This might seem like an obvious yes but I asked my Momma this question and she said that there are more nutrients in muscle but she isn't sure whether a fat humanoid would last longer than a muscular humanoid in a famine.

I think this comes down to pros and cons of each body type.

Fat humanoid

Fat has more energy, much more than glucose. Because of this, protein breakdown when it happens would be slower. And the brain can work on ketones and your heart basically works with ketones all the time. Ketosis is a longer process than protein breakdown and takes up most of the time that a human or other creature with similar metabolism is starving to death.

On the flipside, being fat increases your chance of having heart and liver failure. It also can lower your endurance and speed and while lowered speed is fine, if humanoids migrate, lowered endurance is the last thing you would want besides being attacked. Even without health problems, it still has downsides during migration.

Muscular humanoid

Muscular humanoids have more strength and/or endurance. Both of these are positives. But protein breakdown is a relatively fast process and involves turning protein into glucose. So muscle mass, strength, and endurance would be lost. If this continues for too long, the humanoid will be down to the bone underweight and like being fat, this lowers endurance more than a low muscle mass would by itself. If a humanoid becomes underweight, it has a close to 0 chance of survival in a famine.

So given all these pros and cons, would a fat humanoid last longer due to ketosis or would a muscular humanoid last longer because of a lower chance of health problems, even at a higher than normal BMI?


These humanoids live in a grassland surrounded by forest. They also know how to grow plants. Usually both fruits and veggies from agriculture and animals to hunt are in abundance. Winter has a higher risk of famine because unless you have a greenhouse, only a few fruits and a few more veggies can survive winter. Animals to hunt can pretty much always survive winter. But if a supervolcano erupts, that can cause a global volcanic winter for a whole year. This would definitely have a high risk of famine.

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    $\begingroup$ Your mother might simply be encouraging you, in a roundabout way, to not get fat unnecessarily. :-) Also, what can you tell us about the environment in which these humanoids live, and their lifestyle? Modern western civilization would likely be very different from something like proto-humans on the African plains surrounded by other animals who want to eat you. Keep in mind that carrying around excess weight is very hard on skeletal joints in particular; muscle can help stabilize joints (depending on where it is located, obviously), but most of the time, fat is just weight. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 6:39
  • $\begingroup$ Use a hybrid :P $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 7:43
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    $\begingroup$ It depends on the ethical system of your humanoids. A fat humanoid might well be seen as lunch by the hungry skinny ones :-) $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ That may be but I am assuming no cannibalism is going on. $\endgroup$
    – Caters
    Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 18:44

3 Answers 3


Some guidelines to consider.

Fat is the body's mechanism to store energy. It has added benefits, such as insulation, but its primary purpose is to take excess energy from food and save it for later. We have an evolved mechanism for our bodies to flip a switch and go into ketosis (the burning of fat) when there is a lack of ready, easily metabolized sugars. This is a common mechanism in mammals, so it's not unique to humans.

Every year, we have a famine called "winter", but sometimes we get prolonged famines caused by a long winter, lower than average rainfall, high insect activity, potato blight. This happens all the time so the human body has evolved to handle these periods so that most of the time, the tribe will make it, even if certain individuals don't.

So we already know all of this and it doesn't actually answer anything, but it does help give some context:

Consider the individuals. We have Blubber, the morbidly obese. We have Tubby, who carries some extra weight but is still active. Then we have Beachbody McMuscles.

Based on what I have read about (not an expert by any means), Mr. Blubber will not going to fare well at all. In order to get that fat, he was continually abusing the mechanisms his body evolved to deal with a varied diet. He has eaten too much sugar, so he has to produce large quantities of insulin. He is storing tons of fat. He has greatly increased chance for diabetes and the decreased level of physical activity makes him more prone to heart disease and atherosclerosis. The older Blubber is, the worse he will fare in a famine situation. It's hard to correct behaviors which got him to that state and in some cases the damage is done.

McMuscles, surprisingly, may be the next to go. If his body has no fat to metabolize, it will begin to slowly break down muscle mass. His body is used to ready-to-use fuel. He has much less reserve fuel supply, so his body is going to start burning whatever it can. Suddenly he begins metabolizing muscle mass and endurance and such will drop off sharply. He gets some of disadvantages back because his body is now more efficient, but I don't think it will be enough to offset the lack of fat.

Finally we have Tubby. He's going to come out in the best shape of the 3. Tubby hasn't got to the point of system abuse. He's still fairly active so his body is going to be efficient enough. Finally, he has the fat. He has the natural reserve tank that nature has intended for us to have.

Kilisi does make an excellent point though. Ruthlessness will play a big role. If Blubber kills off the rest of the village and gets them in the meat smoker, He might outlast the famine, only to keel over from a heat attack later.

Edit: Kilisi makes another point in the comments...what about the skinny guy, the small guy, and Average Joe? Average Joe would probably fall under Tubby, especially here in the USA. I'm combining the little guy and the skinny chap into one, as a lot of the little guy's I have met tend to be either really skinnly, or you flip a switch and the flip right into Blubber.

Twiggy is the skinny guy and he can be a bit of an enigma. They are usually smaller and don't require as high a calorie count as us chubbier fellas. However, there is an anomaly. I have another nephew who is nearly 2 meters tall. He weighs maybe 60 Kilos. If you put handcuffs on him they would fall off as soon as he lowered his arms. I have also seen Twiggy consume enough food to put me into a diabetic coma and then ask for dessert. So Twiggys come in two varieties. Those who are just luckily, naturally, thin and those with incredibly high metabolisms. In a famine situation they both will probably do OK. Better than McMuscles and about the same as Tubby. I really don't know why some really skinny kids have the kinds of metabolisms they do, other than divine Irony. Their bodies are very efficient, effectively consuming all calories that come in, even while requiring less. Maybe Tubby could hold Twiggy above his head in order to reach the fruits way up high in the trees, and they both benefit. I still think (opinion) that Tubby has a net advantage long term.

  • $\begingroup$ Consider the special case of a pregnant woman. It could be what drives the selection of keeping obesity in the general gene pool. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 16:26
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    $\begingroup$ I know I tried to keep to generalities. I didn't even consider pregnancy in this analysis. Frankly I was thinking of my nephew as tubby. He is around 2 meters tall and weighs close to 150 Kg. He is certianly active, he used to move and install safes as a summer job, so he certainly not weak, but he will never be Mr. Universe. I cast my self as blubber, and I have lived the diabetes and heart disease. On the plus side, I am working toward reclassification as Tubby :) $\endgroup$
    – Paul TIKI
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 16:43
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    $\begingroup$ You got the obese guy, the chubby chap, and the mesomorph, but you left out the average guy, the skinny chap and the small bloke, all three of which need less sustenance all else being equal. My brother in law is the tubby chap, I'm much smaller and lighter, he easily out eats me by a factor of three and loses his mind after half a day with no food. In a famine I'd knock him on the head the first time he looked at me sideways. $\endgroup$
    – Kilisi
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 23:49

Not necessarily, people who process their food most efficiently will last longer. People who habitually overeat have trained their bodies to be inefficient at processing. This is assuming that everyone starts off equal.

In real famines, the ones who do best are the most ruthless ones, regardless of initial size.

Another big factor is self discipline. Obese people usually don't have much of this when it comes to food, most people in the first World don't in terms of volume. People with self discipline in this regard will ration. It's a LOT harder than it sounds. If you have seen people get hungry, and I mean really hungry you see widely different reactions. Some people will start obsessing over food after half a day to the exclusion of almost everything else and start becoming irrational. Others don't reach that stage for much longer.


A fat humanoid will survive longer only if he/she can outrun the other survivors. So physical condition (especially aerobic capacity) would be a matter of life or death.


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