“Dad Bod”, What Do?

First, a definition might be in order. The term “dad bod” gets tossed around in popular culture and comes in many shapes/sizes but for our purpose today, we’ll define “dad bod” as a situation where a male has too little muscle (lean) mass in proportion to his total weight. Said another way, a high fat mass in relation to his total weight.

There are a few possible presentations that fall under the term “dad bod”. The individual may have a “normal” or “high” total bodyweight.

Metrics & Limitations

When discussing this phenomenon, a few important questions immediately come to the surface. These include, but are not limited to:

  • what is the standard or accepted definition (i.e., how do we clinically identify)?
  • how useful/reliable are our measurements?

Let us first say, we can’t really define the term dad body objectively. Mostly, it’s a subjective (typically based on observational preferences) term, however, we will work with the metrics that have been generally accepted as useful when determining cutoff points for “healthy” individuals.

Percent Bodyfat doesn’t seem to be a useful metric here as we can’t really agree on what the “standard” should be. This is likely due to many factors including culture, ethnicity, etc.

Body Mass Index (BMI) can be useful in certain circumstances. On it’s own, BMI tends to not be all that useful, however, it’s utility persists as it’s quite easy to calculate. The common language around BMI is that it often misrepresents “jacked” dudes as overweight. While this is technically possible, more often than not, folks have a tendency to overestimate their “jackedness”.

Here’s a quick snapshot at the BMI table:

  • 18.5 – 24.9 = normal weight
  • 25-29.9 = overweight
  • 30+ = obese

Waist Circumference – can be used in conjunction with BMI to better predict comorbidity risk. As noted above, SOME folks with his muscularity (i.e., a high proportion of lean mass to total weight) would appear as overweight using BMI as a stand-alone metric. However, in order to confirm said “jackedness”, one would be well suited to pair this data with a waist circumference measure.

Here’s a quick snapshot of some waist circumference values:

  • < 37in = normal risk
  • 37 – 40in = high risk
  • 40in + = very high risk

So an elevated BMI (>25) in conjunction with a low risk (<37in) waist circumference would be cause for little concern. However, if you find yourself in a situation where you have an elevated BMI AND a high/very high risk waist circumference, one might want to consider losing some amount of total bodyweight.

You might be thinking, “this all sounds good, but I still can’t determine whether or not I have low muscle mass”. You’re correct, the BMI + Waist Circumference measures only point to risk based on total height/weight/waist circumference. One could “infer” that if their bodyfat is “high” it would stand to reason their relative lean mass could be low but there is still much inference going on here.

Using the InBody

At our gym, we use the Inbody scanner to take a snapshot of an athlete’s composition. We can glean all sorts of data from an assessment. Some we use, some we don’t. While the Inbody is a fantastic tool, it should be noted that there is still SOME ERROR associated with each measurement. If you get a reading of 24.8% bodyfat, you’re likely not actually that specific percent bodyfat. No worries though, we don’t really need the actual number, we’re more interested in trends. It should be moving in our desired direction if our plan is working / we’re working the plan. AND remember, we don’t have a gold standard for percent bodyfat anyhow, so much of this information is unnecessary in an absolute sense. We simply want to recognize trends.

One category we often discuss with clients is the BODY TYPE section. Inbody uses a simple C-I-D visual representation as it contrasts our (1) total mass, (2) lean mass, and (3) fat mass. Here is a quick breakdown:

  • C shape = low lean mass relative to total/fat mass
  • I shape = appropriate (they use the term athletic) lean/fat/and total mass
  • D shape = a high lean mass relative to total/fat mass

The intention overtime would be to move in the direction from C toward I/D shapes. You can see the “D” shape represented in the picture above.

Changing the Narrative

Traditionally, conversations around body composition have always centered around fat mass. As in, we need LESS fat mass. We’re always wanting less fat mass. I’m happy to say that these days, we are having a lot more conversations around MORE lean mass. My anecdotal experience supports this conversation in that any time we focus on adding lean mass, the athlete has a much more positive experience. It would seem that if we’re able to utilize strategies that increase lean mass, decreased fat mass comes along for the ride.

This is a more interesting conversation IMO because the quality of one’s life (QOL) quite literally revolves around his/her lean mass. We have mountains of data to support preserving / gaining lean mass to the fullest extent you can (save for drugs) in order to live the best physical existence possible. In short, your focus should be GAINING MUSCLE vs. LOSING FAT when you hit the gym.

Useful Strategies

Let’s look at 3 ways to increase your lean mass proportion to your total/fat mass. Or said another way, let’s look at how to reduce “Dad Bod”.

Strategy #1 – Lift Weights 3x per Week

Focus on major pushing, pulling, hinging, squatting, and carrying exercises. Nothing special required, do them in the 5-12 rep range for 3 sets each. Push yourself, add weight as often as you can.

Pretty much any barbell / compound oriented program is what you’re looking for.

Strategy #2 – Walk 8K Steps x Day

It might take some time to build this one up. Start where you are and add 1K steps every 3 weeks until you get to 8K. That’s the magic number in terms of comorbidity risk reduction. You’ll get a nice little boost in aerobic function, energy, and a likely improvement in mental health.

Strategy #3 – Eat more Protein

You need to eat at least 1.6g of protein per 1kg of bodyweight. That’s odd math for most of the folks I work with here in MO so you can also ball park this amount to 75% of your bodyweight (in pounds) to grams. As an example, a 200lb male would need 75% of this in grams per day (150g).

Protein can come from plant/animal sources as desired, the most important aspect is that you’re hitting the 1.6g per 1kg mark daily. Don’t worry about when or across how many meals. Just get the number in each day.

This 1-2-3 punch seems to do a really nice job of helping folks turn their composition around without harsh dieting or telling them to constantly take up less space / lose weight / drop fat / etc. etc., etc. That story gets pretty old TBH.

Here’s a quick snapshot of my recent program.

Recent (personal) Experience

We typically focus on client results for our marketing. Just head over to our FB/IG pages and you’ll find a lot of pictures of folks holding up their “whiteboard” results. You can also read their stories, it’s really pretty awesome stuff. Today, however, I thought I’d share a recent personal experience of my own.

This feels like the “I’m not only the president, I’m also a client” moment we all used to see on the hair replacement commercials😂.

Here are the program details:

  • Train (lift weights) 3 x per week
  • Walk 150 min x week (typically 30 min sessions)
  • Eat enough protein (I ate 200g per day)
  • Eat maintenance calories (2250kcal was where I landed most days)
  • Limit alcohol intake to weekends only (this was hard, I like to have a drink when I cook dinner)

The program above is pretty doable. At no point did I feel like I was “dieting” or depriving myself. Well, sometimes the limited alcohol intake felt pretty challenging but that is another post all together.

How did I do?

There you have it, 3 solid strategies to change your composition. As a bonus, think about working in 12 week intervals. Give yourself a few doable strategies, then execute. At the end of the 12 weeks, assess your progress and repeat.

Here are 3 ways you can put this knowledge to use:

Hope this helps.