Body recomposition or “recomp” is a phenomenon of losing fat and building muscle at the same time. Since they’re diametrically contradicting goals, all sorts of outlandish claims (AKA “gibberish”) start to pop out once you dive into the web in search of “how to recomp.”
The reason why body recomp is surrounded by lots of shitty claims is that it typically happens with a combination of factors. You need to fall into one of three categories:
- Overweight & Untrained Individuals
These are fresh of the couch folks who experience those ‘noob gains.’
They start training with the goal of a nicer-looking body, start eating in a calorie deficit, and holly fucking death—6-12 months later they realize that not only did they lost fat but build a hefty amount of muscle too.
In this study1…
(I wonder how many of them maintained that weight loss…)
For one, this occurs because overweight and untrained folks have extra body fat to lose and so their body can use that stored energy to facilitate muscle growth even while being in a caloric deficit.
Secondly, they’re far away from their genetic muscle growth potential because the only time they saw the gym was when they walked past it on their way to The Cheesecake Factory.
- Detrained Individuals
If you were lean and muscular but for whatever reason got out of shape, you will drop body fat and regain the lost muscle quickly once you start lifting weights again.
This is most likely due to the muscle memory phenomenon which allows regaining muscle fibers and strength faster than initially gaining them.
- Individuals on Bodybuilding Viagra
Body recomp is easy peasy, lemon squeezy for people on anabolic steroids. Not much I can add here. Let’s move on.
What if you have been training consistently for 2-4 years already and you don’t fall into any of the categories above? Can you still build muscle and lose fat simultaneously?
Back when I believed that BigMacs grow on trees and that Coca-Cola comes from natural springs in Wyoming, I would have gone all ARE YOU DUMB? OF COURSE, IT’S IMPOSSIBLE. GEEZ… on you.
Turns out, it is possible (¯\_(ツ)_/¯).
A recent study2 by Christopher et al. examined the current literature demonstrating body recomp in various trained populations:
Despite the zeitgeist that well-trained individuals cannot gain muscle mass and lose fat simultaneously, they found heaps of trials that have demonstrated otherwise:
Now, before you skip the rest of the article and scroll to the part where I tell you how to pull off the body recomp, please know that there’s a teeny tiny problem with all those studies looking at trained individuals:
Either fat loss or muscle gain is so negligible that going full-blown body recomp is probably a bad idea and just not worth the time.
This is because the body recomp happens on a diminishing scale—it gets harder and less realistic to build a significant amount of muscle while also losing fat the further along your training status is and the leaner you are.
With that said, I think in most instances for most people, the body recomp is a waste of time. As a researcher Alan Aragon noted,
Once you find yourself posing and flexing in the mirror you know that your recomp days are limited.
So unless you are an overweight/untrained or a detrained individual, or on the special sauce it’s much more productive and realistic for you to focus on one goal at a time—you either bulk and build muscle (here’s how to) or cut and lose fat (here’s how to.)
Now, if you think you can benefit from the recomp, here’s how to set up your body recomposition diet:
- Eat in a slight calorie surplus on your training days;
- Eat in a slight deficit on rest days;
- Keep your weekly average calorie intake at maintenance;
- Keep moderate to high protein intake of >0.9 g/lb/d (>2.0 g/kg/d.)
Eating in a surplus on training days and in a deficit on off days is known as a ‘calorie cycling’ but don’t expect magic. No magic here—cycling calories simply allows you to have more energy to fuel your workouts.
If you feel like calorie cycling makes your day-to-day nutrition too complicated, then just eat at maintenance every day of the week.
Don’t put too much faith and effort in body recomp because you might end up spinning your wheels in a situation where neither your training nor nutrition is optimized for either fat loss or muscle gain.
But if you’ve decided body recomp is the approach for you, go for it. If not, focus on successful cycles of cutting and bulking because your body is pretty shit at achieving two completely opposite goals.
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