Body Recomposition, or recomp, is the processing of building muscle and losing fat at the same time. With our advice, this is not only possible, but easier than regular weight loss. Due to the complexity of a recomp, most say it is impossible. This is why body builders and fitness experts have two separate phases for gaining muscle and losing fat. Or ‘Bulking’ and ‘Cutting.’ With Body Recomposition, we can do both at the same time!
This guide is designed to help any person, of any fitness level, achieve a recomp. Without the need to steroids, drastic dieting, or fad supplements. If building muscle and losing fat sounds like something you want to do, keep reading. This guide is massive, as it covers the science and all practical tips required. This guide is also ever changing, as when new science comes out or I find a better way to describe things, this will be edited to reflect the information.
Use the ‘Table of Contents’ drop down menu to easily navigate this guide. Unless you want to read all ten thousand words, it may be a good idea. For most people, they can skip over some sections. If you just want a ‘How to’ recomp guide, feel free to jump ahead.
The Ultimate Guide on Body Recomposition
- How Gym Buffs Gain Muscle
- The Role of Testosterone, Growth Hormone and Insulin
- Do Not Sleep on Sleep
- The Skinny on Fat Loss
- Two Pounds Per What?
- But what about “Starvation Mode?”
- How to Gain Muscle and Lose Fat
- Make Gym Sessions Count
- Should I do Cardio?
- Is it this hard for the Beginner?
- What if I can’t go to the Gym? Is Body Recomp for Everyone?
- Quick Recap of the Information
- How to Start – Your BMR
- Mathematical Rate of Fat Loss for Body Recomposition
- Should I take Supplements?
- Final Thoughts
The Quick Version of Body Recomposition
Everyone wants to learn how to build muscle and lose fat at the same time. Luckily, if you are reading this, you most likely can both build muscle and lose fat – at the same time.
For those who want the quick version (And does not want to read the science or 10,000 words), the inforgraphic does the topic justice. Body Recomposition is all about eating a slight caloric deficit, eating a lot of protein, and lifting heavy weights. The truth is, a recomp does not need to be complicated or be hard to pull off.
The Laymans Version: How to Recomp
- Eat slightly less calories than you need to maintain your current body weight.
- Eat plenty of Protein.
- Spend time in the gym lifting weights.
- Limit your running, jogging and cycling.
- Get plenty of sleep to promote muscle growth.
- If needed, take supplements (Especially Vitamins!).
The math can be tricky, so if you are confused on how to figure out how many calories to cut for a recomp, jump to Mathematical Rate of Fat Loss for Body Recomposition .
To understand how you can gain muscle and lose fat, you need to first understand how you gain muscle, how you lose fat, and then how the two can exist together. I am going to help declutter the science and common wisdom behind building muscle and losing fat so this guide will make sense to anyone, and everyone. We will start with building muscle, move onto fat loss, and tie things together with body recomposition. This guide should have something for everyone, not just people looking for body recomposition. Let’s jump into it!
How ‘Gym Buffs’ Gain Muscle – Hint: This isn’t Body Recomposition
The basics behind gaining muscle if you go to your average gym are simple. You lift heavy, take some supplements, and eat a lot. This works, but it is not optimal. Conventional wisdom in the average gym would be:
- Progressive Compound Weight Lifting
- High Caloric Diet
- Supplements (Creatine, Whey Protein)
- Consistent Daily Protein Intake (For Continued Protein Synthesis)
- Sufficient Sleep
- Little to No Cardio
- Optional: Steroids.
That may be bare bone, but it is the best synopsis you will get on building muscle like most people at the gym would. For guys, this is what your High School gym teacher suggested. You go buy some Whey Protein drink a couple shakes a day, take Creatine before you lift weights, go as heavy as possible in the gym, and eat as much as you can. Then, magically, you will gain muscle.
It just so happens this is close to right in respect to building muscle, but it is absolutely not the right approach for body recomposition. When you lift weights, you damage the muscle cells. The muscle cells then repair and become bigger. If you have enough Protein, that is. This is a crude way to explain it, but it is all we need to know for now.
This approach does work. Aside from just some education on what to eat and how often, plus proper lifting schedules, this is how you would exercise to gain muscle. The main difference between the standard gym approach and the optimal approach can be understood with a bit more knowledge on hormones, protein intake, and proper muscle building.
The Role of Testosterone, Growth Hormone and Insulin
Now we dig deep into muscle building. Testosterone and Growth Hormone play a key role in Muscle growth. Testosterone and Growth Hormone both increase Protein Synthesis. Protein Synthesis is the biological process in which your muscles repair and grow.
See, you want more Testosterone and Growth Hormone to increase Protein Synthesis. Growth Hormone also helps your body by reapportioning the uptake of Protein (Amino Acids) to skeletal muscle, activates cells to increase muscle growth, and refill your muscles with glucose. Testosterone also helps inhibit Protein breakdown while also stimulating cells to increase muscle growth. This means both testosterone and growth hormone directly benefit both muscle growth, and fat loss.
Having that basis of knowledge on Growth Hormone and Testosterone, we come to one of many studies linked at the bottom of this article. I try to not drop multiple in-article citations as it can be overwhelming, but this one deserves a look. The synopsis is that there is an optimal way to lift weights to increase Testosterone and Growth Hormone.
This routine is, “Protocols high in volume, moderate to high in intensity, using short rest intervals and stressing a large muscle mass, tend to produce the greatest acute hormonal elevations (e.g. testosterone, GH and the catabolic hormone cortisol) compared with low-volume, high-intensity protocols using long rest intervals.”
What Does This All Mean?
This means that if you lift heavy with a high volume and short rest periods targeting a large muscle group(s), you will increase these hormones the most. Simply put, this is the way you want to lift to maximize the hormones which help you pack on muscle. That makes perfect sense, and is how people should be lifting weights. Men and women should lift heavy to gain muscle and increase strength.
Then you have Insulin. Insulin is a double-edged sword for dieting. Just like Testosterone and Growth Hormone, it also helps build muscle. Sadly, Insulin also helps you build your waistline. Insulin increases your glucose levels in your muscle, as well as increase the blood flow to your muscles. According to Hall’s Textbook of Medical Physiology, paraphrased of course, without Insulin your Ribosomes stop functioning. This means, no insulin, no muscle building.
Insulin on its own does not build muscle. The most important part of Insulin is it helps transport Amino Acids to your cells. This comes from one of the most well-known papers on Insulin by William Lotspeich, “The Role of Insulin in the Metabolism of Amino Acids.” Nearly all studies on Insulin in relation to muscle building show the same conclusion, without elevated levels of Amino Acids, Insulin does not help build muscle. Together, they are synergistic with respect to building and repairing muscle.
The combination of these three hormones is where the magic happens for building muscle and body recomposition. Testosterone and Growth Hormone tend to act more selectively on helping you build muscle, while Insulin helps your body just increase stores of nutrients as you need them. As in, if your muscles need to repair, Insulin will help transport Amino Acids. If your muscles do not need to repair, Insulin will help store the Amino Acids as fat. Increasing Insulin, when optimal in relation to Testosterone and Growth Hormone, becomes the most efficient way to naturally build Muscle.
Author’s Note: Do not worry, we will discuss optimal diet later on. For now, just know you need these hormones and Amino Acids to build muscle.
Do Not Sleep on Sleep
Growth Hormone is essential for muscle growth, and Growth Hormone is primarily released as you sleep. While you sleep, your body also consumes less calories. Sleeping is when your body recovers. Add this together and you discover that your muscle actually grows while you sleep. This is explained by research on sleep. When you sleep long enough, you reach REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. REM is the period of time where your brain kicks into action while sleeping.
During this period of time is when the muscle growth actually occurs. About 60% – 70% of Growth Hormone is released during REM sleep. A quick nap, or interrupted sleep will not work. REM occurs on average about five times during the night for an average person. If you cut sleep short, or have interrupted sleep, you miss periods of REM, which lessens the bodies period of growth and recovery. This makes sleep one of the most important factors in gaining muscle. Not sleeping properly will make all your time in the gym worthless.
Fat Loss also requires sleep. While you sleep your brain ‘recharges’. Without rest, you have more trouble with will power and sticking to you diet. According to Sleep, the national sleep journal, it is proven that individuals who sleep at least seven hours a night have a lower BMI (Body Max Index) and are in better shape. The recommendation is to sleep at least seven hours a night, and up to nine hours a night.
Sleep is essential for both Fat Loss and Muscle Growth. Arguably, it is the most important factor in your ability to gain muscle and lose fat. When trying to gain muscle and lose fat, you must sleep at least seven hours a night, according to Sleep. Common bodybuilding wisdom is to sleep at least eight hours a night, and up to ten hours a night. If you agree with conventional wisdom or the science behind the seven to nine hour guideline, everyone agrees you need to sleep enough or all the diet and exercise you do is pointless.
The Skinny on Fat Loss
Believe it or not, weight loss has been studied a lot (This is Sarcasm). It may be an equally surprising fact to note that all the (fad) diets you read about (From Atkins to Weight Watchers) are less based in science than just giving people rules to follow. That is the secret. You pick a diet which has rules you can follow. Assuming this is true, how does the weight loss happen?
The magic is calories in, vs calories out. As in, to lose weight you must use more calories than you consume. A lot of research has been done to prove this point. I will not bore you with a plethora of research. I will be referencing several times in this article from Biomed, which you can find at the link at the bottom of this article. This study is a synopsis confirming other past research ranging from the effects of multiple diets in relation to body composition. Or how to lose weight, or more importantly lose fat, and retain or gain muscle.
This single study confirms that to lose fat, you need to burn more calories than you eat. Any diet will work if you meet these conditions. Anything else you read or learn are simply personal preferences or worse, a way to make money. I personally created a method to lose weight quickly, while other people jump to Weight Watchers. Both work.
If you only want to lose weight or fat, you can stop reading and just find a diet which you can stick too. Body Recomposition is only useful if you want to gain muscle and lose fat. If the diet does not work, then you are not doing it right or it was designed by an idiot. I am not going to blame you for your fad diet not working. I will not even blame you for falling for the cabbage soup diet in the first place. The fact is some diets just do not make sense because either the math does not work (Calories in vs calories out) or they burn muscle over fat (Cabbage Soup Diet or Not Eating).
Author’s Note: This next addition was added after hate mail. Some people do not like the science of weight loss because they have specific conditions. I decided to address them in this guide as it will help more people doing it this way, rather than sending each email or direct message on social media individually.
This is the point where I have a responsibility to clarify the science, which for people who think they know about weight loss are most likely screaming at their screen as they read this. Yes, what you eat matters. I will get to that. You can not build muscle by eating all Oreo’s. We have macronutrients for a reason and that does impact performance and muscle growth. But, some people even believe that a calorie is not a calorie, and eating 45 calories of X food is superior to 45 calories of Y food for weight loss. This is, based on the science, not true – for fat loss.
All the research says it is calories in, vs calories out. Some food does have a performance benefit over other food. Other food may help with satiety over other food. And different food will have a different insulin response than other food. This all can impact if you gain weight, and if your body will store energy as fat. This is all true and backed by science. But for weight loss alone, we only need a simple math equation.
If you blame anything but yourself for weight loss failures, you will never succeed. Moving forward, just make sure you follow our simple advice. You can make this work. I will help you achieve body recomposition.
Two Pounds Per What?
This is where I mention the mystic ‘aim to lose two pounds per week’ on a traditional diet. According to Donald Hensrud, M.D. of Mayo Clinic, “The concern with fast weight loss is that it usually takes extraordinary efforts in diet and exercise — efforts that could be unhealthy and that you probably can’t maintain as permanent lifestyle changes.” That means that the medical community is afraid if you lose weight quickly, you cannot sustain it or it will be done in an unhealthy way.
This is where I say the Medical Community is wrong. Why so? Let’s dig into the real science of how to lose a pound (of fat). First, let us tackle the myth of “A pound of fat is equal to 3,500 calories.” Funny fact, you will never find an accurate study to show this is true. It is speculation. How you get to that speculation?
A pound weights 494 grams. Fat contains 9 calories per gram. The simple math is then a pound of fat is equal to 4,446 calories. In fact, the studies on how many calories are in a pound of fat will range from 3,500 to about 4,500. This is too far apart to be scientific, so I wanted to know how ‘experts’ made it to the 3,500 number.
This number comes from (In my opinion) another estimate, that our fat is only about 87% fat (Another estimate – which varies) and the rest contains water and other trace materials. By this assumption, for every pound of fat you have, you only have 87% of it being fat (Or around 395 grams of actual fat) which means to lose that pound of fat, you need to burn closer to 3,555 calories.
Something Doesn’t Add Up
But again, these are all estimates in very old research, ranging from Max Wishnofsky’s “Caloric equivalents of gained or lost weight” in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1958) to FAO Food & Nutrition paper 77: “Food energy – methods of analysis and conversion factors”, Report of a Technical Workshop, Rome, (December 2002). I mention this because my opinion (And new research shows) this may all be wrong. This is also backed by my personal experience and friends/client’s experiences.
For years I have believed to lose a pound of fat you needed to burn closer to 4,080 calories. I read it somewhere and after counting my own weight loss and mapping it over time, it just seems to work. There are variables in weight loss and fat loss. The Scale Will Sometimes Lie. It will randomly go up. I can explain most of this with science as well. But that does not matter, because we have a new study.
At least in 2015, new research was released which is linked at the bottom of this article. What does this new data show about how many calories you need to burn? Simply put, at first you need to burn around 3,500 calories, but after twelve months, you need to burn close to 7,000 calories to burn a pound of fat. This considers changing basil metabolic rate, hormonal changes, and activity changes.
As you lose weight, it takes fewer calories to perform every single activity. As you perform activity more often, your body becomes more efficient at performing that activity. This means that the more you lose and the more you exercise, the less quickly your body will lose fat. This is not the mythical starvation mode. This is your body adapting, and you’re weighing less and not considering this in your calculations.
The implication is that you should not aim to lose two pounds per week. When the iron is hot, you should strike. The longer you diet, the harder it is to keep losing.If you want to only lose weight, or have a lot to lose, you should try to lose it before your body starts to adapt. I am not advocating a fad diet, or not eating. The point is, do not use the two pounds per week ‘rule’ as a guideline or limitation. If you are Obese, you can safely lose a lot more than two pounds a week – and you should.
Most people do this by restricting 500 calories a day for a pound of fat loss a week, and up to 1,000 a day to lose two pounds a week. The reason this does not work is because long term, you really are not skipping 500 calories. Your 500 becomes only a 300 reduction in six months as your BMR lowers and your body adapts to the new activity. In a year, you are just eating at maintenance. And your 300 calorie jog becomes a 100 calorie walk after that calendar year unless you up the pace and distance. Your body will adapt for survival.
This section will most likely being taken as discouragement, but it should be the opposite. The healthier you are and the more active you become, the more efficient your body is. If your weight loss slows down, it does not mean you are not doing a great job. It means you are becoming healthier. The goal of weight loss is to be healthier.
But what about “Starvation Mode?”
Before I bash the mythic ‘Starvation Mode’ (Yes, mythic. As in it is a myth), I will start by pointing out that is has some ‘truth’ to it. The truth is adaptive thermogenesis. Studies shows (And all other like it) that your body will adapt over time. Which is something I mentioned in the last section, as a reason to not only aim for two pounds a week when dieting.
Just like the last section on weight loss requiring more than 3,500 calories, if you stop eating your body will adapt. Your hormones will alter to slow weight loss. But stop? Fat chance. The slowdown in minimal. If you burn 2,000 calories a day, you are looking at burning a couple hundred less a day after you stop eating for several months. Or, to think of it another way, since you weigh less after those months your body just uses less calories to function.
For those of us who can read between the lines, you already know my next point. No substantial research has proven that your metabolism slows down from not eating, or from just weighing less. All the research shows that you just burn less calories over time if you do not eat. But you also burn less calories because you weigh less. The research makes no distinction. This is the basis for the fact that you can accomplish body recomposition over an extended period of time without ruining your metabolism.
To those of us shrewd in the science, we know this is an interesting point of causation vs correlation. Do you burn less calories because you weigh less after six months of not eating, or do you burn less calories after six months of not eating because your hormones took a dive? There is a difference. This difference is one science has not proven one way or another. It can be adaptive thermogenesis, a biological process we have science backing. Or it would be a slow down from the ‘Starvation Mode.’
The problem is, after not eating for months, your metabolism is still firing, it just is doing so less efficiently. You burn slightly lass calories. To people who know the science, this sounds more like adaptive thermogenesis and less like ‘Starvation Mode.’ One day science may prove me wrong, but the day that happens is the day the definition of ‘Starvation Mode’ changes, as your metabolism does not just stop, or tank. It slowly decreases over time, often in a negligible manor.
So, at this point, we can agree that the thought of ‘Starvation Mode’ is at least partly a myth, right? Well, then we have the golden study on ‘Starvation Mode’. Remember the Nazis? That is right, concentration camp folks? Contrary to popular belief, the biggest killer during WW2 was starvation. In response, the world needed a way to save the starving in war torn Europe. That brings us to the Minnesota Experiment.
The Minnesota Experiment
You can learn more about the Minnesota Experiment here. The condensed version is in 1945 an experiment took place on thirty-six men. The purpose was to see the effects of starvation on healthy men, and to determine the optimal ways to reverse the condition. First was three months of a controlled diet. Then a sharp decrease in calories. This decrease started by cutting calories in half, from over 3,200 to around 1,500. This phase lasted six months. After the six-month decrease would follow three months of rehabilitation.
The findings were not astonishing. Men continued to lose weight consistently for the six-month period (Including the rehabilitation period). The men dwindled down to skin and bones, and as low as five percent body fat. That is right, the ‘Starvation Experiment’ showed that we have no real starvation mode. If you cut calories in half for six months you will keep losing weight. Although that would be foolish for muscle loss and overall health, it will help you lose weight.
Even if your metabolism slows down, the decrease is minimal. Even if we assume it is high, like I did previously, of a ten percent decrease, your 50% reduction still gives you a 40% calorie deficit. Which means weight will continue to drop off you. This study also shows some interesting information when it comes to rebounding from the starvation, which is where I believe the theory of slow weight loss comes from.
The psychological ramifications were more dramatic. Ranging from dreams of cannibalism (Yes, this happened) to physical harm, the men suffered. In fact, as soon as just a couple weeks of the caloric restriction these horrific side effects began to happen. The men signed up for this, had three months of prep, and a couple weeks into the experiment were dreaming of eating other people and suicide. This was under medical supervision at a hospital. What would you do?
But that is the surface. Many men cheated on the diet and were caught. But they still lost weight rapidly. More men were dismissed from the study because although they lose weight like everyone else, they were suspected of cheating. When the experiment ended, the men were divided into groups to test recovery.
These findings were interesting as well. Mild caloric increases of a few hundred calories did not help recovery. It was only until the participants increased calories by 800. At this point, being so slim, they were eating well over maintenance. But even at maintenance, they were not gaining weight or stabilizing.
The study also tested supplements such as protein and vitamins to help assist in recovery. The caveat is that this was not the same quality of vitamins and protein (Testing on protein supplements at the time were often collagen protein – which had low bioavailability and no additional nutrition), but still it did not help. The only thing which helped would be increasing calories.
Author’s Note: This is the point where I call back to the point of all calories being equal. The study showed that it did not mater if the subjects were consuming more protein, or a modified diet, the only way to gain the weight back was a huge surplus in calories. Without this, the body would adapt and burn it off. When we are not talking about building muscle and the number on the scale alone, a calorie really is a calorie.
Aftermath of the Study
The aftermath was the most important part of the study. After participants could eat as they wished, most binged. Several thousand calories a day and up to over 11,000 calories a day. This is after three months of recovery. These men were three months separated from starvation or even restricted eating, and they all binged and put weight back on. Again, what would the averaged dieter do? The same thing.
Then we have a follow-up study by Cambridge University. The study shows something amazing, your metabolism speeds up when you stop eating. At least at first. That is right, cut food and you burn more calories.
The study does consider the difference between lean and obese individuals who are severely cutting calories. Lean individuals burned muscle in addition to fat. Obese individuals burned considerably more fat. The study concludes that lean individuals should supplement protein for nutritional benefit. Why? Lean individuals burned more lean tissue, or muscle, to survive where obese individuals could function on less protein and more fat.
Another Author’s Note: This means that when trying to build or preserve muscle, macronutrients matter. For weight alone, it does not. For Body Recomposition, this is the first sprinkle of science showing high protein is a necessity.
Let me sum this entire section up neatly. The only risk of starvation mode is binge eating. The metabolic slowdown is little if not nothing. Obese individuals have little concern of losing muscle and can just cut calories as low as possible. Lean individuals will lose muscle but if they supplement protein properly, the risk it mitigated. All in all, you can lower calories as much as you want, if you can stick to the diet. Armed with this information, we can not worry about being aggressive when attempting body recomposition.
Back to Body Recomposition: How to Gain Muscle and Lose Fat
More importantly, back to our multiple references for this article. All the studies show that any diet will work, if you burn more calories than you eat. It also shows that you can maximize lean mass preservation with extreme amounts of Protein. As in, once you go over 3 grams per kg of body weight, you have very little if any muscle loss on a diet. It is also shows in athletic individuals to improve body composition in a calorie restricted diet. That is right, with enough protein, an athlete can accomplish a Body Recomposition.
The Holy Grail of Fitness is possible, a true recomp without steroids, even athlete can build muscle and lose fat – at the same time. The catch is the athletes performed resistance training in conjunction with the absurd amounts of Protein. Now that you are up to speed, and know this is all possible, let us put this all together with one final piece of research. There is an optimal rate of fat loss to preserve or build muscle mass. You should aim to lose 0.7% body weight a week for an athlete to gain lean mass, or muscle.
So, an Athlete should lose weight slowly (0.7% a week), lift heavy, and consume an absurd amount of Protein to build muscle. That means, Body Recomposition for an athlete is a simple formula:
Body Recomposition = Caloric Deficit (Body Weight x 0.7) + 3 Grams of Protein Per Kg of Body Weight + Optimal Resistance Training.
Optimal Resistance Training is outlined in the hormone section, but I will go over it quickly. You want to lift to spike Testosterone and Growth Hormone. Or, you lift to target large muscle groups with high frequency, high weight, and low rest period. You then have an optimal spike of Testosterone and Growth Hormone. This will directly help build muscle, and lose fat.
Insulin comes into play as well. You want to maximize your transfer of Amino Acids to your muscles during this anabolic window (If you are confused on Amino Acids, check out our article on Protein, which covers what Amino Acids are). On days you lift weights, you want to increase carbohydrates to help restore the glycogen in your muscles. This is known as Carbohydrate Cycling. On days you are lifting weight, you eat more carbohydrates to spike Insulin and refill glycogen. Carbohydrate cycling has a host of benefits from Endocrine Stimulation (Making your Thyroid work better) to what we are focusing on, Muscle Growth.
You still want to be at a caloric deficit. Most diet guru’s will tell you to either consume more calories on lifting days and less on days you are not lifting. This methodology is flawed. Why? Building muscle is about recovery. You damage the muscle when in the gym, and it repairs when you are not in the gym. Spiking Insulin through carbohydrate cycling will help you refill your muscles with glycogen and allow Testosterone and Growth Hormone to better utilize Amino Acids. You are not consuming carbohydrates because you should be eating more calories that day. You are eating more carbohydrates because they are superior to fat to help build muscle. Following this protocol is especially important in a body recompostion where you have less room for error.
Author’s Note: The science supports a caloric deficit every day. Lifting and nonlifting days. Every day your protein intake must be high, but on lifting days higher carbohydrates are superior too low carbohydrates.
Structure the Recomp Diet
The diet should look something like this. Every day your Protein is kept at 3 G / KG or more. Most other diet gurus suggest around 1 G / KG or 2 G / KG when lifting weight. I am saying at least 3G / KG. Why so high? That science we went over proves this is how any person can keep muscle mass while dieting, and when lifting weights can put on muscle mass – even with a caloric restriction. The rest of your calories can come from carbs or fat, as long as you are at your caloric deficit to reach 0.7% of body weight loss a week.
On days you lift, you want more carbohydrates to have a decent work out in the gym and transfer all those Amino Acids you have been eating. On non-lifting days, you may want to have higher calories from fat. Why? Fat does a better job of keeping you satisfied, or feeling full, than carbohydrates. Plus, carbohydrate cycling does have benefits for Body Recomposition. Which means when you do eat carbs, your body will react in a superior manor than if you were eating Fats on lifting days.
Make Gym Sessions Count
Remember, it is important to target large muscle groups. This means you want to perform compound lifting targeting either a large muscle group or multiple muscle groups. Let me quote this again, “This routine is, ‘Protocols high in volume, moderate to high in intensity, using short rest intervals and stressing a large muscle mass, tend to produce the greatest acute hormonal elevations (e.g. testosterone, GH and the catabolic hormone cortisol) compared with low-volume, high-intensity protocols using long rest intervals.’”
There are superior ways to lift than your traditional training split. If you have been lifting for more than three years consistently and know your way around the gym, the traditional methodology may not work. Why, you ask? Biological limitations. Simply put, your body does have some set points. It can be weight (Which can be changed by maintaining a new weight for one year) or the amount of muscle you can carry. This is the point most people quit or move to steroids.
This is not required. If you are at this point and feel you are at your biological maximum, you will need to change how you lift weights. This is where the limited science behind ‘Muscle Confusion’ comes from. When you are at a muscle group limit, changing what you do can push your muscles to a new level. The science of this is shaky, but it can be done.
At this point (The point of this article) sharing this information would be negative, as most people are nowhere near this level. This level is two or three years of consistent weight lifting in a progressive manor consistently pushing the amount of weight you lift and increasing strength with Progressive Overload. Once you peak and plateau, you would be near your biological maximum.
For everyone else, the standard split is sufficient. The standard exercise split would be four days of lifting, three days of rest.
Monday: Chest and Triceps
Tuesday: Back and Biceps
Friday: Deltoids and Arms
This should be your maximum. Any more lifting than a normal routine will be counter productive. The reason is, even when on a slight caloric deficit, your muscle will take longer to recover. If you still feel sore, you should not rework the same muscle group. This means it has not recovered and you need more time to let your body recover. This is unlikely for beginner lifters, but for those advanced in training, you should know your limitations.
The days you lift would be the days you consume a higher amount of carbohydrates. Different muscle groups would benefit from a greater amount of carbohydrates. Tuesday and Thursday (Back / Biceps and Legs) would be the days you want the most carbohydrates. They would use the most glycogen and are the larger muscle groups for recovery. Monday and Friday (Chest / Triceps and Deltoids / Arms) would be medium carbohydrate days. You want more than non-lifting days, but you do not need as much as Tuesday and Thursday.
The problem is with classifying high, medium and low carbohydrate days are that most people want a set point for how much to consume, like with protein. This entirely depends on how many calories you need in a day. The rule of thumb is on non-lifting days have some fat and carbohydrates. On lifting days, have as little fat as possible, hit your protein number and consume the rest of your calories in carbs.
Should I do Cardio?
Yes. But not much. The problem with prolonged cardio is you will eventually lose muscle tissue. There is no set or scientific rhyme or reason for this. This means you want to perform the minimal amount of cardiovascular exercise in order to burn fat, to limit how much muscle you lose.
This means the estimates I provide, and frankly everyone, is guess work. Those like Lyle McDonald, when discussing his Rapid Fat Loss protocol, suggest minimal or no cardio when on a severe caloric restriction to preserve muscle mass. I tend to agree. But the slim deficit we have is small for the reason, so we can afford to still lift weights and gain muscle. This means we can also afford some cardio.
For recovery sake, you need to limit cardio to just a couple hours a week, only. You want to use a high cardio protocol such as High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) or another high intensity activity. You want to raise heart rate enough to lose maximum fat. The regular fat loss rules apply, and morning fasted cardio tends to give the best impact on fat loss. As long as protein is high like suggested, muscle loss with be minimal if any.
The only caveat to this is if you lift weights in a way which may is also cardiovascular. We will touch on this shortly. If you are lifting weight which is also cardiovascular, you should do no cardiovascular activity as it would be counter productive.
Is it this hard for the beginner?
No! In fact, the less experience you have, the easier it is. New lifters tend to build muscle and lose fat without any of this information and knowledge. This is called many things, from newbie gains, to beginner’s luck. When you first start lifting this is far easier as your body does have a biological set point for muscle mass. It is willing to naturally grow to that point. The farther away you are, the easier it is to gain muscle and lose fat.
This is extrapolated by the sudden change in diet and weight lifting. Switching from a poor diet and no weight training to consuming enough protein, sufficient carbs, and lifting with proper form you will pack on muscle and your body will lose fat. This is the honey moon phase in a new lifestyle of fitness. Keeping the momentum going is the hard part.
What if I can’t go to the Gym? Is Body Recomposition for Everyone?
This is where things get dicey. I need to make up some numbers to tell people what to do. Science has no answer. So my official answer is, it depends. That is the outlook I will have on my recommendations. It does to a great part depend. But, you want an answer. So I have some. The body fat estimates are based on men, as that is the group of people I most commonly help. This knowledge rests on a decade of experience with my own body, and the bodies of others through helping them diet and teaching them how to box. Some groups of people commonly have issues with body recomposition, so we will help get even the most difficult cases to achieve body recomposition.
If you physically can’t go to the gym:
This group of people are often over 40% body fat, and morbidly obese. If you can not physically go to the gym, you need to put aside the goals of body recomposition, and worry about fat loss. My recommendation is to do what physical activity you can to get moving. This means, take on a class such as Pilates or Yoga to get your muscles moving, and walking to burn calories and get used to physical activity. This is essential to start to prep your muscles. You also need to focus on losing as much fat as possible. Your diet should be high in protein to maintain muscle mass, and low in carbs and fat. You can afford to live off of the energy stores you already have, especially when not doing much rigorous activity.
If you are too out of shape for a hardcore gym session but can still do something:
This would be obese people who are normally 30% body fat or more. This group should still focus on losing weight over recomposition for a while. Still, too much fat to lose. The goal should be preserving muscle by having a high protein intake while cutting calories.
This group would include those who have not exercised in a while. They can push themselves past Yoga or Pilates and even do some weight lifting. But they can not keep up with even average fitness people at the gym. This group of people has a few options. One is going to the gym and do what you can, or two is find an alternative.
The alternative would be Kettlebell exercises. Yes, the fad of a metal ball you swing and lift. But it is something I used early on when Obese and know a lot of athletes who use them. The main benefit is you can start with a small weight and do it at home. The next benefit is Kettlebell exercises are easier to learn proper form with than most gym exercises. Watching a couple videos can get you up to speed.
Kettlebell exercises also have a benefit to help strengthen your tendons, and ligaments. This will help prevent injury when progressing to a normal gym routine. Kettlebell exercises are not optimal for Body Recomposition but they combine cardiovascular exercise with resistance training, can be progressive, and are often safer due to use to use and learn. The final benefit is you can do these workouts at home.
People can start as low as eight pounds for a Kettlebell. I personally started at 25 lbs. This is up to you, and your fitness level. It is better to start small and work your way up. This is useful as a step up for people who find Pilates too easy, but going to the gym too difficult.
Can go to the Gym, Slightly out of Shape:
This is the group commonly looking for this type of advice. Around 25% body fat and just not happy with there fitness level. they never really went to the gym before but their weight was never a problem. This group of person should go to the gym, and follow the recomposition protocol. This group can afford to cut calories slightly more than the 0.7% of body weight still, but when getting closer to body fat in the teens should follow the protocol more closely.
In Average Condition or Shape:
This is the group in the high teens for body fat percentages, of 15% and up. This group can follow the protocol entirely and put on lean muscle mass while losing fat. This group may be the perfect team for a recomposition as they do not have a huge amount of fat to lose but could benefit from muscle gain.
The Fit or Better Group:
This means you are below 15% body fat, can go to the gym or do go, and just want to shed some fat and put on a little muscle. This group is what the science is designed for. You must strictly follow the Protein intake recommendations to be able to gain muscle mass while at a slight caloric deficit.
Cardiovascular activity should be kept to a minimum. Your macronutrients matter, as does carbohydrate cycling to get the most out of gym sessions. Make sure you also lift heavy and use progressive overload. All the information outlined in this guide is useful to use. No excuses, get in the gym and start counting calories.
Quick Recap of the Information
This was a lot of information to read, and even more to understand. Especially if you followed the links. So, lets recap. First, it is possible to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. The earlier you are in your fitness journey will make this easier, or harder. It is only harder to recomp if you can’t follow the protocol. It is never impossible, but it may be easier as an advanced gym goer to focus on just gaining muscle or just losing fat. This is because the optimal caloric deficit is very challenging to maintain all the time.
For a beginner, it is easier. You can play more loosely with the outline we have discussed. If you are in the middle, or things are just not working for you, I guarantee this is what you are looking for. This protocol is simple and anyone can do it.
Body Recomposition comes down to a few basic principles:
- Slight Caloric Deficit.
- High Protein Diet.
- Progressive Overload in the Gym.
- Little Cardio.
- Optional: Carbohydrate Cycling.
That is the crux of the method, which science supports. The optional part, carbohydrate cycling, may be beneficial for those with insulin sensitivities or have satiety issues if not eating fat. It is optional because science does not fully support it for everyone, but most people find it beneficial.
How to Start – Your BMR
You start by figuring out how many calories you need to consume to maintain your weight, or BMR, in pounds. There are a lot of calculators. Or you can do some math. More traditional formulas would range from the Sterling-Pasmore to the Rule of Ten.
The Sterling-Pasmore is simple, and good for those who are already active. Your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) is LBM (Pounds of Lean Body Mass) x 1.38. LBM is determined by taking your weight, and multiplying it by your fat percentage. You then subtract this number from your weight. You then have LBM. Then, plug in your LBM and multiply it by 1.38, and you have your daily caloric requirements.
If this is too hard, you have your ‘Rule of Ten’ method. Take your weight, and multiply it by ten. That is your rough BMR for a woman. For a man, you grab your weight and multiply it by eleven. Then you have your BMR. You will find this is close to more accurate estimates. The only problem is this excludes physical activity.
People with a sluggish thyroid need to take that into account and realize these BMR calculations are high estimates. For everyone else, it is a pretty good guess, but it is a guess. The BMR is the only part of the guide I made a section for as most people will mess it up.
Once you have your BMR, you can set your caloric deficit. The deficit is 0.7% of body weight. This can be a small number, most likely a couple hundred calories maximum. Depending how fit you are, this can make a huge difference. Healthy people need to be positive on there BMR, while those not in shape can afford to not be as accurate. For those in shape, I suggest getting your BMR registered by a medical professional.
Mathematical Rate of Fat Loss for Body Recomposition
You now have your BMR. Set your BMR aside at it will be important later on in the equation and necessary for body recomposition. Next, you determine your rate of fat loss. Your goal is 0.7% of body weight loss in a week. For example, a person weighing 140 kg (That is large person, generally speaking) looking to lose 10 kg would spread their goal over twenty weeks.
This gives a rate of fat loss of 0.7% a week. For those in the US, a kilogram is about 2.2 pounds. This would mean if person weighing 308 pounds wanted to lose 22 pounds, using the outlined body recomposition method, they would aim to do so in a twenty week time table.
Now you figure out how many calories to reduce. Using the same example, the 308 pound male would need to burn about 77,000 (This is assuming that to burn a pound of fat you must burn 3500 calories – which is not exactly true as discussed). 77,000 calories over 20 weeks would be 3,850 calories a week (77,000 divided by 20). This equates to 550 calories a day being reduced.
Let me do some quick math for everyone. A 308 – pound male, using the rule of ten, has a BMR of 3,080 calories. (Remember, a lean individual or active person will want to use the Sterling-Pasmore Method). 3,080 minus 550 is 2,530. A 308 pound male would aim to eat 2,530 calories.
You then convert the 308-pound male’s weight to KG for our Protein consumption. 308 pounds is roughly 140 Kilograms. That means the 308-pound man would aim to consume 420 grams of protein (140 kg x 3 grams of protein). That is a whole lot of Protein, I know. At four calories per gram, you want to aim for 1680 calories from Protein, a day. But, again, this is how you acheive optimal body recomposition.
Most Protein sources will also have trace amounts of Fat and Carbohydrates. That is why it is essential to keep track of everything and limit the amount of Fat on non-training days, and you will already consume some Fat through the Protein sources you chose. A last note on Protein selection, as I discussed in the article on Protein, not all Protein sources are complete. Some essential Amino Acids are not found in all Proteins. Meat Protein contains all the Essential Amino Acids.
The study cites at least this amount of Protein for Body Recomposition for athletic individuals. If you are a beginner, you can consume less Protein. But eat as much as possible. On training days, the remaining 800 or so calories would come preferably from Carbohydrates. On non-training days, a mixture of Fat and Carbohydrates.
Do Not Forget To Lift
Then you want to lift weights properly to achieve body recomposition. Progressive weight training focusing on increased strength consisting of heavy weights, with included short breaks, and multiple sets of each exercise. The heavier the weight the better. Don’t worry if you can’t start off heavy, as you can build up to a heavier weight. That is entirely the point of progressive weight training after all. Then, you will accomplish the ever-elusive Body Recomposition.
A final note is that the more fat you have, the further you can restrict calories. The science we have is optimized for individuals who are athletic and are more prone to losing LBM (Lean Body Mass) than overweight people. If you have over 20% body fat as a male, you can safely cut calories past the 0.7% figure which is optimal for an athletic and lean individual.
This is all you need to know to scientifically recomp. Everything else online, or even in this guide, is either useful information or someone trying to sell you something.
Should I take Supplements?
When going under any caloric restriction I always suggest taking at least a decent multivitamin. This is equally important for body recomposition. In addition, when reducing Fat intake, you should increase Omega 3 Fatty Acids with a Fish Oil pill. You can use Creatine as a Pre – Workout supplement as it is proven to help with muscle growth. Another good Pre – Workout would be caffeine, as it does improve performance and increase performance in the gym. Caffeine is also proven to help maintain or even grow muscle.
If you are struggling with Protein intake, you can use Protein shakes. I suggest either high quality Whey Protein or Casein Protein. Whey is faster digesting (Which is optimal for providing Amino Acids quicker) or Casein (Which is slow digesting and keeps you full longer). The only stipulation is most Protein supplements are full of chemicals, Fat, Sugar and Carbohydrates. So, tread lightly. It is always better to eat real food to reach your Protein requirements.
I do have some protein recommendations such as brands or companies with higher quality product, which I may share later. The goal of this guide is to not sell you anything and only provide what you need. The higher a caloric deficit, the more likely you need to take a good multivitamin. The more intense your work out, the more likely you want a pre – workout supplement like Caffeine. Creatine is proven to help no matter fitness level if you are lifting weights.
Final Thoughts on Body Recomposition
Now you have the science behind Body Recomposition. It is possible to both gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. The conditions are not that difficult to reach. You want a very slight caloric deficit. This requires a very high protein intake. A recomp also requires a weight lifting routine which is progressive.
My personal experience is that you can get away with a slightly higher caloric deficit. Even with a slightly higher deficit, you can gain muscle and lose fat at the same time to accomplish body recomposition. Your diet is what matters. Fitness is made in the kitchen. As long as you follow your diet to a ‘T’ you can accomplish what most dream of.
Body Recomposition is NOT turning fat into muscle.
I get that question all of the time. Email, on social media, in person. Fat does not, has not, and will never turn into muscle. What body builders do in a bulking phase is gain mass, in a cutting phase they lose fat. Your body can not magically turn fat into muscle. Do not confuse body recomposition with a common myth. If that could happen, I would be a bowling ball of solid muscle. In the real world, that is not possible. Sorry, this is a pet peeve of mine in the general public who believe this myth. I just had to throw this out right away. If all you learn from my website and 1,000’s of hours of work (Research, exercise, and dieting) is that you can’t turn fat into muscle, I can die a happy man.
Find all the resources used in this article and the scientific basis of all our article at The Science Behind Fitness.