Can you lose body fat and gain muscle mass at the same time? Sounds too good to be true, right?
Well, that's what a body recomposition is! A body recomposition is the process of losing body fat and gaining muscle.
With the right training and nutrition, recomposition is possible!
Bonus: It's not only about looking good. Your quality of life improves too. Maintaining healthy body fat levels reduces your risk for weight-related diseases.
In this blog, I will dive into the basics of body recomposition and share some practical tips on how to achieve it. Let’s get started!
Understanding Body Recomposition
Before we get into the specifics of body recomposition, let’s define what we mean by body composition. Body composition refers to the amount of body fat, muscle mass, body density and other tissues that make up your body.
So, when I talk about recomposition, I'm talking about the process of changing your body by losing body fat and gaining muscle. It's a lot different than your typical "weight loss" approach.
Most weight loss plans only focus on reducing body fat.
But oftentimes, getting the body you truly want requires a little bit of both.
So, how is it possible to lose body fat and gain muscle at the same time? Let's talk about it...
By now, you've probably heard that we need to consume less calories than we burn to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight. This is true. It creates an energy imbalance, and that forces your body to get energy from what it has access to (fat, stored carbohydrates, muscle tissue, etc). This process will help shed body fat over time.
Not all calorie deficits are created equal though! Research shows that if calories are too low, it can lead to muscle loss and a slower metabolism (1). The less muscle you have, and the slower your metabolism, the harder it will be to lose weight long-term.
This is where things can get a little bit more complicated. It’s commonly thought that we need to be in a calorie surplus to build muscle. However, Slater (2) looked at whether or not an energy surplus was required to build muscle. He found that muscle gains are possible in a calorie deficit ... but mostly amongst people new to training or who are overweight.
There is actually research that says you can even lose body fat and gain muscle in a calorie surplus (3).
So ... how can you tip the scales in your favor for body recomposition? I'd argue the best way to do it is by putting your body in a moderate calorie deficit or right at maintenance calories (calories needed to maintain your current weight). This can allow your body to lose fat without sacrificing much muscle ... and potentially even building muscle.
All the research behind building muscle is the same ... you need a lot of protein, and you need to resistance train.
If both of those factors are taken care of ... theoretically, it would be possible to burn fat and build muscle, right?
Yes, but there's more to it than that. Let's start with how nutrition plays a big role in this...
The nutrition component is key to body recomposition. You need to provide your body with enough nutrients and energy to support growth. Here are some nutritional strategies that can support recomposition...
1. Tracking Your Food
If you want to do a body recomposition, you need to know where your calories are at.
Are you in a calorie surplus? Are you at maintenance calories? Are you in a calorie deficit? You can only know if you track your food and calories.
Tracking your food can also help you identify whether you're getting enough protein to build new muscle or not. Research shows that by consuming 1-1.2 g/pound of fat free mass, you can increase the extent of recomposition (5).
2. Timing Your Nutrients
Research shows that nutrient timing can also have an impact on your body composition.
In order of importance, making sure your macros, calories, and water are in a good spot is #1. After that, comes a few nuances, like nutrient timing.
For example, getting protein more frequently throughout the day has been tied to more efficient muscle growth. A lot of this has to do with protein's ability to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Muscle protein synthesis is key, because it’s a process in which your body begins to repair and build new lean muscle tissue. Eating protein every few hours has the benefit of keeping this process going.
While supplements aren’t necessary for body recomposition ... some may be helpful in supporting your goals. At the end of the day, supplements are just around to help make the process easier or fill in any nutritional gaps you may have.
Protein supplements can be an easy way to increase your daily protein intake...
Creatine supplements can help improve your strength and support muscle growth...
Multivitamins can help ensure you're getting every essential vitamin and mineral your body needs to operate at its best...
All of which can be super helpful when it comes to reaching any body recomposition goal. Plus, the list doesn't end there.
No matter what you're falling short on in your diet ... there's certainly a supplement that can help.
Other than nutrition, training plays a large role in body recomposition too. To increase muscle mass, you have to use your muscles to promote growth. This is where resistance training comes into play.
Now, resistance training can take many different forms ... this is everything from lifting weights to using resistance bands or even doing bodyweight exercises. As long as you are giving your muscles a new stimulus to adapt to, you can trigger new muscle growth.
At the same time, resistance training is a great way to burn calories ... not just cardio. But what about cardio, then?
Well, endurance-based cardio has been shown to affect muscle growth … even more specifically, when done in the same training session (9). So, if your goal is body recomposition, it may not be optimal.
However, this is not the case with HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). A meta-analysis looked at HIIT in combination with resistance training and showed it doesn’t negatively impact muscle growth (7).
HIIT is pretty simple to add to your routine as well. It can be as easy as adding some sprinting intervals on the bike or treadmill for 10-15 minutes at the end of your workouts.
One Last Tip
Before we wrap things up ... I wanted to touch on one more tip that can help out with your body recomposition goal...
Recovery! Getting adequate sleep is essential for a body recomposition goal, and really any goal! That's because a lot of muscle recovery actually happens when we're sleeping.
In a study from Wang (8), sleep was restricted to 5 hours in one group while the other maintained their normal amount of sleep. Believe it or not, both groups lost the same amount of weight ... but it gets more interesting than that. The group with restricted sleep lost more muscle mass than the group who kept their regular sleep schedule! So, if you want to make sure you are doing everything you can to promote recomposition, get some rest!
Putting It All Together
If you are looking to really change your body composition, you need to keep these factors top of mind — Eating adequate amounts of protein, incorporating resistance training, and focusing on recovery is crucial.
In order to know if you are getting the right amount of protein and other nutrients ... you need to track your nutrition and take notes on your progress.
The same can be said if you're looking to track your progress in the gym. Remember, in order for your muscles to grow, you have to introduce them to a new challenge (a.k.a. your workouts need to overload your muscles).
Because of this, it's also important to continue keeping track of your workouts to make sure you're progressing.
Above all though, you must be patient! These changes take time. Stick with it! If you feel like you need help putting together your nutrition and training, that's what we're here for! At 1st Phorm HQ, we have a staff of Certified Personal Trainers, Nutrition Coaches and even some Registered Dietitians that are happy to help with your body recomposition goal!
Just give us a call at 1-800-409-9732 or send us an email at CustomerService@1stphorm.com anytime!
(1) Benton D, Young HA. Reducing Calorie Intake May Not Help You Lose Body Weight. Perspect Psychol Sci. 2017 Sep;12(5):703-714. doi: 10.1177/1745691617690878. Epub 2017 Jun 28. PMID: 28657838; PMCID: PMC5639963.
(3) Haun CT, Vann CG, Mobley CB, et al. Effects of graded whey supplementation during extreme-volume resistance training. Front Nutr 5: 84, 2018
(4) Longland TM, Oikawa SY, Mitchell CJ, Devries MC, Phillips SM. Higher compared with lower dietary protein during an energy deficit combined with intense exercise promotes greater lean mass gain and fat mass loss: A randomized trial. Am J Clin Nutr 103: 738–746, 2016
(5) Barakat, Christopher MS, ATC, CISSN1; Pearson, Jeremy MS1; Escalante, Guillermo DSc, MBA, ATC, CSCS, CISSN2; Campbell, Bill PhD, CSCS, FISSN3; De Souza, Eduardo O. PhD1. Body Recomposition: Can Trained Individuals Build Muscle and Lose Fat at the Same Time?. Strength and Conditioning Journal 42(5):p 7-21, October 2020. | DOI: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000584
(6) J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017; 14: 33. Published online 2017 Aug 29. doi: 10.1186/s12970-017-0189-4
(7) Sabag A, Najafi A, Michael S, Esgin T, Halaki M, Hackett D. The compatibility of concurrent high intensity interval training and resistance training for muscular strength and hypertrophy: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Sports Sci. 2018 Nov;36(21):2472-2483. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2018.1464636. Epub 2018 Apr 16. PMID: 29658408.
(8) Xuewen Wang, Joshua R Sparks, Kimberly P Bowyer, Shawn D Youngstedt, Influence of sleep restriction on weight loss outcomes associated with caloric restriction, Sleep, Volume 41, Issue 5, May 2018, zsy027, https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsy027
(9) Tomiya S, Kikuchi N, Nakazato K. Moderate Intensity Cycling Exercise after Upper Extremity Resistance Training Interferes Response to Muscle Hypertrophy but Not Strength Gains. J Sports Sci Med. 2017 Aug 8;16(3):391-395. PMID: 28912657; PMCID: PMC5592291.