There is a skinny fat epidemic! Are you too a victim of this dreadful condition? Have no fear.. I have the solution.
The skinny fat physique.
Neither muscular nor fat.
It lies in limbo, somewhere right in the middle.
If you are skinny fat then maybe you can empathise with the thousands of other people who find themselves unsatisfied with their body.
This is not for a lack of trying.
Quite the contrary, a large percentage of skinny fat individuals are actually quite healthy and rigorously exercise performing hours of cardio on end whilst restricting calories.
Does it pay off?
Well…NO, not really.
In actual fact, this excessiveness is part of the problem amongst other factors.
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What causes the skinny fat appearance
1. Focusing on losing ‘weight’ rather than body composition
Body composition comprises of muscle tissue, fat, water and glycogen.
When most individuals want to look good for the beach they hold the innocent view that all weight loss will come from fat cells.
The reality to this is quite different, you see ‘weight’ is an all-encompassing term and a change in the scale number can, therefore, be indicative of many things:
- You have lost fat mass
- You have lost water weight
- Glycogen stores have been depleted from carbohydrate restriction
- You have actually lost muscle mass
In all actuality you will almost always lose weight because of a combination of the above.
HOWEVER..you want to do your best to make sure the majority of the ‘weight’ lost is (you guessed it) fat!
The less muscle mass an individual has the lower their overall body fat needs to be in order to showcase muscle definition.The less muscle mass an individual has the lower their overall body fat needs to be in order to showcase muscle definition. Click To Tweet
If you try to cut a lot of weight when you don’t have a muscle foundation you will end up looking like this:
This works in reverse to believe it or not.
The more muscle mass you possess, the fatter you can get whilst showing visible abdominal definition.
2. Body fat distribution and genetics
If you are unfamiliar with body types and how they shape your appearance then check out the article I linked.
Here is a basic overview:
Ectomorph: Predisposition to being underweight/skinny and tend to have lower appetites which makes gaining weight more difficult.
Endomorph: Heavier and rounder individuals who tend to gain weight easier because of higher appetites and have a hard time losing weight.
Mesomorph: Hit the genetic jackpot. Broader shoulders, smaller waist and tend to gain muscle and lose fat pretty easily.
Of course, this is categorised quite neatly but you most likely have several attributes belonging to different body types.
The ectomorph body type is the most prone to the skinny fat condition because the distribution of fat tends to store it in the midsection as opposed to the arms and femurs.
For you individuals, the answer is NOT to lose more fat but to actually gain weight.
It sounds very counter-intuitive but by doing so you can actually appear much leaner.
The addition of muscle mass will effectively counter-balance the skinny fat look and produce the definition you seek because you are already at a fairly lean state.
There is no such thing as a skinny ‘hard-gainer’, guys who find it difficult to gain muscle usually have low appetites and don’t eat enough despite reporting to do so.
3. Excessive cardio and calorie restriction
When you restrict calories for a long period of time and exercise in excess your body will fight back hard.When you restrict calories for a long period of time and exercise in excess your body will fight back hard. Click To Tweet
You begin to lose muscle at an accelerated rate after a certain threshold and cortisol is secreted which makes the body hold on to more water weight.
This does two things
- Your muscles begin to look depleted and flat
- Your midsection and face will be bloated and pudgy because of water retention
Needless to say, this is not a good look and it can be increasingly demoralising when your hard work is seemingly not rewarded, even making you look worse!
The best thing to do in this scenario is to reduce cardio, increase overall caloric consumption and start strength training.
As a novice lifter, you will be able to recomposition easily because of the increased re-activeness to training.
Essentially you will be able to accomplish two goals simultaneously by building muscle and losing fat at the same time which will get rid of the skinny fat look.
How to know if you are REALLY skinny fat
The skinny fat checklist
- You have long, skinny arms and legs but still have love handles.
- Your overall stature is small but you have stubborn fat in areas like your glutes, lower stomach and back.
- You have lost a lot of weight but neglected strength training.
- You don’t have a strength foundation but you aren’t lean either.
If you check one or more off the list…then you are skinny fat.
Note, this applies to women as well! As I stated in a previous article I wrote on strength training for women, the ‘tone’ comes from a good amount of muscle combined with a lean frame.
The skinny fat solution
Step# 1 Determine TDEE
Use a calculator to establish your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure).
This is simply the number of calories needed to maintain your current bodyweight with your given activity level.
Step #2 Recomposition or eat at a 10% surplus
Now that you have your base TDEE, you have two options:
- Recomposition: gain muscle and lose fat at the same time
- Eat at a slight calorie surplus
The option you take is all down to personal preference.
The recomposition is the best option for the skinny fat individual because they are more than likely complete novices to proper weightlifting.
Check out this article which goes into detail on how to do this.
Eating in a surplus makes gaining muscle and strength a lot quicker but you won’t be able to lose fat in the process.
To do this just add 10% to your TDEE number calculated above.
Step #3 Get on a proper strength training program
Strength is largely correlated with size, so in order to gain muscle, you will need to run a proper strength training program.
I have written several novice programs:
I have also written a beginners guide to building muscle, a free Ebook which contains a novice program perfect for building muscle.
Simply enter your email address on the form at the side of the page and you will be sent the guide free of charge!
Step #4 Limit excessive cardio
Cardio is essential for building endurance/work capacity and for general health purposes but too much of a good thing can produce the opposite effect.
When trying to build muscle cardio can be counter-productive because it increases metabolic rate resulting in weight gain being more difficult.
To add to this excessive cardio can interfere with strength training because they train two opposite systems:
Anaerobic exercise is usually more intense in nature and relies on energy stored in the muscles (glycogen).
Aerobic exercise is cardiovascular work that trains endurance-based performance elements.
It is still wise to include cardio because of the aforementioned benefits, so instead of cutting it out completely perform cardio on rest days and limit it to 30-45 minutes per session.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables (micronutrients)
- Get in plenty of protein but don’t overdo it, 0.8g per lb of bodyweight is more than enough!
- Don’t neglect your healthy fats, try to make up 20% of your diet with nuts, seeds etc.
- Carb the hell up! Your main goal here is to pack on size, the increased glycogen will make your muscles look fuller and help performance in the gym. Aim for at least 50% carbs in your diet.
- Drink water…plenty of it.
- If you are a ‘hardgainer’ (low appetite) then don’t be afraid to throw in some junk food in moderation, my preferred method is olive oil shots and fruit juice.
Recovery (Limiting stress)
- Recovery is extremely important for natural weightlifters looking to build muscle at an optimal rate.
- Sleep at least 8 hours every night.
- Limit stress; cortisol increases water retention and interferes with the training effect.
- Hydration is incredibly important for strength performance, even if you are as little as 2% dehydrated it can negatively impact performance!
Being skinny fat is no joke.
Have you got any questions? Leave them below!