Losing weight is not always as straightforward as it sounds. Maybe at the beginning, all you want to do is shed some fat. Eventually, you develop the urge to have a more sculpted physique aka to build your muscle. See, that’s where the problem comes in. The two fitness goals are considered to be diametrical opposites.
Essentially, losing fat means cutting your calorie intake. Building muscles, on the other hand, involves increasing your calorie intake. However, our bodies are smarter than we give them credit for. With the right balance between your diet and exercise, it is possible to achieve the two goals simultaneously. Let’s find how.
What Is Body Recomposition?
Before going into detail about what body recomposition is, we should understand the basics of body composition. Simply put, body composition is the ratio between your lean body mass and fat mass. Lean mass is the total weight of your ligaments, muscles, organs, and tissues. Fat mass is the quantity of fat stored in your body.
Analyzing your body composition will give you a better understanding of your health. This is mainly because your body fat percentage in relation to your muscle mass paints a more accurate picture of your health.
Body recomposition, therefore, is all about changing the ratio of your lean mass to fat mass. The goal is usually to balance the two aspects by losing body fat while gaining muscle mass. This process is meant to occur simultaneously, not separately. Body recomposition will therefore focus on your body composition instead of your weight.
How To Do A Body Recomposition?
Body recomposition is all about your overall lifestyle pattern. There is no set-in-stone protocol to approach it with. This also implies that there’s no body recomposition female or male specifics that’ll differ from each other. Instead, it’s about tuning your diet and workout regimen to a way that will best facilitate body recomposition. Here are some tips on how you can go about the whole process safely and effectively:
Eat Enough Protein
Several questions are usually raised concerning how to eat for a body recomposition cycle. When it comes to dietary plans, a high protein diet is arguably the best body recomposition diet. Among all the body recomposition macros, protein is probably on top of the most recommended list. And for a good reason, too- protein will help you lose fat while gaining muscle simultaneously.
Therefore, this means that if you want to pull off an effective body recomposition, eat enough protein. Multiple studies support this claim. This one found that a high protein diet helps trained athletes maintain or gain muscle mass while they lose fat during a period of calorie restriction (1).
So it’s not always about which body recomposition workout is the best. Sometimes what and how you eat can make a huge difference in the equation.
Start Lifting Weights
Lifting weights will go a long way in maintaining a growth stimulus on your muscles. However, you need to be careful about how often you lift them. You don’t want to overdo it to an extent where your muscles don’t get enough recovery time. Going too hard and too fast may end up being counterproductive since you’ll already be in a caloric deficit.
Calorie cycling is also important whenever you’re lifting weights. This means that you’ll be alternating between eating more and a few calories after lifting weights. Ideally, you’ll have to take breaks between your sessions to achieve this.
For more efficiency, you should focus on high per-muscle training frequency. All your workouts should either be upper-lower split or full-body exercises. Here are some practical guidelines to follow:
- If you’re a novice trainee, you should do upper-lower splits 3 days a week (2).
- For early intermediate trainees, upper-lower exercises 4 days a week or full-body workouts three days a week (2).
- Late intermediate trainees should do either upper-lower exercises 5 days a week or full-body workouts four days a week (2).
- Advanced trainees would benefit most from upper-lower exercises 6 days a week or full-body exercises four days a week (2).
Your workouts should be comprised of 20-35 sets if you’re doing full-body exercise. However, if you’re doing upper-lower splits, try to hit between 15-25 sets (2). You also want to spread out these workouts as evenly as possible throughout the week.
HIIT Training May Help Speed Things Up
Sometimes you meet articles with titles like “body recomposition bodybuilding workouts” and can’t help but wonder what the fuss is about. Must you always hit the gym for these types of workouts to achieve your goal? Well, you don’t, according to this research.
The study discovered that HIIT routines like near-max-effort sprints have several similar benefits to bodybuilding workouts. For instance, it’ll help you burn more fat while elevating your metabolic rate for over 24 hours. It was also effective at preserving muscle mass compared to regular low-intensity cardio (5).
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Keep Track Of Your Weekly Target Calorie Balance
Keeping track of your weekly calorie balance will help you know if you’re moving in the right direction. If you’re not, you’ll be able to employ mitigating measures. What you need to do first then is to calculate your long-run calorie balance.
However, before you do that, start by finding out how fast you should be losing fat and gaining muscle. The following are some benchmarks you should be aiming for in a standardized body recomposition schedule.
- For novice trainees, a 0.5% gain in your body weight weekly should suffice (4).
- Early intermediate trainees should work toward a 0.3% gain in their body weight weekly (4).
- If you’re a late intermediate trainee, a 0.2% gain in your body weight should be just fine (4).
- A 0.1% increase in body weight should be enough for advanced trainees (4).
Point To Note:
Advanced trainees won’t gain significant amounts of muscle through body recomposition. If you’re in that category, it’s advisable to focus more on lean bulking for maximum results.
- For obese men (over 30% body fat) and women (over 40% body fat): Aim to lose 2% of your body weight per week (4).
- If you’re overweight (32-40% body fat for women and 22-30% body for men): Aim to lose 1.25% of your body weight per week (4).
- If you have an average BMI (24-32% of body fat for women and 15-22% of body fat for men): Aim to lose 0.75% of your body weight per week (4).
- For the more athletic individuals (14-24% body fat for women and 8-15% body fat for men): Aim to lose 0.5% 0f your body weight per week (4).
- For Bodybuilders and fitness models (below 14% body fat for women and below 8% body fat for men): A weekly drop of 0.2% of your body weight should suffice (4).
Point To Note:
Body recomposition is not generally recommended for people who are obese or extremely lean. Cutting would best serve the former group, while bulking would be a good fit for the latter. However, ultimately, it all comes down to what your specific fitness goals are.
Ideally, you’ll need a caloric deficit of about 3800 calories to lose one pound of fat. However, for building one pound of muscle, you’ll need a caloric surplus of 1600 calories (4). Taking these figures and multiplying them by your weekly composition goals will give you your weekly target balance. Let’s look at this example to explain this concept further.
Our subject, in this case, is a man weighing 170 pounds with 20% of body fat and is an intermediate-level trainee. This means that he aims to lose 1.275 pounds a week, basically translating to a 4845 calorie deficit. Also, a 0.51 gain in muscle mass weekly at an 816 caloric surplus is part of his fitness goals.
Therefore, when these two figures are added, the net caloric deficit becomes 4029 calories. Most people usually end up with a caloric deficit when trying to perform body recomposition. Ending up with calorie surpluses is extremely rare but can still happen nonetheless.
Limit Your Cardio
According to this study, doing weight training and cardio exercises simultaneously may eventually make both less effective. This phenomenon is known as the interference effect. What it causes in your body is a drop in both muscle and cardiovascular health effects arising from cardio. When you are in a calorie deficit, the interference effect leads to an overall net loss of muscle mass (6).
Limiting your cardio, however, is not similar to eliminating cardio from your workout routines. Cardio is particularly good for your health since it’ll help you burn extra calories (6). This will make you achieve your fat-loss goals quicker while eating enough for your body’s nutritional needs.
You could incorporate the following guidelines in your cardio routines to keep them from interfering with your muscle gain targets:
- Keep your cardio sessions short and intense. For instance, you could try sprinting instead of distance running. This will make your metabolic demands almost similar to those imposed by weight training.
- Always separate your weight training sessions from your cardio workouts. Adopt a “different time/day” policy. This essentially means if you do cardio in the morning, lift weights in the afternoon. Or better still, do them on different days.
- Minimize the amount of cardio that you do. You should fundamentally focus on lifting weights. Therefore, spend less time per week on your cardio exercises compared to lifting weights.
However, if you have to perform cardio in conjunction with lifting weights, then follow this protocol: Start with an upper-lower split followed by upper-body cardio on your leg days. Follow this with lower-body cardio on your upper-body lifting days.
Start Calorie Cycling
What calorie cycling simply means is alternating between your consumption of more calories and fewer calories. Ideally, you should take a small caloric surplus for a while after your workouts. This is then followed by fewer calories (a moderate deficit) for the remaining part of the week.
Why should you go through all that trouble, though? The logic is simple. The more recently your muscles have been resistance-trained, the more susceptible to growth it’ll be. Your muscles will grow better and more effectively during this period.
This study indicated that the length of your post-anabolic window would significantly depend on your training status. It becomes shorter as you continue advancing (7). This being a body recomposition program, it’s paramount you spend most of your week in a calorie deficit.
About Anabolic Window
You should therefore lean toward keeping your post-workout refeeding windows short. Maybe even shorter than your muscles’ anabolic window. Try adopting the following guideline depending on your training level:
- For novice trainees, keep it at 24 hours (7).
- For early intermediate trainees, 16 hours should be enough (7).
- For late intermediate trainees, 10 hours should be adequate (7).
- For advanced trainees, a 6-hour window should suffice (7).
Let’s use the previous example to elaborate on this further. The working assumption here is that he’s an intermediate trainee. He’s also doing full-body workouts three days weekly and eating three meals daily. He also trains shortly before dinner.
Simply put, his refeeding window includes his dinner on the day he trains and his breakfast the following day. In other words, 6 out of 21 meals every week. Next, we assume that his daily maintenance calories are averagely 2400 calories or 800 calories per meal. If he divides his calorie intake evenly throughout the week, he’d have to eat 610 calories per meal.
The Refeeding Window
However, that would not be the best approach. Rather, he should eat less than that amount for the 15 meals lying outside the refeeding window. In this case, about 500 calories. The extra 1500 calories should be added to the 6 meals falling inside the post-workout window.
A majority of them should go to the meals earlier in the window (dinner). This broken-down becomes 900 calories for dinner (extra 300 calories) and 810 calories for breakfast (extra 200 calories). This still gives a total deficit of 4000 calories.
This math seems complicated, but here’s how you can simplify it. The general rule is, spread out 80-85% of your weekly calories evenly between meals. 15-25% of your weekly calories should be allocated to meals falling in the post-workout window. This, of course, is on top of the meals’ share of the 80-85% (7).
In our hypothetical case, the trainee was consuming 12600 calories weekly. He then allocated about 12% of the total (1500 calories) as the extra calories for his re-feeding window. This kind of calorie cycling is considered to be highly conservative. He could, therefore, even make the calorie cycle harder if he’s willing to eat less for 15 meals a week.
Get Eight To Nine Hours Of Sleep Every Night And Avoid Stress
Keeping your stress levels low and getting enough quality sleep is crucial for your body’s recomposition process. Ignoring these two aspects may lead to either gaining both muscle and fat mass or losing both.
Testosterone production and recovery from exercise are usually at their peak when you’re sleeping. You’ll find that people with poor sleeping habits end up losing muscles and gaining fats. It’s therefore recommended that you strive to get eight to nine hours of sleep each night during body recomposition.
In this study, the impact of high and low stress levels on building muscles was examined. The results suggested the difference could significantly impact your ability to recover after a workout, which is essential in the muscle building process (3). Also, the stress hormone cortisol can lead to fat build-up around your belly.
Changing your lifestyle is the best way to fix stress in the long run. Avoid stressful factors in every aspect of your life as often as you can. However, sometimes, this is not always practical. You may find yourself in stressful situations that you can’t avoid. Whenever you do, try to remain calm and composed and avoid overreacting.
Activities like meditating could help out in the short term. So now you know how to do a body recomposition. It’s important to note that there’s no significant difference in how to body recomposition for women and men. The principles are the same; how you execute is what matters.
The question that remains is, how long does a body recomposition take for you to see its results? We find out in the next section.
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How Long Does Body Recomposition Take?
Ideally, body recomposition should take anywhere between 8-12 weeks (2). After this period, you will start to exhibit visible changes in your physique. Changes that even your friends and family will be able to point out.
However, it is crucial to understand how fast you show noticeable changes in every individual. For some people, it may even take 28 days compared to others, where it could take up to 8 months (2). All this is dependent on what your starting point is.
For instance, if you have a higher body fat percentage and lower levels of lean mass, the process could take some time. Discussed above are just tips and guidelines to help you achieve your fitness goals. But everyone responds to training and dieting differently, so don’t try to rush things up.
The most important thing is to stick to the process and be resilient. Remember, sculpting your body is not supposed to be a rushed endeavor. Take time to understand the basics, as this will ensure your safety throughout your journey. In most cases, you may just end up seeing the results in half a year (2).
When it comes to effectively losing weight, the two key players are your muscles and fats. Sure, you may hit the gym and start working out to cut a few pounds on the scale. While this will happen, it’s not necessarily the most effective way to go about weight loss. You should have a more targeted approach.
This is where body recomposition comes in. You want to be building your muscles while burning fat to give you a healthier and better-sculpted physique. Trying out these diet and exercise tips will help you achieve this safely and effectively.
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This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- A systematic review of dietary protein during caloric restriction in resistance trained lean athletes: a case for higher intakes (2014, pubmed.gov)
- Body Recomposition: Can trained Individuals Build Muscle and Lose Fat at the Same Time? (2020, journals.lww.com)
- Chronic psychological stress impairs recovery of muscular function and somatic sensations over a 96-hour period (2014, pubmed.gov)
- Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation (2014, nih.gov)
- High-intensity intermittent exercise and fat loss (2011, pubmed.gov)
- Neuromuscular adaptations during concurrent strength and endurance training versus strength training (2003, pubmed.gov)
- Resistance training-induced changes in integrated myofibrillar protein synthesis are related to hypertrophy only after attenuation of muscle damage (2016, pubmed.gov)