XV. Skinny-Fat Ain’t Skinny

skinny as a toothpick

You’re skinny. A toothpick. To build muscle, you need to eat. You aren’t eating enough. Get out there and bulk. Drink a gallon of milk per day. Eat fifteen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Look man, skinny-dudes don’t eat enough. Eat.  That’s why they’re skinny. To grow, you have to give yourself more nutrients and energy than you usually need. Eat. I don’t care what kind of food it is. Eat.

This is rather true . . . if you’re truly skinny.

But if you’re skinny-fat?

You aren’t truly skinny.

And if you’re following advice for the true skinny guys, you’ll probably end up somewhere you don’t want to be. This essay explains why.

Visual differences in skinny and skinny-fat

From the beginning, I ignored the unique subtleties of my body composition. To me, it was all about questing for the holy grail of training programs. Anytime I saw a jacked dude, I was hooked. I needed to know his routine because I thought a magical sequence of exercises was the lone cure for my lackluster physique.

During my search, I noticed something: a lot of good body transformations were from dudes that were lean at the beginning of their transformation. So although they lacked muscle, they also lacked body fat.

Take the guys over at Bony to Beastly, for example. I’ve talked with them before, and think they have a quality operation going. But they were . . . bony . . . in their before pictures. I cited some other examples in a previous article on skinny-fat syndrome, too.

Let’s talk implications

The hardgainer label

Because skinny-fat guys usually don’t have a lot of muscle, they often get tagged with an ectomorph-hardgainer label. But the reality is that if you compare the bodies in the picture above to the one below, there really is no comparison.

skinny fat solution student

For a skinny-fat dude, this ectomorph-hardgainer label is devastating. The general thought surrounding ectomorphs is that they have trouble putting on weight. Whether it’s their appetite or some metabolic mutation, they can’t find a way to shove enough calories down the chute. (A blog reader of mine consumed upwards of 7000 calories every day and couldn’t gain muscle. Nor could he even gain weight for that matter.) Some people do have a body that functions like this.

But most skinny-fat dudes most certainly don’t.

Where a true skinny dude usually has never eaten enough to gain any sort of weight, a skinny-fat guy has. It just so happens that little-to-no training ensured that weight was more fat than muscle. There’s a good chance what they were eating at the time wasn’t ideal either. But that’s kind of the point, too. Sometimes, true skinny guys need to down a bunch of milk or whatever because they can’t stomach the amount of food they need. In this case, downing some less-than-ideal foods is a viable option from a sheer calorie standpoint.

If you’re skinny-fat you don’t have that same problem. In fact, you have a much bigger problem on your hands.

The skinny-fat nutrient competition

A true skinny guy doesn’t have a pre-written path for excess energy and nutrients. Someone with body fat does: excess nutrients and energy already has a go-to in the fat cells.

When a skinny guy starts training, the muscle cells become “hungrier” for excess coming in (the muscle cells become more insulin sensitive). While the same thing happens in a skinny-fat body, the fat cells are also around — fat cells that are also insulin sensitive. Whichever deposit gets the luscious nutrients and energy depends on factors I won’t even pretend to know about. I just know that there’s more of a competition — a competition a true skinny guy doesn’t have to deal with.

Eat, eat, eat, and you will gain weight. Yes, weight. For a true skinny guy that does the right things, that weight seems to be muscle. For us skinny-fat sufferers, that weight is often fat. (How your body handles nutrients—whether or not they’re likely to go towards muscle or fat—is known as partitioning, and we will return to this concept often.)

So which are you?

There are a lot of ectomorph success stories—skinny, lean guys eventually turning into muscular beasts without gaining fat. For them, putting on muscle mass is about getting enough food down. They aren’t prone to fat gain, so they can literally eat peanut butter and jelly sandwich after peanut butter and jelly sandwich—and they will likely resort to that tactic, too.  It’s all about shoveling calories down the trap, so they get away with loading their plates with pasta, peanut butter, and pizza.

But not all ectomorphs are created equal. The lucky ectomorph is the traditional ectomorph. Their life is skinny until they eat enough. Skinny-fat ectomorphs are just like regular ectomorphs in that they struggle in the muscle department, but also gain fat easier.

This muscle building advice of eating pasta, peanut butter, and pizza then gets passed to those on the lower end of the genetic spectrum. And if us skinny fat sufferers follow the same path, we end up in a different spot. A much fatter spot.

Due to the different body types (“body types” encompass more than the three somatotypes), there isn’t one ideal training and nutrition program out there fit for every human being. Skinny-fat sufferers need unique care—a program, training, and lifestyle that suits their physiological and psychological differences.



Photo Credit: toothpick

Trying to lose fat, build muscle, and build a body you’re proud of?

Maybe you’re a little lost right now.

Maybe you don’t have much motivation.

Maybe you don’t what program or diet to use.

I don’t know…

But what I do know is this:

Everything you need is inside of you.

You’re capable of more than know.

You just have to open your eyes.

My weekly column can help.

Just a small little honest note from me sent every Sunday.

Unless I’m hungover.

And then it comes Monday.

What I’m trying to say is that it’ll come Monday.

(These weekly columns don’t get posted to the site.)

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Leanette January 14, 2014, 2:50 am

    Great article! I get so sick of people telling me to just eat more! Yeah, been there, done that, didn’t work!

    • Anthony January 15, 2014, 2:16 am

      Works for some. Not for others.

  • Phil January 14, 2014, 7:22 am

    Same here. Always thought I was a lean skinny until I tried GOMAD with SS. Then I grew fat cells that… will never die.

    • Anthony January 15, 2014, 2:22 am

      You can make good things happen still.

  • Paul January 14, 2014, 8:07 am

    Sounds about right. Wish id never bulked to begin with all those years ago. Slowly learning high carb diets are bad, you know the ones they recommend to us skinnys on bodybuilding websites, another thing i wish i never discovered

    • Anthony January 15, 2014, 2:22 am

      But you now know something about your body you didn’t know before. See the good, not the bad!

  • mj January 14, 2014, 5:27 pm

    Great food for thought, as always. 2 questions came to my mind:

    1. All the guys from the skinny-to-jacked transformation pictures had a narrow frame and really tiny wrists. Obviously and surprisingly, their bone structure didn’t prevent them from putting on a lot of muscle mass. So it seems this isn’t even the limiting factor for us skinny-fat guys?

    2. Would you say the “sfstudent” from the picture is at his solid base or still a few % off?

    • Anthony January 15, 2014, 2:30 am

      1. As I said: the levers might not be there for ABSOLUTE strength. Still room to improve (always is) for TENSION.

      2. He’s off. He’s working with me now. Been about three months, and I say in one more month he’ll be good to go with the solid base.

  • Jared May 21, 2014, 12:22 am

    Still, Shane at bonytobeastly website, said he indeed gained 20+ lbs of pure fat in an attempt to put on muscles, before he knew any better, because of excess calories, bad food choice and bad training.

    And this isn’t the first time I read of skinny guys having trouble gaining muscle or weight, eating lot of food and getting mostly fat. So it isn’t probably true that they’re in any condition primed for fat gain and whatever they eat goes to muscle cells.

    • Anthony May 21, 2014, 3:05 pm

      You have to be training right. I’m sure if he put on 20 pounds of fat and no muscle, he wasn’t. In that case, then, well, yeah –

  • Stu May 13, 2015, 4:08 pm

    So now the question is what are us skinny fatties supposed to be eating? I was dumping 3600 a day for 3 weeks (1 fast food meal a day included) until i realized i was getting a huge gut. lmao. No more fast food for me!

    • Anthony May 19, 2015, 6:23 pm

      My answer: read The Skinny-Fat Solution.