Body Recomposition: A New Approach to Fat Loss & Muscle Gain
The realistic guide to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time.
If you’re unhappy with the way your body looks, odds are your goal is to lose fat and gain muscle. This kind of physical transformation is called body recomposition. And it’s a controversial topic.
On one hand, the traditional bodybuilding approach focuses on fat loss or muscle gain individually. The dedicated phases of bulking and cutting maximize results in a short timeframe.
On the other hand, body recomoposition focuses on fat loss and muscle gain simultaneously. The idea is to achieve a lean and muscular physique without the seasonal swings.
Certainly body recomposition sounds appealing. But is it feasible? And if so, should you try it?
In this article:
Is body recomposition the right goal for you?
The physiology of body recomposition
How to eat & train to build muscle & lose fat
Your Free Body Recomposition Plan
Body Recomposition Basics
Before we dive into the physiology of body recomposition, let’s answer some of the basic questions. That way you’ll know what to expect. And you can decide if it’s the right goal for you.
Can you lose fat and build muscle at the same time?
The short answer is yes. Although it’s an incredibly complex process.
As you’ll learn later, the trick to body recomposition is balancing opposing forces. One drawback to this strategy is that is takes more time to see results.
How long does body recomposition take?
Losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time may seem like a shortcut. In reality, it takes longer to see a dramatic transformation.
When bulking or cutting your weight could change by 20 lbs in a month. Whereas, your weight often stays the same in one month of body recomposition.
Even when you do lose fat and gain muscle, it can be difficult to tell.
How do you know if you’re losing fat and gaining muscle?
In order to know if you’re getting the results you want, you should be measuring your body composition. Or how much of your body is muscle compared to fat.
Who will benefit from body recomposition?
A point often overlooked is that body recomposition isn’t the right goal for most people. In fact, there are only a few circumstances where recomposotion makes sense:
When you only need to make marginal changes in body composition
If you are okay with making slow and steady progress
You recently completed a bulk or cut and want to gradually transition the other way
Or you want a more balanced, sustainable, and healthy way to get fit
Who would be better off prioritizing fat loss OR muscle gain?
Instead, the majority of people should prioritize fat loss or muscle gain. Because most people find themselves in one of these circumstances:
When you’re significantly overweight or obese – prioritize fat loss
If you have a hard time gaining weight – prioritize muscle gain
If you want results in the shortest possible time – choose one or the other
Or if you’ve restricted calories for several months – prioritize rebuilding your metabolism
Body Recomposition Physiology
Okay, let’s assume you’re ready to give body recomposition a try. First, you need to know how the process works. With a basic understanding of the physiology, you’re more likely to transform your body.
Recomposition Requires Balance
It’s important to realize that natural processes are cyclical. Seasons change, tides rise and fall, particles travel in waves, and so on. For every positive action there is an equal and opposite negative action which keeps the universe in balance.
In your body, this balance is present in the nervous system. On the negative side, the sympathetic nervous system is the fight or flight response. On the positive side, the parasympathetic nervous system is the rest and digest response.
What’s interesting is that your diet, exercise, and mindset all dictate which state you’re in. Of course, you can’t be both stressed out and relaxed at the same time. So you swing between the two states like a pendulum.
When you eat fewer calories than you burn (cutting) or stress out, the pendulum swings to the catabolic side. Conversely, the pendulum swings to the anabolic side when you eat more calories than you burn (bulking) or relax. Balancing the pendulum swings is the key to body recomposition.
Unfortunately, this is where it gets tricky because you can’t just keep the pendulum in the middle. Like doing half ass workouts and matching calories in vs. calories out. That doesn’t trigger change!
Instead, body transformation is a back and forth between catabolic and anabolic states.
Specifically, you need to swing the pendulum through daily periods of stress (sympathetic) and relaxation (parasympathetic). First with undereating and overeating. Second with hard training and ample recovery. And third with an active mind and a relaxed mind.
Next, let’s look closer at how to balance those aspects of life.
Body Recomposition Diet
First and foremost, calorie balance does matter. In order to burn fat and build muscle your daily calorie intake needs to come close to your calorie expenditure (TDEE).
Just as important is the separation of eating and digesting. You do this through daily periods of undereating and overeating.
When I say undereating, I mean consuming fewer calories than you burn within a given time period. The idea is to allow your body to swing back to fight or flight fat burning mode. Similar to the concept of intermittent fasting.
Undereating vs. Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is when you don’t eat anything for part of the day. Then eat meals only within a set window. Usually 16 and 8 hours respectively.
The drawback is that this promotes a chronic calorie deficit. Because it’s hard to eat enough calories to match your calorie expenditure in such a short window.
On the other hand, undereating is simply eating fewer carbs and calories for part of the day. In this way you get the benefits of intermittent fasting without the chronic calorie restriction.
That means eating small, easy to digest meals consisting of protein and fat. Such as a handful of nuts or a protein shake.
As a general rule, I recommend consuming less than 1/3 of your daily calories during the undereating period. For example, if your TDEE is 2,400 calories, then eat fewer than 800 calories during the undereating period.
Typically the undereating period is at least 12 hours. But you can make it longer provided that you hit your calorie target.
Most often, undereating starts a couple of hours before you go to bed and lasts until your next overeating period the following day.
In contrast, overeating is consuming more calories than you burn within a given time period. Usually the overeating period is 12 hours or less. And the goal is to trigger an anabolic state.
For that reason, the overeating period often coincides with your workout. After a workout, your body is in a highly catabolic state. Therefore, it is primed to swing back to an anabolic state.
Moreover, high amounts of carbs and calories release the anabolic hormone insulin. As a result, your body uses the nutrients to build muscle and recover from the workout.
Body Recomposition Workouts
As with diet, you must balance exercise and rest to achieve body recomposition. This balance requires attention to frequency, duration, and intensity of training.
Intense Resistance Training
In order to trigger body recomposition, your workouts must be intense enough to stimulate growth. But not so intense that you can’t recover before the next session.
The best practice is to do the minimum work required to stimulate growth. That means short but difficult workouts. Then get out of the gym and recover!
With this in mind you should allow 24-72 hours between workouts. And you should limit training to 3 to 5 days per week depending on your experience level.
Another key point is not to overdo cardio. My recommendation is 15-20 minutes of medium intensity steady-state cardio first thing in the morning.
Another option is HIIT (high intensity interval training). The anaerobic nature of this cardio promotes lean muscle while burning fat. But be aware that it is extremely taxing on the nervous system.
Alternatively, you can do steady-state cardio immediately after your resistance training workout. This helps your body “cool down” and kicks off the recovery process.
Deep Rest & Recovery
A point often overlooked is that rest periods need to be as deep as the workouts are intense. You must actively promote rest. As bizarre as that sounds.
To put it a different way, don’t just let the pendulum settle back in the middle. Do things to let go of stress and swing the pendulum to the rest and digest side.
Get at least 7 hours of sleep (preferrably 8 to 9)
Go for a quiet walk in nature
Get some sunshine
Meditate or slow your breathing
As much as this hippy-dippy stuff seems to run against the grain of bodybuilding, that’s kind of the point! Be a beast in the gym, be Buddha at home.
Body Recomposition Example
As an example, below is my 40 day body transformation. This happened when I transitioned from a bulk to a cut using the principles discussed above.
Although my scale weight stayed the same, I lost almost 1% body fat according to my body composition measurements. That means I actually lost 1.7 lbs of fat while gaining 1.7 lbs of muscle.
Those numbers are pretty impressive. Admittedly though, it’s not a dramatic 6 week transformation.
And it demonstrates why most people won’t reach their goal by aiming for body recomposition… or get that viral Instagram transformation pic!