One of the most hotly debated topics in the fitness industry is whether or not body recomposition (or the act of simultaneously gaining muscle mass while dropping body fat) is possible. To answer simply, I believe the answer is yes; however, like most things, it depends on the individual and their circumstances.
Logically speaking, body recomp sounds impossible. After all, fat loss requires a calorie deficit, while muscle gain requires a calorie surplus. However, if you can set your calories at exactly the right point and manipulate your training in the right way, there is no reason you can’t achieve both goals at the same time.
That said, there are a few things to keep in mind.
- Body recomps involve a slower process than if you did a targeted bulk followed by a targeted cut, simply because it is easier to set your calories with these goals in mind. Many people prefer to choose the slower route as it is more mentally manageable than gaining a whole bunch of weight or yo-yoing up and down. If you’re a physique competitor and need to gain muscle more quickly, I would suggest a traditional bulk/cut cycle instead.
- You must maintain realistic expectations. You will not gain 15 pounds of muscle while dropping 15 pounds of fat in the same month. For most people, a realistic expectation would be 1-2 pounds of fat loss and 1 pound of muscle gain in one month.
- It is indeed physiologically impossible to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time, as it’s impossible to both be in an anabolic and catabolic state. However, if your calories are set at the right point and your workouts are structured correctly, you can efficiently switch between the two states.
- More specifically, follow a mild calorie surplus (100 to 200) on training days and a calorie deficit (400 to 500) on rest days. (To calculate your ideal caloric intake, see this post.) Cycling calories according to your workouts is more beneficial than, for example, doing a one-week cut followed by a one-week bulk.
- The ideal number of days to lift on a body recomp is four. Any more than that and you would be bulking (as you would be in a surplus most days of the week). As long as you’re adding weight to the bar or increasing the number of reps performed each week, you will be gaining muscle. Keep your rep range to five to eight for the main lifts and eight to 12 for the accessory exercises – despite what you might think, high rep training isn’t necessary for a body recomp or deficit in general. HIIT cardio can be done once or twice a week to support your recomp.
- A body recomp is only possible if you’re already fairly lean to begin with. If you’re a man over 15 per cent body fat or a woman over 25 per cent body fat, your first priority should be fat loss. If you’re lifting, you will gain some muscle but you do not need to worry about a specific body recomp. Instead, stay in a deficit all the time. If you’re already lean, your body will show the results of a body recomp more easily. Finally, if your goal is to stay lean year-round, a body recomp is the answer.
- If you do not have any specific, time-sensitive goals, it might be a good time for a body recomp. For example, right now I’m in a maintenance mode. I don’t want to drop any significant fat, but I also don’t need to gain any more muscle. However, one or two pounds of each would be fine. Therefore, I am eating at around a maintenance level of calories and I know that my body will naturally start to change all by itself. If you’re at a point in your life where fitness isn’t your main priority, simply set your daily intake to maintenance level and watch the gains roll in naturally.
- Body recomps are great for beginners. During the first six to 12 months of your lifting “career”, your body is primed for growth. It is an ideal time to follow a body recomp program.
- If you have any kind of emotional problem with purposely gaining weight or restricting your calories to drop body fat, a body recomp can be much easier to handle psychologically. This is because you will always be alternating between high- and low-calorie days, so you will never feel like you’re bulking or cutting.
- Use your bodyweight to judge your progress. It should roughly stay the same throughout the process, so adjust your calories up or down if you are losing or gaining weight.
If you are confused about whether you should be bulking, cutting or attempting a recomp, or confused about how to set up your ideal caloric intake for your goals, it can be extremely helpful to work with a nutrition coach, at least temporarily, until you have a better understanding of how your body works.
Have you ever attempted body recomposition?