Skinny Fat

Exercise, Nutrition, Weight Loss Add comments

What the heck does it mean to be “skinny fat”?

Here is a simple way to describe it: Normal or low body weight, high body fat (as a percentage), and low amount of muscle.

Someone who is skinny fat might seem like they have a fast metabolism, but everything they eat either goes right through them, or what does stick becomes a double chin, muffin top, or squishy butt.

muffin top

Skinny fat can be the result of excessive cardio training without resistance training to keep/build muscle, or else it’s the result of very low physical activity coupled with low food intake.  (Since both end up at skinny fat, seems like it’d be easier to eat less than to do all the cardio, right?)

Skinny fatters are usually quite weak, since they don’t have any lean muscle.

One of the biggest mistakes someone who is skinny fat can make is to try to do lots more cardio to burn off the fat, be it muffin top, booty, or neck.  But that shuts down muscle building/toning and can even cause muscle breakdown, enlarging the disparity between lean muscle and body fat – which makes the skinny fat dilemma even worse.

All the cardio is doing is using the nutrients taken in to fuel the activity, instead of using them to build muscle.

Fashion Week in Rio, Brazil - 17 Apr 2013

And skinny fatters can’t firm up much by just eating more, even if they’re just rocking protein and veggies six times a day.  It might work a bit, but the skinny fat solution is to focus on building muscle and tightening everything up, THEN embarking on a strategic fat loss plan (that probably won’t involve too much cardio training).

Besides robbing the body of nutrients needed for building muscle, excessive cardio also robs the exerciser of the energy needed for productive muscle building workouts.  The bod can really only focus on one goal at a time.

The trick is hard weight training and eating enough (of the right foods) to gain muscle without “overfilling the cup” and having it spill over into fat storage.  It’s a narrow line to walk, but it’s not too difficult for someone to find their sweet spot if they train hard, eat right, and pay attention to what’s going on in their body.

Most skinny fatters fear that a strategy like the one outlined above will make them fatter and heavier.  It might add a few pounds of lean and toned muscle, but it won’t make anyone into a heavyweight.  In fact, a skinny fatter who adds a few pounds of muscle will look leaner.  (It will also give them more strength, health, and longevity… but today the focus is on appearance :))


Let’s take a bird’s eye view of what would change… Our hypothetical skinny fat subject weighs 120 pounds and has 30% bodyfat.  They are doing cardio four times a week in the “aerobic” zone and following a low-fat intermittent fasting plan (which is often just a way to disguise the beginnings of an eating disorder).  Now our subject has decided that they want to firm thing up and look better both in and out of clothes.  What might their new plan look like?

For starters, there needs to be some resistance training.  Bodyweight exercises, machines, dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, whatever.  Something has to be moved against the resistance of gravity with a goal of building some muscle and strength.  Three or four sessions a week.

Next, dropping the long and slow cardio for a few sets of hard intervals.  This will keep the metabolism revving and tell the body to hang on to muscle to power through the sprints.  Two or three short and hard sessions a week.

Finally, nutrition.  Focusing on protein with the right mix of carbs and fats to build strength and health.  Four or five smallish meals packed full of nutrition spread evenly through the day.  The low fat/intermittent fasting plan doesn’t give enough nutrients to build lean muscle

Making these changes is the way for someone suffering from skinny fat syndrome to become tight and lean.

Have fun!

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