Being skinny fat sucks.
Should you bulk? Should you cut?
Read on for the fix to your skinny fat nightmares.
If you're reading this - you're skinny, but not in the chiseled, Brad-Pitt-in-Fight-Club way.
There's flab over your abs, your arms don’t have any definition, and you're sporting the 'dad bod' ladies pretend to find hot online but hate to see in real life.
The good news is:
I've been where you are right now - and I'm gonna give you the secrets you need to say goodbye to that skinny fat body and say hello to the strong, lean, and confident version of yourself.
I was like you - not giving a second thought about my appearance.
Caught up in the struggles of life, juggling between work stress, social commitments, and the comfort of BBQ-based pizza (with pineapple of course).
Neglecting my body took a toll.
And without realizing it - I slipped into the dreaded skinny fat zone.
One day, my brother (professional fitness model and ball-breaker) teased me about my soft and shapeless physique.
The reality check didn't stop there.
Soon after, I was devastated by the end of my long-term relationship.
The combined sting of my brother's jokes and the heartbreak was my wake-up call.
I knew I had to do something.
Fueled by petty revenge, determination and a relentless desire to become the Batman version of myself - I embarked on a journey to physical fitness. I cut the junk, hit the gym, and made a commitment to my body.
It was a grueling and challenging process - but every drop of sweat was worth it.
Today, I stand before you, no longer the skinny fat guy, but a man who's fit, lean and confident.
The best part is - if I can do it, so can you!
Here's what you'll know by the end of this article:
- How to fix being skinny fat
- What's making you skinny fat
- What is bulking and cutting actually for?
- Should you bulk or cut if you're skinny fat?
- Can you lose fat and build muscle at the same time?
- How much protein should you be eating?
- How should you train when skinny fat?
Let's get into it:
What is skinny fat?
'Skinny Fat' is when someone looks thin and healthy in clothes - but they actually have a higher body fat percentage and lower muscle mass than is healthy.
Skinny fat is a terrible state of limbo where you're neither conventionally overweight nor visibly fit.
According to a study published in the American Journal of Cardiology, 'skinny fat' individuals , also known scientifically as 'metabolically obese normal weight', can be at an equal, if not higher, risk of health issues like heart disease and diabetes, compared to people who are visibly overweight.
The study further emphasized that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is essential, regardless of body size.
Another study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that those with skinny fat, or 'normal weight obesity', had a higher risk of dying early than those who were just overweight.
This means that even if your weight seems normal, it's important to consider body composition, including muscle mass and body fat percentage, to know if you're healthy or not.
Sounds scary, right?
But don't worry - there's a way forward, and I'm here to guide you through it.
What causes skinny fat?
The primary causes of the 'skinny fat' condition lie in two areas:
Diet and exercise.
Being skinny fat is often the result of an imbalanced diet high in processed, high-sugar, and high-fat foods with minimal nutrient content.
These types of food contribute to excess fat accumulation without providing essential proteins and nutrients needed for muscle growth and overall health.
Low protein, high-carb, and high-fat diet = skinny fat.
Equally important is the lack of consistent, effective exercise - especially strength and resistance training.
When we live sedentary lifestyles, we're not building or maintaining muscle mass, which is vital for a healthy metabolism and body composition.
You can do cardio until the cows come home - if you're not doing any effective resistance training to maintain or build muscle - you get skinny fat.
It's important to follow a structured, effective workout plan to grow muscle, build strength, and avoid being skinny fat.
Click here to use the same workout plan I used to stop being skinny fat.
What is bulking or cutting?
'Bulking' and 'cutting' are common terms in the fitness world, often used in bodybuilding circles.
They represent two phases of a fitness cycle aimed at building muscle (bulking) and shedding excess body fat (cutting).
"Bulking" is when you purposefully gain weight - aiming for increased muscle mass - by consuming more calories than your body burns while weight training. The main goal is to give your body enough energy and resources to create new muscle tissue.
The bad news is - you gain fat as well as muscle.
Gaining fat while you build muscle is all good if you're already lean - but if you're not lean, you get fatter and fatter.
Let's not even get into the horrors of "dirty bulking" - I'll cover that later.
"Cutting" is the opposite of bulking - it involves focusing on reducing body fat while retaining muscle mass.
The cutting phase requires you to create a calorie deficit and increase physical activity to burn excess body fat.
Consuming enough protein and losing weight slowly is the key to cutting without losing muscle mass.
We'll discuss how much protein you need to be consuming per day soon - but before that...
I'll answer your burning question:
What should I do if I'm skinny fat? Bulk or Cut?
If you're skinny fat you should cut - unless you wanna go from skinny fat to fat fat.
I went from skinny fat to lean. Guess what?
I didn't bulk once.
I cut all the way from being uncomfortable looking at myself naked in the mirror to "be careful - I won't be held responsible if you cut your fingers on these abs".
The truth is:
You do not need to bulk to build muscle.
When you're skinny fat - you need to do 2 things:
- Build muscle mass
- Shed excess body fat
Will bulking help you build muscle mass?
But bulking also makes you fat.
Bulking helps you build muscle faster but the price you'll pay is getting fat and having 0 muscle definition.
Cutting allows you to build muscle while you lower your body fat percentage.
This means you'll have your beach-ready dream body when you're done.
Instead of spending months cutting excess body fat so you finally can see the muscle hiding under your new layer of blubber.
Wondering if you can really build muscle and lose fat at the same time?
Let's reveal the answer once and for all:
Can you build muscle mass while lowering your body fat percentage?
Yes, it's possible to gain muscle while in a calorie deficit - according to a study published in the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition,.
However - the rate of muscle gain in a calorie deficit was approximately 0.7% per week, whereas in a calorie surplus, muscle growth was about 1.2% per week.
Therefore - if your focus is solely on gaining muscle as fast as possible, bulking could be 0.5% faster - if you're cool with the fat gain.
But - consider the time it takes to cut after you've bulked.
It varies greatly, but it can take anywhere from 3 to 6 months to fully cut the excess body fat you gained while bulking.
Are you cool with spending 6 months going from skinny fat to fat fat, then taking another 6 months to lose fat and finally see muscle definition?
By contrast, cutting while building muscle means you're achieving both goals simultaneously. You may be gaining muscle at a slower rate, but you're also shedding fat at the same time.
Consequently, the overall time to reach your goal of a lean and muscular physique could be shorter.
You won't spend half a year hating your body and feeling demotivated when you look in the mirror.
Plus, you won't have to spend months cutting - you'll get lean much faster.
How do you build muscle in a calorie deficit?
People overthink how you need to train when cutting but it's mad simple - do this:
- Eat enough protein
- Lift heavy weights
It's the exact same as training when bulking or maintaining - I'll dive deeper into this later.
The difference is - you gotta be even more on point with your protein intake and your effort in the gym.
Slack on protein or slack in the gym - you'll lose muscle.
How much protein should you be eating?
Consume 0.8g - 1g per 1lb of body weight to build and preserve muscle while you reduce body fat.
You should consume 152g - 190g of protein.
Eat more if you like - but eat less at your own peril.
According to a study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, the optimal protein intake for muscle synthesis falls within the range of 0.8 to 1.0 grams per pound of body weight.
Body Recomposition for Skinny-Fat Guys
We've answered the question about whether skinny fat guys should bulk or cut...but what about doing neither?
What about being an absolute rebel and taking the slowest path possible?
That's where body recomposition comes in.
Body recomposition is slower at fat loss than cutting.
Body recomposition is slower at muscle growth than bulking.
So why do it at all?
Good question, here's the answer:
Because body recomposition is easier than cutting and you don't gain excess fat like while bulking.
It's kinda the sweet spot between bulking and cutting. You can eat more calories than you can while cutting - so it's easier.
But your fat loss progress is slower.
Should you go for a body recomposition instead of cutting?
Well - first you should understand exactly what body recomposition is:
What is body recomposition?
Body recomposition is the process of gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time.
But it's a slow process compared to cutting or bulking.
Body recomposition requires a strict and precise combination of dieting and exercising - as well as lots of patience.
The goal of body recomposition is to get a lean, toned physique without going through cutting or bulking phases.
To make this work, you need to make sure that:
- Calorie intake is slightly below or at maintenance
- You're consuming 0.8 - 1g of protein per pound of body weight
- Focus on compound exercises like squats, deadlifts and presses while implementing progressive overload
- Cardio is low to moderate intensity as any higher can slow down muscle growth
You pretty much need to do the same things you do when cutting - but you can eat more and move less.
Progressive overload, high protein intake, and being patient is key.
Should you recomp instead of cutting?
That's up to you and how long you're willing to wait until you're lean.
I tried body recomposition but I wasn't seeing much difference and I wanted to see my abs faster - so I chose to cut instead.
How do I go from skinny fat to lean?
Cutting or recomposition will take you from skinny fat to lean and muscular.
As long as you lose fat and build muscle mass - you'll get there.
How long it takes depends on how high your body fat percentage is and how steep your calorie deficit is.
I recommend a calorie deficit of 500 calories to normal people.
I aim for a deficit of 1000 calories when I cut these days - but most people will quit at that pace.
Go easy on your first few cutting phases - your cutting phases should last 12 weeks maximum and you should have a maintanance phase at least 1/3 as long as your cutting phase after.
If your cutting phase is 12 weeks - your maintenance phase should last at least 4 weeks.
This helps your sanity and your metabolism.
You can dial up the suffering as you gain experience and get used to the dieting process.
It's better to get lean slowly and sustainably than to quit everything because you burned out before reaching your goal.
Benefits of Cutting First
When you clean up your diet - you'll feel better.
And you'll learn how to practice food discipline.
It's much easier to bulk after you've gained the tools and discipline needed for a successful cut.
I can't say the same for the transition from bulking to cutting.
Truth is - most people wanna bulk because it's easier than cutting and we love food.
I get it.
But if you wanna lose fat and look like an anime protagonist - cut first, bulk later.
How should you be training when skinny fat?
Training while skinny fat is the same as training while skinny, lean or fat.
Here are the goods:
- Track your lifts
- Walk 6-10k steps per day
- Progressively overload your lifts
- Use a good workout plan that includes a mix of compound and isolation exercises
In case you don't know what progressive overload is - here's a quick explanation:
Progressive overload is when you gradually increase the training stimulus on your muscles. This can be done in several ways, such as:
- Increasing the number of repetitions you do
- Adding more weight to your exercises
- Reducing rest periods between sets
- Doing sets to failure
Without progressive overload - you won't be building muscle.
You need to train harder and harder as you get stronger and your body adapts.
Lifting close to failure with a good workout plan gives you the aesthetic body you’re after.
What you shouldn't do when skinny fat
We've spent a while explaining what you should do - but what about what skinny fat guys shouldn't do?
Here are a few big no-nos:
Dirty bulking is when you eat whatever and whenever – without any care for your macros.
All the big macs, all the crispy shredded beef, all the BBQ based pizza topped with pineapple.
Guess what happens?
You gain weight and get fat without building much muscle mass for the price.
If you're gonna bulk - be smart about it.
This is why it's essential to learn how to cut effectively first.
After finishing a successful cut - you have all the tools you need to bulk while eating clean and avoiding a ridiculous inflation of your body fat percentage.
Instead of dirty bulking, do this:
Track your calories and macros – get as close to maintenance as possible and add 200 - 300 calories extra on top of that.
Focus on cardio without strength training
Losing fat without lifting weights makes you skinny or skinny fat at best.
Whether bulking or cutting you need effective weight training with a good workout plan to build your dream body.
Remember - you need to focus on building muscle or you'll stay in team skinny fat guys forever.
So - should skinny fat guys cut or bulk first?
The answer is to cut.
But don't ignore resistance training during the process. Resistance training is essential for gaining muscle mass and avoiding the skinny fat trap.
It'll take a lot of hard work, discipline and patience but if you stick with it - you can get the body you want.
Q: Is it possible for a skinny fat guy to bulk successfully?
A: Yes - but you need to prepare your body by cutting and building diet discipline first. You also need to avoid dirty bulking and focus on eating mostly whole foods and a high-protein diet.
Q: How long does it take to get out of the ‘skinny fat’ body type?
A: It depends on your goals, your starting point and your commitment, but it typically takes a couple of months to lose enough fat for your muscles to show through and be visible. After that, it’ll take around another three to four months of strength training and proper nutrition to build an average physique.
Below are pictures of my fitness progress from skinny-fat to lean - but keep in mind I learned a lot along my fitness journey and I was definitely eating too much pizza for a while.
My point is - it'll take you way less time than it took me to get here if you follow my advice and learn from my mistakes.
Please excuse the cringy bathroom pictures - I took these photos to track my progress, not to make em public.
28 September 2018: Skinny fat - trying hard to flex my abs.
1 December 2018: Little less fat.
27 May 2019: Average build - starting to see progress.
10 June 2019: Average build - starting to get leaner.
17 February 2020: Average build - can almost see my abs.
6 July 2020: Average build - abs are absorbed by the sun but I can see muscle growth.
6 September 2020: Almost lean - I can see faint abs in dim lighting. Muscle definition has officially arrived.
6 November 2020: Fit - Leaner than 63.8% of the UK according to the The Health Survey for England 2021.
22 February 2021: Fit - Almost as lean as I wanna be.
10 May 2021: Fit - I've got abs for real now.
17 June 2021: Fit - I look like I lift.
13 February 2022: Lean.
5 September 2023: Still Lean - it's way easier staying lean than getting lean.
28 September 2018: Skinny fat goblin.
13 February 2022: Lean dream machine.
Q: What is the best way to lose weight without losing muscle?
A: The best way to lose fat without losing muscle is to do both cardio and weight training. You need to consume enough protein to maintain and grow your muscle mass while losing fat.
Protein powder helps hit your protein targets while maintaining a calorie deficit.
Q: How can I keep my motivation up when cutting?
A: The key to staying motivated is setting small, achievable goals. Break down your overall goal into smaller milestones and reward yourself when you hit each one.
Also - keep yourself motivated by reflecting on your progress.
This is why taking progress pictures is key - it's hard to notice when you lose weight and get leaner if you're not taking photos!
When you look back and see the difference - your motivation will shoot through the roof!
Finally - having a strong support system of honest family and friends can help you stay accountable and motivated.
You can't bulk or cut without this:
You need to understand and know your maintenance calories to bulk or cut effectively.
There are calculators online that help estimate your maintenance calories - but they're only general starting points.
They're not accurate enough to trust.
The only way to find YOUR real maintenance number is to experiment on yourself like a lab rat.
The perfect experiment for finding your maintenance calories is explained on page 43 of my Getting Lean ebook.
Here's the link:
- 'Measures of Obesity and Cardiovascular Risk Among Men and Women', American Journal of Cardiology, Available at: <https://www.jacc.org/doi/abs/10.1016/j.jacc.2008.03.066/> (Accessed: September 5, 2023).
- 'Prehypertension during Young Adulthood and Coronary Calcium Later in Life', Annals of Internal Medicine, Available at: <https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/0003-4819-149-2-200807150-00005/> (Accessed: September 5, 2023).
- 'Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation', Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition, Available at: <https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-11-20/> (Accessed: September 5, 2023).
- 'Dietary protein to maximize resistance training: a review and examination of protein spread and change theories', Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, Available at: <https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-9-42/> (Accessed: September 5, 2023).
- 'Obesity Stats', House Of Commons Briefing, Available at: <https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/sn03336/#:~:text=The%20Health%20Survey%20for%20England,is%20classified%20as%20'overweight'/>(Accessed: September 5, 2023).
- 'Overweight And Obesity Statistics', National Institute Of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Available at: <https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/overweight-obesity/> (Accessed: September 5, 2023).