T Nation

Can't Gain Muscle. What Should I Do?

Hi guys, I’m an 18 yo male, about 5’7", 71KG (156lbs) and around 14% BF. I’m skinny fat and have lifted for about a year and a half, and before that I did mainly bodyweight-oriented exercises along with cardio for about 2 years.
I’ve always struggled to build muscle, but I definitely filled out about a year ago where I found I’d put on mass, but not lean mass, mainly fat. I’ve been doing Wendler’s 531 BBB since last November, and have seen some steady (but slow) strength gains but next to no muscle gains. When I eat more, I mainly develop a gut and put on fat around my glutes and quads, despite only eating around a 200 calorie surplus. Recently I’ve been forcing myself to eat to the point of feeling like I’m going to be sick, because I’ve been certain I haven’t been eating enough, but this has just resulted in me feeling ill, bloated, and putting on fat, despite the fact that I eat clean - I avoid sugary drinks and foods.

I eat on a daily basis (btw I’m mildly lactose intollerant so I avoid milk):
Morning protein shake that contains soya milk, oats, granola, soya protein powder, banana (used to add nuts)
Nature Valley protein bar
Bowl of rice with peas/chicken/whatever I can find
Some sandwiches that contain vegan cheese, meat sausages or chicken, lettuce or some kind of salad
Apple, carrot
Handful of almonds
I live at home with my mum so the homemade meals vary, but can be anything from pizza to cottage pie to ratatouille. I eat 2 eggs with this meal.
In the evening I eat a PB sandwich.
I’ve logged my daily intake in the past, and it has been around 2400cals, and it hasn’t changed too much and is probably around 2500cals at this point.

I train quite intensely, and before BBB I did a couple Athlean X programs (AX1 and Beast) and I mainly improved my endurance but not my muscle mass.
Any help would be sincerely appreciated as building muscle seems like a pipe dream at this point - thankyou.

Multiple things can be at play here and I’m not an expert, but I’ll do my best.

Soy and soy protein are things that I try and avoid - there’s speculation out there that they can raise estrogen levels which will put fat on exactly where you say you gain it. Plus, soy protein isn’t really all that great. Whey isolate should have low enough lactose for you and will do a lot more for muscle building.

Also, I doubt you’re actually getting enough protein given what you’ve written. You may want to specifically target 150+ grams a day. You’re doing a decent job getting veggies and fruits in, so that’s a good thing. To gain weight, you may need more calories as well.

You’ll have to be willing to look a little worse before you look better. Most of the time, the solution to being skinny fat is to get bigger for awhile and build appreciable muscle, then lean out. It’s a mental game, but you’ll need to learn to be OK with gaining some fat in the process of gaining muscle, knowing that you’ll be able to take the fat off later.

In short, try switching to a whey protein isolate, getting more protein, keep working hard, eat more, and be OK with looking a little worse before looking better.

3 Likes

I’m 15 and eat 4000 calories. Try eating more lol. Gains now, shreds later.

2 Likes

How do you track your food?

Eat more meat.

5 Likes

What did you weigh in November? What were your PRs on the main lifts then and what are they now?

You’re lacking any significant amount of quality protein, which is needed to build muscle. If you’re eating 2400 calories and consistently getting 200 calories of good protein, I’d be surprised. As others have said, soy protein isn’t a good option. This explains why (not regarding estrogen): https://www.t-nation.com/diet-fat-loss/tip-avoid-soy-protein

Many guys who eat properly to gain size feel this way. That’s why nutrition for skinny guys is harder to stick with than training.

2 Likes

I’ve used MyFitnessPal in the past. Recently used Cronometer to develop more complete amino acid meals with a more plant-based diet approach.

I’m not entirely convinced by the soy and estrogen link, but it’s entirely possible that that is effecting things. Before I used soy protein I did use whey isolate for a few months, but after switching back to it after taking a break from it I found that it gave me some kind of dermatitis on my face so I stopped using it. I didn’t find much of a difference physically after stopping whey, but maybe I didn’t use it long enough. When I used whey I still gained fat around the legs and stomach like I do now, so I’m not sure.

Thanks for your advice, I’ll stick with it and perhaps switch back to whey for a bit to see if I notice any differences.

Take this from me trust me.

Eat more, WAY MORE, WAY MORE than you think you have to eat if you’re an “ectomorph” like I am.

I agree with a lot that Greg Doucette says, but when it comes to the gaining muscle and caloric surplus I can’t agree for our bodytype.

Stop counting calories, Stop doing a 200 surplus, just stuff your face with as much food as you can (good foods, good proteins good carbs n fats)

A pizza once in a while cant hurt.

For someone who’s an ectopmorph and struggles to gain weight, trust me i’ve been there my whole youth, eating like a monster is the only way.

2 Likes

Even regardless of possible hormonal issues, it’s a suboptimal protein for people trying to gain muscle. But as others have said, eating a lot of good food is your best bet. You’ll feel sick once in awhile, but we all do when we’re trying to gain. Currently force-feeding 4000 calories a day and it sucks but the results are worth it.

Funnily enough I weighed 72KG in November, dropped bw a bit as I adjusted my diet and more recently I’m around 72KG again.
My 1RMs (were/now)
OHP 52.5KG/55KG
Bench 72.5KG/75KG
Squat 105KG/115KG
DL 140KG/150KG

I might give lactose free cows milk a go and see if I notice any changes, I hadn’t encountered this study before.
Thanks for your advice!

The hardest part for me is finding food to eat. My family hasn’t got that much money at all, so there isn’t always much food around. But in the end, if I want to gain, eating is going to be the main way of doing so. Are there any cheap, high protein meals/snacks that you’d recommend?

When I do, all that happens is my gut gets big, my legs get fat and I feel bloated - my arms or chest don’t change size. Do I just keep eating as much as possible for a long time until something happens?

1 Like

Man, that weird bug where my posts aren’t displaying seems to be happening AGAIN.

2 Likes

Well provided you work out effeciently that shouldnt really happen.

I wonder what your workouts look like?

I mean Athlean-X gives great info on muscle function and right form and right exercises to target specific muscles.

But when it comes to really gaining mass, a serious bulking program, especially for our built, it would be better to follow a different type of protocol.

Also maybe more protein?

I eat several eggs with my breakfast, not just 1 or 2, you’re eating looks almost like a cutting diet, except for the pizza.

Try adding greek yoghurt, eat half a liter a day, dunnothe price of those in your country here its around 70 cents per piece. Add some syrup to add flavor.

Where are you located? Different places have different things cheap. Eggs and chicken are universally cheap. Cottage cheese is good, so is greek yogurt and skyr - lactose intolerance makes that difficult, so I understand where you can’t do that. Protein powder is pretty much the cheapest source of protein outside of those. If you’re in the US you can get ground beef pretty cheap. Lately I’ve been doing pork chops or pork tenderloin which comes out to 1.79-1.99 USD per pound, so I spend about $5.00 per week on meat for lunches and about 10.00 per week on meat for dinners because I like to vary it.

In college my grocery bill was about 40.00 or less per week and I ate well. Go off-brand as much as you can and avoid pre-packaged stuff. You’ll have to do more prep work, but it’ll save you money and you’ll know what’s going into your food. My wife and I typically meal prep for 2-4 hours on Sundays and really only have to cook 1-2 dinners during the week. Also if you’re on a budget, organic stuff is likely a complete waste of money.

What did you post?

There are a lot of people that live in my house, and my family hasn’t got that much money. Meat is quite expensive, but I understand that I must eat more to gain.

I would wait until your financial situation improves before you pursue muscular gain. Go Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs on this one.

2 Likes