10 Reasons You Have Skinny Arms and Legs But a Big Stomach

10 Reasons You Have Skinny Arms and Legs But a Big Stomach

You see it all the time: people with protruding bellies and skinny arms and legs. These men and women have usually tried a number of things to lose stomach fat and add some size to their arms and legs but without success. In this article, I’ll reveal the top 10 reasons that you are likely to have skinny arms and legs but a potbelly.

Atrophy Muscle Weakness

The size of your arms and legs is mostly a result of muscle mass. If you don’t have much muscular development in your biceps, triceps, forearms, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves, then you will have a skinny leg and arm muscles. Those skinny limbs could be the result of what is known as muscle atrophy, where your muscles literally get smaller. 

Muscle atrophy takes place as a result of king periods of inactivity. A classic example is when you have an arm in a cast. When the cast comes off that arm will be smaller than the other arm. Atrophy can also result from an extremely sedentary lifestyle where you are not moving your limbs as often as you should be.

An inactive lifestyle may also be a contributing factor to fat accumulation in the belly area.

Protein Deficiency

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Protein represents the body’s building blocks. About one in eight people worldwide suffer from a protein deficiency. When your muscle cells cannot get the amino acids from protein that are needed for muscle protein synthesis and resultant muscle building, muscle atrophy will occur.

 When it cannot get enough protein from the diet, your body will have no choice but to steal protein from your existing muscle to meet its needs for building muscle and for muscle protein synthesis. You will have to eat more protein to build every bit of muscle. 

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Bad Foods

A diet that is high in sugary carbs and low in protein contributes to the big belly, skinny limbs body shape. The sugary carbs in a bad diet will contribute to the fat accumulation to the midline, while the lack of protein in the diet will prevent you from adding any muscle tissue to your arms and legs. 

You should start following a balanced diet eating plan that provides you with 30-40 percent lean proteins, another 30-40 percent healthy carbs (whole wheat, vegetables, fruits), and a 20 percent balance of fats. Focus on real food

Too Many Sugary Beverages

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Sugar in food isn’t the only culprit when it comes to the big belly skinny limbs look. It is also abundant in many beverages. And it is much easier to drink your calories than it is to eat them. If you are in the habit of drinking sweetened drinks, sodas, and sugar-laden fruit juices, you need to reconsider what you’re doing. The massive amounts of sugar contained in these drinks will set up an insulin reaction that will lead to a vicious cycle of consuming sugar, overloading blood sugar then eliminating glucose so that you crave more sugar. 

Inadequate Sleep

Sleep deprivation could be a contributing factor to the belly fat, skinny arms, and legs effect. When you don’t get enough sleep, your hormones are thrown off. Those responsible for muscle growth (anabolic hormones) and muscle wasting (catabolic hormones) are widely interrupted. This can lead to muscle atrophy in the arms and legs. Sleep apnea may also contribute to the issue. 

Not getting enough sleep can also upset your hunger and satiation hormones, causing you to want to eat more food. Be sure to get adequate rest. It is even a good idea to have short bouts of rest after your workout.

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Too Much Stress

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When we get stressed, we release a hormone called cortisol. This hormone is catabolic because it actually assists in the breaking down of amino acids, contributing to muscle atrophy. Cortisol also makes us feel hungry, which is why we usually want to eat when we are under stress. Keeping your stress levels under control, then, is key to overcoming the big belly, skinny arms, and legs body type. 

Not Working Out

There is only one way to build muscle in the arms and leg; doing a weight lifting workout for those areas of your body. Increasing your intake of protein in itself will not build muscle. Unless you place stress on your muscle to kick-start the muscle-building process, you will only make yourself fatter by consuming more protein. You need to follow a workout routine with weights in order to build up your arms and legs.

The best exercises to get bigger arms and legs are squats, leg extensions, lunges, leg curls, calf raises, bicep curl, pull-ups, triceps pushdowns, and push-ups. Be sure to include these in your weight lifting workout.

Excess Alcohol Intake

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People who consume too much alcohol are susceptible to a condition called alcoholic neuropathy. When you suffer from this condition, your peripheral nerves have been damaged as a result of your alcohol abuse. This can contribute to muscle loss in the arms and legs.

Cushing Syndrome

Cushing syndrome may be experienced by people who have cortisol hormones injected into their bodies as part of a course of medical treatment. The main symptom is the gaining of belly weight along with muscle weakness. 

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Neglecting Training Your Limbs

If you have an apple-shaped body, you may be a person who is regularly training with weights but still have skinny arms and legs. That could be because you are focusing on compound exercises and not doing specific movements for your arms and legs. Even if you are training your limbs, you can soon stop seeing results if you stick to the same exercises year in and year out. The key to building size in the arms and legs is to work them separately and to keep them guessing with plenty of variety. 


It is very likely that the cause of your belly fat and skinny arms and legs relates to one or more of the reasons given above. Identify which ones of them are a problem for you, they make the necessary changes to remedy the situation. Control your diet and follow a workout routine to train your arms and legs regularly and you will start to see the changes you desire.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the best exercises to get bigger arms?

The best exercises to get bigger arms are alternate dumbbell curls for the biceps, tricep pushdowns for the triceps, and reverse curls for the forearms.

What are the best exercises to get bigger legs?

The best exercises to get bigger legs are leg extensions, cable squats, leg curls and calf raises. 

Steve Theunissen

Steve Theunissen is a former gym owner and personal trainer based in Tauranga, New Zealand. He is the author of six hardcopy books and more than a hundred ebooks on the topics of bodybuilding, fitness, and fat loss.

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