What is the Skinny Fat Body Type?

Skinny Fat refers to a person (Male or Female) who is not very heavy but carry a little bit of extra fat, especially around the belly, love handles, hips and thighs. They may be lean almost everywhere except their stubborn areas.

Are you Skinny Fat?

A Skinny Fat person has a normal BMI  but carries extra fat. BMI stands for Body Mass Index. This is a way of estimating your body fat % based on your height and weight.

Step 1: Calculate your BMI

BMI Calculator
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The BMI scale works for the general population, however, there are always exceptions. Some people are naturally heavier or have gained a significant amount of muscle mass to be considered ‘overweight’ according to the scale. On the other hand, some people may be in the ‘normal’ BMI range but may look slightly overweight. This is known as the ‘Skinny Fat’ body type.

Step 2: Estimate Body Fat

We can estimate body fat using the Navy Body Fat Calculator

Calculate Your Body Fat

English Metric
Female Male
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Description Women Men
Essential fat 10–13% 2–5%
Athletes 14–20% 6–12%
Fitness 21–24% 13-16%
Average 25–30% 17-21%
Overweight 31-39% 22-29%
Obese 40%+ 30%+

 

If you have a normal BMI but have are overweight according to your body fat % you would be considered Skinny Fat.

It sucks to be in this situation where a you weigh too low to lose more weight but your body fat % is too high to gain weight.

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Reasons Why People are Skinny Fat

There can be many reasons why some people are skinny fat. Here are the top reasons:

Genetics

Genetics play a huge role in body fat storage and muscle gain. Genetics also determine body fat distribution. While some people store body fat more evenly throughout the body, others store most of their fat around the belly. This is commonly referred to as stubborn body fat and is the hardest to lose.

Skinny Fat Genetics

Skinny Fat Genetics

Genetics differences also affect how much muscle mass we can gain. Even though we can’t change our genetics, we can get the best results for our own body.

Sedentary Lifestyle

Most of us live sedentary lifestyles and children are no exception to this. Between school, homework, video games, tablets and TV, kids today are more sedentary than ever. This affects some people more than others. When we combine our genetic predisposition to gain fat with a sedentary lifestyle, this results in the body storing a lot of excess body fat. Because we don’t participate in athletic activities, our bodies reflect this by looking unathletic.

Sedentary Skinny Fat

 

Lack of Muscle Mass

Muscle mass can drastically change your appearance, even with the same amount of body fat. Muscle mass increases your surface area and spreads out fat stores a little bit, making you look leaner. Sedentary people have less muscle mass than active people, to begin with.

Skinny Fat No Muscle Mass

 

Crash Dieting

When you crash diet, you end up losing muscle mass along with fat. This is especially true if you do it without strength training. If this wasn’t bad enough, crash dieting also makes it easy for you to regain the weight lost, leaving you in a worse position than when you started.

Crash Dieting Skinny Fat

Some people go through several cycles of starvation and binging. This not only makes their body composition worse but also leaves them in a metabolically worse position.

Doing Too Much Cardio

Too Much Cardio

Cardio is not bad but you do too much of it, you will end up losing muscle mass, especially if you don’t strength train and crash diet. Too much cardio also has a negative effect on muscle, strength, recovery, and stress.

Not Consuming Enough Protein

Low Protein Diet

Many people don’t consume enough protein, especially for dieting. Vegetarians and vegans have to be a bit more conscious about their protein intake.

Lack of Strength

Weak Strength Training Skinny Fat

Strength training is the only way to build and maintain muscle mass in the long-term. Too many people make the mistake of cutting out strength training when they lose weight and focus on doing more cardio or doing higher reps. What builds muscle, also maintains muscle. The approach to strength training does not change whether we’re gaining muscle or losing fat.

Sleep and Stress

Stress Skinny Fat

Sleep and stress are very underrated when it comes to body composition. Poor sleep and high levels of stress can negatively affect the hormones, including Testosterone, Cortisol, Leptin, Ghrelin etc.  Both sleep and stress also have an effect on hunger levels. May people are often not able to stick to their diets because of stress-induced overeating.

Check out:

Stress Management for Strength Training

How Sleep Deprivation Affects Muscle and Strength Gains

How to Sleep Better for Improved Muscle, Strength & Fat Loss

What’s the Solution?

The good news is that all of us can solve this skinny fat problem using an intelligent training and nutrition approach. This process can be challenging mentally because skinny fat people are in a dilemma whether to bulk or cut.

Option 1 – Lean Bulk:

They might be fatter than they like but if they go on a lean bulk (gaining a max of 0.5 lbs per week) for the next 1–2 years, they will be able to put on enough muscle to be able to cut down later.

Muscle Gain

Also, if they actually gain more muscle than fat over this time, their bodyfat % may actually be lower. Keep in mind that 2 people can have the same bodyfat% and look completely different. A muscular person will look leaner even at a higher bodyfat %. This may be difficult for most people to deal with because they already feel fat and the thought of gaining weight may seem discouraging.

A drawback of this approach is that they may not be able to bulk for too long without getting too fat. When you get too fat, it becomes increasingly harder to gain muscle mass.

Option 2 – Lose Weight

Weight Loss Skinny Fat

This person may end up even skinnier for a short time but this will give him/her a solid base to start gaining weight after losing it. They can lean bulk for the next 1-2 years without getting too fat.

Option 3 – Maintain/Recomp:

Strength training female

Body recomposition refers to gaining muscle mass and reducing fat either simultaneously or cyclically over a long period of time. This is when you don’t focus changes in body weight. Instead, you focus on performance and getting stronger. This can be done successfully, especially by beginners. The person would maintain weight while gaining muscle and strength. The drawback of this method is that it can be inefficient and a really slow process.

Which Option is the Best?

In my opinion, all 3 of these options can work really well. You should see what makes sense to you and then just stick with it. You may also have to go through multiple cycles of gaining and losing weight before you get to your goal physique.

I personally would prefer to go with Option 2, where I would lose the fat first and then go on a long lean bulk. I would still focus on strength training while losing the weight and let my diet and cardio help me lose weight.

Tips for Success

Nutrition

Keep track of Calories and Macronutrients (Protein, Carbs, Fat) Skinnyfat individuals have to be more specific with their diets.

Check out: How to lose weight with MyFitnessPal

Also, make sure to eat enough protein. Protein supplies us with the amino acids required for muscle growth and repair. Eating about 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight is a good start for most people.

Good sources of protein:

Dairy – Milk, Yogurt, Cheese, Whey & Casein

Meat – Lean Beef, Pork etc.

Eggs and Egg Whites

Poultry –Chicken, Turkey etc

Fish

Beans, Legumes, and Soy (Vegan)

If you’re vegan or vegetarian, you’ll have to pay more attention to make sure you get enough protein. Supplementing with Whey Protein or a Vegan Protein Powder will make things much more convenient.

 

My Protein Impact Whey

I personally use MyProtein Impact Whey Protein

 

Orgain Organic Plant Based Protein Powder Vegan

Orgain Organic Plant Based Protein Powder Vegan

 

Training

Strength training is extremely important for both males and females.

Squat Powerlifting Strength Training

Strength Training with Compound Exercises

Features of a good strength training program:

A good strength training program will have the correct levels of intensity, volume, frequency and progression built in. This is crucial if you want to make the best progress possible.

  • Train each muscle group 2x per week.
  • Focus on performance and getting stronger over time (Progressive Overload).
  • Uses mostly compound exercises (Free weights)
Cardio

Cardio should be used to supplement weight training. Doing too much will interfere with your muscle and strength growth. Cardio helps you burn more calories and improves conditioning.

HIIT Cardio: Conditioning High Intensity Interval Training

HIIT Cardio: High Intensity Interval Training

 

Try HIIT Cardio

HIIT stands for High-Intensity Interval Training. This can be done on any piece of cardio equipment such as an exercise bike, rower, elliptical etc. For HIIT, we typically do sprints, where we increase speed and/or the resistance to a max for about 15-20 seconds, followed by 100-120 seconds rest. You can start with doing 5 intervals 1x per week and build your way up from there.

HIIT cardio uses the same energy pathways as strength training. A major benefit of HIIT is that you save time. You can easily do a HIIT session in 10-15 minutes. Be careful not to doo too much HIIT right away. This will not only interfere with strength training but also increase the chances of injury. 1-2 sessions per week is a good start.

Hire a Coach.

Having an experienced coach to guide you is one of the best investments you can make. Even the most advanced athletes have coaches. Coaches can give you objective feedback and help you get the best results possible.

Gym Trainer Coach

If you can find a local coach, that would be a great option. If not, online coaching is another great way to find a coach. Online coaching is usually very affordable. You can simply record your lifts and your stats to send to your coach.

If you need my help, feel free to reach out to me at anand@underdogstrength.com

Track Progress

Weight Loss Journey Progress

Keep track of progress by regularly measuring body weight and waist size under the same conditions. Ideally, you should weigh yourself every day on an empty stomach in the morning and take weekly averages.

Having a good weight scale and measuring tape is crucial to keep track of results. Ideally, your body fat levels should go down over time.

Accurate Digital Weight Scale

Accurate Digital Weight Scale

Accurate Body Measurement Tape

Accurate Body Measurement Tape

Conclusion

Being Skinny Fat is probably more challenging mentally than physically.  A little bit of patience, knowledge and hard work can go a long way!

This will take longer than you expect. Choose 1 goal and stick with it for at least a few months. Continue to get stronger, keep track of your nutrition and body measurements.

Have patience!

Don't be discouraged by the lack of short-term progress

Don’t be discouraged by the lack of short-term progress

 

Leave a comment below! I’d love to hear what you think