Skinny to buff: The beginners guide

Mitchel White fitness transformation

If you’re skinny you’ll know the struggle.

Your t shirts are falling off you

You’re worried about going to the gym because you don’t want to be judged by the meat heads.

You eat lots but never put on any weight.

I’ve been there myself so I know how you feel and it can get pretty frustrating when you’re wanting to be a lot bigger than you are but whatever you try doesn’t work.

But it is possible, I’ve done it. Going from 64kg to 78kg in the space of a couple of years.

Although I’m not the biggest of guys and still have a way to go until I’m happy with where I am – I can share some of the things that have worked for me and how I’ve changed my diet and workouts to increase my weight, strength and motivation.

The bulking mistakes most beginners make

Not eating enough

Most guys underestimate how much you need to eat to grow your muscles, especially if you have a fast metabolism.

Eating whatever you want

Pretty much the opposite of not eating enough, some guys think they can eat whatever they want, whenever they want. This is the fastest way to go from skinny to fat. Unless you’re really wanting a dad bod then it’s best to avoid eating whatever you want without tracking your food intake.

No plan

If you’re like everyone else looking to gain weight, you’ll just be focused on bulking. Whilst it’s good to have a long term vision, it’s best to break goals down into more specific goals like a specific increase in weight or the ability to lift a certain number of reps or weight on an exercise.

Giving up before you see any results

Bulking doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time to see results.

A lot of guys give up after a few weeks because they don’t see any change in their body. As with any activity there comes a tipping point where your efforts start to show as a compound effect of the little steps you make until that point.

get buff in 3 months

Where do you start when you’re looking to go from skinny to buff?

You’ve probably heard this one already.

But nutrition is key to go from skinny to buff.

Without eating the right amount of food and the right macronutrients (a type of food (e.g. fat, protein, carbohydrate) you’re going to struggle to put any weight on.

The best place to start when you’re looking to bulk is by working out your maintenance calorie intake. The easiest way to do it is by using a maintenance calorie calculator.

The logic is pretty simple here, if you want to gain weight you need to be in a calorie surplus (consuming more calories than you burn everyday) and make sure you’re consuming your target daily caloric intake.

To gain lean muscle you should aim to add between 300-500 calories to your maintenance calorie intake.

Any less and you won’t see much difference in your body, any more you’ll add too much fat and your muscle gains will be for nothing – they’ll be hidden under a shed load of fat.

Tracking calories

Now you’ve worked out your ideal daily calorie intake you need to keep track of it.

At first tracking calories and macro (carbs, protein, fat) percentages can seem pretty daunting and boring – but once you’ve got into the habit of doing it for a couple of weeks it just becomes part of your meal preparation routine.

The easiest and cheapest way I’ve found to track calorie intake is by downloading MyFitnessPal.

It has an inbuilt barcode scanner to find any foods that have a barcode and search facility for finding your veg/fruit.

What sorts of food should you be eating to bulk?

You’ve found your calorie intake requirements and you’re ready to track everything you eat.

Now you need to be eating the right foods so you’re getting enough protein, carbs and fat in your body.

The best foods for skinny bulking:

  • Chicken & turkey breast
  • Tuna
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Bread
  • Steak
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Peanut Butter

Some of these foods are pretty bland on their own and a lot of meat heads just eat chicken and rice dry 4 times a day. You don’t have to do this, even if people on Instagram tell you to.

The key to a successful bulk is creating a nutrition plan that you enjoy to create something you’re going to stick to.

If you load your meal plan up with boring, dry and bland food you’re not going to want to eat it for long.

Tip: Use a low salt and sugar sauce to go with your chicken breast and add some herbs to your steak to make it a bit more exciting.

The gym is where you’ll grow muscle

You’ve got your nutrition sorted.

Now you need to get to the gym, with all those extra calories you’re eating you’ll get fat if you don’t get training.

There are so many workout options available when you’re looking to bulk but my favourite over the years has been upper/lower body split training.

Upper/lower split training

The clue is in the name with this one.

You split your training between upper and lower body exercises. You can be varied in how many days you workout but usually 2 days on 1 day rest is a good split – giving the body time to recover and build muscle.

Another bonus with this type of weight training is the fact you can mix compound movements with more isolated exercises to target smaller muscle groups (biceps, triceps and chest).

Compound movement: Compound exercises are multi-joint movements that work several muscles or muscle groups at one time. A great example of a compound exercise is the squat exercise.

Isolation exercises: work only one muscle or muscle group and only one joint at a time. A good example is a bicep curl which targets the bicep muscle in isolation.

Upper body exercises

Dumbbell Bench Press

Dumbbell Bench Press

Dumbbell Bicep Curl

Dumbbell Bicep Curl

Standing Military Press

Standing Military Press

Lower body exercises

Barbell squats

Barbell squats

Dumbbell Lunges



Focus on creating a balanced bulk

When you start to see muscle gains in certain areas it can be easy to fall into the trap of training that muscle group more. Ever seen the guy in the gym with massive biceps and really little legs? Or the guy with the huge chest and hunched back? This is usually caused by focusing on specific muscle groups and neglecting others that need to be trained.

For example, if you grow your chest, your back needs to be worked on too to maintain good posture.

Working out isn’t just for aesthetics, even if that’s your main goal – the health of your body is vital to maintain your performance and continued muscle growth in the gym.

Putting it all into a skinny to buff plan

Hopefully you’ve gotten some value from this post, whether it’s finding some new exercises to try or finding out your maintenance calorie intake.

But the most important thing to do before you go off and start trying to bulk is to get a plan in place to make sure you keep on track. Start with these steps to get started with your body transformation:

  • Set a target weight or end point for your bulking period
  • Work out your maintenance calorie intake
  • Create some meal plans focusing on eating high protein foods
  • Track your calories with MyFitnessPal
  • Create a upper/lower split training plan
  • Take rest days to allow your muscles to recover and grow
  • Take regular progress photos to remind yourself how far you’ve come each month
  • Keep motivated by changing up workout and nutrition plans every so often

Good luck with your transition from skinny to buff!

You got this.

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