Are you skinny fat, and looking to get fit?
But you’re not sure what to do.
What should you eat, and how should you train?
There is a lot to learn, and you’re unsure how to tackle the whole thing.
If you’re in this camp, read on because we’ll go over absolutely everything you need to pull off a successful boy recomposition as a skinny fat man or woman.
Let’s dive in.
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What Is A Body Recomposition?
Body recomposition is a protocol you follow to build muscle and lose fat simultaneously. Instead of losing fat (cutting) or building muscle (bulking), you chase both goals, which allows you to make quick and drastic improvements in your visual appearance.
Let’s look at a simple example of a skinny fat person who weighs 180 lbs and has 20+ percent body fat. If the person gets leaner without losing much weight, it likely means that he’s pulled off a successful recomp protocol.
Does Body Recomposition Even Work?
Building muscle and losing fat simultaneously might seem impossible, but the process can occur for some individuals. Skinny fat, overweight, and de-trained lifters can take full advantage of the protocol and make quick initial progress with their training.
The good news is, we also have research suggesting that body recomposition works. For example, in one paper, overweight police officers were put on a calorie-restricted high-protein diet, coupled with resistance training (1). There was also a diet-only group of ten subjects.
After 12 weeks, the subjects who dieted, trained, and consumed more protein saw significant fat loss (around 5 kilos on average between the training groups) and muscle growth (an average of 3 kilos between the training groups). Folks who trained also saw significant strength gains.
In another study, elite gymnasts followed a ketogenic diet and consumed nearly 2,000 calories per day (2). Keep in mind that these gymnasts:
- Were already below 10 percent body fat
- Trained for 30 hours per week
- Could do 17 consecutive pull-ups where their chest reaches the bar
In other words, these were far from the average beginner trainee. Yet, a month later, these folks:
- Had dropped to around 5-6 percent body fat (-2 kilos or 4.4 lbs)
- Had gained roughly 0.4 kilos or 0.9 lbs of muscle
- Had managed to maintain their strength and overall athletic performance
Other studies also suggest that some degree of body recomposition is possible, even for more advanced trainees (3, 4). But, the calorie deficit needs to be moderate for a recomp to occur successfully.
How to Pull Off a Successful Body Recomposition Protocol As a Skinny Fat Individual
Step #1: Calculate Your Caloric Needs And Establish a Small Deficit
Being in a slight calorie deficit (consuming fewer calories than you burn) and paying some attention to your macros is essential for a body recomp because it is otherwise impossible to shed fat. Start by calculating your basal metabolic rate (BMR), the number of calories your body burns at rest. Use the following formula:
Once you know your BMR, use the below multiplier to determine what your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is:
Once you have a TDEE value, remove 200 to 300 calories from that number and start tracking your calories. One option is to write down the foods you eat in a notebook and do the calculations manually. Alternatively, download a simple app like MyFitnessPal and log your food there. The app will do all of the math for you.
Here is an example TDEE calculation for a skinny fat guy who is 31-years-old, 6’0” tall (72 inches), weighs 170 lbs, and is moderately active:
BMR = 66 + (6.23 * weight in lbs) + (12.7 * height in inches) - (6.8 * age in years)
BMR = 66 + (6.23 * 170) + (12.7 * 72) - (6.8 * 31)
BMR = 1828 calories
Since our guy is moderately active, we’ll use the 1.55 multiplier from above:
1828 * 1.55 = 2833 calories (TDEE)
Now, let’s remove 200 calories, and we have an initial calorie target:
2833 - 200 = 2633 calories starting point
Check out my guide on putting together a skinny fat meal plan based on macros.
Step #2: Set a Protein Goal And Hit It Every Day
Consuming enough protein is essential for maintaining a positive nitrogen balance despite a calorie deficit. Doing so allows you to recover well between workouts, retain your muscle, and develop further even if you’re not consuming that much energy.
Most research recommends consuming 1.6 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The range would translate to around 0.8 to 1 gram per pound. I recommend consuming more protein because:
- Doing so isn’t harmful to our health
- Protein is satiating and makes it easier to control your hunger
- It’s better to have slightly more than not enough
For example, if you weigh 170 lbs, aim for 136 to 170 grams daily protein. You can read more about the importance of protein here.
Step #3: Follow a Simple Training Program
Resistance training is essential for pulling off a successful recomp as a skinny fat person. You can pick from many options, including kettlebell, barbell, resistance band training, and even CrossFit.
Assuming that your nutrition and recovery are in check, weight training would force your muscles to grow and strengthen.
You also don’t need to do a ton of training to build muscle in a mild calorie deficit. For one, beginners tend to grow from little training, even if the workouts aren’t particularly good. Second, being in a mild calorie deficit for fat loss would mean that your ability to recover is impaired.
Because of the above, I recommend focusing on several key exercises that train a large percentage of your muscles: squats, deadlift, bench press, rows, overhead press, and similar. You can download my beginner’s training program. Click here.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for something simple, you can check out my dumbbell-only skinny fat program you can do at home.
Step #4: Get Enough Sleep Each Night
A 2018 systematic review examined much of the research in sleep for athletes (5). Researchers wanted to determine what effects various sleep interventions would have on athletes’ performance and recovery. Another aim of the review was to provide athletes with actionable strategies.
Ten studies that covered the review’s criteria were included. Most of the participants across the studies were between 18 and 24, the majority being men. Here are some findings:
- In one of the papers, basketball players increased their time spent in bed from seven to ten hours per night for five to seven weeks. Actual sleep time increased by roughly two hours. Measures of free-throw accuracy, sprint speed, reflexes, and subjective mood improved drastically.
- In another study, tennis players had to spend at least nine hours in bed each time. Their actual sleep improved by around 1.5 hours per night. Daytime sleepiness decreased, and serving accuracy improved.
- In two papers, subjects had to increase their sleep to nine or ten hours per night. Researchers found significant improvements in athletic performance and perceived fatigue.
Numerous papers show that adequate sleep improves innumerable measures of health and athleticism. Allowing yourself to sleep more will likely boost your mood, make you more energetic, and improve your athletic performance. On top of that, some research also suggests that poor sleep leads to a drop in testosterone levels, athletic decline, cognitive issues, and an impaired ability to burn fat (6, 7, 8).
Step #5: Do Some Cardio Or Take Care Of Your NEAT
Cardio is good for your health, work capacity, and longevity. Aerobic exercise also burns calories, making it easier to establish a calorie deficit for fat loss. You don’t have to do any cardio if you don’t feel like it. But, if you want to, keep three things in mind:
1. More demanding cardio activities, such as running and kettlebell conditioning training, stress your joints and connective tissues. Over time, that stress can lead to overuse injuries. An excellent way to reduce the risk is to perform less challenging cardio, such as riding a bike and swimming.
2. Like any form of exercise, cardio leads to fatigue. Doing too much can impair your recovery and increase the risk of overtraining.
3. There is an interference effect from doing cardio and weight training in the same program. In other words, the more cardio you do, the more challenging it will be for you to get stronger and build muscle (9).
It’s best to do moderate amounts of cardio (no more than one to two hours per week). If possible, do your cardio on recovery days. If your schedule doesn’t allow it, try to space out your cardio and lifting by at least six hours. And, if even that isn’t possible, lift weights first, and do the cardio second.
Alternatively, focus on increasing your NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis). Doing so is an effective way to elevate your metabolic rate and reap many benefits without dealing with the drawbacks of cardio.
Walking is one great option. Install a simple step-counting app on your phone and start with 5,000 steps per day. Once you’re consistently walking that, bump your daily goal to 10,000 steps. Doing so is a great way to improve your health and burn extra calories without getting overly tired.
Step #6: Track Your Progress
Tracking your progress is the sixth and final step of any good recomp protocol. Track the following:
a) Progress photos
Take these under the same conditions each time.
I recommend taking a few photos initially, storing them in a folder, then repeating the process every two to four weeks. Compare your pictures over time to see how your body is changing.
You should take photos in the morning and on an empty stomach for the most consistent results.
b) Circumference measurements
Use a tape measure to track the circumference of your chest, upper arms, waist, hips, and thighs. You can also track your forearms, buttocks, and calves if you want.
Wrap the measure around the body part, making sure that it fits snugly. Write the value down to 0.1 of an inch or centimeter and repeat the measurements every two to four weeks. You should also measure the various body parts in the same way each time. For example, measure the peak of your biceps, the widest point of your thighs, and three fingers above the navel.
Like progress photos, I recommend taking these in the morning and on an empty stomach.
c) Body weight
Measuring body weight is another critical element of effective progress tracking. You will most likely maintain your body weight during a body recomposition or lose a few pounds. Anything more than that would mean that you’re in too big of a deficit and should bump your calorie intake slightly. In contrast, gaining weight during a recomp would imply that your calorie intake is too high, and you’re likely not losing any fat.
As with body measurements and progress photos, I recommend weighing yourself in the morning, on an empty stomach, and after going to the bathroom. Take a few measures per week, limiting yourself to one per day, and calculate the weekly average. Then, compare from week to week.
d) Gym performance
The last element of effective tracking is that of your gym performance. Recording your workouts is essential whether you choose to use a training app, workout log, or simple notebook. In doing so, you can see if you’re making improvements over time.
I recommend writing the following:
- The date of your workout
- The exercises you’re doing
- The amount of weight you’re lifting
- The number of sets you’re doing
- The number of reps you get per set
You can be even more detailed than that and include information about rest periods and such, but those aren’t as necessary, and you can do without them.
Following the above six steps will lead to significant improvements in how your body looks, regardless of previous experience, your age, and other factors.
Related article: My Skinny Fat Transformation: How I Got Fit (And I Learned)
1. Demling RH, DeSanti L. Effect of a hypocaloric diet, increased protein intake and resistance training on lean mass gains and fat mass loss in overweight police officers. Ann Nutr Metab. 2000;44(1):21-9. doi: 10.1159/000012817. PMID: 10838463.
2. Paoli A, Grimaldi K, D'Agostino D, et al. Ketogenic diet does not affect strength performance in elite artistic gymnasts. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012;9(1):34. Published 2012 Jul 26. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-9-34
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6. Goh VH, Tong TY. Sleep, sex steroid hormones, sexual activities, and aging in Asian men. J Androl. 2010 Mar-Apr;31(2):131-7. doi: 10.2164/jandrol.109.007856. Epub 2009 Aug 14. PMID: 19684340.
7. Pilcher, J. J., & Huffcutt, A. J. (1996). Effects of sleep deprivation on performance: A meta-analysis. Sleep: Journal of Sleep Research & Sleep Medicine, 19(4), 318–326.
8. Nedeltcheva AV, Kilkus JM, Imperial J, Schoeller DA, Penev PD. Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity. Ann Intern Med. 2010;153(7):435-441. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-153-7-201010050-00006
9. Wilson JM, Marin PJ, Rhea MR, Wilson SM, Loenneke JP, Anderson JC. Concurrent training: a meta-analysis examining interference of aerobic and resistance exercises. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Aug;26(8):2293-307. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31823a3e2d. PMID: 22002517.