Nutrition Training

Your Skinny/Fat Survival Guide

skinny/fat guide workout diet

I've heard many a man reminisce with fondness about the carefree years of his early 20s. Tales of good friends, fast times, and a spectacular body to boot – muscular, ripped to shreds, and strong as an ox.

Sadly, whenever I reflect on my early 20s, it's a very different story.

Through a consistent diet of fast food, enough beer to kill a seasoned frat boy, and not lifting anything heavier than a Big Gulp outside of work, my “glory days” left my body looking like a potato on toothpicks.

With skinny arms and legs devoid of muscle tone, a weak back, and a soft, round torso, I was 22 years old and trapped in a classic skinny/fat body.

Obviously that's no longer my life and, after sharing my transformation, I've had numerous requests to write a guide specifically for skinny/fat men.

So here's everything I've learned on tackling the beast that is a stubborn skinny/fat body, starting with the root of the problem.

The source of the Skinny/Fat body

Every text related to somatotypes (body types) describes three main categories: Ectomorph, Mesomorph, and Endomorph.

I used to think this method of classification was complete bullshit as I didn't even come close to fitting into one of the categories.

But there really is quite a bit we can learn about how to train and eat from each of the somatotypes.

So let's start here.

Ectomorph

Ectomorphs are, in a word, skinny.

These are the guys who consider themselves hardgainers.

If you're 130 lbs soaking wet, you're an ectomorph. Snoop Dogg is a perfect example.

Common characteristics:

Ectomorphs, without using loads of anabolics, will never be the biggest guys in the room.

On the bright side, their small bone structure helps them create an extremely aesthetic physique when enough muscle is added.

Mesomorph

Mesomorphs are the natural athletes.

These are the guys who played three varsity sports in high school (or at least look the part) and have had visible abs since the 5th grade.

Common characteristics:

  • Good baseline muscle mass
  • Low bodyfat
  • Strong bone structure
  • Respond well to strength training

Mesomorphs aren't the biggest dudes in the gym, but their muscles grow fairly readily and they can eat at a surplus of calories without gaining much body fat.

Endomorph

Endomorphs are stocky, thick – built like a brick shit house, if you will.

Think defensive lineman.

Common characteristics:

  • High baseline muscle mass
  • Tend to carry extra body fat
  • Thick bone structure
  • Very strong and build muscle quickly

The truly massive guys in the weight room are usually endomorphs.

They typically have thick limbs and respond well to weight training in both the strength and size departments, but often have stubborn body fat.

So what about Skinny/Fat?

Now, I realize that these are only generalizations and most people are a combination of two body types.

However, unlike these naturally occurring somatotypes, the skinny/fat body only became a common appearance in recent years and seems to be the result of our modern lifestyle.

Decades ago, men were either normal weight, super skinny, or stocky.

Sure, they could become run-of-the-mill fat, but the guy with very low muscle mass, a small bone structure, and 60 lbs of excess body fat was a rarity, not the norm.

So as far as I can work out (no one else seems to be interested in explaining this), the skinny/fat body type is the result of being an ectomorph by nature with the body fat problems of an endomorph as a result of nurture (modern lifestyle).

The pitfalls of transforming a Skinny/Fat body

Part of the issue with overcoming a skinny/fat body is that conventional wisdom and the experiences of the other “normal” guys in the gym just don't work for this body type.

Before incorporating diet and exercise, the skinny/fat body:

  • Puts on fat easily and holds on to it
  • Struggles to add muscle and loses it easily
  • Tends to have limited strength
  • Doesn't recover quickly from intense workouts

Though this seems like a grim assessment, this post isn't meant to give you an excuse to give up.

Rather, I want to clarify the problems you're facing and give you the tools necessary to overcome them.

Due to these challenges, if you try to follow the common advice without having a well-laid plan, you're going to face an uphill battle.  As a skinny/fat guy, here are the things of which you have to be wary.

Don't eat like an ectomorph

Don't make the mistake of thinking, “my friend is in shape and he gorges on Doritos and beer, so it can work for me too!”

I would occasionally fall into this trap.

It was usually at a time when I was feeling terribly skinny (like 6'2”, 165 lbs) and felt envious watching friends pound bacon double cheeseburgers, french fries, and Cokes.

When my athletically built compatriots would ramble on about how “you gotta eat big to grow big”, I couldn't help but mimic that behavior because I wanted what they had.

But it backfired every time.

When a skinny/fat man tries to eat like the naturally ripped guys, he'll gain weight, but it will be almost exclusively body fat.

You won't recomp like a mesomorph

A body recomp (short for recomposition) simply means to lose body fat and gain muscle at the same time.

When you first start training, this will likely occur to some extent, as anything you do will be a complete shock for your body and it'll scramble to adapt to its new environment.

But in the long run, this is an unrealistic goal for someone who tends to hold body fat and has a very difficult time gaining muscle.

Realistically, if recomping was a common event, why would anyone bother with bulking and cutting?

While I've seen people accomplish this and have done it myself in the past, the other individuals were genetically gifted and I was in my first year of TRT.

I was essentially hitting puberty and getting newbie gains at the same time, and my recomp was still short-lived.

So unless one of the above applies to you, it's best to pursue one goal at a time (muscle gain or weight loss) until you get close to your ideal physique.

You can't lift like an endomorph

At least not at first.

In much the same way that you can't eat like the guys who don't pack on body fat readily, you also can't lift like the sturdy fellas.

Don't make the mistake of thinking you can be in the gym bench pressing seven days per week like your jacked buddy on the football team.

If you're skinny/fat, you likely have the small joint structure of an ectomorph, which can't take the abuse of frequent, heavy training.

You'll also have a less than stellar hormone profile which hinders your recovery abilities.

I definitely have it in me mentally to train like a beast 7 days per week. But if I get too ambitious, my joints and tendons start to accumulate aches and pains.

Working the same muscle group or movement pattern 1-2 times per week is plenty.

The big decision – bulk or cut first?

This is the biggest question for skinny/fat men.

Most people will advise skinny/fat guys to bulk first.

The logic is: “what are you going to cut down to? A ripped 120 lbs?”

And it makes sense for the average, non-skinny/fat guy to kick things off with a bulk in order to build a foundation of muscle.

But the sad truth is that affected guys have very low muscle mass to begin with and don't gain it readily, even with excess calories and protein coupled with hard training.

So what really happens if a typical bulking format is chosen as the first course of action?

The problem often gets worse.

If the skinny/fat guy gets his diet and training in order and has a successful bulk, he may gain 30 lbs or so over his first year of lifting.

But he's going to gain about 10 lbs of muscle at best. The rest will be more annoying body fat.

Then, in a hurried attempt to lose the fat before beach season, more often than not, all of the muscle goes with it.

So my recommendation to you is, unless it would be truly devastating to your self-esteem to reach the skinny end of the spectrum at the beginning of your transformation…

Cut First

I say this because, in my case (and with most other skinny/fat guys I've talked to), it's the excess body fat that causes the most turmoil.

Dealing with that issue first can at least get you into a physique you're content with, buying you time to work on building muscle.

By losing the fat first, clothes immediately begin to fit better.

For me, looking better in clothes provided a much needed boost of confidence and had a profound effect on my life.

before trt transformation skinny/fat

The photo on the left was me near my worst (I actually continued gaining fat for another year after this, I just don't have any shirtless photos to memorialize the state of my body at that point).

The photo on the right is me after six years of consistent dieting and lifting.

Though I have very little muscle mass in the second photo, which body do you think I was happier in?

My Skinny/Fat transformation

I'm a classic ectomorph (under the fat, at least) – tall with low muscle mass and an equally thin bone structure.

But after a mostly sedentary childhood spent eating mixing bowls of cereal, I put on substantial body fat.

Growing tall during adolescence briefly leaned me out a little, but within a few years of finishing high school, I ate, drank, and stressed my body into a dire skinny/fat state.

After returning to college at 23, I renewed my passion for fitness and threw myself into transforming my body.

Though I approached my diet and training with vigor, discipline, and dedication, I found that my body simply would not do what I wanted it to do.

I eventually realized that I was losing and gaining the same 30 lbs over and over, with very little muscle gained.

Undeterred, I spent six years mastering my craft to try and build an aesthetic physique. Looking back now, I'm almost glad my body was such a stubborn bitch.

It meant I had to learn and experiment with every program, diet, and technique out there, which has made me far more knowledgeable than if bench presses and curls had turned me into a beast.

My Low T Connection

Now, I eventually found out that my difficulty in dealing with my skinny/fat issues was a symptom of seriously low testosterone (which seems to be the result of a yet-undiagnosed congenital or chronic condition).

However, I'm an unusual case.

Most of you are in luck. If your testosterone levels are low, they can very likely be corrected by implementing the diet and training necessary to overcome your skinny/fat body.

And I should be clear that my skinny/fat body wasn't the result of having low T; I'm a naturally skinny guy who developed terrible eating habits.

My naturally low testosterone just made correcting my skinny/fat body more of a challenge.

So if I was still able, even with very low T, to build a physique that some of my readers have described as “a body most guys would be happy with”, you can definitely improve yourself with hard work and dedication.

skinny/fat after 1 year trt

But as a testament to just how important hormones are in building muscle, the above photos show what I was able to accomplish in less than a year on TRT.

The Skinny/Fat Survival Guide

I'm not going to sugarcoat it.

If you're trying to obliterate your skinny/fat body, you have your work cut out for you.

But never fear. There isn't a person on the planet who can't become a better version of themselves through dedicated training and intelligent eating.

The challenge in starting with a skinny/fat body is that you have to make major shifts in body composition and change your proportions to achieve a more athletic build.

You have to be careful not to lose weight too quickly or risk losing any muscle you've built, but you also can't overeat or you'll pack on the wrong kind of pounds.

You need to lift with enough intensity and frequency to kick your body out of its comfort zone, but go too far and your progress will come to a screeching halt.

It's a fine balancing act, but here's how to do it the right way.

Dieting when Skinny/Fat

skinny/fat groceries

The modern lifestyle includes a diet rich in processed, nutritionally empty, and fast foods.

Repairing modern eating habits will be a major component to remedying your skinny/fat body.

Unfortunately, habits are hard to break and many of these foods are quite literally addictive. So the first thing you need to do is loosen the hold these foods and habits have on you.

Doing so will curb your cravings for mass quantities of the foods that support a skinny/fat body and set you up for success later when you're following a more regimented eating plan.

Here are my recommendations to clean up your diet and kickstart your skinny/fat transformation.

Stage 1 – Preliminary diet modifications

  • Focus on consuming whole foods
  • Eat a vegetable with every meal
  • Get at least 1 g of protein per lb of lean body mass
  • Track macros once the above are accomplished (I use My Fitness pal)

Tracking your macros may seem like a more advanced move, but at this point in the game, it will just be a helpful tool to see what your intake looks like.

Also, by simply focusing on getting enough protein, incorporating more vegetables, and prioritizing whole foods, you'll naturally have less space in your diet for bullshit.

Once your improved eating habits are beginning to feel like second nature, you're ready for a more involved program.

Getting to this point could take weeks or it could take months, but that's okay because you're in this for the long haul, right?!

Stage 2 – If It Fits Your Macros

Now that you have the source of your calories dialed in, it's time to focus on the quantity.

I think If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) is an awesome, flexible eating plan that allows you to enjoy your food while still helping you meet weight loss or muscle gain goals.

Once you've figured out your maintenance calories during Stage 1 (My Fitness Pal will give you a weekly average) and are consistently making good food choices, you can move on to manipulating your intake to accelerate fat loss.

Using My Fitness Pal, you can set your intake to 45% carbs, 30% protein, and 25% fat. This is a good starting point for most guys.

skinny/fat myfitnesspal

Cutting with IIFYM

Now that you have your maintenance calories and macro percentages set, you can continue your weight loss by deducting about 300 calories from your daily total.

Again, this is all programmable within the My Fitness Pal app.

Continue meeting this new number until the weight stops coming off and then deduct another 200-300 to get things moving again.

However, don't cut calories too fast. Whatever you cut your intake to will eventually become your maintenance level.

The most important thing to remember when cutting is: if you're already losing weight, don't cut any more calories!

Bulking with IIFYM

Whenever you're ready to bulk, take your current daily caloric intake and bump it up by 300 and ride that number as long as the scale continues to move week to week.

Just a few hundred additional calories is plenty for the skinny/fat guy to gain muscle.

However, don't get too caught up in the “eat everything in sight” mentality.

That might work for a pure ectomorph with a tiny appetite, but if you've made it to the point of gaining excess body fat, you don't have a small appetite, and you've proven you can out eat your metabolism.

You won't accelerate muscle gains by consuming an additional 1,000 calories; you'll just pack on more fat.

The most important thing to remember when bulking is: if you're gaining weight, you're eating enough!

How to train when skinny/fat

Transforming a skinny/fat body requires you to be much closer to “perfect” in your approach than any other body type.

You simply don't have the same room for error that some of the other guys may have.

Your training will have two parts – compound lifts to make major changes and isolation exercises to balance proportions.

Go big or go home

With the exception of the most genetically gifted and chemically enhanced athletes, you simply can't make major changes to your physique without the big lifts.

When I say “big lifts” I'm talking about the handful of exercises that allow you to lift the most weight (squat, deadlift, bench press, pull-ups etc.).

Performing big compound lifts is like screaming at your body through a megaphone, “wake the fuck up and adapt! Life is brutal!”

When the extent of your physical activity is sitting in the car, at a desk, and on the couch, it inevitably leads to low muscle mass, high body fat, low bone density, and poor mobility.

On the flip side, it's the lifting of heavy loads over time that will create the most drastic changes in your physique.

If your body isn't in the vicinity of your ideal physique, working heavy compound movements on a consistent basis is the only road in and out of that neighborhood.

Don't be afraid to isolate

Plenty of guys will say that all you need to build bulging biceps is to row heavy weights, and that overhead pressing your bodyweight will produce thick triceps.

But the guys having success with this method aren't generally starting from a proportional deficit (a la the skinny/fat design of a large torso and spaghetti arms).

So while heavy compound exercises are going to “rough out” your body in terms of overall muscle mass and body fat, isolation exercises are going to help distribute that muscle for a more aesthetic physique.

To illustrate the skinny/fat dilemma, back in high school, my two best friends had started lifting to get stronger for the wrestling team.

When they pulled up their sleeves and hit a tricep pose, I nearly shit my pants.

I had also been lifting so I immediately grabbed my arm for inspection. But where my friends were sporting a pronounced muscle, I had only a thin tendon running from shoulder to elbow.

And I weighed 50 lbs more than they did!

It took me years of diligent training on tricep isolation exercises to achieve a mind-muscle connection with the back of my arm, and even longer to create sleeve-stretching girth.

But without isolation exercises, I would've just exaggerated my large torso and spaghetti arm proportions.

Training routine layout

While you're going to have to train your ass off, you also need to avoid overtraining.  For that reason, I suggest a max of 3 to 4 days in the gym for the skinny/fat guy.

To incorporate a program that has compound lift and isolation exercise components, choose one of the options below.

Whichever you choose, put about 80% of your effort into the compound movements and the remaining 20% into the isolation exercises.

Option 1

Perform 3 full body workouts per week, each consisting of a push, pull, and lower body exercise.

After the main lifts are done, you can add a couple sets for calves, arms, and shoulders.

Option 2

Perform 3 or 4 workouts per week, each built around a different main compound lift.

For example, you may want to have a push day, which would consist of bench press, incline press, overhead press, and tricep extensions.

In this method, you'll work all of your push exercises in one workout, pull exercises in another, and lower body on the third.

A fourth day can be added for detail work.

Final advice

As far as training and dieting goes, choose either bulking or cutting (though I highly suggest you start with a cut), and put all of your effort into that single goal.

For us skinny/fat guys, slow and steady wins the race.

Don't make things harder for yourself by swinging wildly from dirty bulking to extreme caloric deficits.

You'll certainly make your situation worse if you aren't methodical in your approach.

Also, and this was a big issue for me, don't listen to what others say.

If you're working on decreasing body fat, stick to your guns even when the fellas are razzing you about not being able to rep your bodyweight on the bench.

Keep your goals clear and defined (write them down!), and don't let anything stop you.

You will absolutely get there with consistent hard work.

All the best,

Nate

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52 Comments

  • Reply
    Joe
    November 18, 2015 at 10:23 am

    Great article! I love your site, it keeps getting better and better

  • Reply
    CJ
    November 18, 2015 at 2:20 pm

    Thanks Nate. Great site, great advice.

    I put myself in the skinny/fat area at about 25 lbs overweight. I started doing a SL 5×5 program about 3 weeks ago. Should I add isolations for triceps to this already? Arms are an area I’d really like to see improvement. I took the first week to take stock of my diet. I was really overdoing it at night. I made most of the recommendations you state here but I started the intermittent fasting this week. Too much too soon?

    • Reply
      Nate
      November 18, 2015 at 7:09 pm

      Cj, if you’re just getting into a lifting routine you can stick to SL 5×5 exactly as it’s laid out for now. After you have your technique down and are accustom to the workouts, you can add a couple arm exercises at the end of each workout without hindering your progress on the main lifts. Good luck!

      • Reply
        MAtt
        July 21, 2016 at 8:10 pm

        Hey Nate, i’m 18 about 5″8″ 155 and i cans see my lower abs but i don’t have a lot of definition. I don’t wan’t to cut because i’m already at a pretty low weight and a teen but I also don’t want to bulk and gain body fat where it will reduce the visibility of my abs. What should I do? I used to be skinny fat but gained some weight and had some newbie gains but i’m looking to really transform my body

        • Reply
          Nate
          July 24, 2016 at 5:47 pm

          Based on the photos you emailed me you could really go either way. But considering that you look much bigger than I expected based on your bodyweight of 155 lbs. I’m going to suggest that you cut before bulking for a few reasons.

          1. You have enough size and will actually look bigger when you lose fat
          2. Leaning out before a bulk will give you more wiggle room when you inevitable gain a little fat
          3. Your maintenance calories are at a very healthy level and you have room to cut comfortably
          4. Your muscle gains will be much more noticeable at a lower body fat

          Provided you go about this cut and the subsequent bulk in a slow and steady manner, you should always be able to make progress while staying in a healthy body fat range.

          Keep me posted on your results!

  • Reply
    Jean
    November 18, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    A couple things that stand out: your body symmetry and forearm size. Genetics aside, do you have any insight on those achievements, for the trainer who’s right-side dominant…

    • Reply
      Jacob
      November 18, 2015 at 3:36 pm

      I think he’s covered this in some other articles, but I’ll tell you something that really blasts my forearms; farmer walks. I don’t have very big forearms, but I noticed a definite increase in the strength and size of my forearms after just 2-3 weeks of performing this exercise.

      My $0.02

      • Reply
        Nate
        November 19, 2015 at 12:22 am

        Great tip, Jacob. The farmer’s walk is an excellent finisher. Jean, I’m an advocate of training the body with functional compound movements to build overall muscle, but if you need to manipulate proportions, you’ll want to do some extra volume for the lagging body parts. For forearms, they’ll get a lot of work during any pulling exercise, but you can do extra grip work (farmer’s walk), wrist curls, hammer curls, and reverse curls on top of your normal workouts. That’ll help bring them up.

  • Reply
    David
    November 18, 2015 at 2:31 pm

    This article is awesome, Nate!

    It actually confirmed what I’d believed about myself for a long time, that I’m a skinny/fat type. I’ll be finishing up a year-plus long cut at the end of January 2016, dropping over 90 pounds by that point. And, I can tell by what I see in the mirror already that I won’t be “ripped”, but rather more like you were initially: lean, but low muscle mass, despite my love for lifting for the past five or six years.

    At least I won’t be discouraged by the reflection I see staring back at me. I’ll just have a better understanding of what my goals are from there on out and how to get to a stronger, more “jacked” physique.

    It’s just good to now have a guide from someone who’s walked the road I’m about to have to traverse. And I’ll be checking my hormonal profile as well, once I’m leaned out, to avoid spinning my wheels in the gym.

    Again, thanks for all the solid advice and for this blog.

    • Reply
      Nate
      November 18, 2015 at 7:14 pm

      Congrats on the 90 lb weight loss, David! That’s no easy task. Since you’ve been cutting for so long and have lost so much weight, you’re likely lost some muscle. but not to worry, you’ll likely have a “rebound” effect when you switch gears and work on size and strength. I wouldn’t be surprised if you put on a few lbs of muscle during the first month of your bulk.

      • Reply
        David
        November 19, 2015 at 7:05 am

        Thanks for the congrats.

        Yeah, I’ve calculated I will have lost about 10-15 pounds of muscle to go with that fat loss by the end. But, like you said, I know I’ll have an “anabolic rebound” once I’m done cutting.

        By the way, as someone who’s trained as a skinny/fat guy, are there any particular programs or training guidelines, other than the ones you mentioned, that have worked better for you than others?

        • Reply
          Nate
          November 19, 2015 at 3:45 pm

          I like to take the best from certain programs and leave the rest. I would suggest that you do something like Starting Strength for a foundation and then add additional exercises to help with proportions.

  • Reply
    Blayde
    November 19, 2015 at 12:07 am

    Great post, brother! You’ve earned yourself a spot on my bookmarks tab alongside Victor & Mike! Keep it up

  • Reply
    Dan
    November 19, 2015 at 2:01 am

    Are you sure the first before and after photo is 6 years? I was skinnfat myself and i had a sixpack after 1 year. Cant believe that someone needs 6 years to go from skinnyfat to skinny – with abs.

    • Reply
      Nate
      November 19, 2015 at 3:39 pm

      Yep, it was 6 years. I actually lost the weight in about 6 months, but then I bulked up again. I went through the same process a dozen times, but the net muscle gain was almost zero due to horribly low testosterone.

  • Reply
    Lyle
    November 19, 2015 at 5:19 pm

    This is probably some of the best advice on the net for skinny fat bodytypes. As a former skinny fat guy I wish this info was available to me years ago. Solid gold as usual Nate.

    I can’t stress enough the importance of tracking macros. Yes it’s a pain but you get used to it and hating what you see in the mirror is more of a pain anyway. You can’t guess like a chemically assisted and genetically gifted lifter will often recommend. GOMAD and you WILL get fat. Try and cut without knowing how much your consuming and you WILL lose all the muscle you tried to build and probably still be fat. I see so many guys want to hit the gym 7 days a week but don’t want to count calories. Don’t waste your time in the gym by over looking something technology has made super easy now-a-days.

    • Reply
      Nate
      November 19, 2015 at 7:58 pm

      Lyle, it’s obvious that you’ve been down this road and have learned a ton! I made each and every one of those mistakes you’re talking about including gaining an honest 30 lbs and 6 inches on my waist in 4 months on GOMAD. Nothing trumps experience.

      • Reply
        Lyle
        November 20, 2015 at 4:41 am

        Absolutely experience is king. It’s just unfortunate that there is so much misinformation out there that makes getting the proper experience so hard. It’s great that there are people like you helping to get some truth out there to the people that need it though. Do you think about writing a book on bodybuilding/fitness as well? I’m sure it would sell great judging by this blog post.

  • Reply
    Dan
    November 19, 2015 at 6:33 pm

    Good read! Question for you though. Is it possible to be a mesomorph, but have become endomorph? I say that because I’m 5’9″ and about 220 right now with quite the spare tire going. My arms aren’t that big, but I do have pretty muscular thighs. I hope I didn’t phrase the question wrong. Either way I look forward to your answer.

    • Reply
      Nate
      November 19, 2015 at 8:03 pm

      You can’t change your body type in terms of bone structure and natural muscle mass. But can manipulate body fat and the amount of muscle you carry above and beyond your natural level. What does happen though, is once you gain body fat, the body tends to want to hold on to it making getting ripped a real challenge once you’re packed on the pounds.

      • Reply
        Dan
        November 20, 2015 at 2:16 am

        I think there is a possibility that I am a mesomorph that needs to just cut a lot of weight. Either way, I am very interested in the 3 body types. Thanks again for the article and the reply!

  • Reply
    Brandan Tobin
    November 20, 2015 at 9:03 pm

    Nate, you are so relatable, it’s very easy to identify with you. Thank you so much for writing articles specifically to help the hardest of hardgainers.

    In high school and college I would inconsistently lift and never ate properly. I was the one who’d brag I could eat boxes of Kraft Mac ‘N Cheese, microwave popcorn and pizza left and right without gaining a pound. Of course, I also spent a good ten years or more consistently playing hours of video games every day and/or partying pretty hard thus “recomping” my ectomorph body into the classic skinny/fat type.

    I finally decided to get serious about improving my health and image about a year ago when I got hired to sell custom clothing with Tom James in San Francisco. I meal prepped and worked out religiously with my gf who worked right up the hill on California St. With her help and the help of guys like you, Victor Pride, John Doe, Mike Cernovich etc I went from 142 lbs to 171lbs in 6 months.

    Despite eating clean and lifting like a fiend, I gained more body fat than I wanted to and hurt my joints from lifting like an endomorph. That’s when I read your series on TRT. Thank you so much for telling us about LowTNetwork. In the Spring I had sub 300 ng/dL of Total T and and sub 8 pg/mL of Free T. Tested again on 9/15 to discover with lifting and diet and cutting out alcohol/cigarettes completely over the past few months I’d gone up to a whopping 337 Total and 8.2 Free. That’s when I bit the bullet and started TRT. 2 months later now I’m at 656 Total and 28 Free. I’ve also smashed past my plateaus in lifting and gaining. I’m 187lbs of fairly lean muscle, my joints don’t get hurt as easily anymore, and I’m finally able be the man my gf deserves.

    You’ve literally helped change my life in a year. Happy One Year Anniversary to IronandTweed.

    Thank you Nate Lewis for giving hope to us low T skinny/fat guys and showing by example how to succeed on the most uphill trail we could have chosen. It would have been so much easier to stick to video games, Doritos and beer. But it’s been so much more fulfilling to take the road less traveled. You’re the man.

    One request. I’m competing in John Doe’s Operation Mass Monster until January, then cutting down to be ready to compete in my first ever Physique Competition in April.

    Could you expand a bit on how to bulk without sacrificing abs/conditioning? I know you said to cut down first, which I did, and to not eat like a true ectomorph. Phase 2 of OMM calls for cheat meals every night and no cardio, but I’ve already cleared it with John Doe about minimizing cheats to workout days and keeping cardio.

    Furthermore, have you ever competed in or ever considered competing in a Physique competition? You’d kill it and it would be great exposure for ironandtweed.

    To our continued success,
    Brandan Tobin

    • Reply
      Nate
      November 20, 2015 at 9:42 pm

      Brandan, I’m thrilled to hear that you’re kicking ass at life and I cant even explain how good it feels to know that I’ve played a part! All the changes you’ve made aren’t easy, but as you’ve shown, they’re definitely worth it. For Operation Mass Monster, I’m not sure exactly what John has planned for you and ignore any of the following if it isn’t in-line with what he tells you. But in general, there aren’t any secrets to staying lean while bulking. It’s all about getting in enough calories to support muscle growth, but keeping them low enough to not gain too much fat (some fat gain is likely and acceptable). Just monitor your scale weight and body fat levels if you have calipers. You can get a free pair from bodybuilding.com with orders over $75. Basically, you want the scale and your strength to increase without too much visible or measurable fat gain. A few guys have asked me about competing over the past year so I may give that a shot one day. Thanks for the encouragement!

  • Reply
    DKB
    November 21, 2015 at 12:01 am

    Nate –
    Using My Fitness Pal, looks great! How do I calculate the amount of calories I should have then reduce by 200 or 300 to lose weight? Not sure what my base should be. I am 198 and 5’10”.
    Also when it comes to diet did you eliminate grains? Seems like that keeps or puts on fat the easiest.
    Finally Carbs at 45% seems a little high, is that a good baseline to use?
    Great article!

    • Reply
      Nate
      November 21, 2015 at 6:10 pm

      I think the best way to find your maintenance calories is to track everything you eat for a week and then check the average. If you’re currently maintaining weight, that’ll give you the most accurate number. You can also multiply your weight by 16 to get a rough estimate. For you that would be 3,168 for maintenance. You could start cutting at 2,900 and see if your weight starts to come down. If not, drop it to 2,700 and go from there. I’ve eliminated grain in the past and had good results, but not necessarily greater than when I was eating grain. I’ve had great success with eating carbs anywhere from 10-45%. Just make sure you’re getting your protein in and hitting your target calories. After than, tailor your carbs to what works for you.

  • Reply
    DKB
    November 21, 2015 at 10:53 pm

    Thanks, Nate! Any easy meals to make that basically fits into the 45/30/25 macros? I will incorporate a little more grains since you said it didn’t seem to be worth lowering and gage to see if I’m still able to lose fat and get leaner.

  • Reply
    Griff
    November 22, 2015 at 5:30 am

    Nate,
    That picture of the foods you advocate is powerful. Literally, I’m at the kitchen table looking at the same foods. Keep up the great writing and potentially, even better pictures.

    • Reply
      Nate
      November 22, 2015 at 6:55 pm

      Thanks, Griff! If guys would just focus on eating good foods they could save themselves the mental anguish of restricting the junk.

  • Reply
    Oliver
    November 22, 2015 at 9:27 am

    Thank you for also making a remark about testosterone. Most guys forget about it when it comes to nutrition and workout.

    • Reply
      Nate
      November 22, 2015 at 6:53 pm

      You’re absolutely right. When I was putting my photo collages together for this article I was genuinely shocked at the comparison. Six hard years of training with low T produced less results than 9 or 10 months with optimal levels. The difference is night and day.

  • Reply
    Bam Ezzat
    November 29, 2015 at 10:03 am

    I have been waiting for an article like this for years! And it was better than expected Nate! This blogg just eeps getting better and after applying some of your advises (IIFYM,not to over train…), I have achieved a lot of results! I really wanna thank you for what you’re doing but i have a question. Every time I shave my body (I’m quite hairy) my abs pop out and I would say I look better without the hair. But my problem is my body hair grows really fast (in 1 day). So how do you keep body hair off ? and what do you think is the best way ?

    • Reply
      Nate
      November 29, 2015 at 11:47 pm

      That’s great to hear, Bam! For body hair, I like frequent trimming with regular hair clippers. I just use a #1 guard and go over my torso. I’ve tried nair and shaving in the past the the prickly stage is annoying as hell.

  • Reply
    Chris Jackson
    December 10, 2015 at 2:57 am

    Hi Im finishing up a cut in a bout 4 weeks, lost well over 60 pounds so far. My plan is to lose all the fat and then slowly bulk. I have a few questions regarding this.

    1) When I start to slowly bulk and eat carefully, how much fat realistically will I put on? Like lets say at the end of 1 year of bulking I gain 30 pounds, How much of that would actually be muscle as opposed to fat? Can you bulk so good you barely add on any fat?

    2) Should I life 5 days a week or just stick to 3? Also, what about cardio? I love to run on the treadmill so should I stop doing this when bulking.

    3) Even on days off, do I have to eat in a surplus? Or should i only eat over maintenance when Im lifting?

    3) Lastly, whats the best advice to lose the last 10 pounds? Like breaking through a plateau etc..

    Thank you.

    • Reply
      Nate
      December 10, 2015 at 11:49 am

      Congrats on the major weight loss!
      1) Assuming that you’re currently at your normal levels of muscle mass (newbie stage) and do everything correctly, you can expect at least 2/3 of weight you gain to be lean body mass. If you have good genetics and are super attentive to your diet and body, you can do better than that. You may not gain 30 lbs though. The more you gain overall, the more fat you’ll gain. My 1 year TRT transformation photo shows roughly a 20 lb muscle gain. As you can see, even that much makes a huge difference.
      2) Whether or not you lift 3 or 5 days per week depends on your preferences. Since you like doing cardio, I would say lift hard 3 days per week and do cardio on 2 or 3 of your off days. So yes, you can still do cardio, you just have to replace the 300-500 calories you burn.
      3)Eating at a small surplus everyday will ensure your weight steadily climbs. Eating at a surplus on lifting days and at maintenance on off days will mean weight gains will be slower, but you’ll also minimize fat gain.
      3) I would have to know more about your situation to advise you on losing the last 10 lbs. If you’re already in the gym 5 days per week and have severely restricted calories, it may be time to bulk now. If you still have some wiggle room, add another day of activity and/or slash another 300 calories from your daily intake.

  • Reply
    Cody
    January 15, 2016 at 4:02 pm

    Hey Nate,

    I know I’m late to the party for commenting on this article, sorry about that.

    First off, you’re by far the most inspirational and entertaining blogger I’ve ever had the luck to come across – keep doing the great work man, I love it.

    Now to the point of this reply, it’s a lot of background information so bear with me. I’m a classic skinny/fat guy. Never in my life have I been super active, I’ve never been classified as muscular or fit by anyone, and I’ve had a flubby torso since I can possibly remember. I’ve worked on and off in the gym for the last 5 years. It always seems that no matter what I do, I don’t see results. Granted, I only ever stick to a program for the first month or two before I give up because I get disheartened. The most success I’ve ever had was dropping around 12lbs in a 6-week program (Jim Stoppani’s Shortcut to Shred) that I did with a buddy of mine starting in September of last year. Long story short, close to half of the weight I lost ended up being muscle mass while my buddy lost 14lbs and went from 15% body fat to 12%. I felt great at the end of the program, but was once again very discouraged by the lack of results I saw.

    But, this month I decided to say fuck it and just stay consistent with my workouts, no matter what it took. I’m doing a cut routine right now but it’s been nearly 2-weeks into my current program and I’ve only dropped 1 pound, despite being relatively inactive for over a month prior to this. I’m in the gym 6 days a week right now and running 2 miles nearly every day. I’ve cut soda from my diet completely and I’m focusing on getting specific macro’s every day, but I haven’t noticed any physical improvements yet. I use a Fitbit to try and help track my sleep, water intake, and how many calories I’m burning a day and it says I’m hitting an average of 3,000 a day. Currently, I’m aiming to intake around 2,300 calories a day and this number seems to give me enough energy for my workouts as well as satisfy my hunger for the day (at least when I do 2 meals instead of 3-4).

    So what I”m really trying to figure out are three things.

    First, am I doing something wrong? Should I stick with what I’m aiming for right now and give it more time or do I need to re-vamp my diet? Is my Fitbit blowing smoke up my ass with my daily calories burned if I’m not seeing very much weight-loss with this sort of caloric deficit? What sort of macro breakdown would you recommend for me being 180lbs at 23% body fat – still the 45/35/30 or more protein/fewer carbs?

    Second, while cutting, what sort of rep ranges should I be looking at with the compound lifts? Any specific tips on the mind-muscle connection aspect as well?

    Finally, when should I stop trying to cut my body fat and work on increasing my muscle mass? Is there a specific number I should be aiming for? A timeline I should approximately follow? Or should I simply go until I reach a plateau and then switch it up?

    If you can provide any help for any one of these issues, I would be greatly appreciative. Thank you for your time, Nate.

    *Note* I am going to go get my testosterone levels checked out as well. My father has very low testosterone and I seem to be having many of the signs that I might be falling into the same boat early on because of my shit diet and sedentary lifestyle I led from birth until my 20s.

    • Reply
      Nate
      January 15, 2016 at 4:30 pm

      Hey Cody, this is going to take an extensive answer so I’ll email you with a more detailed response.
      In short, you’re losing weight at a very acceptable rate right now and your macro distribution looks just fine. Keep it up!
      But by losing close to 6 lbs of muscle in only 12 weeks by aggressively dieting, you’ve illustrated one of my main points perfectly. You want to do the minimum amount of dieting and exercising necessary to initiate weight loss so you always have room to cut and increase activity.

  • Reply
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  • Reply
    omar
    May 29, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    Nate – Thank you for posting guide. I have the exact same problem and I have tried everything possible (eating right, working out, year of 5×5 etc etc) but to no avail. I have honestly tried everythign you stated in this guide for the past 5 years and I am still pretty much at the same point as when I started. Skinny Fat.
    Only thing I have not tired is TRT. I am 34 years old and do have low testosterone. I was trying to do everything I can within my own powers before I looked into TRT. I even tried all the natural ways to boost test but It is not working. At what age did you try TRT? side effects? how long did you do it for? Please help !!!!

    • Reply
      Nate
      May 31, 2016 at 9:00 am

      I feel your frustration, Omar. First question, do you have any other symptoms beyond the physique ones you mentioned? The reason I ask is because TRT is forever. I started TRT at 28 and I knew there was a very good chance that I’ll never come off (unless medical advancement provides an alternative). For side effects, I’ve had a little more shoulder/upper back hair and my hematocrit levels went one point out of the normal range on my last checkup so my doc dropped my testosterone dose a little to take care of that. Other than that it’s been all positive effects.

  • Reply
    Steve
    July 1, 2016 at 7:40 pm

    This is a great article, i’m 22 and about 5’7 when i was 20 i weighed about 200 pounds and i dropped to 150. The upper part of my chest and back is that fatty but i feel i still have a gut and alot of excess fat around my thighs and waist (31in). I think the cutting like you said will work for me but i just dont know what my goal weight should be before i stop. I feel i lost alot of weight already so still having the gut is kind of a bummer. What do you think my first steps/couple of months should be like? Any advice is well appreciated! thanks

    • Reply
      Nate
      July 3, 2016 at 6:05 am

      Great job on the weight loss, Steve! I know you feel like you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place right now, but you’re almost there. As for what to do next, going strictly off of numbers can be tricky, I’d have to see where you’re at visually to make the best call. Feel free to email me a photo at nate@ironandtweed.com. How much are you eating right now and are you able to increase or at least maintain strength at this point? If you’re feeling run down, I would suggest a slow bulk and put on about 10 lbs. If you gain at a rate of about 1 lb every week or two, most of the weight gained will be muscle. From there, you’ll be primed to take a fresh run at another cut aiming for a leaner 150 lbs.

  • Reply
    Prakash
    September 4, 2016 at 2:28 pm

    Hi Nate,

    Great to see your article and it’s an eyeopener. Glad you have an passion to change lives and appreciate you taking time to respond and help others.

    On my background, I was always extremely skinny, i.e at 5’11 I weighed 146lbs with 14% body fat with 31 inches waist, was very weak and decided to transform. For the first three months I was on cut under the guidance of a personal trainer in the gym and I went down to 138lbs with 8% body fat and was happy to see my waist going down to 28.5, i was doing little bit of compound lifting and more cardio. Diet was 1700 cals with all clean foods with no supplements.

    Then I felt worried with the weight going low and ask him to give me workout plan for bulking. I was workig compound and isolation exercises 4 days a week and stopped doing cardio. On the diet I increased around 600 calories and took mass gainer from isoflex. I increased 10 lbs in 8 weeks back to 148 lbs, but my waist increased back to 30.5 inches. Felt I did a big mistake, am really worried and confused whether to keep bulking or cutting or do both at the same time.

    Is there a way i can gain lean body mass and bulk while cutting my waist size, my body fat is still around 10%, I am only worried about my belly looking odd against my whole body.

    • Reply
      Nate
      September 6, 2016 at 8:19 pm

      I think that you should keep your calories constant until your weight stabilizes, then increase them slowly (200 at a time) until your weight goes up and stalls again. Then make another increase of about 200 calories and keep that up until you build a descent muscular base. Keep hammering those compound movements and focus on getting as strong as possible. Unfortunately, only the really genetically gifted seem to be able to build muscle and lose fat at the same time. Just take the next year or two to build some decent mass and then cut after that.

  • Reply
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  • Reply
    Toby
    March 12, 2017 at 8:00 am

    Hey Nate,
    a really well written and information filled post, thanks for that!
    Everybody should read that blog! :)
    One question though:
    How did you get the TRT programm? Thought it was only manageable for old men (to get it)?
    The problem is that I have the same problem with hormones, that I have way too low testosterone (I’m looking like you [in your six year transformation] after 3 1/2 years with real dedication to training and diet).
    It would be great if you could reply!
    Best regards,
    Toby

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