A few months back, one of my friends – a self-professed skinny fat guy – came to me for advice.
He had a big pot belly that made him really self-conscious (said it made him look like he was pregnant).
But he was skinny everywhere else.
Every time he gained a bit of weight, it seemed to go straight to his belly.
Everything else just stayed scrawny.
So he went on a “cut” and lost around 10 pounds in weight.
And sure enough, his belly was flatter.
Problem is, he lost muscle as well.
That left him even skinnier with a slightly flatter belly.
He was just a slightly smaller version of his former “skinny fat guy” self, with many of the flabby bits still intact.
Which isn’t exactly the result he was after.
So he turned to Mr. Google for some advice.
A few forum posts said that someone in his position should “do a clean bulk.”
Then someone else said he should go on a cut instead.
The he found something else saying he should stop eating wheat, milk and sugar.
After becoming thoroughly confused by all the conflicting advice out there, he picked up the phone and called me.
How is it possible to be both “skinny” and “fat” at the same time?
The skinny fat guy look is caused mainly by having too little muscle.
If you don’t have a lot of muscle, it’s possible to look skinny fat, even if your body fat percentage is relatively low.
A guy who’s carrying around a lot of muscle is going to look pretty damn impressive even at 15% body fat.
But if your body fat percentage is 15% and you don’t have much muscle, you may look skinny fat, even though your body fat percentage is exactly the same.
However, if you want to beat the skinny fat guy look, building muscle alone isn’t going to be enough.
Nor is focusing on weight loss.
If you lose weight without holding on to the muscle you already have, you’re still going to be a skinny fat guy.
You need to gain muscle mass and lose the fat from your belly at the same time.
Is that even possible?
Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time.
But the extent to which it’s possible depends a lot on you and the shape you’re in right now.
If you have a large amount of fat to lose and you’re new to lifting weights, building muscle while dropping fat from your belly will be relatively easy.
Even someone with a year or two of training behind them may fall into the category of “beginner” if they’ve gained little in the way of size and strength because their training program isn’t set up right.
If you’re in this position, you may have roughly the same potential for growth as a novice in their first year of training when you start doing things properly.
But even then, you’re not going to replace every pound of fat lost with one pound of muscle.
The rate at which you lose fat will almost always exceed the rate at which you gain muscle, and the best you can hope for is to build a small amount of muscle while losing a much larger amount of fat.
I’d love to tell you that there’s a way – be it a supplement, exercise or special diet – to target the fat in your belly.
Unfortunately, there isn’t.
The rate at which fat is lost from various parts of your body is, for the most part anyway, determined by your genetics.
In other words, you may notice that fat is lost from other parts of your body first, such as your face, arms, or chest, before it goes from your belly.
All of which means you’ll need to be patient.
Moving from skinny and fat to not being skinny and fat is going to take time. It’s not something that’s going to happen in a few weeks, or even a few months.
Anyway, here’s what to do if you want to get rid of your pot belly and gain some muscle.
1. The first step is to put yourself in a calorie deficit. Set up that deficit so that you lose fat relatively slowly – dropping a pound of fat every couple of weeks is about right. This should allow you to gain some size and strength while you gradually lean out.
2. Next, add in some strength training 3-4 times a week. Base your program on exercises with a high metabolic demand. This means squats, deadlifts, rows, chin-ups (or pulldowns), and presses, using a weight that limits you to somewhere between 5 and 15 repetitions per set.
If you do want to do some cardio (it’s not essential), my preference is low-intensity steady-state (LISS) cardio, such as cycling or walking, which has only a minor impact on your muscle-building efforts in the gym.
This is not the case with high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which can hinder your ability to recover and grow if it’s not used properly.
3. Finally, you’ll need to be patient.
You’re probably going to need several training and diet cycles, some of them focused on fat loss and some on muscle growth, to move from being skinny and fat to not being skinny and fat.
It’s not something that’s going to happen in a few weeks, or even a few months.
So there you have it. Put yourself in a calorie deficit that allows you to lose a pound of fat or so every couple of weeks, lift weights 3-4 times a week, and don’t go overboard with the cardio.
SEE ALSO: THE FLAT BELLY CHEAT SHEET
If you want less flab and more muscle when you look down at your abs (or where they should be), check out The Flat Belly Cheat Sheet.
It's a “cut the waffle and just tell me what to do” PDF, written in plain English, that tells you exactly how to get rid of belly fat. To download a free copy please click or tap here.
ABOUT CHRISTIAN FINNChristian Finn holds a master's degree with distinction in exercise science, is a former personal trainer and has been featured on BBC TV and radio, as well as in Men's Health, Men's Fitness, Fit Pro, Zest, and Perfect Body magazine.