from here):
- Breads and rolls
- Cold cuts and cured meats (such as deli or packaged ham or turkey)
- Fresh and processed poultry
- Sandwiches (such as hot dogs, hamburgers and submarine sandwiches)
- Cheese (natural and processed)
- Mixed pasta dishes (such as lasagna, spaghetti with meat sauce, and pasta salad)
- Mixed meat dishes (such as meat loaf with tomato sauce, beef stew, and chili)
- Snacks (such as chips, pretzels, popcorn, and crackers)
8. Macronutrients Percentage
As mentioned in body types, carbs should form a major part of your diet.
Design a diet based on around 55% carbs, 25% protein and 20% fats.
This is just a broad guideline, not a hard and fast rule you definitely must stick to.
Always maintain a balance, don’t forget fats and don’t over consume proteins.
Check out Metabolic Rate & Calorie Count to calculate your calories and then learn the 4 steps to set the right macronutrients (the ratio above is just a guide).
As always, test how your body reacts and adjust accordingly.
(1) Ben Weider, J. W. (2002). The Edge: Ben and Joe Weider’s Guide to Ultimate Strength, Speed, and Stamina. Penguin Group. http://books.google.com.sg/books/about/The_Edge.html?id=nxIWZ0S578AC&redir_esc=y
(2) Tesch, P. A., Colliander, E. B., & Kaiser, P. 1986. Muscle metabolism
during intense, heavy- resistance exercise. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 55, 362-6. http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/available/etd-7697-22201/unrestricted/ch3.pdf
(3) Essen-Gustavsson, B. & Tesch, P. A. 1990. Glycogen and triglyceride
utilization in relation to muscle metabolic characteristics in men performing heavy-resistance exercise. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 61, 5-10. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3758035
(4) Waterbury, C. (2013, March 2). The Truth About Post-Workout Nutrition. Retrieved from Transforming through Performance: http://chadwaterbury.com/the-truth-about-post-workout-nutrition/
(5) Vandré Casagrande Figueiredo, D. C.-S. (2013). Is carbohydrate needed to further stimulate muscle protein synthesis/hypertrophy following resistance exercise? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 42. http://www.jissn.com/content/10/1/42
(6) Yang, Q., Zhang, Z., Gregg, E. W., Flanders, W. D., Merritt, R., & Hu, F. B. (2014). Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults. JAMA Internal Medicine, 174(4), 516-524 http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1819573
(7) Bergeron, S. (2012, December 24). Are You Eating Enough Protein To Build Muscle? Retrieved from Built Lean: http://www.builtlean.com/2012/12/24/protein-build-muscle/
(8) Henselmans, M. (n.d.). The Myth of 1 g/lb: Optimal Protein Intake for Bodybuilders. Retrieved from Bayesian Bodybuilding: http://bayesianbodybuilding.com/the-myth-of-1glb-optimal-protein-intake-for-bodybuilders/
(9) Mayo Clinic. (2014, August 7). Dietary fats: Know which types to choose. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fat/art-20045550
(10) Chowdhury, R., Warnakula, S., Kunutsor, S., Crowe, F., Ward, H. A., Johnson, L., et al. (2014). Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine, 398-406. http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1846638
(11) Doheny, K. (2014, March 20). Saturated Fats, Bad? Not Bad? Retrieved from WebMD: http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/news/20140320/dietary-fats-q-a?page=2
(12) U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2014, June 20). Sodium in Your Diet: Using the Nutrition Facts Label to Reduce Your Intake. Retrieved from U.S. Food and Drug Administration: http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm053479.htm
(13) U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2003, August). Guidance for Industry: Trans Fatty Acids in Nutrition Labeling, Nutrient Content Claims, Health Claims; Small Entity Compliance Guide. Retrieved from .S. Food and Drug Administration: http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm053479.htm
Articles in This Section (Ectomorph Nutrition):
- Ectomorph Diet Guidelines: start here. If you only have time for one article, this is it.
- Metabolic Rate & Calorie Count: it’s simple, eat more calories than you spend. But too much more = fats; too litte = no gains. Answer: Count it.
- What to eat to gain weight healthily: incorporate as many of these foods into your ectomorph diet
- What not to eat to gain weight healthily: avoid these if you are serious about healthy weight gain
- When to eat to gain weight: learn to leverage the 4 phases for maximum muscle and weight gain