Why Indians Struggle with Fitness: Unveiling the Asian Indian Phenotype

Summary: This video discusses the common physique of many Indians known as the „skinny fat“ or „thin fat“ phenotype, characterized by little muscle mass and excess fat around the waist. The video points out that lifestyle factors, such as a high carbohydrate diet and lack of protein, contribute to this issue. It highlights the need to prioritize protein intake and reduce carb consumption to improve overall health and fitness. The video also emphasizes the misleading nature of BMI measurements and the importance of regular exercise as a long-term lifestyle choice. It concludes by calling for a shift in mindset towards health and fitness in India.

Author Icon

Our Summaries are written by our own AI Infrastructure, to save you time on your Health Journey!

How does this happen?

Key Insights:

  • Indian physique commonly referred to as „skinny fat“ is characterized by skinny arms and legs, little muscle mass, and excess fat around the waist.
  • This body type is often observed in South Asians and is known as the Asian Indian phenotype or Thin Fat phenotype.
  • India is on its way to becoming the diabetes capital of the world, with 70 million diabetes cases.
  • The reason for this phenomenon is a combination of lifestyle factors and genetics.
  • A survey conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research found that about 70% of the Indian diet consists of carbohydrates, compared to 50% in the United States.
  • The overconsumption of carbs and lack of protein in the diet contributes to the skinny fat physique.
  • Incorporating more protein and reducing carb intake can significantly improve overall health and fitness.
  • The Body Mass Index (BMI) is often used in India to determine health, but it may not accurately reflect body composition.
  • A study revealed that 43% of Indians with a normal BMI are metabolically unhealthy.
  • Working out should be considered a lifestyle, not a short-term solution.
  • Avoiding exercise does not automatically lead to weight gain; it depends on overall calorie intake and expenditure.
  • Negative beliefs about supplements, such as protein powders, exist, but it’s important to understand the source and authenticity of the product.
  • Traditionally, Indian diet was designed for individuals engaged in physical labor, but our sedentary lifestyles today require a shift in dietary habits.
  • Physical activity levels in India are significantly low, with 40% of the population not meeting the recommended minimum level of exercise.
  • Health and physical appearance often get overlooked in pursuit of academic and career success.
  • It’s important to shift the mindset towards health and fitness as a way of life, debunk myths and misconceptions, and choose sustainable practices.
  • While Indian genetics may not be ideal, individuals can strive to be their healthiest and fittest selves.


I’ve always wondered why most Indians have a physique that looks like this – skinny arms and legs, little to no muscle mass, and a lot of fat accumulated around the waist region. A body type that’s commonly called „skinny fat.“ You look fine with clothes on, but when it comes off, it’s not a pretty picture. This is often observed in South Asians and is called the Asian Indian phenotype or the Thin fat phenotype. You might have noticed this in your friends, your relatives, and even in yourself.

We’re on our way to becoming the diabetes capital of the world with 70 million diabetes cases. What is the reason for this? Is it lifestyle or is it hereditary? A country that’s dominating the world in science and technology, why is India severely lagging when it comes to fitness?

Now, of course, genetics does play an important role, but it does not mean that we can’t overcome this challenge. Take a look at these foods that are typically consumed in South India. All these dishes are made of rice batter, which is extremely rich in carbs. Now, carbs aren’t necessarily bad for you, but the problem comes with overconsumption.

The myth is that only by eating sweets you will become diabetic. It’s not like that. The overall quantity, the calorie content, the carbohydrate content of the food, they are all responsible. The Indian Council of Medical Research did a survey spanning 12 years, featuring people from every single state and union territory. They found out that about 70% of our diet consists of carbohydrates, compared to the United States where carbs accounted only for 50% of their diet. This overconsumption of carbs and lack of protein is a recipe for turning skinny fat because protein is what adds muscles to your body.

Now, of course, this has to be combined with weight training, but for now, let’s focus on diet. A large part of the plate on a typical meal tends to be just carbohydrates. We’re essentially eating rice and rice, and we just add on a bit of vegetable and protein to it, which is very little to meet the protein requirement. Although items like chutney, sambar, and curries can be nutritious, and pulses like rajma and chickpeas are super rich in protein, these foods are usually consumed in small quantities, so the overall impact is not significant.

So, making a conscious effort to include more protein and reducing carb intake in your diet will cause a significant improvement in your overall health and fitness. A majority of people in India use BMI to determine how healthy they are. BMI is a formula that uses your height and weight measurements, and it outputs a number. If the number is between 18 to 25, it’s considered normal. Anything more is considered overweight, and anything less is considered underweight.

But here’s the problem – take a look at popular wrestler Steve Austin. He was about 6’2″ and weighed about 250 lbs. According to BMI, he is considered obese, while this other guy is considered healthy. We know this is actually a very unhealthy type of body composition, but because it’s in the normal BMI category, it often gets missed and overlooked. A study in 2020 revealed that 43% of Indians with a normal BMI are metabolically unhealthy. So, a huge portion of people are living under the illusion that they are not overweight or unhealthy, when in reality, they actually are.

If you go to the gym in India, you would have noticed a lot of middle-aged people working out because they were probably diagnosed with a health condition, or some even work out to lose weight for an upcoming event. They go all-in for a couple of months, get on crazy diets, and once the event passes, they get back to their old lifestyle. This is a very wrong mindset. Working out should be considered as a lifestyle, not a short-term solution.

Now, what’s even worse is some people completely avoid working out because they believe that if they stop exercising, they’ll automatically gain more weight. To clarify, you don’t magically put on more weight if you stop working out. It’s rather because you’re now consuming more food and burning fewer calories. The more you eat, the more you need to move to burn off those calories. The less you move, if you sit on your ass and don’t do anything, you need to eat less to counterbalance that. Does that not make sense?

Secondly, there are also a lot of negative beliefs about supplements. People don’t take protein powders because they think it causes side effects. Dude, you’re eating so much protein, you’re going to get kidney stones. Very often, you’ll see that these same people who pass these comments have little knowledge about fitness. But the real issue is 70% of the supplements that are sold in India are fake. So, these fake products are inherently harmful and can cause side effects. It’s important to understand that protein powder isn’t harmful. It’s about where you get it from. Do your research, check with the doctor, and make sure you get it from a legitimate source to avoid such concerns.

From a very early age, we give priority to academics in schools. We focus on board exams. In college, our focus is on GPA. At work, it’s all about working extra hours and aiming for a better salary. And before we realize, we are all caught in this rat race where we enter our 40s and 50s with tons of health issues. Now, this is not to blame our parents or teachers. Their primary goal is to ensure a good quality of life for their children. But what gets overlooked here is the importance of health and physical appearance.

According to a survey in 2022, 40% of Indians were not even meeting the minimum level of physical activity that is recommended by WHO, which is roughly 150 minutes of exercise per week. What’s the point of making money and achieving success in your career if we can’t be healthy enough to enjoy its benefits or live long enough to savor it?

The traditional Indian diet that is high in carb foods like rice was designed for people who did a lot of physical labor, working in fields and factories, burning excess calories by virtue of their daily activity. Unfortunately, this does not align with our current lifestyle. Most of us work in front of a computer, and with services like Zomato, Swiggy, and Uber, our life has become very sedentary. Our lifestyle has completely changed in the past couple of decades, but sadly, we still cling on to old traditions when it comes to diet and nutrition.

Hopefully, this video has given you a good understanding and awareness about health and fitness in India. Remember, it’s not about working out or dieting for a few months, shift your mindset and view it as a way of life. Don’t fall for all these myths and misconceptions. Choose something that works for you, something that’s sustainable in the long term, and stick to it. We Indians may not be blessed with the best genetics, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t do our best to be our healthiest and fittest selves.