Skinny around the shoulders, skinny around the legs, but the mid-section looks like it belongs on someone twice your size. In other words, you’re skinny fat. You appear skinny on the top and the bottom, but another you is hiding around your stomach. Fortunately, even though many people suffer from this un-aesthetically pleasing physique type, it has a remedy. Skinny fat people often are stuck between a very tough decision when it comes to changing their body. They’re skinny, yet they’re fat. So do they lose weight, or do they gain weight? The answer depends on your goals. What’s most important, however, is whether you are willing to change your body in the first place.
Tackling the skinny fat physique requires a hard look at yourself. Are you technically skinny fat, but you actually weigh a pretty hefty amount; or are you skinny fat and look quite skinny? This matters because changing your body requires estimating a ball park idea of how you will wind up looking when you start changing your body based on the goal you’ve chosen (losing weight vs. gaining size). Someone who is skinny should not want to get skinnier (vice versa). With that said, let’s look at the two options.
1. Cutting – to start off your journey away from the skinny fat physique, it is recommended you start cutting only if you already weigh a good amount. In other words, you may look “skinny fat,” based on your body’s weight proportions, but you nonetheless have some solid weight on you. For these people, it is better to slim down overall before they begin to try and build muscle mass. Now, that doesn’t mean you don’t go hard in the gym. It does, but what matters is the amount of calories you are taking in. Cutting requires you to be below your maintenance calories (the amount of calories you require to maintain your weight in one day), how much is discussed in our Calories Per Day article. You should aim for around a 300-700 calories below maintenance level, depending on how you are progressing.
People who weigh a good amount need to still put their work in the gym, running to burn calories shouldn’t be the only form of exercise. Especially if you are new to working out, you may take advantage of what are often termed “noob gains.” With a proper routine and diet, even if you are under your maintenance in terms of calories, as your body gets used to the amount of taxation you are causing it you may experience some muscle gain while losing fat. This, of course, can only help as you re-shape your body slowly into one you are happy with in front of the mirror. How you should be working out is discussed further in the putting on size section below.
2. Putting on Size – individuals who are skinny fat but are naturally quite skinny should focus on gaining weight. Not simply gaining weight, but gaining muscle! These individuals need to make sure they are eating a diet that gives them an amount of calories above their maintenance count, also discussed in the calories per day article linked above. An optimal figure is anywhere from 250-500 calories over their maintenance count. These individuals should, first and foremost, focus on building size in the gym with weight training. Running isn’t necessary, especially for those who have trouble eating a large amount of calories. Burning calories through running will only require them to eat even more, impeding the goal of getting bigger.
As a beginner, an individual should focus on building up their strength with compound movements. These are movements that hit more than one muscle group at a time. Examples that should be a staple include squatting or lunging (don’t dare ignore legs), shoulder pressing, dumbbell pressing (bench press if you want to use a barbell), and deadlifts. Check out our Beginner Strength Training article for a great routine to use. You may also want to incorporate a full body workout, instead of hitting one or two muscle groups at a time each day. I’d go so far as to say that a full body routine is recommended here, at least initially.
Diet Tip: It’s about calories, not the foods you eat. However, eating certain foods can help you achieve your caloric goals better. Eating complex carbohydrates (whole wheat, potatoes, brown rice) will keep you more full for longer, which is effective if you like to eat and you decided to cut. For those trying to put on size, don’t pig out by any means. You have a certain caloric restriction as well. If you truly need help, you might opt for a weight gainer shake (you’re better off making your own, however). For either goal, your diet should be high in protein. See whether you prefer eating higher fat amounts than carbohydrates, or the other way around. That is individual-based, so it’s best you test it out.
As you can see, besides the most important diet differences (calorie-wise) between a skinny fat individual losing weight and gaining size, the way they conduct themselves in regards to working out should be almost identical (including running being the main difference). What’s most important is making sure you are calorically where you are supposed to be, and hitting the weights hard. No easy sets with light weights, strength training should be most important for either goal. Consistency is key, and with time and hard work both in the kitchen and the gym, you will start seeing results. Not only results, but results that matter. No more skinny legs and skinny shoulders, balanced with a “gut.” It’s time to even out, and start looking like you want to. On a final note, don’t buy into what you might find advertised for supplements. This can be done without them, but for their role and whether you should buy a supplement to help you with your journey, check out our Supplements article. Good Luck!
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