I’ve worked with a lot of skinny fat clients and anytime we start chatting and discussing goals, the common question is,
“Should I focus on building muscle or losing fat first?”
Does that question sound like the predicament you are currently in?
A typical skinny fat person might have thoughts like...
- I want to have more confidence by gaining muscle and getting my body more toned and defined.
- My body is naturally skinny, but I tend to hold extra body fat in certain areas of my body.
- Losing weight is the first thing I want to do, but I am also weak and want to get stronger.
- It is frustrating because I don’t look unhealthy, but I know my current habits and lifestyle aren’t making me feel and move better.
- I don’t know where to start, so I end up not doing anything.
It’s time to get you on the right path.
Being ashamed of your skinny fat body or not knowing what to do will be a thing of the past soon!
If you are ready to gain muscle, shed body fat, build more confidence, and transform your body into what you’ve always wanted it to be, start implementing what you learn today.
Well, what are we waiting for?! Let's begin!
Today we will discuss:
- How to tell if you are skinny fat
- Is it bad to be skinny fat?
- Skinny fat to fit: the best type of exercise to do
- The least effective skinny fat workout programs
- How to schedule and plan your skinny fat workouts for optimal results
- Free 4 week skinny fat workout program
- Understanding nutrition for a skinny fat body type
- 12 week muscle building and fat burning skinny fat diet plan
- Eating adequate protein
- Skinny fat to fit nutrition guidelines
- Meal timing and meal frequency
- Sleep and stress
- Frequently Asked Questions
It doesn't matter if you are a skinny fat guy or a skinny fat girl, there are a few basic questions you should ask yourself.
Be honest with yourself when answering these.
What does being skinny fat mean?
Are you weak?
Think about your strength and determine if you feel like you are fairly strong for your body type or on the weaker end. Can you do multiple pushups with perfect form? What about carrying groceries in from the store? If you were to help a friend move, can you easily lift boxes or will you need help and get burnt out easily?
Where do you store body fat?
Skinny fat body types normally tend to store excess body fat around their midsection. This is sometimes referred to as the "skinny fat stomach". Usually they have thin legs and arms, but their stomach is rounder and doesn’t seem to fit the rest of their body.
What are your health markers?
Go get a physical if you haven't in a while. High blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, and high cholesterol are common among skinny fat people. Being skinny fat can be dangerous since you look thin, which people associate with being healthy, but under the hood there are underlying issues you need to address.
What does your diet look like?
Skinny fat people tend to consume diets higher in junk and processed foods since they assume they can get away with it since they are thin. There tends to be a lack of protein and excess of carbs, sugars, and alcohol.
What do your workouts look like?
Do you tend to lift weights to build strength or are you more of a cardio person? Most skinny fat clients I have worked with steer more for the cardio since they want to burn a lot of calories, hoping to improve the body fat in their midsection. That’s the wrong approach! But we’ll get to that later.
Being skinny fat can be dangerous because of visceral fat buildup, a higher chance of underlying health issues, and risk of injuries when you are older.
If you look at someone that is overweight, it's pretty easy to tell they might not be the healthiest person.
But when you look at someone that is skinny fat, which is YOU in this case, it's often hard to tell.
Being lean is usually associated with being healthy, but if you are skinny fat, sometimes there are underlying issues under your skin that need to be fixed.
Visceral Fat Buildup
Remember when I mentioned the "skinny fat stomach" above?
Many skinny fat body types have fat that is stored as visceral fat.
It seems strange that there can be one type of fat that is “better” than another, but it’s true. Visceral fat is the fat that builds around your organs while subcutaneous fat is the fat that is the jiggly fat we associate on most bodies.
If you have excess visceral fat, it’s sneaky because it’s hard to see it on your body compared to subcutaneous fat.
If not addressed, visceral fat can lead to:
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol
Risk of Injuries When You Are Older
Think about this one.
You have little muscle mass and extra visceral fat that can lead to the problems above.
What do you think will happen as you age and don’t address it now?
The little muscle mass you currently have decreases as you get older, putting you at risk for injuries because of your frail frame.
By now you know the main factors that make you skinny fat and the underlying health issues that might happen if you continue with your ways.
Hopefully I haven't scared you, some of those health issues are no joke.
Now it's time for the answers you are after.
When it comes to the type of exercise you should be doing if you are skinny fat, your #1 focus from the start should be about gaining strength. You do this by following a well designed workout program that revolves around resistance training.
That's what my client Robyn did here, and well, the results speak for themselves for her amazing transformation.
Or how about how my client Jordan banished his skinny fat body and not only got lean, but stronger than he's ever been!
It’s a common theme I have seen with EVERY ONE of my skinny fat clients…
They are weak.
And you probably are too.
I don’t mean to be mean or harsh, but it’s most likely the truth.
So why should you focus on getting stronger? Because…
First off, you will build muscle.
When your focus is on getting stronger, you will be sending the signal to your body to want to make the heavier weight feel lighter next time, and the body will respond by working on gaining more muscle.
With this added muscle, your body will start transforming before your eyes and your confidence will shoot through the roof!
When you develop more muscle from getting stronger, your metabolism will speed up.
This one is huge.
Muscle is harder for your body to maintain than fat, so it needs more calories to keep it up and running. This is another way to say you will burn more calories by having more muscle.
This will be a huge advantage to you because when it’s time to start losing that excess body fat on your body, it will be much easier.
Would you like to be able to eat more or less while losing weight?
That’s a simple answer.
And you can do that by making sure you are getting stronger and gaining muscle.
Lifting weights and focusing on getting stronger is the most beneficial thing a skinny fat person can do to change their physique, get healthier, and go from skinny fat to fit.
You don’t want to waste your time in anything in life.
Exercise selection is one of them. Especially when you are itching for your body to change.
As discussed earlier, your main goal should be sending the signal to your body to get stronger and build muscle.
So with that, the least effective forms of exercise will be ones that send the opposite signal to your body.
Some of these include:
- Long distance running
- Zumba, body pump, yoga classes
- Group classes that are cardio based, such as OrangeTheory
- HIIT circuit based workouts
There’s nothing wrong with any of those forms of exercise. They are actually all great for overall health, having a community, and improving your mood.
But for where you are currently at and what you want to achieve, they are not the most beneficial forms of exercise.
Occasionally doing these, or adding them in further along in your journey is something I absolutely recommend if you enjoy these activities.
Some great forms of cardio would be walking, hiking, biking, swimming, or sprints.Anything that can get you moving but not to the point where the muscle building signal goes away is a good choice.
Check out my article Should You Do Cardio IF You're Skinny Fat?, for more information on cardio programming.
You got the first step down.
Get stronger. So let's lift some weights and get stronger!
Let’s get into that a bit more since there are lots of poorly programmed workout plans out there for skinny fat body types.
Your skinny fat workout program should revolve around:
- 3 - 4 hard workouts every week.
- Workouts can focus on your full body, upper/lower body splits, or a specific muscle group in your body.
- Exercise selection should consist of mainly compound movements.
- Rep ranges anywhere between the 3 - 12 rep range.
- Progressive overload.
- Daily walking & stretching.
Studies have shown that your body is recovered from a workout between 24-48 hours after that workout.
Instead of hitting one muscle group each workout like some people do, working on full body or upper/lower workouts 3 - 4 times a week will give you the perfect amount of volume in your workouts and also fit into the 24-48 hour recovery window.
These workouts need to be intense since you are not working out every day.
No lollygagging around or putting half the effort into a set.
Quick side note.
How great of a word is lollygagging?
I can't remember the least time I said it, but it's definitely back into the rotation.
Ok, back to my point!
Make the most out of your time and go into it with an intensity to work hard.
You’ll get the most bang for your buck when your workouts have a large percentage of compound movements in them.
A compound movement are the exercises that are going to work multiple muscles and joints at the same time. Think about how many muscles a pull up requires versus a seated bicep curl. The amount of muscle activation required for a compound lift is so much more than an isolation movement (like the bicep curl).
What are the big compound lifts you want to be doing? Focus on different variations of:
Isolation exercises are great as well for building the physique you want, but save them for the back end of your workouts. You want most of your energy going towards the compound lifts.
With these movements your perform, a rep range of anywhere between 3 - 12 reps will allow you to get stronger and also build muscle.
Studies show that muscle can be built in pretty much any rep range ranging from 1 - 30.
Sometimes the best rep range is the range that you are not used to working it since it will be a new stress on your body and you will respond well to it.
For now, 3 - 12 reps is a great place to start to allow you to work on getting stronger with the lower reps, and set yourself up for optimal muscle growth with the higher 8-12 rep range.
Regardless of the rep range you choose, the most important thing to track and monitor is that you are implementing progressive overload.
Progressive overload is when you are continually adding new stresses on your body through your workouts.
From workout to workout, week after week, progressive overload can be achieved by:
- More weight than previously used.
- Doing an extra rep or two.
- Adding an extra set to a movement.
- Shortening your rest time between sets.
- Slowing down the movements and creating more tension.
- Having better range of motion.
- Performing an exercise with better form.
Here is a full body 3x/week program that will hit every muscle group each workout and allow you to try different rep ranges and rest times.
You can see the workouts below and watch the videos if you need a tutorial.
|Exercise||Sets and Reps||Rest Time|
|Barbell Squats||3 x 6 - 8||2 minutes|
|Barbell Shoulder Press||3 x 8 - 10||2 minutes|
|Incline DB Chest Press||3 x 10 - 12||90 - 120 seconds|
|Pull Up Variations||3 x 10 - 12 Use assistance if needed||2 minutes|
|DB deadlifts||2 x 10 - 12||90 - 120 seconds|
|Barbell Bicep Curls||2 x 12||90 - 120 seconds|
|Barbell Skullcrushers||2 x 12||90 - 120 seconds|
|Bent Over Rear Delt Flys||2 x 12||60 - 90 seconds|
|Isometric Plank||2 x 30 -60 seconds||60 seconds|
|Exercise||Sets and Reps||Rest Time|
|Trap Bar Deadlifts||3 x 4 -6||2 minutes|
|Barbell Bench Press||3 x 6 - 8||2 minutes|
|Walking Lunges||3 x 8- 10/leg||2 minutes|
|Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press||3 x 10 - 12||90 - 120 seconds.|
|DB Rows||3 x 10 - 12/side.||90 - 120 seconds|
|DB Shrugs||2 x 12||90 - 120 seconds|
|DB Overhead Tricep Extension||2 x 12||90 - 120 seconds|
|Face Pulls||2 x 12||90 - 120 seconds|
|Russian Twists||2 x 8 - 10/side||90 - 120 seconds|
|Exercise||Sets and Reps||Rest Time|
|Incline Barbell Bench Press||3 x 6- 8||2 minutes|
|Bulgarian Split Squats||3 x 6 - 8/side||2 minutes|
|Pull Up Variations - Chinups||3 x 6- 10||2 minutes|
|One Arm DB Push Press||3 x 10 - 12/side||90 - 120 seconds|
|Goblet Squats||3 x 10 - 12||90 - 120 seconds|
|DB Bicep Curls||2 x 12||90 - 120 seconds|
|Dips||2 x 12||90 - 120 seconds|
|Band Pullaparts||2 x 12||60 - 90 seconds|
|Side Planks||2 x 30 - 45sec/ side||60 - 90 seconds|
Is There A Difference For Skinny Fat Workout Plan For A Male Or Female?
If someone tells you that you should be training a specific way because you are a male or female, you need to tell them to kick rocks.
Whether you a guy or girl, a skinny fat workout plan can be the same. Building muscle is the goal and all the same principles apply regardless of sex.
In order to see results from your workouts, you need to be eating properly for your body type.
Being skinny fat is unique because where as most people are dieting to lose weight, they know they need to eat less.
For those hardgainers out there who want to gain weight, they need to eat more.
When you are skinny fat, which one should you be doing?
That’s where a good coach comes in to help you navigate that.
Since your goal is to get stronger, gain muscle, and lose body fat, you want to structure your skinny fat diet in a way that cycles through different phases of being in a calorie deficit and a calorie surplus.
Let’s break down what those mean.
Let’s start with your baseline, which is your calorie maintenance.
This is important to know because it is showing that if you eat the exact amount of calories that your body needs to perform its normal functions, your weight will stay the same. This is called a body recomposition and is a way to see changes, but I will teach you a way to do it quicker.
This is your baseline. To manipulate your body and make it change, you need to be either in a calorie deficit or calorie surplus.
In this example, John is eating LESS calories than his body needs in order to maintain his weight, so the scale is going to go down.
This is called a calorie deficit.
If you have ever lost weight before, this is what happened.
It’s not magic, it’s as simple as calories in vs calories out.
Now we know how to lose weight, what about the opposite?
Now the tables have turned.
John has brought in more calories than his body needs, so the excess calories will be stored as either fat or muscle.
This is called a calorie surplus.
We want it to be stored as muscle, and there is no better way for extra calories to be stored as muscle than to have a good workout program.
Are you starting to see the connection from earlier as to why I said you need to be lifting weights?
If you were to do a bunch of cardio and still be eating in a surplus, well that is going to be stored as fat my friend.
Let’s get to the good stuff.
Well hopefully this has all been good stuff already...
Ok good, how about this. Let's get to the REAL good stuff! The skinny fat diet!
Since your goal is to get stronger and build muscle, you need to be eating the right way to compliment those workouts, so you want to start by eating in a small calorie surplus.
This is where things can get a little tricky.
If I am working with a hardgainer, it is easy for me to tell them to eat a lot because it doesn’t matter how much weight they gain, since that is their main goal.
Since your body type is skinny fat, we want to be building strength and muscle, while minimizing fat gain.The best way to achieve this is by eating in a very slight calorie surplus, so when you do gain, it’s muscle and not fat.
Here are your guidelines for how you should structure your calories.
Week 1 - 8 Skinny Fat Diet To Build Muscle
- Most people can be in a calorie surplus by multiplying their weight (in pounds) by 16 - 20. To start, I want you to multiply your weight by 16 and use that as a baseline. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, your calorie goal would be 2400.
- Track your calories and weight for 2 weeks straight. If your weight goes down or stays the same, increase by 100 calories the next week.
- If you are able to add another 100 calories and your weight stays the same, keep increasing by 100 each week. When you hit a calorie target where your weight is slightly going up, that’s a good place to hang out. This means you are building muscle if you are following the right workouts.
- Run this for 8 weeks
Week 9 - 12 Skinny Fat Diet To Shed Fat
Those 8 weeks will be an amazing 8 weeks of building muscle, getting stronger, and speeding up your metabolism.
There is a chance that you will increase your calorie consumption by 600 calories if you were bumping it up each week.
What this means is that you are creating a new, higher calorie maintenance.
With a higher calorie maintenance level, it will make it easier to shed FAT!
After your 8 week skinny fat diet muscle building phase, whatever calorie target you are at, I want you to subtract 500 off of that for the next 4 weeks.
If you were eating 2800 calories, try 2300.
3000 goes to 2500.
Can you imagine eating 2500 calories and STILL losing weight?!
There are people out there that are hating life eating 1200 to lose weight. But not you my friend!
And that is because you did things the smart way.
You lifted heavy, you got stronger, built muscle, sped up your metabolism, and now you are at the perfect spot to shed body fat!
If you are unsure about starting with a muscle building phase and would rather start with a fat loss phase, check out my article The Skinny Fat Bulk Or Cut Optimal Starting Point.
Tracking your calories is the most important thing to do for weight gain or weight loss.
Protein is a close second behind calories.
The reason for this can be explained by changing the first sentence in this section.
You want to be eating an adequate amount of protein and tracking your calories in order to achieve MUSCLE GAIN or FAT LOSS.
Weight gain and weight loss means it can potentially be fat or muscle.
And that’s not what we want.
You want to LOSE FAT and GAIN MUSCLE.
That is what is going to give you the body that you want.
So how much protein should you consume?
Each day, try and consume a protein amount between 0.7 - 1gram per pound (lbs) of body weight to allow your body to build muscle while in a surplus, and for your body to preserve muscle mass while losing fat in a deficit.
The great thing about calorie counting and tracking macros is that you get to build your diet the way you want.
It’s like those choose your own adventure books!
Remember those? I used to love reading the Goosebumps one.
Whoa, I am starting to show my age.
Ok, I digress.
If you were expecting a meal plan from this guide, you are out of luck.
Meal plans don’t work. People will stay on them for a short time, but always fall off of the wagon eventually. There is only so many meals of chicken and broccoli someone can prescribe to you.
And what about if you go to a party or want to have a date night with your partner?!
That’s not going to be on your meal plan.
Instead, calorie counting will give you the flexibility to see results and enjoy the foods you love.
Follow these tips to help educate yourself to create your plan on how you want to eat.
- Focus on mainly whole, unprocessed foods.
- Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables each day.
- When you plan a meal, figure out what protein you want and build your meal from there.
- There is nothing wrong with carbs, so enjoy those healthy carbs like rices, potatoes, whole grains.
- An occasional cheat meal will not slow progress as long as you stick to your calorie goal.
- Protein powders are a great source of protein if you are having trouble hitting your goal from whole foods.
- If you hit your calories and protein goal, your carbs and fat can be a variety of whatever works best for you.
When in doubt, building 2 - 3 plates of food like the one below are going to help you hit your goals.
Use the plate above as an example of how to build a plate.
If you feel like you aren't getting enough calories or protein, lower your vegetable count and increase your protein amount.
If you are really needing more calories you can even add a fat into this plate, such as an avocado, nuts, or cooking your vegetables in oil or butter.
This is meant to be a template. You are building this plan for YOUR lifestyle.
Find what works for you and that is what is going to give you the best chance for long term success!
I wanted to briefly discuss this since many of my skinny fat clients ask me about this subject at some point early in their journey.
Remember when experts said breakfast was the most important meal of the day?!
Well that's not true.
If you don’t like breakfast, don’t eat it. If you like eating a big dinner, eat a big dinner.
Do you prefer snacking on smaller meals throughout the day? Great do it!
What about eating a huge breakfast and not eating again until dinner? You can do that.
Are you catching onto what I am trying to say?
Meal timing and meal frequency do not matter. As long as your calorie goal is hit, you will see results.
Time to burst another bubble for a lot of people.
If I had to build a list of the most important factors for a skinny fat person to see results, supplements would be at the very bottom.
Seriously, they play such a small factor in your results, yet people swear by them.
Why? Great marketing.
Marketers do an amazing job at making you think you need their products to see progress, when in reality if you do your workouts, eat your calories and protein, and follow the steps in the next section, you can see phenomenal results.
Now for a couple of supplements that can be useful for skinny fat transformation:
- Protein powders if you have trouble hitting your calorie goal.
- Caffeine - Pre workouts, coffee, or teas can help give you an extra boost for your workout.
- Creatine - One of the most studied supplements that can assist in muscle growth.
- For daily supplementation, a high quality multivitamin, fish oil, vitamin D, and greens supplement may help you fill the gaps in your diet that you're missing.
If you want to take other supplements, do what you want to do. I am not a trained registered dietician so it is best to speak with a trained professional if you want to add supplements into your diet.
I call these the low hanging fruit because they are ones that you can instantly change right away if you put the work in.
They are also the habits that many people often overlook and don’t realize they are affecting their progress!
Get Good Sleep
Seems simple enough, but it’s not taken serious by the majority of people. We often cut out sleep because of how busy we are, thinking we can just grind day in and out. This might last for awhile but it will eventually catch up to you.
When your body isn’t getting good sleep, it realizes it is not in a good situation and it will result to safety mechanisms to minimize the stress. One of the ways it will do is is by holding onto to stored energy, aka body fat.
You need to prioritize getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night so your body can fully get recovered and set you up for an amazing next day.
Similar to a morning routine that we all have, it’s important to have an evening routine instead of staying up late and then turning the lights off and expecting to get good sleep.
Good nightly habits to add into your routine would be:
- Eliminate blue light later in the evening to promote better sleep. This can be achieved by turning off electronics or getting blue blocker glasses to block the light that affects melatonin production.
- Keep your house dimly lit with lights or candles. Our body is used to settling down when the sun goes down, so turning down lights can mimic that.
- Keep your room cool. Temperature for best sleep has been shown to be between 60-68 degrees.
- Stop eating a couple hours before you go to bed to allow for your food to be digested.
- Be wary of stimulants later in the afternoon and evening.
We all have stress in our daily life. Some more than others, but it’s how you deal and manage it that is important.
Find routines and rituals where it helps you destress and live a comfortable, happy life.
If you are constantly stressed, your body is producing extra hormones associated with stress, and the hormones that will promote muscle growth and body changes will take a back seat.
You don’t want that happening to you.
When you’re not stressed with life and can focus on yourself and your workouts, great things are coming.
Easy ways to destress include:
- Going for a walk in nature
- Spend quality time with family with no electronics
- Read a book
Does Walking Help Skinny Fat?
Walking is one of the best things you can do when you're skinny fat to live a healthier, happier life.
There is a clear connection in the research that people who walk more steps each day live longer lives.
Committing to a step goal each day (I recommend 8000+ to my clients) to pair with your strength training workouts is a great idea.
Is HIIT Good For Skinny Fat?
Small amounts of HIIT workouts each week can be effective to help you overcome your skinny fat body.
If you are prioritizing HIIT workouts over strength workouts, you're doing it wrong.
Sprinkling 1 - 2 days a week of short bursts of HIIT training is all you need.
Reference Should I Do Cardio If I'm Skinny Fat for more information on HIIT training.
How Do I Get Rid Of My Skinny Fat Belly?
If your #1 goal is to lose your belly fat, you will want to start in a calorie deficit to lose fat.
Unfortunately there is no such thing as spot reduction, meaning you can't pick and choose where you lose fat.
If you are consistently in a calorie deficit, you will eventually lose fat in the area that you want.
What Is Maintenance Calories For Skinny Fat?
To find your maintenance calories when you have a skinny fat body, multiply your weight (in pounds) by 13 - 15.
The majority of this article is based around eating in either a slight calorie deficit to promote fat loss or a slight calorie surplus to promote muscle gain.
Eating at maintenance is another option, although I've found progress to be slower since you don't have a main priority you are focusing on.
Now Is YOUR Time To Take Action!
The solution to skinny fat has been laid out for you above.
Not only will changing your habits and behaviors benefit you now, but they will for years to come.
Go out there and start lifting weights, making better nutrition decisions and eating adequate protein, and focusing on your low hanging fruits.
If you have any questions, leave a comment or reach out to me HERE.
If you feel like you need a coach for personalized workouts, accountability and to help with your nutrition numbers, please click the picture below and apply for coaching.
Best of luck!