- How to Build Muscle and Lose Fat with Body Recomposition
- Calculate Your Target Weekly Calorie Balance
- Lift Weights Three to Six Days a Week
- Don’t Let Cardio Kill Your Gainz
- Calorie Cycle around Your Weight Workouts
- Keep Stress Low and Sleep Eight to Nine Hours a Night
- The Basics of Body Recomposition: How to Lose Fat and Gain Muscle
- Why Body Recomposition Is the New Weight Loss
- What Is Body Recomp?
- Body Recomp in 5 Simple Steps
- How to Pull Off a Body Recomposition in 5 Simple Steps
- If you want to know the real “secrets” to body recomposition…and want to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time…then you want to read this article.
- Want to Know Even More About Body Recomposition?
- How to Burn Fat While Building Muscle || Body Recompositioning 101
- Journey #1: Build Muscle
- Journey #2: Lose Fat
- Journey #3: Lose Fat AND Build Muscle (AKA, Body Recompositioning)
- Now for some general tips no matter what transformation journey you’re on.
- 2019 Transformation Lean Mass Recomp Guide
- If you want to know how to successfully lose fat and build muscle at the same time and achieve the ultimate body recomposition, you want to read this article.
- Should I Recomp?
- How to Successfully Recomp
- Perform High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) as Needed
- 2019 Lean Mass Recomp Training Program
- The Best Supplements to Recomp
- The Bottom Line on Lean Mass Recomping
How to Build Muscle and Lose Fat with Body Recomposition
When someone first starts exercising, it’s common for them to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. This is called body recomposition. After a while though, this stops being so easy, and most people find they have to alternate between bulking and cutting.
In fact, it’s entirely possible to keep recompositioning—building muscle and losing fat at the same time—for quite some time, at least until you’re far leaner and more muscular than the average person. Not only has this been borne out by research, but I’ve seen it in my own career as a trainer.
While more advanced trainees do eventually have to do the traditional bulk and cut, intermediate trainees—those with one to three years of training experience and below-average body fat—can usually recomposition as long as they follow an optimized program and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Here’s how.
Calculate Your Target Weekly Calorie Balance
The first thing you need to do here is calculate your long-run calorie balance. Before you can do that, you need to figure out how fast you should be gaining muscle and losing fat. In a mostly optimized body recomposition program, here are the benchmarks you should be shooting for.
- Novice trainees: 0.5 percent of body weight per week
- Early intermediate trainees: 0.3 percent of body weight per week
- Late intermediate trainees: 0.2 percent of body weight per week
- Advanced trainees: 0.1 percent of body weight per week
This is why I don’t recommend body recomposition for advanced trainees—they simply can’t gain very much muscle without bulking.
- Obese (men over 30 percent body fat, women over 40 percent body fat): 2 percent of body weight per week
- Overweight (men 22–30 percent body fat, women 32–40 percent body fat): 1.25 percent of body weight per week
- Average (men 15–22 percent body fat, women 24–32 percent body fat): 0.75 percent of body weight per week
- Athletic (men 8–15 percent body fat, women 14–24 percent body fat): 0.5 percent of body weight per week
- Bodybuilder or fitness model contest preparation (men below 8 percent, women below 14 percent): 0.2 percent of body weight per week
Again, I don’t recommend body recomposition if you’re obese (just cut instead) or extremely lean (bulk or cut, depending on your goals).
It takes a deficit of 3,800 calories to lose a pound of fat and a surplus of around 1,600 calories to build a pound of muscle. By multiplying these numbers by your weekly body composition goals, you can find your target weekly calorie balance.
Suppose you’re a man who weighs 170 pounds at 20 percent body fat, and you’re an early intermediate–level trainee. That means you should aim to lose 1.275 pounds a week—a 4,845 calorie deficit. You can also gain up to 0.51 pounds of muscle a week, an 816 calorie surplus. Add those two together, and your net weekly calorie deficit is 4029. Note that pretty much everyone will end up needing to be in a caloric deficit to recomposition.
Lift Weights Three to Six Days a Week
You want to lift weights often enough to maintain a growth stimulus on your muscles, but infrequently enough to let yourself recover, given that you’ll be in a caloric deficit. You’ll also need to calorie cycle, which we’ll get to in a bit. In short, calorie cycling means eating more calories for a while after you lift weights, and fewer calories at other times. And that means you’ll want breaks between sessions when you can eat fewer calories.
You also want a high per-muscle training frequency, which means none of those ridiculous four- or five-way bro splits. Your workouts should either be full body, or an upper-lower split.
- Novice trainees: upper-lower split three days a week
- Early intermediate: upper-lower four days a week, or full body three days a week
- Late intermediate: upper-lower five days a week, or full body three days a week
- Advanced: upper-lower six days a week, or full body four days a week
Each workout should consist of 20–35 sets if training full body, or 15–25 if doing an upper-lower split.
Spread these workouts as evenly as possible throughout the week. If you’re training four days a week, for instance, Monday-Wednesday-Friday-Sunday is better than Monday-Tuesday-Thursday-Friday.
Don’t Let Cardio Kill Your Gainz
According to a study by the Neuromuscular Research Center, doing cardio and weight training together makes both of them less effective. This interference effect, as it is known, will reduce both muscle and any cardiovascular health benefit you get from the cardio. In a calorie deficit—which, again, you’ll be in—the interference effect can easily result in a net loss of muscle mass.
That doesn’t mean you have to avoid doing cardio. Cardio is good for your health, and it burns calories, making it easier to hit your fat-loss goals while still eating enough to meet your body’s nutritional needs. Here are three ways to keep your cardio from interfering with building muscle:
- Limit how much cardio you do. As an initial guideline, spend less time per week doing cardio than you spend lifting weights.
- Make your cardio sessions short and intense—sprinting rather than distance running—so that the metabolic demands are at least somewhat similar to those imposed by weight training.
- Separate cardio from weight training by doing it at a different time. If you lift in the afternoon, for instance, do your cardio in the morning, or better yet on different days.
If you do perform cardio in conjunction with weight sessions, follow an upper-lower split and do upper-body cardio (like a rowing machine) on your leg day and lower-body cardio (like running) on your upper-body lifting day.
Calorie Cycle around Your Weight Workouts
Calorie cycling, simply put, means that you eat more calories (in this case, a small surplus) for a certain time period following your workouts, and fewer calories (in this case, a moderate deficit) for the rest of the week.
You want to do this because the more recently a muscle has been resistance trained, the more it will be primed to grow; muscles do most of their growing in this time period. A 2016 study found that the length of this post-workout anabolic window depends on your training status. The more advanced you are, the shorter it gets.
Of course, given that this is a body recomposition program, you also need to spend most of your week in a deficit, so you should err on the side of keeping these post-workout re-feeding windows short, perhaps even shorter than your muscles’ anabolic window. Consider the following a rough guideline:
- Novice: 24 hours
- Early intermediate: 16 hours
- Late intermediate: 10 hours
- Advanced: six hours
Let’s revisit the above example of an early intermediate trainee who is aiming for a 4,000-calorie weekly deficit to lose 1.275 pounds of fat and gain 0.51 pounds of muscle a week. Let’s assume he’s training full body, three days a week, eating three meals a day, and training shortly before dinner.
That means his re-feeding window includes dinner the day of his workouts and breakfast the next morning, or six out of 21 meals each week. Let’s assume his daily maintenance calories average out to 2,400, or 800 per meal. If he were to divide his calories evenly throughout the week, he’d want to eat about 610 calories a meal, but he’s not going to do that.
Instead, he’s going to eat less than that for those 15 meals that lie outside the re-feeding window—around 500 calories each meal. Those extra 1500 calories will be added to the six meals that do fall into the post-workout window, with more of them going to the meal that occurs earlier in the window—dinner in this case.
So for dinner, after he works out, he’ll eat an extra 300 calories, for 910 calories total. For breakfast the morning after each workout, he’ll eat an extra 200 calories, for 810 calories total. That still works out to a 4,000-calorie weekly deficit.
The math behind these numbers is a bit complicated, but as a general rule, 80–85 percent of your weekly calories should be spread out evenly between meals, while 15–20 percent should be allocated specifically to the meals that fall into the post-workout window (in addition to those meals’ share of the 80 percent).
In this case, our hypothetical trainee was eating 12,600 calories a week, and allocating 1,500 of those—around 12 percent of the total—as extra calories for his re-feeding window. In other words, this is a very conservative level of calorie cycling; he could potentially calorie cycle harder, provided he’s willing to eat even less for 15 meals a week.
Keep Stress Low and Sleep Eight to Nine Hours a Night
Sleeping well and keeping stress to a minimum are both critical for body recomposition. Without these parts of your health in place, you can easily end up gaining both muscle and fat, or more likely losing both.
Your body produces much of its testosterone and does a lot of its recovery from exercise while you’re sleeping. Unsurprisingly, people who sleep poorly tend to lose muscle and put on fat. During body recomposition, you should aim for eight to nine hours of sleep a night. This Spartan Life article explains how to optimize your sleep.
A 2014 study found that the difference between high and low-stress levels can mean up to a twofold difference in your ability to put on muscle. And as we all know, the stress hormone cortisol makes the body store more fat, particularly around the belly. The best way to fix stress in the long run is to change your lifestyle so you experience less stress, for instance by working shorter hours. This isn’t always practical though, and some amount of stress is unavoidable. A more feasible solution for most people, particularly in the short term, is to start meditating.
You can build muscle and lose fat at the same time. It just requires hard work in the gym, precision with your diet, and a disciplined lifestyle.
The Basics of Body Recomposition: How to Lose Fat and Gain Muscle
One of the most curious terms you’ll hear in fitness lingo is “lean muscle.” It’s a curious term because, as you may know, all muscle is lean muscle. There is no such thing as “fat muscle” or “bulky muscle.”
Still, it’s a term that has worked its way into the fitness lexicon because of the imagery it suggests. The expression is used to describe the process of building muscle without adding fat; or, in the case of more specific marketing, the idea of building strength without adding “bulk.”
Both of these are highly desirable, and yet neither of them come close to what people really want — the so-called Holy Grail of body transformation: the ability to burn fat and gain (lean) muscle at the same time.
This is something called body recomposition, and while it is undoubtedly difficult, it is not, as some people might have you believe, impossible. In fact, a better way to put it is this: while recomposition is anything but easy, it can be made simple.
IT COMES DOWN TO DIET
What you eat happens to be the most important factor when it comes to body recomposition. Although modifying your exercise program will help, the truth is that diet holds the key.
Specifically, I’m talking about something called cycling. In the context of dieting, “cycling” means that certain aspects of your nutrition are modified on specific days. Nearly every successful diet uses some sort of cycling, whether it’s a standard intermittent fasting practice, a ketogenic diet or carb backloading. All of these examples use different parameters, but they have one thing in common: you eat more calories and carbs on days you work out than you do on days you don’t.
If you want to achieve recomposition, you’re going to eat more on days when you exercise, and less on days when you don’t. The primary reason for this is energy utilization and recovery. To put it succinctly, you need to take more energy on days you expend more energy.
Apart from helping you achieve body recomposition, these things are also important for hormonal optimization. However, there are some other advantages as well: researchers at Louisiana State University found in a 2005 study that calorie cycling prolongs your life; this conclusion was further supported by researched conducted by the National Institute of Health in 2008.
READ MORE > 7 REASONS YOU GAINED THE WEIGHT BACK
BASIC CALORIE CYCLING FOR BASIC RECOMPOSITION
For the purposes of our discussion concerning body recomposition, the term “training day” is only referring to a day on which you perform weight training for at least 30 minutes. Although other forms of exercise can certainly be intense, recomposition is only possible if you’re doing at least 30 minutes of reasonably intense weight training a consistent three times per week.
After all, part of recomposition is gaining muscle, and the most effective way to achieve that is through resistance training. Now that we’ve established that, let’s look how many calories you should eat to achieve your goal of simultaneous fat loss and muscle gain.
It’s a three-step process, and it looks like this:
- First, figure out your maintenance calories. Input your information into your MFP Diet Profile, then set your goal for “maintain my current weight” and hit “update.” The number you were given is your Maintenance Caloric Intake, or Maintenance Calories (MC).
- Next, figure out your training day calories. Take your MC, and increase it by 15%. Keep in mind, training days are only days you train with weights.
- Finally, determine your rest day calories. Take your MC and decrease it by 10%. Rest days are any days you do not train with weights.
That’s it. Super simple. Let’s put it into practice using my body.
I currently weigh 197 pounds and am 5’8’’ tall with 10% body fat. According to my MyFitnessPal diet profile, my MC is set to 2,550. For a guy my size, that sounds about right.
To determine my training day calories, I simply take that number on add 15%. To get that number, I multiply 2,550 by .15, giving me 383. I simply add that to my MC and get 2,933. This is the number of calories I will eat on days I train with weights.
Next, I want to determine my caloric intake on rest days. To do this, I take my MC and subtract 10%. I first multiply 2,550 by .10 and get 255, then subtract that from my MC, giving me 2,295. And just like that, I know how many calories I need to eat on my rest days.
CLOSING THOUGHTS & NEXT STEPS
While recomposition is difficult, it can be made simple, especially with a formula like this. There are a lot of ways to eat for recomposition, and this basic formula is the perfect first step on your journey to simultaneous fat loss and muscle gain — your key to gaining that “lean” muscle you’ve been after.
Now, it’s your turn. Give it a shot and let us know how you’re doing in the comments section.
Why Body Recomposition Is the New Weight Loss
Photo: Johner Images/Getty Images
If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, chances are you relied-at least in part-on the scale to measure your progress. While there’s nothing wrong with tracking your scale weight, which can give you a concrete idea of where you stand, experts agree that it shouldn’t be the *only* way you track your progress. Why? Because body composition, or the amount of fat your body has compared to other stuff like muscles, bones, water, and organs, is also an important indicator of how healthy and fit you are. (To see what we’re talking about, check out this fitness blogger who proves weight is just a number.)
That’s why many fitness professionals, social media influencers, and regular exercisers are focusing on something called body recomposition (“recomp”) instead of simply trying to lose weight. After all, body recomposition is the phenomenon behind many those side-by-side transformation photos that have become so popular on social media. But just because you see something all over the internet doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea. That’s why we talked to experts in the field to find out why the focus on body composition over weight loss is on the rise-and importantly, is this way of training right for you?
What Is Body Recomposition?
Essentially, it’s exactly what it sounds like. “A body recomposition program is an exercise and nutrition regimen that has the goal of simultaneously gaining muscle and losing fat,” explains Dan DeFigio, C.P.T., a fitness and nutrition expert, and author of Beating Sugar Addiction for Dummies. This process changes body composition, lowering a person’s body fat percentage while their weight stays the same or lowers at a rate much slower than with traditional weight loss. “Traditional ways of changing athletic bodies would involve a muscle gain phase followed by a leaning-out or fat-loss phase,” says DeFigio. This is also known as “bulking” and “cutting.” Body recomposition aims to accomplish both of these goals at once. (BTW, here’s why more women are trying to gain weight through diet and exercise.)
So how does it work? “Weight loss is a catabolic process whereby the body breaks down fat stores for energy,” explains Maggie Winzeler, C.S.C.S., an exercise physiologist and founder of Fitiverse. “This requires a caloric deficit to happen through exercise or nutrition, or ideally both.” That’s why the calories-in-calories-out approach to weight loss works for so many people. Gaining muscle is an anabolic (building up) process that requires both exercise and adequate macronutrient proportions, such as enough protein in your diet, says Winzeler. And while weight loss and muscle gain may seem to be in opposition to one another, they’re not impossible to achieve during the same period of time, as long as you plan your diet and exercise carefully, she says. “The rate of muscle acquisition will not be quite as fast for someone trying to simultaneously lose weight, but that’s okay.” This is why changing your body composition tends to take longer than a standard weight-loss plan.
In general, it’s more of a lifestyle than a diet, with a long-term commitment to regular strength training and a diet higher in protein. While some people doing body recomposition will lose weight (particularly if they start out with a high body-fat percentage), most people will gauge results primarily through taking circumference measurements (such as around the thighs, arms, and stomach), progress photos, and body fat calibrations, as the number on the scale can sometimes stay the same or even go up throughout the process. (For more info on that, check out Anna Victoria’s guide to measuring body fat.)
Why Is Body Recomposition So Popular?
This is one trend you can actually thank social media for. Those transformation photos where someone looks stronger and more fit, and may even weigh more in the “after” pic, are side-by-side proof of body recomposition at work. Plus the fact that people are more interested in fitness and wellness than ever. (YAS!) Winzeler says she has noticed that more and more everyday gym-goers are interested in body recomposition-perhaps, in part, to all those tanned and toned fitness Instagammers or celebrity trainers you see online. Interestingly though, she points out that this way of training and eating is not exactly a “new trend.” Bodybuilders and professional athletes have been following strict lifting and nutrition regimens forever, but the fitness industry reaches much further now.
What’s more, it’s (finally!) becoming more common knowledge that the number you see on the scale isn’t the only thing that matters when it comes to health. “Instead, body fat percentage and composition can actually be great indicators of long-term health,” says Chelsea Axe, C.S.C.S., D.C., fitness expert for Dr. Axe. “One pound of muscle and one pound of fat may weigh the same, but they look and function entirely different in the body. Unfortunately, the scale cannot tell the difference.” This is why Axe often recommends body recomposition over simple weight loss to her clients. “Rather than obsessing over only losing two pounds, I teach my clients to celebrate the inches lost and strength gained.”
There’s also the fact that focusing on body composition may potentially have greater health benefits than simply losing weight. “The problem with focusing solely on weight loss and not maintaining or building muscle is that you will lose muscle in addition to fat during the process,” explains Winzeler. “As this happens, you may see numbers going down on the scale but you may actually be creating a worse fat-to-muscle ratio in your body, which can wreak havoc on your hormones and health.” This might seem fine in the present, but can backfire in the long run, especially when trying to keep the weight off. (Related: Are You Skinny Fat?)
Of course, going through the recomp process to achieve a lower body fat percentage isn’t an automatic guarantee you’ll get a clean bill of health during your next checkup, but it certainly helps. Body composition is “so important that a recent study found a correlation between strength training twice a week and a reduction in cancer mortality,” says Winzeler.
Is Body Recomposition Right for You?
“Recomp is a great goal for every single person who exercises,” says Winzeler. That being said, it does require a certain level of commitment, just as any diet or exercise change would. The level of commitment is up to you, though. “The people who are willing to commit their entire lifestyles to this are the ones who will reap the extreme end of the results, but that’s not necessary for feeling good, gaining a little more body confidence, and improving strength and function for years to come,” she says. (And FYI, weight loss doesn’t always lead to body confidence.)
Another advantage is that it works well regardless of how much fat you have to lose. “For people who don’t need to lose weight, per se, but would like to get more toned by adding some lean muscle, restricting calories won’t be necessary. But they should make sure adequate protein is consumed and that training intensity increases,” suggests Winzeler.
As for those with a significant amount of weight or fat to lose, body recomposition is still really important because weight loss means losing both fat and muscle. “But the more muscle you have, the more calories your bodies burn at rest, which is why people with more muscle and higher metabolisms tend to manage weight better.”
As mentioned earlier, altering your body composition is often a long, slow process, which can be discouraging. But this method has its benefits. “Due to the way recomp is structured, long-term consistency is much more attainable than other diets and training plans out there,” says Axe. “All in all, I believe body recomposition to be a great way to create long-term, positive lifestyle habits while maintaining a healthy perspective and outlook.” (If you’re still not sure, check out these Instagrammers who reminded us why it’s important to #screwthescale.)
So what’s the bottom line here? There isn’t really anyone who *isn’t* appropriate for body recomposition, but it is a case where the saying “slow and steady wins the race” holds especially true. “In order to be successful, people must change their thinking and acknowledge their small victories each step of the way,” says Axe. By celebrating small steps along the way and changing lifestyle habits instead of going on a crash diet, those committed to making body recomposition work are likely to be happy with their results.
Written By: Adam Ali
Body recomposition is a delicate subject in the world of fat loss and muscle gain.
You have the camp that claims it’s pointless and then you have others who live and die by its efficacy.
As with anything in the fitness world there is no ‘black or white’ answer, just a lot of grey area.
I’ve used body recomposition on myself and with my clients. If done correctly and under the right circumstances, it’s an excellent way to build a better physique.
However, it’s difficult to pull off properly and a lot of people try to use the term to sell you ridiculous claims. My goal here is to show you that body recomposition is possible, and how to go about it successfully.
The Recomp Defined
Body recomposition, or simply, ‘recomp’ is the process of reducing body fat and adding muscle mass.
Anytime someone has changed from being fat to lean, while maintaining or gaining muscle, is an example of ‘body recomposition’, albeit a simplistic one.
When I refer to recomposition, not only in the scope of this article but generally, I’m referring to the process of burning body fat while simultaneously adding muscle over a short period of time.
Yeah, I know. I can hear you already — ‘Bullshit!, you can’t build muscle and burn fat at the same time!’
This is true.
The Problem with Trying to Build Muscle and Lose Fat at the Same Time
You’ll commonly hear stories of naive Bros, doing a ‘one week bulk’ followed by a ‘one week cut’, in the hope of losing fat and building muscle at the same time.
The issue with this approach is that you aren’t giving your body enough time to build new muscle or burn body fat.
To burn fat you have to be in a caloric deficit and to build muscle you have to be in a caloric surplus.
Now you can see why trying to achieve both goals simultaneously tends to be tricky.
There is, however, a way to mostly overcome this issue.
Calorie Cycling: The Key to Body Recomposition
Calorie cycling is where you alternate your caloric intake between high and low calorie days throughout the week. This will be the key to achieving the recomp effect.
The recomp will be structured as follows.
On days you lift, you’ll eat at maintenance calories, which is the amount of calories you need to maintain your current body weight. Every day that you don’t lift, you’ll eat at a small calorie deficit. That includes days when you do cardio.
This helps you keep progressing in the gym, despite being in a deficit throughout the week.
The other factor we need to address is recovery. For our bodies to adapt to a new stimulus and build new muscle they need enough calories to rebuild broken down muscle tissue. Hence why recovery begins to suck when someone goes into a large caloric deficit.
Eating at maintenance with a (https://evidencemag.com/lifting-rules-podcast) will create a sufficient anabolic environment to promote muscle growth and strength gains.
The deficit days will be used on days you aren’t training to cause a small amount of fat loss and ensure you don’t overeat when you aren’t training. Your energy expenditure on these days won’t be as much as on training days so you won’t need the excess calories.
Before we do go on, I need to clarify that a recomp may not be best for everyone.
Who this Does, and Doesn’t, Work For
I want to make a few things clear so we’re on the same page. As much as this approach works, it’s slow.
If you go into this with unrealistic expectations, and think you will be gaining an insane amount of muscle while dropping a ton of fat, then close this window and go back to reading Men’s Health or whatever other fitness magazine you use to feed your fantasies.
If you are a physique competitor or someone bent on gaining muscle or losing fat as fast as possible, then you’re better off with cutting and bulking.
Ok, now that disclaimers, caveats and prerequisites are out of the way, let’s talk about who this does work for.
1. The Fat Beginner
Recomping is an excellent tool for someone who’s just starting out on their physique journey.
I’m not a fan of newbies putting themselves into a caloric deficit. The first 6–12 months of a beginner’s physique journey is ‘primetime’ for growth. So take advantage of this period (the only exception to this rule is if you are really overweight or obese to begin with).
2. The ‘Skinny Fat’ Beginner
Someone who is ‘Skinny Fat’ doesn’t have much muscle on their frame and are carrying a lot of fat, often around the stomach.
Just like their skinny brethren, a straight caloric deficit will only make them look worse as they lack the muscle to look shredded. An argument could be made that if this group ate in a straight calorie surplus they could see results in terms of muscle growth. But, these people often have a tendency to (https://evidencemag.com/fat-gain-explained) easily. The recomp is a great way to strike the perfect balance between fat loss and muscle growth.
If you are someone who is naturally skinny, aka ‘the hardgainer’ type — the recomp is not for you. Get into a caloric surplus and focus on gaining size and strength. Period.
3. Anyone Determined to Stay Lean Year-Round
If you want to stay lean all the time, you can’t afford extended periods of bulking and cutting.
Recomping makes it easier to keep a photo-ready physique, while making consistent muscle and strength gains.
If you want to get really lean for a party, vacation or photo-shoot, you can cut for a few weeks to “tighten up” beforehand.
*(Armi’s Note: Trying to stay super-lean year round makes it much harder to build muscle, but it’s fine if your main goal is to stay lean.*
4. Lifters Who Want to Strip Off Fat Inside a Bulking Cycle
I often use the recomp protocol as a phase inside my muscle gain phases to strip off excess fat.
I’m a fan of extended muscle gaining periods, often eight months or longer. Inevitably, the deeper I get into this phase, the more body fat I will accumulate. I like periodizing a four to five month calorie surplus followed by a two(ish) month recomp to strip off fat. Then I revert back to a surplus and resume the mass gaining phase.
A lot of people will argue that a mini-cut will be a lot more beneficial during a bulk. I agree, and have used mini-cuts successfully in the past. However, it comes down to the mindset of the individual. Oftentimes, people who are in ‘bulk mode’ don’t want to go into a straight calorie deficit and risk losing their gains. This is a common phenomenon among ex-skinny Bros.
How to Set Up a Recomp Diet
Step 1: Set maintenance calories.
Maintenance is an extremely arbitrary term, and will change day-to-day depending on how active or inactive you’ve been. But for the sake of simplicity, maintenance will be your caloric starting point.
Use this formula to set your maintenance calories.
Your Bodyweight (in lbs) x = Maintenance calories
I chose this formula because it’s simple and within about five percent of more complicated ones.
If you are someone who is sedentary (someone working a desk job, for example) and not doing much physical exertion aside from the gym, it’s best to go with the lower end of 12. If you are someone who is extremely active (for example — you’re a construction worker and you also strength train) go with the higher range of 16.
Not sure? Play it safe and go with the mid-range of 14.
Ladies — go with the lower end of 12–14.
These are just starting points, and you’ll probably have to adjust your calorie intake as you recomp.
For example, Brohan, a university student, weighs 170 pounds. He’s just started lifting and is a bit on the “fluffy” side.
Brohan isn’t completely sedentary throughout the day due to walking around campus, going out with friends, etc, so we multiply his body weight by 15.
170 x 15 = 2,550
So Brohan needs to consume 2,500 calories (rounded down) to maintain his current weight of 170 pounds.
Step 2: Set off-day calories.
Subtract 150–200 calories from your maintenance calories.
For Brohan, this would be 2,300 calories.
Step 3: Set the macros.
Even though setting calories gives us a good starting point, to really optimize your physique, you need to set your macros–protein, fat and carbs.
Training day macros.
Protein — 1 gram per pound of total body weight.
Fat — 25–30 percent of total calories.
Carbs — the calories remaining once protein and fat are set.
Using the example from earlier of Brohan’s 2,500 calorie maintenance, this is what the math looks like.
Set protein: 170 x 1 = 170 grams per day (680 calories).
Set fat: Daily calories (2,500) x .3 (30%) = 750 calories.
750 / 9 (nine calories per gram of fat) = ~80 grams.
680+750 = 1,430
2,500 – 1,430 = 1,070
1,070 / 4 (four calories per gram of carbs) = 267.5 (rounded to 270)
So his training day macros look like this.
Protein: 170 grams
Fat: 80 grams
Carbs: 270 grams
Off day macros.
On his off-days, Brohan will reduce carbohydrates by 50 grams, putting him into a slight calorie deficit. Here’s what his macros look like on off-days.
Protein: 170 grams
Fat: 80 grams
Carbs: 230 grams
Now that we have the diet sorted, there are a few more things we need to touch on. My OCD won’t let me finish this article without mentioning them.
The Fine Details: Refeeds, Free Meals, Training and Cardio
I want to touch on some additional details that are part of a body recomposition protocol.
You’re going to have days where you will go out with friends and family and you need to have a plan for how to manage those situations. (Aka YOLO control).
Also, I’ve found that some people do actually benefit from knowing that they will be getting more calories one day of the week, helping with adherence (which is key when doing something as meticulous as a recomp).
A refeed is normally one day a week where calories are increased, through carbs, to bring you back up to “maintenance.”
The idea behind refeeds is that it will boost leptin levels and increase your metabolism (which slows down during an extended calorie deficit) and ends up helping with long-term fat loss.
However, for the most part you will be at maintenance calories, so refeeds won’t really be needed. I personally prefer free meals.
A free meal works a lot better than a refeed and can help with adherence.
Instead of focusing on just “refeeding” on carbohydrates, which can be pretty restrictive, a free meal allows you to enjoy whatever foods you’ve been craving. It also lets you go out with friends and family without becoming neurotic over having to track (or pack tupperware).
To have a free meal, hit your allotted macros for the day and have one meal on top that isn’t tracked. That means you’ll be eating slightly over maintenance calories on that day.
Make sure to keep the free meal in moderation — one day during the week. Preferably on a day that you train for better partitioning of the extra calories.
Focus on progressive overload with a heavy focus (no pun intended) on the big movements– squat, deadlift, bench, military press, chin-ups, etc. As long as you are improving — lifting more weight or doing more reps week-to-week–it’s a safe bet that you’re building muscle.
Look, if you don’t want to do cardio, fine. That’s your choice. But from my experience recomping and with clients, cardio is an awesome tool to have in your programming at any stage of your physique journey (bulking or cutting) and should be no different when you’re recomping.
You need to remove this idea of cardio being a necessary evil, and see the added health benefits as a tool that will get you to your goal faster.
Here are some guidelines for cardio.
– HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) style cardio should be done a maximum of 1–2 times a week.
– Try MetCons, Kettlebells, BB complexes, tabata and other workouts to mix up your HIIT and keep you motivated.
– LISS (Low Intensity Steady State) style cardio can be done more generously. We live in an extremely sedentary society, (sit all day at work, sit on the bus ride home, drive everywhere). Stand instead of sitting, go for walks, just be more active in general. Don’t think that just because you’re strength training that this will be enough to keep you healthy. It’s probably not.
How to Make Adjustments to Your Recomp Program
The goal of the recomp is to keep your weight *pretty much* the same while changes occur in your body composition. Over time you’ll likely be a little heavier after adding muscle. Inevitably, there will be times when you will lose and gain weight due to a host of other variables.
Below I’ve detailed how to make adjustments for the changes most likely to occur.
Losing weight? Increase carb intake by 30–50 grams per day.
Putting on weight and looking softer in the mirror? Reduce carb intake by 30–50 grams per day.
Putting on weight but looking the same? Leave things as they are.
Putting on weight, looking bigger but also softer? Reduce carb intake by 20–30 grams per day.
Losing weight but looking tighter and leaner? Leave thing as they are.
Recomping Works, if You Use it Correctly for the Right Goals
Recomp is a meticulous process. It requires attention to detail and most of all, patience. If you struggle with either of these, then go for a straight fat loss or bulking protocol.
If you aren’t sure if it’s right for you, make your own decision based on the pros and cons listed below and see what suits you best.
– Better retention of muscle while cutting.
– Easier psychologically — doesn’t feel like you’re dieting.
– Less stressful for people who are worried about losing muscle while cutting.
– A lot more tedious.
– Requires a huge amount of patience.
– Isn’t for someone who wants to lose fat fast.
Lifestyle-wise the recomp is a brilliant tool. It isn’t as aggressive as running a steep calorie deficit so it won’t affect your day-to-day life like a caloric deficit can (brain fog, lack of energy etc.)
At the same time, I just want to reiterate, that the recompositioning protocol I’ve laid out is not a magic simultaneous “build muscle and burn fat” type of deal. It’s a more gradual shift in focus on fat loss or muscle gain.
Keep your goals in mind and use the recomp as you see fit with your goals.
*Adam is a self professed nerd, coffee connoisseur, and evangelical badass at physiqonomics.com, where he writes about all things fitness, nutrition and badassery related. Adam teaches guys how to attain a badass physique whilst making the whole fitness thing a lifestyle.*
Wanna know how those “Instagram celebrities” get that lean, shredded look so effortlessly?
Simple. They pull off a body recomp.
What Is Body Recomp?
Body recomposition involves the SIMULTANEOUS losing of fat or excess weight and the building and gaining of muscle.
Most fitness experts say that this is impossible to do.
They insist that you should burn off the fat first followed by muscle building. The rationale behind this is that if you are unable to get rid of the fat, you will not be aware of the fact that you are building muscle underneath all that excess weight.
So, while you may think that you are getting fatter, in truth, the increase in your body bulk is in reality due to muscle gains beneath that fat.
BUT, it is POSSIBLE to achieve both fat loss and muscle gain AT THE SAME TIME through five simple steps.
Body Recomp in 5 Simple Steps
Are you ready to learn the five simple steps to achieving body recomposition? No need to wait any longer. Let’s get right on to it!
1) Observe and maintain a moderately aggressive calorie deficit.
Years of research have produced the same, consistent results: to achieve the greatest fat loss, you must consume less calories or energy than what you burn. Putting it in the simplest of terms, the number of calories you eat vs. the number of calories you burn is a big deal in body recomposition. If you happen to be like my good friend, the main reason why he stopped losing weight was because he couldn’t resist the temptation to overeat on the foods he loves.
The key here is to create a condition in your body called a CALORIE DEFICIT. In this condition, you eat much less calories than what you are burning now, so that your body is forced to obtain energy from someplace else other than food. And that “someplace” happens to be all that excess fat you have stored in your body.
Now, do you get the picture?
The next question is won’t being in a calorie deficit affect your muscle building?
The answer is a big NO! Whether you’re in a calorie surplus or a deficit, you will still be able to build muscle. However, the only way you can lose fat is through a calorie deficit. This is body recomposition for you.
I must stress though that you should not impose too big a calorie deficit on your body. In doing so, you not only prevent muscle growth, but your body starts burning muscle tissues in order to meet your energy requirements, so that instead of gaining muscle, you lose them. In addition, a huge calorie deficit makes you prone to binge eating, mood disturbances, and other major health problems.
The ideal calorie deficit that you should maintain to achieve fat loss while not affecting muscle building is at 25 percent. According to research, a calorie deficit of 25 percent is sufficient to lose fat fast, but will still allow muscle building and prevent the development of health issues.
2) Consume enough protein.
If you want to achieve major muscle gains, you should be eating more protein than what you regularly consume. In fact, protein is the most important macronutrient when it comes to achieving your body composition goals.
Research has demonstrated that when you are in the process of restricting your caloric intake, the most effective way to do so is by eating a high protein diet. Consuming a high protein diet will give you the following great benefits…
- Greater effectiveness at reducing body fat
- Preserves muscle tissue and promotes new muscle growth
- Promotes faster satiety
You may have heard about the recommended consumption of protein being pegged at 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. BUT, if you are dieting, you will not be able to preserve lean muscle mass even if you double or triple that value.
Instead, my personal recommendation is to eat 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight daily to achieve your body recomposition goals. For those who are overweight (this would be 25 percent plus and 30 percent plus of body fat for men and women, respectively), you can lower this value to 1 gram of protein per pound of fat-free mass daily.
3) Perform lots of heavy, compound weightlifting.
I cannot stress enough the many virtues of working up a sweat through heavy, compound weightlifting.
This intensive form of training promotes progressive tension overload, a condition wherein you increase tension in your muscles over time so as to promote greater muscle growth. This means that every week, you need to add a weight to the bar that you are lifting. This way, you build muscle and grow stronger at the same time.
The “compound” part means that you do weightlifting exercises that enable you to use multiple major muscle groups at the same time. These great exercises include bench and military presses, squats, and deadlifts. These compound exercises are more effective because they build a lot of major muscle groups compared to isolation exercises like dumbbell curls that only target a single muscle group.
In order to increase activation and tension in your muscles, I recommend doing heavy, compound weightlifting that is 75 percent plus of your one-rep max. This way, you encourage muscle growth in all the major muscle groups of your body, something which you could never accomplish with just isolation exercises.
4) Perform High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
Still floundering in your regular cardio? Make the switch to high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
Yes, I know you’re thinking “But I was told that cardio is the best way to lose fat?” Sure, it will speed up fat burning, but doing too much cardio will interfere with muscle gains.
With HIIT, you alternate between sprints of near maximum effort and low-intensity periods of recovery. While HIIT is harder to do in comparison to your regular low-intensity cardio, research has shown that this form of training will give you five specific benefits…
- causes you to burn more fat
- raises your metabolic rate for more than 24 hours
- increases insulin sensitivity in the muscles
- helps in reducing appetite
- promotes better muscle preservation
5) Take the right supplements.
Many fitness experts will tell you that supplementation is the least important of the five steps for body recomposition, that these supplements for fat loss and muscle building are worthless.
after saying this, they will start promoting whatever supplements they are selling on their sites. For me, this is the biggest hypocrisy. I mean, why say something is worthless and then sell them?
Let me tell you this for certain. There are specific supplements that can accelerate body recomposition, together with the right diet and exercise.
These supplements that you should incorporate in your body recomposition regimen are the following…
- Creatine = promotes faster muscle gain and strength, improvement of anaerobic endurance, and reduction of muscle soreness and damage. The ideal dose is 5 grams of creatine daily. Not to worry. Research has shown that creatine is safe for regular intake.
- Protein Powder = This form of protein is convenient for people who are unable to eat high quantities of protein through their regular diet or who just don’t have the time for meal preparations. Just mix the powder in a glass and you have a yummy protein shake.
- Fat burners = These supplements contain natural ingredients that promote faster fat burning. Check the ingredients list of any fat burner that you buy. Great fat burning ingredients include naringin, synephrine, and hesperidin.
- Performance enhancers = These supplements give you the additional energy needed to boost your performance during those intensive workouts. Make sure that the product contains any or all of these performance-enhancing ingredients: caffeine, betaine, ornithine, theanine, beta-alanine, or citrulline malate.
An important reminder. It is best that supplements be taken with the recommendation of your doctor. If you experience any side effects, it is important that you discontinue use at once.
Now that we have presented to you the five steps to pull off a body recomp, it is your turn to take action. Just follow these steps and you will see yourself losing all that fat and build muscle at the same time. Pretty soon, you’ll find yourself with that great physique that you’ve long wanted.
body, diet, exercise, fitness, health, recomp, recomposition, training, weight lifting, weight loss, work out
In case we haven’t met… I’m Waseem Khan I’m an accredited Exercise Physiologist 🙂 If you are out of shape and feel like your life is out of control, I’m here to help. I want to help you look good. When you look good, you feel good. And when you feel good, good things happen to you – in your career, your relationships and in every other area of your life. Are you ready to make that happen?
How to Pull Off a Body Recomposition in 5 Simple Steps
If you want to know the real “secrets” to body recomposition…and want to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time…then you want to read this article.
“Waste of time.”
“Only if you have the right drugs.”
Those are some of the things people say about trying to build and lose fat at the same time, otherwise known as “body recomposition.”
Well, they’re wrong.
You absolutely can build muscle and lose fat simultaneously, and you can do it safely and naturally, too…if you know what you’re doing.
There are just five steps:
- Maintain a moderately aggressive calorie deficit.
- Eat enough protein.
- Do a lot of heavy, compound weightlifting.
- Don’t do too much cardio.
- Take the right supplements.
It’s really that simple, and we’re going to break it all down in this article.
There’s a caveat, though.
If you’re an experienced weightlifter that has achieved most of what is genetically available to you in terms of muscle gain, you won’t be able to recomp effectively. You’ll be much better served by the more traditional cycle of “lean bulking” and cutting.
If, however, you’re new to weightlifting, or to proper weightlifting, then this is for you.
Let’s get started!
1. Maintain a moderately aggressive calorie deficit.
Research clearly shows that the only way to achieve significant fat loss is to eat less energy than you burn.
Yes, calories in vs. calories out matters. A lot.
(The number one reason people stop losing weight is terribly simple: overeating.)
When you eat fewer calories than you burn, you’re in a “calorie deficit” because, well, you’re feeding your body less energy than it needs.
Now, as far as body recomposition goes, here’s the kicker:
You can build muscle in a calorie deficit and surplus, but you can’t lose fat unless you’re in a deficit.
That is, you can gain muscle eating less or more energy than you’re burning, but you must eat less to lose fat. And that’s why you have to be in a deficit to successfully “recomp.”
You don’t want to be in too large of a deficit, though, as that can inhibit muscle growth and cause mood disturbances, binge eating, and a host of other problems.
That’s why I recommend an aggressive, but not reckless, calorie deficit of about 25%.
Research shows that this is large enough to keep you losing fat at a rapid clip but not so large that you’ll suffer the unwanted consequences noted above.
Want to know how to calculate your calories? Check out this article.
2. Eat enough protein.
If you want to lose fat and not muscle, then you need to make sure you eat enough protein.
And if you want to gain muscle as quickly as possible, well, you need to make sure you eat enough protein.
Thus, if you want to pull of a body recomposition, you really need to make sure you eat enough protein.
You see, research shows that when restricting calories, a high-protein diet is more effective at reducing body fat, helps preserve muscle, and increases satiety.
As far as your body composition goes, it’s by far the most important macronutrient in your diet.
The government recommends just 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, but research shows that double and even triple that amount isn’t enough to preserve lean mass while dieting.
That’s why I recommend that you eat around 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day for body recomposition.
If you’re very overweight (25%+ body fat in men and 30%+ in women), then this can be reduced to around 1 gram of protein per pound of fat-free mass per day.
Want to know more about how much protein you need to eat and why? Check out this article.
3. Do a lot of heavy, compound weightlifting.
The primary drive of muscle growth is progressive tension overload, which refers to increasing tension in your muscles over time.
The best way to do this is to add weight to the bar, which is why getting stronger is so important as a natural weightlifter.
Compound exercises are those that use multiple major muscle groups, like the squat, bench press, military press, and deadlift.
Exercises that tend to isolate an individual muscle group, like the dumbbell curl, are called isolation exercises.
Now, when you perform compound exercises with heavy loads (75%+ of your one-rep max), you create very high levels of muscle activation and tension in your muscles.
This is conducive to whole-body muscle growth, and these effects simply can’t be replicated with isolation exercises alone.
This is why the best workouts for body recomposition focus on heavy, compound training, and why they stress the importance of progressing to heavier and heavier weights as opposed to getting a big pump or burning a bunch of calories.
Want to know how to build an effective weightlifting routine? Check out this article.
4. Do high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
You don’t need to do cardio to lose fat, but it’ll speed up the process.
Do too much, though, and it’ll get in the way of your muscle gains.
That’s why I recommend HIIT, which involves alternating between near-max-effort sprints and low-intensity recovery periods.
It’s harder than traditional low-intensity cardio, but research shows that it has several major advantages:
- It burns more fat.
- It elevates your metabolic rate for over 24 hours.
- It increases insulin sensitivity in your muscles.
- For some people, it reduces appetite.
It’s also better for preserving muscle than regular low-intensity cardio, mainly because you don’t have to do nearly as much to keep the fat loss needle moving.
Want to know how to get the most out of your HIIT workouts? Check out this article.
5. Take the right supplements.
I saved this for last because it’s the least important.
The truth is most supplements for building muscle and losing fat are worthless.
Unfortunately, no amount of pills and powders are going to make you muscular and lean.
Trust me. Pill popping, even to excess, isn’t going to be enough.
Now the good news:
If you know how to drive your body recomposition with proper dieting and exercise, certain supplements can accelerate the process.
Here are the ones I use and recommend:
Creatine is the most studied workout supplement on the market, and research shows that it…
- Helps you gain muscle and strength faster
- Improves anaerobic endurance
- Reduces muscle damage and soreness
Studies also show that it’s completely safe for healthy people to use.
In terms of dosing, 5 grams of creatine per day does the trick.
Want to know more about which type of creatine is best and why? Check out this article.
You don’t need protein powder, but it sure is convenient.
Unless you know how to meal prep like a pro, getting enough protein from whole foods alone can be a challenge. And especially if you’re constantly on the go.
That’s why protein powders are so nice. Mix ’em up, drink ’em down, and you’re done.
Want to know which type of protein powder is best for you? Check out this article.
PHOENIX Fat Burner
PHOENIX is a fat burner that I developed.
It contains seven natural ingredients proven help you lose fat faster, including synephrine, naringin, and hesperidin.
Research shows that synephrine boosts metabolic rate, helps “target” stubborn fat cells for reduction, and increases the thermic effect of food.
Naringin and hesperidin work synergistically with synephrine to further increase its effectiveness.
The bottom line is if you want to lose fat faster without taking a bunch of stimulants or harsh chemicals, then you want to try PHOENIX.
A good pre-workout supplement doesn’t just get you fired up to train–it also helps you get more out of your workouts.
The problem, though, is many are full of harsh stimulants, ineffective ingredients, and various unnecessary chemicals and fillers. In some cases, they can be downright dangerous.
That’s why I created my own, and it’s called PULSE.
It increases energy, improves mood, sharpens mental focus, increases strength and endurance, and reduces fatigue…without the unwanted side effects or crash.
Its formulation contains 6 of the most effective performance-enhancing ingredients available:
- Citrulline malate
And it has no artificial sweeteners, flavors, or food dyes, and no unnecessary fillers, carbohydrate powders, or junk ingredients.
So, if you want to feel focused, tireless, and powerful in your workouts…and if you want to say goodbye to the pre-workout jitters, upset stomachs, and crashes for good…then you want to try PULSE.
Want to Know Even More About Body Recomposition?
Implement these five body composition strategies, and you’ll be on your way to your best body ever.
I guarantee it.
If you’d like to know more about body recomposition, though, and how to get the most out of your diet, training, and supplementation, then you should read this longer, more in-depth article:
How to Burn Fat While Building Muscle || Body Recompositioning 101
If you’re anything like me, you want to have your cake (or Marshmallow Dream Bar! #MDB) AND eat it, too! We want the best of both worlds in ALL areas of our lives, and that includes nutrition and fitness. I hear from so many women who reach out to me and ask, “HOW can I lose weight—aka BURN FAT – and gain muscle at the same time?!” Well, you CAN have both the body you want and the aesthetic you’re striving for and the strong body composition you crave. The key is understanding the process and committing to consistency!
Watch the video below and/or read on for even more helpful info!
Losing fat, building muscle, or a combo of the two are three very different journeys. However, in order to be successful on any of these journeys, you MUST do these five things. I’m calling these THE BIG FIVE:
1. Consume sufficient protein. You MUST be eating enough protein. Protein is the foundation of not only building almost everything in your body (including nice, lean muscles), but it repairs your body too!
2. Eat enough food. No starvation, super restrictive diets here! You must fuel your body with enough good, wholesome nutrition so it can function properly AND help you nail your goal.
3. Train Consistently. The ratio of cardio to resistance training can be different based on your goal, so keep reading!
4. Have patience, patience, patience. And more patience.
5. Trust the Process.
If you want to achieve your goal and have the results last forever, you MUST do these five things—especially #4 and #5—consistently. Consistently, like all the time, even when it’s difficult, and especially when life gets in the way. And no, I realize we’re not perfect, but it is so important to be as perfect as possible in this process if you’re wanting to see results. So let’s dive just a little bit deeper into each of these transformation journeys.
Outfit Details: Lululemon Leggings (budget friendly here), Lululemon Lace Up Bra (similar here under $35), Reebok Sneakers
Journey #1: Build Muscle
And no, I’m not talking about big, bulky muscles. I’m talking about the muscle that looks healthy and toned. To gain this type of muscle, you MUST eat at a calorie surplus. Yes, I know. That’s a tough one to stomach (pun intended 😉 ). But to build muscle, your body MUST have the extra calories it needs to grow that muscle! Here’s the deal: You can eat at a huge surplus and gain that muscle quickly, but this will also add a layer of fat. Good to know, right? Or…you can eat at a less aggressive, slighter surplus and build muscle at a slower rate with a smaller fat layer. Neither is “bad,” it’s all about what you want.
So what’s a good calorie surplus to aim for? If, for example, your resting metabolic rate (RMR) is 1500 calories a day, and you’re burning 500 calories a day working out/moving/living life, then you’re burning 2000 calories a day. So a surplus is consuming anything above that 2000 calories a day. For me, when I’m in the muscle building stage, I eat between 2200 (low carb day) and 2700 calories a day (high carb day) through carb and calorie cycling. These calories are aggressive some days (high carb days build that muscle!) and not so aggressive on other days (low carb days). It’s a good mix that has really worked for me, but you do what works best for you and your goals! And no matter what you do, remember that the smaller the calorie surplus, the slower the gains, and the more patience required. (Yes, there’s that P word again).
As far as working out goes, when you’re trying to build muscle, the focus is on very consistent resistance training and maybe some cardio, maybe not—depending on your overall goal. So lift those weights! And then lift some more!
Journey #2: Lose Fat
With fat loss, you MUST eat at a calorie deficit. That’s a must. So, going back to our example above, if you know your body burns 2000 calories a day, and you only eat 1750 calories a day, that puts you at a 250 calories/day deficit. Since 1 lb of fat = 3500 calories, it will take 14 days (250 x 14 = 3500) to burn 1 lb of fat. Make sense? And I hear you, “But Heidi, 1 lb every two weeks? It will take me FOR-EVER to lose this weight!” If you’d like to create a bigger deficit, then in this example, you could eat 1500 calories/day, which would create a 500 cal deficit and a 1 lb/week rate of fat loss. Just so you know, a healthy rate of fat loss is 1-2 lbs/week, so please don’t be tempted to create a huge calorie deficit just to get that fat loss quicker. We—and many experts—recommend that you never go below 1200 calories a day. Never! It can be dangerous, and it’s just not worth it! When your calories get too low, not only can your basic bodily functions be negatively affected, but you can actually sabotage your progress since your body is going to be hungry and unhappy! Plus, restrictive eating can negatively affect your metabolism and slow down your progress. Kind of not what we’re going for, right?
Referring back to those BIG FIVE I talked about above, with fat loss, you don’t HAVE to exercise as long as your nutrition is totally on point. But there are some great benefits to consistent exercise, and regular, consistent cardio (or Accelerators as we like to call it) will help create that calorie deficit to lose that unwanted fat. If possible, throw in some resistance training a couple of days a week if you can, but move, move, move that body to burn that unwanted fat. Even 5 minutes a day can make a difference!
Journey #3: Lose Fat AND Build Muscle (AKA, Body Recompositioning)
If this is your goal, here’s one piece of advice I know is going to be very hard for you to follow: Get rid of that darn scale! If you just can’t do this, then use the scale to tell you what’s going on with your body, NOT to tell you how to eat. Remember, this is a different journey than the other two. As you gain muscle (which is denser than fat) and lose fat, your TRUE progress might not be reflected in that number on the scale. And this can be frustrating AND can potentially send you into an emotional, food-laden tailspin if you’re not careful.
So, how can you gauge your progress if this is your goal? These questions work for all three journeys, actually:
- How do your clothes fit?
- How do you feel?
- How do your progress pictures look? Can you tell a difference? For this one to work, you’re going to have to take weekly pictures.
- Are your measurements changing? (More about this below).
And once again, #4—Patience—is going to play a HUGE part in your progress. And Trusting the Process. #brokenrecord
As far as nutrition goes, unlike the other journeys, to lose fat and build muscle, I recommend you eat at maintenance calories to maintain your body weight. Your body needs adequate nutrients to build those muscles, and you CANNOT create more muscle if you don’t have enough fuel in your nutrition tank. It just won’t happen, and your body could potentially even cannibalize the muscle you do have if your calorie intake is too low. That’s kind of going in the wrong direction, right? If you’re following The TRANSFORM App, we’ve done the nutrition figuring for you—you just have to follow the recommendations! #easypeasy Choose the “Maintain Weight” option within the app, and if, after a few weeks, you’re not seeing the progress you’d like (slow gains, losing too much weight), then bump to the “Jacked/Gain Muscle Mass” option. If this option becomes too aggressive at any point in time, change back to “Maintain Weight.” When you get to where you want to be, then change to the “Lean & Shredded” option. When you see a stall in your progress, go back up to “Maintain Weight.” It’s a beautiful process, and the app makes it super easy!
Another thing about The TRANSFORM App: If lose fat/build muscle is your goal, I would recommend the Women’s Physique program or the At-Home Body Sculpting program. These two programs were created just for you! They’ll help you break down those muscles so they can build back up and create those gains you’re wanting while also helping you lose any extra fat that’s hanging around.
Now for some general tips no matter what transformation journey you’re on.
1. Take your measurements. Regularly. I mentioned taking your measurements earlier, so how do you do this? At the minimum, take these two measurements every week:
- Waist: Measure at your belly button.
- Hips: Measure at the largest part of your butt or widest part of your hips—whichever is larger.
And if you really want to gauge your progress, also do these every week:
- Left and Right Arms: Measure the distance from your elbow to the largest part of your arm. (Keep this measurement for future use). Then measure the circumference at this spot.
- Left and Right Thighs: Measure the distance from just above your knee to the largest part of your thigh. (Keep this measurement for future use). Then measure the circumference at this spot.
- Left and Right Calves: Measure the distance from just below your kneecap to the largest part of your calf. (Keep this measurement for future use). Then measure the circumference at this spot.
It only takes a few minutes to take your measurements, but when you see those inches going down (especially when that number on the scale isn’t cooperating), you’ll be so glad you got that measuring tape out!
2. Choose a program that you can follow for life. Not short-term until you reach your goal, but for life. The key word here is Lifestyle, not Diet. Which, if you think about it, Diet is DIE + a T, so eventually, if you’re following a “Diet,” you will go off of that Diet, and probably lose some, if not all, of your progress. Diet = short-term, Lifestyle = long-term. It’s as simple as that. You don’t want your eating plan to feel like a “Diet,” so you want a program that allows the right mix of healthy eating and your fave indulgences (or Daily Hugs, as I like to call them). That’s a Lifestyle plan, not a Diet.
3. No matter what your goal is, PLEASE remember that muscle gain and fat loss do NOT go up linearly. Oh no. There will be ups and downs, and more ups and downs. And that’s totally normal! So…once again…have Patience and Trust the Process.
4. Don’t forget about those oh-so-important NSVs (non-scale victories)! I mentioned this before, but I HAVE to mention it again. There are so many other ways to see your progress than that darn number on the scale.
5. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. You would not believe how important simply drinking enough water every day is to achieving any transformation goal! In fact, when one of our clients isn’t progressing, the first thing we ask them is how much water they’re drinking daily. Water has so many other benefits too!
6. Get enough sleep. Aim for 7-9 hours of shut-eye so your body can rest and get ready for an amazing tomorrow! And besides its help with transformation, sleep is so important for so many other reasons!
7. Eat 5 meals a day. This will keep your body primed, happy, and progressing towards your goals all day long, and it will help keep you from falling victim to those cravings that creep in when we get hungry.
One last thing: In the video, I promised to give you a calculator you can use to help you figure out the nutrition aspect of your journey. Click here for an amazing one that will help you figure your RMR + calories spent doing daily activities. It also gives you some calorie recommendations to match your goals!
Well…there you have it. Heidi’s tips on how to get the body you’ve always wanted, and more importantly, how to keep it forever! Guys, I know it seems like a lot. But I PROMISE you, once you get into the habit, it honestly becomes second nature. Plus, as you start fueling your body correctly, you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel overall, and that will make it that much easier to stay the course.
Got more questions? Leave ‘em in a comment below. They might be the topic of future blog posts!
Why Most Meal Plans Suck and How to Find the Right One for You
Meal Plan Makeover: A Step-By-Step Guide to Un-Suck A Sucky Meal Plan
Macro Tracking For the Win! All of Your Questions Answered (There’s an awesome macros calculator in this one!)
Macros vs Micros: The Macro Myth Busted!
Are we sick of Donuts + Macros yet? Nope, and here is why…
Body recomposition– simultaneous fat loss and muscle growth– is often considered the holy grail of fitness.
Most people experience recomp for the first few months when they get serious about working out, but then from that point onward they end up needing to bulk and cut. or at least, they think they need to.
There are three general schools of thought when it comes to recomp. Those who aren’t very knowledgable tend to have unrealistic expectations, and expect perpetual, rapid body recomposition. Like, lose 20 pounds of muscle and gain 5 pounds of fat in one month rapid. Sorry, no.
On the other hand, most people who are fairly knowledgable about fitness and bodybuilding end up going too far in the other direction, taking the attitude that nobody should ever expect to recomp once they’re past their newbie gains phase.
Frankly, this is just nihilism dressed up as hard-nosed realism. It’s good to temper expectations and plan to work hard but the evidence doesn’t support that level of negativity.
The truth is, it is possible to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time, not just for newbies, but for intermediate and in some cases even advanced trainees. This has been borne out over and over again not only in the practical experience of trainers like me, but also in studies. And those studies have included all sorts of research populations, including police officers, elderly men and women, and younger women.
Now, the phrase at the same time does need to be clarified here. It’s not clear that you can build muscle and lose fat at literally the exact same moment…but then again, that doesn’t matter.
What matters is that, with proper workout programming and calorie cycling, you can usually lose fat and build muscle at different times within the same day. Better yet, you can definitely recomp within any given week let alone a given macrocycle.
That said, recomping usually produces slower results than alternating bulk and cut phases. So why would you do it? Well, first off, it produces steadier results, rather than the two steps forward, one step back progress that can often be seen with the bulk/cut model. By extension, it’s a great cure for yo-yo dieting.
Almost everyone who goes from overweight to shredded has to go through at least a couple of recomp phases along the way. In fact, most people should be able to recomp until they’re at least at a late intermediate level of development.
That said, while anyone can benefit from a recomp, there are several specific types of people who tend to do better on a recomp rather than by alternating bulking and cutting. And I’ll provide specific recommendations for those groups in a bit, but first let’s go over the basics of recomp program design.
How to Recomp Effectively
The first rule of recomping is, eat a caloric surplus on workout days, and a caloric deficit on non-workout days.
The second rule of recomping is, eat a caloric surplus on workout days, and a caloric deficit on non-workout days. Got it?
Roman explains how to calculate your calorie and macro needs in this article– he recommends a 100 calorie surplus on workout days and 500 calorie deficit on non-workout days, but treat those numbers as a starting point. Not gaining strength or mass? Add another one or two hundred calories on workout days. Not losing fat? Cut a couple hundred more calories on non-workout days- ideally from carbs.
The third rule of recomping is, lift weights three or four times a week. Don’t lift more than four days a week- remember, you’re eating a caloric surplus on your workout days, so working out more often would turn this recomp into a bulk.
Note that you don’t have to perform each workout exactly once a week- you can have a four-way split and work out three times a week, or have a five-way split and work out three or four times a week.
The fourth rule of recomping is, any exercise other than weightlifting is optional and doesn’t count as a workout day. A little jogging, or playing soccer with your friends, can be great ways to burn some extra calories on non-workout days- but they don’t earn you the right to eat more.
The fifth rule of recomping is- utilize some form of intermittent fasting. Personally I’m a fan of daily 16/8 fasting, plus 24-hour fasts the day after cheat day, but find a fasting protocol that works with your body and your schedule.
The sixth rule of recouping is- get at least seven hours of sleep a night. Sleeping well helps with both fat loss and muscle growth. It’s a win-win, so make sure you nail this.
Those are the basics- now let’s look at the four types of people who can benefit from a recomp, and specific recommendations for each of them.
Group One: Total Novices
Novices should recomp because, simply put, there’s no reason not to. In fact, most people do just that– they recomp for their first few months of serious training before they start bulking and cutting.
I won’t belabor this point because I think most of us have already experienced it firsthand. When you first start out, at least, recomping is so easy you don’t even have to do anything special to make it happen.
If you haven’t been training for more than a few months, you can easily build muscle in a deficit by just lifting weights a few days a week and making a modest effort to “eat heathy.” So, like, you should do that.
Group Two: The Skinny-Fat
Being skinny-fat is tough. When you try to cut, you end up losing muscle along with your fat. When you try to bulk, you end up gaining fat along with your new muscle. It’s a heartbreaking, Sisyphean ordeal. Thankfully, recomping offers a solution.
When breaking out of the skinny-fat trap, patience is the name of the game. The rapid cut/bulk mindset will only lead to yo-yo dieting, so keep your daily caloric surpluses under two hundred calories, and your deficits under six hundred.
Second, while you are losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time, losing fat is the more important of the two. Your goal is to get your body fat percentage down, since being leaner means you’ll look better, and have better nutrient partitioning. And you can lower your body fat percentage faster and farther by losing fat than by gaining muscle. So focus on strong deficits and low-carb dieting on non-workout days, and if you can also gain a little lean mass- view that as the icing on the cake.
Third, don’t use cheat days to start out with. You’re not lean enough to automatically deserve one. Instead, allow yourself one cheat meal per week- dinner on Saturday nights tends to be when people choose to have this.
If you show strong initial fat loss, you start getting leaner, and your progress slows dramatically after a while, that’s when you add in a cheat day once every two weeks to up-regulate hormones like leptin and thyroid hormone and keep your metabolism high. But don’t add a cheat day until you need it and you know you’re doing everything else right, and don’t bump the frequency up to once a week until you’ve broken out of skinny-fat and gotten lean.
Fourth, make your workouts whole-body. Working your entire body each time will give you the strongest metabolic effect, which is ideal for kick-starting fat loss. Just make sure not to overwork your legs- don’t push them to failure.
Fifth, keep rest times short. Again, this maximizes the metabolic impact of your workouts.
Group Three: Those Reaching Their Final Form
The third group who can benefit from a recoup is those who are both fairly lean, and have almost as much muscle as their body can naturally have. If you’re in this group- you only need to lose a few pounds of fat and gain a few pounds of muscle, and you’ll be in the best (drug-free) shape you could possibly be in.
Ironically, being in great shape puts you in a similar bind to the skinny-fat trainee. Because your body can only gain muscle very slowly at this point, it’s easy for a large caloric surplus to spill over into fat gain. And because your body doesn’t have much fat left to lose, it’ll be resistant to losing any more- it will try its best to lose muscle instead, because evolution has designed our bodies first and foremost to avoid starvation.
If you’re in this group, your prescription differs from that of the skinny-fat trainee in a few key ways.
First off, you should be having a cheat day, or a couple of cheat meals, every week. You’re lean enough to benefit from it, and you’ve proven that you can follow a diet well enough to warrant some structured cheating. Enjoy the cheat meals; you’ve earned them.
Second, compared to the skinny-fat trainee, your diet should be tilted a bit more towards muscle growth. Since you’re lean, you have great nutrient partitioning, so you can eat a little more on workout days without gaining fat. Your caloric surplus on workout days might be several hundred, rather than just one hundred.
Third, your workouts should probably be split-body, or else each workout should focus on a few body parts while minimally working others. There are a few reasons for this. First off, you probably tend to push yourself harder than newer trainees- that means each muscle needs more time to recover. Moreover, muscle naturally take longer to recover as they grow larger, since some of the bodily resources they draw won’t have grown as much as the muscles themselves. And third, since you’re prioritizing muscle growth a bit more highly, the added metabolic boost from a full-body workout is less important.
Finally, switch up your workouts every 2-3 months. The better shape you’re in, the faster you adapt to an exercise program and start to see progress stall. You don’t want to program-hop, but you do want to follow an intelligent progression that keeps the training effect going strong. Your best options here are to either hire a coach, or follow a program designed for this specific purpose, such as Omega Body.
Group Four: Those Who Just Want to Maintain For Now
There are going to be some periods of your life when you don’t have the time, energy, or stability to follow an aggressive fitness program. The final category of people who could benefit from a recomp program are people who don’t necessarily want to recomp, but merely want to maintain what they have while making fitness a lower priority in their lives. In times this case, instead of losing fat and gaining muscle, the goal is merely to not gain fat and not lose muscle.
A recomp-like program is ideal for physique maintenance since it maintains insulin sensitivity, provides adequate stimulus to preserve muscle mass, and doesn’t require a particularly difficult diet. If you’re in this category, you can take things a bit easier than the other two groups, but you still need to make sure you’re following the program, and in particular that you don’t overeat and get fat.
Rule number one: keep the workouts time-efficient. That means three or maybe even just two workouts a week, with each one clocking in at 20-30 minutes. If you only work out twice a week though, it has to be full-body. Also, even though you’re “taking it easy,” you want to push yourself pretty hard during these workouts, allowing higher intensity to partially substitute for the lower volume.
Rule number two: make heavy use of intermittent fasting. The hormonal benefits of intermittent fasting are going to be extra useful since you’re not working out as often. The 16/8 or even 19/5 schedules are ideal for maintenance phases, since restricting your eating to a shorter window each day makes it easier to limit caloric intake. Feast-fast can also be useful if you’re prone to fat gain, but only if you’re earning that cheat day.
Rule number three: determine your diet based on your natural tendency, not your goal. In other words, if you get fat easily, keep calories and carbs low. If you’re naturally skinny and had to struggle for every once of muscle, bump up the calories a bit, especially on workout days.
Rule four: Have a weekly cheat day, as long as you’re following your diet. Since you’re de-prioritizing fitness for a while, you can go ahead and enjoy a weekly cheat day without worrying about whether it’s exactly ideal for you given your goals and current body fat percentage. However, you do still have to not be overeating the other six days of the week- otherwise, you’ll just get fat.
Finally, remember that you can never truly stay the same. You’re always gaining or losing fat. You’re always gaining or losing muscle. And if you’re not trying hard enough to make progress, you’ll probably backslide, at least a little bit. A good recomp program can limit the damage, but it won’t freeze your body in place. So go into maintenance mode for a few months if you have to, but understand that after a while, you’ll need to re-focus on fitness and put in the effort to make some gainz.
Bottom line: recomping is a great way to gradually gain muscle and lose fat, while avoiding yo-yo dieting. If you have the patience and the ability to hit some fairly precise macro targets, and have had trouble with bulk/cut cycles in the past, a recomp is likely to be your best option.
If you want to lose fat and build muscle at the same time, you need a well-designed recomp program. That’s something I can design for you as part of my online fitness coaching program– particularly the comprehensive package, which includes customized workouts, diets and lifestyle coaching.
Finally, a special offer for my readers: when you join my online coaching program, during the checkout process you’ll see a field to enter a promotional code. Input the promo code JOHNFAWKESWEEK to get your first week of online coaching for free– this works with all coaching packages.
2019 Transformation Lean Mass Recomp Guide
If you want to know how to successfully lose fat and build muscle at the same time and achieve the ultimate body recomposition, you want to read this article.
Body recomposition, the process of building muscle while losing fat, is the holy grail of physique transformation. Most gym goers will say that it either isn’t possible or only feasible for newbies.
But, here’s the thing — science tells us otherwise.
Recomping is possible and not only for rank beginners, either.
The short of it is that:
Yes, it is possible to burn fat and build muscle at the same time.
However, the process of recomping can only take place under certain conditions.
Most of the stuff you read about recomping on the internet is complete garbage.
In this guide, we’ll tell you exactly what it takes to pull off a successful body recomp, who is best suited to undertake a recomp journey, and how you can do it, too!
Let’s start things off by discussing the type of individuals best suited to try their hand at recomping.
Should I Recomp?
Body recomping is most appropriate (effective) if you are:
A Novice (Beginner)
Gym newbs with less than one year of proper training (following an actual structured program).
Detraining can result anytime you take a prolonged break from consistent, intentional training. This can be due either to injury, pursuing other athletic goals (e.g. triathlons, martial arts, etc.) that take you away from the gym, or just getting off track and not training because you don’t really “feel” like it.
If you have a high body fat percentage (greater than 25%) you are an ideal candidate for recomping.
Someone who wants to be lean year-round
This is referred to as a slow cut and used by intermediate-level lifters who want to lose a bit of fat, but don’t really want (or need) to do a lengthy cut.
It’s important to remember that the more trained you are the more tedious it will be and time it will take to pull off a successful recomp.
How to Successfully Recomp
Regardless of which of the above categories you place yourself, in order to achieve a successful “recomp”, you need to do five key things:
Utilize a Modest Calorie Deficit
Recomping is about losing fat and building muscle.
In order to lose fat, you MUST be in a calorie deficit (i.e. negative energy balance). This means you have to burn more energy than you consume each day consistently.
Despite what you’ve been led to believe by TV doctors, nutritional “gurus”, and social media personalities, losing fat is not that hard.
Losing fat does NOT require you to eliminate carbs, avoid gluten, eat “x” times per day, eat only between certain hours of the day, or even something as ridiculous-sounding as a “keto cleanse.”
The only thing you need to do to lose body fat is maintain a negative energy balance.
Now that we’ve set the record straight on what it takes to lose body fat, the next question “how large of a calorie deficit” do I need?
This is where things get a bit more complicated.
You see, if you were strictly cutting and not trying to recomp, you can use a fairly aggressive calorie deficit (~20-25% below TDEE). This allows you to lose fat at a very steady rate (~1-2 lbs per week) while avoiding virtually any muscle loss.
However, since we’re trying to build muscle and lose fat simultaneously, we don’t want to use as aggressive of a deficit, especially if you are an intermediate lifter who is already relatively fit (~12-15% bodyfat).
The reason for this is that building muscle in a calorie deficit is not the easiest thing to accomplish, as a negative energy balance reduces the body’s ability to synthesize proteins.
This is why individuals are at risk for losing muscle when dieting. Basically, your body can’t create enough proteins to counterbalance the rate of breakdown.
Thus, when your goal is to maximize muscle growth, you need to make sure you’re not in a calorie deficit. And as total daily energy expenditure is a fuzzy, moving target, this is why people looking to build muscle will intentionally overshoot their energy needs and keep their body in a slight energy surplus. (“Bulking” in bodybuilding lingo.)
Again this brings us back to the question at hand:
How large of a calorie deficit should I use when recomping?
To glean some insight into this, let’s take a look at a 2011 study by Garthe et al.
For nine weeks, both groups of athletes followed energy-restricted diets tailored to meet their weekly weight loss limits of 0.7% or 1.4% respectively. All athletes also performed 4 resistance training sessions per week, following their “usual training regimen.”
At the end of the nine weeks, both groups (unsurprisingly) lost weight and body fat. However, only the slow weight loss group increased their lean body mass. Specifically, the slow reduction group gained an average of 2.1% lean body mass at the end of the nine weeks.
This study gives evidence that if you want to build muscle and burn fat at the same time, you want to lose a maximum of 0.7% of your bodyweight per week.
So, for example, if you weighed 180 pounds, you would want to lose approximately 1.26 pounds per week at a maximum in order to be able to lose fat and build muscle.
In order to achieve this weight loss rate, athletes in the slow reduction group consumed 19% ± 2% below their TDEE. This is roughly ~20% less than the amount of calories needed to maintain your weight daily.
For the average person, this works out to somewhere around 500 calories per day (3500 calorie deficit per week), which yields roughly 1 pound of fat loss per week.
An important thing to keep in mind is that while you may be losing fat per week, the number on the scale may actually remain constant. This is due to the fact that you are losing fat but gaining an equal amount of muscle at the same time.
Sidenote: this is also why weight should not be the only metric used to assess body transformation and recomposition progress.
And in case you were wondering, the athletes in the fast reduction weight loss category used an average calorie deficit of 30% below TDEE.
Consume a High-Protein Diet
Eating enough protein is important for building muscle and outright essential for preserving lean mass when cutting calories.
Consuming adequate protein helps maintain a positive nitrogen balance in the body even though you are in a calorie deficit. Eating enough protein also ensures that your muscles have the requisite amount of essential amino acids they need to repair and, more importantly, grow.
So, how much protein is “enough” to achieve a positive nitrogen balance and provide the potential for muscle growth?
Most research points to a maximum intake of 0.8 grams per pound of body weight per day as the amount needed to support muscle growth. Consuming above 0.8g/lb of bodyweight, while acceptable to do, does not lead to additional muscle growth beyond what is attainable at the 0.8g/lb/day amount.
In other words, feel free to consume more protein if you want each day if you enjoy it, but it won’t necessarily make you build muscle any faster.
Now, in regards to body recomposition, protein intake recommendations are typically higher.
In fact, various studies demonstrating successful body recomposition efforts have subjects consume approximately 1-1.6 grams per pound of bodyweight (2.4-3.4g/kg of bodyweight).
A recent 2018 study by The Hypertrophy Doc, Dr. Brad Schoenfeld, and friends found that when test subjects (aspiring female physique athletes) consumed a little more than 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day (2.5g/kg/day to be exact) they gained lean muscle mass while losing just over 2.2 pounds (~1kg) of fat.
This number (2.5g/kg/day of protein) also fits in nicely with a 2014 meta-analysis by Eric Helms and colleagues which concluded that protein requirements are between 2.3-3.1g/kg of fat-free mass for individuals following an energy-restricted diet (i.e. calorie deficit).
A good starting place for daily protein intake for active individuals (training 4-5 times per week) is between 1.1-1.2 grams per pound of bodyweight. This provides sufficient amounts of dietary protein and essential amino acids to support the body protein requirements and maintain a positive nitrogen balance.
And, if you’re worried about any potential adverse effects from consuming a high-protein diet, you really shouldn’t be, if you are an otherwise healthy individual.
A 2016 study by Jose Antonio and colleagues found that even after consuming a high protein diet (2.6 to 3.3 g/kg/day) for four months (16 weeks) there was no negative effect on blood lipids or markers of renal and hepatic function.
The takeaway here, is that protein is your friend when dieting, recomping, and bulking. It provides your body with all the essential building blocks it needs to build and repair muscle tissue. It also helps keep you full and tastes absolutely delicious!
Since protein is a priority when cutting or recomping, but calories are restricted, many individuals struggle to consume enough protein and stay within their calorie limits.
To help you hit your protein needs, we created ISOLIT.
ISOLIT is a 100% pure whey protein isolate protein powder that delivers 25 grams of high-quality, leucine-rich whey protein in each serving. It’s also low in carbs, lactose, and fat. And, each scoop only contains around 135 calories, making it a high protein, low calorie option that can fit into any athletes calorie budget.
Focus on Heavy, Compound Lifts
It’s fairly common for individuals seeking weight loss to drastically change their training program from a lower rep, heavier weight style of training to one of lighter weight, higher reps. This is usually done under the misconception that higher reps are better for fat loss and lead to better muscle “toning.”
But, rest assured, performing a lot of high rep, light weight workouts does little for building muscle and next to nothing for increasing strength — both of which should be what you are trying to do when recomping.
The best way to preserve strength and build muscle while recomping is performing compound exercises (e.g. squats, bench, deadlift, rows, etc) with heavy weight.
Why is heavy weight training so important?
Well, for a few reasons.
First off, when in the midst of a calorie deficit, your muscles are at risk for breakdown, something you absolutely do NOT want to happen as the more lean mass you lose, the lower your metabolic rate drops, which means the more you have to reduce calorie intake so as to remain in a deficit.
Weight training provides the requisite stimulus your muscles need to maintain their size and strength in the face of fewer calories. (Note: This is also why maintaining a high protein intake is so important during cutting and recomping.)
And, in the case of recomping, we’re actually trying to build muscle, and the only way muscles will get bigger and stronger is if you are training them regularly following the rules of progressive overload.
Second, if you remember from above, we mentioned that during periods of calorie restriction, such as when cutting or recomping, muscle protein synthesis is suppressed.
Heavy resistance-training, however, ramps up muscle protein synthesis. The increase in protein synthesis can be further enhanced with the ingestion of protein, such as whey protein or a blend of EAAs high in leucine, the “anabolic” trigger that activates mTOR and gets the muscle-building ball roll.
This is why it’s frequently recommended to consume some sort of protein before and/or after training. Not only does consuming protein provide the building blocks needed to repair and grow muscle tissue but it also ramps up MPS, making it possible to build muscle while in a calorie deficit.
So, back to the topic at hand…why specifically perform compound exercises and how “heavy” should the weight be that we are lifting with respect to our 1-rep max?
Simply put, if you want to build muscle and strength as quickly and efficiently as possible, you want to focus on compound exercises.
Compound exercises are multi-joint movements that work more than one muscle group. Examples of compound exercises including exercises such as:
These movements recruit a tremendous amount of muscle and give you the biggest bang for your exercise buck.
They also allow for the greatest amount of overload, and since one of the key factors in hypertrophy is mechanical tension, compound exercises should be the type of movements you emphasize in your training program.
Now, that’s not to say isolation exercises (movements that involve a single joint and emphasize a single muscle group) are useless or unnecessary. In fact, you should perform some isolation exercises in your routine, as compound movements may not stimulate certain muscles (side delts for instance) as effectively as an isolation movement could.
Therefore, your training will include some isolation work (curls, tricep pushdowns, side laterals, etc), but the brunt of the lifting will be devoted to compound movements.
This brings us to the second part of the “Compound Exercises with Heavy Weights” — how “heavy” does the weight need to be?
Generally speaking, you want the majority of your reps to be in the 6-15 rep range (~70-85% of your 1-rep max), with most sets performed in the 6-10 rep range.
The reason we recommend sticking with lower reps, heavier weight is two-fold, based on a pretty strong body of scientific research.
Using heavier weight allows for greater amounts of mechanical stress (tension) to be placed on your muscles. High rep, lower weight training creates more metabolic stress in working muscles, but not as much mechanical tension.
Now, both mechanical stress and metabolic stress can induce hypertrophy, but researchers agree that mechanical stress (i.e. weight on the bar) is the primary driver of all factors that affect hypertrophy.
You can read more about the various factors that impact muscle growth, here.
Training with heavier weights also results in a higher degree of muscle fiber activation compared to lighter weights.
Based on these findings, two things are pretty clear:
You should base most of your training around lifting heavy weights
Progressive overload is essential to muscle growth.
Muscles will only grow if they are forced to perform more work that they previously did.
Progressive overload can come in many forms (adding weight to the bar, performing more reps, increasing number of sets, reducing rest times), but as we just finished explaining, using heavy weights gets the best results for natural lifters.
Now, this doesn’t mean that high-rep training is pointless, and it does not mean it can’t help build muscle (which it can), it’s just that it shouldn’t be the focus of your training.
Heavy lifting in a moderate rep range (6-10 reps per set) should be.
Perform High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) as Needed
The first, and most important, rule of weight loss is that calories in must be less than calories out.
Now, this can be accomplished by:
Reducing calorie intake,
Increasing energy expenditure (“calories out”), or
Some combination of the two
This is where the infamous cardio factor comes into the equation. On the one hand, cardio takes up time and, more importantly, energy that could be better spent on recovery from strength training workouts.
On the other hand, cardio increases energy expenditure, which could allow you to eat more calories while still maintaining your calculated calorie deficit.
This leaves individuals seeking weight loss and body recomposition in a bind.
So, what’s the answer?
High-Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, for short.
High-Intensity Interval Training is a type of cardiovascular activity that’s short on time and long on calorie burn. It provides the best bang for your buck in terms of getting the increased energy expenditure of cardio without having to eat away at muscle tissue or waste hours of your day on the treadmill or elliptical.
HIIT is performed by alternating periods of all-out effort and periods of low-to-moderate intensity effort, usually at a work-to-rest ratio of 1:2 or 1:3, depending on your level of conditioning.
Numerous studies have shown that interval training burns more fat than steady-state cardio (LISS).
In fact, one study conducted at the University of Ontario highlighted just how much better HIIT is compared to LISS.
For the study, 20 subjects (10 men and 10 women) were randomized into two groups and performed either 30-60 minutes of steady-state cardio or 4-6 30-second treadmill sprints (with 4-6 minutes of rest in between each sprinting effort.
After six weeks of performing their mode of cardio, the HIIT group lost significantly more fat than the LISS group.
In addition to greater fat loss, HIIT also comes with a number of other benefits, including:
Increased resting metabolic rate for up to 24 hours post exercise.
Increased levels of skeletal muscle fat oxidation (fat burning)
Greater insulin sensitivity in skeletal muscle
Post-workout appetite suppression
Statistically significant spikes in growth hormone and fat-burning catecholamines such as adrenaline and noradrenaline
But that’s not all.
HIIT is also better when it comes to preserving muscle and strength compared to LISS.
Now, the question becomes — how much cardio should you perform each week?
For body recomposition goals, we typically recommend 2-4 sessions of HIIT per week, with each one lasting 25-30 minutes.
HIIT can be performed on just about any “standard” cardio machine you typically use for steady-state cardio, but two of our favorites are the rowing machine and recumbent bike.
Begin all of your HIIT sessions with a low-to-moderate intensity 5-minute warm up. When your warm up is complete, go right into your first “sprint” (max effort period) for 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, the transition to your “active recovery” interval for 60 seconds moving at a low-to-moderate intensity.
Repeat this on-off cycle for 25-30 minutes and then end your workout with another 5 minute cooldown.
Get Enough Sleep
Quite possibly the most underrated, yet critically important, factor that impacts muscle growth, fat loss, and ultimately body recomposition is the duration and quality of your sleep.
Studies note that lack of sleep leads to disruptions in hormone production which can result in muscle loss.
In fact, one study, in particular, found that after only seven days of getting 5 hours of sleep per night, men’s testosterone levels dropped by 14%!
Sleep deprivation also negatively impacts other important hormones related to muscle building including insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) and growth hormone (GH). Additional research notes that skimping on sleep increases cortisol levels, which further hinders muscle growth and promotes fat storage.
And, to top it off, lack of sleep also increases appetite, which heightens your risk of deviating from your diet and overeating.
Now, the amount of sleep an individual needs is highly individualistic. Some people can sleep 7 hours and feel fine, while others need a full 8 or even 9 hours per night. The National Sleep Foundation states that adults require an average of 7-9 hours of sleep per night to be fully rested.
If you presently struggle with sleep, there are a few things you can do each night to improve your sleep quality:
Limit exposure to blue light 2 hours before going to bed. Blue light hinders melatonin production and thus impacts your ability to go to sleep on time.
Set an alarm to signal that it’s time to turn off the lights, laptops, TV, smartphones, and tablets and start getting “ready” for bed.
Have a cup of caffeine-free herbal tea
Perform some light yoga/stretching or meditation
In addition to these tips, you can also use an all-natural sleep aid, such as EAA Sleep.
EAA Sleep supports muscle recovery and growth while you sleep by providing all nine essential amino acids needed for muscle repair. It also includes a powerful matrix of natural sleep aids, including melatonin, L-Theanine, GABA, and 5-HTP.
EAA Sleep is non-habit forming and does not cause any tolerance or addiction. It also will not leave you feeling groggy the morning after.
Sleep is too important to your results and since you’re trying to “thread the needle” (build muscle while losing fat) in terms of body composition, every night is an opportunity to make gains!
2019 Lean Mass Recomp Training Program
Your recomp training will consist of resistance-training workouts four days per week centered around compound exercises with heavy weight. Some lighter weight, higher rep work will be included for isolation exercises and the beloved muscle pumps.
But, the vast majority of your gym time will be dedicated to lifting heavy ass weight.
Resistance training, high protein intake, and a moderate calorie deficit are your three pillars of success for body recomp.
Your goal when stepping into the gym is stimulating your muscles and trying to beat your previous workout numbers either by performing more reps, or if you completed all of your reps the preceding workout, adding weight to the bar.
Two to four HIIT cardio sessions will also be included during your training program. If you’re relatively new to training, start by including only one or two HIIT sessions since they require a high amount of effort and can be quite taxing.
For your weekly training plan, you’ll be performing four workouts consisting of an upper/lower split. Dividing the body up into two groups allows for increased training frequency and higher overall volume compared to the traditional bro split or full-body workout, respectively.
So, an example weekly workout template could look something like this:
Monday: Lower A
Tuesday: Upper A HIIT Session 1
Wednesday: HIIT Session 1
Thursday: Lower B
Friday: Upper B
Saturday: HIIT Session 2
Monday – Lower Body A
Lying Leg Curls
Seated Calf Raises
Hanging Leg Raises
Tuesday – Upper Body A
Incline Dumbbell Press
1-Arm Dumbbell Row
Thursday – Lower Body B
Trap Bar Deadlifts
8-10 / leg
Leg Press Calf Raises
Cross-Body Mountain Climbers
30 sec / side
Friday – Upper Body B
Dumbbell Bench Press
Wide Grip Lat Pulldown
Cable Lateral Raises
EZ Bar Curl (superset with next exercise)
EZ Bar Skullcrushers
Rope Hammer Curls
Rope Tricep Pushdowns
The Best Supplements to Recomp
We’ve said it before and we’ll continue to say it forever — diet, training, and sleep are the primary governors of success when it comes to body recomposition.
Without those three things in place, it doesn’t matter how many supplements you take. You will not get the results you want.
Now, that’s not to say that supplements don’t have their place. They can and do work.
It’s just that the vast majority of people spend more time trying to figure out what is the best pre workout rather than making sure their diet is on point or increasing their numbers in the gym.
Supplements have their place, just understand that your diet, training, and sleep need to be addressed first.
To help you with your 2019 lean mass recomp transformation, we’ve compiled a list of the best supplements to include in your daily supplement stack:
Mega Pre Red
Pre workouts exist to get you amped up for your training session, and (more importantly) provide your muscles with nutrients that help them to last longer and perform better (or they should at least….).
Mega Pre Red is our high-stimulant, high-performance pre workout supplying 400mg total caffeine (per 2 scoops) alongside other research-backed ergogenics, including 3.2g Beta-alanine, 3g betaine, and 6g l-citrulline.
Mega Pre Black even includes potent nootropics in Huperzine A, Alpha GPC and Choline Bitartrate to support focus and the ever-important mind-muscle connection.
Creatine is the single most studied, successful, and proven effective supplement in the history of sports nutrition. The stuff works, plain and simple.
Numerous studies have shown that creatine enhances ATP production, strength, power output, lean mass gains, and even cognitive function.
Simply put, if there is one and only one supplement you would consider purchasing, it should be creatine.
Prim-ATP is our preferred creatine supplement. It contains 5 grams of pure creatine anhydrous along with the full clinical dose of 150mg of elevATP for added ATP production and performance during training.
Primavar is a premium quality all-natural supplement designed to support muscle growth and recovery.*
Laxogenin is a dietary supplement steroidal sapogenin found in a number of plants. Limited inconclusive research reports steroidal saponins are considered principal bioactive compounds responsible for the plant’s pharmacological effects.*
Numerous users of Primavar have remarked on the increased recovery and lack of soreness they experience when using the all-natural anabolic support compound.
EAA Max is a delicious, low-calorie option for getting some additional essential amino acids into your body without taking too big of a chunk out of your daily calorie intake.
EAA Max contains all nine essential amino acids, including 5 grams of 2:1:1 BCAAs to support muscle protein synthesis and limit protein breakdown.
EAA Max is available in TEN mouth-watering flavors and is a great in-between meal snack to keep protein synthesis elevated and help maintain a positive nitrogen balance.
We’ve expounded on the importance of protein for fat loss and muscle growth enough in this article, so we won’t continue to beat the drum.
You know you need it, so make sure you’re getting at least 1 gram per pound of bodyweight per day while recomping.
To help you reach your protein macronutrient goals for the day, Primeval Labs has created ISOLIT.
ISOLIT is a high protein, low calorie protein powder supplying 25 grams of high-quality 100% pure whey protein isolate per serving. ISOLIT is low in calories, carbohydrates, lactose and fat and provides a delicious protein-packed option anytime of day.
ISOLIT comes in SEVEN delicious flavors, mixes easily, and can fit into even the most strict nutrition plan.
The Bottom Line on Lean Mass Recomping
Despite what you may have been told, building muscle while losing fat is possible, even if you’re not a beginner. A successful recomp doesn’t involve any weight dietary shenanigans or fancy training protocols
All you have to do is follow five simple steps, and you will be able to build muscle and burn fat at the same time. To recap, those five steps are:
Utilize a modest calorie deficit to lose a maximum of 0.7% of bodyweight per week
Lift heavy weights 3-4 times per week using compound movements
Use HIIT cardio as needed
Get enough sleep
Do those five things and you will be able to successfully recomp.