Building Muscle for the Skinny Fat Male

by Johnny Pain

The following is a question that was asked of me by a board member in my Q&A forum. The topic is one that I frequently address with consultation clients and that is covered in depth in my latest book project in development.

From “Wingman”

“I’m a skinny & weak guy working the LP to get bigger and stronger.

I already have quite a belly on me though, if i get bigger will that get bigger in proportion or will it sort itself out as I get stronger? Some coaches have said I should eat any calories at all costs while on LP but some have said i should be on a small surplus and keep it clean so that my body can grow whilst my belly shrinks.

Do you think this is a food question, or should I just add some conditioning (such as burpees) to the LP and let things sort themselves out?”

Building a lean, muscular body on a “skinny fat” frame is a much simpler process than many would have you believe.

The untrained body will respond well to strength training and will grow. The addition of metabolically active muscle will create larger demand for calories all day long, two adaptations that will have a favorable effect on body composition and aesthetics. Add in conditioning work, or conventional cardiovascular training, and you will be on the way to building, a lean, muscular, athletic body.

Think about it like this. Your body will do whatever you ask it to do.

If you overfeed yourself with a gross caloric surplus and minimize activity while doing a linear progression program, you most certainly will get fat. What does training three times per week with weights, eating a ton of low quality food, and resting as much as possible sound like a recipe for to you?

Does anyone really think that is going to produce a body that isn’t going to look like a hot mess?

In this case you want to build muscle while dropping some fat from the belly region, and developing an attractive, strong, and healthy body; the ideal outcome for many people reading this I am sure.

Focus on increasing your performance in the gym. Drive the numbers up on your big lifts, do your additional movements, and put some hard effort into conditioning at least a few times per week. Your body will look entirely different if you do those three things consistently for any length of time. Give it eight weeks of hard effort and you will be pleased.

On the diet front, we’ve already stated that the calories at any cost approach is a one way ticket to fat fuck territory. That said, it is certainly important that there are enough calories to grow. Here’s where it gets cool for the skinny fat guy or recomposition case.

(Broscience alert: The following is utter broscience and should not be taken seriously. I have no credentials, and none of this information is supported by any University study. Only those interested in making progress and benefiting from others with experience in producing serious results for many people should read any farther).

Your belly fat is your caloric surplus.

Yes, you read that right. But let me qualify that a bit.

A guy walking around with a belly and love handles does not need to eat like John Goodman on Equipoise after smoking a Dutch in order to build muscle. What is important is that protein intake is high, and steady. You’re not storing protein, so you need to keep it coming in.

So long as there is a solid, protein heavy, diet coming in mixed with a fair amount of good quality carbohydrates and plenty of veggies, growth can and will occur as a result of strength training. (For more on building a quality diet in line with what we’re talking about here, check out my book SWOLE: The Greyskull Growth Principles here.)

The need for a massive surplus of calories is non-existent, what is all of that jiggly stuff on the front of your body?

If you said stored energy give yourself a pat on the back.

Protein, and calories are both required for growth.

The protein you will be taking in throughout the day in the form of foods and potentially shakes in order to make sure that it’s there when needed.

Your body doesn’t discriminate when it comes to the source of the calories (this is the eat Snickers and Ice Cream before bed crowd’s logic right?). If you are eating a diet that has you in a deficit calorically (read: you are taking in less calories than you are burning with your hard training lifestyle), but protein is high and there is a demand for adaptation due to heavy strength training, your body will get the calories out of the old storage unit. (It’s about time anyway, that thing is costing like $129 a month, it leaks, and your couch smells like cat piss and mildew).

You can’t turn fat into muscle like your Grandpop said, but you can use the calories stored in bodyfat to build muscle.

Pretty crazy huh?

So if you’re toting around some extra flub, are lacking the muscle that you want on the old frame, and don’t want to spend months using a three steps forward, two steps back approach, follow the above recommendations. I’ve heard they work.



Johnny Pain is the man behind as well as the East Coast’s notorious Greyskull Barbell Club and several other ventures. He is the author of several books on subjects pertaining to strength and conditioning. He can be found comically entertaining questions on his Q and A forum at or can be reached for consultations, training seminars, or speaking engagements at

Also, you can follow him on Twitter: @thejohnnypain





11 Responses

  1. Scottie

    Great post bro! Good info. BTW, GSLP and SWOLE are both bad ass! I’ve got several S&C/Nutrition certifications and the information in your books blow them away… Keep ’em coming!

    June 19, 2012 at 2:01 am

    • Thanks a ton Scottie. Great to have your support and contributions.

      June 23, 2012 at 2:34 am

  2. Vamshi

    Hit the nail right on the head.

    June 20, 2012 at 8:44 pm

  3. Vim

    One thing you can always count on Mr. Pain for – simple, no bullshit advice thats actually useful to pretty much anyone who isnt looking to win Olympia.

    I read a fair few in-depth articles about nutrition etc, which is cool just to build up a good knowledge base from which to form opinions from – but THIS is the sort of article that people can actually put into practice and get results from.

    June 21, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    • Thanks Vim. That’s what I go for, applicability, and practicality.

      I really don’t care how I get the job done, people pay me to deliver, and I do.

      June 21, 2012 at 11:22 pm

  4. Tom

    Like all truths, this sounds so simple. Others would have you drink a gallon of milk a day and worry about the effects later. What a load! Yes, I want to get stronger, but I don’t want to look like a hippo in the process. I want to get strong and look good. GSLP is the way to do it!

    July 1, 2012 at 11:51 am

  5. dave

    Hi Johnny,

    I have real low LBM, and a high BF%, standing at 6’0 and 170 lbs this doesn’t make for a very impressive frame. if i am understanding your article correct, should I just monitor my protein intake and keep it at least 1g/lb everyday and keep eating clean whole foods, the recomp will come as a result?


    August 10, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    • Assuming that you are training hard with an emphasis on building muscle and busting your ass with the conditioning sessions, then yes, the recomposition will come. Building strength is the key.

      August 11, 2012 at 2:23 pm

  6. Spot on info… Skinny-fat has to be the worst body type ever!! Cant bulk, cant cut.. No results, so just demotivates you over and over and makes you skip workouts

    March 31, 2013 at 6:00 pm

  7. No bullshit and straight to the point which was great to see.

    Skinny-fat guys certainly have it the worst – but as you quite rightly point out, the results will come with dedicated effort.

    Although genetics are the result of such a physique, most skinny-fat guys are the ones who can get shredded the fastest with the complete bodybuilder finish.

    June 22, 2016 at 6:10 pm

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