Article last updated: April 2018 by Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer
In my recently updated guide the 2 Phases of a Skinny-Fat Transformation I explain how training and dieting in a way that optimises testosterone and metabolism is the key to build a great physique and maintain it long-term.
One of the things I recommend to optimise testosterone is to focus on shredding excess body-fat before focusing on building mass with the reason being that excess body-fat is estrogenic and estrogen, the female hormone is made from testosterone.
However, a lot of skinny-fat guys take “shredding excess body-fat” to the extreme and try to get ripped 6-pack abs.
For most skinny-fat guys, getting ripped 6-pack abs is not worth the effort and now I’ll explain why.
As a naturally skinny-fat guy with high body-fat levels and a lot of fat cells, you find it very difficult to put on any appreciable amount of muscle mass when you’re lean enough to maintain 6-pack abs.
Your food intake simply won’t be high enough to support high quality training sessions and a high natural testosterone production.
So you’ll find that you don’t gain much muscle mass, if any at all while maintaining 6-pack abs.
In addition to this, your existing muscles will appear much smaller when you follow a low Calorie diet.
Here are the 4 reasons to why you will look a lot smaller when you diet down to reveal 6-pack abs:
- Less glycogen: After you reduce carb intake, your muscles will hold on to less glycogen.
- Less intramuscular fat: When you reduce food intake, your muscles will hold on to less intramuscular fat.
- No layer of fat: When you get lean, you lose body-fat all over your body. This means that you lose that additional layer of fat on your arms, shoulders, upper back and chest. This is not a good thing because you will end up looking much smaller without much visual improvement or added definition. No one can see much difference between the definition and tonality of an arm that’s 12% or 8% body-fat, but they can see the difference in overall size.
- Loss of muscle mass: When you diet down to low body-fat levels, you always lose a lot of muscle mass in the process. Muscle loss will happen regardless of how great your diet and training is.
The overall result here is that your upper body muscles will appear MUCH smaller and extremely flat after you diet down to low body-fat levels.
The effect here is significant, even in experienced lifters.
You can go from looking full, muscular and healthy in a shirt to looking skinny, flat and starved.
When you put on a shirt, you will appear skinny and people won’t even be able to tell that you lift.
So not only does maintaining 6-pack abs prohibit you from building a lot of muscle mass, but it also makes you appear a lot smaller in a shirt.
The third problem is related to your performance and overall well-being.
You will find that in order to maintain 6-pack abs, you will need to maintain high activity levels on a daily basis while eating significantly less than you’d like to.
Pushing yourself, training hard and maintaining high activity levels is GREAT for you, however when you do it in combination with a low Calorie diet, you will feel miserable because food is fuel.
When you look at all high performing athletes in the Olympics, you will see that all of them follow high Calorie diets.
They eat in a way that supports their training.
If they dropped their food intake, their performance would be gone just like that.
Strength levels and endurance both take a hit.
At low body-fat levels your sex drive and performance will also decrease a lot.
When I dieted down to my leanest ever (177 pounds) I rarely got morning erections and when I saw a hot girl, I wouldn’t get aroused like before.
The thing that got me worrying was when I had a stunning girl come over to my condo for netflix and chill.
When it was time to get to the deed, I didn’t feel aroused at all and I couldn’t get it done.
This is when I realised that if I want to stay at very low body-fat levels, I will have to trade my health and overall well-being.
When you diet down below your sustainable level of leanness, your body goes into survival mode and your natural testosterone production drops.
This means that your sex drive drops, you lose strength and muscle mass and your energy levels drop.
My experience is not the exception. It’s the norm.
Bodybuilders and fitness models who are contest ready look their best during contest, but in reality they feel miserable.
On the day of contest, they feel hungry, low on energy and have their weakest training performance.
The 6 times Mr. Olympia, Dorian Yates said in an interview that his food cravings were so intense that he often dreamt about food when he prepared for contest.
Therefore, the way I see it, dieting down to get ripped 6-pack abs isn’t worth it for most skinny-fat guys (think +90%).
You wear a shirt in public 99% of the time.
In a shirt, your 6-pack isn’t visible.
Instead, your upper body muscles are.
It’s the upper back, lats, chest, shoulders, traps and arms that fill out a shirt.
These are the muscles that people can see 99% of the time.
The better approach is to find the happy medium where you have a flat waist and a bit of ab definition while maximising your upper body size.
By doing so, you will be able to eat enough food to support hard training sessions and maximise muscle growth.
You will fill up your glycogen and intramuscular fat stores when your food intake increases.
You will carry an additional layer of fat on the shoulders, arms, chest and back. This small layer of fat will not make you look fat at all, but it will help you fill out your shirt nicely.
Overall, you will still be in the top 1-5% physically and look a lot more powerful in a shirt.
And most importantly: You will be able to maintain this look while feeling your best and following a high Calorie diet.
Be proud but stay hungry!
Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer