Go From Skinny Fat to Fit
(How to Avoid Being Skinny Fat)
First time I heard the expression “Skinny Fat Bastard” was during a Charles Poliquin seminar (RIP Coach). It was the first time, at least that I know of, where someone had described that body type. Being Skinny Fat, or a Skinny Fat Bastard is when you’re at a healthy body weight, and BMI, but your body fat has you as being overweight, or obese. Back then, most people still didn’t understand how someone could be considered fat without being overweight. From years of testing body fat, I saw it all the time, but now there was a way to describe this situation (although I still can’t call people bastards with the style and flair that Coach Poliquin could). Years later, in grad school I came across research on Normal, or Low Weight Obesity. Which is basically a situation where someone is of a normal healthy body weight, but their body fat is high enough to where it puts them in the category of being obese.
Now even though there’s increased health risks associated with being in either one of these categories when compared to people with normal healthy weight, and healthy body fat levels, it also sets up a unique situation when it comes to their fitness transformation. Most people have an actual problem with their weight being too high. So they make the following mistakes:
- So they cut, and some drastically cut, their calories.
- They perform tons of aerobic steady state cardio
- Use really light weights, or quit lifting altogether
- Fail to eat enough protein
- Neglect strategies that help them hold on to muscle
Most people fail to separate the concept of being overfat, from being overweight. So they think that weight is the problem. Body weight is in the healthy range. BODY FAT is high. So part of this strategy should be to gain muscle, or at least not lose muscle. People tend to recognize the difference between losing fat, and losing weight. There’s even people out there that think that you can’t lose fat and gain muscle at the same time (even though numerous studies show that you can). Instead of employing the normal strategies. The plan to combat Skinny Fat should include:
- Start closer to maintenance calories and work on increasing the amount of quality nutrients. Oftentimes people become skinny fat due to a lack of good nutrients in their diet. Either it could be from calories being cut too low, or high amounts of exercise to force weight loss. It could also be due to eating a lot of processed foods, and neglecting whole foods.
- Start with a minimum protein intake of 1 g/lb. of bodyweight.
People believe that weight loss is calories in vs. calories out. And to a large degree it is. But macros matter. The RDA’s for protein tend to be much lower (.8 g/kg of bodyweight), and people tend to neglect getting enough protein because these values are easily achieved. But, these values are created for sedentary people to maintain health, and not exercisers that are looking to gain muscle, lose fat, and improve performance. Researchers once took a group of people and kept them at the RDA’s for protein intake and all was well with the participants. Once they started on an exercise program they went into what is called negative nitrogen balance. Meaning that those people started breaking down their muscle tissue to supply it with the amino acids that it needs. The participants in the study didn’t reach a neutral, or positive nitrogen balance, or stop eating up their muscle tissue for the amino acids, until their protein intake reached 2g/kg of body weight (there’s 2.2 kg in 1 lb.) Studies have also shown that higher protein intakes are not beneficial in controlling appetite and blood sugar, but it also offers advantages as far as losing body fat, and gaining muscle. Which is exactly what those that fall into the “Skinny Fat” category need.
- Nutrient Timing
The amounts, the quality, and the type of the nutrients all play a large role in the results that you get from your fitness program. According to research, the timing also matters. The body becomes more insulin sensitive after your workouts. This basically means that it will use less insulin to help carbs to where you need them, and they’re less likely to be stored as fat, and more likely to be turned into glycogen to fuel your workouts. Dr. Paul Cribb of Metabolic Precision drove this point home for me about the importance of Nutrient Timing. At the meals away from your workouts you’ll have carbs that have a slower breakdown, and a lower glycemic load, with your proteins, and fats. Then at the meals close to your workouts you’ll have protein, or amino acids, along with carbs with a higher glycemic index, or that empty in to the bloodstream faster. This helps with recovery, building muscle, and losing body fat. By using nutrient timing I’ve been able to get leaner, while still having some of the foods I like. I just have to exercise a little self-control, and eat them at the right time. I’ll write a separate blog about this topic at a later date.
- Lift Weights to Build Muscle
Losing fat, and gaining muscle is the formula for getting over the Skinny Fat hump. But people tend to forget about the gaining muscle part. They should think of increasing their lean body mass in order to be at the same healthy body weight, but carry more muscle. When you look at resistance training to build muscle, there’s two ways to pull it off. You can perform high reps with the appropriate weights, with very little rest (Metabolic Tension), or you can use the tried and true method of performing reps with weights that only allow you to perform 6-12 reps, with rest periods between 40 seconds-2 minutes (Mechanical Stress). Those that fall into the skinny fat category will also have issues with managing blood sugar levels. Adding muscle not only helps them create the shape that they’re looking for, it also helps improve your blood sugar management. By improving insulin sensitivity.
- Smart Supplementation
“All you need is real food” We’ve all heard it before. And there’s a lot of truth to it. When people say this, it’s needed in the same way that if you told them that you only NEED the RDA’s for grams of protein per day (73 grams of protein for someone that weighs 200 lbs.). They’re finding new nutrients in natural whole foods every day. And there’s no way around the benefits of it. But, the real question at hand is “Does supplement XXX help improve your performances, your ability to change, or add extra convenience to your life?” Let’s look at creatine for example. It’s easily the most researched supplement ever, and it’s been shown to help people train harder, lift more weight, improved muscular endurance, build muscle… but do you NEED it in the same way you need natural whole foods? No, you don’t. But it can be very helpful in improving your ability to achieve your fitness goals. Can you get it from food? Yes, you can eat 3 lbs. of beef/day, in order to get what you can get in a teaspoon of powder. I usually separate supplements into two groups: Group 1 has the basic supplements that help improve your health. Such as vitamin D, Magnesium, Fish Oil, Zinc, probiotics, and Multivitamins. Group 2 has supplements that improve fitness, or performance, when the basics are in place. Creatine, BCAA’s, Citrulline Malate, Beta- Alanine, Testosterone Boosters… are great once the basics of Group 1 are in place. For example, if you’re deficient in zinc and/or magnesium it’ll be pointless to take testosterone boosters. If you don’t eat/take enough protein, the benefits of taking BCAA’s during your workouts may not be experienced.
- Work Hard, Recover Hard
We tend to treat the body like a machine. Even though it may run like one at times, we also need to work for balance. Even though you actually feel good after a workout, training is a stressor. Just like our jobs, our relationships… workouts have the same Fight or Flight response from our bodies that the aspects of our life that we truly find stressful do. Our sympathetic nervous system goes into the same fight or flight mode to help us deal with our stress. When you have too much sympathetic nervous system dominance, it suppresses digestive (you don’t absorb food and nutrients), hormonal (lower testosterone, higher cortisol…), and reproductive functions, resulting in health problems. Health problems that also make it much harder to lose body fat, and gain muscle. This is partially why making sure you get 8 hours sleep (preferably uninterrupted). Guided breathing, other forms of meditation, and yoga are also important because they help flip the switch from fight and flight, to rest and digest, so that you’ll get the most from your efforts.
IF you like to get more detailed information about using exercise and nutrition to change your physique from being Skinny Fat to Fit. You can watch this video:
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