Question: Hi. I’m a female, 5’10, 160 lbs. I’ve always been active with Pilates and yoga but have been totally committed to weight lifting, cardio and a diet plan for 6 months. I love it!
I’m a “fat ectomorph” when I do not work out. I would never be described by anyone as “fat” but after reading a lot about the different body types, I’m on the heavier end of ectomorph. I can eat and eat, not work out at all and still be “thin.” I’m either ravenous or not hungry at all.
I’ve had to work hard for any muscle and to lose fat despite my thin frame. My arms, back, calves, shoulders and chest have gotten extremely muscular. My quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes have made serious improvement.
However, I cannot seem to shave off the layer of fat on my abdomen, my sides above my glutes (medius area) and firm area at the quads and the juncture of my hams and glutes. I can feel abs defined under the fat. My lower glute/ham junction will not tone up! I’ve been doing lunges, squats, machines and weights!
If I diet too much, I feel too weak to lift weights. If I do too much cardio, I lose weight fast but in all the wrong areas, like my face, upper body, lower legs and arms but my overall body weight increases.
If I’m doing cardio other than just walking, I could eat the entire house. It’s so odd. If I don’t do cardio, I lose overall bodyweight and I’m not hungry at all. I don’t look healthy when I loose too much weight in the face, arms and when my upper ribs show under my collar bones.
Can you suggest any tweaks to diet, cardio or weights?
I’m also allergic to eggs and shellfish and I don’t like any fish. I’m a very picky eater. I’m totally chickened out!
Can you please suggest any alternative protein sources? I’m drinking whey protein and hemp protein shakes. I’ve cut out dairy. I don’t like water but I make myself drink it.
I did have a trainer for a while. She was very helpful. I did what she suggested and saw improvement. She also said I had some strange genes. My wrists are 5.5 inches but my hands are huge. She was really surprised how muscular my arms got in no time.
– JA (Texas)
Answer: I don’t recommend putting too much effort into analyzing your body type unless you’re a “pure” ectomorph, endomorph or mesomorph…
…Why? For these two reasons:
- It’s difficult to accurately identify your body type if it isn’t obviously in one of the distinct categories.
- Even if you can correctly identify where you fall along the body type spectrum, there aren’t really any tried and true solutions for “hybrid” body types (even the solutions for distinct, pure body types are not universally effective). Thus, any solutions I could concoct would be far-reaching and ambiguous at best; and counterproductive at worst.
Your body type obviously doesn’t fall into a distinct body type category. As such, I won’t give your body type much consideration in my response.
Moving forward, I’ll break my response down into several sections. Each section will give you input and advice on the several topics you raised in your message.
Are You Sure Fat Loss Should Be Your Focus Now?
It seems apparent from your message that fat loss is your focus at this point.
I’ll trust your judgment that this is the best approach, since I can’t actually see your physique to give my recommendation.
However, if you haven’t already considered continuing to gain muscle, I would invite you to do so. I’ve often seen cutting diets turn out to be wasted efforts for people who don’t have enough muscle underneath their fat…
…And the results aren’t pretty. They end up looking skinnier than Stick Stickly.
If you’re not confident that you’ve built a sufficient base of muscle, then you’d be better off bulking up more. But you should realize that you may mean gain a small amount of fat in the process…
…So if the possibility of gaining a little more fat is unacceptable to you, then opt instead for a cutting diet.
You may be able to lose some fat at the same time since you’re likely able to capitalize “newbie gains” (with 6 months of training, you’re probably still in the beginner stage).
Below, I’ll discuss your two possible strategies: gaining muscle and losing fat.
It sounds like you’re off to a good start, having already built some muscle. And it’s important that you continue to do so.
Whether you focus on building muscle or losing fat in the short term is a different story (and as mentioned in the previous section, it’s a decision you must make).
Building up your muscles is key to improving your overall figure. While you’ll want to increase your muscle mass over your entire physique, you would benefit from more lower body muscle gains.
I say this because you stressed that your hips, glutes, hams and quads are an area that needs improvement. Specifically, you attributed this to a lack of “toning.”
However, “toning” is an overused and ambiguous term. You can’t “tone” anything. You can only gain muscle and lose fat.
That said, people are considered toned when they have a decent amount of muscle in combination with a relatively low bodyfat percentage, which accentuates the general shape of the muscles.
Thus, you can’t look toned without first having a significant base of muscle to begin with. Without it, you’re just skinny.
I know you’ve already had some noticeable increases in your muscle mass, but I want to point out that women tend (you may be an exception) to overestimate how much muscle they have and how much they should have for an aesthetic figure…
…To put it bluntly, they’re scared of muscle. They don’t want to about getting “bulky” or “too muscular.”
This is an irrational fear that restricts the progress and potential of dedicated yet misguided female gym-goers (aka “cardio bunnies”).
Since you’re on a weight lifting site and have actually lifted for 6 months, you’re leagues above the average cardio bunny who lives on the treadmills and doesn’t lift a dumbbell unless it’s pink and weighs than 3 lbs.
However, for all I know, you could be unnecessarily resistant to the idea of lifting heavy weights and training for serious muscle and strength gains.
I won’t pursue this topic any further, but will recommend this article for more on the subject. It’s must-reading for any fitness-minded female that’s at all hesitant about gaining more muscle.
The muscle gains improve your body shape by giving it fuller and firmer appearance in the right places. This in turn detracts from the visual impact of any existing unwanted fat…
…After gaining enough new muscle mass, you can switch to a cutting diet to burn off any incidental fat gains accrued during the bulking phase. This removes the fat, shows the new muscle and reveals an even better “toned” body than before.
In your message, you were frustrated with the difficulty of burning fat in a few, specific body regions. In your words:
I cannot seem to shave off the layer of fat on my abdomen, my sides above my glutes (medius area) and firm area at the quads and the juncture of my hams and glutes.”
This has to do with how your body distributes fat. However, you seem to have a rather typical female bodyfat distribution.
Although it varies from woman to woman, females tend to collect fat in the areas you mentioned, especially the hips/love handles, glutes and thighs (as for your abdominal fat, it’s likely just due to an relatively high overall bodyfat).
The body regions that naturally collect fat are the first places to add fat and the last places to lose it.
There are no shortcuts for dealing with this stubborn fat. It’s impossible “spot reduce” the fat from specific areas of your body. The only way to lose it is to lose more overall bodyfat…
…When you do this, your arms, calves, back and chest will lose a little more fat in the process. But after a certain point, you’ll trim proportionally way more fat off your hips, glutes, thighs and abs.
This uncovers the muscle beneath the stubborn fat, thereby giving those parts of your physique a better shape. Plus, it brings them into proportion with those other areas of your physique that are already lean (i.e. your arms, calves, etc.).
Don’t Train Like a Girl
You didn’t tell me much about your training program, so don’t take it personally if I make false presumptions on your training.
You should be training just like any guy would. That means doing the major compound exercises with heavy to moderate weight, for low to moderate reps (i.e. 3-12 reps).
Additionally, whether your goal is gaining muscle or cutting fat makes little to no difference in your weight training program.
You said that you do squats and lunges. That’s good. As long as you’re doing them with challenging weight.
You also said you’re using “machines.” Minimize or completely eliminate machine exercises. While they certainly have their place, free weights are superior for general muscle building and strength training purposes.
Also, be sure to include deadlifts. This is a tremendous overall exercise, and you’ll find it particularly effective in improving your hamstring/glutes juncture.
…Don’t bother trying to figure out to put these exercises in a self-made routine. That’s a recipe for failure.
Instead, choose a routine that’s been proven to work. I recommend the MYx8.
Whatever program you do, though, you must make it your primary goal to adhere to the principle of progressive overload.
If you can follow this principle, then you are on the right track. If you can’t, then you know you’re doing something wrong; be it with your training, nutrition, recovery or motivation.
Getting More Protein
Being a picky eater can certainly make it a challenge to get enough protein and other nutrients.
That said, it’s still doable.
You said you cut dairy products out of your diet.
I’m guessing that you may have heard the popular meme repeated in the fitness community, that dairy products make you fat, specifically due to their high lactose contents.
However, this is flat out wrong. Lactose has no mystical properties that cause you to get pudgy. It is fundamentally the same as any other sugar: a carbohydrate that contains 4 calories of energy per gram.
In fact, the only thing that causes you to get fat is consuming a excessive surplus of calories (i.e. more calories than you burn or synthesize into muscle tissue).
Unless you’re lactose intolerant, there’s no good reason to eliminate dairy foods from your diet. You’re missing out on excellent protein sources like:
- Cottage cheese
- Other cheeses (Cheddar, American, Swiss, etc.)
Also, if you’re worried about the fat in these dairy products contributing too many calories to your diet, then you can simply opt to buy the reduced fat or fat-free alternatives.
I generally prefer the reduced fat versions, since they significantly reduce the calories per serving, without making them taste too watered-down.
Definitely buy reduced-fat versions of the “other cheeses” if you plan on eating cheese more than sparingly.
Otherwise, you’ll rack up a disproportionate quantity of calories from way fat before you get a worthwhile amount of protein (remember, fat has >2x calories per gram than protein).
Other than dairy products, though, there are yet still more protein-rich food options that may match up with your “selective” (sounds better than “picky”) food preferences. I’ll list them below:
- Brazil Nuts
- Black beans
There’s gotta be at least a few foods out of the ones I’ve listed that you can enjoy. If all of them sound unappetizing, then too bad. Haha sorry, but you just gotta deal with the less than favorable taste if you want results.
You only need 160 grams of protein per day, and some of that (no more than half, preferably a quarter) can come from protein powder. That leaves you with just 80-120 grams of protein that you need from whole food…
…That’s easy. Two tall glasses of milk, a large chicken breast, a lean beef burger, some black beans and a PB&J sandwich, takes care of about 100g of protein. Add just 3 scoops of whey and you’ve reached your 160g daily protein requirement.
It looks like you’ve got your supplements game on lock, for the most part. I’ve got just a couple of suggestions.
Consider dropping the CLA. While it certainly won’t hurt to take it, there’s no real evidence to support it’s efficacy.
More than likely, the CLA is a waste of your money, which could be more productively allocated to buying quality foods or more protein powder.
My other critique has to do with your fat burner.
In general, fat burner products are glorified caffeine-containing concoctions with some appetite suppressants sprinkled in them.
I’m not saying that they don’t have any positive effects. They do.
However, there is a much more economical way to get the same, if not better, effect…
The caffeine increases your body’s rate of fat oxidation and also suppresses hunger; while the Yohimbine HCl amplifies the appetite suppressant effect, and also boosts energy.
If I diet too much, I feel too weak to lift weights.
That’s a sign that you’re eating too little. Fat loss, done correctly, is a relatively slow process.
If fat loss is your focus, you should start out by eating just below maintenance level calories. Then slowly and gradually reduce calories from that point as you continue dieting…
…Don’t be too aggressive by cutting calories too dramatically to begin with (no more than 5-10% below maintenance).
Sure, cutting calories aggressively may make you lose fat a little bit faster, but it would be at the cost of losing your hard-fought strength and muscle gains.
The same concept applies to the goal of gaining muscle. Don’t increase calories way above maintenance.
Overshooting proper caloric requirements in attempt to gain muscle faster, is a good way to “overbulk” (i.e. get fat). Trust me, I’ve been there.
To build muscle with minimal fat gains, start by eating no more than 5-10% more calories than your maintenance level. Adjust accordingly as you progress.
Read my bodybuilding diet guide for information on calculating your appropriate caloric intake.
With regard to cardiovascular exercise, you stated:
If I’m doing cardio other than just walking, I could eat the entire house. It’s so odd. If I don’t do cardio, I lose overall body weight and I’m not hungry at all.”
Cardio does tend to have a stimulating effect on appetite. Though, it seems to produce a more intense effect for you than it does for the average person.
The issue with this, as you’ve surely experienced, is that it makes you more apt to overeat. Fortunately, there’s a few tricks for dealing with this:
- Use your will power to stay away from the fridge (unless of course you’re having a normal meal). Your hunger levels should retreat after a while.
- Drink lots of water. This is good for an immediate, albeit temporary, blunting of hunger pangs. Plus, water is good for fat loss anyway.
- Snack on low calorie density foods, such as rice cakes and watermelon. This puts something in your belly and delays your hunger, without racking up many calories.
- Take an appetite suppressant just after or right before your cardio session. As I mentioned earlier, I recommend taking a caffeine and Yohimbine HCl stack.
- If it is truly such a problematic issue, then your last resort is to simply do less intense or less frequent cardio.
If you carefully consider my advice and implement the parts that apply to you, then I have no doubt you’ll meet your goals sooner than expected.
Don’t hesitate to ask any follow up questions.