Is it Harder to Gain Muscle When Fat or Skinny?

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Written by Megan Ayala. Last Updated: May 2, 2022

Are you looking to gain muscle?

Gaining muscle can be more difficult than losing weight. If you’ve ever been that skinny kid looking to put on muscle, you’re likely well aware of how difficult it can be.

Those who have a difficult time packing on muscle are known as hard gainers [1].

Being classified as a hard gainer is not uncommon. The majority of people have a difficult time packing on muscle. Unless you are blessed with the right genetics, you likely lose muscle quickly and gain fat just as fast when you’re not adhering to the right diet and workout regimen.

However, just because you are a hard gainer doesn’t mean you cannot successfully put on muscle. How easy it is to put on muscle is going to depend on more than just your efforts. It also depends on your body type and your caloric intake.

Below, you will learn about some of the basic body types, why overweight people tend to put on muscle quicker than skinny people, and some of the tips you can use to enhance your muscle gains.

Which Body Type Are You? It Makes a Difference…

a muscular woman doing lat pulldowns

1. Endomorph

If you have a chunky body type, you likely are either an endomorph or a mesomorph [2]. Those who are classified as an endomorph typically have more fat, but also have more potential for quick muscle development.

2. Mesomorph

A mesomorph typically has a more naturally muscular build. However, if they lead a sedentary lifestyle, they can pack on pounds and lose muscle retention.

RELATED: Is it Harder to Lose Weight or Put on Muscle?

Both of these body types can usually pack on muscle with relative ease. With a good diet and training program, they should be able to achieve quick muscle and strength gains.

3. Ectomorphs

Someone that is classified as an ectomorph is usually very skinny. They are naturally skinny and it makes it very difficult for them to pack on muscle. If you’re someone that has constantly been skinny your entire life no matter your dietary choices, you’re likely an ectomorph. Those with this body type generally have a super-fast metabolism that keeps them from retaining calories long enough to fuel muscle growth.

Why Do Overweight People Tend To Put on More Muscle Faster?

a woman working out with dumbbells

  • It’s More About Perception

While there is a widespread belief that fatter people tend to pack on muscle faster, that’s not necessarily the case. At least it’s not because they are fat from the start.

While it’s true, you will typically put on muscle easier if you have some fat on you, that’s more because of your body type as mentioned above.

RELATED: Should You Build Muscle or Lose Weight First?

Those who have fat tend to be the two body types where it’s easier to gain muscle. Therefore, by default, these people will show muscle gains quicker.

It’s not necessarily because they had fat to turn into muscle.

  • Muscle Gains Are Seen Quicker

Those that have a lot of body fat will tend to show muscle gains quicker than skinny people because of the way the body works. When you do strength training, you are going to ‘appear’ to gain muscle quicker than someone with less body fat.

This is more of an illusion because you are building muscle underneath a layer of fat. This is generally why you won’t see visible results from doing serious ab training until you’ve successfully shed fat throughout your midsection.

However, because of this, you will end up looking as if you’ve put on muscle mass much quicker than someone with less body fat.

It would appear as though you are gaining muscle much faster.

However, the skinny person doing weight training could be making muscle gains just as quickly (if not quicker), but they aren’t showing the growth as quickly because there’s much less of a difference in their body throughout the process.

  • Fat People Tend To Have Slower Metabolisms

This one is very big and it has to do with your body type. If you are skinny, you likely have a faster metabolism than someone that is fat. This alone is going to put you at a disadvantage when it comes to packing on muscle.

To gain muscle, you’ll need to consume sufficient calories and nutrients to fuel muscle growth.

If you aren’t consuming enough calories and other nutrients to fuel your muscles, you won’t experience the muscle gains you’re looking for.

Those who are overweight tend to naturally have much slower metabolisms. This means they don’t have to eat nearly as many calories despite doing the same strength or cardio workouts. This means they don’t have to stuff their faces constantly throughout the day to keep themselves out of a caloric deficit.

  • They Can Do More Cardio

When you have a lot of fat that you can burn, you can spend more time in the gym and not hurt your muscle gains. When you are skinny, you have fewer fat stores.

This means you have to worry about burning too many calories throughout your workouts. Burning too many calories throughout your workouts can end up being counterproductive to your muscle-building efforts.

You want to consume more calories than you are burning. If you aren’t consuming more calories than you are burning throughout the day, you will find it impossible to gain size.

Anyone that is fat can spend a lot more time in the gym working out and doing cardio. Cardio is healthy for your body.

However, those who are hard gainers need to watch how many calories they are burning through routine exercise. Otherwise, it could be detrimental to their muscle-building efforts.

  • They Have More Muscle From The Start

This is another big reason a lot of fat people tend to pack on muscle before their skinny counterparts.

When you are overweight, you likely have a lot of hidden muscle. After all, you’ve been ‘bulking’ for much longer. If you are constantly carrying around more weight, you likely have more leg muscles than someone skinny with less weight to carry around.

You likely have a lot of muscle that is hidden underneath your fat which makes it much easier to put on muscle because it’s already there. All you need to do is shed the layer of fat that’s covering it. This is much easier and quicker than packing on muscle.

This is why you will see a lot of people losing a lot of weight very quickly, but taking three times as long to put on any noticeable amount of muscle.

How To Improve Your Muscle Building Efforts?

a woman doing a squat workout

1. Figure Out What’s Stopping You

The main thing you need to do is figure out what body type you have.

This can give you the clues you need to figure out what’s preventing you from gaining muscle. Is it not consuming enough calories?

Is it not incorporating enough strength training in your routine? Are you not lifting heavy enough weights? Are you not resting enough?

These are the things you need to ask yourself. Gaining muscle requires a lot of commitment. It also requires a lot of determination.

You need to know what’s holding you back to correct it.

Those not putting on muscle because they aren’t eating enough will have a very different solution than those not packing on muscle because of a lack of effort.

2. Count Macros

To put on weight, you need to figure out how much you are burning throughout the day.

As mentioned, you need to consume more calories than you are burning. You want to prime your body for muscle growth by putting it into an anabolic state [3].

To achieve this state, you will need to consume the right foods at the right time. Your body needs specific nutrients to fuel muscle growth. If you don’t supply these nutrients to your body at the right time and in the right quantities, your strength training won’t produce the intended results you want.

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The best way to put your body in an anabolic state is by consuming both protein and carbohydrates before and after a workout.

Doing this directly before and after a workout is essential because that’s when your muscles look for fuel. It also ensures the body releases insulin which helps the muscles absorb the protein that you’ve consumed.

This is generally why a lot of people looking to pack on muscle take a protein shake either before or after their workouts.

3. Get Good Sleep

Believe it or not, a lack of sleep could be contributing to you being a hard gainer.

If you have been strength training and not getting the results you’ve wanted, it might be time to check whether or not you are getting enough sleep.

You also want to check if you are getting quality sleep. The recovery process is just as (if not more) important than the actual training.

Your body grows and repairs muscles while you are sleeping and resting. If you get quality sleep, it will increase anabolic hormone production throughout your body [3].

If you don’t, it will do the opposite. It will put your body in a catabolic state which is the state in which your body essentially uses your muscles for fuel.

4. Eat The Right Foods

Along with counting your macros, you also want to ensure you are eating the right foods.

You need to be putting the right foods into your diet. While you do want to consume more calories than you are burning, that doesn’t mean filling your diet full of unhealthy foods that are high in calories.

Instead, you want to fill your diet with nutrient-dense whole foods that are healthy for you. Instead of eating foods that are considered empty calories, you want to consume nutrient-dense foods that will put your body in an anabolic state.

These foods are typically high in protein, healthy fats, and vitamins. You want to stick to eating at least one pound of protein per pound of bodyweight.

This is a good rule of thumb that should have you eating plenty of protein for stimulating muscle growth. If needed, you can always add protein shakes and protein bars to the mix.

5. Lift Heavier

One of the biggest problems a lot of people run into when they are looking to pack on muscles is training the wrong way. If you want to put on muscle mass, you cannot train like you are trying to burn fat.

It’s a completely different type of training. Instead, you need to train like you are a bodybuilder. You want to train heavy when you are looking to pack on muscle.

Heavy training is not only going to challenge your muscles which can help you grow your muscles, but it will also keep you from burning too many calories throughout your workouts.

When you train heavily, you force your muscles to work harder. This causes them to tear and have to rebuild. This is how you grow muscle.

6. Don’t Ovetrain

Another problem a lot of people run into when they are looking to build muscle is overtraining.

It can be very exciting once you start seeing some returns on your efforts. Once you start packing on muscle, you may decide to go harder and for longer.

While you want to push yourself in your workouts, you don’t want to overtrain. Overtraining can be counterproductive to your efforts. It’s one of the easiest ways to stunt your muscle growth.

To avoid overtraining, you can avoid working out the same muscle groups on back-to-back days. This can keep you from working the same muscles over and over again without rest.

Your muscles need rest to grow. They need to repair. If you are constantly stressing the same muscle group over and over, you won’t get the muscle growth you want.


There is a lot that goes into putting on muscle.

The fact is, genetics plays a role in determining how easy it is for you. However, that doesn’t mean genetics has to stop you.

Use the tips in this article and you can achieve the desired muscle growth you want even if you’re a hard gainer like most.