Skinny fat: an unwanted body type that is very common, but for which there is not really a ready-made solution. Or right? Let’s take a closer look at this phenomenon.
WHAT IS SKINNY FAT?
Skinny fat means that you are slim, with a not too high BMI (Body Mass Index), but you look ‘fluffy’ without clothes. This means that you have relatively little muscle mass and a lot of fat mass. Slim with clothes on, but not at all athletic when naked.
The BMI tells you whether someone has a correct weight, appropriate to their height. But the BMI says nothing about the ratio of fat and muscle mass. People with a healthy weight can also have too high a fat percentage. And that can be detrimental to health, especially if fat accumulates around the abdomen, also known as visceral fat.
There is not really a definition for skinny fat, but for men this can occur with a fat percentage between 10 and 20%, for women approximately between 20 and 30%.
SKINNY FAT AND BODYBUILDING
Skinny fat is also undesirable from an aesthetic point of view. After all, you have quite a lot of fat mass, with little or no muscle definition as a result. Something that horrifies people who pursue bodybuilding goals.
From a bodybuilding perspective, skinny fat is a neglected child. Traditionally, three body types are distinguished: ectomorph (skinny), mesomorph (muscular with only a little bit of fat) and endomorph (muscular with quite a lot of fat). This classification is often criticized and one of the reasons for this is that skinny fat is ‘forgotten’ as a body type. As a skinny fat you fall a bit between two stools.
Gymgoers who find themselves skinny fat – which is mainly a matter of looking in the mirror – often face a dilemma: bulk or cut? Bulking means gaining muscle mass, but also fat mass. Cutting means losing fat, but not gaining muscle or even losing muscle. Both are not an ideal scenario, because you are not going straight for one desired goal (which is muscle definition).
WHAT TO DO?
Fortunately, there is a third option: neither bulk nor cut. With this approach we assume that you don’t have a lot of muscle mass yet and therefore don’t have much experience with strength training. Or you are even a beginner, which is often the case with being skinny fat. Based on the following guidelines.
1. FEED YOUR MUSCLES
Chances are you need to change your diet. Go for nutritious food that feeds your entire body and in particular your muscle mass in a healthy way. Specifically, you do this:
- Calculate your maintenance level and eat around that level from now on. So don’t bulk or cut, but on maintenance calories or slightly below that.
- Eat more protein. Aim for 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.
- Eat four to six meals with a lot of protein (20-40 grams), spread evenly throughout the day.
- Cut down on sweets and eat as healthy as possible, ie mainly unprocessed food with a high level of satiety.
Now you may be wondering: eating at maintenance level or even lower can’t build muscle, can I? Yes, if you are a beginner. Then it is possible to build muscle AND lose fat mass, also called body recomposition or ‘recomp’. As far as we’re concerned, that’s the key to improving your body composition.
Incidentally, it is advisable to use a calorie app for at least a few weeks, so that you can get a good picture of your eating pattern and so that you know which values you may need to adjust.
2. DO STRENGTH TRAINING
Chances are that you haven’t done much strength training yet, or not well enough (after all, you have relatively little muscle mass). This is beneficial for our step-by-step plan, because your body builds muscle mass the fastest when you are a beginner. Provided your training and nutrition are in order, you can gain 1 kilogram of muscle mass per month in your first year of training. That’s about two-thirds of your total, natural muscle growth potential. And that with food at maintenance or slightly below. Some guidelines:
- Start with three to five workouts per week (training frequency).
- Do around 10 sets per week per muscle group and a maximum of 10 sets per workout (training volume).
- Focus on compound exercises.
- Apply progressive overload by using a training log.
Otherwise, use our muscle growth FAQ to learn the essentials of natural bodybuilding in no time.
3. DON’T DO TOO MUCH CARDIO
Doing cardio is healthy, but as a bodybuilder you have to limit it. Doing too much cardio can hinder muscle growth because you eat too little and/or because it can hinder your recovery from strength training.
Ideally, you do cardio on the days when you don’t do strength training.
4. CUT FOR THE FIRST TIME
After about a year, you should have built up quite a bit of muscle mass and lost some fat mass at the same time. Now it’s time to put the finishing touches by removing the remaining fat mass while preserving the muscle mass you have built up. In short, it’s time for the cut!
Eat below your maintenance level, but not too much at once. So no crash diet. With an energy deficit of 20-25% of your maintenance level, you probably realize the most fat loss while maintaining muscle mass. With this deficiency, you lose 0.5 to 1% of your body weight on a weekly basis.
Read our articles about what your diet and training should look like during the cut.
5. THE SEQUEL
After your first ‘recomp’ or cut, your body will look completely different! You now have a wonderful starting point for the rest of your bodybuilding career.
Some like to train at a maintenance level after a year of progress. Others go straight ahead and start their first bulk. Also fine, but make sure that you use a limited calorie surplus in that bulk, around 20% of your maintenance level. This is to prevent unnecessary fat gain.
Finally, remember that your bodybuilding career is not infinite and it becomes increasingly difficult to gain muscle mass over time. In the first two years of your career, you can already realize about 75% of your muscle growth potential, provided you train continuously according to a well-thought-out program.
After that it becomes increasingly difficult, but not impossible to improve your body composition. A matter of smart training, optimizing your nutrition, not having too much stress and sleeping well.