Being skinny fat is frustrating because it isn’t always clear what you should do.
On the one hand, you lack muscular development, so bulking makes sense. But on the other hand, you’re also at a high body fat percentage, so fat loss seems like the right path.
So, let’s outline the three skinny fat nutritional plans you can use and which might be best.
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Path 1: Bulking
Bulking is the first obvious path for skinny fat individuals. There are tons of diet tips for skinny fat people, and doing a bulk is one prominent example.
The goal when bulking is to increase your calorie intake, aiming for gradual weight gain. In doing so, you improve rates of muscle growth, build more strength, and end up looking bigger. You fix the skinny part of the equation, add healthy muscle to your frame, and make good progress in the gym.
The problem is, bulking is often not ideal because you’re likely at a high enough body fat percentage. Putting yourself in a calorie surplus will help you build muscle, but it will also raise your fat percentage further. If you don’t feel comfortable with your body fat percentage now, you’ll feel even worse after bulking for a few months.
Let me give you a quick example to illustrate what I mean. Take a look at this photo of a skinny fat guy:
He doesn’t have much muscle on his frame, but his body fat is relatively high. It’s difficult to estimate, but he’s likely at 20 to 25 percent here. Since bulking leads to inevitable fat gain, his body fat will increase even more, no matter how controlled the calorie surplus is. Then, come time to diet, he will have to cut for much longer to get lean enough. Doing so presents a couple of issues:
- Dieting for a long time is a sucky ordeal
- The longer you diet, the less time you can spend in a surplus, gaining muscle
Path 2: Cutting
Doing a cut is also a popular option among skinny fat folks. The goal here is to reduce your calories, aiming for gradual weight loss. You postpone muscle growth but get to lose fat, ending up looking lean.
Cutting is often the go-to choice for beginners because folks are often more self-conscious of their body fat percentage than their low muscular development. So, they figure, “I’ll lean down first and create a solid foundation to build muscle later.”
While sounding good, the approach carries some drawbacks. The most significant issue is that you don’t have much muscle on your frame to justify a cut. You can do it, but you will end up way too skinny and not at all satisfied with how your body looks. Most skinny fat people think they’ll look like this if they cut:
In reality, they end up looking like this:
Another issue with this approach is that losing fat puts you in a prime position for re-gaining it later. The idea that fat loss primes you for muscle gain thanks to heightened insulin sensitivity is misguided. Think about it from an evolutionary perspective:
You’ve done a prolonged fat loss phase, which your body perceives as food shortage (famine). So, once food becomes available, which type of tissue is your body more likely to store:
- Muscle, which plays a small role in survival and is a poor source of energy
- Fat, which is energy-dense, allowing you to survive through a famine in the future
That’s right: fat. Your body’s number one goal is to keep you alive. It doesn’t care about your aspirations for guns of steel, washboard abs, or a 300-pound bench. The leaner you get, the higher the risk of subsequent fat re-gain becomes.
Path 3: Body Recomposition
Doing a body recomposition is the third skinny fat nutrition plan you can follow. The idea here is to reduce your calorie intake below maintenance, but not too much. In doing so, you can take advantage of newbie gains to build muscle and lose fat simultaneously. I’ve provided step-by-step instructions on how to set up your nutrition for a recomposition here.
The obvious drawback with a body recomposition is that you’re chasing two opposing goals simultaneously, limiting your progress on either front. Cutting would result in quicker fat loss, just as bulking would help you gain muscle faster. But as discussed above, both approaches aren’t ideal for most skinny fat beginners.
I recommend a body recomposition for most skinny fat beginners because the approach works and delivers a more profound visual improvement. As a result, skinny fat folks are more likely to keep going and make fitness a part of their lives.
Depending on your starting point, you should be able to recomp for at least a few months. During that time, you’ll be able to gain some muscle, improve your gym performance, and shed fat. Replacing even a small percentage of your fat with muscle tissue will drastically improve how your physique looks.
A good way to tell that the recomposition protocol no longer works is if your training performance stalls. Initially, you’ll likely make steady improvements through a combination of skill acquisition, neuromuscular efficiency, and muscle mass. But, at some point, you will maximize your performance, and the only way to move forward would be to increase your calorie intake and do a bulk.
As far as supplements go, I mostly recommend protein powder, creatine, and fish oil. Protein powder provides a concentrated dose of the nutrient, making it easier to reach your daily goals. Creatine is a well-researched and affordable product that leads to modest improvements in athletic performance. And fish oil? It provides two essential fatty acids (EPA and DHA) that play an important role in our health and well-being.
A body recomposition is the most practical nutritional approach for skinny fat individuals. It leads to the quickest progress and helps you build a foundation, making it easier to focus on fat loss and muscle gain later.
Body recomping is also useful when combined with a 5x5 training program or something similar.