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Just the other day I was killing my bis and tris at the gym when a hard-working and passionate young trainee approached me with some questions about bodybuilding: “As you can see I’m very thin. I weigh about 155 and want to get to about 185 in the next year. What’s the best way to add size without getting fat? And should I be doing cardio along with my weight training?”
I was in a very similar situation when I first started training. As a matter of fact, I was even skinnier. I weighed a paltry 125 lbs (at a height of 5’11.5”) when I first wrapped my hands around a barbell. So, I feel his pain and can fully appreciate his desire to bulk up and build a bigger, more muscular physique. That being said, I would have to say no, he should not do any cardio at this time. As an ectomorph struggling to add more muscle and bodyweight the last thing you want to do is burn more calories and further increase your already racing metabolism through cardio.
You want every calorie you ingest to be pointed toward muscle repair and growth, even if you store a little bodyfat along the way. The best way to avoid adding too much extra adipose tissue while gaining size is to make sure that you are eating a relatively clean high calorie diet.
Try to get the bulk of your calories from foods like steak, eggs, milk, chicken, fatty fish, protein powders, rice, pasta, potatoes, whole grain breads, fruits and vegetables. While the occasional pizza, ice cream and pancakes will not hurt you, make foods like this the exception and not the rule.
Another point about thin people trying to add bulk is that those with this body type tend to have more limited recovery ability than most – not as much in regards to individual muscles, but more so to systemic recovery. This means that for an ectomorph, overtraining is more of a concern than with other body types. Thus, the addition of cardio on top of weight training is not a good idea for those who are naturally on the thin side (at least in the early bulking stages), as too much exercise will make too far an inroad into recovery ability, which will all but bring muscle gains to a screeching halt.
So, my advice to is to train hard and heavy no more than 4 days per week, eat at least 6 clean, high calorie meals per day, and to sleep 7-9 hours every night. That is the simple, yet most reliable equation for muscle growth.