How to Train When You’re “Skinny-Fat”

Here is an email I got from a reader regarding how to train for someone who is “skinny-fat”:

Dear John Doe, I have bought and read some parts of your book yet have I found information regarding diet and training program for skinny-fat body type. I am basically a skinny (lacking muscle) 19 y.o man but I have high body fat percentage which are shown from the excess fat in my belly area, chest, waist, and bottom area. I would really appreciate it if you spare some time to talk about this topic.

Being skinny is your genetic makeup and the fat part is lack of activity and/or poor diet. So “skinny-fat” in all reality is an ectomorph body-type and the good news is this; once you change your metabolic rate through weight training and diet, you'll turn it around relatively quick!!

Muscle is a fat metabolizer.

A more muscular person will burn fat at a faster rate, even in a resting state. Your body will become a furnace and start burning through whatever you put in it!!

So the approach someone who is skinny-fat needs to take is to focus on building muscle. There is no reason to start dieting down when you're skinny as hell to begin with. Focus on eating healthy but eating enough to gain muscle and I promise you that your physique will start turning around.

There isn't any specific recipe I would give someone who is skinny-fat.

I would keep it at the 80/20 rule and eat 80% clean and 20% more freely.

You may be skinny-fat because you HAVE NOT eaten enough and you've eaten at the wrong times. Your body is probably storing everything it can as fat because it thinks you're starving, but your genetic structure hasn't been altered enough to appear any different than a skinny guy who is gaining body fat. Weight training can change that, and eating a few more meals/day will prove to be beneficial.

A frequent feeding plan is what I'd give someone who is skinny-fat.

I would not start them off on something like intermittent fasting or dropping their carbs. The diet would be plentiful in food and the activity level would be high in their routine. I'd probably put 20-30 min of cardio per session in there 2-3x/wk directly after weight training.

Being skinny-fat is more about activity level and packing on muscle than it is about dieting super tight 24/7.

I met with a guy a couple nights ago who is about 180 lbs and more on the thin side. He eats very clean and he is around 11-12% body fat, if I had to guess. He wants to compete in a bodybuilding contest and knows nothing about dieting. I asked him to send me over an example of a typical day of eating.

This is what he sent me;

Breakfast – 1 cup of oatmeal, 3 whole eggs, chicken thigh

Snack – cashews (and sometimes a protein shake)

Lunch – veggies, chicken, and sweet potato

Dinner – chicken/veggies

I eat a couple boiled eggs here and there if I get hungry.

Well I commend this guy for eating clean, it's simply not nearly enough food for someone who is trying to build muscle, and probably not enough food for a lot of guys trying to diet. When you break this diet down you're looking at about 1700-1800 calories a day.

Now, if you think you're skinny-fat, take a look at your diet. This is someone who is eating clean but simply not eating enough. My guess is there are a lot of “skinny-fat” guys out there eating half this amount and not eating as clean.

Therefore, their bodies are in starvation mode and this is where the “skinny-fat” look comes from.

Now this guy above has a routine that is regimented, so at least he is doing that much. He does not look bad, and he does plan to compete in a few months.

How many skinny-fat guys out there are eating in a way that is not regimented? So one day he hits 2,000 calories/day, the next day it's 1,600, the next day he eats pizza and may hit 3,000, then he only eats 1,000 calories the next day because he is full from pizza (not to mention his metabolic rate is slower than a snail).

What you think is “skinny-fat” is a need for a swift kick in the metabolic ass by changing up your eating regimen and hitting the weights harder.

The two go hand-in-hand. When both pieces of the puzzle come together then results begin to happen. When only one piece is there, results do not happen!!

An increased food intake along with meal frequency will give more fuel for the gym, and more muscle gained means more fat burned at a resting rate!! So they both work together.

I do not categorize someone who is skinny-fat as someone who needs to deplete and start dropping things from the diet. I would add more to the diet. Below is an example of something I would suggest for a “skinny-fat” person;

meal 1 – (upon awakening) 4 whole eggs, 1 cup oats, 1 cup skim milk

meal 2 – 6 oz chicken, steak, or fish, 1 cup rice

meal 3 – protein shake in water, piece of fruit, 2 handfuls of mixed nuts

meal 4 – 6-8 oz chicken, steak, or fish, 1 cup rice, salad with dressing of your choice

meal 5 – 1 cup of oats, 3-4 slices of pineapple, 2 handfuls mixed nuts

That diet is a good starting point for you. I'd also suggest totally ignoring the scale for a couple months. The scale could do anything the first few weeks. It may drop 10 pounds or it may go up 10 lbs.

Don't be afraid of a weight jump while you're doing this.

You are throwing a curve ball at your metabolism and it may take a few weeks to get accustomed to it. It doesn't mean it's not effective, but sometimes it takes time.

This is like when I start a diet. When I start dieting, the first thing that happens is I gain a few lbs. the first few days. I suppose it's because everything is more regimented, but I know that I'm getting leaner.

You want a look that is healthy and a total body recomp here, not make yourself more skinny-fat!!!

I would throw in a couple cheat meals/wk if you needed to and I wouldn't worry about it. As you get larger and more muscular, your bodyfat is going to change.

At the very minimum, your bf% will stay the same when the muscle:fat ratio changes, but will look different on your frame. What I mean by this is the way 12% body fat would look between someone who is 150 lbs and someone who is 200 lbs. The larger individual is going to look leaner even with the same body fat level. But chances are, your bf% is going to go down along with the increase in size of your muscles.

I hope this has helped answer some of your question on dieting for thin people who have a higher level of body fat than average. This can be confusing at times and you need to be careful on who you listen to.

A lot of inexperienced people would assume tell you to diet your ass off on nothing until your stomach goes away, but I say go the route of eating plentiful but keeping it mostly clean. The nit-picky diet for shredding up and getting that perfect 6 pack will come in due time.

But right now, I would stay away from restrictive diets or diets like intermittent fasting. Don't be fooled, you need energy for the gym.

Once those muscles start popping, watch that fat start dropping!!!

-John Doe

PS – Be sure to check out The Best Supplement Stack For a “Skinny-Fat” Guy

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70 thoughts on “How to Train When You’re “Skinny-Fat””

  1. Dude this is kickass. Most helpful fitness article I’ve read this year without a doubt. I’ve only read a couple of your articles so far but they’ve all been either really informative or just cool to listen to. I’m glad I found your site.

    Reply
    • Very kickass. Solid advice here. This article alone just sold me on this site. John Doe, I’m a faithful supporter now. #PATPARKFITNESS

      Reply
  2. Thanks for the article. I just have a question. I am currently 21 years old and about 6 ft, 165 lbs, around 20% bf (I can feel some abs but they don’t show – skinny fat). I started lifting for about a year before I got a wrist injury and I will be going back to the gym within the next month after taking almost a year off. (Wasn’t really an injury but didn’t get a proper diagnosis until now so didn’t want to risk it).

    I read this article: http://strongsupplements.com/bad-guys-dont-get-fat/?mc_cid=b679cc296a&mc_eid=09183e6fca

    I am just wondering if I should diet down first so that I can see my abs or to continue bulking to about 180-190 before dieting the fat. My diet right now is pretty clean with mostly protein and good fats, along with some carbs and I am eating at maintenance to below maintenance (around 1900 calories) just to not get fat as I wait to return to lifting.

    Also, just so to make sure I am calculating the diet you gave for skinny fat people correctly, it should have around 2100-2300 calories, correct?

    Thanks again for all the articles you write for new lifters.

    Reply
    • You are 6′ tall and 165 lbs now at 20% bodyfat. You have nothing to diet with unless you want to waste away. You need something to work with and you cannot “tone” muscles that you don’t have. Hell no man, definitely don’t diet down yet. Build, build, build, then cut down once you have a spare 20-30 lbs to play with. On the total caloric intake, I’ll have to go look at that again, really didn’t count them. But it’s a starting point for sure. Everyone has a different metabolism, so some may need to adjust up or down a few hundred calories to begin with. This is simply a diet template

      Reply
  3. Hey john,

    I got a little confused and i have a question regarding the “eating” plan that a skinny fat guy should follow.

    Should he be in caloric surplus, caloric deficit or eat at maintenance level?

    If he eats on surplus isn’t he going to gain more fat in the process (except the added muscle) ?

    I guess that he should eat at maintenance or a little lower with enough protein to maintain and promote muscle growth.

    Or do you think that calories are irrelevant?

    kind regards,
    Damian

    Reply
    • Calories should be in excess and focus should be on growing first. The muscle mass alone and cranked up metabolism should be able to readjust the metabolic rate. Therefore, where he once got fatter on 2,000 calories a day, now he gets leaner on 2,500-3,000/day. You see what I mean here? Once the metabolic rate gets amped up, his maintenance level changes from what it was

      Reply
  4. Hi John,

    First up, im a big fan and keep the kick-ass work!!!

    I’m 220 lbs, 14% bf @ 6ft 2 and 21 years old.

    I started training 6 years ago at 146 lbs, did a cycle here and there.

    I always ate instinctively depending on goals and mindset! (mostly high protein and fat meals) I really suck at following diets. It really gets boring at times…

    My question is, do you think I should follow any type of diet? As I still want to gain and get lean. Competition is next year…

    Thanks again!

    Reply
    • At your height you need to come in over 200 lbs lean to look good, so my advice is to try to get your mass up around 240 lbs before cutting. At 6’2″ and 14% bf you are carrying appr. 30 lbs of bodyfat. So at 0% bodyfat you would be 190 lbs, but we know that nobody is walking around at no bodyfat. HOWEVER, I’d put you at 190 lbs right now if you were to diet down since there is SOME muscle loss in the equation. A 240 lb frame would give you enough to work with to come into a show in the low 200’s and kick ass

      Reply
  5. Great post. I am about the same proportions as the guy you listed in the example, except I’m 39 years old. How I have built up a significant amount of relative strength over the last 9 years of training, but prob would venture to say I look skinny in clothes. I do quite a bit of cardio, 3-4 hard sessions a week. Along w increasing meal frequency and calories, which program from your book would you recommend for me? Thanks.

    Reply
    • I would lean towards the JDB power routine, then worry about a fine tuned cutting diet/regimen after you’ve on enough significant mass to work with

      Reply
  6. Great advice. Isn’t it true that when you have a high BF% more of your surplus calories go to fat storage rather than muscle growth? I often see skinny fat guys losing five pounds of fat, then gaining five pounds of muscle, repeating this until they have “recomped” enough to be lean at like 160 pounds (while they were once fat at this weight) so they can bulk properly without looking like shit afterwards.

    Reply
  7. This is a great article. I knew the intermitin fasting was causing me to gain fat. I had just figured that out recently because my body was storing the fat cuz it didn’t know when it would eat again. And for sure more muscle less fat. I would assume the workout featured in your book with cardio everyday is the cure. Great quality info as always !

    Reply
  8. Hi john doe I bought your book its great can you put a topic in for the guy that works around sixteen hours a day and still hits gym for an hour and a half and sleeps around four im 32 i weight Around 225 17% bodyfat midsection is pudgy how should I eat to flatten

    Reply
    • This will be a future article very soon. Great suggestion and I got you covered, just give me a few days. Thanks

      Reply
  9. Hey John.
    I’ve been dieting for about 3 months now and I’ve decreased my weight from about ~220 lbs to 183 lbs. I’m 5’11 and was a former fatty fuck.
    I’ve been eating IF and high protein/fat/low-no carbs, and I’ve been increasing my strength in the gym, but I don’t think I’ve been eating enough food to facilitate muscle growth and continue my fat loss (until I’m lean enough to see 4 abs like Victor says).
    I used to eat twice a day, but with school in the way, I’ve only been eating once a day. At most, I’d say I get lucky when I eat 1,200 – 1,600 calories a day, and maybe a little north of 2,000 calories on occasion.
    Should I start packing some lunch and weighing meat to figure out how many calories I’m eating and hit a certain calorie goal each day?
    I eat twice a day on the weekends but during the week I never eat more than once.
    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Surely you can eat breakfast before classes right? And I highly doubt classes run back to back to back all day long until bedtime. I think if you tried hard enough, you could manage at least breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Don’t worry about weighing food at this point, just try to increase meal frequency a little more. Congrats on your progress, but know that it won’t come off as easy as the first 40 lbs, and eventually starving won’t help

      Reply
  10. Hey John,

    I just started the “Anabolic diet” from your book.

    1.5 cup of brown rice equals to how many in grams?

    I’m confused.

    Thanks for all that information

    Reply
  11. I definitely think going the recomp route is the right way to go for someone who’s skinnyfat. If they just diet, they end up looking like a skeleton, and if they “bulk” they end up with some muscle but even fatter than before (probably mostly fatter since they’re usually inexperienced with lifting and controlling their diet). Skinnyfat guys are basically the ideal candidates for some sort of body recomposition program. And yes, when you are a noob, you CAN gain muscle and lose fat at the same time, contrary to many popular broscientific journals.

    Reply
  12. Very good advice here in this article!

    Build as much muscle as you can and you will see more fat being burned right off of the body.

    More muscle and clean eating is the surest thing to fat loss.

    Great article!

    -Samuel Pustea

    Reply
  13. Hi John, I like your no nonsense advice and articles.I would be grateful if you spare some time to reply me. I’m 6″1′ tall,85 kg, have some muscles, pretty broad 45″ chest, waist 38, active lifestyle and some random exercises, feel fit but no hardcore gymming. I eat 3 times a day mostly boil eggs, roast meat, cooked lentils and veggies and soups, I have maintained my weight for years now but not able to melt off some extra fat on sides. I’m confused what body type i belong as i am ceartainly not skinny neither can be labelled as extra fat.I look good with my shirts on or even on vests. It will be kind of you if you can suggest about the diet and frequency of eating which would be best suitable for me based on the above information. Thanks a lot.

    Reply
  14. I am 43 years old, 5ft 5 inches and 140 lbs with a 32 inch waist. Yes, I am skinny-fat. I recently went back to the gym and confused as to what to do. Should I concentrate more on cardio or weights? I keep reading about how skinny-fat guys should lean down to a solid base first (with diet and exercise) then build up slowly from there. Then I read that skinny-fat guys should not diet but actually eat more, and lift more, letting the muscle burn the fat and increasing metabolism.
    I am also thinking of doing more cardio because I find that I get winded easily, walking up stairs for example. I don’t particularly enjoy cardio but I may be forced to do it.
    Some advise please.
    Thanks!

    Reply
    • I’d incorporate more weights, and do cardio but in short HIT sessions. 20-30 min of stairclimber, wind sprints, etc etc. Keep it brief but hard, but don’t live to do cardio. 2-3x/wk would be a good start, but focus should be more on building muscle through weights and eating clean but plentiful

      Reply
  15. Ok john, so you didn’t reply me, but you reply a querry after me, nice, you think my question doesn’t make any sense, right.I know it is a bodybuilding site, but I overrated you ,I thought you can understand the intent. Your sense or attitude or whatever is not welcome, it doesn’t affect you but you have lost one member or potential client forever.no thanks

    Reply
  16. Hey man, awesome website, thanks for all the useful info!!

    I got a question: I’m 5ft 7, 165 lbs and I’ve been working out for the last couple months, but never being serious about it. However, I’m ready to focus on the gym to become more muscular and cut now, but I’m not sure if I’m skinny-fat or just plain fat!! So i’d really like to know: What would you recommend me to do? Follow this diet or go a little slower on the calories? Thanks in advance!!

    Reply
    • I would say that since you “Are ready to focus on becoming more muscular and cut now” that your focus hasn’t been as good in the past up until now. Therefore, I would follow the eating regimen I have laid out as a starting point and I think that you’ll create a more metabolic environment and lose fat now that your activity level has increased as well as your metabolism.

      Reply
      • Hey man, thanks for the quick reply, really appreciate!

        Ok, I’ll start following your sample diet and see what happens! Thanks again!

        Reply
  17. this is a great article john I really love the site full of useful and actionable info
    for the past 6-7 months I’ve been so focused on getting lean that my strength progression has not been good
    i used to only train 3-4 times a week, but I just made a new routine that I will use 5 days a week.
    im a little worried about my metabolic environment but i will throw the scale out and ask you give me a ballpark figure of what my calories need to be for this program i am 5’11 and 190 lb at the moment

    Monday
    Squat
    Bench Press
    Close Grip Bench Press
    Dumbbell Curls

    Tuesday
    Bent Over Barbell Rows
    Overhead Press
    Side Lateral Raises
    Dumbbell Flyes

    Wednesday
    Squat
    Bench Press
    Close Grip Bench Press
    Dumbbell Curls

    Thursday
    Deadlift
    Bent Over Barbell Rows
    Overhead Press
    Side Lateral Raises

    Friday
    Squat
    Bench Press
    Close Grip Bench Press
    Dumbbell Curls
    Dumbbell Flyes

    Sat & Sun Rest

    it’s squat centric. oh btw whats your advice on breaking plateaus? thanks john!

    Reply
    • For most guys of average bodyfat at your stats, they will need a period of 4,000 consistent calories per day for a given time frame such as 8-12 weeks. As for breaking plateaus, the first thing I look at is food intake, from that point I look at training volume. I will increase food, if that doesn’t work I will decrease volume and increase rest phases.

      Reply
  18. Hey John,
    I’m 5’2 125 pounds male with around 16% body fat. I got it measured by a device at the gym, I know those are not 100% accurate but it is something. Due to my short statute, 16% looks bigger on me than other guys. My body looks more like 25% body fat. At one point I was 11% body fat and I did not look lean at all. Should I still follow the advice above or follow a different plan?

    Reply
  19. Hey John i am skinny-fat guy and i have bought becoming the bull. I read your article and i have these 3 questions.

    1) How can i increase my testosterone levels and improve insulin sensivity naturally?
    2) A sf could follow your bull workout and nutrition plan?
    3) Which supplements do you suggest for a skinny-fat in terms of bulking? Anfuse/Osta-shred combination could help a sf to increase his mass tremendously without use steroids?

    Regards

    Reply
      • you’ll naturally increase ur test levels by training and eating healthy to begin with

        Absolutely follow my workouts and nutrition plan, and it will work

        Yes, Anafuse and Osta shred will definitely help put on size, but hard and lean gains.

        Sorry for my delay n response

        Reply
  20. Hey John,

    I bought your book on the back of this article! – Great work.

    Couple of quick questions :
    1. Which would be your post workout meal?
    2. When should you have your final meal? – just before sleep or a few hours before? For referance I am usually up 6am-11pm.

    Thanks!
    – John

    Reply
    • My post workout meal could be anything from a 50 gram whey protein shake and some oats, to a 10oz steak and a potato. The biggest thing you want to understand here, is what you’re looking for is a protein source and carb source. Post workout really isn’t a great time to take in a bunch of fat (minus trace amounts in a lean steak on occasion). But yea, there really is no perfect meal, there is no such thing as perfect eating.

      As for the final meal of the day, I eat before bed all of the time. The whole eating before bed thing is a crock of shit. It just depends on what….Most people don’t eat things like lean chicken and almonds, so in this case a bowl of spaghetti before bed…yea that would be bad. But protein and a healthy fat source is fine. I actually used to even eat a bowl of oatmeal at night within an hour of sleep, never hurt me and did it training for bodybuilding events. At the end of the day all it is is calories in vs. calories out. Half of what you read is bullshit, it’s geared towards regular people who are inactive, not guys like us who are in the gym. Good luck!!

      Reply
  21. Hi john doe..first of all i would like to say that i like your website & advices and have been following them for quite a while..i have been training for over an year,but the result is i am developing more strength than muscle mass..my weights in bench press or any other exercises are increasing but there is no gain in muscle..in fact I look rather fat with VERY LITTLE muscle (and my hands are like spaghetti) ..and i consume around 4 meals a day..any suggestion from u??
    thanks in advance..

    Reply
    • there could be any number of factors involved here, and a simple answer in a comment box will hold no justice. I would suggest emailing me directly for further guidance. Thanks

      Reply
  22. Hello Jhon , i am new here. I was 215 lbs and I dropped my weight to 147 lbs and found my self skinny fat type coz my body is still loose and with more fat i think with lil muscles. So please let me know what should i do bulk or drop more weight till my abs are visible. My height is 178 cm and should I follow the diet plan u have mentioned above.

    Reply
  23. John,

    In meal 5 is it ok to eat carbs that late in the day or before bed? ive heard not after 8pm? does it matter? oatmeal and pineapple has a fair amount of carbs….is that ok before bed?

    Reply
  24. Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Many thanks, However I
    am encountering difficulties with your RSS. I don’t understand the
    reason why I can’t join it. Is there anyone else getting the same RSS problems?
    Anyone that knows the answer can you kindly respond?

    Thanx!!

    Reply
  25. I’m 270lbs but im 6 6. I have always been skinny but my shoulders look broad and i can see a little of the top of my abs but have body fat at the bottom and lower chest and lower back. Some say im a big guy but really im skinny fat. I want to know how to eat and train to get lean, build more muscle and lose this body fat.

    Reply
  26. Also can u give me a good book to read and supplements to take. I work 4 days a week 10 hour shifts so i have 3 days i can train and access to a gym. I just want to look great and not skinny fat.

    Reply
  27. Hey there!

    Great read! DEAD ON! I’M A 5’10 female…small boned….have dieted down to a ” cool” 150 pounds of skinny fatness from about 180 using low cal, IF etc but STILL have a gut and rolls of flab that no one knows about. And yes, I’ve been lifting free heavy weights. I am stronger and have built some muscle but don’t look it! I’m stuck at 150 # and people are starting to ask me where my a## went….so I decided to do something scary and eat to appetite (loosely following a plan but sometimes eating upwards of 2600 calories), eat more times per day and especially peri workout, with more protein and continuing to lift. I’ve done for the last 30 days and have noticed: 1) more energy to lift 2) look more “filled out” 3) arms looking more defined 4) and the kicker: I’ve LOST 1/2 pound!!

    So to all skinny fat women….get to a manageable body fat (I’m probably 25-28% now) level but forget about seeing “abs”…get off that 1200-1400 starvation diet…..EAT halfway decently…..move really heavy things around with enough recovery days and watch what happens! Thanks John Doe!! :)

    Reply

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