Life is a game of chess against a really good opponent – you never know what’s going to hit you until you make a move. As a beginner, you will look everywhere, and yet the stab will come from the least expected angle. One by one, your figures will drop on the board like dead soldiers with extracted souls until you become acquainted with the painful truth that every good thing in life is nothing but an endless struggle dressed in nice clothes.
This is exactly how I felt when the woman measuring body fat percentages in a health store dropped the number 17% on my 140lbs/63kg @ 6’1”/185cm frame infested with ectomorphism. Her words immediately dragged me into a stupor and charged my face with gloom issued by my shattered expectations.
”How is this even possible? I’m so skinny! I have to be zero percent body fat,” I asked myself, pressed play on my mp3 player and started to revisit the part of my dialogue with the universe where we’d talked about muscle leanness.
I got my answer seconds later.
”Listen lil’ homie, when it rains it pours,” said 50 Cent to whom I had given the liberty to advise me through my headphones.
A lot of years have passed since that day. The journey has been long and filled with a monstrous deal of mistakes that taught me a lot about the condition called – ”skinny-fat”. On that occasion, today, I present you 10 brutal truths about being a human in a skinny-fat shell.
1. You are not alone
Skinny-fat warriors consider themselves exclusive members of a small secret society, but a careful examination of the facts reveals the opposite – skinny-fatness is a condition as common as obesity.
A vast majority of the individuals who classify themselves as skinny are actually skinny-fat. Just go to the local mall during the summer, and you will see a ton of slender men. Very few of them will have a noticeable muscular definition. Most will be bloated skinny-fat ”brahs” who appear small not because of leanness but due to a thin frame carrying a musculature that appears to be slowly going extinct.
A vast majority of women share the same destiny – many look skinny with their clothes on, but underneath, they carry plenty of sagging jello. Why? Because the office lifestyle powered by crackers results in a weak and soft body.
2. You need to understand the major forces behind skinny-fatness
Skinny-fatness is characterized by the co-existence of underdeveloped muscles and loads of fat cells. To decode the mystery of this condition, one has to examine the causes behind each state.
What is the reason for poor muscular development?
Unfavorable genes for muscle construction, insufficient nutrient intake and lack of resistance training.
The genes that matter the most when it comes to muscle mass are frame [bone thickness], muscle length [long muscles have a higher potential for growth] and hormonal profile [testosterone is king].
If you have a huge frame, long muscles and high testosterone levels, it is virtually impossible to be skinny-fat. You can be fat, but you will definitely carry some muscle mass underneath.
For better or worse, we do not have control over our genes. The only thing we seemingly navigate is our training and nutrition.
What is the reason for carrying extra fat?
Illness aside, the ultimate creator of human fatness in this world is the consumption of too many calories coming from both – good and bad sources. However, high caloric consumption is not always observed among skinny-fat individuals. Many warriors from the skinny-fat legion consume ”enough” or even low calories, but since the chosen foods are completely deprived of protein, bad things happen to the body composition. When the pillars of your nutritional policy are ice-cream, waffles, rice and bread, the organism will suffer from protein deficiency hurting severely your muscle mass.
When I was a skater, my daily energy intake was around 1000-1200 calories a day coming from waffles, pizzas and one good meal at home. Looking back, it’s extremely not surprising that I was a skinny-fat ”brah” of the highest order.
Nonetheless, your body chemistry and other genes still play a major role in your fat storing capabilities. Two men can indulge in similar nutritional whirlpools and yet have different body compositions.
The fastest way to become a skinny-fat soldier is to adopt the gamer lifestyle. If you spend 12-14 hours a day in front of a computer and limit your physical activity to mouse clicking, keyboard smashing and screaming at your mom to get out of the room while building a nutritional strategy around Coca-Cola and potato chips, a metamorphosis into a skinny-fat human is inevitable. Even the guy with the greatest genetics on Earth will eventually become skinny-fat if this lifestyle remains unhindered for a long time.
Conclusion: Most skinny fat people have poor to average genetics for muscle construction, consume too little protein and don’t do resistance training.
3. Bulking is the worst thing that a classic skinny-fatso can do
As you already know, I was part of the skinny-fat army. When I started lifting heavy things in the gym, I was around 143lbs/65kg and far from shredded. This was the time when Mr. Rippetoe and his crew hijacked the online fitness community and activated the world’s glutes by making millions of people low bar squat. I was one of those people.
Since I was a skinny boy, the community advised me to ”eat like a real man”. I’ve read articles in which Rippetoe states explicitly that a man needs 5k-7k calories to get ”big & strong”.
In addition, the army of ”real men” part of the so-called 70s Big crew advised everyone over 6’/183cm to weigh at least 200lbs/91kg. They had the following slogan – ”Adult Males > 200lbs”
I never reached 5k calories. I hovered around 3.5k, and yet I kept on gaining 1kg/2.2lbs a week for months until I was 195lbs/88kg. I went to the same health store I told you about to measure my body fat. It came at about 23.8%. Honestly, I felt fatter – more like 25-27%.
Can you imagine that? I killed myself in the gym for 6 months so that ¼ of me can be jello. A very small portion of the extra mass was muscle. Most was fat, water and glycogen. The ironic part was that my foods were healthy. During that period, I never ate processed sugar and forgot how chocolate tastes. I focused on milk, meat, eggs, cheese and bananas.
It took me 3-4 months to undo the damage and melt down to about 160lbs/73kg. The day when I was skinny and ”weak” again was one of the happiest days of my life. I couldn’t care less about my squat, bench or deadlift. I simply felt better, and that was all that mattered.
On the grounds of my experience, I advise all true skinny-fat warriors to ignore the bulking advice infesting the Cyberspace. The end result is never a big muscular guy but a bigger skinny-fat guy.
Why? Because past a certain point every extra calorie, no matter the source, is stored as fat.
And when you are already fat, you become fatter.
4. In most cases, body recomposition is nothing but a crafted illusion
In theory, body recomposition is the medicine that the skinny-fat patient needs. It’s supposed to melt your fat and build your muscles until Instagram finally starts loving you. The only problem is that this never happens to the extent presented by the media.
There are four situations when you can gain muscle and lose fat at the same time.
1. If you are really fat
When you are a human swine, your fat cells become more resistant to further caloric storage due to systemic insulin resistance [a condition in which the cells fail to respond normally to the hormone insulin responsible for the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and protein.]
In that specific situation, fat loss accompanied by muscle gains could become a reality because the system already has an enormous amount of calories to support not only its current existence but future upgrades too.
But once you become somewhat lean, the body is very reluctant to do the same thing because the goal of the human organism is to survive. Your body doesn’t know that there’s a supermarket down the road where you will go as soon as you get shredded. Therefore, it is illogical for the system to add muscle when the supplies of nutrients are limited. Would you buy another property if you have no money to cover its expenses?
2. If you are a beginner
Newbies gain muscle faster than intermediate and advanced individuals, for they are untrained and relatively far from their full potential. If a beginner is eating calories around his maintenance levels, he/she can expect muscle gains and fat loss at the same time, albeit not to a large degree.
3. If you are returning from a layoff
Doing something for the first time is usually harder than repeating it. Exploring new territory requires more effort and time than returning to a previously experienced situation. As a consequence, people who are getting back in shape seem to ”recomposition”.
4. If you are on steroids
Hormones are the true Kings of Muscle Growth, for they hold the keys to MPS [muscle protein synthesis]. When there’s an exuberance of testosterone in your system, you will gain muscle mass without even training.
The anabolic prowess of steroids is so strong that growth can happen even on a diet.
Note: You can expect some body recomposition if you are a skinny-fat beginner just starting out, but it will only happen if you are consuming calories hovering around your daily needs. If you decide to bulk like I did, you will simply become fat like I did. If you decide to starve brutally, you will lose fat but also limit your strength and muscle gains past the beginning stage.
5. Most skinny fat people should cut first
To cut or to bulk – that is the question inhabiting the minds of skinny-fat warriors. I personally think that cutting is the better option for several reasons.
1. High body fat comes with extra estrogen and decreased testosterone
The fat cells produce an enzyme called aromatase which converts testosterone into estrogen. More estrogen slows down testosterone production and makes you an emo boy.
In short, when you are on the fat side, your estrogen is having a party whereas your testosterone sits in the corner like a depressed panda, for you have chosen curves over hardness.
Important: Dieting will decrease your testosterone too, but it should recover once you start eating at maintenance. Also, going below 10% body fat wreaks your testosterone levels and is not recommended unless you are ultra-lean naturally, which skinny-fat people aren’t. Forget about cutting to the single digits. It’s not healthy.
2. Having a fat belly is annoying
Carrying extra jello helped me move heavy barbells, but I was miserable during the rest of the time. I had a 36-inch/90cm waistline that I hated more than I loved my miserable PRs even though it took me a long time to admit it.
3. Cutting is the fastest way to improve your aesthetics
As a natural, the shortest road to better aesthetics is to lose fat and reveal your abs.
4. If you bulk first and cut later, the journey will be longer.
Every gram of extra fat that you gain will have to be shredded eventually unless you want to remain a permanent citizen of Fatsoland. By bulking first, you will increase the length of a subsequent cut. Why not just do a smaller cut first and follow it with a light bulking phase later? You will save yourself a lot of time and avoid unnecessary weight shifts.
Here’s how it happened for me. When I started lifting barbells, I gained a little over 45lbs/20kg in 4-5 months. I believe that 10lbs/4.5kg were lean body mass, but obviously, I can’t know for sure. The rest 35lbs/15.9kg were jello. Eventually, I lost about 39lbs/18kg in 3-4 months.
In short, the whole journey took about 8-9 months, and I didn’t gain more than a few kilos of muscle. Cutting first for 6-8 weeks and then eating slightly over maintenance could have produced similar gains in a shorter period (5-6 months) without the extra stress from forced bulking and longer cutting.
I am afraid that if I cut I will become too small and my lifts will suffer. That’s why I don’t want to cut! I don’t want to look like Christian Bale in the Machinist!
I am not going to lie. You will be very small, and your barbell lifts will take a nosedive. We all know that jello helps with squatting and benching heavier weights. But many people are missing the bigger picture. If you bulk like I did, you will simply transform into a skinny-fatter boy. If you cut today, you will get lean much faster and finally get rid of the fat cells covering your abs. It is easier to lose 15lbs/7kg now than to lose 39lbs/18kg later. Most skinny-fat people won’t need more than 3 months to get cut. Besides, I am not talking about reaching the single digits. 10-12% body fat is the perfect body fat percentage for males.
And by the way, if your diet has a sufficient amount of protein, and you keep lifting with high intensity, you won’t lose precious muscle mass.
Don’t worry about looking like Christian Bale in the Machinist. To get there, he starved for months. His diet was either a can of tuna or an apple a day. As a result, he lost both – lean muscle tissue and fat. Obviously, following his example is rather foolish.
I am sorry, but you have to make yourself a little uncomfortable. As the scholars say – things are going to get worse before they get better. I guess the goal is to choose the smaller ”worse”. Suffer today, be happy later. Christian Bale’s cut was a sacrifice. You need to make a sacrifice too.
You can lose a ton of weight in 3 months in a very healthy manner. Moreover, if you are a beginner, you can expect modest muscle gains as long as your caloric deficit is not too high, and your diet contains a sufficient amount protein.
Should I do a low carb/high fat or low fat/high carb diet?
As long as the overall quantity of calories and protein in a diet is identical, you will not notice a huge difference from playing with your carbs and fats. Nonetheless, if you decide to go with a higher carb content, make sure that your diet still includes a decent amount of fats because otherwise your testosterone will drop too much while you are dieting. Fats are essential for hormone production.
People who cut aggressively without a sufficient amount of fats in their system experience significant testosterone drops. On the grounds of this, many nutritional experts recommend diet breaks and ”refeeds”.
Should I do a lean bulk after my cut is over?
Yes. Just hover around your maintenance calories and train hard. To figure out the number, multiply your weight in pounds by 14-15 or your weight in kilos by 30-33. If you weigh, 140lbs/63.5kg, you will need about 2k calories to maintain your bodyweight if you are active.
Some people say that anyone can gain fat and lose muscle at the same time. They liars?
Of course, they are liars. Gaining muscle and losing fat is largely an illusion unless you are in one of the categories described above.
Moreover, I am definitely not a fan of trying to walk in two directions at the same time, which is what losing fat while gaining muscle represent. I have been alive long enough to know that the only way to succeed is to focus fully on one goal.
6. Be Careful When You Play with the Big Three [squat, bench, dead]
Many warriors wrongfully assume that the squat, bench and deadlift, give a free pass to eat whatever you want because the testosterone and growth hormone released during those extraterrestrial exercises fixes all bugs in the system. Obviously, a relatively sane brain will quickly realize that this is not true.
People who get stuck in the squat and deadlift heavy mentality often transform into one-dimensional athletes who sacrifice everything in the name of higher numbers. Barbell addiction could be one of the worst things that could happen to a skinny-fat boy because you will never lift heavy weights unless you are heavy yourself. To remain heavy, the skinny-fat warriors overeat and lie to themselves that they are lean.
If you want to fix skinny-fatness, put your ego aside, lose the fat and remain light at the expense of extra plates on the barbell. Ultimately, you have to decide what’s worth more – comfort during the hours you don’t lift or ego masturbation in the gym.
7. Skinny-fat ectomorphs weigh less than expected
Skinny-fat ectomorphs do not have a thick bone structure. When I wear a watch, I have to reduce the band to the lowest possible setting. Due to the lack of thick bones, ectos like me weigh a lot less than people expect. For the same reason, we look skinnier and weaker than we actually are.
8. Milk is The Worst Food for Skinny Fat Soldiers
The day GOMAD [a gallon of milk a day] became a relevant bulking strategy the Gods of Aesthetics gave up on humanity.
Everybody wants to make milk look like the ultimate food for muscle construction. ”It contains IGF-1.” ”It makes baby mammals grow.” ”It comes with a lot of protein and healthy fats.” ”It’s convenient.”
How about NO?
Milk is filled with hormones [estrogen] and in large quantities wreaks most people’s insides. And what’s convenient about milk or GOMAD? The fact that you have to chain yourself to the bathroom?
I have never done full GOMAD. I tried drinking 2 liters a day, but luckily, I had enough brain cells to discontinue this crime against my body relatively quickly. If you want to get fat and earn a pair of nice, juicy moobs, be my guest, sir. Drink your milk.
Note: You can add soy, soybeans, tofu, soy milk, peas, beans, dried fruits and other foods packed with estrogen to the list.
9. Genetically gifted people are unaware of the skinny-fat reality
When you are a skinny-fat humanoid, the so-called genetic marvels will look down on you and spam you with useless advice. You can think of those guys as trust fund kids teaching a small business owner how to manage his struggling company. Never take advice from people unfamiliar with the skinny-fat syndrome. Most of them are simply men with good genetics and/or steroid abusers filling your head with delusions.
10. Long Duration, Low-intensity Cardio Is the Worst
Long duration, low-intensity cardio is something that skinny-fat people excel at, but it’s also an activity solidifying their miserable condition. One of the worst things that you can do as a skinny-fat boy is run long distances. Marathons hate muscles mass and increase the hormone cortisol of which skinny-fat men already have enough.
If you want to do cardio focus on high intensity [e.g., sprints and kettlebell swings]. This type of cardio preserves and even builds muscle mass. Also, don’t forget that you don’t need cardio at all to unskinny-fat yourself. The two key components of the cure are dieting and resistance training.
Understand that what you are doing is part of a process
Many skinny-fat people stay where they are because they don’t want to face the truth and remain delusional. I was the exact same way. This is why I bulked…hard. I brainwashed myself and heard only the words I wanted to hear.
When my family members started to point out that I am amplifying in the bad sense of the word, I felt offended.
”How dare they call me fat? Where were they when ‘deadlift’ blood was running down my legs? Where were they when I was fighting hard during my last set of squats? Where were they when I was involuntarily importing all kinds of nutrients into my body? I’ll tell you where they were – in front of the TV,” I used to say to myself in my rage.
The truth, however, is that the people around you easily see things that neither you nor the mirror can see.
Does this mean that you should always listen to their advice? Of course, not. You should listen only to the truth regardless of its source. It just happens that the people on the street have an easier time detecting your flaws than you do.
When I committed to unskinny-fatting myself, I re-transformed into a skinny bitch. My family made sure I knew. I recognized the truthfulness in their words but didn’t feel as bad as before because there was no other road for me at the time. Ironically, being as skinny as a rail again didn’t suck. I felt liberated, to be perfectly honest.
People need to understand that getting better is a process that involves different stages. Very rarely a solution consists of one step. We want to slice our problems in one motion, but we can’t.
P.S. Potential: How Big Can You Get Naturally is out.
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