A few months back, I was reading about a self-professed skinny fat guy.
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.
According to a body mass index (BMI) chart, he was slightly underweight. That is, his weight was pretty low for his height.
However, his body composition was skewed in the sense that he had too little muscle and too much fat.
Every time he gained a bit of weight, it seemed to go straight to his love handles and man boobs.
Everything else just stayed scrawny.
So he cut his calories, 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 self, with many of the flabby bits still intact.
So he started Googling around for some advice.
A few forum posts said that someone in his position should increase his calories and “do a clean bulk.”
Then someone else said he should cut his calories and go on a cut instead.
This is where things can get confusing.
Do you increase your calories or decrease them? Do you cut or bulk? Who’s right?
One of the big problems faced by the typical skinny fat guy is that they end up gaining excess body fat when they’re in a calorie surplus, then lose muscle when they’re in a calorie deficit.
To a degree, gaining some fat while in a calorie surplus is relatively normal. It’s unusual to gain no fat at all when you’re bulking.
But what you don’t want to do is get to the point where you’re gaining more fat than muscle.
This can lead to an endless cycle of cutting and bulking, where you put yourself in a calorie surplus because you want to focus on gaining muscle.
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But then you end up unhappy with the way you look, so you go back on a cut again.
The cycle repeats itself and you find yourself right back where you started, with the same amount of fat and muscle you had before.
My Advice to the Skinny Fat Guy with a Pot Belly
First, 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 excess body fat 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 a significant amount of muscle while dropping fat from your belly will be relatively easy.
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.
Making the transformation 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.
Should The Skinny Fat Guy Cut or Bulk?
If you want to get rid of your pot belly and gain some muscle, I’d suggest that you go on a cut and focus on getting rid of the fat. Here’s how to go about it.
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.
Don’t try to cut fat too quickly. Severe calorie restriction can lead to the loss of muscle as well as fat.
2. Next, get started on a serious training program (which I show you how to do inside The Muscle Building Cheat Sheet) and stick with it. Adding muscle is the best way to combat the skinny fat look.
If you do want to do some cardio (it’s not essential), don’t do too much of it – 90 minutes a week, distributed across 2-3 workouts is plenty. Remember, diet is the key to getting rid of excess body fat.
3. Other than lifting weights, getting a sufficient amount of protein in your diet is probably the single most important thing you can do to increase the amount of muscle mass you have while getting rid of the fat.
How much protein should you eat each day?
Research shows that around 0.7 grams of protein per pound, or 1.6 grams per kilogram, of bodyweight will do the job.
For someone weighing 180 pounds (82 kilograms), that gives you a daily protein target of around 126 grams per day.
Going higher still and aiming for one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight or higher isn’t going to do you any harm, but I don’t think you’re going to see much of a benefit either.
Eating large amounts of protein can be expensive, as well as impractical, so you don’t want to eat more than is strictly necessary.
You’re also better off spreading your protein intake out throughout the day as opposed to compressing it into a smaller number of larger meals.
That is, 30-40 grams of protein spread across 3-5 smaller meals is going to give you better results than trying to get the same amount of protein from just one or two big meals.
4. Don’t overcomplicate things. You don’t need to worry about your fat cells being more insulin sensitive than your muscle cells, whether you have a slow or a fast metabolism, or if rice is a better choice than potatoes for dinner tonight.
As long as you’re training hard several times a week, in a calorie deficit and getting enough protein, you’re on the right track.
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 make the transformation 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.
What Should You Do in the Gym?
One of the main causes of the skinny fat look is a lack of muscle mass. And if a lack of muscle mass is causing much of the problem, then gaining muscle is going to be a big part of the solution.
That means you need to be doing some kind of resistance training, whether that resistance is provided by a barbell, a couple of dumbbells, kettlebells or even your own body weight.
As a minimum, I’d suggest going to the gym and lifting weights at least twice a week. As long as you’re willing to train hard, a full-body workout performed twice every seven days can be a surprisingly effective way to gain muscle, especially if you’re just getting started.
However, once you’ve moved past the beginner stages of training, chances are you’ll need more time in the gym to keep the gains coming.
For most people most of the time, four days of hard weight training each week is plenty. That gives you plenty of possible training splits to choose from, including an upper/lower split, a push/pull split, or even a push/pull/legs/full.
Strength training programs geared towards skinny fat guys typically center on compound lifts like deadlifts, squats, pull ups and so on.
These exercises work a large number of muscles in both the upper and lower body, making them a very efficient use of your time in the gym.
However, they’re not the best choice for everyone.
If you’ve got a lanky frame, for example, with long arms and long legs, exercises like squats and deadlifts done through a full range of motion can be hard on your joints.
And if you’re just getting started in the gym, chances are you’re not strong enough to do body weight exercises like pull-ups or chin-ups.
Very few people possess the strength to do multiple sets of pull ups or chin ups, using good form, with their own body weight.
In many cases, you’re better off doing lat pulldowns, at least until you get to the point where you’re ready to tackle more advanced body weight exercises.
Don’t get sucked into this idea that you have to do squats, deadlifts, pull ups, bench presses or any other exercise if you want to grow.
What’s more, compound lifts don’t stimulate growth in all areas of the body equally. That’s why it’s a good idea to include isolation exercises for your biceps, triceps, side delts, and so on. Otherwise, you’ll leave your arms and shoulders needing to play catch up.
What About Sets and Reps?
As far as reps are concerned, you can build muscle with a variety of reps and weights. That is, both light weights and high reps (20-30 reps) as well as heavy weights and low(ish) reps (5-8 reps) can be used to gain size.
Heavy weights and low reps tend to work better for building strength. But if you want to gain size, both high reps and low reps will work, just as long as you push yourself hard in each set.
The number of sets you do per exercise, per muscle group and per workout isn’t as straightforward a question to answer.
That’s because it depends on how frequently you’re training each muscle group, the amount of volume you need to stimulate hypertrophy, and how many exercises you’re doing for each muscle group.
In general, somewhere between 2-4 work sets for each exercise is about right for most people.
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