The Skinny-Fat Workout & Diet Guide
Skinny-fat is when you’ve got a body-fat percentage of over 20% but still look skinny in a t-shirt. It’s when you’ve got skinny arms but still have fat around your belly. Why does that happen? Why are you gaining fat instead of muscle when you gain weight? And why are you losing muscle instead of fat when you lose weight?
It’s a confusing situation because it’s not clear whether you need to focus on bulking to build muscle or cutting to lose fat. As a result, some experts recommend body recomposition, where you gain muscle and lose fat while maintaining the same bodyweight. Is body recomposition the best approach for skinny-fat guys?
Finally, how should skinny-fat guys approach diet and exercise? What’s the best skinny-fat workout? What’s the best skinny-fat diet?
- What Does Skinny-Fat Mean?
- How to Know If You’re Skinny-Fat
- Why Do You Gain Fat & Lose Muscle?
- Why Are You Skinny-Fat?
- The Skinny-Fat Workout
- The Skinny-Fat Diet
- Should Skinny-Fat Guys Do Cardio?
- The Importance of G-Flux
- Improving Nutrient Partitioning With Sleep
- Skinny-Fat Supplements
- Is Body Recomposition the Right Solution?
- Should Skinny-Fat Guys Bulk or Cut?
- How to Cut as a Skinny-Fat Guy
- How to Bulk as a Skinny-Fat Guy
- Zig-Zag Towards Lean Muscularity
What Does Skinny-Fat Mean?
“Skinny-fat” is when someone has a below-average amount of muscle combined with an unhealthy amount of body fat.
Keep in mind that skinny-fat is a slang term. There’s no strict definition. But if you’re under-muscled (skinny) while also having too much body fat (fat), you could call that being “skinny-fat.”
The difference between being skinny-fat and being overweight is that most people who are overweight also have a decent amount of muscle. Sometimes this comes from a history of being active, other times from their genetics, and often simply because gaining weight tends to cause muscle growth, especially in the lower body. (The average person gains around 2/3 fat and 1/3 muscle while gaining weight.)
As a skinny-fat guy, you might actually weigh a normal amount on the scale. It’s just that you aren’t very muscular, giving you the problems that come along with being skinny. And your body-fat percentage is too high, giving you the problems that come along with being overweight. It’s less a problem of overeating, more that your body stores calories as fat instead of muscle.
Being skinny-fat seems to be more common than being skinny. If we compare Google searches over the past ten years, we see that far more people are searching about being skinny-fat (yellow) than are searching about being an ectomorph (blue) or a hardgainer (red). After all, most skinny guys who don’t get in the habit of lifting weights and eating a good diet will become skinny-fat as they age.
How to Know If You’re Skinny-Fat
To figure out if you have a below-average amount of muscle mass, we can look at both muscle size and strength. The average adult man has 13″ biceps and can bench press around 185 pounds (source). If we’re smaller or weaker than that, it’s a sign that we’re less muscular than the average man. That’s where the “skinny” part comes in.
For body-fat percentage, most research finds that the health downsides start to crop up when our body-fat percentage rises above around 20% or when our visceral fat accumulates to the point where our waists are larger than 37 inches (source). Figuring out our body-fat percentage with any degree of accuracy is difficult, but if you can’t see any hint of your abs, you’re almost certainly above 15%. Fortunately, it’s easy to measure the circumference of your waist at the narrowest point.
Now, even if you don’t technically meet the definition of skinny-fat, you may still feel skinny-fat. Maybe your biceps are 13.5 inches and your waist is 35 inches, but because your arms don’t look muscular and you have a bit of a belly or love handles, you may wish to get both leaner and more muscular. And I can relate to that. I’ve been there.
Why Do You Gain Fat & Lose Muscle?
Back when I first started trying to build muscle, I bulked myself into having a little belly with love handles. I had lost my abs, but my 11-inch arms were still too skinny to fill out a small t-shirt. I certainly couldn’t bench 185 pounds. In fact, I couldn’t even bring an empty barbell down to my chest without my shoulders hurting. I had started lifting weights and trying to improve my diet, but I was horrified by how much fat I’d gained and how out-of-shape I looked. My stomach stuck out further than my chest, causing my shirt to cling to my gut.
So I put my bulk on hold and geared into a cut. During that cut, I lost all of the muscle I had gained while bulking. I was right back to where I started. Right back to being skinny. I don’t think I’ve ever struggled with anything quite so confusing and frustrating. It turned me off of lifting for a full year. And that, of course, only made things worse.
This process of gaining fat while bulking and then losing muscle while cutting is what defines the skinny-fat cycle. It’s a problem born of poor “nutrient partitioning.” Our bodies prioritize fat gain when we’re in a calorie surplus and then burn muscle when we’re in a deficit.
- When we bulk we get fatter because our bodies aren’t investing into muscle growth. There a number of reasons for this: we aren’t working out properly, we aren’t eating enough protein, we’re eating too much, we’re overly stressed, we’re sleeping poorly, or we’re eating too much dietary fat (a controversial point, admittedly).
- When we cut we get skinnier because our bodies are burning muscle for energy. Again, there a few reasons for this: we aren’t stimulating muscle growth with our workouts, we aren’t eating enough protein, we aren’t getting enough sleep, or we’re overly stressed. (Eating too much fat isn’t an issue when losing weight, which is why low-carb and ketogenic diets are so popular.)
So, of course, the next thing I tried was something called body recomposition—trying to lose fat and build muscle at the same time. I started lifting weights again, and over the course of six months, I lifted weights and ate more protein. Over the course of those six months, I didn’t gain any muscle or strength, and I didn’t lose any fat. Sometimes I had a good workout or looked a little better in the mirror, but it never added up into consistent progress. By the end of it, I wasn’t really sure if I’d made any progress at all.
When the typical advice fails, that’s when skinny-fat guys fall into the worst trap of all—atypical advice:
- Grains are making you skinny-fat, so you need the paleo diet.
- Insulin is making you skinny-fat, so you try keto.
- It’s a growth hormone issue, so you start intermittent fasting.
- Sugar is the problem, so you do a clean bulk.
There are endless varieties of atypical diets that claim to be great for building muscle while losing fat. Truth is, many of them can be effective. But they’re effective for the same reasons that a traditional approach is effective, and the traditional approach hasn’t solved your skinny-fatness. So whatever diet you choose, you’re still doing something wrong on a more foundational level. Or at least I was, anyway.
Now, just for some perspective, you can find some solace in the fact that your path to building a lean and muscular body isn’t as arduous as the average man’s. Most guys are full-blown overweight or obese. Being skinny-fat is actually a sign that you’ve done at least a few things right. We just need to get you doing a few more things right.
We can start by narrowing in the category of problem. Your problem is that you’re gaining fat when you’re in a calorie surplus and losing muscle when you’re in a calorie deficit. This is a nutrient partitioning issue, and there are a number of things we can do to improve nutrient partitioning, ranging from improving your exercise routine to improving your diet to eating more protein to getting better sleep.
As we go through the different ways to improve nutrient partitioning, you’ll realize that our approach isn’t novel. There’s nothing revolutionary in this article. We’ve used this same approach with professional and Olympic athletes. Your doctor would likely agree with all of it. We aren’t trying to do things differently, we’re trying to do things correctly.
Why Are You Skinny-Fat?
The first thing we want to do is poke around for the source of the problem. Sometimes that can lie in your history. Most of our skinny-fat members have variations of the following stories:
- Not doing any physical activity: most of us were skinny guys growing up. We didn’t necessarily do much exercise or eat very well, but we were at least somewhat active and never put on much weight. Fast forward a few years—maybe even a decade—and our lifestyles inevitably catch up with us. If we still aren’t exercising, or at least being active in our daily lives, it will start to show in our physiques.
- Not training for muscle growth: most of us prefer doing things that we’re naturally good at, and we gravitate towards activities where we feel like we belong. As a skinny-fat guy, there are plenty of activities where your body will do just fine: jogging, yoga, cycling, and so on. These activities are good for improving your health, but they don’t improve nutrient partitioning, and so they won’t help you overcome your skinny-fatness.
- Dieting while only doing cardio: Now, don’t get me wrong, cardio combines great with hypertrophy training, allowing people to build lean and muscular physiques without any problem. But some guys cut by combining a fat-loss diet with only cardio. Cardio doesn’t stimulate muscle growth in a surplus, and it doesn’t stimulate muscle maintenance in a calorie deficit. If you’re losing weight without lifting weights, that’s a sure way to lose your muscle along with your fat. It’s incredibly important to train for muscle growth even while cutting.
- Not doing dedicated hypertrophy training: there’s nothing wrong with strength training if your main goal is to gain strength, or doing CrossFit if your main goal is to improve your fitness, but if your main goal is to gain lean muscle, then that’s a different type of training: hypertrophy training. Hypertrophy training is designed to stimulate as much muscle growth as possible, which means that more calories will be shuttled towards building muscle and fewer towards fat storage, improving nutrient partitioning.
- Dreamer bulking: this was me. I was incredibly skinny and incredibly eager to bulk up, so I bulked up far too quickly. It’s not necessarily that I was doing anything wrong with my training, diet, or lifestyle, I was just eating too many extra calories, gaining weight too quickly, and the extra calories were spilling over into fat gain.
- Low testosterone: there are a number of reasons why men can have low testosterone, and there are a number of solutions, depending on the cause. We have an article on testosterone written by a urologist about how testosterone relates to muscle growth and how to see if yours is low. You don’t necessarily need high testosterone, mind you. Anywhere within the normal, healthy range is perfectly fine, and that accounts for almost all of us. (Also note that working out, diet, sleep, stress, and body-fat percentage all affect our testosterone levels.)
- Not prioritizing sleep: one of the best things we can do for our health, muscle growth, and fat loss is to get enough good sleep. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, it can be really hard to build a lean and muscular physique.
As you look at this list, you may realize that you’re doing most things correctly already, and that’s great. Try to find the things you aren’t doing correctly. That’s where the skinny-fat solution will lie.
Casey Butts, PhD, found that genetically gifted guys can build roughly 5% more muscle than the average guy. Guys with poor genetics, on the other hand, can build about 5% less muscle than the average guy.
For example, he found that the average 5’10 guy could get to a lean 200 pounds, the genetically gifted guy could get to about 210 pounds, and the guy with poor muscle-building genetics could get to around 190 pounds. If you’ve seen 5’10 guys at a lean 190 and 210 pounds, you know that they both look like they could win an Olympic wrestling match.
Even if you have the worst muscle-building genetics, you can still build a fearsome amount of muscle. Maybe not enough to win a natural bodybuilding competition, but more than enough to build a remarkably strong and muscular physique.
Genetics also plays a role when it comes to our natural body-fat percentage. People have varying levels of insulin sensitivity, differing quantities of fat cells, and even our metabolisms respond differently to overfeeding. Perhaps you’re someone who gains a higher proportion of fat when you gain weight, and some of that may be due to your genetics.
So you might not be able to become a hulking mammoth of a man who looks like he must be on steroids, and you might not be able to diet down to 7% body-fat.
Or maybe you can. Unless you’ve been lifting well and eating right for a few years, your current condition is probably not the best predictor of how far your genetics can take you.
However, even the worst skinny-fat genetics won’t stop you from building a strong, lean, and muscular physique. If we want to quantify that, let’s say good genetics would allow a 5’10 man to get to 210 pounds at 8% body fat, whereas poor genetics would allow him to get to 190 pounds at 12% body fat. Both bodies will look completely ideal. In fact, even the guy with poor genetics will have about 30 more pounds of muscle than Brad Pitt did in Fight Club.
If you think your genetics are holding you back much more than that, it’s probably because you aren’t lifting right (or you aren’t lifting at all), you aren’t eating a good bulking diet, you aren’t sleeping well, or you haven’t been doing it consistently for long enough.
If you’re curious about how big and strong you can get, and how quickly you can do it, here’s our article about size and strength standards for ectomorphs.
The Skinny Part of Skinny-Fat
To understand why some people are naturally skinnier than others, let’s take a look at what’s taking place inside our muscle fibres. There are a number of reasons why some people build muscle more easily than others, but the strongest predictor of natural muscularity is the number of nuclei in our muscle fibres, like so:
Naturally muscular guys have a tremendous amount of these nuclei in their muscle cells. Maybe they were born that way, maybe they acquired them through a childhood of being active, or maybe they acquired them through exercise (at which point they aren’t really “naturally” muscular, but the effect is the same). Regardless of how they got those nuclei, they have them, and so they’re naturally more muscular.
You can think of these nuclei as being sort of like wifi routers, where each router can project an internet signal within a certain area. If we stay inside that area, we get a good internet signal. If we go beyond that area, we lose the signal. The only difference is that instead of installing internet devices around the house, we’re building muscle.
If we want to build muscle within the area that our nuclei can control, no problem. We can build muscle fast and easy. But once we’ve maximized those domains, there’s no more room for growth. If we want to build more muscle, we need to start installing more wifi routers. This is why beginners, formerly muscular people, and genetically gifted people are often able to quickly build muscle while losing fat:
- Beginners may not have many nuclei in their muscle fibres, but they haven’t maximized their myonuclear domains yet, and so building muscle is fast and easy.
- Formerly muscular people have acquired more nuclei through training, and so when their muscles shrink, it’s tremendously fast and easy to bulk them back up again.
- Genetically gifted people naturally have more nuclei, allowing them to build more muscle before running up against the limits of their domains.
The problem with not having an abundance of nuclei in our muscle fibres is that it limits how big our muscle fibres can get. In fact, most of us only start off with enough nuclei to gain around ten pounds of muscle. This leads to a burst of muscle growth when we first start training for muscle growth … but then once we hit the edge of our domains, muscle growth slows and fat storage increases. This is why people who are in peak condition have a hard time building muscle while losing fat:
- Experienced lifters in peak condition have already maximized their nuclear domains. They may be muscular, yes, but continuing to build muscle is slower and harder. New wifi routers need to be installed.
This might also explain why you can keep gaining and losing the same ten pounds of muscle without feeling like you’ve made a lasting change. As you bulk and cut, your muscle fibres are just inflating and deflating. You aren’t making any permanent changes.
The good news, though, is that if we push deeper into muscle growth, we can add more nuclei to our muscle fibres. If we continue training for muscle growth, eating enough protein, and eating enough calories, our muscle fibres will add extra nuclei to allow for more muscle growth, like so:
Best of all, due to the phenomenon of muscle memory, these nuclei stick around forever. Even if we stop lifting weights, we keep the extra nuclei. Even if we go through a period of starvation, we keep these extra nuclei. It’s a permanent adaptation. By working out and dieting, we can become “naturally” muscular.
Of course, if you stop working out, your muscles will still deflate. But they probably won’t ever shrink as small as they were before. And when you start lifting weights again, they’ll return to peak size rather effortlessly. After all, once you’ve added these nuclei to your muscle fibres, you’ll be “naturally” muscular for the rest of your life.
Now, how does this relate to being skinny-fat? When we have an abundance of nuclei in our muscle fibres, our muscles are primed for growth, and so they tend to hog the calories that we’re eating, shuttling them towards muscle growth instead of fat storage. This improvement is quite profound, too. For instance, it gives us greater insulin sensitivity, allowing us to clear sugar out of our blood more quickly and invest it in muscle maintenance and growth (study).
Plus, this is just one of the many improvements that we get from training for muscle growth. Stimulating muscle growth with our workouts further improves our insulin sensitivity, helping us clear sugar out of our blood even more efficiently, and allowing us to benefit from higher carb intakes (study). And lifting weights comes along with a host of other benefits, including stronger bones and tendons, a lower risk of getting sick, and a lower chance of dying in general (study, study, study).
If we can build enough muscle, we can permanently upgrade our bodies, getting rid of the “skinny” part of skinny-fat once and for all.
The Fat Part of Skinny-Fat
To understand the “fat” part of skinny-fat, let’s take a look at how gaining fat affects our physiology. Similar to how we can gain new nuclei in our muscle fibres, we can also increase the number of fat cells we have—fat-cell hyperplasia. However, you have to gain quite a lot of fat for that to happen. Brad Dieter, PhD, talks about fat-cell hyperplasia starting to take place once people reach a BMI of about 35. For example, when someone is 5’10 and 240 pounds, gaining more fat can increase the number of fat cells they have.
Fortunately, you’re not morbidly obese, just skinny-fat. In your case, you probably still have the same number of fat cells you’ve always had. Your fat cells are just inflated with stored energy. That won’t reduce your ability to get and stay leaner. In fact, it helps. The more inflated your fat cells are, the easier it is to access their energy, and so the easier it is to lose fat. This is why overweight people are often able to lose fat even while building muscle.
However, having too much body fat can negatively impact our ability to build muscle, sort of. As our body-fat percentage climbs up over 20% or so, our hormones begin to change. We stop producing as much testosterone, start producing more estrogen, and our insulin sensitivity becomes blunted—it’s harder to clear the sugar out of our blood, harder to invest those nutrients into muscle growth. That can make it harder to build and maintain a lean and muscular physique, but it’s not clear by how much. There’s some research showing that having a higher body-fat percentage tends to result in worse nutrient partitioning when gaining weight, but most of that research doesn’t include weight training, so I’m not sure how well it applies here. A good weight training routine can be incredibly powerful.
Even so, by cutting down to a healthier body-fat percentage, we can improve our hormone production: more testosterone, less estrogen, less cortisol, less inflammation, and higher insulin sensitivity. If we do that while also getting into the habit of lifting weights, eating enough protein, eating a sensible number of calories, and getting good sleep, then it can feel quite natural to maintain a lower body-fat percentage.
It’s not all sunshine and roses, though. After all, the more deflated our fat cells get, the harder it is to access their energy:
- Cutting from 20% down to 15% might be easy. You might even gain some muscle while doing it. In fact, many overweight people experience body recomposition whether bulking or cutting, provided their training, diet, and lifestyle are good enough. This also tends to result in a dramatic improvement to our appearance, with our face becoming more chiselled, our stomach becoming flat, and muscular definition starting to appear in our arms and chest.
- Cutting from 15% down to 10% will likely be harder, and you might find that you’re only just barely maintaining your muscle size and strength. Even with a good workout routine and diet, it can be hard. On the bright side, though, it tends to have a neutral-to-positive effect on our health and hormones, and some people find that it improves their appearance.
- Cutting from 10% down to 8% might be quite difficult, rather unpleasant, our hormone profile can start to get worse, and most people lose a bit of muscle in the process. It can look impressive in some contexts, but most people start to look smaller in clothes, and their necks and wrists can start to look bony.
So, what should we do with this information? It means that if your body-fat percentage is over 20% right now, it might be a good time to cut, burning some fat while building muscle. Then, when you get down to 15% body fat, you can decide if you want to keep pushing leaner. Then, if you cut down to 10% body fat, eh, probably time to stop. Once you’ve cut down to around 10–13% body fat, it’s probably better to focus on building muscle.
Now, to be clear, these guidelines are quite rough. Different people have different numbers of fat cells. For some people, getting down to 10% is quite easy. For others, it’s hard to even maintain 15%. For me, my magic number is 11%. Point being, anywhere under 20% body fat is healthy, so don’t get too hung up on whether you should start bulking at 13% or 16% body fat. If you’re finding it hard to keep losing fat, it might be time to focus on building muscle instead.
The Skinny-Fat Workout
The Importance of Resistance Training
Skinny-fat people have a problem of gaining fat instead of muscle, right? By far the best way to fix that is to stimulate massive amounts of muscle growth with our training. Most people realize that weight training can be good for building muscle, but even then, they still underestimate how effective it can be. The amount of muscle-protein synthesis we can stimulate with a good workout routine overshadows almost every other factor. Calorie cycling done absolutely perfectly is a drop in the bucket. Weight training done properly is a waterfall.
Research clearly shows that following a good workout routine is enough to cause simultaneous fat loss and muscle growth in men with poor body composition, especially when combined with an adequate intake of protein (study). Training is by far the most important factor, so before going into the finer details of lifestyle and diet, it really pays to improve the stimulus that we’re getting from our workouts.
The catch is, most of these studies that find improved muscle growth and fat loss use professionally programmed workout routines that the participants strictly adhere to. It’s not enough to just go to the gym and sling some weights, we need to actually train. And we need to train specifically for muscle growth. That’s what pushes us outside of our comfort zones and forces us to train all of our muscles intensely enough to stimulate growth (not just the ones we’re most excited about). That’s when the amount of muscle growth we can stimulate really starts to become profound.
How to Train for Muscle Size
So, the question becomes, what’s the best way to stimulate muscle growth with our workouts? And that can be confusing at first. There are a lot of different ways to exercise. Some types of exercise, such as CrossFit, are designed to improve our general fitness while helping us gain some muscle size and strength as a byproduct. Others, like Starting Strength, StrongLifts 5×5, and Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1, are designed to improve our general strength while helping us gain some muscle size as a byproduct.
That’s all well and good, but we have the specific goal of building muscle. We don’t want to stimulate muscle growth as a byproduct, we want to go after muscle growth as aggressively as we possibly can. After all, the more muscle growth we can stimulate, the higher our insulin sensitivity and muscle-protein synthesis will rise, the more calories our muscles will soak up and the fewer will spill over into fat gain. If our workouts are good enough, we may even be able to gain muscle and lose fat simultaneously (at least while we’re still skinny-fat). That’s what hypertrophy training is for.
Hypertrophy training is a bit of a technical term. Hypertrophy means “muscle growth,” so hypertrophy training is specifically designed to stimulate a maximal amount of muscle growth. Some people call it bodybuilding, and that’s fine, but bodybuilding has its own culture and customs. Hypertrophy training removes the spray tans, speedos, and all of the stuff associated with competitive bodybuilding. You can still wear a speedo, of course, but that’s not a part of hypertrophy training.
Strength Training Versus Hypertrophy Training
For an example of why it’s so important to train specifically for muscle growth, let’s consider the difference between strength training and hypertrophy training. With strength training, lifting heavy weights in low rep ranges improves our brains’ ability to communicate with our muscle fibres, which has been nicknamed neural gains (study). Over time, we learn how to better contract our muscle fibres for a single all-out rep. We become stronger for our size.
Now, to be fair, strength training does stimulate some muscle growth. But that muscle growth is merely a by-product. When we aren’t training for muscle growth directly, we can’t expect to stimulate as much of it.
To get an idea how these different styles of training affect muscle growth, we can look at a recent study by Brad Schoenfeld, PhD. He split the participants into two groups, putting the first group on a strength training program and the second group on a hypertrophy training program. After eight weeks of training, he measured their 1-rep max strength and muscle growth.
Unsurprisingly, the professionally programmed strength training routine was able to produce large increases in 1-rep max strength. What’s remarkable, though, is that the strength training group increased their 1-rep max by nearly twice as much as the hypertrophy training group, showing that two different weight training routines can produce very different outcomes.
Equally unsurprisingly, the professionally programmed hypertrophy routine was able to produce large increases in muscle size. But again, what’s remarkable is that they gained over twice as much muscle size as the strength training group, again showing that the style of weight training can have a big impact on the sorts of results we can expect. In this case, the main difference was merely doing a few more reps per set, putting the participants within the so-called hypertrophy rep range.
So if we want to build bigger muscles, we should train specifically for muscle size, not for muscle strength or general fitness. And if you’re new to learning about building muscle, that can sound really confusing. After all, it’s common to hear a few different truisms in the fitness industry:
- A bigger muscle is a stronger one.
- Strength training just makes us strong for our size.
- Bodybuilders have muscles that are big but weak.
These statements all have a grain of truth in them, but without understanding the nuance, they become meaningless.
- A bigger muscle is a stronger one, but there are different kinds of strength. If you spend most of your time doing sets of twelve repetitions, then you’ll develop a mix of strength and work capacity that makes you stronger at doing sets of twelve repetitions. But because you aren’t practicing lifting heavy, you won’t be as good at testing your 1-rep max. So it’s true that a bigger muscle is a stronger one, but training in different rep ranges makes us better at lifting in those rep ranges.
- Strength training does make us stronger for our size, at least in a powerlifting sense. If you’re training in lower rep ranges, you’ll get better at lifting in those lower rep ranges. And because those lower rep ranges aren’t nearly as good at stimulating muscle growth, you’ll become stronger for your size. However, if you spend some time doing hypertrophy training, then you’ll have a far higher strength potential. You could then train those bigger muscles to lift in lower rep ranges. (This is what most powerlifters do. They go through both hypertrophy and strength phases.)
- It’s true that many bodybuilders have big muscles but aren’t able to lift very much on the big compound lifts. Is that because their muscles are big but weak? No. The muscles that they train are very strong. If they build bigger biceps by doing biceps curls, then their biceps will become quite strong, but that won’t necessarily translate to their squat, deadlift, or bench press strength. After all, if they don’t bulk up their spinal erectors, they won’t be able to deadlift very much weight. If you judge them by their deadlift strength, they’ll seem quite weak. Or you might see a bodybuilder with big forearms from doing wrist curls, but if they’re never trained their grip, they might not be able to hold a heavy barbell in their hands.
So what we’re seeing is that strength training is good for improving our 1-rep max strength, whereas hypertrophy training is good for improving our muscle size and general strength (because bigger muscles are stronger muscles).
Now, there’s the odd outlier study, such as this one, which shows greater muscle growth from strength training, but if we look at all the research on muscle growth, it shows that strength training only produces about 50% as much growth per set as hypertrophy training (systematic review).
The difference between strength training and hypertrophy training grows even wider when we consider that hypertrophy training tends to include more total sets, resulting in even more muscle growth being stimulated.
And the difference grows wider still when we consider that strength training and hypertrophy training tend to use different lifts. Strength training programs are built around lifts that give us good leverage and allow us to lift more weight (usually the low-bar squat, wide-grip bench press, and deadlift). Hypertrophy training programs are built around lifts that allow us to stimulate more muscle growth (such as the front squat, moderate-grip bench press, deadlift, overhead press, and chin-up).
Not only is the different lift selection better for stimulating muscle growth, but it also shifts the balance of that muscle growth more towards our upper bodies. Instead of the squat making up 1/3rd of our compound lifts, it now makes up 1/5th. And instead of doing a low-bar squat, which is lower-body dominant, we’re doing front squats, which stimulate growth in our upper backs.
Now, it’s not that strength training programs only use the Big Three powerlifting lifts. But the emphasis is usually on them. For instance, both Starting Strength and StrongLifts start every single workout with low-bar squats. And it’s not that hypertrophy training programs only use the Big Five lifts. A good hypertrophy program will include plenty of assistance and accessory lifts, too. But most workouts will start with 1–3 of the bigger compound lifts.
On that note, we shouldn’t make the opposite mistake, either. It’s one thing to shift some work to our upper bodies, but we still want to make sure that we’re fully stimulating our legs. After all, our quads, glutes, calves, and hamstrings are the biggest muscles in our bodies (source):
- The Quads: 1800 cm³
- The Glutes: 1200 cm³
- The Calves: 850 cm³
- The Hamstrings: 700 cm³
- Shoulders: 400 cm³
- Chest: 250 cm³
- Lats: 250 cm³
- Triceps: 250 cm³
- Traps: 200 cm³
- Biceps: 100 cm³
- Forearms: 100 cm³
I realize that most guys are more eager to bulk up their upper bodies than their lower bodies, but if we aren’t training our lower-body muscles with the same fervour as our upper-body muscles, we won’t be able to build muscle anywhere near as quickly and it will be more likely for surplus calories to spill over into fat gain. Furthermore, since we’ll have less overall muscle mass, our general health, insulin sensitivity, and hormone profile won’t see the same improvements.
To get the best of both worlds, then, we do want to include plenty of upper-body lifts in our workout routines, but we want to train each movement pattern hard enough to stimulate muscle growth everywhere. It’s not that every workout should start with squats, but we should probably be squatting as often as we bench press, deadlifting as often as we overhead press. And perhaps more controversially, we also think that we should be doing isolation lifts like biceps curls as often as we do those big compound lifts.
A good hypertrophy training program will usually add in plenty of isolation lifts for our arms and shoulders. Otherwise, most of the stimulation from our compound lifts will go to our torsos (glutes, back, chest, front delts) leaving our biceps, triceps, forearms, and side delts lagging behind. This is especially true for skinny guys, but it’s also just the nature of compound lifts. For example, take a look at how much triceps growth is stimulated by the bench press compared to a triceps extension:
The bench press is a great lift for building a bigger chest, but if we consider our triceps, they aren’t stimulated heartily enough. This is true with all lifts that involve movement at the shoulder (because movement in the shoulder joint prevents our triceps from fully engaging). But by adding in a couple of sets of triceps extensions (where all the movement is in the elbow joint), we can bulk up our triceps more than twice as quickly. And again, that won’t just speed up muscle growth, it will also increase our overall muscle-protein synthesis, reducing our chances of gaining fat.
One argument against using isolation lifts is that they aren’t as functional, but that’s kind of a ridiculous argument. As we’ve just shown, the function of the long head of our triceps is to extend our elbow joints when we aren’t pressing anything. To train that function, we need triceps extensions. If we want to build a muscular physique, we need to train all of our muscles using the movements that they’re built for.
Finally, a good hypertrophy program will also help us develop muscles that aren’t trained with compound lifts, such as building a thicker thick. Even something as simple as building a bigger neck can have a profound impact on how strong we look.
That gives us a muscle-building routine with a fairly equal emphasis on a wide variety of lifts and muscle groups:
- The Front squat (or goblet squat): for our quads, glutes, calves, and upper backs. Fortunately, even though our quads are the biggest muscle in our bodies, they’re quite thoroughly stimulated with just a single lift, making leg training pretty efficient.
- The Deadlift (or Romanian deadlift): for our hamstrings, glutes, and lower backs. Our hamstrings and glutes are huge muscles, but they’re both trained very well with just a single lift.
- The Bench Press (or push-ups, etc): for our chests, shoulders, and triceps (sort of).
- The Overhead Press (or close-grip bench press, etc): for our shoulders, upper chest, and triceps (sort of).
- The Chin-Up (or lat pulldowns, etc): for our upper backs and biceps (sort of).
- Arm training: because our biceps, triceps, and forearms aren’t fully stimulated with the big compound lifts.
- Neck training: because none of the big compound lifts train our necks. One of the reasons that skinny guys still look thin even after they start lifting weights is because they aren’t paying enough attention to their necks and traps.
- Ab training: because the compound lifts don’t do a good job of training our visible ab muscles, either. The compound lifts mainly challenge our transverse abdominals (our corset muscles) not our rectus abdominals (our six-pack muscles).
Now, if you’re still a beginner, some of these lifts are fairly advanced. For instance, front squats can be tough to learn if you haven’t developed the size and strength for them yet. In that case, no problem—there are beginner variations that are just as good at stimulating muscle growth.
If we look at the goblet squat, we get all of the same stimulation in our quads, glutes, and upper backs, but the lift is much easier to learn, and we’ve added in a bit of extra stimulation to our arms and shoulders (because the weight is held in front of us). So it’s not that any one specific lift is crucial, it’s just that we need a good way to stimulate muscle growth in all of our muscles. Including our legs, yes, and our chests and backs, of course, but also our arms and even our necks.
We’re combining big compound lifts (like the bench press) with isolation lifts for the muscles that aren’t being properly stimulated (like our biceps and triceps) and then adding in isolation lifts for neglected muscles (like our forearms and necks). Now in a t-shirt, all of a sudden we start to look more athletic. The skinny-fat look fades.
For more details on what a good hypertrophy training program looks like, we’ve got a full article on hypertrophy training.
The Skinny-Fat Diet
Protein for Skinny-Fat Guys
Hypertrophy training is by far the best way to stimulate muscle growth. And so if we want to stimulate even more muscle growth, improving our workouts is the very best way to do that. But that’s just one piece of the puzzle. It’s one thing to stimulate muscle growth, it’s another thing to actually build muscle. Proteins are the building blocks that we build muscle out of, and so if we aren’t eating enough of it, then we won’t be able to build as much muscle.
Think of it this way: our maximal rate of muscle growth is determined by how much muscle growth we stimulate with our workouts, but to actually build that muscle, we also need to eat enough protein. Then, once we’re eating enough protein to facilitate that muscle growth, eating even more protein doesn’t provide any extra benefit. So the goal isn’t to eat “more” protein, the goal is merely to eat “enough” protein.
If we look at this study, all of the participants were put on a hypertrophy training program and instructed to eat in a calorie deficit. Half of them ate a fairly average amount of protein (about 0.5 grams of protein per pound bodyweight), whereas the other half were instructed to eat a gram of protein per pound bodyweight per day. For a 150-pound man, that’s the difference between eating 75 grams versus 150 grams of protein per day.
After four weeks, the participants who were eating a standard amount of protein lost 7.7 pounds of fat but failed to gain a significant amount of muscle. That’s already a pretty good improvement in body composition, but the group who was enough protein lost eleven pounds of fat while gaining 2.6 pounds of lean mass. They achieved body recomposition while cutting.
So what we’re seeing here is that if we want to gain muscle while cutting, working out is incredibly important, but it might not be enough. However, if we also make sure to eat enough protein, most of us are able to build muscle while cutting, especially if we’re new to serious hypertrophy training, and especially if we’re still skinny-fat.
The best protein study we have is a meta-analysis showing that we can maximize our rate of muscle growth with as little as 0.7–1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day, especially if we’re getting enough energy from other foods (study). For someone who weighs 150 pounds, that’s 105–150 grams of protein per day. If you’re worried about your genetics or if you’re cutting, you might want to err on the higher side of that minimum intake. Maybe aim for the full gram per pound.
High-Carb Versus Low-Carb Diets
In this two-week study, the researchers took non-obese participants and split them into two groups: the first group was overfed with carbohydrates. The second was overfed with fat. Neither group lifted weights or exercised. Here’s what happened:
So what we’re seeing is that getting a calorie surplus from eating more dietary fat caused proportionally more fat gain (47% muscle, 53% fat) whereas getting a calorie surplus from carbs caused more muscle gain (56% muscle, 47% fat). Now, in both of these cases, nutrient partitioning was pretty bad. The reason is that they were gaining weight quickly without working out, improving their diets, or improving their lifestyles. But even so, we’re seeing that eating more carbs causes slightly leaner weight gain.
If we look at the research conducted on healthy men who are put on a hypertrophy training workout program, the benefits of a higher-carb diet become more substantial. After all, as we covered above, hypertrophy training increases our insulin sensitivity, allowing us to more efficiently clear sugar from our blood and invest it into muscle growth. Plus, when we do bodybuilding-style training, our muscles start to store more glycogen, which is made out of the glucose that we clear out of our blood. This glycogen makes our muscles look bigger, gives us more energy in the gym, and helps us build more muscle.
For an example of what a higher carbohydrate intake does when combined with a good hypertrophy program, these are the results of a study where the participants were given weight-gainer shakes containing roughly 1,800 calories from carbs. Now, we’re not recommending that you consume 1,800 of processed carbs every day. Far from it. That’s total overkill. But there’s no reason to fear carbs, either. Carbs don’t make people skinny-fat and, in fact, getting more calories from carbs tends to result in faster and leaner muscle growth.
This may sound controversial, especially since keto and low-carb diets are popular among people who are trying to lose fat. But keep in mind that we aren’t overweight people trying to lose weight, we’re skinny-fat people who are trying to build muscle. For us, we want to put muscle growth front and centre in our workout routines and diet. For that, we can turn to sports nutrition research. The Journal of Sports Science recommends 2–3 grams of carbs per pound bodyweight per day for guys trying to gain muscle strength and size. For a 150-pound man, that’s 300–450 grams (1200–1800 calories) of carbohydrates per day.
Skinny-Fat Macros (Carbs, Protein & Fat)
While bulking as a skinny-fat guy, I’d recommend aiming for macros along the lines of 50–60% carbs, 20–30% protein, and 20% fat. For a more detailed explanation, here’s our article on the best macros for bulking. Since you’re just skinny-fat, not obese, our recommendations are the same. After all, the goal is still to build muscle quickly and leanly.
When you’re cutting, protein is still incredibly important, but you can be more flexible with your carb and fat macros. We recommend eating at least 1 gram of protein per pound bodyweight per day. If you can do that, you don’t need to worry about your carb and fat macros. You don’t even need to track them. After all, both low-carb and low-fat cutting diets work quite well. The only thing to watch out for is going so low in fat that you impair your hormone production or going so low in carbs that you aren’t able to eat many fruits and vegetables. Ideally, you’d continue eating some fat and some carbs. But you don’t need to be strict about it. You can eat according to your preferences.
Finally, although macros are quite important, we also want to dive one level deeper. Since your nutrient partitioning isn’t great right now, there are three more things to watch out for:
- Overeating processed food. some people try to build muscle by adding a lot of processed junk food into their diets. This “dirty bulking” approach to bulking makes it easier to eat more calories, but getting too many of our calories from processed food tends to raise our fat intake higher, gives us fewer nutrients per calorie, and might result in a disproportionate amount of fat gain (study). As a result, we recommend getting around 80% of your calories from minimally processed whole foods when possible. Here are some examples of healthy bulking foods.
- Overeating saturated fat. there’s also some research showing that if overdo our intake of saturated fat while gaining weight, we gain less muscle and more fat. Worse, we gain more visceral fat (study). To be clear, eating some saturated fat is healthy (up to about 10% of total calories). It helps us produce hormones like testosterone. But when we’re adding calories into our diets to build muscle, it’s better to get most of our fat from sources like nuts, olive oil, fatty fish, and fish oil.
- Overdoing it with drinking (or other substances). A serving or two of alcohol per day doesn’t seem to be correlated with worse health, especially if you’re having it earlier in the evening, with the alcohol long gone by the time you head to bed. More than a couple of drinks can be a problem, though. The same thing goes for other substances. Some might be fine, but try not to overdo it. And if you notice a substance negatively impacting your energy levels, motivation, relationships, or mood, maybe it’s not the best fit for you.
The Basics of a Good Skinny-Fat Diet
Okay, so the two most important dietary factors as a skinny-fat guy are to eat the right amount of calories to either bulk or cut, and then to eat enough protein to optimize your nutrient partitioning. Here’s a quick summary:
- Eat the right number of calories to either bulk or cut at a reasonable pace. If you’re gaining weight, the goal is to gain muscle leanly. If you’re losing weight, the goal is to build a bit of muscle while quickly losing fat.
- Eat enough protein. Of all the dietary changes skinny-fat guys need to make, the most important thing is making sure that we’re eating enough protein to build muscle as fast as possible while bulking, and eating enough protein to gain and maintain muscle while cutting. In both cases, the ideal protein intake is roughly one gram of protein per pound bodyweight per day.
- For your bulking macros, getting your extra calories from carbs usually works best (50–60% of calories from carbs).
- For your cutting macros, you can cut back on both carbs and fat, but you don’t need to be strict about it (say 30% carbs and 30% fat). That way you can still eat a healthy and balanced diet containing nuts, fish, olive oil, eggs, fruits, vegetables, legumes, meat, and so on.
- Spread your protein intake out between meals. Try to eat at least twenty grams of protein in each meal so that you can stimulate muscle-protein synthesis at multiple points during the day. (Although to be clear, the muscle-protein synthesis we stimulate with our meals pales in comparison to the muscle growth we stimulate with our workouts.)
- Eat mostly whole foods. You don’t need to restrict carbs or completely eliminate sugar or junk food. But getting around 80% of your calories from minimally processed whole foods is usually wise.
Should Skinny-Fat Guys Do Cardio?
When most people think of fat loss, they think of cardio. The idea is that cardio routines (jogging, aerobics, bodyweight circuits, and so on) help to burn calories, speeding up fat loss. That’s true. The only problem is that cardio does little to preserve muscle mass as we lose weight. We lose a mix of both muscle and fat, often winding up skinny-fat by the end of our diets.
For example, in this 12-week study, the researchers split the participants into three groups. The first group wasn’t given any sort of workout program, they were just instructed to eat in a calorie deficit. This caused them to lose weight, with 67% of that weight loss coming from fat and 33% of it coming from muscle.
What’s interesting is that this is the same ratio of muscle-to-fat gain that the average person has while gaining weight. This means that when alternating between calorie deficits and calorie surpluses, their body composition would stay about the same. They aren’t getting leaner or more muscular, just bigger and smaller.
The next group of participants was instructed to eat in a calorie deficit and were given a cardio workout routine to follow. This caused them to lose 76% fat and 24% muscle. They aren’t just losing weight anymore, they’re starting to shift their ratio of muscle to fat.
The third group of participants were told to eat in a calorie deficit, and they were given a cardio and hypertrophy training workout routine. By adding in the hypertrophy training, they lost pure fat. No muscle loss whatsoever. And since all of the weight loss came from fat loss, they burned fat 30% faster than the cardio group. This is what we call “cutting”—losing weight while training for muscle size.
What’s neat about this study is that the participants weren’t told to eat more protein or improve their sleep or anything else. This was just a calorie deficit combined with a workout program. And already we have full muscle maintenance while rapidly losing fat—nearly two pounds of fat loss per week for twelve weeks.
Now, this is just one study. Ideally, we’d have at least a few studies to look at. And we do. Another study tried to replicate the results of the above study and got even more polarized results:
If we look at the “weight loss” group who were doing just cardio, we see that they lost almost as much muscle as fat. That means that as they were losing weight, their body composition was actually getting worse. This is exactly how someone might wind up skinny-fat.
If we look at the “cutting” group who were doing hypertrophy training, though, we see much better results. Not only were they losing fat three times as fast, but they were also able to gain muscle while doing it. We have an example of body recomposition. And as with the previous study, this is without improving their diets or incorporating any lifestyle changes.
The above studies show that doing just cardio causes us to burn both muscle and fat as we lose weight. But we’re not trying to throw cardio under the barbell. Quite the opposite. Notice that the study participants who got the best results did both lifting and cardio. So it’s not that cardio isn’t important, it’s just that cardio isn’t enough.
Cardio is actually quite helpful for skinny-fat guys. Hypertrophy training is infinitely more important, so if you only have three hours per week to exercise, spend it doing hypertrophy training. But if you have the time and energy to add in a bit of cardio, that will only make things better. Not only will it speed up your progress and improve your cardiovascular health, it may also improve your body composition.
The Importance of G-Flux
The next thing we can talk about is the idea of increasing our “g-flux,” which is how many calories we consume and burn every day. This is what people are often referring to when they talk about having a fast metabolism or being a hardgainer—even though they consume a lot of food, they burn all of the energy, preventing those calories from being stored as fat.
There’s a genetic component to being a hardgainer, but the main difference in how many calories we burn comes from how active we are. It has to do with how much time do we spend running instead of walking, or walking instead of standing, or standing instead of sitting, or sitting instead of lying down. And when we’re lying down, are we lying there inert or we twiddling our thumbs?
Now, why does this matter? After all, all that matters is whether we’re in a calorie surplus or a calorie deficit, right? Why would it matter if we’re losing a pound per week while eating 3,000 vs 1,500 calories? Why would it matter if we’re bulking while eating 2,000 vs 4,000 calories?
The more active we are, the more calories we burn. The more calories we burn, the more food we need to eat. And when we eat more food, we take in more nutrients: more carbs, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fibre, and so on. When we’re eating more food, we have more nutrients churning through our systems, giving us a better chance of having the nutrients we need to be healthy, have a strong hormonal system, and to build muscle with.
To quote Ryan Andrews, MS, RD, from Precision Nutrition, having a higher g-flux comes along with the following benefits:
- Simultaneous increases in lean mass and losses in fat mass
- Increased metabolic rate
- More rapid adaptations to training stress
- Better recovery
- Improved nutrient partitioning (in other words, what your body does with what you eat)
- Improved micronutrient delivery (in other words, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients get where they need to go)
- Increased tissue remodelling and turnover
- Improved health
As a skinny-fat guy, these are exactly the benefits that we want. And to get them, we don’t necessarily need to do any dedicated cardio. All we need to do is be more active. That might mean playing some casual sports, going on hikes, walking to get your groceries, doing yoga, or whatever kind of physical activity you prefer. Even better if you get some sunlight while doing it (for the extra vitamin D).
Here are a few ways to increase your g-flux:
- Get a pedometer and aim to get around 10,000 steps per day on average. Since that’s an average, that means you can do 15,000 steps one day, 5000 the next. The important thing is getting your 70,000 steps for the week.
- Go on a 30-minute walk in the sun every day, especially during the winter. Again, if you miss a day, simply make up for it the next day. The important thing will be getting 3.5 hours of walking per week.
- Do 2–3 biking sessions per week, each lasting 20–60 minutes.
As with cardio, having a higher g-flux isn’t nearly as important as following a good hypertrophy program and eating enough protein—master those two things before you buy a pedometer—but it’s one more piece of the puzzle that can make it easier to build muscle or lose fat faster. And it’s great for our general health and fitness.
Improving Nutrient Partitioning With Sleep
Getting good sleep is part of living a healthy lifestyle, with a myriad list of health benefits, ranging from better hormone production to improved willpower and appetite. What many of us don’t realize, though, is that sleep can also help us build muscle more quickly and leanly.
A recent study found that not getting enough sleep slows the rate that we can build muscle. That might not sound so bad, but since we’re constantly breaking down and building muscle, when muscle growth slows, it can lead to muscle loss. What’s interesting is that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) increases our rate of muscle growth, cancelling out the harm of not getting enough sleep. What we see, then, is that a training program that should be producing muscle growth is just preventing muscle loss.
Now, to be fair, HIIT isn’t the best way to build muscle. It’s possible that if the study participants were doing hypertrophy training, they would have been able to overcome the effects of poor sleep and slowly build muscle. A lot of people are able to do that. They wake up early to sneak in a workout. That works. You may notice a theme here: a good training routine is the most important factor.
But what happens when we follow a good bodybuilding program and get proper sleep? We have a study that tested exactly that. The researchers gave all of the participants a weight training program to follow, but they also gave half of the participants a quick lesson about how to improve their sleep. Here’s what happened:
After ten weeks, both groups had succeeded in gaining muscle, but the participants who were taught how to improve their sleep gained around 30% more muscle mass. That’s great, and building more muscle tends to mean storing less fat, but it doesn’t necessarily mean better nutrient partitioning. For that, we need to look directly at what happened to their body fat:
The group who just lifted weights gained quite a bit of muscle, yes, but they also gained some fat along with their muscle. This is what we often think of when we think of “bulking”—a mix of muscle and fat. But what’s interesting is that the group who also focused on improving their sleep were able to build more muscle while simultaneously losing fat.
So what we’re seeing is that by improving our sleep, we can improve our nutrient partitioning, causing our body to send more calories towards muscle growth, fewer towards fat storage. If we combine a good hypertrophy program with proper sleep, we can get faster and leaner muscle growth. In fact, we may even be able to lose fat while building muscle.
This brings up the obvious question, then: how do we improve our sleep? For that, we’ve got a full article on improving sleep for muscle growth.
There are a few supplements that can help skinny-fat guys, but they aren’t any kind of magical solution. Mostly, they just help us lift harder, eat enough protein, or get better sleep. Still, they can indeed help.
Here are a few good supplements that can help with body recomposition, all of them totally optional:
- Protein powders, such as whey, by making it easier to eat more protein.
- Creatine, by improving our workout performance, increasing our lean mass, and improving our ability to build muscle.
- Caffeine, by improving energy, reducing fatigue, and making lifting a little bit less painful.
- Melatonin, by improving sleep. However your body can produce it naturally if you get into a good bedtime routine. You probably don’t need it.
For more, we have a full article on supplements that can help people gain muscle while losing weight.
Is Body Recomposition the Right Solution?
We get a ton of questions from skinny-fat guys asking if they can build muscle and lose fat at the same time, which is called body recomposition.
First of all, that depends on how you define body recomposition. If we’re bulking and we wind up losing fat, as happened in the carb overfeeding and sleep studies, that’s body recomposition. Or if we’re cutting and we wind up building muscle, as happened in the hypertrophy training + cardio studies, then again, that counts as body recomposition. But what most people mean when they say body recomposition is:
- Body recomposition: building muscle and losing fat while maintaining a similar overall body weight.
So body recomposition often assumes that you aren’t bulking or cutting, you’re just hypertrophy training, eating more protein, getting better sleep, eating a better diet, and maintaining about the same body weight week after week. Is that an effective approach?
To understand how body recomposition works, we need to understand how muscle is built and fat is burned. Throughout the day, you’re constantly gaining and losing weight. Maybe you have a big dinner, driving into a calorie surplus and gaining a bit of muscle and fat. Then you go to bed for eight hours, falling into a calorie deficit and losing a bit of muscle and fat. In the end, it tends to balance out. Your body composition stays about the same: the same amount of muscle, the same amount of fat, and the same overall body weight.
That’s where body recomposition comes in. The idea of body recomposition is that when you’re in those brief calorie surpluses, you find a way to build muscle more leanly. Then, when you’re in those brief calorie deficits, you find a way to burn more fat. If you can do that, then you’ll gradually become leaner and more muscular without needing to bulk or cut. As you go through those small surpluses and deficits, it’s almost like going through nano bulks and cuts.
It’s true that body recomposition is possible, especially if you’re out of shape and new to lifting weights. When most people first start following a good hypertrophy program, they gain some muscle and lose some fat. Combine that with a higher protein intake and even more body recomposition takes place. Add in better sleep, and the effects are more exaggerated still. Going deeper into the jungle, there are some other methods that may provide modest body recomposition benefits:
- Calorie cycling: eating more calories surrounding your workouts, when your muscles are more insulin sensitive, and you’re most likely to gain muscle leanly.
- Carb cycling: eating more carbs surrounding your workouts, when they’re most likely to help you gain muscle.
- Protein cycling: eating a ton of protein surrounding your workouts (e.g. 60 grams of whey protein) to boost muscle growth with little risk of fat gain.
- Protein distribution: if you have at least 20 grams of protein with every meal, that will keep your body in a heightened state of muscle protein synthesis, allowing more of the calories you’re eating to be invested into muscle growth.
- 16:8 intermittent fasting: some research shows that if you skip breakfast, it will extend your overnight calorie deficit, and you’ll be able to burn fat during your mornings. Then, in the evenings, you can eat a diet that helps you to build muscle. It isn’t proving to be very effective, but it might produce a modest positive result.
These strategies all work a little bit, but they’re not very powerful. See, the problem with body recomposition is that you’re trying to build muscle during fleeting calorie surplus, and you’re trying to lose fat during fleeting calorie deficits. To build muscle leanly during these ephemeral surpluses, you need excellent nutrient partitioning. And to lose fat during ephemeral deficits, again, you need fantastic nutrient partitioning. In fact, the entire plan hinges on having damn-near-perfect nutrient partitioning… which is the thing that skinny-fat people struggle with the most.
These approaches can help with nutrient partitioning a little bit, yes, but again, they’re just not powerful enough to produce dramatic results, especially if you aren’t a beginner, don’t have great genetics, or already have trouble with nutrient partitioning.
Now, if you follow a body recomposition plan with temerity and consistency, it may produce slow and steady progress that gradually improves your body composition, health markers, and appearance. Those slow changes won’t be enough to transform your skinny-fat physique over the next few months, but it might be enough to transform your physique in the longer term—over the next few years.
If you want faster results, though, it can really help to go through periods of bulking and cutting. After all, here are the heavy artillery of muscle growth and fat loss:
- Overall calorie surplus (bulking): a calorie surplus is the most anabolic “diet” of all, significantly raising testosterone production (study), lowering cortisol, enhancing cellular signalling, activating all of the muscle-growth pathways, and allowing for massive amounts of muscle growth. This will allow you to absolutely obliterate the skinny part of skinny-fat. This is how you can gain up to 20 pounds of muscle within just a few months.
- Overall calorie deficit (cutting): a calorie deficit is the best “diet” for losing fat, causing a dramatic and consistent fat loss from beginning to end. This will allow you to quickly shred fat. This is how you can lose 20+ pounds of fat in just a couple months. Best of all, if you’re a beginner, you can gain a few pounds of muscle while cutting, getting all of the muscle growth benefits of body recomposition but with 3x the fat loss.
To quote Mike Israetel, PhD, from Renaissance Nutrition:
The single most important change you can make to your diet to gain more muscle is to eat more food. It’s that simple. All else being equal, eating more is the most powerful tool for muscle gain, as long as you’re training hard. Conversely, given hard training, the best tool for fat loss is to eat less!
In reality, it’s all about calorie balance. To gain muscle, eating more calories than you burn is the best strategy. This is best accomplished by eating more food rather than restricting activity. In fat loss, however, a combined approach seems to work best: eat a bit less and do more activity, whether it be lifting, cardio, or just leading a more active lifestyle.
All these body recomposition tactics can help, but if you aren’t leveraging longterm calorie deficits or surpluses, you’re going to have a hard time consistently building muscle or losing fat. Body recomposition requires years of hard work to accomplish what can be done with a few months of much easier bulking and cutting.
Should Skinny-Fat Guys Bulk or Cut?
The more muscle you can gain, the easier it will be to stay lean and muscular. And the leaner you get, the better your hormone profile will be, also helping to keep you lean and muscular.
You now have two straightforward goals:
- Gain muscle (say twenty pounds)
- Get lean (say 12% body fat)
So, should you start by bulking or cutting?
Should You Start With a Bulk?
Building muscle first is a great option for guys who are on the skinny side of skinny-fat. For example, DoctorB came in with a bit of a belly but still with a fairly low body-fat percentage overall. His goal was to build muscle as quickly as possible. This made bulking a good choice for him, and he did a great job of it:
If you bulk properly, even as a skinny-fat guy, you can build muscle fairly quickly. Problem is, it’s going to be challenging to keep your gains lean. In fact, even if you succeed in keeping your gains totally lean, they won’t look lean. If you build up bigger abs under your belly, those abs will only push your belly out further, making it look like you gained fat.
In DoctorB’s case, you can see that although he clearly gained a ton of muscle, he also gained some fat. Not the end of the world. He cut it off right afterwards. But you need to be prepared for that.
If looking chubby-strong scares you, best to cut first.
Should You Start With a Cut?
If you’re on the chubbier side or if you’re new to lifting weights, then cutting is almost always the better choice. Most studies show that untrained guys who lift weights while cutting can build muscle even while losing weight.
For example, this 6-month study showed that guys were able to build muscle while cutting without even paying attention to their protein intake:
- Lifting + fitness routine: 22 pounds of fat loss, 4 pounds of muscle gain, 18 pounds lost overall.
And here’s a four-week study showing that you can get even quicker results by intentionally raising your protein intake:
- Lifting + fitness + protein: 10 pounds of fat loss, 3 pounds of muscle gain, 7 pounds lost overall.
If you’re a skinny-fat guy who’s new to lifting, those are realistic results for you. Everyone is a bit different, so don’t get too attached to those specific numbers, but you should be within this ballpark.
For an example of that, Eric lost four pounds and gained two inches on his biceps during just his first five weeks of cutting. As you can see, his progress seems to have literally made his jaw drop:
This approach works incredibly well on guys who are new to working out, and the results are consistent and reliable. Every day you’ll wake up looking better than the day before.
How to Cut as a Skinny-Fat Guy
Cutting as a skinny-fat guy is similar to cutting as someone who’s overweight. The first difference is that the typical overweight person has more muscle mass, which means they might not be as concerned about maintaining/gaining muscle as they lose weight. The second difference is that the overweight person will need to cut for much longer, they’ll need to learn how to maintain a substantially lower body-weight, and so they may need to take more drastic approaches to appetite and hormone management.
For a skinny-fat guy, we want a quick and aggressive cut that aims for muscle growth while losing fat:
- Lift weights 3 times per week (or more), doing a hypertrophy program. I’d recommend doing three full-body workouts per week. Start each workout with a couple of big compound lifts. Something along the lines of front-loaded squats, conventional deadlifts, chin-ups, bench press (or push-ups), overhead presses. The lifts will vary depending on your experience level, but the idea is to choose bigger compound movements that work all of your major muscle groups. For example, if you’re a beginner, you could start one workout with goblet squats and lowered chin-ups, the next with Romanian deadlifts and push-ups. Then, after you’ve done a few sets of those bigger exercises, feel free to fill in the rest of your workouts with smaller ones: biceps curls, rows, lateral raises, and so on. Keep most of your lifts in the 6–20 rep range. (Better still, follow a professionally programmed hypertrophy routine.)
- Eat at least a gram of protein per pound bodyweight per day. If you weigh 150 pounds, eat at least 150 grams of protein per day. Ideally, you’d spread that protein intake out over the course of a few meals. Maybe 30 with breakfast, 30 with lunch, 30 as a snack, and 60 for dinner.
- Lose one pound per week. The easiest way to get into a calorie deficit is to remove 500 calories from your diet. If you have no idea how much you’re currently eating, 13–15x your body weight is a good place to start. If you weigh 150 pounds, start with 1950–2250 calories. The trick, though, is to weigh yourself every week and then adjust your calories depending on whether you lose weight or not. 200-calorie increments tend to work well for this. So if eating 2250 calories doesn’t cause weight loss, drop your calorie intake down to 2050. If that doesn’t work, drop it to 1850. Keep adjusting until you’re losing a pound per week, and be prepared to keep adjusting as you dig deeper into your fat stores.
- Set aside at least 8 hours per night for sleep. The better you sleep, the better your hormones will be, the more energy you’ll have, the more muscle you’ll build, and the more fat you’ll lose. We’ve got a guide on improving your sleep here.
- Try to get outside, be active, go for walks. The more active you are, the more calories you’ll burn, and the more calories you’ll be able to eat while still losing weight. The more calories you can eat, the more nutrients you’ll get, and the better your body will function. You don’t need to do intense exercise, though. Going on long walks is a great way to burn some calories. And if you can do it outside, even better—sunlight will help with vitamin D production, which will help you produce more testosterone (more muscle) and melatonin (better sleep).
Over the course of the next five weeks, that should allow you to lose around 4–5 pounds, and you’ll probably gain some muscle while doing it, especially if you’re following a proper lifting program. This is like body recomposition but better.
How to Bulk as a Skinny-Fat Guy
If you follow our advice and you start with a cut, you’ll be entering into your bulk fairly lean, and so you’ll be able to bulk almost like a typical skinny guy. The difference is that since you have a history of being skinny-fat, we’re going to take a slower approach to bulking (gaining 0.5 pounds per week) and we’re going to keep your activity levels high as you do it (including some walking, physical activity, or cardio). That’s going to give you a better shot at building muscle leanly.
Here are some rules of thumb for building muscle leanly:
- Lift weights 3 times per week (or more), doing a hypertrophy program. Your lifting routine should be the same whether bulking or cutting. So just as we explained above, start each workout with a couple of big compound lifts like front-loaded squats, conventional deadlifts, chin-ups, bench press (or push-ups), overhead presses. The lifts will vary depending on your experience level, but the idea is to choose bigger compound movements that work all of your major muscle groups. For example, if you’re a beginner, you could start one workout with goblet squats and lowered chin-ups, the next with Romanian deadlifts and push-ups. Then, after you’ve done a few sets of those bigger exercises, feel free to fill in the rest of your workouts with smaller ones: biceps curls, rows, lateral raises, and so on. Keep most of your lifts in the 6–20 rep range. (Better still, follow a professionally programmed hypertrophy routine.)
- Eat at least 0.7–1 gram of protein per pound bodyweight per day. If you weigh 150 pounds, eat 105–150 grams of protein per day. Ideally, you’d spread that protein intake out over the course of a few meals. Maybe 30 with breakfast, 30 with lunch, 30 as a snack, and 60 for dinner.
- Gain 0.5 pounds per week. The easiest way to get into this calorie surplus is to add 250 calories to your diet. If you have no idea how much you’re currently eating, 16–18x your body weight is a good place to start. If you weigh 150 pounds, start with 2400–2700 calories. The trick, though, is to weigh yourself every week and then adjust your calories depending on whether you gain weight or not. 200-calorie increments tend to work well for this. So if eating 2400 calories doesn’t cause weight gain, bring your calorie intake up to 2600. If that doesn’t work, bring it up to 2800. And so on.
- Set aside at least 8 hours per night for sleep. The better you sleep, the better your hormones will be, the more energy you’ll have, the more muscle you’ll build, and the more fat you’ll lose. We’ve got a guide on improving your sleep here.
- Try to get outside, be active, go for walks. The more active you are, the more calories you’ll burn, and the less likely you’ll be to store fat. You don’t need to do intense exercise, though. Going on walks is a great way to burn some calories. And if you can do it outside, even better—sunlight will help with vitamin D production, which will help you produce more testosterone (more muscle) and more melatonin (better sleep).
Zig-Zag Towards Lean Muscularity
When you get to 15–20% body fat, it’s usually best to switch to cutting. It’s totally up to you whether gear into a cut at 15% or at 20% body fat. If you want to look great year-round, I’d stop bulking at closer to 15%, but going as high as 20% shouldn’t negatively impact your health or hormones. (Here’s our guide for estimating your body-fat percentage based on how you look in the mirror.)
While cutting, aim to lose around 1 pound per week. I would expect to cut for around 12 weeks, at which point you should be lean enough to bulk again. Best case scenario, over the course of those 12 weeks, you’ll lose around 15 pounds of fat while gaining a few pounds of muscle.
10-20% body fat is your bulking zone, where you focus on building muscle and strength as leanly as possible. For most skinny beginners, we recommend gaining a full pound per week. But we recommend that skinny-fat guys bulk a little more slowly. That will give you a better chance of keeping your gains lean. I’d aim to gain around 0.5 pounds per week.
If you want to bulk first, your path out of skinny-fatness will look like this:
The problem with this approach is that you won’t be losing much, if any, fat while bulking up. In fact, your body-fat percentage might gradually climb higher, which can make it even harder to build muscle leanly. Still, this approach works much better than body recomposition.
If you’re following our recommendation of starting with a cut and then gearing into a lean bulk afterwards, your progress should look more like this:
The benefit to this approach is that as you lose fat, you have a great chance of building a few pounds of muscle. Furthermore, getting leaner is going to make it easier to stay lean when you switch to bulking.
At all times, whether you’re bulking or cutting, always be fighting to gain strength on your lifts. I don’t mean that you should always be testing your 1-rep max on the squat, bench, and deadlift, I mean that every workout, you should be fighting to either add weight or to get extra reps on all of the lifts that you’re doing. Turn your 6-rep max into your 8-rep max. Gradually increase your 10-rep max. Get stronger in the rep ranges that you’re lifting in. Get stronger at the bulking lifts that you’re doing.
When you’re gaining weight, you’ll be building muscle more quickly, and so gaining strength should be easy. When you’re losing weight, it’s going to be hard to build muscle, and so it will be hard to gain strength. Still, keep fighting for those strength gains. That’s how you’ll force your body to build muscle while cutting.
Being skinny-fat is defined by being both under-muscled and over-fat, giving us two clear goals to work towards: build muscle and lose fat. It’s possible to build muscle mass and lose fat simultaneously, which is called body recomposition, but remember that you don’t need to maintain the same body weight to achieve body recomposition.
The most reliable way to build muscle is to “bulk,” which means steadily gaining weight to facilitate muscle growth. Having an abundance of nutrients gives us a more anabolic hormone profile and gives us plenty of material to construct muscle with, making it relatively easy to build muscle. It’s possible to lose fat while bulking, especially if you’re a beginner, following a good hypertrophy program, eating enough protein, getting enough good sleep, and gaining weight fairly slowly (around 0.5 pounds per week). There are numerous examples of this in a wide variety of studies. But bulking is generally considered a success as long as you’re mostly gaining muscle.
The most reliable way to lose fat is to “cut,” which means steadily losing weight to facilitate fat loss. Having a shortage of energy forces our bodies to get the energy it needs from stored tissue, making it fairly easy to burn fat. It’s possible to build muscle while cutting, especially if you’re a beginner, following a good hypertrophy program, eating enough protein, and getting enough good sleep. It’s possible that your muscles will deflate a little bit, but that’s mostly because they’re holding onto less glycogen. And besides, since the nuclei we add to our muscle cells are permanent, any muscle that you lose will pop back when you finish your cut. That means that bulking fairly aggressively, losing 1–2 pounds per week, is okay. But slower paces are fine, too.
Since you probably want to gain muscle and lose fat, it can be hard to decide between bulking and cutting. When in doubt, go with your gut. As in, get rid of your gut. Cutting is a good default choice. It’s easier to build muscle while cutting than it is to lose fat while bulking. You have a better chance of achieving body recomposition if you start with a cut. But there’s no wrong answer. Bulking and cutting will both help you march closer to your goals.
Whether you’re bulking or cutting, your list of priorities looks like this:
- Follow a good hypertrophy training program. The more muscle growth you can stimulate, the faster you’ll build muscle and the less likely it will be for extra calories to spill over into fat gain. Even when cutting, training for muscle growth is the most important factor, as it will help you maintain (or even gain) muscle while burning fat faster. Nothing improves nutrient partitioning better than a good hypertrophy training program.
- Eat enough protein. If you eat at least 0.7–1 grams of protein per pound bodyweight per day and follow a good hypertrophy program, most research shows that people with poor body composition can achieve simultaneous muscle growth and fat loss. But even if you’re just gaining muscle or losing fat, it will greatly improve your nutrient partitioning. (There’s no evidence showing a benefit to even higher protein intakes than this, but there’s little harm in it, either.)
- Get enough good sleep. Beyond hypertrophy training and protein, the next most important thing is improving your sleep. There’s quite a lot of research showing that improving your sleep will lead to faster muscle growth and/or fat loss.
- Eat a good diet. We could go into exhaustive detail here, but as a general rule, eat a diet made up mostly of minimally processed whole foods, but don’t fear the occasional treat. More fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, dairy, fish, and, perhaps, some protein powder. Less processed sugar, saturated fat, and processed food.
- Be active. Being active can range from doing cardio to simply going on more walks. This is further down the priority list, but any extra energy you have after doing all of the above would be well spent by, say, going on a long walk in the sun a few times per week.
It won’t always be easy, and you’ll probably need to grapple with worries of losing muscle or gaining fat. When in doubt, remember that if you’re consistently getting stronger week by week, month by month, and year by year, then you’re on the path to becoming lean and muscular.
If you want more muscle-building information, we have a free bulking newsletter for skinny guys. If you want a full bulking program, including a 5-month workout routine, diet guide, recipe book, and online coaching, check out our Bony to Beastly Bulking Program. Or, if you want an intermediate bulking routine, check out our Outlift Intermediate Bulking Program.
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Hey, great article as always guys 😀 I think I’m kind of stuck in the path to Florida Strong haha. I keep making strength gains in my workout not as fast as I used to but still I see improvement, yet my weight and body fat seems to remain the same. I’m trying to stimulate muscle growth with a caloric surplus, but an extra protein shake wont cut it right? So I don’t really know what I’m asking you right now I’d just like some advice to push me in the right direction I guess. Thx guys 😀
Thanks, Jan! If you’re still making strength gains you can be confident that you’re moving in the right direction, except you’re right—if your weight is staying the same and your strength is only very slowly increasing you’ll be heading there very very slowly (and at some point you’ll need to gain weight). A protein shake might cut it! Depends how close to a surplus you are, and how large that protein shake is. If it causes your weight to move up on the scale each week, perfect, but if not you’ll need more calories. Maybe that means mixing a couple scoops of whey with milk instead of water, blending up a fruit smoothie instead, having a handful of nuts, etc.
Sounds like you’re close 🙂
Not the right article to ask this but still, should I experiment with different rep ranges and see if that helps? I currently start with 12 increase the weight 10 and increase and then 8 reps and move on to another exercise still focusing the same body part. And yeah I always mix the powder with milk because chocolate tasting water seems weird to me haha but I’ll throw in some berries in there to see if that helps out 😀 thank you
Varying rep ranges and exercises is great, yeah. You can do it by changing the rep range per set, you can do it by changing the rep range per phase, changing the rep range per exercise, etc. For example, you could do a few sets of 5 rep bench press, then a couple sets of 10 rep (weighted) push-ups, then 15 rep pec flys or something. Maybe one after another, even better split up over the course of a week. Then maybe a couple months later you switch the rep ranges and exercises up a little.
Berries aren’t very high calorie. If you’re blending it and it’s chocolate flavour, maybe toss in a banana and some cocoa?
May i chime in here- being a skinny guy most of my life and also training hard for years i tried all kinds of bulking methods and training plans but when i followed the usual method of adding more carbs for extra calories i ended up gaining more fat then id have liked to… yes the muscle gains came along for the ride too.. but belly fat is belly fat right? It wasnt until i got fed up one day and decided ” stuff it- lets dirty bulk and go nuts” and see what happened that i found the winning formula for us skinny guys!! Fats!! Namely peanut butter!! Smooth no added sugar or salt peanut butter!! Its dense with calories and doesnt provoke an insulin response like carbs do so there is lil incentive for your body to shuttle those calories to be stored as fat like carbs often are when you try adding more to bulk up. Heres what i found works best for me- add 1-2 tablespoons of peanut butter to 1-1.5 cups of ice cold milk and add 1-2 scoops of protein powder (and use a blend- NOT a whey isolate only!! You want a blend of whey isolate/whey concentrate and casein…and if it has egg album in it even better. That way you get amino acids trickle fed into your muscles for many hours so you grow for many hours) and just blend up that delicious mix!! My morning shake is made with 1.5 cups of full fat milk, 3 tablespoons of peanut butter and 2 scoops of syntha 6 protein powder for a grand total of around 800 cals – 58 grams of protein and pleanty of fats and some carbs to fuel growth. I have the same before bed too. 1600 cals from 2 shakes alone on top of normal meals. And believe me it works!! The rest of the day i have carbs with every meal but now i have a SMALL portion of carbs with those meals.. and fat gains are way down while muscle growth is def up. 36 pounds gained in about 500 days of serious training. Yes some of it is fat.. but going from 132 pounds to 168 pounds- im able to carry that extra bodyfat quite well and still look quite lean. If i was to redo my 500 days of bulking id have added the peanut butter from the start and kept my carbs lower.. but you learn as you go right?
So long answer short- add peanut butter. Yes my shake is often choc or banana flavour too. They go amazing with peanut butter.
So adding peanut butter helped you reduce fat gains? The 36 lbs were mostly muscle and not all fat?
That’s awesome, man! Congratulations on all your gains!
I want to caveat that with, yes, while higher fat diets can lead to leaner gains in some guys, it’s rare. Most guys—especially naturally skinny guys—will gain more leanly on a diet that’s higher in carbohydrates. That’s not an absolute—exceptions exist—but as a general rule of thumb, it’s wisest to start with more carbs and adjust from there, rather than more fats and adjusting from there.
Also, you’ve got a number of other winning elements in your new routine. First of all: whole milk! Whole milk has been shown to be incredibly anabolic, and you’re drinking a tremendous amount of it. Another factor is the whey protein, which again, you’re having a ton of and it’s well-proven to be incredibly good for building muscle. Even peanut butter is known to be great for building muscle.
Just wanted other readers to know that a higher fat diet probably won’t work as well for them as a higher carb diet… but also that I really do approve of your routine. You’ve found something that works great for you, and you’re also combining three foods that are fantastic for building muscle (milk, whey, peanuts) and also blending them up so that they’re easier on your appetite.
(I’d say the peanut butter is the least effective of the three, but still great.)
Sounds like a truly great homemade weight gainer 🙂
Hi guys, thanks for this tremendous job you do, it’s all very interesting!
I’m thinking about following your program, as I’m an ectomorph and as you say, most of the programs out there are for fat people, so I always have to make adjustments and/or I don’t get all the answers I need. I’m in a good shape, I do an hypertrophy-based workout 3 times per week, but I’m 41 years old, and I’m not sure if your program is mainly focused to teens. Do you have any special section or modifications to older people like me? Thanks a lot and keep this awesome work up !
Hey Peter, thanks for the kind words, man!
We’re in our twenties ourselves, and most of our members are in their twenties and thirties. Some are single, some are boyfriends, some husbands, some dads. At 41 I think you’d fit in just fine.
As far as physiological changes go, the largest muscle-building genetics study to date found that guys actually build muscle very similarly between the ages of 18 and 40 (the youngest and oldest tested), but the researchers suspect that the similarities carry on until 60 (which is when relevant hormones start to change). The only advantages young guys have is they have more time to build muscle, and they get to enjoy it for longer!
We also have two streams of workouts included with the program, so right from the beginning you get to pick the one that fits you best. The default one would be a good fit for someone your age if you were just starting out, and the “revamped” one will be a good fit for someone your age with your lifting experience. Being in good shape and already comfortable lifting you should be able to handle our more advanced workouts 🙂
(I can help you further customize things personally, too.)
I hope you decide to join us!
Thanks Shane, I appreciate the effort and time you spend replying all the comments, because it means you really care about people. This is important, and reading your answer to my question, seems that soon you’ll have a new member! See you soon!
My pleasure, and that’s awesome, man—I hope to see you on the other side soon! 🙂
Hi Guys, once again very intuitive & informative. I use to be in the same boat weighing at only 158 pounds, 6 feet tall all my life.Skinny fat all my life. All your research you guys did, I also went down the same track, only to properly train & diet the last 2 years the ” right way” At 36 years of age, now sitting @ 189 pounds, 10% body fat – I realize everything you guys wrote down is so true! keep up the good work, I look forward to your next article.
Thanks, Peter. Really glad you dug it 🙂
Congrats on your transformation! A super lean 189? That’s amazing 😀
How exactly did you diet and train the “right way” Peter? Did you bulk first? Cut first? Count macros?
Hi! What do you think about doing HIIT to lose fat and without losing muscle?
HIIT in addition to weightlifting? That’d be fine, yep! So long as you’ve got your lifting in there, you can combine it with cardio of your choosing—either HIIT or steady state (or a combo of both). Cardio isn’t necessarily needed, but if you dig, it can speed up the process while allowing you to be a little looser with your calories 🙂
Hello. Quick question: how can you measure your lean body mass percentage?
There are a few ways. Most guys use a BIA scale, since they’re cheap and accessible, but those are notoriously finicky. A better, cheaper, but more time consuming way is to use callipers. Those only measure the amount of fat between your skin and muscle (not in-between organs and whatnot), so it will always underestimate the amount of fat you have… but they’re fairly accurate and amazing for tracking progress.
My favourite way to track body fat percentage is to look in the mirror though, since that much precision isn’t really required for this stuff anyway. Crisp abs come at around 10%. If you have a flat stomach and the hint of abs (when flexed in favourable lighting) you’re usually around 15%. So the “bulking zone” is whenever you have abs, pretty much 🙂
(If you’re asking about how to calculate your lean body mass percentage based on your body fat percentage, you just subtract your body fat from your total weight. So if you were 200 pounds and 10% body fat, 10% of 200 pounds is 20 pounds of fat, so 180 lean pounds.)
I hope that helps!
Another great article.
I really want to get involved, and don’t want to wait until I start my new job, but cash flow is a beetch! I’ve read on some other posts about a payment plan, can you please shed some light on this?
Just sent you an email with the details 🙂
Excellent read again shane. Thanks again for putting me on the right track in the program. For everyone that is still on the fence yet…i can so find myself in this article..before i signed up to b2b i got stuck no matter what i did. Now after just some weeks of training b2b style i saw progress for the first time!! If your still on the fence…save yourself the time and stress and sign up. These guys are Awesome and really helpful.
Thanks so much for the cred, Dutchdude. You’re a perfect example of someone going for a cut, losing weight overall, and successfully coming out with muscle gains while doing it 🙂
I’m stoked to see your next progress update. Keep killing it!
awesome article sane i’ve always been a fun of your work .most ectos like me would have been lost without you
Thanks for the kind words, Kidus—really glad you dug it 🙂
Finally I found someone who understand me! Thank You. But I’m still on the fence. I always stop doing workout after a while after seeing no progress or small (probably I don’t progress because after doing 30-45 minutes I don’t have energy left) And I don’t really eat well. I do my workout at home on my bowflex and curved bar. My concern is I’m not sure if your workout program will be a good fit for me since I’m not planning to go in a gym (time & money) From what I read and viewed on your website seems to be a great team to work with who wants to help us out. Thanks
Our pleasure! Glad you liked it.
30-45 minutes can be enough if you do efficient compound exercises, especially at first. By the time it stops being enough, you’ll be fit enough to do more anyway 🙂
However you’re right—you do need to be consistent, you do need to have at least a little patience, and you do need to combine training with nutrition.
A bowflex machine isn’t as good as free weights, but it’s more than enough to make a good transformation! So long as you can lift heavy with the right volume and hit all your muscle groups you’ll be okay, and I think most Bowflex machines are designed to do that.
(We could help you figure out how to sub in Bowflex alternatives into our workout plan, however to take full advantage of our program you’d want to buy some free weights, as explained here.)
I hope that helps!
Really interesting read. I’d like to know if the B2B program integrates home gym workouts with only dumbbells & barbells with weight discs. What’s your view on bodyweight workouts/calisthenics for ‘ectomorphs’ trying to put on weight and/or muscle mass?
Hey Muskee, thank you—glad you liked it!
Dumbbells and barbells are perfect! Even better if you’ve got a bench too. (More on that here.)
Callisthenics are great for fitness, a great sport, a great hobby, a great way to enjoy what a strong body can do. They aren’t an optimally effective way to load your muscles, so they aren’t the optimal way to build muscle or maintain muscle mass while losing fat. Can do they build a bit of muscle? Sure! Are they better than nothing? Absolutely. I think you’d be frustrated by your results if you relied on just callisthenics though. It’s designed for fun / minimal equipment, not results.
I would stick to your dumbbells and barbells. Those will build muscle absolutely perfectly 🙂
(And I hope you decide to join us!)
Unfortunately i’m limited to just dumbbells & barbells without a bench. I would love to jump on board, but I’m somewhat restricted in terms of budget so the prospect of purchasing the program is out of the window.
I like having a bench to increase exercise variety, but that’ll still do the trick—no worries 🙂
“Absolutely. I think you’d be frustrated by your results if you relied on just callisthenics though. It’s designed for fun / minimal equipment, not results.”
I really love your articles and your writing style, but what you say here is very ignorant.
I highly encourage you to try some moves like Full Planche, V-Sit, Manna, Pike Press Handstand, Front-Lever and you’ll suddenly realise that, even at your level, you’re not nearly as strong as you thought. You might even realise that you’re infact a total noob when it comes to strength and you still have a long way to go before considering yourself “strong”.
Weight lifting is just the start of a good strength foundation.
Calisthenics is literally the next level.
Try those moves and report back 😉
I didn’t mean to say that callisthenics aren’t challenging. Some callisthenics moves are CRAZY hard and require a TON of strength.
What I meant to say wasn’t that callisthenics are easy or worthless, just that callisthenics moves aren’t designed to build muscle, nor are they very good at it—at least not compared to weights. While a planche might be very advanced, it’s not like progressing to a full planche is a very good way to build up your chest or arms or anything. The moves you’re talking about are more of a sporty / impressive thing.
Just because a move requires a ton of strength or is very difficult does not mean that it’s ideal, or even good, for building muscle.
Callisthenics can work, it’s just not very efficient. Most people would prefer to gain twenty pounds in three months by lifting dumbbells in their bedroom than spending three years gaining twenty pounds by training with callisthenics, especially since your weightlifting workouts would be far shorter, easier and less painful. The only downside would be the upfront cost of the dumbbells or gym membership.
(I’m not sure if it would be the difference between three months and three years. I’m totally guessing here.)
I’m openminded about callisthenics exercises. I would really love for them to be great for this. It would be so easy to get skinny guys building muscle cheaply and in the comfort of their own homes if they could do it well with just their own bodyweight.
Do you have any evidence or reason to vouch for the muscle-building capabilities of callisthenics, not just the challenge / strength requirements of it?
While i personally dont have much experience with callisthenics personally – i did have a long term GF who was a competitive pole dancer and believe me these girls *(and guys) are super strong!! And build like brick sheds too!! But that strength and muscle doesnt transfer well to weight lifting and vice versa. I trained hard in the gym while she trained hard at home on her brass pole and the flag pole move she did as a warm up blew me away!! I could hardly hold my body weight up on the pole!! But callisthenics is mostly aimed at learning to control your own bodyweight thru strength.. and while being super strong is nice -it doesnt build muacle the same way as the gym does with weights. There is some really good youtube vids out now – look up worlds strongest teen- and find the vid of the girl training with a really lean guy covered in tatts. That guy has a vid in his series that does compare both of them and he has done both of them.. and they dont translate well to each other.. if your from a callisthenics background and really strong- then doing weights will make you bigger but you will lose the ability to move your own bodyweight easily thru a calli work out and same if your a gym buff and switch to calli then you will get better at bodyweight moves and get stronger in those areas while losing muscle mass. You really need to do BOTH if you want to get the benifits of each one without losing the benifits from the one your not doing.
Its basic bio mechanics- explain to me why i can do 10 reps of lat pull downs with 80kgs easily but cant do more then 8 reps of pull ups and i only weight 75kgs? And if i do a second set of 80kg pull downs i can hit 8-10 reps but if i try the second set of pull ups im lucky to hit 4 -6..
I see guys in the gym who almost never do pull downs and just do loads of pull ups and their backs are amazing looking.. but if i do catch then doing pull downs its with bad form and using bodyweight to cheat the rep and they are only using like 48kgs or so.. and here i am – SMALLER then they are – pulling down more weight easier with no cheating. But i struggle to do pull ups!!
At the end of the day any action preformed in repetition will grow muscle as long as you find ways to increase the work load on that muscle…be in more weight or more reps.. but you need to repeat the movement over and over the same way. So if you were to try callisthenics as a muscle building workout- you would need to do the same 30-60 second routine over and over 6-12 times before moving on to something else and over time go from say 6 times thru to 8 times thru then 10 and then 12 and so on to force your muscles to grow as the workload increases.
Thanks for sharing, Ben!
I agree. For the most versatile physique, it definitely makes sense to be versatile with your training. The specificity of training can go even deeper, too. Barbell strength doesn’t transfer perfectly to dumbbell strength, 10-rep strength doesn’t transfer perfectly to 1-rep strength, powerlifting strength doesn’t necessarily transfer to olympic weightlifting power, etc.
However, this is largely due to coordination. If the 10-rep bodybuilder gets some practice doing powerlifting, he’ll very quickly build up extremely impressive lifts. After all, the size of a muscle is directly related to how much strength it can produce. The only catch is that you need to learn how to use that strength—aka, develop the coordination to use those larger, more powerful muscles in the ways you want to use them.
So the guy who can do a bunch of pull-ups but has trouble doing pull-downs. This riddle can be solved by the fact that he’s probably not very coordinated yet at doing the pull-downs. But so long that he’s already developed the muscle size and strength by doing pull-ups, he’ll quickly become great at the pull-downs too. No new muscle needs to be built, he just needs to get better at using what he already has.
I agree with you that lifting weights is hands down the best way to develop muscle size and strength. However, there are other ways that can also work. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with using a few different techniques to develop your muscles.
Even in our Bony to Beastly Program, you could say that it’s a bodybuilding program because its primary goal is to help guys build far bigger muscles, but we add in some aspects of powerlifting, callisthenics and strongman training. We take the pieces that are best for our muscle-building goals and combine them together.
Hey Shane, great article again! Would like to read more articles, you guys are quite quiet nowadays. 😀
Anyway, I have some questions pretty big problems and i’d need your help.
1. I’m 170 cm and about 60-61 kg and fairly lean. I can see my lower abs and i have veins popping out on my lower abs too, not just my arms. Should i cut or should i start to bulk? I think i’m near the fit category, but i want to reach the strong one and i think that weight would be somewhere around 70-72 kg for my height. I haven’t used any supplements yet, so i’m wondering if i could make a 2 kgs/month progress leanly safely with e.g creatine?
2. Also, i figured out that i might be fast twitch dominant (you might know the 80% 1rm test, and i got 3 reps at squats e.g), so i focus on heavy lifts in the next months. Is it possible to be an ectomorph and very fast twitch dominant? In the last 2 weeks since i started the heavy lifts, i went from my 60 kg squat to 110 kg squat, so i started to lift almost 2x bodyweight in just 2 weeks. 😀 My problem is i’m not sure about the volume. How many sets should i use per week per bodypart, if i would use 3-4 reps per sets?
3. My biggest problem is: i have almost no shoulder developement. I mean, i have a 70 cm waist and a 110 cm shoulder circumference. My chest and lats are pretty nice, but my shoulders simply wont grow. Especially my lateral delts, they have no size at all. I wonder is you have any tips at this? I think now i’ll start this heavy lifting thing and they might grow, but how many sets and reps could i do, if i wanted to grow this musclegroup the most? Really, it’s the only bodypart that looks really bad, i’m satisfied with the others. So how could i modify a training program to make my shoulders grow much faster than the other parts? (even at the expense of the others).
4. This isnt really bodybuilding, but might be something related. 😀 So I’m 20 years old and i play the guitar since the age of 6. In recent years i had problems with my wrists and my arms. My wrists hurt well because i had something high in my blood tests.(i dont know what it’s called in english, sorry). I got medicines and they took it back to normal levels so i was fine for a while. Now it started to come back so i started taking omega 3 and 6 supplements and in a week my pain was gone. So now i have no problem with this. However, my other limiting factor, my cold hands are still there. If it’s under 20 celsius, my hands become numb and i think you know how difficult it is to play instruments with hands like these. I noticed recently that sometimes when i eat a lot of carbs, my veins pop out and my arms are filling with blood and become warm again. But well, i dont think it might be a permanent solution so i wondered if you had any problems like this and how you managed to deal with it.
Thanks for your answers, Ben.
Hey Bence, glad you like them!
We’ve always published articles just one every couple/few months. The research and illustrations can take quite a while, and we like to take our time with them. We work on b2B a few hours per day 7 days per week… there’s just a whole helluva lot on the member side of things as well. With that said, we just finished up a major project on the member side of things, so I think our blog/newsletter might get a little more active over the next couple of months 🙂
1. You sound pretty lean! Definitely under 15%. If you’re interested in building muscle, I’d definitely recommend aiming for lean muscle-building right now. How quickly you can gain weight depends on a number of things: training experience, how far away you are from your genetic potential, genetics, the quality of your training, the quality of your nutrition. We have a lot of members who can gain 2kg per month leanly—sometimes as much as 4kg/month when starting out—and I think that would likely be true for you as well if your plan is a good one and you’re good at following it.
2. Sounds like you’re a strong guy! That’s awesome. For optimal gains you’ll still want to use a variety of rep ranges and exercises—check this article out—but doing lots of heavy stuff is definitely great.
3. Add in lateral raises! 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps at the end of a training day a couple times per week for a couple months usually works very well.
4. Unfortunately, this is totally outside of my area of expertise. I would ask your doctor about that.
I hope that helps! Good luck!
I’ve noticed that strength training (low reps) does NOT build muscles IN MY CASE.
I seem to respond well to high frequency, high reps (even as high as 25 or 30) training.
I workout 3 days a week, full-body workouts.
I choose ONE exercise each bodypart and do 4 sets of 25 (30 for legs).
Something like 4x training but with very high reps.
When I do the last set in perfect form, I up the weight next time that I do that exercise.
I was very thin when I was a child.
And maybe my prevalence of Type 1 fibers (slow twitch) has some consequences and I need to overcome the resistance of my muscle fibers by doing high reps.
…. I was almost forgetting… no more than 30 seconds rest between the sets.
There’s a lot of research showing that higher reps (up to 30) performed with the right intensity (in this case going to failure) and with minimal rest (under 30 seconds) can build muscle fairly well. In your case, it built muscle more than well enough 🙂
There’s a lot of research (outlined in our article here) showing that the optimal way to build muscle would be to combine lower rep strength training with moderate rep “hypertrophy” training, and then add in even higher rep training sometimes as well. (When doing the heavier stuff the need for short rest times disappears, too.) This way you stimulate all fibres optimally 🙂
(There’s a lot of individual variation of course, but for the vast majority of people a variety is best.)
Dr. Schoenfeld just juts got a study accepted comparing moderate rep ranges (10) against high rep ranges (30). Both taken to failure. Check out his summary: “The first study to investigate the effects of light-load (~30 RM) vs. high-load (~10 RM) training on muscular adaptations in experienced lifters. Summing up, muscle growth was similar between the two loading conditions; On the other hand, strength gains were much greater in the heavy load condition while local muscular endurance was markedly greater in the light-load condition. Lots more to say on this once it is officially published.”
This is a great article. I, too, am always trying to figure out “what to do.” I eat a lot, then start feeling and looking fat, so I chicken out and don’t eat as much. I’m 38, 5’10”, and about 160 lbs. I WANT TO GROW! I do a ton of squats, deadlifts, and presses. My testosterone levels are low, but I’m on TESTIM which gets me back in to the “low” range (total=275). I guess I’m worried about getting fat and not being able to reverse it! How can I mentally overcome my barriers? I think I need a good pep talk! Thanks, again, for all of the wonderful info on this site!
I know what you mean. It can be hard to bulk when you’re stressed about getting fat. As a naturally super tiny guy I feel it the other way around. When I lose weight, even if I’m just losing fat, I get stressed because I don’t like the idea of getting lighter. Add in the fact that you’re worried that you’re actually just going to gain fat, and this gets psychologically tricky—the true skinny-fat hell we talk about.
My favourite pep-talk post is one that Jared wrote a couple months ago: Why Skinny Guys Fail to Build Muscle. I think it might give you the strategy and attitude you’re looking for?
Let me know if that helps!
Thanks for the reply and the link to the article. As always – GREAT advice!
My pleasure, Joel—good luck!
This article is a real gem. Starting out at rather fat, losing about 50lbs and crossing strong-fat territory while doing so, I’m currently “skinny-fit”, approaching 10% bf and visible lower ab/unflexed upper ab territory, but I’m also really small now, wearing size 30 pants with belts and buying S and XS shirts. Next, after reaching that marker of 9-10% bf, having exhausted most of my “noob gains”, I will be completely primed to bulk properly and you guys are one of the guides I trust will lead me there.
I’m also perma referring skinny friends to this site here as it is just that informative and one of the very, very few where I basically never see something “wrong” or something I disagree with. Hats off guys and keep up the great work!
Congrats on losing all that fat, Daniel! Getting to 10% bodyfat is wicked impressive, especially when you were 50 pounds away from it. That’s awesome 🙂
Thank you for the all the kind words, and for sending skinny guys our way. We really appreciate it! Hopefully we see you on other side soon too!
Good luck, man!
Do you think I’m skinny-fat? (photo)
In these pictures I’m squeezing my glutes and tilting my pelvis as you suggested
Also I’m normal weight 5’9 and 165 lbs
I’m not sure if I should become skinny-fit before attempting a bulk or I need muscles and the fat is not as much as I think.
What diet and training do you think works best for skinny-fat people?
Push/pull 4x times a week or full-body 3x a week or push/pull/legs 1x a week?
Would something like: incline bench, OHP and squat on push day and deadlifts, pull ups and barbell rows on pull day work or is it not enough exercises?
Does low-carb or low-fat works better for skinny-fat people ?
What’s the best way to figure out our TDEE? I think I might be burning 2500 calorie only on workout day, but I’m not sure and always feel like I’m either eating too much or not enough, never the “right” amount. So I’m yo-yoing a lot with my weight.
Thanks again for your great articles and your help!
Naw I wouldn’t say you’re skinny-fat at all. First of all, you’re looking pretty strong. Second, you aren’t looking that fat! It looks like your gut is hanging loose, but that looks like it’s more because your abs are totally relaxed. Abs should be “on” always, at least to some extent. If you held them a little more flexed it seems like your stomach would flatten out. Then it’d just be a matter of losing a few pounds of fat to get them clearer, if you even care about that. You aren’t unhealthfully or unattractively fat or anything, so it’d just be a matter of personal preference 🙂
That is a good option though. You could definitely cut while maintaining your muscle and come out looking pretty good, since you’ve already built up a fair bit of muscle!
I prefer doing full body workouts 3x per week. I think that’s the perfect blend of optimal results and optimal efficiency. However there’s no single right answer. There are other similarly effective ways of splitting up your training volume. A triple split (push/pull/legs) would likely have suboptimal training frequency per muscle group (since it’s just once per week per muscle group) so I’d do something that gives you 2-3 workouts per muscle group per week, whether that’s three full body workouts per week or four workouts per week alternating between push/pull.
Your lifts sound like a fairly minimalist routine, and that’s probably okay. If it were me I’d include more isolation lifts as well. Check this article out—especially the last couple sections—for more on that.
Everyone is different when it comes to their diet. Higher carb intakes tend to work better for guys looking to build muscle and skinny guys though. As a naturally skinny guy who’s trying to build muscle… chances are lots of carbs will work well for you 🙂
Best way to figure out if you’re eating enough is to weight yourself regularly and see if you’re getting heavier!
I hope that helps. Good luck!
Shane…how much of a calorie surplus is required to gain a pound a week?
We have a somewhat fancy algorithm we use with our members, but to give you a rough guesstimate based on little information, probably something like 18-22x your bodyweight (in pounds). The easiest way to find out for sure would be to weigh yourself, increasing your intake to x20 or so, and then weigh yourself again after a week. You can then adjust your intake based on your weight change, and keep narrowing in on the ever-changing calorie intake that would have you gaining at that pace.
For some interesting research on why figuring out calorie intake for weight gain is so elusive, check this post out: The Skinny on “Just Eat More”
Hi, awesome blog by the way! I have one quick question and I’ll be happy if you can give me a little bit of advice. I have noticed as ectomorph that the first thing that I lose is muscle if I am trying to lose fat, I am bulking right now, I am 62kg and 1 72 cm tall my bf is %10 but I can’t see my abs very well. Anyway my question is how to lose fat without losing muscle? I noticed that if I cut a lot of carbs I’ll lose muscle for sure really fast even though I’m eating enough protein.
Thanks, Juan! Glad you dig it 🙂
10% bodyfat is sweet! Props.
If you cut while eating a lot of protein, you don’t really need to cut carbs, per se, but rather cut calories. Those calories can come from carbs or fat, or ideally a fairly even mix of both!
The reason why your muscles shrink in size so quickly when you drop your carb/calorie intake may be due to glycogen storage, since when in a calorie deficit or eating fewer carbohydrates your muscles will hold onto less glycogen. This loss of fluid/sugar in your muscles will make them look smaller. It’s not really a big deal, since they’ll re-inflate by that same amount as soon as you start eating more again 🙂
Or it could be that you’re actually losing muscle because your cut isn’t all that ideal—your calorie deficit is too extreme, your training program isn’t good enough, you aren’t sleeping/resting well enough, etc.
If you’ve got 10% bodyfat and you can’t see your abs though, you may just want to train your abs more! It could be that they’re small and are in need of some burl in order to show through even a small amount of belly fat. Genetics play a role here as well. Some people have very prominent abs, some don’t. Some people store a lot of fat over their abs, some don’t. So you may need to cut a little leaner, or spend a little more time/effort bulking up your abs. (Could also be postural!)
I’d recommend using a mixture of dead bugs, front/side planks and, if you’re able, ab-wheel rollouts to isolate your abs. Done after your compound lifts—deadlifts, squats, chin-ups, etc—that should give you the focused ab work that you need to build up some sweet abs 🙂
I am lean and thin how to get weight?
Every other post on this site 😉
I’d recommend this one about nutrition, and this one about exercise.
And there’s The Bony to Beastly Program too, which is a full muscle-building guide for skinny guys, a recipe book, coaching, community, etc.
Hey Shane, what would you recommend I do to escape skinny-fat territory? Stats are: 5’7, 162 lbs. Minimal training experience. Found a 5×5 program that I want to try out, but not sure whether to bulk up say 10 lbs and re-evaluate or cut down to 10-12% bf (with the little muscle I have).
Looking at your pictures I wouldn’t say you’re too muscular to be skinny, too lean to be fat. So you’re not in such bad shape. You look like a pretty healthy dude, you just aren’t super beefy or ripped. You could bulk or cut. Either would be fine in your case—just a matter of personal preference. If you really can’t decide though, I’d go for a cut. That’s your best chance of making a little progress towards both goals when first starting into this. If you cut ten pounds while following a good lifting and nutrition program, you might lose a dozen pounds of fat while gaining a couple pounds of muscle.
Have you read this article? The last couple sections cover different styles of strength training and bodybuilding. 5×5 programs are okay, but they aren’t all that ideal for building muscle size or cutting (or, surprisingly, even for gaining strength). 5×5 isn’t awful—they’re very simple and very easy—it’s just if you’re going to put in all this effort, might as well do something a little better 🙂
Hey shane, great article! Life saver. But I have a question can I do calisthenics in the morning (45 min) and then weight training at night while bulking? Calisthenics make me sweat a lot so I hope that wont be a problem. Also can I do the bulking and cutting cycle without supplements? Because I cant seem to digest them. Also how much cardio can I do in a week while bulking and how many minutes?
You can do all of this without supplements for sure. Supplements really aren’t that important at all.
As for combining the lifting with the callisthenics… probably? I don’t know how intense your callisthenics are, or even what you’re doing. Callisthenics can involve anything from muscle-ups with your girlfriend on your back to doing 100 rep push-up sets. There’s usually a way to combine weightlifting with other activities though, since it’s so flexible 🙂
Same goes for cardio. So many different types, people of varying degrees of fitness, differing goals, etc. Not to mention so many different ways to lift! Doing 20-120 minutes or so of cardio per week is probably pretty good when bulking, not counting the lifting (which more or less counts as cardio too).
I hope that helps!
Great article. I’ve been working on figuring this stuff all out.
I’ve been a skinny guy for most of my life, but within the past 4/5 years I’ve started putting on weight. I’m 5’9 and weigh 172. I’m skinny fat, but I think 175/180 would be the perfect weight for me if it was muscle instead of fat (I’m at 24% body fat). So I’m trying to only gain like eight pounds, not 20+ like some of the other guys whose picture’s you share (amazing gains though!). So I’m wondering if there’s anything different for me to do since I’m not looking to lose weight, just fat, but still only gain like 5 lbs?
I think you’re right. A lean 175-180 at 5’9 would look quite strong and athletic for sure.
Your path just has an extra step. If a guy comes into the program at 5’9, 150, 10% bodyfat, he’d have a similar amount of muscle to you. To get up to a lean 175, he’d need to gain a good 25 pounds. If he does that fairly leanly, maybe he arrives there at 12% body fat—still rocking his abs.
You don’t need to gain 5 pounds per se. That would bring you up to 177, but you’d be chubbier and less muscular than you’d like. You need to gain a good 25 pounds, then cut off 20. Or cut off 20, then gain 25. (We could help you do both.) If you do a really great job of cutting, perhaps you gain a bit of muscle while you’re doing it, but you’d still need a hearty lean bulking phase.
Does that help / make sense?
Hi Shane. Thanks much for the article and the incredible resources you guys have put together at BTB. One question from the article above…in it you said “If you’re like most skinny-fat guys and you aren’t as lean as DoctorB or as muscular as Eric (we’ve got a more typical example still to come), the decision can be tricky.”, and I was just wondering where I would find that more typical example you referenced? I’m pretty sure that’s me, as I’m not quite as rail thin as DoctorB but not as big as Eric. My problem sounds quite typical…not enough muscle mass and too much belly fat to look good in a t-shirt. I’m 43, so the belly fat didn’t come around until my mid thirties. Everything aside from the belly is the same as it’s been basically all my life. Looking forward to seeing results from the wisdom ya’ll are dispensing here…
Ah I meant “Dead Bear” at the end. He came in not all that muscular, not all that lean. His transformation shows both a cutting and a bulking cycle, with a total net gain of 11 pounds. That’s what a skinny-fat guy would normally do—both a cut and a bulk.
Does that help at all?
The accumulating fat likely isn’t age related, per se, but rather time related. Old guys are often sedentary for a very long time, and the muscle loss and fat gain gradually accumulates over that time period. Lean and muscular guys go on to turn into lean and muscular old guys (check this image out), so long as they keep up with the lifestyle that keeps them that way (e.g. lifting weights and eating well).
Just a matter of getting back into a lifestyle that encourages lean muscle growth 🙂
First of all, AWESOME blog! I always had this problem of getting a big belly when bulking up, while still with really weak arms and legs. My problem is that I have REALLY huge arms and legs and a short torso. My body structure is pretty identical to Jon Jones. With that in mind I found this picture of him.
This is pretty much how I look like now, except that my belly is not that big, and my arms are much smaller. It just seems that all my bf is concentrated in the mid-section. With that in mind, what do you think I should do? Bulk or cut first?
I really thinking about joining your program!
Glad you like it, man!
I can definitely relate to the struggle of having very long arms. My legs are pretty short, but my arms go on for miles. Marco, on the other hand, has exactly that build. He has the arm and leg length of someone who’s like 7’0 feet tall. Seems to be pretty common with us ectomorphs. Doesn’t make it easier to deal with, just saying you aren’t alone in this, and there are some good solutions for it 🙂
Having your fat concentrated in your belly, while it may make it hard to have abs, is actually not so bad. That’s a very classically masculine place to store fat. If your fat was stored more in your love hands, more in your thighs, more in your lower back, or chest… you might look a little more feminine.
Basically, there’s no fun place to store fat.
As for how you deal with this, I’d recommend cutting first. If you haven’t built much muscle yet, you might be able to gain a little while cutting, and you’ll feel much better about your gut when you’re lean. At that point your insulin sensitivity will be good and you’ll be able to make leaner gains.
Then comes the interesting part. When bulking you might want to emphasize the parts that lag behind. If your arms fall behind your torso, you might want to be adding in extra bicep curls, tricep extensions and such. If your belly sticks our further than your chest… maybe hit your chest a little harder to build some size there. Over time you can reshape your body a little so that even if you gain a little bit of fat you still look pretty good 🙂
Does that make sense / help?
As for joining the program, you should! We can help you with all this stuff on an individual level, and we’d love to have you, man!
“Good old days”, my body is just to carry my head around, are gone. From ecto belly to ripped skinny 🙂 I am really happy I found this programme.
And we’re really glad to have you, man 😀
An ecto can gain muscle by eating more and working out. A skinny fat,otoh, can’t. If he eats too much, he will gain fat. If he doesn’t he wont gain muscle. So it is catch 22. The only solution is years and years of training, after which the body may adapt and change for the better.
I disagree. A skinny-fat guy will often even be able to build a little muscle even while losing fat (and losing weight overall). They’re often able to build a ton of muscle when gaining weight too, and often decently leanly. They can make very rapid progress whichever way they go.
Of course, the way to get the raddest physique (in terms of health, aesthetics, etc) is often years and years of training for every body type.
Hi Shane, what ur doing is remarkable, you’re helping a lot of people with very good info. But on this point alone, I have to disagree. A skinnyfat is not like an ecto – he has the traits of ecto in that he can’t gain muscle, but he also has a tendency to store fat despite eating little.
Also most of the people who call themselves ecto (and who later on make phenomenal progress) are actually mesomorph who don’t eat much during their teens. That is why once their teens are over and their metabolism slows down a little – and they start eating a lot and training – their muscles grow fast. So most likely you’re a mesomorph.
But anyway, my point applies to skinny fats, basically, because they have the worst of both worlds – they gain fat easily but not muscle.
Thanks so much man, I really appreciate it 🙂
Ectomorphs can gain muscle just fine once we learn how to do it properly—lifting well, eating enough, etc. Most studies seem to show that the guys who are starting off skinnier gain more muscle mass. And even the guy with the worst fat storing traits wouldn’t store fat in a calorie deficit.
An ectomorph is a loose term, but generally it applies to people with slenderer bone structures who start off with less muscle mass. Even after gaining 50+ pounds of muscle I’m still an ectomorph. I don’t have stubby limbs, a barrel shaped rib cage, a thick neck, thick wrists.
You’re right that with skinny-fat guys it’s a nutrient partitioning dilemma… but once they get their diet and training in order their nutrient partitioning improves 🙂
Greetings from Asean (and from fellow ectomorph :p ), Shane. I’m 23, 5’7″, and 144lb (65.5kg) with 75cm waist right now. I have been doing solely 5×5 for 3 weeks (this is my 4th week) with starting weight of 141lb and 77cm waist. I’m planning to add a few isolations like arms+shoulders in Monday, Lat machines in Wednesday, and chest+core in Friday, all isolations done in 3×6-10 reps fashion.
Do you think this routine will build strength and mass properly? Big thanks for your answer 🙂
P.s. my body image look much alike Doctor B right now, with a bit of belly
P.p.s I have nearly no training experience when I started 5×5
Hey Adhika, greetings from Canada!
Props for gaining 3 pounds in 3 weeks. That’s a great pace to be gaining at.
Your idea to add in isolation lifts is probably a wise one. The big compound strength lifts offer a lot of bang for your buck, are extremely versatile, and are great for building up muscle mass… but they’re also difficult to recover from and hard on your body. Building a program around them is great, but it also helps to add in some isolation lifts, which are a safe, fun and easy way to increase growth in your target areas without adding much stress to your body.
Is your exact routine perfect? That’s pretty impossible to say. But I dig the idea of adding lighter isolation lifts to your heavier compound ones 🙂
So, I have run into the problem of being fit, suffering a lower back injury, then developing love handles and becoming skinny at the same time. What would you recommend for that? I have read through the article, and it seems like it is geared towards skinny without the flat tire.
I’m so sorry to hear about the back injury, man. Nothing can derail a transformation like hurting your back. All of a sudden life becomes so painful and you feel so fragile. They can take quite a while to recover from too, and many people make the mistake of stopping physical activity entirely, which leads to muscle atrophy everywhere (including in the injured area) and can delay recovery even more.
For back injuries I’d recommend seeing a local sports doctor or physiotherapist. (With a program like ours, once that’s done we can help work around the limitations and advice they give.)
As for what to do about the spare tire, then the article still applies. You could bulk yourself into some muscle and then cut the tire off after. Better still, you could start by cutting the tire off (while trying to build some muscle) and then bulk once you’ve gotten to a nice lean body fat percentage.
So muscle-building oriented weightlifting + a high protein diet + a calorie deficit. Adjust calories as needed to be losing 1-2 pounds per week. When you get lean enough, you can go into a calorie surplus and aim to gain 0.5-1 pounds per week.
I hope that helps, and good luck!
[…] However this doesn’t help us skinny guys. Bulking and carbs go well together, but if we bulk on a higher fat diet we’re going to get fat. Since junk food has a huge amount of heavily processed and unhealthy fat in it, this makes it a bulking disaster. This is why a lot of skinny guys who are finally able to eat enough to gain weight become skinny-fat. (If you’re already skinny-fat, here’s our skinny-fat article.) […]
Hey Shane, I’m a classic skinny fat type who has developed good arms and ok chest after a few years of casual gymming BUT have never been able kick the fat stored on my torso.That’s all I care about rn. I plan to cut for this summer (that’s January in my country) in an attempt to finally sort it.
Would you recommend creatine for me or do you just recommend it for typical skinny skinny guys?
Congrats on the new guns and pecs, Josh!
Creatine will cause your muscles to swell up a little bit, improving muscle size and definition. It will also improve your ability to build muscle, which means fewer calories sent towards fat, more towards muscle. So it won’t hurt any body type… except perhaps the genetically gifted athletic woman who aspires to look more like a model and thinks that she’s too lean and muscular looking already. And given the mental and physical health benefits it’s something even someone who cares nothing about body composition could benefit from.
It’s far from necessary, but if you’re already on the fence I think there are a lot of compelling reasons to use it. Very few reasons not to. (If you’re balding perhaps, since it could maybe potentially possibly theoretically speed up the rate that you lose the hair you’re already losing a little bit.)
Good luck with the cut!
Hi Shane and everyone
After reading this article I have started a cut in order to improve my skinny-fat body.
Everyone told me I should bulk but I was afraid I would gain too much fat.
At the same time I was afraid to cut because I thought I would lose muscles and become even flabbier and shapeless.
But I decreased calories anyway and started to lose weight, even if I wasn’t overweight to begin with.
I’d like your opinion on whether the cut is working and improving my skinny-fat body or if I’m losing muscles and should increase calories or start a bulk.
Looks to me like it’s working quite well!
Also, you definitely weren’t skinny-fat, dude! You were pretty damn strong looking even in your before photo. Beefy, not skinny-fat. And now you’re looking even stronger, since you’ve seemingly lost some fat and perhaps even gained some muscle. Good work 🙂
Diet or eating habits are key to proper nutrition and growth. are you a nutritionist?
Yeah, one cannot physically grow without a calorie surplus. And it’s definitely important to eat a nutritious diet for general health (and to a certain extent body composition). We are not nutritionists. Nor a doctors. Nor physiotherapists. When it comes to medical concerns and injuries experts should definitely be consulted. Our primary goal here is helping guys get way bigger, way leaner, way stronger and way more athletic. We are experts at that. And we’re even pretty good with general health stuff!
[…] Fonte: https://bonytobeastly.com/skinny-fat-guide/ […]
Great article – I just discovered your site the other day by chance and will be going over it in more details over the next coming days.
I’ve been trying to ‘fix my self’ since May 2015 and have made slow but good progress. I have tracked all my weekly measurements on my website and have monthly progress pictures on there too.
I am currently 182 cm, 69.9KG and according to those impedence tests you get in modern weighing scales, I am 14.6% bodyfat.
(Side question: How reliable are those tests/devices?)
My aim is to get to 12% bodyfat before bulking, as you can see from my pictures I don’t really have a belly anymore (compared to my June 2014 pic) but I do have horrible love handles and struggling to get rid of it.
I’m currently on 1600 calories now (since this month) made up of 36%, 33%, 31% for Protein/Carb/Fat using Intermittent Fasting and 4 day a week at the gym using PULL/PUSH method (60-90 minutes) in hopes to lose the handles.
My question is should I stick to this to try cut (my fear is that I have gained some good muscle definition on my shoulder, chest and back and worried I may lose a lot of this) or should I just focus on bulking now by increasing to 2900 cals (same nutrition split), same program and hope the extra muscle mass will burn off the remaining fat that I have or will I just put on a big belly again by doing this?
Just as an example my shoulders grew from 112cm to 116cm from October to December
On my website I have tracked:
* Weekly measurements (hips, waist, weight, shoulders, arms, chest)
* Monthly pictures
* Workout routine
Thanks in advance
Ps. The link to your forum does not allow me to create an account as it says page not found and takes me back to your main site.
Hey SFT, great work, man! You’re looking way, way leaner, and your shoulder measurement going up throughout is a pretty sure sign that you’ve been gaining muscle while losing fat. Amazing 🙂
Those BIA scales aren’t very accurate. I prefer just looking in the mirror and guesstimating that way. If you want to get to 12% before bulking, cut until you can see your abs in the bathroom mirror.
If you’re feeling okay-ish eating 1600 calories per day, your strength isn’t going down in the gym, and you’re losing around a pound on the scale each week… I’d keep going.
If things aren’t going so smoothly, maybe take a break from cutting. You could take a break by bulking, or just by increasing your daily calorie intake by 500 for a couple weeks until you feel fresh and motivated to cut again.
If you do decide to bulk, I would switch to 3-6 meals spaced out relatively evenly over the course of the day. Intermittent fasting can work well when cutting, but it’s far from ideal for bulking.
If you want to join the member/coaching community you can sign up here 🙂
Hey there, really helpful article.
I currently am 151 lbs, 6 ft and a bf between 11-12%. Would you advise bulking up or cutting? If so, now long would you suggest for either.
11-12% with a BMI of 20.5? Definitely bulking!
How long? Until you reach your desired size or you can’t see your abs anymore (i.e, you get over 15% body fat). But personal preference is a factor here too 🙂
I really enjoy your website, and seriously thinking about the program. At 40-something with no experience in training (or sport in general) or food considerations, I joined the skinny-fat group 1 or 2 years ago. At 5’9 and 167lb (76kg, all in the belly), I think the cutting road is probably best.
So my question is: how do I go in “deficit”? I read your posts about how to eat and supplements, but I have no clue what to do with all that. What should I eat (or not)?
I would like to get started a little on food and doing a bit of exercise (fix my posture) first, and from there build the confidence that I can commit to the program, join in, and one day feature on your homepage 🙂
So can you make a few suggestions?
Thanks, and keep it up!
First of all, you can join our program at any experience level and with any body. The program begins simple and grows far, far more advanced as you continue reading. This means that as you begin things are simple and easy to get into, and as you progress to a more advanced level you can even get into what a fitness model would be doing (if you so choose). We can also help you customize things to suit your situation and goals in the community.
To answer your question though, being in a deficit simply means eating few enough calories that your body is forced to burn its body fat stores for energy, resulting in weight loss. You can tell if you’re a deficit by weighing yourself each week to see if you’re losing weight. (Reducing your intake by about 500 calories per day, or by about 20% of what you eat, will probably get you into a good fat burning deficit.)
What should you eat? Mostly whole foods (i.e. foods with minimal processing). Maybe some protein powder too, if you don’t tend to eat a lot of protein. When cutting you’ll need a lot of protein in order to maintain your muscle mass (around 1 gram per pound bodyweight per day). We have some people who eat a lot of lean meat, dairy, beans, grains, etc who hit that number easily without supplements. Many guys find it easier/cheaper to have a couple scoops of whey protein or rice/pea protein each day to boost their protein intake up to the optimal range.
Perhaps the most important thing of all is that you lift weights. If you do a good job of lifting then you may even gain some muscle while you lose fat, especially if your body fat percentage is a little high and you’re totally new to exercise! 🙂
Lifting weights is also fantastic for improving your posture.
Does that help / answer your questions?
Yes, this helps a bit. That’s a lot to learn for someone who has no idea about how to count calories or protein (I have no clue how much I eat!!). You mention “rice protein”: how does it compare to simply eating (white steamed) rice? I normally eat rice 2 or 3 times a day, with meat and veggies. eggs too. I dont have access to supplements where I live right now. So… lean meat, right?
Good to know that the program also consider total newbies. I dont even know what are “bench press” or “curls” and that kind of stuff; let alone who to do them “properly”. I do have some questions about lifting (at home), but I’ll ask them in the other post!
Rice protein is the protein found in small amounts in brown rice that has been isolated into pure protein powder. So nutritionally rice protein is more similar to eating a chicken a breast than to eating rice. (Rice is a starch—a carbohydrate.) So lean meat, yeah.
Ahaha we can teach you how to bench and curl, squat and deadlift, row and chin-up 🙂
We have an article about lifting at home here, if you’re interested.
So, It’s been like 2 weeks I’m trying to “cut” while doing some lifting, to get in the mood before starting the program (I’m travelling right now). I tried being mindful about the food, have more protein (eggs and meat) and less calorie (no sweets, less bread & rice, not too many fruits). I also take 5g creatine and drink a lot of water.
Thing is: I dont see any kind of improvement (beside feeling stronger from the lifting, and maybe bulking a bit). I’m a steady 75-76kg and it feels I have the same amount of belly fat. Any insights?
If you aren’t losing weight then you aren’t in a calorie deficit. Think less about whether something is sweet and more about how many calories you’re consuming. I see in your other post that you’ve started tracking your calorie intake, and unfortunately, your calorie intake is already quite low. If 1,900 isn’t enough for you to lose weight, you’ll either need to burn more calories with walking or cardio (more calories out), or consume fewer calories (fewer calories in). Both will help get you into a deficit.
Getting your protein intake up a little bit will help too, if you can manage it. (More of the energy within protein is burned off as body heat than with the other macronutrients.)
Also, be sure to lift weights while cutting. This will not only force your body to spend some calories building muscle (if you’re a beginning), but it will also burn some calories. If while travelling you’re unable to lift or unable to eat enough protein it may make more sense to begin your cut later, when you can.
I hope that helps!
Oh, and I did something today. Found an app to collect what I eat and tell me how much calories and protein (and other stuff) I had during the day. Well….
Turns out I am around 1900calories for the day, but I also realize it is almost impossible to get as much protein as I should at that rate, ie without a supplement. I barely made it to 97g by adding two duck eggs after diner, where I should get about 167g (@1g/pound).
So… the cutting line _really_ requires taking a supplement like Whey! Maybe you should write it up high and clear.
And so… if protein supplement is not an option (almost impossible to find here), am i doomed to loose the muscle I’m trying to build while lifting and cutting at the same time? (this is also not a place where you can eat steak or chicken breast 4 times a day!)
Using duck eggs in an attempt to reach your daily protein target, eh? After years of doing this I’ve never heard that before. Ahaha I love it.
You don’t have to take whey. It can definitely help—especially when following a plant-based diet—but lots of guys reach it just with food like greek yoghurt, cottage cheese, chicken breast, fish, lean red meat, pepitas, milk, etc.
If you’re from a place where it’s difficult to get sources of protein though… yes, unfortunately it will be more difficult to get enough protein to keep your muscle mass around when in a calorie deficit.
Cutting more slowly (with a smaller calorie deficit) should help a lot though. You’ll have more calories to eat, allowing you to get more protein in, but more importantly the degree of the calorie deficit is the biggest influencer of whether your losses are lean or not. Maybe aim for 0.5 pounds lost per week instead of 1–2 🙂
Dammit! How did I forget about that good old equation… burning more calories, of course!
Just a clarification question (and a treat for you): would you think of walking or cadio OVER lifting more often (e.g. every day instead of every second day)?
Here’s the treat: they where not even simply duck eggs, they were balut..! (google at your own risk).
Again, thanks a lot Shane, you guys are really great. I think i need to find a way to estimate my body fat now because I feel I might have but on enough muscular mass to hide the fat loss on the scale. (I’m eating lean meat like I never did before!)
Oh wow! I’ve heard of those. I think on Fear Factor? 😛
Lifting every second day instead of every day? Yes, that’s probably better. You build muscle ideally with just three full body workouts per week, or four upper/lower split workouts. I wouldn’t recommend lifting every day.
Walking works well to burn calories, yep! Lower intensity cardio can work well too. Something like 20–60 minutes on a stationary bike with your heart rate between 120–150.
Sorry if this has been asked before but assuming I start increasing my intake to say 4000 calories to reach my goal, will I still have to eat 4000 calories after that in order to not lose the weight put on or will the maintaining diet be much lesser?
No, no, not at all. That’s just the amount of food it takes to rapidly gain weight. When you want to maintain your weight you’ll be eating more similar to how you eat normally, as how you eat normally is the amount that keeps your weighing about the same each week.
You will need to eat slightly more though. Each pound of muscle burns an extra 6 calories per day. So if you gain 50 pounds of muscle (like I eventually did) that will increase your daily calorie needs by 300. For an example, that’s a pint of milk per day in addition to what you’d normally eat.
Ah thanks man, good to know. I’ll probably be signing up soon If I see no weight gain eating that much.
Well I hope you do succeed in gaining weight without us, but I’m also hoping to see you in the community soon 🙂
Cool website i must say. 1 question,my bf is 23%,i want getting lean until 12-13% around that. Let say i losing 2lb per week,until what bf is safe to lose 2lb per week?i heard somewhere at certain bf,we need to lose 1lb per week.
Thanks in advance.
That really depends! I’m 10.9% body fat (according to a DEXA scan) and I could probably lose a couple pounds per week for several weeks no problem, just because my calorie intake right now is really high, I have no problem eating fewer calories, and it would be a very brief sprint. But that’s just me in my situation. You could assume that since your body fat percentage is higher that it would be easier, and there’s some logic there, but there are many other factors to consider as well.
If you’re a seasoned lifter you could track your strength in the gym as a way of seeing if you’re losing muscle mass. That’s a good way to know if you should slow the pace. (This only works if you’ve been lifting well for a while though.)
You could also slow the pace when your calorie intake needs to become very small in order to keep cutting at a rapid pace. If you need to eat like 1,000 calories per day in order to zoom forward… maybe you slow down a little.
Then there’s also stress levels and your mood to consider. And your sex drive, and immune system. Some of these things depend on what foods you’re dieting on, but some of it is also based on the severity of the caloric deficit.
I hope that helps a little!
Well said Shane, to sum it all,if you feel bad losing 2lbs per week,slow it down. And if you feel good doing it, keep doing that until at certain point,you feel terrible and can increas
e strength in weight tr
aining. Well said shane,those kind of answers i want to hear. Right now im skinny fat 23% bf.
That’s a good way of putting it, yeah 🙂
(If you’re new to lifting you should make strength gains. If you’re an experienced lifter just make sure you aren’t getting weaker.)
[…] Skinny Fat – The Science […]
Hey there, great article. I’ve been bulking for two weeks and my belly feels wierd. I don’t know if i’ts because of all the food I’m eating or my posture or if I’m actually putting on a loot of fat (hope not)
check it out: http://imgur.com/a/B0FsS
First two images is me trying to hold my posture and the second I’m just standing letting my belly go where it wants to go…
You think I’m becomin skinny-fat?
Nah, that’s normal. When you let your belly hang loose it… hangs loose. This would be true at 6% or 60% body fat. With better posture and stronger abs your abs will naturally gravitate to those first two positions though. Just need to work on your posture a little to get your abs turning on more naturally 🙂
Great, thanks for your repply.
I’ve been skinny fat all my life. I currently do weight-lifting (on my own, so I’ hope I have good form and enough weight. I do it three times a week. I do cardio intervals for 30 minutes on those days and 60 minute walks 3 days a week. I only want to lose like 4 pounds and maybe earn a pound of muscle, but I want to do it slowly. but right now, my maintenance calories is 1632, so if I drop it more than 10%, I won’t get to eat much. What do you recommend for me, both nutrition wise and exercise?
If you’re doing all that exercise and really maintaining your weight on just 1,600 calories per day… yeah, you’re going to need to eat less than you’d like in order to lose a few pounds. You’ll probably need to spend a few weeks eating more like 1,300 calories per day. Or maybe a few weeks walking a little more every day.
Alternatively, you could try to gain a pound or two of muscle first by adding in a couple hundred calories to your diet, rev your metabolism up a little and then cut from there.
(If you’re hitting your daily protein targets it will make it easier to burn fat also.)
What would you recommend? Bulk a couple pounds or cut?? And how do I make sure that the pounds I gain would be muscle? and if I were to add in more walking (although everyone tells me that doing more cardio would burn more muscle, which I don’t want to do)
Making sure that what you gain is muscle is a tough question. You need a good weightlifting program, enough protein, a good diet, enough sleep. Whether you should bulk or cut is a tough question also. We’d need to know more about where you’re at and what your goals are. If you’d like a good lifting and nutrition plan, as well as coaching from us along the way we could do that for you with the Bony to Bombshell Program.
As for walking burning muscle, don’t worry—it won’t. It will burn calories, not muscle. We have more about how cardio affects lifting here though 🙂
Hey, I am a skinny fat guy and im 22! Last year i tried to bulk first but I failed, because i am so weak to lift! (I tried whey supplement and the result was so good and it made me stronger but i can t afford it for every month because in my country good supplemnts are expensive) So i became frustrate and left excersing. Now I make a decision to start again but this time i wanna try cut first! My height is 190 cm and weight is 90 kg and i have lean legs, shoulders, arms and fatty belly, hips, chest also my testestrone level is 530! Do you have any tips to help me!?
Hey Alireza, I’d recommend following the basics that we outlined in this article: consuming at least one gram of protein per pound bodyweight, following a good weightlifting program and getting plenty of good rest. If you can do that, I suspect you’ll even be able to gain a little muscle as you cut 🙂
Brilliant article and a great read.
I’m just approaching my 30th birthday and all my life I was pretty athletic, would run, do karate and keep fit. Until 4 years ago was struck down with a virus and ended up bed bound for nearly 3 years with chronic fatigue. I’ve never been a big guy, my weights always stayed around 60-65kg and I’m 6 ft 1 (186cm).
Last year I started cycling just 5 minutes a day to try and get my life back (I wasn’t going to give in to fatigue) and managed to get up to 40 minutes a day, then started weight training. I did start doing power lifting last year in October, but all that’s happened is my guts got really soft and weak. Plus my knee now is badly bruised (from a long standing injury) meaning no running, squats or deadlifts for 6 months to a year after an MRI scan showed heavy bruising of the bone.
All the running and weights I do is having no effect and I’m constantly tired. Not feeling great about myself at all. I’m proud I’ve beaten the fatigue and got back to a normal working life, but I tire quickly and suffer with panic attacks if I push. My PT would push me to the point I’d throw up, and I saw zero results. Thing is I have to exercise to keep the fatigue at bay, but also I just look super skinny and soft now.
Unfortunately the ‘normal way’ where someone can push themselves into high intensity, I just can’t achieve right now and I can’t tell if I’m just stressing my body out. I don’t know if it’s diet, don’t know if it’s because I just can’t do enough. Any help would be massively appreciated.
[…] To do this you’ll need to eat 1 gram of protein per pound bodyweight while consuming few enough calories that you’re losing weight on the scale each week—probably around 500 fewer calories than you’re eating right now. (We’ve got an article on what to do if you’re skinny-fat here.) […]
[…] Fonte: https://bonytobeastly.com/skinny-fat-guide/ […]
Hi Shane! I`m so glad I`ve found your blog! Amazing articles and tips. I’ve bookmarked it and will recommend to all my friends 🙂
I’d like to hear you opinion in my case too. I`m 37 year-old woman, 1,67 cm height and weighting 54,5Kg (I think in cm and kg). I lift 4 days per week in the morning (I try to do for 40 min with heavy weights and in a max of 30 sec of rest pause between sets). I also do hiit workout for 20 min twice a week.
I eat clean and prepare all my meals and snacks, trying to keep a radio of 150 g of protein, 100 g fat and 120 g carbs (about 70-80 % of the carbs around my pre and post workout), eating a total of about 2000 calories. However, I`ve still got 19% BF but look very skinny with a small pouch of fat at the front of my lower abs.My posture plays a role here as well (I can send you a picture) but it’s clearly that my fat is concentrate there.
My objective is to build more muscles and burn this fat without losing weight, but when I was in a more restricted diet, I noticed I look skinner and burn some muscles instead, while my evident fat was still there. I don`t know how to bulk either, I thought 2000 cal would put me in bulking mode, but nothing has actually changed.
If you have any advice, it would be great!
Thank you in advance and kee[ up the great work!
Hey Yara, glad you like it! What you’re doing is already pretty good. For your weight, while 150 grams of protein per day is awesome, 120 grams would be similarly awesome. But that’s definitely not the problem. Carb cycling and whatnot is good too.
I think the issue is that it’s very hard to build muscle without all the anabolic effects of being in a calorie surplus (i.e. without gaining weight) and it’s very hard to lose fat without creating the need for your body to burn stored energy by putting it into a calorie deficit (i.e. losing weight). You can see both things happening at once sometimes, but that would be more realistic if you were new to lifting weights and eating well.
I think if you want to lose that fat you’ll need to lose a little weight. Losing say, four pounds of fat is four pounds of weight loss, after all. With a high protein intake, a good muscle-building lifting routine, and good rest I think you’ll keep your muscle mass and avoid looking too much thinner. And to build muscle you’ll want to gain weight. So do one then the other. That would be my advice for you. I hope that helps!
Oh! You’ve seen Bony to Bombshell, yeah? (www.bonytobombshell.com) That’s our site for women who are looking to build muscle / gain weight (and even lose some fat!). There’s some good free info that might help in the two most recent articles 🙂
Hey man, I hope all is well and I love your advice a lot. So I was very skinny/skinny-fat about 6 months ago and began to dirty bulk pretty badly going from 130-156 in about 6 months. If I start cutting now, am I gonna lose a ton of muscle mass? My lifts have been going up, but have plateaued of late, therefore I think it is time to start cutitng. Would you mind taking a look at my picture and now and let me now what the best route would be?
Hey Harrison, I don’t see an attached photo, but this isn’t really the best place for that anyway. (The member community is where we give personalized feedback like that.) As for your questions though, 1) So long as you do a good job cutting you can expect to at least maintain your muscle mass, and 2) If you’re above 15–17% body fat then cutting down to 12–14% is oftentimes a good idea, as you’ll be able to make leaner gains with a lower body fat percentage. You’ll look better too 🙂
hey im 19 and I would like to know how to get muscle im skinny fat
I’d highly recommend joining our program if you can. That way you can be sure you’re covered nutritionally and with your workouts. And we could help you personally through the coaching side of things in the community. Otherwise I’d definitely give all of our articles a read for starters 🙂
I love the ilustrations you guys have. Do you make them yourself?
We do! I make them with Jared’s wife, Michelle 🙂
Shane, just a question on skinny fat physique:
Normally fat is the excess of calories. But skinny fat people may even be underweight, which means there is no excess calories. So without excess calories how did they manage to get fat on belly????
Don’t you thinjk I’ve asked a great question?
I’m no expert but i’ll try to aswner your question.
Combine a sedentary life style with a poor died high in fat and sugar and you will have a metabolism working not as good, and every bit of excess calories (witch would be easy to achieve) would be stored in your belly since it’s primary where it goes .
Thanks, Rafael, but that’s NOT what I am asking. Underweight person = less calories, belly fat = excess calories. So how can an underweight person (less calories) have belly fat (excess calories)? Is that not a contradiction?
Hey Oscar. Rafael is actually correct! The type of exercise you do and the types of food you eat will determine what ratio of muscle to fat that you gain in a calorie surplus, and what ratio of muscle to fat that you lose while in a calorie deficit.
So if someone who is thin eats in a calorie surplus while doing, for example, endurance exercise, he will gain more fat than muscle. Similarly, if that person were overweight and eating in a calorie deficit, he might lose both muscle and fat, winding up skinny-fat by the end of it.
This is why it’s important to lift weights, eat enough protein, and eat quality foods when trying to build muscle, not just get your calories right. Same deal when trying to lose weight.
Does that make sense?
Oh! How well you sleep, your genetics, how stressed you are, etc—all of that will impact the ratio of muscle to fat that you gain/lose as well. There are a ton of factors, I just tried to simplify it down a little bit.
This is an awesome article 🙂 So I started off fat at 90 kg with 33% body fat percentage last August. I started blind bulking (without closely monitoring the caloric intake) and kept lifting hard until I was at 101 kg at 35.1% body fat percentage in April 28th. Since the 1st of May, I decided to go on a cut with a daily deficit of approximately 500-750 calories. I lost weight steadily for 6 weeks until I’m now at 93 kg with 29% body fat. What I’d like to ask is, I got advice that I shouldn’t cut longer than 15 weeks, as too long of a cut is potentially unhealthy, while at the same time I got an advice that I should cut all the way until 10% body fat before starting a lean bulk. Which path should I take?
a) Stop the cut at week 15 (I probably should end up at about 20% body fat or so) and go in a lean bulk for 6-12 months and then cut again to get leaner.
b) Cut all ghe way until I’m left with 10% then start lean bulking from there
C) Your suggestions?
Hey Jay, congratulations! 90 kg with 33% up to 93 kg with only 29%? Doing some very rough math here, you’ve lost 3 kilos of fat while gaining 6 kilos of muscle? That’s awesome! Really awesome.
I’m going to go with option C.
For someone who accidentally found themselves at 33% body fat, I don’t think cutting down to 10% body fat on your first try is very realistic. That’s more something that I’d recommend for someone at like 15% body fat. For you, cutting down to 15% would probably be a good idea. You’d have a flat stomach, the hint of abs, great muscle definition in your arms. You’ll also have great insulin sensitivity and nutrient partitioning. From there you can either take a break, build some muscle, or decide to keep cutting.
Can you cut for longer than 16 weeks? Sure! Just monitor your hunger, sex drive, mood and strength. So long as everything is good there, no worries, keep it up. If you start to struggle, consider taking a week off from the deficit, going back to your maintenance intake.
If you get down to 20% or whatnot and you feel super tired of cutting, you can always reevaluate then too. You won’t have the same insulin sensitivity and nutrient partitioning advantages of if you were 15%, but you can still build muscle fairly leanly. If you’re sick and tired of cutting, switching up your routine could really be a breath of fresh air.
Does that make sense?
Hey there its fernando, ive read lots and lots of articles yours really was the most interesting and helpful. I am still quote confused though. I am 5’7. Approximately 145lb. And i ised to weigh 180 goin onto 190 but i went on a calorie deficit diet and did lots and lots of cardio. Now im skinny fat and i dont know where to start i tried lifting and i saw no progress and i dont want to eat alot because i already have a big gut. And ive seen all of the skinny fat guys i think i have it bad my gut is pretty big and arms are literally sticks im embaressed to wear short sleeve shirts.
Congratulations on losing around 45 pounds! That’s really impressive, man.
Losing weight while just doing cardio (or being sedentary) will result in both fat and muscle being lost, especially if you aren’t eating a higher protein diet, and especially if your genetics aren’t amazing. We usually recommend that guys take their lifting and nutrition fairly seriously when trying to lose a serious amount of weight.
Fortunately, rebuilding lost muscle mass is very easy, so it will spring back as soon as you get into a good lifting/nutrition routine.
As for why that didn’t work for you in the past, it’s really hard to say. It could be because your lifting plan wasn’t very good, your nutrition plan wasn’t very good, you weren’t sleeping very well, your calories were off, etc. Without knowing more we can’t really troubleshoot it.
Moving forward though, lifting is the type of exercise that will make you leaner and more muscular, so that’s the type of exercise that will help you accomplish your physique goals. Might just need to take a more strategic approach with it.
As someone who was able to lose 45 pounds, I think you’ll be quite successful with it. Losing all that weight isn’t easy, so you’ve already shown that you’ve got what it takes 🙂
Im skinny fat, im 200 pounds , 5’8, age- 16 and Im really havin’ a hard time with it. I was 14 when i first started pushups but somehow that deteriorated my hand strength. I used to be the strongest before my teenage years. But when everyone hit puberty I still had a 3 year decline in Testosterone production. I still do. The pushups probably killed everything in me. Ive acquired weak and small wrists (Im unable to lift a chair easily even with both hands), my punches started slowin down. And whenever i lift somethin’ theres some kinda stress up my wrist, forearms and biceps. What should I do to rehab? Also could you recommend exercises I can at the gym OR at home which doesnt involve weights? I dont wanna cut. I just want to bulk up and atleast ‘look’ like a 16 year old.
For a guy in your situation, weights would definitely be the way to build muscle while losing fat without overly stressing your wrists. For example, the deadlift may help strengthen and rehab your wrists, and the dumbbell bench press is way easier on your wrists than push-ups (which require a ton of wrist mobility/stability).
Is there a reason you’re trying to avoid weights?
Hi, I’m Michael.
I think I have a skinny fat physique. I’m a 19 year old boy from Malaysia and I weigh 143lbs at 5.9ft(180cm) tall. The thing is, I have love handles and lower abdominal fat as well as my chest having quite a large amount of fat, making it somewhat flabby. Measurements around my chest are 36 inches, around my waist are 33.5 inches and around my hips are 36.5 inches. How should I approach this? Should I bulk? I’m scared of cutting because 5more lbs under and i’d be underweight but if I bulk, I’d get fatter and flabbier won’t I? What do i do?
You should cut first, building a little muscle as you go. Even though your weight will drop into a too-low BMI, it will just be fat that you’re losing. This will actually be better for your health, since it will do a better job of improving your body composition. Then you can build up muscle leanly from there, bringing your BMI back up to an ideal point.
I must say I love the work you guys put in your content, kudos! I too, think that I am skinny fat. I used to be super-skinny a few months ago, had a flat stomach and as you mentioned, a hint of abs when flexed in appropriate lighting. However, due to my lifestyle in the past few months, I have put on a lot of fat around my stomach and there’s actually a small paunch out there.
I weigh 150 pounds and my obesity analysis reveals that my Percentage Body Fat (PBF) of 21.2% and my Waist Hip Ratio is also high at 0.85! While my BMI is normal but on the higher end of the scale at 22.5, my skeletal muscle mass is quite low, merely 67 pounds.
I’m caught up in the cut first-bulk first conundrum, I wish to build muscle but not settling for a thick layer of mass around my tummy. What should I do? I have been advised to take muscle mass gainers by my gym instructor but I’m wary of it, and need a second opinion. Having said that, I love your articles!
Thank you so much, Manan!
I think you’d see better results if you focus on cutting first. It sounds like you’re fairly new to lifting and eating for muscle growth, so I think you’ll gain some muscle as you cut down to 15% body fat or lower. When you get to that point, your insulin sensitivity will be higher and you’ll be able to build muscle more leanly as you transition into a lean bulk 🙂
Perfect, exactly the sort of response I was looking for. Yes I’m fairly new to lifting and would very much like to reduce the body fat to 15% or thereabout. Does this mean I should refrain from consuming muscle mass gainers (I have been advised to, but ..)?
Gainers are just protein + processed carbs and maybe some fat. Sort of like your trainer telling you to have more chicken breast and cake. That’s more something that helps when trying to gain weight, not when trying to lose it. In your case, I’d recommend whey protein instead.
We have an article that covers supplements here, though, and we talk about the purpose of gainers throughout (since they’re a supplement designed for skinny dudes who struggle to eat enough to gain weight—exactly our clientele).
Hi. To cut first (I’m 158lb and 21%fat) what calorie deficit a mount would you recommend? I weight train four times a week and have a physical job.
First take a look at how your macros are structured would me by guess and then go into calorie deficient diet. You can achieve plenty by just increasing protein intake and lowering your carbs and fats. But i think about 250 calorie deficit would be a safe way to lose fat. Thats just from what I’ve known to work Shane probably has 5 studies to back up his answer 🙂
I think he could handle a larger deficit. A daily deficit of about 500 calories, for example, would have him losing around a pound per week. That’s still slow enough that he wouldn’t be losing any muscle or feeling awful.
If you don’t know how much you’re currently eating and want to calculate your calories instead, you could start at around 2,200 calories per day, weigh yourself each week, and reduce your daily calorie intake by another 200 every time you don’t lose enough weight on the scale. You may or may not lose enough weight during that first week, but it’s self-correcting, so it would be fixed as you adjust based on your weekly weigh-ins.
If 2,200 seems like more than 500 calories less than you’re currently eating, start higher. Maybe 2,500.
I’m currently eating 2700-2800. I run 4 miles at 5 am then go into my gym for 50 minutes after then work a full day working as a mechanic and just didn’t want to have too much of a deficit and end up in starvation.
Hah, no way! So my guess of 2,200 was spot on! (2,700 – 500 = 2,200)
Loving the blog Shane!
I think one cool thing to look into for gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time is targeted ketogenic diets.
Basically for a period of time you eat keto (high fat, low carb) to increase fat loss and then before workouts you consume most of your daily carbs 30-50g usually in a quick form like maltodextrin, fruit sugars etc.
This will go straight into your muscle glycogen stores and make gains and it will only take you around 8 hours to get back into ketosis burning that fat.
Ketogenic diets seemed pretty cool when they first started coming out, but it seems like most of the research is showing that they produce very similar amounts of fat loss to just regular ol’ diets. For building muscle, especially for a more ectomorphic body type, a higher carb diet seems to do better. I’ve heard of people being able to do it with a ketogenic diet, but I don’t think it would be as effective. (The research is limited still, though.)
My friend needs help. He’s ecto-skinny-fat(15-19.9% body fat with skinny muscles). Should he cut or bulk first? Body types:Skinny-fat(20-22.9% body fat with skinny muscles)Endo-skinny-fat(23-24.9% body fat with skinny muscles) Fat-weak:25% body fat and above with skinny muscles.
He could probably build muscle while cutting if he’s new to lifting, so he might want to try getting down under 15% while learning the ropes in the gym, building a little muscle, gaining some strength. Then he could transition to a cautious bulk and put more emphasis on building muscle while staying fairly lean. This would be my recommendation.
But if he’s really gung-ho on building muscle, getting bigger… that’s okay too! He could start with a cautious bulk and just try to keep his body fat percentage from going up to much. It wouldn’t be quite as easy to bulk leanly, and his muscle definition wouldn’t be that great, but he’s still within a fairly healthy range. I think he’d do fine.
He wants ripped abs. He wants to be strong which is below 10% body fat 22-24.9 BMI
Shane maaate, arghh I’m 5ft 10 and 35 years old, but been spinning my wheels in this damn skinny fat to even skinnier fat cycle for 5 years!! No matter what I do I can’t get out of it. I’m fed up of dieting! I checked myfitnesspal last week – I’ve dropped from 176lbs to 155lbs dieting slowly from February this year. Still no abz in sight, literally all my flab sits on my sides and stomach. I don’t even give a monkeys about having dem razor abzz all the kids want, I just can’t add muscle without a tonne of fat so I figure I need to start from the skinniest possible to reset my nutrition partitioning.
Very frustrated with it all. The most annoying thing is, Ive forgotten more about training and nutrition than most gym rats will ever know!
Great article by the way.
And here I was thinking that Paul was just an apostle!
So I take it that you’ve been dieting while following a good lifting program, eh? How’d your strength hold out over the course of the cut? And were you consuming adequate protein?
There’s some sort of something that’s borking your results, we just don’t know what it is. Could be that your sleeping habits are poor, a consistency issue, a stress issue—hard to say. We’d need to poke around inside your routine and see what the troublesome element is.
Yeah I’ve tried numerous ways of lifting but tend to come back to either a 3 day full body or a 4 day upper/lower split which fit my schedule well. My pushing strength tends to plummet whilst my pulling strength holds just about, although I’m at the point where I’m losing 2 or 3 reps now.
At my strongest I’ve strict pressed OH 48.5kg for 5 x 5 where as now I can only get 40kg. I also had a back injury which set me back months and was at 100kg for sets of 5 squatting and 145kg deadlifting, but I don’t do either now. I learned Front squats (safer back angle) and had to half the weight, which is humbling!
Like I said, I’ve been dieting since February and my maintenance has shot down to 2100 calories now. I’m having a diet break this week because eating 1700 cals p/w as a grown man is getting too much. Protein has always been 180-200 g p/w (I’ve tracked for 5 years also), I sleep for 6-7 hours a night and don’t have any stress in life apart from the stress of no gainzzzz!
I should say, your article suggests the best way to get out of this vicious circle is to cut down to skinny fit or bulk up to strong fat. As strong fat hasn’t worked for me, I just get skinny monster belly, this is why I’m trying to lose the fat. I’m at a good stage right now, I love being able to fit in my old jeans again – but this is usually the point where I would start bulking again. I’ve already established this doesn’t work for me, perhaps my calories went to high to fast? Perhaps I jumped from diet calories to bulking calories (I went from 1700-3000 one time)? Maybe the answer is to diet a few more weeks to 150lbs, and then move back to maintenance for a while before starting a slowwww bulk adding in calories very slowly?
Hmm. For example, an ideal bulk/cut cycle might look something like this:
1st Bulk: bench goes from 135 to 185
1st Cut: 185 drops to 175
2nd Bulk: bench goes from 175 to 205
2nd Cut: 205 drops to 195
3rd Bulk: bench goes from 205 to 225
Whereas spinning your wheels looks more like this:
1st Bulk: bench goes from 135 to 175
1st Cut: 175 drops to 165
2nd Bulk: bench goes from 165 to 175
2nd Cut: 175 drops to 165
3rd Bulk: bench goes from 165 to 175
So perhaps you’re losing too much strength during your cuts? Not gaining enough strength during your bulks? As for why, that’s harder to say without more information. 6–7 hours per night is not a lot. Have you tried sleeping more? Could be that you’ve had a bad run of luck (or bad technique) that brought on some injuries.
You could try maintenance before shifting to a bulk, yeah. And then when you shift to a bulk, go up by 250–500 calories. All you want to do is gain 0.5–1 pound per week. More than that and you’re too likely to gain too much fat. Patience is good with this stuff.
Hey thanks for replying so fast man.
Yeah I think you’re right about not gaining enough strength during a bulk and then going back to where I was on a cut. It happens every time, I don’t know why. I used to have really bad sleep after doing shift work, something like 4-5 hours a night and it was broken. Now I get nearly 7 so I’m really happy with that but I couldn’t get more if I wanted to.
I definitely over ate on the last bulk so I will take your advice on the calories. Your article gave me a bit of extra motivation that I needed to trim a bit more fat before I go back to maintenance so thanks for that! I’m just so tired of it having dieted for most of this year already.
Glad I could help, man! Good luck with this next round 🙂
Are these the body types taking account body fat? Skinny ripped:below 10% body fat. Soft Skinny: 10-14.9%Ecto-skinny-fat: 15-19.9%Skinny-fat: 20-22.9%Endo-skinny-fat: 23-24.9%Fat-weak:25% and above.
Hello, i’m 19 years old and i guess i’m a skinny fat since im only 156 pounds and 6,1ft. The thing is my bf is like 17%. My arms are very skinny(31cm biceps), but i have pretty big belly and legs compared to my arms. I’m not sure if i should cut, since my weight is already too low(i guess). Do you think i can bulk?
Here are photos: first, second.
I would say cut first even tho im so skinny already?
Sorry for bad english
Hey Cal, I’d peg your body fat percentage at over 20%, but I’m not any kind of master at that. Are you new to lifting and dieting for muscle gain? If so, even while cutting, you’ll still be able to build a fair amount of muscle. Not as much as if you were bulking, but still a fair amount.
So you can have the best of both worlds for a while 🙂
Hi! I got around 60 kg and my height is 173 cm.I’m 30 years old and i got a bad lifestyle ,usually i spend a lot of time at pc (work+free time )and smoke a pack of cigarettes every day ,i eat 2-3 times per day ,i eat a lot of dark bread at every meal also I can’t restrain myself not to eat something sweet once at 2-3 days ,most of the time i’m tired and drowsiness and i can’t sleep enough. My constitution is skinny ,the skinniest are my shoulders and arms and i got some fat around belly.I wanted to ask if it’s better to start with some cardio exercises or with bodybuilding ?and what kind of exercises ? Also i want to ask about nutrition, i read on a healthy nutrition site that there are some rules how to combine food like – don’t eat concentrated protein and a concentrated carbohydrate at the same meal (ex. meat with bread ) -never consume two concentrated proteins at the same meal (eggs+meat) -eat fruits only in morning before any meal .Should i start with supplements or should i take them just when i can’t handle ?What kind of supplements should i take (carbs or proteins ) ?
Hey Tony, this is a pretty complex question!
1. Smoking is certainly unhealthy but probably isn’t a significant reason why you’re skinny-fat. Let’s put that aside as far as this conversation is concerned.
2. Eating sweet things 2–3 times per day is perfectly fine. Best if those things are fruits. Even if they aren’t, sugar isn’t inherently fattening in the context of a solid overall diet. Best of all, carbs in general (including sugar) is great for building muscle if you’re lifting weights and eating enough protein. That habit may not needing changing, but aiming for fruits instead of junk food would probably be wise. I don’t think the timing of this would really impact your ability to lose fat or build muscle perfectly well, but if you wanted to be a perfectionist about it, you could keep the sugars/junk/carbs to the couple meals before and after the gym.
3.You should absolutely lift weights first and foremost. That will start sending your nutrients towards muscle development instead of fat storage, and it sounds like that’s exactly what you need most of all. Cardio could be nice too, but considering that an hour spent lifting also gives you 30 minutes worth of cardio exercise, lifting makes for a good place to start. If you lift 3 days per week, that leaves 4 days where you could do cardio if you like.
4. I would guess that combining different foods together into a meal is good. All of the healthiest and longest living cultures in the world tend to eat mixed meals: stir fries, stews, chilis, curries, soup, etc. That isn’t proof, but it’s a good clue. Anyway, as far as building muscle and losing fat goes, I can say for sure that you should be eating fairly balanced meals whenever possible. focusing on having a protein source with every meal would help you the most.
5. I would check out our supplement article. (You probably don’t need the maltodextrin.)
I hope that helps, and good luck, man!
[…] What to do When You’re Tired of Being Skinny-Fat […]
[…] What to do When You’re Tired of Being Skinny-Fat […]
Hi Shane, I just stumbled upon this website. Recently, I became inspired to work out. Anyone who knows me in real life would drop their jaws to the floor if they were to know that I am actually going to start working out. I will be working out on Saturday, or Sunday. Right now, I am between 179 cm – 185 cm tall. The last time I checked my height was 6 years ago, at age 15. I weigh 58 kg now, which is 129 lbs. My inspiration came after stumbling upon a picture of Cam Gigandet topless in Never Back Down. In the movie, he is at 160 lbs. I really love the way his body looks. I should bulk, but I am just going to tone my body to see what it looks like, so cutting, while following his supposed workout routine. And after 6 months, I will start bulking, to further reach my goal. The reason I am going to cut first, is because I might be content with my body after cutting and working out at the same time. If not, I will bulk. What do you think of this? Do you have any tips?
When I was 188 cm tall and 120–130 pounds, I was very desperate to bulk even if it meant gaining fat. I was just so damn tired of being the skinniest person I knew—the skinniest person in every room I walked into. I was so skinny and untrained that by the time I finished my first 20-pound bulk, just from my muscles growing bigger (including my abs), I looked a lot leaner. And I wasn’t skinny anymore.
But your story sounds different. It sounds like you aren’t as lean as you’d like to be yet. Mind you, sounds like your target body is 30 pounds heavier than you are. So it probably does still make more sense to bulk. At least eventually.
If you can’t see a hint of abs, then cutting makes sense no matter what.
If you can see your abs okay while flexing in favourable lighting, I would bulk, just take a slower pace—not more than a pound per week—so that you’re doing it fairly leanly.
I have no idea what his workout routine was, so I can’t comment on that. Might be great, might be horrible.
Most importantly of all, that’s awesome that you’re going to give working out a shot!!!
I highly recommend checking out our new post about newbie gains. I think it will help you out a lot 😀
Hi B2B Team,
Would your program be suited for me – A skinny fat person who puts on fat around waist (belly and handles) very fast, even when training and in calorie surplus?
I have done a paid online program for a year but not really happy with the results. I just need an honest answer if I should enroll on your program or if your program is tailored mostly for the skinny community as oppose to the skinny-fat community?
I have been training for a year solid, between 3-5 times a week.
I look forward to your reply.
Hey Curious, that sounds really frustrating, especially if you’ve been at it for a year. Not just the wasted money, but the wasted time and motivation—time and motivation that should have gotten you closer to your goals.
We’re a program for skinny guys, whether they’re skinny-fit or skinny-fat. You’re right that your approach will need to be a little bit different, but we built that into the new version of the program, and you’ll find both types of guys in the community. We also have online coaching alongside the program to make sure that it fits you like a glove 🙂
I hope you decide to join us!
Shane – I tried to join this morning but it said the coupon is expired!!! Please advise as I understand it expires 21st Dec 1159 and I did it at 10am UK time
Sorry about that, Sunny. You’re absolutely correct. I checked with Jared about what could have happened and he fixed it 🙂
HI Shane, I´m from Colombia (the country) and after one year of calisthenics I add some muscle (not too much but more than ever) but the belly still there, my body fat percentage is 17% and thinking in cut seems like lost the effort from the past year. The real question here is that I´m thinking to use kettlebells before barbells or bumbbells , I just read that is a much better way to use external objects before too much weight and after calisthenics, do you think is a good idea? and how much weight could be good?. My idea is start with weights and feel more comfortable cuttng with some more muscle there.
I´ll like to have that information about the payment plan too, will be really helpful. Thanks.
Hey Cesar, congrats on adding the muscle 🙂
Kettlebells are great, and I have all of Onnit’s primal bells. They look pretty cool and they’re great for when I want to do some lifting at home. When I began, the chimp was the most versatile weight (36 pounds). Now that I’m stronger, I favour the orangutan (54 pounds).
Dumbbells are better for building muscle and strength, though. If you’re trying to train your chest with a kettlebell, oh boy, it’s not easy. Even something simple, like a curl, is much easier to perform with a dumbbell than a kettlebell, and then the next week you have the option to make the dumbbell just 5 pounds heavier. With a kettlebell you’d want to be doing all the specific kettlebell lifts and routine, and those are usually more about general fitness and athleticism than muscle and strength.
Check out this article about building a home gym, and if you still have any question drop me a comment there, yeah?
Oh, and I’ll shoot you an email with the payment plan info 🙂
Thanks for all the info! I’m 20 years old, 5’9, weigh 149 pounds and am skinny fat as a result of poor eating habits and general avoidance of muscle-building physical activity throughout my life. I am looking to cut by calorie deficit + lifting weights so I can lose some of the fat I accumulate in my belly and love handles. I have not lifted in the past so it will be new for me. However, I have poor posture and anterior pelvic tilt, and I’ve read on some sources that you shouldn’t be lifting until you fix these issues because lifting can in fact make it worse. I was wondering what your take on it is – should I be doing some posture exercises to fix my posture/APT before lifting, or do both at the same time? Also, do you have any links on this website in terms of what weight lifting routine / exercises I should be doing as a newbie looking to cut, as well as what my food and macro and protein breakdown should be?
Thanks a lot.
On top of this, I was wondering how to exactly find out what my base metabolic rate is (to my understanding, that is the number of calories I burn in a day without doing any exercise) in order to find out what # of calories I should be eating every day in order to properly operate at a calorie deficit. I used various sources on the internet, with some asking for my activity level (which I would say is sedentary to lightly active; I walk for a total of around 20 minutes 3 days of the week) and have gotten ranges of my BMR from 1734 – 2000. If the 1734 is correct, would that mean I would have to eat -500 calories a day from that to lose about a pound a week, so 1234 calories/day? That seems quite low. Perhaps I’m calculating/doing this all wrong, so some guidance would be much appreciated! Also I read in one of your comments that you recommend 1 g of protein per 1 lb of body weight, so I can figure that out on my own. However, how do I ration out the rest of the percentages between Carbs and Fat? Does it matter?
If 1734 is correct and I wanted to lose about a pound a week, would I be eating -500 calories every day, so 1234 calories?
Sorry for the last question being repeated again – a typo.
Hi Shane! This article is yet another of many great reads to be found on your site.
In the article dealing with myths surrounding protein intake, you suggested that an ectomorph looking to bulk up (through muscle gain) would benefit from consuming a diet made up of approximately 50% carbs, 30% fat and 20% protein, per day. However, what macronutrient ratio do you recommend for an ectomorph looking to cut down to around 10% body fat (whilst performing either three full body, or four upper body/lower body, workouts per week?) Would adjustments need to be made, both in terms of caloric intake and macronutrient ratios, based on training and non-training days?
Hey Hassan, glad you liked it!
You want about the same amount of overall protein—1 gram per pound bodyweight per day—but you want to lower your overall calorie intake, i.e., you’ll be lowering your fat and/or carb intake. That means that the percentage of your calories coming from protein will go up.
There’s no need to cycle carbs/calories based on whether you’re working out that day, but you can. Seems like it might have a small positive effect on body composition while bulking and cutting. Also, a recent study found that at least 40 grams of protein post-workout is ideal for guys doing full-body routines (more muscles are worked so more protein is required), so if you’re doing your 3 weekly full body routines, maybe an extra large protein shake or serving of protein afterwards 🙂
Cheers for the very helpful response, Shane!
Hi Shane, I’m really enjoying reading your articles. Lots of great information.
I’m very much a beginner to all this. I’ve been pondering whether to cut or to bulk for some time now and am finally edging towards cutting but I have one major concern:
If I cut properly (re weights, sleep, nutrition etc) I would expect to lose fat and gain some muscle, but as a beginner would cutting rather than bulking negate the benefits you talk about beginners expecting to see? When it came time to bulk would I have used up that period of newbie gains while I was cutting?
Also, I’m really interested in joining your community but money is rather tight at the moment. Do you offer some sort of payment plan to enable people in my situation to join?
Hey Paul, glad you’ve been enjoying our articles!
No, no, don’t worry about losing your newbie gains. Newbie gains have to do with how much muscle you’ve gained relative to your ultimate potential, not how long you’ve been trying to gain. So if you gain 5 pounds of muscle while cutting and your newbie gain potential is 20 pounds of muscle, say, then when you switch to bulking, you’ll gain that remaining 15 pounds of muscle fairly quickly and easily 🙂
Yeah, we’ve got a payment plan option. For anyone else reading, send us an email at us@bonytobeastly and Sunny will set you up. For you, I’ll shoot him your email and he’ll take care of you 🙂
Great article. I’m a skinny-fat ectomorph. I have thin arms and chest but I have a relatively big belly. I’m a 26 year old guy, 145lbs, 5’9″, with about 14% body fat. I’m trying to lose 3% body fat to start a clean bulk. However, I’m struggling with diet and setting my macro intake. I have a high tolerance for carbs. I set my macro to 50% carbs, 30% protein, 20% fat. Despite my high carb intake, I still feel weak and loss of energy. I’m currently doing heavy weight strength training (5 reps sets).
I don’t know if I should continue to cut to lose the 3% body fat or if I should bulk instead. If I cut, what would be the best maco split?
Thank you for your help!
I think your estimate is a little off. 14% body fat is well in the flat stomach territory. Should be seeing some upper abs also. If you got down to 11% that would be a nice set of abs, albeit not chiseled ones like you’d see on a magazine cover.
Heavy strength training and cutting isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it can be taxing. You’d beat your body down less by switching to lighter, higher rep sets. You could boost overall volume that way also, burning more calories and depleting more glycogen (which will help with the cut). Might be time for a switch of program. Strength programs are more optimized for gaining strength, not bulking or cutting. They can work, but if you’re feeling the downside of it (that it can beat up your body), then I bet you’ll get more out of a more optimal program for your goals 🙂
If you cut, it’s best to think about hitting 1 gram of protein per pound bodyweight per day. Your carb and fat macro split isn’t very important, other than needing to get enough fat to stay healthy, which shouldn’t be a problem, and enough carbs before training that you don’t feel super drained in the gym. You can fiddle with your carb/fat breakdown, but starting with a 50-50 split should be a good place to start.
I hope that helps, and good luck!
Thanks for the reply. You make a good point that strength training and cutting at the same time can be taxing on the body. I forgot to mention that I’m still fairly new to weight training (not a brand new beginner but not yet a intermediate). When I first began weight training, I didn’t really train properly (did only lighter weights / higher reps) and I didn’t eat properly. I’ll take the diet and macro info into account. As for heavy vs light training, wouldn’t it be more ideal for (fairly beginner) skinny-fat ectomorph to build a bigger stronger physique? Thanks!
Okay so you’re saying “bigger and stronger,” which are slightly different things.
The best way to get bigger is to do a higher volume program with tons of high-rep sets. So, for example, let’s say somebody wants to build up their chest size as quickly as possible. We’d get him doing 4 sets of 10-rep bench press, then another few sets of incline dumbbell bench press, then 4 sets of pec flys, etc. Maybe do that a couple times per week so that he’s got 12–20+ sets of chest work per week. This will make him a fair bit stronger, but the main goal here is just to buff up his muscle size by as much as possible.
The best way to get stronger is to focus on neural gains, aka, learning how to use the muscle you already have more efficiently and maximally. So, for example, let’s say somebody wants to increase their bench press 1RM as quickly as possible. In that case, we’d get him doing 1–5 rep sets of bench press 2–3 times per week. Then we’d use assistance exercises to bring up his weak points. If his triceps are the limiting factor, that could be a tricep assistance exercise, for example. This program would build a little size, but mainly he’d be learning how to better use the muscle he already has. (It won’t build size optimally because the training is too taxing to use a higher volume approach.)
Neither approach on its own is ideal for building a “bigger stronger” physique, but both combined together sure is. You could do a reduced number of heavy bench sets (3 instead of 5 sets, say) followed by lighter assistance stuff to pump the volume up. That way you’re building tons of muscle mass and teaching yourself how to use that muscle mass to lift heavy.
For a beginner, though, you don’t really need strength training much. Beginner’s don’t tend to have a lot of muscle mass yet, so there isn’t that much use in teaching them how to lift maximally with what they already have. It’s usually a better idea to bulk them up quickly and then bring the strength training focus in. The lighter “bodybuilding” sets allow guys to practice technique a little more easily also, which can lead to better results with less risk of injury as they get started.
So I’d say that until you gain 20–30 pounds, you don’t need to focus that much on strength-oriented programs. You’ll actually gain more strength by just focusing on building muscle mass, and higher rep stuff would be a more efficient way to do that. It’ll also be better for cutting, since you can do a higher volume program that burns a ton of calories and depletes a ton of glycogen 🙂
Your approach isn’t bad at all, though. Not even close. I think it’s interesting to talk about what’s truly optimal, especially since we try to help so many people. Helping 5,000 people gain an extra pound of muscle per month in their first few months of lifting is a huge deal to us, you know? We want every detail perfect. But what you’re doing sounds just fine. If you enjoy it and are consistent with it, you should be able to do well 🙂
I really appreciate the feedback. Thanks! 🙂
Great article. I’m a marathon runner. 175 lbs. Focusing more on muscle building this year, but I love the running community so I’ll keep running 3x week and balance it with my strength training.
I understand the ‘when in doubt, eat’ , and I did that last year while putting on quality muscle. I’m doing the opposite now at least for 6 weeks to trim some fat. Couple inches off waist and/or taking 3-5% off body fat is a goal this year.
Question: any other tips for endurance athletes taking a strong interest in building muscle? I’ve heard keeping the nutrition high is important. Training load is 9-10 hours a week (str + run)
Alex Viada has some good information on that. We have a coach in the community who’s good with combining endurance training and weightlifting together as well. It’s not necessarily the ideal way to build muscle, but it can be done, and it can be done very well 🙂
You’ll want to eat a lot, yeah. And you’ll want to make recovery a big priority. With a high training load, you’ll want to minimize stress in other areas of your life and really make sure you’re resting well. Lots of emphasis on sleep, relaxing, de-stressing emotionally, eating well.
I’d also say that you might want to shift your emphasis depending on your shorter term goals. So if you want to build a lot of muscle, gear down the endurance training into maintenance mode until you’ve hit your muscle target. Then you could maintain those muscular gains with minimal lifting while focusing on making endurance progress again. You want to figure out the absolute minimum amount of work you can do to maintain your results in one area so that you can shift more energy to the other without moving backwards at all. Switching like that should work better than always trying to do both.
Can you please tell me if [Eric] has used any supplements to get rid of unwanted fat? Why because i am in same position after strict HCG diet. I lost almost 20 kgs in 3 months after using HCG drops.
We just recommend lifting, nutrition and sometimes a little creatine or whey protein. That way, the side effects are all positive: improved fitness, health, mood, etc, etc. It’s very effective for losing fat while maintaining or gaining muscle mass also. But there are other ways, and sometimes in more dire circumstances, more intense methods are warranted 🙂
[…] The good news for us is that we have a genetic advantage here. Even skinny-fat guys don’t have this issue. Moreover, if you’re already very lean, then your hormonal profile will also make it easier to stay lean. This is why bulking at 15% body fat or lower tends to allow guys to build muscle more leanly, whereas bulking at 20% or more can make it really hard to build more muscle than fat. (Skinny-fat guys do run into issues with this, and we’ve got some advice for that here.) […]
Hello! Really cool article. The information helps me a lot. I want to ask something . I have a decent belly something like Dead Bear in the picture above but my weight is normal, my BMI is 21.8 which means normal but i really don`t have a lot of muscle so i am really confused should i i either bulk or cut. Also, at the first picture Dead Bear has some decent amount of fat at the stomach area but he adds some pounds and he looks much more good and the belly fat disappears. Is that possible?
Thanks in advance!
Glad you dug the article, Tsvetan!
We generally recommend approaching this in phases. For example, starting with a cut and then switching to a cautious bulk once you’re lean. Dead Bear took that approach, and his time spent cutting explains how he was able to lose that fat.
Should you bulk or cut? That depends! If you can’t see your upper abs even in flattering lighting, then you might benefit from starting with a cut. If you’ve got the hint of abs already, then feel free to start with a bulk.
I know your BMI is fine now, and if you cut, it might worsen, dipping under 20, say. That’s okay. Remember that you’re just losing fat. Nothing bad is happening. I know it can be demoralizing, but it’s helping you become lean and strong in the end!
How do you guys feel about short bulk and cut cycles? Say two weeks bulk and two weeks cut? My bodyfat is around 16% and I can’t bear the thought of losing weight/cutting.
In other words, what if I did several mini two week on and two week off cycles until I can get my bodyfat near 10% and then do an extended bulk?
Note: I’m two years into lifting so my chances of cutting while gaining muscle are long gone.
I would recommend longer periods just to give your time to get into the swing of the cutting/bulking routine, and then also to allow you to properly track your progress. With just a 2-week cycle, it will be very hard to tell if you’re losing fat or muscle. For example, let’s say you begin a cut. After the first week, you lose 2 pounds. Is that because of a calorie deficit? Or because you’re simply eating less food, you’re storing less glycogen, there’s less food in your stomach, etc. You don’t really know. So you keep cutting for another week, and that second week you lose another pound. You’re getting ready to start your bulk again at that point, so you take some measurements. You find that you’ve lost a lot of size in your waist—great. But is that because of less food or fat loss? Why knows, at this point. You’ve lost size in your arms and shoulders too—shoot. But it could just be that your muscles deflated a little bit because they’re holding onto less glycogen. Then you start bulking and you run into the same confusion. Your waist balloons back up because you’re eating more, your muscles re-inflate, and even if your cut was a total success for both weeks, you probably aren’t going to notice any more muscle definition because you only lost a tiny bit of fat.
A big problem with being skinny-fat is not being able to understand how you’re progressing. Going into longer periods of cutting (12+ weeks) and bulking (several months) tends to clear up that confusion quite a lot.
So I’d recommend longer periods even just for that reason.
Hi, I know it’s not possible to ONLY gain muscle but with my body I gain around 100 grams of muscle and 200-400 grams of fat whenever I’m in a surplus. But when I try to lose the fat I lose it in the same manner. I’ve tried bulking and cutting repeatedly but I have the same amount of muscle mass and more fat than ever. According to my scale, when I was 61.5 kg I was at 12.5% body fat with 29.9 kg of muscle. Then at 63.5 kg I was at 14.3% bf with 30.0 kg muscle and now at 66.4 kg I’m at 17% bf with 31 kg of muscle. Any suggestions to gain muscle while keeping the fat gains at a minimum?
Hey Vinit. This answer is going to be atrocious, but there’s not much other way to answer it. So I apologize in advance. But here it is: you haven’t been building muscle or cutting fat properly.
I know, that’s not specific at all… but I don’t know the details of what you’re doing. So many factors are involved. Are you eating enough protein? Is your lifting program good? Are you lifting with enough intensity? Those would be the first questions to ask, but with issues as complex as this one—a nutrient partitioning issue—we can really only get to the bottom of it once we’re sure you’re following a good program properly.
In rough order of importance:
1. Make sure your lifting program is optimal for muscle growth, and that you’re following it properly.
2. Make sure you’re eating at least 1 gram of protein per pound bodyweight per day.
3. Make sure your calorie intake is reasonable (no more than a pound gained per week)
There are many other factors, even including sleep quality and quantity, but those would be a good place to start.
I’ve bought your Right To Bear Arms, Pectoral Powerhouse and Posterior Powerhouse programs. Have been doing the arms program for last 2 weeks and a self created full body 3 days a week program before that. I consume around 150-160 grams of protein daily. It’s the calorie intake that messes me up I think. I gain around 2-2.5 lbs per week. :/
Ahh, yeah, that explains it. Your body isn’t going to be building more than 0.5–1 pound per week at most, so gaining 2–2.5 pounds per week means 1–2 pounds of fat gained per week. The good news is that you you’ll make leaner gains without having to put as much stress on your digestive system 🙂
[…] Their genetics don’t suck, they’re just not lean enough to bulk properly. They should be reducing their body fat percentage a little bit before trying to bulk up. Here’s how that works: what to do if you’re tired of being skinny-fat. […]
Hey there you dear skinny-no-more wonders you – I am curious as to your opinions here in intermittent fasting for recomposition – no food until midday or more for instance then all your calories during the next 8 hours in order to increase GH, test, insulin sensitivity etc?
Understanding and assuming that doing so is possible.
[…] Source:bonytobeastly.com Read more. […]
Hi, I just discovered your site and am loving the info I’m 45 and did a cut from 20 down to 10 % this winter. The 15%break point really seemed to be a turning point and will now be my max when adding strength/muscle.
My wife has a question. From your research is there an equivalent body fat magic number for women? My wife is also an ectomorph who lifts and focuses on diet. Maybe an article for the ladies with some illustrations and advice would bring you a wider audience.
Thanks in advance, Randall
Congrats on the successful cut, Randall—that’s awesome!
Your wife would probably prefer our articles over at https://bonytobombshell.com/ 🙂
What’s the magic number for women? That’s a good question, and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure if it works quite the same way. However, I’d bet a good amount of money that the magic number for women is still at around that same (relative) level of leanness, though—something like 22-25%. But we should write a properly researched Bony to Bombshell article about that for sure.
I’m confused on which I should do.
I’ve always been extremely skinny (6 foot, 125 pounds). Over the last year, I’ve managed to put on thirty pounds (up to 155), and while I am still fairly skinny, I have a small gut now. Similar to DoctorB, but mine isn’t quite as big.
I think the gut is a result of a lack of consistent lack of exercise. I had gotten to a fairly toned appearance despite my weight, but I’ve put the gut on in the last eight months or so.
I really want to lose it while staying lean, but I can’t cut, or I will be too skinny again. I don’t want to get as large as DoctorB, though. Is there no reasonable middle ground?
I generally eat about 3000 calories a day. If I maintained that while doing more consistent and intense workouts, will that help shape my body better? I am still pretty weak, so I’m wondering if getting more muscle would help solve the problem naturally.
Hey Jared, the middle ground would be just cutting for a shorter amount of time. If you have less of a gut to lose, then instead of cutting for twenty weeks, maybe you only need to cut for ten. However, if you want to lose that gut, you DO actually need to cut.
I understand your worry well. I felt the same way. I hated the idea of cutting because I didn’t want to be light again. In my case, this happened to me later on. I was so proud of making it up to 200 pounds, and I didn’t want to drop back down to 180. However, I bit the bullet and cut. People thought I’d GAINED weight because of how much more defined my muscles were.
Do the cut. Keep your muscles, lose the gut. When your gut is gone, go back to bulking. You’ll make leaner gains and you won’t be stressed about your growing gut anymore.
The other option would be, yeah, you go with the DoctorB approach and you go for the bulk. However, as happened with DoctorB, you’ll probably finish that bulk looking a little chubbier than you planned. (He went on to do a cut afterwards.) However, since you aren’t trying to get as big, perhaps you wouldn’t gain as much of a gut.
In the end, it’s up to you. Don’t just keep treading water, though. Pick a goal and go after it.
Great article which I learned a lot from but I’m still a little confused. I definitely fall into the skinny fat category and can relate to everything that is being said regarding the traits and issues with being in this category. I have experienced the problems of just gaining fat when trying to bulk and losing muscle when cutting and just seem to be going through these phases and making minimal gains, maintaining the same body weight. What I am struggling to understand is that the conclusion to the article seems to be telling me to do exactly this as a solution. I am probably not understanding properly and may just need some further clarification and guidance as to what I am doing wrong and how to change things.
That’s a good point, and I’ll clarify that when I next update the article.
The best approach is indeed to cut and then bulk, but we need to make sure that when you’re cutting you’re just losing fat, not muscle. This involves following a good lifting program, eating enough protein (at least 1 gram per pound bodyweight), keeping your calorie deficit modest (losing about a pound per week), and sleeping well. Once you’re doing that, make sure to cut underneath 15% body fat so that your insulin sensitivity and hormone production improve, encouraging lean muscle gain instead of fat gain.
Most people who get caught in the cycle are missing one of those fundamental principles, either not realizing it’s important, or not doing it properly. For example, perhaps they’re doing cardio instead of lifting while cutting, or perhaps they do lift, but it’s not a good lifting program for muscle growth/maintenance.
Does that clear up your confusion?
Hey there, I have developed muscles following advice from your wonderful articles, and many people compliment me on my chest, shoulders etc. But I still have lower belly/oblique fat, which technically makes me skinnyfat.
So I was wondering: is it possible for a person to look muscular enough to get compliments despite STILL looking skinnyfat to some extent? The skinnyfat look is still there but it’s not the same look it was last year or so – this time I get compliments for my muscles.
So is it possible that there are different levels of skinnyfat – like skinnyfat without being muscular, skinnyfat with some muscle etc.? Hope that makes sense, lol
Hey Ahmed, glad you’ve been getting so much value out of our articles! Congrats on the gains, man—that’s awesome 😀
Yeah, it’s possible to build up a great physique that people remark on even while having some extra body fat. As a man, that body fat is most likely to be stored in your lower lower stomach, and it’s not uncommon for guys to have stubborn love handles as well.
There are definitely different levels of skinny-fat, but it sounds like you aren’t skinny OR fat, just more chubby than you’d like to be. I’d recommend spending some time in a calorie deficit, cutting away that extra fat. That way you keep the compliments on your chest, shoulders and etc, but you lose the love handles that are frustrating you 🙂
Over the years I have been working out off and on and then give up because of frustration of not seeing results. I’m 51 years old and considered skinny fat, I’m 5’10 weigh 168 with 24% BF a 36” stomach but only 12” arms, 40” chest and 21” thighs. I’ve currently been going to gym everyday for month with a very rigorous weight lifting program, and I’ve been eating healthy but still not seeing any results. I want to gain muscle and loose belly fat. I’ve heard everything from cut first then bulk, to bulk first then cut. I’ve heard eat 3500 calories and I’ve heard eat 1800 calories. I’ve heard high fat low carb diet to high carb low fat diet. Maybe I don’t give one thing a try long enough before I think I should be doing something else so I change. I’m not 30 and don’t have time to try something that’s wrong. I don’t want to go another year and realize I lost a year doing everything wrong. Trying to find the tried and true proven program with the right diet, macro %, and work out program that will get me results the first time.
Great article, but I feel that my situation isn’t exactly like your definition of skinnyfat/ectomorph.
I have a huge appetite and I don’t think that my metabolism is that fast. I weight 165 pounds at almost 6 foot and 1. I have no muscles at all, small wrists, an ultra thin neck, man boobs and love handles, etc. With a shirt on, everybody thinks I’m too skinny.
However, it was completely different before. I was obese in 2016 (around 230 pounds) and pretty much overweight since high school in the 2000s. I decided to change and lost 80 pounds in a couple of months in 2016-2017 (with intermittent fasting and huge caloric deficits). I probably lost muscles as well.
In 2007, at 150 pounds, I still had love handles and man boobs. I felt super weak too. Now I’m stable at around 165 and I feel a little bit better… but still skinny fat. I decided to start lifting some weights just a few days ago… but I’m confused. Am I an ectomorph or not? Should I cut to even lower than 150 pounds to get a flat stomach?
Hey Marc, congratulations for losing all of that weight! Losing 80 pounds is incredible. That’s amazing, man!
If you check out our articles on body types, or our article about how to determine how much of a hardgainer you are, you’ll see that most people are a combination of at least a couple body types.
We’re a site for guys who are naturally skinny and who struggle to gain weight. That lines up well with the typical description of an ectomorph or a hardgainer, but most of us still have some traits from other body types. For example, Marco is incredibly tall and narrow, but he also has a barrel-shaped ribcage that seems to have made room for a pretty sizeable stomach. He’s sort of a Michael Phelps, where he can be active all day, eat 10,000 calories, and still wind up lean. If that were me, I’d be comatose on the couch from the calorie overload, but Marco does just fine. He’s able to eat a bulking diet with no appetite or stomach capacity issues.
In your case, being tall, having thin wrists, having a long neck, and having little muscle mass—these are ectomorph traits. But having a higher body-fat percentage, a large appetite, and a slower metabolism are endomorph traits. It sounds to me like you’re a hybrid body type, which makes sense given that you’re currently struggling with being skinny-fat.
As for what you should do, to be clear, my specialty is helping naturally skinny and skinny-fat guys, so take my advice with a grain of salt. The good news is that you’re already on the right track. The most essential thing for you is to lift weights. That’s going to help you fill your frame back up with muscle. You’ll be able to eat more food, feel more satisfied, and look strong in a shirt. It will also help you stay lean and get even leaner, since building that muscle mass is going to be calorically costly.
If you’re currently above around 15% body fat, I would recommend starting with a cut. However, you might want to check that looser skin isn’t creating the illusion of having a higher body-fat percentage. You lost a substantial amount of weight, so that’s certainly possible. Mind you, 230 pounds on a 6’1 frame isn’t that fat. I’d think your skin would have rebounded right back. So yeah, a cut is probably best.
There’s more good news, too. Since, yeah, given that you weren’t lifting weights, you surely lost muscle while losing those 80 pounds. That muscle you come right back once you start following a good lifting program, eating enough protein, and getting some quality sleep. Being in a calorie surplus would help, but as a new lifter who was previously more muscular than you are now, you should be able to build muscle even in a deficit. (Intermittent fasting might pair well with this, if you enjoy it.)
Then once you lean out, slowly start to rev your calorie intake up until you start ever so slowly gaining weight. I wouldn’t gain more than 0.5 pounds per week until you’re confident that you can build muscle leanly. At this point, you may wish to abandon the intermittent fasting. It’s up to you. Here’s our article on how intermittent fasting effects muscle growth.
Does that help at all? You’ve already proven that you can do what it takes to accomplish incredible things. I think you’ll do great with building muscle 🙂
hi shane . i am 15 year old from india . my height is 174cm and my weight is 68 kg and i am skinny fat . my father and mom are skinny and i think i have ectomorphic genetics . i look healthy or even skinny in clothes but i have soft belly love handles and flabby chest . when i was born i was so skinny and tall that everyone was amazed that how can a new baby can look like this and i remained skinny till my 5th standard. from last 4 years i am skinny fat . plz tell me how can i get ripped physique like bradpitt (i cant lift weight bcoz of my age and i dont want to stop my height from growing)
[…] แหล่งที่มา: Bony to Beastlyแปลและเรียบเรียง: พาที พูนปัญญาทวี […]
[…] what differentiates you from a naturally leaner ectomorph. You can ignore this section and read our article for skinny-fat guys […]
[…] Probably not. While it’s easier for some than others, any body type can gain fat. Endomorphs, with their shorter, thicker bones, wouldn’t be calling themselves skinny-fat, just fat. If you’re describing yourself as skinny-fat, it doesn’t sound like you have a naturally thicker, endomorph body. Sounds more like you’re an out-of-shape ectomorph. (We’ve got an article for you here.) […]
thank you for all these useful articles, really helpful. I have been practicing martial arts for 15 years which led to a lot of injuries. For the past year I have had a sitting job and a wife who cooks delicious food…so I gained 6 kg…
Still have the skinny fat body, currently at 17.1% body fat so according to what I have read I should be cutting to around 12% first before bulking. I have a question regarding my injuries. Due to my injuries I am not able to lift heavy, for example: I am 80 kg but only deadlifting 60 kg at the moment. Am afraid any heavier will make the injury worse. Does cutting still work for me if I can’t lift as heavy as I should be able to? I am trying to gradually raise the weights.
[…] Will a tan cancel out becoming more skinny-fat? […]
[…] Ectomorphs also have a genetic advantage: our leanness. Even skinny-fat guys aren’t dealing with the same propensity for obesity that the average person is—not even close. And the more muscle we gain, the easier it becomes to stay lean (study). If a skinny-fat guy gains 40–50 pounds of muscle, gets in the habit of lifting, starts eating a better diet… staying lean is probably going to become second nature for him. (Here’s our article for skinny-fat guys.) […]
[…] flux (G-Flux). Precision Nutrition is famous for writing about it. We’ve written about it in our article for skinny-fat guys, […]
[…] this scenario: we have three ectomorphs, all with the exact same bone structure underneath. One is skinny-fat and rounder in the mid-section, one is a classically skinny ectomorph, and the last one has gained […]
[…] have visible abs. In fact, it’s common for skinny guys to think that they’re skinny-fat even though it’s just their ab muscles that are […]
[…] What to do when you’re tired of being skinny-fat […]
[…] another example, if someone is skinny-fat, then being far away from their muscular genetic potential means that they stand a good chance of […]
Do you have any more articles / guidance on cutting for skinny fat / low T guys, and also for insulin resistance and those who tolerate carbs poorly, and how they can ideally cut and bulk?
This is our main skinny-fat article, although I’ve got a few more planned. In the meantime, you might like Jared’s articles over on Outlive. He talks about a lot of those issues.
We’ve also got an article on testosterone written by a urologist.
Thank you, really looking forward to more!
How much of the program is applicable and has details specifically for skinny fat guys?
Also if one was a full on skinny guy first, then eventually skinny fat, once they finally get lean again, do they retain skinny fat characteristics, or go back to full on skinny guy characteristics, in terms of how weight is gained and distributed in muscle vs fat, etc?
The whole program is written with both skinny and skinny-fat guys in mind. For skinny guys who are eager to bulk up, we recommend a “lean and eager” approach, whereas for skinny-fat guys who want to keep fat gains at bay, we have a “soft and cautious” approach.
Some skinny guys have a propensity to store more body-fat than others. Most people get skinny-fat because of their lifestyles, diet, and exercise habits, though, not because of that genetic predisposition. Before you can really tell what your genetics are, you need to start eating, sleeping, lifting better.
Most skinny-fat guys find that once they start lifting a healthier lifestyle, their body-fat percentage is naturally much, much, much lower.
Hi Shane, great article but I have a rather complicated question. Bear with me.
Let’s say a guy is extreme ectomorph, we’re talking about a guy struggling to even reach 50 kg bodyweight at one point. Let’s say he eats a lot, works out and gains a muscle and is now around 70 kg. Not all of it is muscle, some of it is fat so he has the skinnyfat look despite having gained muscle.
Question is, once a skinny guy becomes skinny fat (like the above example) wouldn’t the new fat he has acquired be so stubborn that it’d be impossible to lose? Naturally fat people may lose fat because they were NEVER skinny in the first place. But if skinny people acquire fat later on, wouldn’t the body see this fat as a survival thing and be reluctant to drop it?
Hey Alfa, I see what you’re saying. If the body is desperate for fat, then once it finally gains it, it will hold onto it more firmly. That can be true, and if I recall correctly, we see that happen in starvation studies, such as the Minnesota Starvation Experiment.
That has nothing to do with being an ectomorph, though, it has to do with weathering famine and starvation. If someone is an extreme ectomorph because they have a lower appetite, naturally fewer fat cells, thinner bones, or longer limbs, that’s a whole different thing. It’s not that they’ve been starved and their body is desperate for body fat, it’s just that they’re naturally skinny.
In fact, it tends to have the opposite effect. If someone isn’t naturally fat, then even if they gain some fat, it tends to melt away fairly easily. For example, in my own experience, I started bulking at 120–130 pounds at a height of 6’2, meaning that I was severely underweight. My body fat was naturally around 11%. Now I’m 193 pounds, and my body fat is still naturally around 11%. Over the course of gaining those 60-some pounds, I’ve had some rougher bulks, and I’ve gone through periods of carrying 20+ extra pounds of fat, but it was always fairly easy to lose. After all, I likely still have the same number of fat cells as I did when I first started bulking.
When formerly skinny people get fat and have trouble losing it, it’s often due to a shifting lifestyle. Maybe someone is super skinny in high school when they take the bus to school, play some sports, and are always walking around. Then as an adult, they don’t play sports anymore, they spend more time sitting at a desk, and they drive everywhere. It’s rarely because of a starvation mechanism or because they’ve gained new fat cells, and so once they fix up their lifestyles, engaging in regular resistance training, being more active, eating a better diet, it’s often fairly natural to maintain a lower body-fat percentage again.
I have a very interesting question on weight/height for ectos. I used to weigh 105 pounds at 5’10” (extreme ecto, I guess). Now I weigh 155 pounds. My question is, even though people will say 155 is still too light and that at least 170 may be ideal for someone my height, considering I only weighed 100 pounds before, is it possible that 155 is ideal for an extreme ecto like me? Because I’ve been stuck at this weight for a year or so now, so wondering if adding 50 pounds to my frame is my genetic limit and that I shouldn’t try to add more.
Hey Ahmd, congrats on gaining those fifty pounds! That’s awesome, man 😀
I suspect that you could keep gaining muscle, if you wanted. I doubt you’re at your genetic muscular potential at that size. And as for your “ideal” weight, at least in terms of attractiveness, being more muscular is generally a good thing, so continuing to climb towards your genetic potential would probably make you more attractive.
But, with that said, some people have lighter bone structures than others, some people prefer being lither, some people suit being thinner, and you may already be plenty attractive at your current weight. You may also have reached a point of diminishing returns, where gaining extra muscle is difficult, and even though it will have a positive effect on your appearance, the difference won’t be all that dramatic.
If you want to continue getting bigger, stronger, and more muscular, I bet you can. But you certainly don’t have to 🙂
Thanks so much, Shane. Means a lot that you respond with so many insights and important details. I also made an interesting observation reg. fat-fat and skinny-fat.
What I mean is, a fat-fat person is overweight, whereas a skinny-fat person is usually normal weight or sometimes even underweight. Yet in both cases, they complain about having belly fat, love handles, etc. But the difference is, the fat-fat guy is in caloric surplus, which is why he’s overweight. But the skinny-fat guy is NOT in caloric surplus, which is why he’s normal weight. Meaning, he’s NOT eating too much. Then how come he has belly fat to begin with? I understand skinny fat guys may be under muscled, or they don’t move around, diet sucks, etc. but my question is: without caloric surplus how come they have fat in the first place? This confuses me a lot.
If someone eats a lot and gains fat in their midsection (or anywhere), it should reflect in the scales (as it does for obese guys). But if the weight is normal for skinny-fat guys, then technically they’re NOT in caloric surplus, so where did the extra fat come from?
Hey Ahmd, my pleasure! 🙂
Let’s consider two different scenarios:
1. An obese person is on a diet and is losing weight. They are obese, but they are also in a calorie deficit.
2. A underweight person is bulking and is gaining weight. They are underweight, but they are also in a calorie surplus.
So what we’re seeing is that people at varying weights and body compositions can be in a calorie surplus or deficit. The surplus or deficit determines whether we’re gaining or losing weight, not whether we’re overweight or underweight.
Now, for a skinny-fat person, yes, he was in a calorie surplus at some points, surely. After all, he was born at, say, 7 pounds, and now he weighs 150 pounds or whatnot. He’s gained weight during his life. He has been in a calorie surplus. He may also have gone through periods in his adult life where he’s gained weight, too, perhaps gaining a pound here, losing a pound there. Or just gaining a little weight after meals, losing a bit of weight while sleeping. The weight gain and loss may not ever have been noticeable.
What makes the skinny-fat person different from the person who’s lean and strong isn’t necessarily their weight, or the fact that they were in a calorie surplus or deficit, but rather that when they gained weight, they gained too much fat, and/or when they lost weight, they lost too much muscle. It’s a “nutrient partitioning” issue, where weight is stored as fat instead of muscle.
Thanks again, Shane. Very insightful.
I am a little curious, though. Let’s say a person is in caloric deficit, but his body sucks at nutrient partitioning and stores all the food he eats as fat, then even if he eats very little wouldn’t he still be fat? So what’s the point of dieting, then? If nutrient partitioning sucks for some people, then their bodies store fat if they eat more but it stores fat even if they eat less. So what’s the point? For such folks, wouldn’t exercise be more important than diet?
People don’t really gain fat in a calorie deficit. The worst case scenario is that you lose only muscle, and that would only happen in someone who already has virtually no fat on his body. If someone has too much body fat, a calorie deficit will almost always result in most of the weight loss being fat.
Is exercise more important than diet? That’s a totally different question. If you’re trying to gain/maintain muscle while losing fat, yeah, exercise is crucial. If you’re trying to improve nutrient partitioning, resistance training is the most powerful tool. But is it MORE important? I don’t know. That’s kind of like asking whether food or water is more important for our survival. The answer is that we need both.
But exercise being crucial doesn’t downplay the importance of using a calorie deficit to lose weight/fat, and a calorie surplus to gain weight/muscle. It just means we’re in a situation where we need to do more than one thing at once—working out, lining up our calorie intake with our weight loss/gain goals, eating enough protein, eating mostly whole foods, and getting enough good sleep.
I weigh 143lbs, but have no abs or stomach definition to speak of. I spent a couple of months eating aroun 1200 calories a day, and finally started to see results. Gyms have just reopened so I’ve started going to the gym again, and based on you calculations I’m eating 1750 calories a day, with 143 grams of protein. Within a week I’ve gained 3 pounds and am losing my stomach definition. I don’t know what to do, because 1750 calories is clearly too much for me, but how can I gain muscle on such low calories?
Hey Adam, there’s always a bit of chaos when you first adjust your calories. Adding 550 calories to your diet is a lot more food in your stomach, a lot more salt, and a lot more everything. I wouldn’t worry too much about that number. With that said, gaining 3 pounds is a lot. Give it another week to let things settle down a bit, but if it keeps up for more than that, try scaling back your calorie intake. You want to gain more like 0.5 pounds per week.
If you’re gaining 0.5 pounds per week, eating enough protein, getting enough sleep, lifting weights, and STILL gaining a noticeable amount of fat, I’d look at your weight training routine. You really want to make sure you’re lifting hard enough and stimulating enough muscle growth all through your body.
Cheers, I’ll give that a go. I’m following the Bony to Beastly program (love it, by the way) and I’ve been going to the gym for years so I’m pretty confident that I’m lifting hard enough. Right now my goal is to lose enough stomach fat to have a little bit of ab definition. I’m 40, and will never be getting rock hard abs, but I’d like a little bit of visibility.
Woot, glad to hear you’re liking it 🙂
If your main goal is chiseling out your abs, I’d recommend cutting. But if you want to look at it longer term, oftentimes it helps to try to build muscle slowly and leanly, gain a tidbit of fat of the course of several months, and then trim if off afterwards in a few weeks. You never need to be in a big surplus or deficit, so it’s never too overbearing. But that long period of slowly gaining weight is what really allows you to accumulate a ton of muscle mass.
That can be hard psychologically, though, sometimes. If you get attached to your abs, it can suck to see them get a bit murkier, or for your lower abs to disappear, or to go from having abs to having a flat stomach. It feels like going backwards. But if you’re making great progress on your lifts, building muscle, and seeing your arm and shoulder circumference going up, it’s usually a good thing, and you can always trim off a couple of pounds of fat later on.
I’m close to getting on the program. Just a question. I’m 43, with a long history of being prickly skinny, than transformed into skinny fat. Also have a long history of weight training. 14+ years but not much to show for it. I’m currently 173lbs (max was 185) at 6ft 1, 15% body fat, measured with InBody 720. All my other values are perfectly balanced for general health but without much muscularity, and still, to my eyes, a persistent skinny fat look, especially with my lower gut and love handles.
I have a home gym with rack, olympic barbell and curved bar, enough plates, an adjustable bench and dumbbells, olympic rings, etc. I can do pull-ups no problem. My personal record with weird form was 24 reps at 161lbs. I could also manage a single hand negative “pull-up.”
Problem is, I generally hype into too much working out, which eventually builds into overtraining because I’m scared of losing muscle if I take a day off. That results in bad sleep, a vicious cycle. You know, that Saturday feeling that my arms have shrunk. So I think I should add 3 sets for bi’s and tri’s, and some forearm work. But it just adds to total weekly volume, and bye bye quality sleep again.
I also made an Excel calorie calculator, so I know exactly how much of which macros I consume and a total value of each, both in grams and percentage. I eat 100% clean if pasta (white flour) fits the bill. I think main culprits are volume and sleep deprivation because of too much volume.
So my question: how does the program cope with above-40 individuals who are said to have slower recuperation?
Hey Denis, I hear ya. That sounds frustrating. And I think you’ve already come up with some good ways to improve your training: train every second day, make sure to prioritize getting good sleep, and don’t be afraid of a couple days away from the gym. If that has you getting better rest and hitting the weights more consistently, I think it would be great for your longterm progress.
Can you do the program as an older individual? Totally. But I wouldn’t call you an older individual. Once you’re pushing up near 60, that’s when the differences really start to show. And even then, we don’t really see much difference in results. The transformations we see from guys in their fifties and early sixties are awesome.
At 43, you’ll do great. No problem there at all.
With that said, I definitely realize that we go through different phases of life. Now, as a 32-year-old dad running a business, it’s much harder to train than when I was a 22-year-old bachelor. It’s not any sort of bad thing, and I’m still setting personal bests in the gym, but there’s more to juggle, more stressors. So I really need to make sure that I’m getting a good night’s rest.
So I don’t doubt that things are getting harder as you get older, but as far as lifting weights and building muscle goes, you’re still a young guy. No problem there at all 🙂
Hi. I’m 22 and have never worked out in my life and have always been skinny, but in the past year I have started to gain weight around my stomach. I am 5ft7 and weigh around 140 lbs. From the article, I gather that cutting first is better for beginners like me and I am a little confused on how much I am supposed to be eating. According to the article, for cutting you are supposed to get 30% from carbs, 40% from protein, and 30% from fats unless I’m reading it wrong. And the article also says to eat 1g protein/lb of bodyweight so I would be eating 140 grams of protein a day, and from what I gathered from the CDC’s website, that is 560 calories. Also in the article, it mentions to start by eating 13-15x your weight in calories which would lead me to go for 1960-2100 calories a day. And 40% of those calories is between 784-840 which is way more calories than 140 grams of the protein that was suggested. I’m just trying to make a diet and workout plan ahead of time before I start working out and getting into it to make sure I do it right. If anyone has any idea which is the correct amount of calories, I’d appreciate the help.
Hey Dominic, we usually recommend that people start by working out. Even if you don’t change your diet, working out should result in muscle growth and/or fat loss—often both simultaneously. And then from there, improving your diet only makes the results all the more dramatic.
Cutting first works great, especially if you’re eager to trim off the excess body fat. However, this idea that we should cut first has been challenged recently by the researcher Dr Eric Trexler, who found that there’s little link between our body-fat percentage and the leanness of our muscle growth. I wrote an article about it here, including asking him his advice for skinny-fat guys. The point being, you can go with your preference. Cutting and bulking both work similarly well as a starting point, and you’ll need to do both anyway.
For cutting, those macros sound great, but as a beginner, it’s often easier to start by just focusing on working out, eating enough protein (140 grams per day), and getting into a small calorie deficit, allowing you to lose weight. The same is true with bulking, except instead of a deficit, you’d aim for a small calorie surplus, allowing you to gain weight.
For your carbs and fats, just aim to get a balance. There’s no need to be super precise about it. If you want to track your macros using a calorie tracker, though, yeah, you can input those percentages and it should work well 🙂
For your calories, yeah, starting with around 2,000 calories per day sounds great! From there, just see how your weight changes on the scale and adjust accordingly. If you don’t lose weight, or if your weight loss plateaus after a few weeks, try eating 1,800 calories (or adding in a daily walk to burn more calories). Or if you’re losing weight too quickly and you’re perpetually starving, try eating slightly more calories—maybe 2,200 calories per day.
The important thing is to weigh yourself each week, see if you’re losing weight, and then adjust.
But the very first thing is to start working out 🙂
Hey guys, great guide!
I’m in the process of changing my skinnyfat physique, currently in a deficit with a starting weight of 93kg and now just at 81kg. I’ve also been getting stronger in the gym and eating well ( lean protein, carbs, veggies etc).
Where I need help is should I stay consuming my usual calories (2,500) or increase that to 2,700 calories so I’m still in a deficit even at that number but more focused for muscle growth but fat loss can still happen? So closer to maintenance calories. It’d beginning to get to the point where it’s harder to tell how much fat I’ve lose because there isn’t a whole lot, like not abs visible but not a vast amount either
Thank you, Jake 🙂
You’re doing great, man! Gains in strength are a great indicator of muscle gain, and you’ve lost 12 kilos! I’d keep doing what you’re doing unless you’re getting so hungry that you could use a break. But if your willpower is good, I’d just keep going.
You’ll gain muscle much faster when you gear into a slow surplus. So I’d finish your cut, and then go forward with a slow, lean bulk. That’s where taking your time tends to pay off best.
Ok thanks man!
Also, what would you suggest I do in terms of metabolic adaptation? For the past 5 weeks now, the scales is staying at 81kg even though I feel increases in strength when working out.
I get 10,000-12,000 steps for NEAT everyday and strength train 4 days a week making sure I get protein in. Should I lower my calories from 2,500?
Yep! Exactly. Calorie intake always needs to be adjusted depending on what the scale tells you. So if your weight loss has plateaued for more than 1–2 weeks, it’s time to trim off another 200 calories or so.
First of all, thank you for this detailed guide. The information you’ve provided has been really helpful for tackling my skinny fatness.
One thing I am wondering though is apart from low testosterone levels and high estrogen levels, are there any conditions that seem to be common with skinny fat individuals?
So glad to help, Robert!
That’s a good question. Most skinny-fat people we’ve coached haven’t had a specific medical condition causing the issue. Rather, it’s usually a lack of overall activity, a lack of resistance training, a lack of protein, or a bad diet. Genetics can certainly play a role as well. Some people are more susceptible than others. But it’s what happens when people let themselves get out of shape. What separates them from the average overweight person is simply the fact that they haven’t been overeating.
This is just my experience, though. I’m not sure.
Hi, I’m a 178—180lb guy, 6ft 1, and skinny fat. I a low-to-medium frame size (6.7″ wrists).
The amount of protein I should eat is 180g. How can I fulfill that need? Do all sources count, meaning there’s 1.2g in apple, 7g in rice, 12g in pasta (per 100g), which all add up?
I usually end up at 140—160g protein, depending on caloric intake for the day, which currently fluctuates between 2400—3100 (work or off-day).
What makes it hard to reach a higher protein intake is the fat content in certain protein sources like eggs, cheese, prosciutto, nuts. Because I’m lactose intolerant, low-fat dairy intake is minimized. Otherwise bloating seems to interfere with digestion.
Yes! You can count the little bits of protein in all of your food. Animal sources like meat and dairy tend to have the most protein, but the little bits coming from seeds, nuts, grains, legumes, and peas can add up fast, especially when eating a bigger bulking diet. It’s harder when cutting.
The easiest way to get an extra 20 grams of protein is to buy a protein powder. If you’re lactose-intolerant, you could get hydrolyzed whey or a pea/rice protein.
If you’re getting 0.8 grams of protein per pound bodyweight per day, though, that’s okay. You’re very close. It’s close enough. Just make sure to get that 144+ grams of protein per day and you’ll do great 🙂
I’m currently in a calorie deficit after slowly losing excess body fat since January 2021. Now I would say I’m more on the skinnier side of skinny fat after dropping my high body-fat percentage.
I still have some fat that’s visible, especially when I sit down, but overall I just look thin as there is no muscle on my frame.
My question is, is it possible for me to build muscle while eating at maintenance calories? As I still have that small amount of body fat to lose?
Hey Brian, congrats on losing the excess body fat! Nice job 🙂
It’s totally normal to have fat that’s visible when you sit down. That will happen no matter how lean you are. Even at 8%, you’ll still have a stomach with skin that folds when you sit. Such is being human. I wouldn’t worry about that at all. Judge yourself at your best. Flex your abs in a mirror with flattering lighting.
As for being thin, the best way to build muscle is to eat in at least a small surplus. But, yes, you may succeed in gaining a bit of muscle and losing a bit of fat if you eat at maintenance and follow the principles outlined in this article.
What I’d recommend is this: eat at maintenance while focusing on adding reps and/or weight to the big compound exercises. If you’re able to make progress, great. If your bench slowly goes from 135 pounds up to 185 pounds over the course of the year, that’s stellar. Keep going. But if you find that your lifts aren’t improving week after week, that’s a sign that you aren’t gaining muscle. And if you look back at what you were lifting 2 months ago and you aren’t noticeably stronger, you know it isn’t working anymore. At that point, it’s probably time to gear into a surplus.
I’d like to add something to this conversation. It may be an unpopular view…
I’ve been working out for years, eating the right diet, etc. But you know what? No matter how much my body has changed (more muscle, less fat), the fat on my lower belly and obliques never goes away. I think skinny fat people are stuck with it.
There may be exceptions, but for most skinny fat people, even a little fat is going to be stored in the belly and oblique area. So to reduce even that little bit of fat, one has to starve, which is not a good idea.
So for skinny fat people, it’s not about eating less. Even eating less, the body could still store the little fat in the belly area. You’ll be forced to eat so little you end up starving. The midsection/oblique fat will never go away for a skinny fat person because the body stores it there despite the right diet and exercise.
Just what I feel.
Hey Ahmd, I almost entirely agree with you.
The fat on the lower belly is the hardest fat to burn. That’s true for most men, skinny fat or not. It’s not a sign of anything being wrong, that’s just the last place where most men lose fat. So, yes, it’s hard to burn that fat. And unless you cut down until you’re very lean, that fat will remain there.
I also agree that getting exceptionally lean means dealing with hunger. Losing weight means eating in a calorie deficit, and eating in a calorie deficit almost always causes people to be hungry. This is especially true when the diet goes on for a long period of time. And it’s also common when cutting to very low body-fat percentages. For most people, skinny-fat or not, our bodies just don’t want to be exceptionally lean. In fact, getting under 10% body-fat and maintaining it there isn’t realistic or healthy for the average person.
So I agree with you that it might be best to learn to live with a bit of fat on your lower abs and obliques. A body-fat of 10–15% is often easier and healthier to maintain than 8–9%, and so that’s what we usually recommend. And that means having a bit of fat over your lower abs.
Where I disagree is that having a bit of lower ab fat means that you’re skinny-fat. Most strong, healthy men have a bit of fat there.
1) A bit of lower belly fat may not mean you’re skinny fat, but it still ruins the figure. It’s like even if you have great upper-body muscles and no fat elsewhere, this one concentrated area of fat is enough to make you look (and feel) fat. Even with broad shoulders/lats, with that extra fat in the obliques, the elusive v-taper remains elusive.
2) I feel skinny fat people have the worst body-fat distribution. A skinny person or even a somewhat heavier person with more even body-fat distribution may look good even if they carry a little extra fat.
Just what I feel.
It’s hard for me to know exactly what you mean without seeing an example. It’s very normal to have stubborn fat on the lower stomach. Most people don’t have any abs, let alone chiselled lower abs. To expect to walk around with chiselled lowered abs isn’t realistic for most people, at least if they want to feel good and be healthy.
Does not having crisp lower abs ruin someone’s figure? I don’t think so. Not unless someone is dead set on looking like a fitness model. But that’s a whole career path. That would be like a fitness model being upset that his math skills aren’t as good as an accountant’s.
With that said, maybe you’re talking about a substantial amount of fat on the lower abs. In that case, most people can get rid of it. A flat stomach with a hint of upper abs in the right lighting is healthy and achievable for most people. That’s a body-fat percentage of something like 10–15%. Somewhere in that range is great for most people.
If you build muscle, you can build a more powerful upper body. You can have a v-taper without needing to cut down to under 10% body fat. And if you build muscle in your core, it will have shape and structure. There might still be a bit of fat over your lower abs, but you’ll still have a v-taper, and you won’t look out of shape.
I hope that makes sense.
Hi Shane, I hope you’re doing well.
First of all, great article, I’ve read this, and a few others on here, and the simple info (backed up with good sources) and the illustrations are great. Also, I’ve read few of the comments and it’s amazing to see that you are still viewing and replying to them all… So I thought I’d give it a go 🙂 maybe you could give me some advice.
I’m a 21M 5’11 and last year I started working out doing bodyweight exercises during the many lockdowns (UK) as I was unhappy with my figure (photo). I’d say that I was the pinnacle of skinny-fat, nearing underweight (140Ibs) with fat built around my love handles and chest. I really had no idea about diet or anything so I kind of just winged it. I wanted to lose the fat but I already felt light so I knew a diet wasn’t for me. At the time, anyway.
I later bought a weight bench with 50kg of weights and used them for about 6 months. By the time Feb 2021 came around, I had gotten to about 155lbs, but I still had the same body. Just bigger. I felt like giving up as, to me, I hadn’t made any progress.
Gyms finally opened in April, and I joined my FIRST gym at the start of May. I got a relatively good workout plan from a personal trainer, and I worked my way up to another workout plan. Both are good and are a good mix of compound and isolation movements using free weights and machines. I eat around my maintenance (2200), and I managed to gain weight and got up to 170Ibs. Actually, eating well and working out felt great. It was so much better than weighing 140ish, which I was 1.5 years ago. And some people even noticed a difference in my body. In a shirt, of course, haha. I’ve been doing this for just over 3 months now.
However, unfortunately, I still feel skinny-fat. My love handles are still there, and my chest still has fat around it. This sounds stupid, but it makes my nipples and chest seem really fat (photo).
Now my question: I’ve been lifting for about 3 months at maintenance (for me that’s about 2200-2300), and I’ve made progress in my lifts. But I REALLY want to get rid of this fat. I thought that I could go on a 2–3 month deficit (maybe 1700 on rest days, 1900 on workout days), lose about 12-15 pounds, and then go on a lean bulk till next May. Then I could reassess. Does that sound any good?? I’d say that I’m about 20% body fat. I fear that going on a lean bulk now would only emphasize the FAT in skinny fat body.
Just to summarise it all
21 years old, male.
Probably 20% body fat.
Went from 140 to 170 pounds over 2ish years
Potential cutting: 1700-1900
Sorry about the wall of text. I hope you are having a great day/evening, and hopefully I’ll hear from you soon 🙂
Hey Jack, it looks like you’ve made some great progress! You don’t look much fatter than you did when you started. You DO look much buffer and stronger. And it sounds like you’ve gotten in the habit of eating a better diet and following a good workout routine. It sounds like everything is going great 🙂
Yeah! Cutting sounds like a great way to continue improving. Your main issue right now is the extra fat. Cutting is the best way to get rid of that fat. Going into a calorie deficit is how to do it. Everything you’re saying makes sense.
The only thing I’d say is to be flexible with how long the cut will take. 2–3 months is great, but maybe at the end of it, you still feel like you want to get even leaner. Or maybe partway through you need to take a maintenance break because it’s too hard being hungry all the time.
As you cut, try to build muscle. Keep eating plenty of protein, keep trying to gain strength on your lifts, and keep trying to improve your lifestyle—spending more time walking and more time sleeping. I think you’ll be able to make great improvements in these next 2–3 months. I hope you post an update, too, to let me know how it goes!
Good luck! You’re doing great 😀
Hey again Shane,
First of all, thank you for the quick and well thought-out response, it definitely helps. It’s honestly so great to see someone as knowledgeable as you consistently commenting and helping people.
And secondly, thank you for saying that I look better than I did. It’s one thing when a friend/family member says you’ve changed, but when a stranger says it, it feels great, a nice boost in confidence!
It’s good that you agree that a cut makes sense for now. I’ll definitely keep to the things you’ve said in this comment and this article like sleeping and getting enough protein.
I’d also like to ask something that I was thinking about yesterday that I forgot to ask. When I was previously working out and eating at maintenance, I NEVER ate back my calories. I didn’t know that I really needed to so I never bothered. But now that I’m on a cut of 500, I think exercise as well will make my cut even greater:
I walk to the gym;
Do 10 minutes of high intensity on the rower;
Workout weight training for an hour;
And jog home.
Together I’ve guesstimated this comes to about 300-450 calories burnt. So I thought of eating back a few calories on my workout days (like 200) so I’ll eat 1700 on rest days and 1900 on workout days to decrease the deficit just a little. Does this sound okay? I now know that I should’ve been eating back my calories before, but tbh, I never really felt hungry eating at maintenance and my weight plateaued at 170Ibs at 2200. So, does this sound like a good idea to you?
But yes, thank you for the extra advice. I started this cut on the 1st of this month, so November 1st will mark 3 months. I’ll try my best to remain consistent and I think I’ll reply to these comments on the 31st October (Halloween just seems like a fun day to work towards haha) with an update. From there I’ll decide whether to continue with the cut and lean up or head slowly into a lean bulk.
Have a great day
We recommend adjusting your calorie intake based on how much weight you lose each week. It’s adaptive. So whether you eat back your calories or not, the system will correct itself.
What you’re talking about is calorie cycling. The idea is that on workout days you should eat more calories to encourage more muscle growth, whereas on rest days you should eat fewer calories to encourage more fat loss. It’s a good idea in theory, but it hasn’t really panned out in the research. With that said, I still think it’s wise to have a bigger meal after lifting weights, including a hearty amount of protein and maybe some extra calories, too. Eating an extra 200 calories on workout days sounds great.
Just remember to adjust your calorie intake each week depending on whether you lose weight or not 🙂
Out of curiosity, how do we take progress pictures? What’s the method normally used for realistic pictures with proper lighting? Do we stand before the bathroom mirror and take the picture that appears in the mirror?
I am asking because my lower belly looks like crap in the mirror, but the upper abs are not only well-defined but in certain lighting, I even appear to have a 4 pack.
Everyone you see is presenting themselves in the best light. That includes bodybuilders, fitness models, influencers, actors, and everyday people posting fitness selfies and progress photos. But a lot of people judge THEMSELVES in the worst light. They’re sitting down and noticing how their belly bunches up. That kind of thing. Better to judge yourself in the best light, too. Measure your biceps flexed. Take photos of your abs when they’re flexed and under flattering lighting.
The important thing with progress photos, though, is to keep them consistent. You don’t want to make the mistake of taking a dumpy before photo and then a perfect after photo. The difference between the photos might just be the pose and lighting. It might look inspirational, but it’s too hard to judge your progress.
What I recommend is keeping as many variables consistent as possible. Take your photos in the same place, same angle, same pose, same lights turned on, and same time of day. That way the only thing that’s changing is your body composition. Also, take a few photos from a few different angles. Take a front photo, side photo, back photo, relaxed photo, and flexed photo. Repeat those same poses every month.
To answer your specific question: yeah. Taking a photo in the bathroom mirror is not only fine, it’s also a classic 🙂
Hi. As a skinny-fat, I decided to cut and it goes fairly well. What I’m interested in is what’s going to happen when I reach my ideal body weight and start with bulking? When bulking, you gain fat as well, it’s not just muscle, am I correct? Will that fat be distributed more evenly across my body? I’m kind of unfortunate about this, I’m now at +-15% body fat, already very thin arms and legs but still lots of visible fat on my belly. So does it make sense to continue with cutting for now? Will I gain most of that unwanted body fat in my abdomen after I switch to bulking? Thank you.
Hey Shane! Would your outlift 3×9 routine be good for skinny fat guys? https://outlift.com/stronglifts-5×5-for-building-muscle/
I already answered you over on Outlift. But for the sake of anyone else reading, sure! It’s a solid, simple routine.
Our flagship bulking program is also great for skinny-fat dudes. But it’s paid.
Long post here. I’m interested in one of your programs as I want to build muscle and need a good program to give some direction. I love the approach of both building mass and strength – a sweet spot between bodybuilding and strength training is exactly what I want. I am having trouble deciding which program to start with.
I don’t know whether I am “ectomorph” enough for BtB, but I also don’t know if I fit the “intermediate lifter” marketing for Outlift either. Outside of a recent experiment, I have not seriously lifted weights for years and haven’t ever really made progress in the gym except for a season during high school (15 years ago), which was one of the few times in life I felt strong and not skinny or skinny-fat. I don’t know what my current bench press is (been avoiding it from embarrassment), but certainly under 185 lb. I’m not so sure whether I’ve ever done over 120.
I am kind of a hard gainer, but probably not as much as the men in your promotional materials. I naturally have a small appetite. I weighed 140 at 5’ 7” for several years, where I definitely would have qualified as bony. In 2020 I bloated up to the 150s (pure fat, due to eating lots of sugary foods and very little “real food”, I still had scrawny arms and felt weak during this period).
Recently I took part in an experiment with a “Fill the Sleeves” challenge, doing basic upper body while basically eating as much as I possibly could while on a sugar-free diet. It worked wonders, as in 45 days I gained 15lb (159 to 171). Arms went from under 13” to over 14”, and chest from under 38” to over 41”. I am definitely chubby at this point, though I stayed at 24% bf from beginning to end with the same waist size. I have never eaten like that before and don’t know how to maintain or adjust it over time. I definitely don’t qualify as skinny-fat today, but I did a couple of months ago. I don’t mind being chubby-strong, especially during a bulking period (in fact, I think it can look good on men, though I know I am in the minority in that regard). I would rather focus on building mass than cutting body fat this season.
In the end, I want to continue the muscle growth but feel this basic program is plateauing and could use more direction on diet and overall lifestyle for muscle gain. Would you recommend the B2B program or Outlift, or something different?
Hey TW, that’s awesome! Congrats on those gains, man! 14 inches is sweet!
Our Bony to Beastly Program isn’t just for so-called “ectomorphs.” It’s for skinny and skinny-fat guys, but it’s a fairly conventional hypertrophy training program along with diet advice that makes it easier to bulk up and build muscle. We’ve also got a protocol in there for skinny-fat guys. Whether you identify as an ectomorph or not, that’s totally okay. It’s not just for total beginners, either. We have a “Phase 0” for beginners, and then Phase 1 is for novices and early intermediates. Personally, I did the program after having already gained a lean 35–40 pounds.
I think being “chubby strong” doesn’t necessarily sound super great, but there’s a much cooler word for that physique: buff! And being buff is definitely cool. I totally agree with you on that.
Outlift assumes you’re a true intermediate—that you already know the basics of eating a good bulking diet, that you know how to do all the hypertrophy lifts, and that you understand how to live a good muscle-building lifestyle. I think in your case, you’d probably be better off starting with a more foundational program. I think the Bony to Beastly Program sounds like a better fit. (And it’s what I personally did in your situation.)
Does that help / make sense?
And congrats again on the killer progress!
Yes, that clears things up. Thank you for the time!
My pleasure, man! I hope to see you on the other side.
First off! Thank you for this article man, it helped a lot. My case is hella weird I think. I don’t know what I’m hahaha. I noticed I’m storing more fat or muscle in my belly, thighs and calves.
OBS: I have always been an active guy. I’ve been rollerblading on the weekends for 2 years now, but never regularly.
These are my measurements:
I’m a 26 year-old guy
Height 5’9 /1,75m
Weight 150 pounds/68kg
Shoulder 104 cm/40.9 inches
Neck = 36cm/14.1 inches
Biceps = 28cm/11 inches unflexed/31cm/12.2 inches flexed
Forearms = 27cm/10.6 inches
Chest = 91 cm/35.8 inches
Waist = 84cm/33 inches (measured a little below the navel height)
hips = 96cm/37.7 inches (measured the thickest section including the glutes)
Thighs (upper thighs) = 58cm/22.8 inches (measured in the thickest part 29cm/11.4 inches above the knees)
Calves = 38cm/14.9 inches
I can’t believe I’m more muscular on my lower body than on my upper body without ever working out for it. I worked out at the gym for three months this year and my thighs grew almost 2 cm/1 inch. I’m skinny-fat, but with “bigger” thighs for my size. My lower body tends to grow more than my upper body even not focusing on it. I can only imagine the skates as a culprit, but some friends of mine have always said that I had bigger legs for my body, even when I was young and skinny. But I suppose this should be different. People have pointed it out. Saying I have good legs or “big” legs, they aren’t big, my upper body is small I think. A girl, a friend of mine, said that I’m with big thighs and glutes. I want to grow my upper body too. I slept on the idea of stopping working out my lower body, but I believe what’s causing the most of this volume on my lower body is fat and not muscles, but maybe underneath this fat there is more muscle and I’m more muscular on my lower body than in my upper body, I really don’t know. I thought I had Lipedema too, but lucky, that’s not my case. My genetics seems to be built for it. Any hint or knowledge to share in this case man? Thank you again in advance!
Based on another article i read for you guys on lean bulk, you recommended minimum 0.8g of protein for body while here you guys recommended 1g of protein, which means that it would be different or can i still only work on a 0.8 gs?
Hey Saadoosh! You’re right, yeah. This is an older article. When we first wrote it, the expert consensus was to aim for a full gram of protein per pound of body weight per day. It later shifted down to 0.8. Now it’s shifted slightly lower, with more evidence pointing to 0.7 being enough.
What’s happening is that researchers compared lower intakes (like 0.5g/lb/day) with higher intakes (like 1g/lb/day) and found that higher intakes produced faster and leaner muscle growth. That doesn’t tell us much about eating 0.6–0.9g/lb/day, though. Later studies had to investigate where the benefits stopped. Most studies show that 0.7g/lb/day is enough to get all of the benefits. Some studies show a benefit to eating a little bit more. That’s why the minimum amount is usually listed as 0.7–1g/lb/day. Personally, I aim for at least 0.7.
Note that when you’re restricting calories, it could be that a higher protein intake is better. If you’re cutting, and if you’re losing more than around a pound of weight per week, or if you’re getting very lean, you might want to aim for that full gram of protein per pound of body weight per day.
I’ve updated the article 🙂
As someone who has struggled with being “skinny fat,” it has been frustrating to find so many conflicting opinions about the right approach to take. I appreciate that your articles are consistently supported by research, and this one has given me the clearest understanding of how best to approach nutrition and training in order to achieve a leaner and more muscular physique.
However, as someone who has already made progress in cutting down from 185 pounds to 159 pounds, I am now faced with the dilemma of whether I should continue cutting or start a lean bulk. I estimate my body fat percentage to be around 14% and would like to get down to 10%, but I am not sure if I should aim to lose more weight or begin focusing on building muscle.
Despite seeing some definition in my upper abs, I am still struggling with stubborn belly fat and love handles. I am concerned about becoming too thin, but I also want to avoid undoing the progress I have made so far. I would greatly appreciate any guidance you can offer on how to approach this situation. Thanks again!
Hey Joe, congratulations on your progress, man!
What are some of the conflicting opinions you’ve heard? Maybe I can make content going into greater detail on those. Oftentimes there’s a whole grain of truth in there. One person says to count calories to get into a calorie deficit (while focusing on eating nutritious foods). Another person dislikes thinking about calories, recommending certain foods instead (creating a calorie deficit). Both people recommend a nutritious diet that causes weight loss, but they have different ways of communicating it. To someone familiar with the fitness industry, it’s easy to see past the seeming contradiction. For someone newer to it, it can be confusing.
How determined are you to get to 10% body fat? Some people can maintain that body-fat percentage comfortably, but they tend to be the people who are naturally fairly lean. If you have a natural propensity towards being skinny-fat, it might be unpleasant to sustain such a low body-fat percentage.
Perhaps more importantly, you won’t be able to make progress there. If you have the ultimate goal of building muscle, cutting to 10% body fat will just be a temporary vacation. But it’s not the sort of vacation where you relax by the beach. It’s more like the sort of vacation where your car breaks down in the middle of the desert. And as soon as you start trying to build muscle again, you’ll need to eat more food, and your body fat percentage will pop right back up to a more sustainable level. Switching to a bulk—even a very cautious one—will quickly undo the progress you’ve worked hard for. You’ll quickly find yourself back at 14% body fat.
Our bodies like having some fat around. Fat is important. We need it for emergencies. If you have less than your body feels is necessary, it will prioritize getting those emergency savings back.
It’s really hard to give proper advice with so little information. Usually with our members, we look at progress photos. 14% usually looks pretty lean! I think I’m probably at about 14%. That’s the body-fat percentage a lot of professional athletes have. It could be that you aren’t at 14%. It could also be that you’re overly critical. Maybe you don’t have love handles. Sometimes it’s hard to judge ourselves objectively.
But let’s say you’re at 14%. That’s pretty ideal for a bulk. I’d do a slower, leaner bulk.
I want you to get great short-term results, and I think you will, but don’t lose sight of the long-term. You’re building a healthier lifestyle, learning new methods, and hopefully getting fitter and stronger. All of these things you’re learning and practicing will help you far into the future. Even if you regain a little bit of fat, you’ll find it much easier to burn off next time. Plus, you’ll be bigger, buffer, and stronger. Even if you regain some fat, you’ll look and feel way better!
Thank you for your response! Some of the conflicting opinions include that (a) skinny-fay guys should never cut, or (b) they should try body recomposition. It’s all very confusing.
I do have a lean appearance. Truth be told, I’m skinnier than I’d like to be right now, but my goal is to become as lean as possible before starting a bulk. I understand that I’ll gain some fat even with a lean bulk, but I tend to gain weight quickly, so I guess I’m being overly cautious. I’d like to lose a few more pounds before starting a lean bulk.
Once again, thank you for your advice and all the great work you do!
Ah, yeah. That guidance isn’t wrong if your goal is to build muscle. Cutting won’t help you build muscle. But most guys want to be strong and lean. Or at least attractively, healthfully lean. And cutting can definitely help with getting leaner.
Right on. You’ve already made it this far. I’m sure you can make it a little further. When you switch to bulking, remember that you know how to cut. You don’t need to stress about temporarily gaining a little bit of fat. You know how to get rid of it 🙂
Keep track of your rep PRs on all of your major lifts. For example, maybe you can do 12 push-ups. Or bench press 100 pounds for 8 reps. Write it down. Keep trying to improve. As you bulk and cut, keep trying to work those numbers higher. You’ll probably make most of your progress while bulking, and that’s okay. Hopefully next time you’re cutting, you’re maintaining a far higher level of strength 🙂
Good luck, man!