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How to Gain Weight Without Worsening Acne

Matthew is a nutrition expert, health coach, and long-time WW (formerly Weight Watchers) member.

Learn tips for ectomorphs to gain weight without getting acne or exacerbating preexisting acne.

Learn tips for ectomorphs to gain weight without getting acne or exacerbating preexisting acne.

Bulking and Acne: How to Gain Weight Without Getting Acne

Also termed "hard gainers," ectomorphs have a harder time gaining weight than endomorphs and mesomorphs due to their body types and metabolisms. While most people are worried their morning donut will go to their hips unless they work it off at the gym later, ectomorphs can eat the whole dozen and still appear to be nothing but "skin and bones."

In particular, younger ectomorphs may be referred to as "scrawny," which isn't really fair because 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. Luckily, the effects of training are apparent right away because there's little to no fat masking the muscle definition they're working so hard to achieve.

What Causes Acne?

Clothing, hormones, foods—what actually causes acne? There is a misconception that greasy foods cause acne. Yes, greasy foods and fast food can worsen breakouts. Refined sugars and grains can exacerbate acne, and so can dairy, chocolate, and fast food. Touching your face a lot and not using the appropriate cleansing regimen for your skin type can also aggravate acne.

Ultimately, acne happens. It is an infection beneath your skin that causes inflammation in the form of pimples and zits—those red spots we all know and hate.

Nearly everyone has had a troubling zit at some time in their life, but some suffer from more intense and frequent breakouts than others. So, what do you do if you're fighting acne and also trying to bulk up?

Avocados are high in monosaturated fat—a healthy fat that can help you pack on weight without loading up on junk food.

Avocados are high in monosaturated fat—a healthy fat that can help you pack on weight without loading up on junk food.

Macronutrient Balance for Ectomorphs

You'll want to monitor your calorie intake for a few days to see how many calories you're consuming—that will be the baseline calorie intake you need to maintain your current weight. Increase that by 15% to gain weight, and set that number as your daily calorie goal.

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 snacks like pop, candy, cakes, etc. They'll only feed your fast metabolism and fill you up faster.

Instead, choose protein, healthy fats, and slower carbs like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are also full of detoxifying nutrients that may help prevent acne from worsening.


Make sure that you are consuming enough protein—a protein-rich diet is critical for gaining muscle mass. 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 of protein you should be consuming on a daily basis, but if 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 depleted of their protein. Eggs, particularly egg whites, should be a mainstay in your daily diet.

One issue you'll come across when increasing protein in your diet is that protein is filling, which can result in you consuming fewer calories than you need in order to increase your weight. To combat this, eat smaller meals and reduce protein intake relative to carb intake if you are having a hard time meeting your calorie goals.

Healthy Fats

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, like butter, lard, and other animal fats and fried foods. Plant oils are great in a marinade in small amounts (like frying an egg), but deep frying makes foods less healthy and more irritating to acne-prone skin.

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 healthiest, most calorie-dense foods possible.

Sample Daily Diet Plan for an Ectomorph With Acne

An average mealBetter for an ectomorph with acneWhy?

Turkey lunchmeat sandwich on white bread with mustard, pickles, 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: ~550

Calories: ~1000

Workout Guidelines for Ectomorphs

For ectomorphs, it's important that your workouts are short and very intense.

Progressive overloading has been shown to increase muscle mass—strength training wherein you gradually increase resistance to build muscle. Focus on building strength rather than cardio exercises, which are more likely to burn off fat and won't help you gain weight.

You want something that engages all of your major muscle groups and uses all of their power, leading to quick exhaustion. Be sure you warm up and cool down; a personal trainer can help you do this safely and avoid injury.

You'll also want to shower after exercising and wash your face with an oil-free cleanser twice daily to ensure your workouts don't exacerbate your acne or cause additional breakouts.

Capital Gay Pride parade in Albany 2009

Capital Gay Pride parade in Albany 2009

Cheat Sheet to Bulking up for Ectomorphs With Acne

  • You need to consume many 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 to come up with 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'?