Whether you call them man boobs or moobs, you’d probably rather call them “those things I used to have.” The clinical term for man boobs is gynecomastia, and the condition is more common than you might think. According to the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, in fact, up to 30 percent of men have this frustrating condition. If you’re one of them, don’t despair — this is how to lose those man boobs.
Learn What Causes Man Boobs
Gynecomastia can be caused by excess body fat, but “the most common reason is a hormonal imbalance,” says James Arteaga, M.D., an attending physician at Kaiser Permanente in Woodland Hills, California, who has performed many breast reduction surgeries.
Arteaga says the testosterone and estrogen imbalance can start as early as adolescence and continue into adulthood. “During that time, the male breast tissue is particularly susceptible or reactive to hormonal changes and the tissue begins to swell,” Arteaga says. “The nipple and the areola get bigger and stretch out.”
Researchers have also linked gynecomastia with excessive marijuana use. A 2002 animal study in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found that cannabis caused a decrease in testosterone. Arteaga reports that a number of his patients with gynecomastia use marijuana daily. But, to date, the link between the two hasn’t been conclusively proven.
Increase Lean Muscle Mass
One of the myths that both old school doctors and trainers have propagated is that to lose your man boobs, you simply need to build up your pecs. But that just creates muscles that look firmer underneath the excess fat. “You want to increase leaner muscle mass with weight lifting exercises,” Arteaga says, “at the same time you lose total body fat.”
Lose Weight, But Keep That Muscle
Losing weight and gaining muscle can seem at odds with each other. You’ve heard the classic advice: If you want to shed pounds, you have to eat fewer calories while burning more of them. If you want to gain muscle, you have to do just the opposite—eat more calories while working your muscles hard.
So is it possible to attack these two goals at the same time? The answer is an unequivocal yes. OpenFit experts’ advice on losing weight while gaining muscle includes prioritizing protein in your diet and focusing on HIIT (high-intensity interval training).
Consistent weight lifting can help, unless a hormonal imbalance is the underlying cause (read on). Along with regular cardio exercise for fat loss, resistance training has been shown to increase your muscle mass and testosterone levels in your body.
There are a million ways to go about weight lifting for both strength and muscle gain. You could dedicate entire days—even weeks—to one goal.
Or follow the approach favored by Jordan Syatt, world-record powerlifter and strength coach: Begin every workout with big compound movements like squats, deadlifts, or bench presses. “Go for heavier weight, lower repetitions, and really challenge yourself strength-wise,” Syatt says. As the workout goes on, switch to moderately heavy weights and higher repetitions (six to 12 reps).
Studies show that occasionally doing low weight/high rep (15-plus) sets can help optimize hypertrophy by targeting the smaller type I “endurance” fibers, which also have some growth potential if you work them close to fatigue. That’s why smart muscle building programs incorporate a range of reps and sets into their design.
Drink Less Alcohol
For starters, studies show that alcohol stimulates your appetite, making you reach for the hot wings and order an extra plate of fries. Since your body doesn’t register the liquid calories in that margarita as well as the solid calories from a chicken wing, you eat more food to compensate.
And sweet cocktails are a minefield of problems. Consider a typical nine-ounce pina colada: It contains 490 calories (a whole meal’s worth of calories for some!), and those calories come from fatty and sugary sources such as coconut cream and pineapple juice. It’s also got as much alcohol as two standard drinks.
Consult a Doctor
To keep the man boobs at bay, as noted, you’ll also want to monitor your testosterone and estrogen levels. Talk to your health practitioner about those concerns.
And if you are already lifting weights, doing cardio, and eating clean and you still have unwanted cleavage — and nothing you do seems to minimize your man boobs — your doctor will do an extensive checkup to rule out any serious conditions.
Even if the verdict comes back as gynecomastia, don’t be alarmed. “Luckily, in the vast majority of cases, the condition is not harmful or dangerous,” says Arteaga. Potential options include anti-estrogen medication to reduce breast size, or breast reduction surgery.
Then, instead of calling them man boobs or moobs, you can call them “those things I don’t have anymore.”