Lose fat, gain muscle. Known as “body recomposition”, many people believe this is impossible or reserved for a small percentage of people. But that’s not entirely true. Most people can definitely build muscle and lose fat at the same time. With the right nutrition and training plan, you can actually signal your body to use its existing fat stores as energy towards building muscle, and as a result, achieve body recomp. So, how do we do it? Well, there are 3 steps to a successful recomp, starting with nutrition.
Click below for a step-by-step plan to build muscle and lose fat:
Although you’ll want to be in a calorie deficit to stimulate fat loss, the calorie deficit you use shouldn’t be as aggressive as it would be during a typical dieting phase. As for what that sweet spot is, a 2021 meta-analysis suggests a deficit of between 300 to 500 calories. That said, the data is from subjects following standard fitness programs employed in research studies, which usually aren’t the most ideal programs for muscle building. So with the optimized training plan I’ll show you later, it’s very possible you’ll be able to build muscle even in a 500-calorie deficit and beyond. However, based on this data, if you want to maximize your odds of being able to recomp, it’s likely that a slight deficit of around 200-300 calories is best.
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Next, protein: eat too little protein, and your body will start to look for it elsewhere, such as your existing muscle mass. As for how much to eat to counteract this for successful body recomposition, I think it’s pretty safe to say that you will be pretty close to maximizing growth potential at about 0.8 g/lb BW. And if you really want to be on the safe side, bump it up to 1 g/lb BW.
So the next step is to pair your nutrition plan with a training plan designed to force your muscles to grow. Research suggests that both lighter weights and heavier weights can work. But this does heavily depend on one factor: effort. You need to take each of your sets at least within 3 reps short of failure. And this brings me to an important point I want to make. There really isn’t a “special” body recomp training plan. It’s about doing the basics and doing them well. And to make sure you don’t sabotage all the work you put into your nutrition and training, try to get at least 7 hours of sleep per night.
Alright now that we’ve covered how to lose fat and gain muscle, let’s discuss the most important part: who body recomposition is best suited for and whether or not it’s actually worth your time pursuing. So there are 3 main groups of people best suited for body recomp: beginners, those who’re de-trained, and those who’ve been just “going through the motions”. But even if you do fall into one of those groups, note that you cannot be too lean. I’d say around 15% body fat for males and at least 22% for females is a good minimum.
But is trying to build muscle and lose fat at the same time worth your time? First off, if you're someone who’s pretty lean or has been training both hard and consistently for at least 6 months, then you’re probably going to have a harder time trying to recomp. Secondly, even if you are likely to recomp, you should also consider what your main goal is right now. I know you want both, but what’s truly more important to you right now — building muscle or losing fat? For example, while you might end up building a little muscle during a recomp, most research suggests that a surplus or “lean bulk” is likely superior. And if your main goal is to lose fat, then a slightly more aggressive deficit would definitely lead to more fat loss with the possibility that you’ll still be able to gain a bit of muscle.
And perhaps just as important, we as humans like to see things go in the right direction. During a recomp, results can be slow, and your body weight doesn’t really help indicate whether things are going in the right direction. So you’ll have to rely on other metrics like small differences in progress photos, strength in the gym, how your clothes are fitting, and tracking your waist circumference over time. Without proper guidance, this can be a lot more difficult to navigate than a traditional bulk or cut where the scale and quicker body changes can lead the way. That said, I do think for some people it’s worth a shot. Just always remember that proper nutrition and hard, consistent training is what matters the most. Optimize that, and it’s very likely you’ll be able to recomp to some extent regardless of the exact approach you use.
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