Skinny Fat and the ABC of Body Composition for Women

Today we once again return to T-Nation and their ‘Chief Content Officer’ Chris Shugart and another breakdown of a study from 2020 on women and body composition. The study was focused on what they call “Normal-Weight Obesity,” or simply ‘NWO,’ as in a funny pun on ‘New World Order,’ as we see these ‘skinny fat’ people everywhere nowadays.

Actually, Shugart explains it well in his funny introduction;

Talk to the average out-of-date dietician and they’ll tell you that women need between 40 and 50 grams of protein daily. Poke around the nutrition journals and you’ll find that the average woman often gets even less than that. Today’s average woman is, in fact, overweight or obese – two out of every three American females, according to the Office on Women’s Health.
Many of those overweight women fall into a category called “normal weight obesity.” We call it skinny fat. Technically, that’s when a person has what’s considered a normal body weight but a high percentage of body fat and hardly any muscle. The scale says, “You’re fine,” but the mirror says, “You’re squishy.” And science says you’re in store for a host of future metabolic diseases.

Yes, ‘Skinny Fat,’ or ‘Pommes Frites Body’ as we’ve called it here in Sweden for the last 25 years or so, is simply someone within a ‘normal’ weight range who still is fat because he or she has an unnatural low amount of muscle mass due to dietary abuse (malnourished but overfed.)
Keep in mind that muscle mass has a density of about 1.06 g/ml, while fat has a density of about 0.9 g/ml. This means that if you have a cube of muscle tissue and a cube of fat tissue of the same volume, the muscle would weigh more. This is why you can transform your body from fat to fit and yet weight the exact same. The scale does not tell the whole story, but the mirror, body fat calipers, and measure tapes do.

As for the study, the group of “researchers” looked at the effect of, yes you guessed it, an increased protein intake and the effect on body composition.

The Study

Researchers recruited 47 sedentary, skinny-fat women between 30 and 60 and divided them into two groups:

Standard Protein Group: On average, these women consumed 69 grams of protein per day (0.5 grams/pound of body weight). The macronutrient composition in the SP diet group was approximately 15 % protein, 30 % fat and 55 % carbohydrate.

High Protein Group: On average, this group consumed 115 grams per day (46 more grams than the standard protein group, or 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight.) The meal macronutrient composition in the HP diet group was approximately 25 % protein, 30 % fat and 45 % carbohydrate.

Both groups were given “maintenance-calorie” meal plans according to the RMR based on the Harris–Benedict predictive formula to follow for 12 weeks. They were all told to keep doing what they always do when it came to exercise, which wasn’t much.

The Results

Both groups consumed a maintenance level of calories, just under 2000 per day. Here’s what happened after 12 weeks:

Standard Protein Group (68g per day): Gained 0.4 pounds of fat. Lost 0.6 pounds of muscle.

High Protein Group (115g per day): Lost 2 pounds of fat. Gained 2.8 pounds of muscle.

Yes, not surprising at all. Let’s see what Shugart brings up and I’ll comment on his observations.

Shugart: “Even though they were eating maintenance calories, the “standard” protein group gained some fat and lost some muscle. Their body weights probably stayed the same, reminding us once again that the scale is largely bullshit. Body composition is what matters.”

Yes, and this should tell you that the silly pseudo-science of ‘calories’ does not matter one bit. Calories is nothing more than a measurement of heat generated when burning a sample of a food, which is not how our bodies work. Our body only recognize nutrients and the energy found in said food and its nutrients are not ‘burned’ in a flame of fire within our bodies – instead the nutrients are used in chemical reactions and energy can be used or stored.

Also, this is an effect of both an increase in protein and, more importantly, and increase in nutrients as the only source for bioavailable nutrition is that of animal-based protein sources such as meat. The authors of the study claimed that “the protein intake consisted of at least 50 % high biological value proteins in both groups.” That means that the SP-group with 68g of protein got only 34g of bioavailable protein from animal-based sources such as meat while the HP-group with 115g of protein got about 58g of bioavailable protein from meat, that’s almost 60% more meat, and that was the key to the “success” for the HP-group in this study.
While protein does help with body composition, it only does so if the body is somewhat nourished and not in a severe starvation mode, as in lacking nutrients, as in being nutrient deficient. So, getting enough bioavailable nutrients from the only source, as in animal-products, is what really matters here.

Shugart: “The standard protein group consumed more protein than the average female and more than some dumbass dieticians recommend for women. Their body comp still got worse.”

Yes, and that tells us that following a diet low in protein and where only 50% of that protein is from bioavailable sources such as meat does not give you enough nutrients to support bodily functions, and that low intake was even lower than what they ate before the study, otherwise they would not have lost more muscle mass as they were already skinny fat. Again, the culprit here is nutrients, not protein per se. They did not get enough animal-based foods to get all the nutrients they needed.

Shugart: “Extend this eating plan and the standard protein group, without even overeating, would gain almost 2 pounds of fat per year while atrophying about 2.5 pounds of muscle. In just five years, well, they’d be a sloppy mess, especially when you factor in the downgraded metabolism. This tells us that “maintenance-calorie eating” isn’t really maintenance, not without a higher protein intake and, ideally, resistance training.”

Yes, “calories” and “maintenance calories” is complete bro-science bollocks. However, yet again, Shugart misses the ball as this is about nutrients. All essential nutrients that are found in meat goes hand-in-hand with protein. If your ‘diet’ (or ‘way of eating’) is centered around our natural human species-specific, species appropriate diet of animal-foods, you will get all the essential nutrients you need and also more than enough protein, as all animal-foods are very high in protein.

Shugart: “The high protein group gained almost 3 pounds of muscle without lifting weights and lost 2 pounds of fat. (Imagine if they’d trained!) While calories are important, we need to drop the “calories in, calories out” and “a calorie is a calorie” mantras. Clearly, over time, there’s a little more to it than that, mainly the amount of protein that makes up those daily calories.”

We need to drop everything “calories” as it’s pseudo-science. And again, it’s not so much the amount of protein that makes up that daily intake of food, it’s the amount of essential nutrients, especially animal fats, minerals and vitamins that are only found in meat, the “protein source.”
And the HP-group did not “gain” muscle mass, they ‘re-gained’ lost muscle mass as they finally got more nutrients and some extra protein. Their bodies finally had enough nutrients to start recovering and returning to their natural ‘set-point.’

Shugart: “Both groups were eating roughly the same number of calories. The high protein group fit that extra protein in by replacing some carbs. However, their diet plans were not low-carb; they consumed about 200 grams daily. This is generally what happens when people adopt a high-protein diet: it’s more satiating, they’re not as hungry, and carby foods and snacks are unconsciously reduced.

Well, imagine what would happen if they replaced those toxic insulin-roller-coaster carbohydrates with a little bit of animal protein and a lot of animal fat. Now, that would not only boost their body composition, that would boost their health, wellbeing and longevity as well. Remember, how you look on the outside does not always reflect on how you look on the inside.

After those bullet points, where Shugart mostly missed the mark, he ended his article review with a few suggestions on how to use this information. And I bet you already know what he will say…

How to Use This Information (or not)

Shugart: “A couple of the women in this study couldn’t complete it because they weren’t compliant with their supplied meal plans. I suspect they were in the high-protein group. Eating over 100 grams of protein daily is daunting to the average person.

Say what? This is clearly a biased view as he will try to sell you some totally worthless protein powder. You can get 100 grams of protein from 450 grams of beef (less than 16 ounces) or from 250 grams of beef (9 ounces) and 6 eggs. And that amount of beef and/or eggs will guarantee that you get all essential nutrients that you need, and also some extremely important animal fats.
Most of my female clients, and I’ve had more than 400 over the 30+ years I’ve coached, consume between 130 to 170 grams of protein a day solely from animal sources (depending on their activity score and goals.) And guess what, none of them has ever complained that it’s ‘daunting’ to consume nutritious and tasty animal-based foods.

Shugart: “They were told not to use supplements, but a single daily protein shake would’ve fulfilled their needs. Two scoops of Metabolic Drive contain 42 grams of protein, almost exactly what the high protein group needed to add to their diets.

And there you go! Bam! The advertisement!
Well, Mr. Shugart, they were told not to use supplements for a reason. Obviously, these “researchers” at least had a tiny bit of understanding of nutrition, as in nutrients, whole food, and food synergy. A protein powder is simply an ultra-processed and filtered protein source, such as milk, only leaving the protein, some of the minerals and a few other co-factors remaining in the end product. There is very little animal fat remaining, and what is left is damaged, same with vitamins. It cannot compare to whole foods such as meat, organ meats, eggs or even raw milk.

A protein powder might help with building muscle or protecting muscle during a stupid weight-loss diet as long as you do not have any severe nutrition deficiencies, but that is pretty much it.

Again, drop the focus on protein and focus on nutrients, on what humans actually are meant to consume. Humans are obligate hyper carnivores. We can only get essential nutrients in their bioavailable form from animal foods. So, make sure that your nutritional foundation is animal-based, and you’ll be good. Drop all the other toxic crap, such as plant foods, and you’ll be even better, you’ll be thriving. And guess what? On an animal-based diet, as in carnivore, being ‘skinny fat’ is impossible. Your body will recover to its natural programmed state in record-time. And if you’re into exercise, your body will recover and tolerate a lot more abuse once it’s fully nourished. However, with that said, I do not recommend excessive exercise of any kind, and absolutely not competitive sports, as that amount of stress will reduce your lifespan and life quality.

And if you have specific questions about our natural diet or need help or coaching, I’m always available.

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