A ‘body recomposition’ is the process of maintaining your current body weight while simultaneously losing fat and building muscle.
The reason the body recomposition raises so much confusion is due to the fact you’re trying to accomplish two diametrically opposing goals.
To lose fat, you need to be in a calorie deficit–i.e., eating fewer calories over time so your body can burn body fat. And to build muscle, you need to be in a calorie surplus–i.e., eating more calories than your body needs so it can use the extra calories to build new muscle.
And while it’s possible to do both–build muscle while losing fat–the magnitude to which it will happen depends on the individual. The people most likely to achieve a body recomposition are:
1. Overweight beginners
Everyone’s heard of ‘noob gains’, this magical period in the first 6-12 months of training where you can gain large amounts of muscle mass because your body’s most primed for growth.
Now combine this with excess body fat, and your body has enough energy (body fat) to use for fuel. This combination allows the overweight beginner to simultaneously build muscle while burning fat.
In one study, obese women were put on an 800 kcal/d diet for three months in conjunction with strength training and lost 35lbs while seeing an increase in muscle fiber cross-sectional area.
Another 12-week study by Demling and DeSanti, (2000) split untrained, overweight men into three groups:
- Group 1: Diet alone
- Group 2: Diet + high-protein (casein) + resistance training
- Group 3: Diet + high-protein (whey) + resistance training
The protein and strength training groups gained muscle and strength while losing body fat.
And Longland et al. found gains in lean mass in overweight male subjects who were new to weight training despite eating in a 40% energy deficit.
2. Detrained individuals
Someone who’s taken time off training (e.g., due to injury) will find they can drop body fat and build muscle very quickly once they start training again. But they’re not gaining new muscle, they’re just gaining back the muscle they lost during the layoff.
3. People who are on that ‘special sauce’ and/or have great genetics
This is pretty obvious so we don’t need to waste time discussing this.
With that said, I think in most instances for most people a body recomposition is probably not worth the time or effort
There is no secret nor is there any magic to the recomp. And, outside of a few cases (which will be discussed below), the body recomposition is pretty pointless for the majority of people.
For example, an overweight beginner would be better off eating in a moderate calorie deficit (in conjunction with weight training) because they’ll see progress faster than trying to recomp.
Similarly, If you’re a lean beginner trying to gain muscle, eating in a moderate calorie surplus is going to be far more productive than trying to gain muscle while staying as lean as you can.
This doesn’t mean the body recomposition is totally pointless, there are some people who can benefit from it.
Who would benefit from a body recomposition?
1. The ‘skinny-fat’ beginner
Someone who is ‘skinny-fat’ has low levels of muscle mass and moderate-to-high levels of body fat, particularly around the stomach.
A calorie deficit will only make them look worse as they lack the muscle to look lean. So a body recomposition will be a better option.
2. People who need to stay lean year ’round
If you need to stay lean all the time–for example, you’re a model–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.
3. You have hang-ups around gaining body fat
If you need to gain muscle but have anxiety around gaining body fat, using a body recomposition approach can offer some psychological relief. Just be aware your progress will be slower using this approach than if you were eating in a moderate surplus.
Note: If you’re a lean/skinny beginner, you shouldn’t use this approach because you’ll miss out on maximizing your muscle and strength gains. You should be eating in a calorie surplus and using a training program that utilizes progressive overload. But, as always, this is just my advice and I’m not your dad–so do whatever the fuck you want.
4. You want to ‘gaintain’
If you’re happy with where you are and don’t care about cutting or bulking, then you can use the recomp approach I’ll be laying out below to ‘gaintain’–maintain your current level of conditioning while building muscle and strength.
How to set up your body recomposition diet
Alright, so you’ve decided the body recomposition is the approach for you, this is the recommendation for how to set up your recomp diet.
The recomp diet will follow a calorie cycling approach: you’ll eat in a surplus on training days and in a deficit on rest days while keeping your weekly average calorie intake at maintenance.
Despite what the internet tells you, there’s nothing magic about cycling your calories. The reasons to use this approach for a recomposition are:
- By placing more calories on training days you have more energy coming in (i.e., calories) to fuel performance.
- There could be some favorable nutrient partitioning effects by eating more calories on training days–meaning: those extra calories are biased toward muscle and not fat.
- Knowing you can eat more calories a few days per week can help increase adherence versus eating the same amount every day.
Of course, there are individual differences and some people don’t enjoy cycling their calories. If that’s you, then just eat at maintenance throughout the week.
Article written by Adam from Physiqonomics.