Lose Fat, Not Weight

If you’re “skinny fat,” chances are you don’t want to drop weight, just fat. Don’t confuse fat loss with weight loss! The two aren’t necessarily interchangeable, and here’s why.

Your total weight in kilos–or pounds–is a number that doesn’t discern between fat and lean body mass. Fat mass includes essential body fat (the fat in cell membranes and surrounding internal organs) and storage body fat, which your body uses as insulation and a source of fuel. Lean body mass, meanwhile, is made up of muscle, water, bones and internal organs. And unless your overweight, achieving a lean and muscular physique means stripping excess fat.

According to sports nutritionist and certified USA Triathlon coach Jennifer Hutchison, your goal should be to change your body composition rather than lose weight. “Aggressive diet and training strategies directed towards simply losing pounds commonly have the deleterious effect of unspecified weight loss,” she explains. “All-too-often the weight that is lost is comprised of both fat AND force-producing muscle tissue.”


So what’s an ideal percentage of body fat? That depends on your personal goals, of course, but if you’re an avid weight lifter and clean eater, you should be looking at 10-15 percent for women, and single digits for men.

Here are some general body fat percentage categories provided by the America Council on Exercise:

Essential Fat: 10-12%
Athletes: 14-20%

Fitness: 21-24%
Acceptable: 25-31%
Obese: 32% plusMen
Essential Fat: 2-4%
Athletes: 6-13%

Fitness: 14-17%
Acceptable: 18-25%
Obese: 25% plusHutchison offers these 5 nutrition tips to help cut body fat:

1. Eat regular meals or snacks every 2 to 4 hours. Regular meals help maintain a more consistent energy level and help prevent over consumption by managing hunger.

2. Take advantage of the fat burning capabilities of your longer workouts. During training sessions more than one hour in length, include 30-45 grams of carbohydrates (CHO), or at least 120 to 180 calories per hour of training. Avoid the temptation to go with water only for these sessions, as you do need carbohydrate to help “ignite” the fat burning flame.

3. Skip the refined carbohydrates and sugars. Try to meet your daily carbohydrate needs with nutrient rich whole grain breads and cereals, pasta, rice, potatoes, vegetables and fruits … Save the sports drinks and bars for use during training.

4. Watch your portions of “good” fats. We know fat needs to be part on an Ironman diet, however, too much of even good fats can interfere with body composition change. All fats are calorie dense. Limit nuts and seeds to 1/4c per day, and limit added oils to 1 tbsp per meal.

5. Adjust your portions according to the daily or weekly training volume. A 150lb triathlete with a 20-hour base training week can have daily calorie needs ranging from 2800 to over 5000 calories. Common sense should tell you that your body requires less total calories for recovery weeks and recovery days. Cut back on added fats and reduce overall portions by up to ¼ during these less active days.

Why does this matter to you? In the gym or on the track, body fat impairs performance because it can’t produce force. But dropping over all pounds could mean losing that lean body mass you’ve worked so hard to gain. Always aim to gain and/or retain muscle mass, while shedding body fat.