One of the biggest mistakes skinny-fay guys make when trying to lose fat (or when trying to “cut,” if that’s the lingo you’re privy to) makes so little sense that you’re going to have to read it twice. Kind of like this paragraph you’re reading now.
One of the biggest mistakes skinny-fat guys make when trying to lose fat focusing too much on fat loss.
Did you read it twice? Still confused? Hopefully you are and compelled enough to continue reading. Not because your continued reading is important to my fragile psyche, but, rather, because, I’m not lying.
(This is Part 2 in a series of articles. You can read Part 1 here.)
Skinny-fat guy wants to lose fat. Skinny-fat guy does the logical thing: finds activities that burn fat the most.
It doesn’t take a long time before skinny-fat figures out that aerobic exercise uses fat for fuel. (I talked about the aerobic system a bit deeper in this (hopefully) mildly coherent thing here, so if you have your mining helmet on feel free to lower yourself down. I can’t guarantee a safe trip.)
Upper heart rate range for aerobic exercise typically falls within 120-140 beats per minute, pending your aerobic fitness. I’m out of aerobic shape to the point where my top end aerobic range is probably 84 beats per minute, which is (probably) only two beats higher than my terribly out of shape resting heart rate.
Skinny-fat dude is doing this aerobic junk to lose fat. I’m compelled to call this aerobic junk “cardio,” but that word smells worse than “tone,” meaning I’ll have to jam toothpicks into my nose to protect my senses.
Unless you’re an aerobic athlete, you can probably reach the top end of your range by jogging at a slow pace. Aerobic activity can be maintained for long time. So if you’re ever feeling the burn or using a pace you can’t maintain for a long time, you’re inching beyond your aerobic threshold.
Once you go beyond your aerobic threshold, you’re in the anaerobic energy bracket, meaning you’re no longer using fat for fuel. No bueno for skinny-fat dude that’s all about burning fat.
The first thing for skinny-fat dude to know at this point: you can do cardio for centuries, but if you’re eating too much food, you aren’t going to lose fat.
You might have to dip into your savings account for extra cash on Monday, but this momentary dip in funds will be negated when you get a cash bonus at work on Tuesday. Body composition is about trends, not fads.
But I’m going to assume skinny-fat dude has his food situation under control. If he doesn’t, he’ll buy Big Win Fat Loss. He’s not eating enough to get fat. He’s not eating so little that he’s putting his metabolism into a coma. All of this aerobic junk puts skinny-fat dude on the fast path towards fat loss, right?
Maybe. Kind of. Sort of. Other ambiguous words. Because skinny-fat guy might, instead, be on the fast path towards an even uglier skinny-fat physique.
Ask anyone how to lose fat and you’re likely to get a twofold answer: eat less (or better) food and move more. It is known. But we tend to overestimate the impact of deliberate exercise on energy balance.
I can walk on the treadmill for an hour and burn 300 calories (according to said treadmill, which is undoubtedly flawed, but good enough for this example).
Or I can collapse on the couch, watch TV, and burn 84 calories in the same hour. Because, according to some random BMR calculator I found online (undoubtedly flawed once again, but, still, good enough), my body needs around 2100 calories every day to just to keep me alive in my current state, meaning my average hourly calorie usage is around 80 calories.
Do nothing and burn 80 calories. Walk for an hour and burn 300 calories. That’s a 220 calorie difference, which isn’t a lot. That’s one good beer. Most “health” bars you find in grocery stores have more than 220 calories.
Unless you’re a professional athlete doing serious training (multiple hours), you won’t burn a lot of calories during your training. And, to make matters worse, you’re a human with a bunch of self-sabotaging brain bugs, one of which is moral justification. In other words, I did something good (go to the gym), now I can do something bad (eat cake).
It’s much easier to tip energy balance seesaw in your favor by adjusting your food intake. Substitute some of your starchy carbohydrates with non-starchy vegetables. Substitute some of your junk food with lean proteins. Suddenly you’re eating 500 less calories per day.
You can lose fat without doing deliberate exercise by modifying how much you eat, which is something usually overlooked because of the association culture has created between exercise and fat burning.
But guess what? Your body is aerobic most of the day. What we think about when we think about aerobic exercise is merely a higher intensity aerobic state.
Think of a light bulb with a dimmer switch. When you’re doing conventional aerobic exercise, you’re shining as bright as possible. But, when you stop the exercise, you don’t shut off. You just revert to a dimmer setting.
“We can fix our food intake. We can do a little more aerobic exercise. Whatever. It’s all in the name of fat loss, right? Why are you shitting on aerobic exercise?”
Skinny-fat dude is an astute fellow, and he knows one pound of fat contains around 3500 calories. So his logic is as follows: go in a 500 calorie deficit via adjusting food intake and doing aerobic exercise, lose one pound per week. Because 500 calories x 7 days per week = 3500 calories per week.
But skinny-fat dude is assuming that an energy deficit is a one way street. Meaning he’s assuming all 500 calories are guaranteed to be extracted from body fat.
But the energy balance equation is a bit too vague. You can read more about why here. A more accurate way to put the energy balance equation: an imbalance of energy intake and energy output affects your body stores.
I’ll stop beating around the bush, okay? Your body can melt away muscle tissue in order to compensate for the calorie deficit. So if you eat 500 calories less, you might take 400 calories from body fat and 100 calories from muscle mass.
Why would your body do such an unfathomable thing?
Because your body cares about survival. It’s got all these fat cells that are important because your body almost always in an aerobic state (from rest and also from the aerobic exercise you’re doing).
Fat is your aerobic fuel.
Why do we accumulate money? Because we spend money. If you live in the States, you aren’t stockpiling euros. You’re stockpiling dollars because that’s the currency you need.
You don’t need a lot of muscle to gently gallop across the plains (which is what you do during aerobic exercise, for the most part), so muscle mass becomes less important.
In one hand, you have hugely important fat globules. In the other hand, you have less important muscle tissue. Which is your body going to sacrifice first when it needs to balance the energy scale?
And, in some way, sacrificing muscle is a win-win. You get cash up front, but you also make yourself more energy efficient (because you don’t have to lunk around as much weight).
Imagine you have a house. You have regular expenses. Your savings account (body fat). A boat (muscle mass).
You enjoy the boat, but it requires constant upkeep. It’s a boat. Boats always need maintained and repaired. So you have constant cash flow to the boat.
You get a different job and you’re making less money now. You’re dipping into your savings account to cover your regular expenses. But you’re smart. You don’t want to go broke. You look for other ways to compensate for the lack of income because digging into your savings ad infinitum is stupidity on a platter.
So what do you do? You sell the boat. You make cash up front from the sale, and you no longer have its monthly expense.
But what if the boat wasn’t just a toy? What if you lived in a flood zone? What if the boat was just as important to your survival as your savings? Then the boat is no longer an expense, it’s an investment.
Meaning, when your play back the same situation, you’re less likely to sell the boat, and you’re likely to continually reach into savings.
Shall we decode this?
Living in a flood zone is doing the sort of training that bombards the body with the following information: muscle mass is important for my survival. And the best way to send said information is with progressive barbell and bodyweight training.
In other words, the second most important thing a skinny-fat guy can do (this), even when (especially when) skinny-fat guy is trying to lose fat.
But barbell and bodyweight training is often overlooked when focusing on fat loss because it’s not aerobic and thus not directly fat burning. This is both true and untrue.
It’s not heavily aerobic, no. But if you’re doing squats, presses, and pulls, your heart rate is going to rise and fall through the aerobic heart rate range as you train. Here’s a fun experiment. Put a heart rate monitor on. Do a set of heavy barbell curls for ten reps, then look at your heart rate.
It’s temping to obsess over fat burning exercise when trying to lose fat, but, remember, you can lose fat without deliberate aerobic exercise.
In order to really transform your body, you have to begin to see exercise as a stressor that contains specific information, and this information is interpreted by the body’s primitive survival software.
When you ditch (or de-prioritize) strength training, you’re telling your body that muscle mass isn’t important.
And now that you undoubtedly think aerobic exercise is Satan’s right hand man, let me try to reach some sort of equilibrium.
Aerobic exercise isn’t going to make you fat. It isn’t going to hurt you. But it shouldn’t interfere with your freshness and your recovery for strength training.
There are ways you can program for aerobic training and strength training, but the easiest way is to simply walk. Walking is great because it doesn’t stress your body, but it uses more energy than, uhhh, not walking. And the increase blood flow throughout your system will actually improve recovery.
Walk as often and as much as you want. Do progressive barbell and bodyweight strength training. Now we’re getting somewhere.
On the strength training side, I don’t recommend training like a bodybuilder out to pack on slabs of mass, doing insane volume, when you’re simultaneously in an energy deficit. But strength training should still be priority uno. You can get stronger as you lose fat, just not as quickly.
Oh. Yeah. Wait.
I just finished telling you about the second most important thing a skinny-fat guy can do.
The first thing?
Air is anabolic. You die almost immediately without it.