skinny fatGetting a muscular, chiseled physique may be difficult, but it’s not complicated.

After all, it’s pretty simple, right?  If you’re skinny, you need to eat more and start lifting weights.  If you’re fat, you need to eat less, get your ass moving around more…and start lifting weights.

But what if you tick both those boxes?  What should you do if you’re not only “muscularly challenged,” but you’re also sporting some love handles and pudge?

What should you do if you’re in the dreaded no man’s land known as “skinny fat”?

What Is Skinny Fat? 

Skinny fat sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s a real thing. 

The following are the most common characteristics of the skinny fat physique:    

  • A thin, underdeveloped torso, arms, and legs with little muscular definition
  • A doughy, protruding belly and love handles
  • A “soft” look throughout the entire body, including pudgy arms, a puffy face, and a flabby chest

How You Got Skinny Fat

There are two common patterns in most men who end up with this body type.  The first are the guys who grew up naturally thin and learned that they could eat whatever they wanted but still “got away with it.”

Unfortunately, over time, bad eating habits and extra calories start to catch up with them.  They’ve still got the slender frame, but now they’ve added a lot of extra fat in all the wrong places.

The other type are the ones who used to be “fat fat” (for lack of a better term).  These are the guys who managed to lose some of the weight- but they completely neglected their strength training.

skinny fat

But…I Do Tons Of Cardio AND Lift Weights!

If you’re currently skinny fat, you’re probably trying to make up for it in the gym.  That’s great, but the problem isn’t a lack of effort- it’s a lack of strategy.

Here are a few common mistakes skinny fat guys make:

  • Overdoing cardio
  • Overdoing light weights and isolation exercises
  • Not lifting heavy and utilizing compound movements

Here’s the problem- unless you’re running marathons every week, all that cardio is not burning as many calories as you think.  On top of that, those endless sets of lightweight bicep curls and leg extensions are a poor way to add muscle.

Combine these mistakes with poor eating habits, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

How Do I Fix This?

Regardless of how you ended up skinny fat, what you want to know is how to actually fix the problem!

Well, here’s the good news – this is absolutely something you can fix.  The bad news is that you won’t be able to do it overnight.  Not only will changing your body take a lot of work, but it will also take some careful planning on your part.

There are a number of different strategies that skinny fat guys have used successfully, but if you’re looking to get started quickly, give the following game plan a shot.

1. Begin (Heavy) Weight Training IMMEDIATELY

Heavy weight training may seem intimidating, but getting started isn’t nearly as difficult or complicated as you probably think it is.

Generally speaking, you should be aiming to get to the gym at least three times per week.  The style of training we recommend is heavy, compound weightlifting, with lots of heavy pressing, squatting and deadlifting.

By doing this, you’ll not only build muscle a hell of a lot faster, but you’ll also keep your workouts short and retain a lot more of that muscle once you start cutting calories.

You can still do cardio, but it shouldn’t be your first priority.  30 minutes a few times per week is plenty.

skinny fat

2. Focus On Getting Lean First

So, if you’re skinny fat, which problem should you fix first- the “skinny”, or the “fat”?

Fortunately, if you’ve never weight trained before (or if you’ve never seriously weight trained), you’ll probably gain a decent amount of muscle fairly quickly.  At least, you will at first.  Almost all new lifters experience this in the first 6-12 months of training (we call this little phenomenon “newbie gains”).

When it comes to your diet, however, you want to focus on leaning out first.   And to achieve this, you’re going to have to count calories.  Start using an app like My Fitness Pal, and get into the habit of logging everything you eat.

So how many calories should you be eating then?

Here’s an easy equation to get you started- take your weight and multiply it by 15.  This will give you the number of calories you’d need to eat every day to maintain your weight.  For example, a 170-pound man would need to eat about 2,550 calories per day (170×15=2550).  

In order to start losing weight, you need to lower your calories slightly.  Multiplying your body weight by 13 will give you a good starting point.

This is more of an art than a science, and there’s a lot of variation.  Over the next few weeks, keep track of your weight and waist measurement.  If the numbers are going down (especially the waist measurement), fantastic!  

If not, don’t freak out- just lower your calories a little more.  Keep adjusting until you start losing weight.

You’ll also want to make sure you’re eating enough protein. Protein not only helps build and retain muscle mass, but it’s also very satiating and has been shown to keep people feeling full for longer (critical if you want to be successful with your diet).  

You should shoot for at least 0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight.  That means a 170-pound man should be eating a minimum of 136 grams per day.

Depending on how much fat you have to lose, this initial fat loss phase should take anywhere from 3-9 months.


3. Focus On Building Muscle

Alright, so you’ve been hitting the weights regularly and tracking what you’re putting in your mouth.  You’ve lost most of the pudge, your belly has shrunk and tightened up, and you’re finally starting to see some definition in your upper body and legs (maybe you can even spot an ab vein or two).

At this point, you may be happy with your new look.  If that’s the case, you can just focus on maintaining it.  You may also decide that you’re happy with the amount of muscle you’ve added, but you want to keep getting leaner.

Both of those options are perfectly acceptable.  But while you’ll have built up some nice definition over the last few months, chances are you’ll probably want some more muscle to fill out your new look.  

If that’s the case, then read on.

There’s a persistent myth floating around the fitness world that in order to build muscle, you need to “eat big.”  This is 100% the wrong way to go about it.  Eating 5000 calories per day won’t get you jacked- it’ll just make you fat.  You can’t force feed muscle.

With that said, you do want to be eating more food- but not that much more food.  

Take the total number of calories per day you need to maintain your weight, and add 300-500 extra.  No, not 3000, 300.  That’s a protein shake and a banana or two.

As you go through this process, make sure you’re keeping track of everything.  Here are a few tips to make sure you’re gaining muscle and not fat:

  • Your weight should be going up slowly
  • Track your measurements as well as your weight.  This includes your waist as well as your arms, chest, shoulders, and quads
  • Don’t get frustrated if you don’t see immediate results.  Take it nice and slow, and commit to the process for at least a few months

After a few months of training and dieting like this, you’ll notice that you’re looking a lot more muscular- but you’ll also notice that you’ve gained a bit of fat to go with it.

Don’t worry, that’s completely normal.  Simply reduce your calories for a while, and then go right back at it.

Rinse and repeat.

So, in conclusion, being stuck in the skinny fat limbo is not only unpleasant, it’s downright frustrating.  If you’ve been struggling for a while, you may feel like you’re spinning your wheels and you don’t know where to begin.  

Fixing the problem does take hard work and time, but if you approach your diet and workouts strategically, you can lose the pudge and start building muscle a lot quicker than you think.