You’re exercising a lot, you think that you’re eating well most of the time, everyone says you’re looking “slimmer,” and the scale shows that your body weight is dropping. But you’re lacking “go” in your workouts, your strength has either plateaued or is regressing, and your body fat percentage (BFP) has actually gone up. What the……??!!
Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss
Your body weight is the sum weight of your organs, bones, muscle, soft tissue, etc. Weight loss simply takes into account a drop in this sum.
Your BFP is the weight of body fat relative to your total body weight. Therefore, fat loss would result in a lower body fat percentage. Depending on gender, age and types of activity, healthy body fat percentages for women and men are respectively 12-20% and 8-18%.
How does that explain an increase in BFP concomitant to a decrease in body weight? That would happen if part of the weight loss comes from a loss of muscle. If BFP is the weight of body fat relative to total body weight, your total body weight (kg) less the amount of body fat (kg) leaves you with your lean body mass (LBM). LBM is made up of every part of your body – skin, hair, nails, bones, ligaments, organs, etc. – EXCLUDING boy fat.
The heaviest component of LBM is muscle. The amount of muscle you have directly affects the BFP equation.
If your body weight doesn’t change but you lose muscle, it will be reflected as an increase in BFP. Similarly, if you lose body weight and muscle, the loss in muscle would either mitigate a decrease in BFP or also reflect as an increase in BFP. You’re “slimmer” with a high body fat – what is referred to as skinny fat. That’s also why your performance in training drops – muscle is your engine!
Lose Fat & Maintain or Build Muscle
Your body weight tells us little to nothing about changes in your body composition. It’s also affected on a daily basis by your diet, water retention, the weather and possibly even mood states. So you need to change your mindset from wanting to lose weight to losing body fat.
Losing body fat requires you to maintain or increase muscle mass. Note: Increasing muscle mass does not mean you’ll “get bulky.”
What will happen when you maintain/increase muscle mass while reducing BFP, however, is your body weight often remains the same. That is simply because muscle weighs less than fat.
How To Avoid Skinny Fat
- Train functional movements at a high (relative) intensity with a variety of loads (light, moderate, heavy).
- Eat clean at least 80% of the time. You all know the deal: Eat a variety of meat and vegetables, some fruit, nuts and seeds, little dairy and grains, and no sugar
- Ensure that part of eating clean includes a healthy amount of good carbs and protein.
- Avoid the “cardio” trap. Unless there’s a good deal of resistance-based exercises in your training regime to go with all that cardio, you won’t maintain good muscle too. That’s why I like to call endurance only athletes ‘skinny fat.’ Yes, they have low body weight, but a low percent of that is muscle!
So ditch the scale and mirror because they’re just playing tricks on your mind. Eat clean, train smart, be consistent, and results will come. If results don’t come, call in for a consult.