T Nation

Relatively New, Have a Few Questions


Hi All,

Last December I decided to stop my coffee+cigarette diet and get back in shape and pack on some solid muscle. Stats: 5'7", 106#, 20% body fat - in July, 5'7", 123#, 12.5% body fat. In that time I did get down to 10% BF but lost my period so I put on some "weight" to get it back.

I chart all calories, bought a $75 food scale and use it in every meal, have nutrition charts pasted to my refrigerator, and have a cheat meal about once a week. Other than the cheat meal, I tend to eat whole unprocessed foods. Lately I've been training on a flush routine due to boredom (I have a trainer I meet with once a month who designs a new workout for me for that month) and to beef up some muscles that were falling behind and hindering my progress. I take a plethora of vitamins.

Right now I look like my profile picture. While lifting at the gym, people come up to me and go "how can you lift that and be so skinny??" I'm not concerned about how big I am, but how strong I am. My genetics dictate that I have a thin frame, so I'm not going to concern myself with looking like what I can lift.

Anyway, I have a few questions that I hope someone can shed some insight onto.

1) How low is too low of a body fat percent for a woman, and can she stay that low for extended periods of time without going nuts or compromising health?

2) What exactly is a bad carb? I'm not talking about junk food. I eat a carb product in the morning (whole wheat bran, raw unprocessed oats, 5-grain cereal, pearl barley) with my protein and I eat fruit three times a day (like one piece - one apple, one peach, one cup watermelon, etc), but I have been hearing lately that sugars should be kept to under 6 grams per meal. One apple has like 24 carbs. Does this apply to fruit intake? I know vegetables are good carbs, but they have a tendency to have sugar too. It sounds like fruit should be ousted, but my body seems to handle it better than oats or bran or barley (I tend to bloat a little).

3) What is the verdict on dairy? I see that some people tend to avoid it altogether, and some people say nonfat are ok. But how much per day? I like strained greek 0% or nonfat plain yogurt, and mix it with my carb in the AM. I also will have a small amount of nonfat organic milk in my coffee in the morning (measured, no more than 2 oz for the three cups I drink). Does dairy have too many sugars?

I realize I am nipicking the nits themselves here. I can't seem to find anyone who can answer these questions for me though. I usually get the "you're insane" look, and then am told not to worry about it because I'm skinny enough as it is. Sigh...

Thank you!


I am the wrong person to talk to about diet, since I don't eat super-strictly myself, but I have heard the 12% number suggested as the minimum long-term sustainable body fat for women.

Also, what are your goals? Whether something is "too much sugar" depends on what you want to do with it (are you trying to lose weight? Gain weight? Just gain strength?)


My goal is to just gain strength and stay lean. I don't think I have any fat to lose.


Then my guess is that you can eat carbs and not worry about it. Fruit, milk, and grains? That doesn't sound like some big catastrophe. You need to eat in a surplus to build anyhow. There's more diet-focused stuff on the Figure Athlete side, if you're interested.


Thank you! I do read Figure Athlete, and will continue to do so.


Do I understand you to say you put on more than 17# of muscle in six months? As a fellow skinny girl, I am impressed. My weight has not budged a single pound as body shape has changed.


Yes, I guess I have! I think it was just due to beginner's luck tho, my body responded really well to the training. I've seemed to plateau though, but I know it's because I'm not eating enough. I'm not sure if I actually want to get bigger now.


Hi drwolf :slightly_smiling:

Good job on the mass gain!

You say you're not concerned with how big you are but just how strong you are but you seem to be quite focussed on low body fat. I believe, if you want strength, ultimately you will have to eat for it. Staying lean is possible but it will be at the expense of strength for most people.

I also don't believe there is such a thing as a good carb or a bad carb but all food serves a purpose at different times. Different people respond to sugars and other carbs differently so you just need to know your body. Sometimes you need them.

If you've dieted down to the point of stopping your period I think you're going too low. The percentage that is safe or healthy is different for every woman.

Personally I think 10% or less is too lean for a woman, for health, strength and aesthetics. 12% is pushing it too. But YMMV.


I have to agree with Debra. I'm very close to your size and am currently at approximately 12-13% bf. The only reason I'm the size I am is making weight for powerlifting since I'm chasing records at this weight class. However, I've been told that I'm in a sport where most men are around 15% and have been advised to go up a weight class to vastly improve my strength. In one coaches words "Lean is lean. Lean is not strong".


Thanks debraD and ouroboro_s, I appreciate all input. My trainer said yesterday the same thing, essentially mass moves mass. I just have to learn to listen to my body, give it what it wants, and throw another 25# on the bar. :smiley: