Overcome skinny fat: bulk or cut first ?
Skinny fat is metabolically obese normal weight, meaning that someone has a seemingly healthy look on the outside but they have risks for several health problems that are related to obesity. This is mainly due to a poor diet and lack of exercise. This body type can be seen in men and women. Skinny fat can also be used to describe people who appear to be a normal weight or thin, but are carrying a high percentage of body fat, and have a low amount of muscle mass.
Reasons behind skinny fat
Several things can lead to being skinny fat, either independently or altogether.
1. Low muscle mass:
Simply put, the more muscle mass you have, the lower your body fat percentage is going to be. As well, the more muscle mass you have, the more energy you expend (and fat you burn) even at rest. So, to avoid being skinny fat, you’ll want to ensure you prioritize building muscle.
2. Not enough strength training:
Typically, those who find they are skinny fat have very low or no history of building muscle. To build more muscles, we need a stimulus. Resistance training, or applying stress to your muscles, provides the necessary stimulus for growth. The best way to achieve this is through lifting weights and progressively increasing the amount of volume and intensity being used.
3. Insufficient intake of protein:
Consuming a diet with protein is necessary to build muscle. This is because protein forms the basis of our muscles, and is required to repair and build our muscles after we’ve applied stress to them through weight training. As well, adequate protein in our diet will ensure that we not only build more muscle but preserve the muscle that we already have.
4. An insufficient number of calories consumed:
It’s well understood that to lose weight you need to be burning more calories than you are eating. In other words, be in a caloric deficit. However, if you aren’t cutting smartly, you could be using your existing muscle mass as energy to fuel your workouts, which would only further increase your body fat percentage. In other words, you want to avoid burning muscle while in a caloric deficit. This can happen after you have been in a caloric deficit for too long and your body feels it needs to store any excess energy (food) as fat to have as a fuel reserve, rather than burning it as energy.
5. Too much stress:
When we are stressed, a hormone called cortisol is elevated. When we are stressed for a long period, this can lead to insulin resistance, which causes fat gain because our body is no longer able to efficiently use the energy we are getting from carbohydrates in our diet.
How to overcome skinny fat ?
Just like trying to get rid of abdominal fat, or fat in any other region, getting rid of ‘skinny fat’ takes about the same amount of work; it’s all about reducing the amount of visceral fat present in your body.
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat a nutrient-dense diet.
- Take proper sleep.
What should you do first: cutting or bulking ?
You should always bulk first if have skinny fat.
- It’s much easier to build and preserve muscle in a caloric surplus.
- If there are any hormonal issues (i.e. high cortisol from stress), cutting would only worsen them.
- It is easier to burn fat after a bulk.
The purpose of bulk in this situation is to increase your muscle mass, which ultimately will reduce your body fat percentage. Also, as we recall, the more muscle mass you have, the more energy you expend (and fat you burn) even at rest. So, to avoid being skinny fat, you’ll want to ensure you prioritize building muscle.
How to eat while bulking ?
- You’ll want to start with a caloric surplus of 5-10%.
- This would mean you would have to calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) and increase that number by 5-10%.
- To calculate your TDEE, you can simply input your stats into an online calculator like this one.
Consuming a diet with protein is necessary to build muscle. For example, if you’re 80kg, you should be eating 192g of protein.
Because high levels of stress can contribute to gaining body fat and hinder muscle growth, it is very important to take any measures you can to reduce your daily stress. Try adding some de-stressing techniques to your daily routine, like meditating.
You should not
1. Cut the calories
The last thing you want to do when you are skinny fat is cut because this will make it nearly impossible to build muscle and could lead to increased cortisol levels and other health issues.
2. Dirty bulk
This is when you eat whatever you want, and as much as you can, to gain weight as fast as possible. Typically, this includes a lot of unhealthy junk food. With a dirty bulk, a lot of the weight gained will be from fat, which will not help your situation if you are skinny fat.
3. A ton of cardio and no strength training
The best way to bulk is to increase our lean mass (muscle) and limit the amount of body fat we add in the process. The most effective and efficient way to do this is to eat in a controlled caloric surplus. Implementing cardio can help ensure that any unwanted body fat is burned, improve heart function which will allow you to train harder and lay down more muscle, as well as increase your calorie consumption potential.
4. Skip the gym
Even if all you have is one day per week to go to the gym, so long as you focus on the correct protocols, you can still see significant improvements in strength.
Skinny fat isn’t a new concept but it’s something that most people take lightly or fail to notice about themselves. Despite appearing perfectly normal, being skinny fat poses a serious health risk.