Warning! Are you Skinny-Fat? (And What To Do To Fix It)

Aggiornato il: mag 18

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Who is a Skinny-Fat?

Key takeaways:

-A Skinny-fat is a person with a healthy body weight and healthy Body-Mass index but is considered ‘’metabolically obese’’ because, regardless of their body weight, they have higher mortality, risk of diabetes, cancer and other cardiovascular diseases and generally lower quality of life(1,2,3,4,5).

- A Skinny fat person would be a lot healthier lowering their body-fat and increasing their muscle mass;

-If you’re skinny-fat, you should probably try to build muscle, get stronger, lose fat, move more, eat more protein and sleep better.

A lot of people fall in the category of ‘’Skinny-fat’’ and yet few of them actually know what to do about it.

These people carry too much extra-fat in the bad places (abdomen, lower back, glutes, chest, triceps, legs) and struggle to get rid of it, no matter how much they try with many different exercises/strategies, nothing seems to work.

A skinny fat’s body weight and BMI are usually healthy but they have very little muscle which usually doesn't make them happy about the way they look...

We are talking about relatively lean individuals with a (body-fat of 12-23%).

It could be someone on the lower end (12-15% body-fat men / 17-22% women) :

Or on the upper end (15-23% body fat men / 22-30% women):

Who wants to look like this:

A skinny-fat is usually a beginner in terms of weight lifting but can also be a moderately experienced trainee who hasn’t trained or eaten properly.

What do they have in common? Very little muscle.

That’s it, the less muscle you have the closer you will look to a Skinny-fat.

Spot fat reduction doesn’t exist.

Is being Skinny Fat Unhealthy?

Further researches are needed on the metabolically obese normal-weight (MONW) subjects but one thing is sure: Skinny Fats look healthy, with a low or average body mass index (BMI), but upon further evaluation, they fall victim to the same diagnostic markers of diabetic patients: high blood sugar, low good cholesterol, high triglycerides, inflammation, and/or high blood pressure."

Healthy body-fat % for different ages for men and women (upper part) and for different level of activity  (lower)
Healthy body-fat % for different ages for men and women (upper part) and for different level of activity (lower)

Not all the Skinny-fat type of people will have metabolic dysfunction but for a skinny-fat, building muscle is of paramount importance.

The following studies, like this one(1), or this one (2), or this one (3), or this one (4) or this one (5) have shown the positive impact of an increased t-free mass on Health and quality of life.

Basically, people with more muscle mass have a lower risk of diabetes and cancer and a generally higher quality of life.

A Skinny-fat person would be a lot healthier lowering their body-fat and increasing their muscle mass.

BONUS: I am not a Barbell Girl!

If you’re a woman and you’re concerned about building muscle because you don’t want to look like this:

Fair enough! After all, your end goal is to look thin and athletic not bulky.

Just let me reassure you: you're not going to look like this by mistake.

The woman in the picture is probably not natural and surely spent years and years trying to build as much muscle as possible to then dieting hard to remove the fat layers and see the muscles underneath.

As a woman, you have less muscle and will probably be able to build less muscle in your life compared to men.

Unless you stuff your face in fast-food meals every day and/or you’re on drugs.

Most women, when they focus on building strength and muscle with some sort of resistance training (which includes body-weight, fixed weight machines and free weights machines), notice their clothes fitting better and their body-weight going up or staying the same.

If your goal is to have bigger glutes, more defined thighs and a toned core all you need to do is to build some muscles and reduce your body-fat.

You’ll be thrilled about what you see in the mirror.

So let’s see the three major mistakes skinny-fat people usually do.

Mistake #1 - Doing too much cardio

Also, we just learnt that a skinny-fat should focus on losing fat and building muscle.

Cardio can burn calories (as resistance training does) but is not as effective as resistance training at building muscle.(6)

There’s one thing I learned in my fitness career and it’s that in fitness everything has a cost, more calorie counting means better efficacy but more stress, more cardio means more calorie expenditure but more time needed for recovery.

Too much Cardio can also impair the strength benefits of resistance training (7,8)

Cardio is great for switching off the mind, and research show that a mix of cardio and resistance training is probably the best solution for you health (9)

Are you concerned because you want to do cardio for health reasons? Take a look at this study(10) and you will see that even if cardio produces numerous health benefits it doesn’t offer any extra benefits to resistance training alone, with resistance training impacting your recovery much less and helping muscle growth much more.

While cardio may not be required for good health, it certainly can help. In fact, combined resistance training and aerobic training had the greatest impact on glycemic control in type 2 diabetics compared to either modality alone.

Few guidelines for a skinny-fat cardio activity:

-Priorities resistance training, focus;

-Limit your cardio to 30-90 minutes a week;

-Avoid doing a long cardio session straight before a resistance training workout;

-Priorities low impact activities that don’t require long recovery;

-Choose activities you love, it could be walking in nature, kayaking, swimming, etc..);

-Keep it simple;

Mistake #2 - Not eating enough protein

In many cases, this mistake is associated with a severe calorie restriction.

Even if the only way to lose fat is through a calorie deficit we need to keep in mind our primary goal of increasing our muscle mass.

You see, when you train your muscles, you’re simultaneously damaging and breaking down muscle tissue and beginning a process known as “protein synthesis” whereby the body creates (synthesizes) new muscle proteins to replace and add to the damaged tissues.

According to research conducted by scientists at McMaster University,(11) a protein intake of 1.3 – 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight (0.6 – 0.8 grams per pound of body weight) is adequate for stimulating maximal protein synthesis.

They did note, however, that more protein (up to 1.8-2.0 g of protein/kg of body weight/day) may be needed when you’re training frequently and intensely and or when you’re restricting calories for fat loss.

Exercise, and resistance training in particular, increases the protein needs of the body,(12) and why a high-protein diet helps you build more muscle and strength.

Research suggests that the ideal protein intake for building muscle is 1.2-2.2 g of protein per Kg of Bodyweight every day.

Mistake #3 - Not doing any sort of resistance training

We learnt how building muscle is fundamental when trying to achieve a body re comp.

There are two major ways to improve your muscle mass:

-A positive daily protein balance;

-Challenging enough resistance training;

Some people might argue that you also need a positive calorie surplus but this is not true all the time as many people can successfully build muscle whilst eating at maintenance.

This is true for those people who didn’t train or eat following the right training or nutrition principles, beginners or people coming back to training from a long stop or an injury.

Also, Resistance training is the best way to maximally preserve muscle while losing fat (14).

When you say you want to “lose weight,” or ‘’tone up’’ what you really mean is you want to lose fat and build muscle.

That’s the goal, and if you’ve never touched a dumbbell before you will see quick improvements in the first year of training.

Summary: Resistance Training, a high protein diet and little to no cardio are the most effective ways to maintain and build muscle mass while losing fat, and is thus one of the best ways to not be skinny fat.

So what to do if you’re skinny fat?

Being mindful of your everyday habits-what you eat, how often you exercise-can make or break your path to wellness.

These little steps are easy and have a big impact:

-Be mindful of what you eat, you might want to start doing a food journal, track your calories, take pictures of your meals or simply ask yourself, at the end of a meal how a meal felt.

-Train with resistance training 3-6/week.

-Focus on getting stronger and progressive overload in all your exercise;

-Do some sort of cardio activity 30-90 minutes/week;

-Eat 1.6-2.2g of protein / kg of body-weight/day;

-Sleep well a minimum of 7 hours/night;

-Be more active during the day;

-Improve your recovery, explore practices like mindfulness, gratefulness or meditation technique;

-Understand properly the training and nutrition principles and implement them in your life, you will be doing this for a lot of time so have fun while you do it!

Also, read the Ultimate Body Recomposition Guide.

If you want to:

-Look and feel great with and without clothes;

-Be physically and mentally fit;

-Get your friends to turn their heads and say ''wow''

Then you might be a good fit for The Ultimate Lean Muscle Challenge, the only program that allows you to lose 5-10 kg of fat and build 2-5 kg of muscle, have more energy and more confidence.

Fill this form to Inquire about The Tight T-Shirt Transformation


1)Relative muscle mass is inversely associated with insulin resistance and prediabetes. Findings from the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey;

2) Relative muscle mass is inversely associated with insulin resistance and prediabetes. Findings from the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey;

3)Quality of Life in Sarcopenia and Frailty;

4)The Importance of Body Composition in Explaining the Overweight Paradox in Cancer;

5)Relative muscle mass is inversely associated with insulin resistance and prediabetes. Findings from the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey

6) Effects of resistance vs. aerobic training combined with an 800 calorie liquid diet on lean body mass and resting metabolic rate

7)Concurrent exercise training: do opposites distract?;

8)Performance and neuromuscular adaptations following differing ratios of concurrent strength and endurance training;

9)A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of aerobic vs. resistance exercise training on visceral fat;

10)Effects of aerobic training, resistance training, or both on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes: a randomized trial

11) Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation

12) Dietary protein to maximize resistance training: a review and examination of protein spread and change theories;

13) Higher muscle mass associated with lower mortality risk in heart disease patients

14) Resistance weight training during caloric restriction enhances lean body weight maintenance

15) Michael Matthews - Why People Are Skinny Fat (and How to Fix It);

16) Stretching and strengthening exercises: their effect on three-dimensional scapular kinematics

17)Effects of elastic band exercise on subjects with rounded shoulder posture and forward head posture

18)Effects of a Resistance and Stretching Training Program on Forward Head and Protracted Shoulder Posture in Adolescents

19) The 9 Categories of Trainee: Their Mistakes, How to Avoid Them, and What You Can Achieve When You Get Things Right (Pt. 3 of 3)

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