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Foods to Gain Weight Without Worsening Acne

Capital Gay Pride parade in Albany 2009

Capital Gay Pride parade in Albany 2009

Ectomorphs have a hard time gaining weight

Also termed "hard gainers", ectomorphs have a body type and metabolism that makes it much more challenging to gain weight. While most people are worried their morning donut is going to go to their hips unless they work it off in the gym later, ectomorphs can eat the whole dozen and retain an appearance of being "skin and bones".

Particularly younger ectomorphs may be called "scrawny", which isn't really fair. Ectomorphs don't gain fat easily, but they can put on muscle mass. With the same amount of muscle mass, they still appear skinnier because of their usually very low body fat percentage. Lucky for them, they display the effects of training right away, because there's little or no fat to mask the muscle definition they're working so hard for.

Let's talk acne...

When I read this question, I immediately appreciated the word choice, "not worsen acne". There are some misconceptions about acne being caused by greasy foods. Yes, it can worsen it. So can touching your face a lot and not using the appropriate cleansing regimen for your skin type. But, ultimately, acne happens. It is an infection beneath your skin that causes inflammation in the form of the red spots we all know and hate as pimples or zits.

Nearly everyone has had a breakout at some time in their life, but some suffer from acne more than others. So, what do you do if you're fighting acne and also trying to bulk up? Will one worsen the other?


Get some sun

This tip got me through my teens. The UV rays from direct sunlight actually kill the bacteria under your skin that cause acne. If appropriate, you can even do short but regular tanning bed visits. Just don't overdo it, especially if you're very fair skinned. You don't need so much that you develop a dark tan. It takes much less than it takes to tan at all, actually.


Macronutrient balance for ectomorphs

Since ectomorphs burn energy (calories) off so easily, you should opt for slower energy foods and limit faster energy foods. What does that mean? Limit sugary things like pop, candy, cakes, etc. They'll only feed your fast metabolism. Go for protein, healthy fats and slower carbs like whole grains and fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are also full of detoxifying nutrients that may help keep acne from worsening.

Make sure that you are consuming enough protein. The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound. That is the minimum amount you should have, but since you want to gain muscle mass, you need to have more. How much more? There is some conflicting evidence in studies, so I'd say ramp up slowly and stop where you're comfortable. You may need to consume as much as 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight, or 1 gram per pound. Stay away from processed meats, as they tend to be deplete of their protein. Eggs, particularly egg whites, should be a mainstay in your daily diet.

Fats are very important in the diet of an ectomorph looking to gain weight. You want more of the healthier fats- nuts, seeds, avocado, plant oils (like extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil), etc.- and less of the less healthy fats- butter, lard, and other animal fats, and fried foods. Plant oils are great in a marinade, or small amounts (like frying an egg), but deep frying makes foods less healthy and more irritating on acne. Snack on peanut butter ALL THE TIME.

But overall, you will need to consume a very, very large amount of calories in order to gain weight. It's contrary to how everyone else has to eat, but you want to maximize your meals with the most calorie dense foods you can.

To sum it all up, here's a THIS vs. THAT look at it

An average mealBetter for an ectomorph with acneWhy?

Turkey lunchmeat sandwich on white bread with mustard, pickels and cheese

Grilled chicken breast, marinated in seasoned olive oil

More protein, more healthy fat, no dairy (which may make acne worse)

Salad with fresh veggies and Italian dressing

Whole grain pasta salad with fresh veggies, almonds and avocado

Pack in the veggies, but do it on whole grain pasta and choose nutrient and calorie dense veggies, including avocado (which has many phytonutrients that may help acne)

Small soda

100% Apple Juice

Fruit sugars have a lower glycemic load than soda, which won't spike your metabolism as much


Whole wheat bun

More lower glycemic load foods with more calories


Marinated grilled squash with walnuts

More lower glycemic load foods with more calories


Fresh fruit dessert

More lower glycemic load foods with more calories

Calories: about 550

Calories: about 1000


Use muscle, gain muscle

You have to remember that all of this is to set you up to be able to gain MUSCLE. You won't gain much fat, so it won't be like other people gaining weight. You'll have to work hard for it.

For ectomorphs, it's important that your workouts are short and very, very intense. You don't want to spend a lot of time doing weightlifting reps and doing long cardio and endurance routines, because that's just going to burn more off. You want something that engages all of your major muscle groups, using all of their power, and leads to quick exhaustion. Be sure you warm up and cool down still, but then go for more intensity than you thought you had in you and keep at it until your muscles fail. A personal trainer can help you do this safely and avoid injury.

Cheat Sheet to Bulking Up for Ectomorphs with Acne

  • You need much, much more calories than the average person
  • Be sure you're getting enough protein
  • Detoxify with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • You also need more fats than the average person; opt for healthier fats like nuts, avocado, and plant oils over fried foods and animal fats
  • Dairy may also irritate acne
  • As a "hard gainer", you won't gain much fat, but you can gain muscle
  • Do short, very high intensity workouts regularly
  • Consult a personal trainer for a personal fitness plan

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Than on March 21, 2017:

Sorry but peanut butter ?? That's a huge acne trigger as it increases sebum production and inflammation under skin...

Davis on January 16, 2017:

I've heard peanut butter is a prime factor in breakouts especially if you eat a lot of it

Matthew Kandik (author) from Ohio on August 04, 2014:

Apple cider vinegar can be a good toner. It's all going to depend on your skin. Try things out and go with what you like best. I've also heard of urine as toner to kill acne. I think I'd go for apple cider vinegar before that ;) But along the same line, witch hazel is an excellent toner too. All of these have antiseptic and antibacterial properties.

From personal experience, contrary to everything anyone says, I've found that I break out if I wash my face or put anything on my face more than once every day or two. And I definitely can't use most acne washes because they're too harsh on my skin and just make me break out more. But again, every person's skin is different.

30-45 minutes of swimming could be a great workout. You're engaging all of the major muscle groups. Just really try to push yourself in the pool doing speed laps, for example. The whole idea is that you're doing bursts of your maximum potential to work your muscles, and then resting rather than longer aerobic workouts where you're burning calories.

Thanks for the question!

T on August 04, 2014:

Great article, I've seen a few youtube videos saying that Apple cider vinager is a great toner for acne prone skin, thoughts?

Also, would you class 30-45 minutes worth of swimming as a 'very short high intensity workout'?