Some people have clear fat loss goals whereas others want to focus on gaining mass. But there are also people that are stuck in the middle. If you feel like you currently carry too much body fat but at the same time still look skinny, let me introduce you to a concept known as being “skinny fat.”
Being skinny-fat refers to a physique that doesn’t look overweight, but lacks muscle mass and has fat stored in all the wrong places. Perhaps the best way to describe it is that you look “soft” while having a healthy body weight.
If you currently have this type of physique and would like to do something about it, this article is for you. In this article, I will give you a simple 3-step “skinny fat solution” that you can put into practice. But first, let’s look into what causes this skinny fat look.
Why You Are Skinny Fat
In essence, the skinny fat look is the result of a lack of muscular development and having a body fat percentage that’s slightly higher than desired. Having too much fat and not enough muscle is generally caused by the following two factors:
- You are (or were) eating too many calories
- You are not prioritizing resistance training
By eating too many calories, you are slowly accumulating fat, which makes you look “softer.” And because you are not resistance training, minimal muscle growth occurs so you remain to look skinny.
Also Possible: Dieting Too Aggressively
Another possibility is that in a fat loss phase someone is dieting down too quickly, prioritizing cardiovascular exercise as their form of training, and not eating enough protein.
We know that severe calorie restriction with a low protein intake results in muscle loss. There’s also research showing that cardiovascular training is not an effective form of training for muscle preservation.
So what potentially can happen is that you lose muscle in your efforts to lose fat. Combine this with the fact that you almost always leave some fat stored in the stubborn areas like your lower belly, hips etc, this can leave you looking skinny fat.
Your Simple Skinny Fat Solution
Now that we know what causes the skinny fat look, let’s look into the 3-step skinny fat solution. The 3 steps are actually quite simple:
- Maintain a caloric deficit and consume enough protein
- Prioritize resistance training
- Be patient and track your progress
Below I’ll discuss how to approach each step in more detail.
Step 1: Be In A Slight Deficit With Enough Protein
In most cases, having your focus on leaning down first when you are skinny fat is a good idea. What we are trying to accomplish is body recomposition (less fat, more muscle). If you are in a slight caloric deficit for fat loss, you can still gain muscle. But if you are in a caloric surplus (a.k.a. “bulking”) to prioritize muscle gain, by definition you cannot lose fat.
So the quickest way to break the cycle of being skinny fat is by focusing on losing the excess fat you have while consistently training with weights to stimulate muscle growth. You can always have lean bulk phases later on in your fitness journey to focus solely on optimizing muscle growth.
To lose fat, it should be clear by now that you need a caloric deficit. When you consume fewer calories than your body requires, your body mobilizes excess fat tissue for energy. But if you are a novice trainee who wants to also gain muscle while trying to lose fat, it’s important you don’t excessively restrict your caloric intake. Muscle growth is a high energy-demanding process. So moderate calorie restriction is desired.
Having a caloric deficit of 10-15% is what I’d recommend for most people. At this deficit, you can still lose fat at a good pace without overly restricting yourself. If you want to calculate your individual caloric targets, multiply your average maintenance level by 0.9-0.85. Use this calculator (click here) if you want an estimate of your average maintenance level.
To support muscle growth while in a caloric deficit, you obviously also need sufficient protein. Current evidence indicates that a good protein target for most people is around 1.6-2.2g/kg of total body weight.
Step 2: Prioritize Resistance Training
As we discussed earlier, a lack of muscular development is the main cause of the skinny fat look. So an essential part of the skinny fat solution is to start properly lifting weights.
There is good research showing that when novice-to-moderate lifters in a slight calorie deficit train with weights, they can gain muscle effectively. But this obviously requires some effort.
The way muscle grows is by continuously presenting more overload. If you impose greater demands on your muscles over time, they have to adapt (by gaining in size and strength) so that it can more efficiently handle the training stressors in the future. This refers to the principle of “Progressive Overload.”
So to gain muscle in a caloric deficit, you need to train in a way that promotes progressive overload. This requires at least three resistance training sessions with mostly major compound movements. For more detailed information on how to train for progressive overload, I’m referring you to my free “Novice Example Routine” (click here to download). This covers everything you need to know on how to start progressing as a novice trainee.
Now, as you saw earlier, doing tons of cardio is not desired when trying to get rid of the skinny fat look. You can still perform multiple cardio sessions in a week and gain good amounts of muscle, but it’s important to emphasize that your main form of training should be resistance exercise.
Step 3: Be Patient & Track Progress
This is arguably the most important factor. As natural trainees, we need to face the reality that muscle growth does not come quickly. So to prevent yourself from getting discouraged while working on your physique, consider that making noticeable progress takes time.
As a novice trainee, gaining 10-15 lbs. of muscle on your frame will help tremendously with getting rid of the skinny fat look. But depending on how consistently you train, this may take 5-10 months to achieve. So don’t expect change overnight. Like most things in life, you are going to have to put in the work first.
Now, to gauge whether you are on the right track throughout your fitness journey, I recommend you track your progress. After all, if you track your fitness progression, you can manage it.
I personally recommend three progress-tracking tools:
- Daily body weight measurements (so you can establish weekly averages, day-to-day fluctuations mean little)
- A training log
- Weekly progress pictures
These tools should be used in conjunction. Here are some examples of how tracking progress can help:
Scenario 1: If your weekly average body weight is not dropping and after a couple of months you don’t see any fat loss progress in your progress pictures, your caloric deficit is probably too small. Therefore, you may need to further lower caloric intake and/or increase energy expenditure for fat loss.
Scenario 2: If your strength is decreasing (you can analyze this in your training log) and your weekly average weight is dropping rapidly, you likely need to slow down the rate of weight loss by increasing caloric intake. This will likely help your training.
The point here is that tracking progress basically gives you control over your fitness journey. You can step in and change the approach whenever needed.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article on my skinny fat solution. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!
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