Matt and Scott talk once more to frequent guest Robert Santana, RD, SSC, about a common complaint of middle aged trainees… the skinny-fat body. These trainees have a normal BMI (between 20-25) yet low muscle mass and high bodyfat. Trainees like this often come to Santana desiring a leaner physique, especially visible abs, but the path to this goal is usually longer than they realize.
The fundamental problem with these trainees, which comprise a large percentage of first-time strength trainees, is that they have too little lean body mass to support the kind of dieting required to lose bodyfat. Going back to Santana’s earlier podcasts, losing bodyfat requires a caloric deficit, and thus losing weight. Of course, when a trainee loses weight they lose both bodyfat and lean tissue; we use strength training and a high protein diet to shift the ratio toward bodyfat loss and away from lean tissue loss, but both types of tissue are lost during weight loss periods. Consequently, a typical 5′ 10″ skinny-fat male weighing 175lbs would have to cut drastically to reach their bodyfat goals, perhaps as low as 145lbs, at which point they have lost the muscle mass needed to create the physique they want. They are, in fact, at this point skeletal, and certainly not healthy. Neither are they strong, or useful in general.
So, the solution is simple, but unpalatable. The skinny-fat trainee needs to train for strength and add significant muscle mass to his frame, probably requiring a fair amount of weight gain in the short term. Once he or she has added the muscle mass, he can begin to diet off the bodyfat. Santana prefers dieting in cycles, alternating periods of weight loss with maintenance periods, to aid in compliance and avoid as much strength loss as possible.
Here’s the important thing: depending on age, gender, and genetics, this process can take a LONG time. It’s a slow but steady journey. Scott took four years to transform his body. Santana took about the same. It’s not an overnight process, or even a six month process. Embracing the journey and keeping an eye on the long-term goal is key when it comes to body recomposition.
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