Body recomposition is a unique concept when it comes to physique development and is something that this entire website is focused around.
You might have heard the term body recomposition or body recomp from time to time but not really understand what people mean when they say it, especially in reference to dieting and training plans and therefore I’m going to cover it in detail and demonstrate why you should focus your routine on this for beginners.
What is body recomposition? Body recomposition is a process of losing body fat whilst simultaneously building muscle, the aim is often to maintain weight but preferentially change your body composition. This is something that is usually only attainable by beginner-intermediate level gym goers.
The purpose of a body recomposition (recomp) is often a confusing term because it’s believed that burning body fat whilst building muscle mass isn’t possible. The ability to do both at the same time is often considered to be the holy grail of physique development however emerging studies show that this combination is certainly possible.
We’ll get into the details of this shortly but before you read on the key takeaway from this article will be that if you are currently overweight and have a high body fat percentage then fat loss shouldn’t be your primary goal and instead you should be focusing on a body recomp.
Body Recomposition: A Beginners Guide
If you are a beginner then this article is designed specifically for you, you might think that beginners have the least potential for body composition changes in the short term for a number of reasons:
- Poor exercise technique and execution
- Inability to work the target muscle group (ties in with poor technique)
- Poor dietary habits
- Low knowledge in terms of nutrition and dieting
- Poor exercise programming (following programs not suited to their goals)
- Poor adherence to training and dieting programs (every can miss a gym session, the difference between a beginner and more advanced lifter is that for a beginner, one missed session can easily turn into 5!
I’m not calling out beginners here, these are just common problems that people new to lifting weights and dieting openly admit to having, they are real life struggles at the start.
You’d think that an advanced lifter with perfect form and dieting structures could make the best physique changes in a short space of time however being at an already advanced level means that further progress is more marginal and difficult to come by.
Beginners in most endeavors ranging from learning to play a musical instrument, learning a new language or learning a new sport will also see more potential for growth compared to advanced individuals.
The same is true when developing your physique, a beginner will usually have higher levels of body fat, low levels of muscle mass and will therefore be hypersensitive to resistance training and dieting.
This is where a body recomp comes in, regardless of a beginners starting point (overweight, underweight, skinny fat) my starting point would always be a body recomp which would involve getting your body fat percentage down to 10%-12%.
During this process, with the use of resistance training you will not only lose body fat but build muscle mass in the process.
Body Recomposition: What Is It
A body recomp is a body transformation process where you lose body fat, build muscle mass and ultimately maintain body weight. The purpose being to replace your fat mass with muscle mass during the same cycle.
A key point to note is that the rate at which you burn body fat and build muscle are not equal and the ratio is no 1:1 meaning that if you lost 1lb fat in 1 week you wouldn’t necessarily build 1lb of muscle mass during that same week.
Therefore, while a body recomp focuses on burning fat and building muscle while maintaining weight it can be more common to see your weight drop at the end of a body recomp.
This is not a failed effort though, when getting to a reasonable body fat percentage of 10% while building muscle mass in the process then the final scale weight should not be the focus.
Your body recomp is more simply focused on improving your body composition, which is the balance between body fat levels and muscle mass levels. Scale weight can fluctuate wildly just through changes in water retention alone, so a sole focus on scale weight should be avoided during a recomp phase and be used as a guideline for progress only.
While I recommend a body recomp for most beginners there are also those that should and shouldn’t take this route.
Who should follow a body recomp? Beginners, skinny fat individuals (overweight with low muscle mass levels), overweight individuals (>18% body fat), detrained individuals, those that want to stay lean year round.
Who shouldn’t follow a body recomp? Skinny underweight individuals (losing body fat at a low level of muscle mass will make your physique appear worse in some cases), those with strength related goals, intermediate-advanced lifters.
Can You Lose Fat and Build Muscle at the Same Time
I’m sure that no one will question that it’s possible to lose fat or build muscle during separate cycles, that is what bulking and cutting are for right?
What is often questioned when it comes to a body recomp however is that you can’t lose fat and build muscle at the same time. I did link one study earlier however I can also appreciate that one study is not really enough to convince most people.
I’ve also pointed out that this is for beginners and those with high body fat levels that will both be highly sensitive to resistance training for the first year and will also have a lot of body fat to lose. This isn’t as relevant for the experienced lifter with a high level of muscle mass and a low body fat percentage.
Therefore I’d like to take this opportunity to list numerous studies that demonstrate that you can in fact build muscle while losing body fat at the same time.
This countless amount of research clearly indicates that it is very much possible to both burn body fat and build muscle mass at the same time.
I rarely get tied down into a singular belief when it comes to physique development but this is even more true when it comes to people’s opinion going against peer reviewed studies and also some general common sense.
Body Recomposition: How Long Will It Take
A true body recomp can take on average 8-12 weeks for noticeable results and by noticeable I mean for friends and family to take note of your transformation progress.
The effects of a body recomp can be evident in as little as 28 days, however depending on your starting point it could take up to 6-8 months before you see truly noticeable progress. This is because the higher your body fat percentage and lower your level of lean muscle mass when starting the longer the process will take.
As with most things physique related, these are to be taken as guidelines only. Everyone has different characteristics specific to the individual and will respond to training and dieting differently, the important thing is to stick to the process and know that you can drastically change your physique in less than half a year in most cases.
Body Recomposition: The Plan
Hopefully by now you’ve got a basic understanding of what a body recomposition is and if it’s right for you (chances are that if you’ve found this article in the first place that it will be!).
Therefore we are now going to get into the necessary requirements and general plan for how you can go about your body recomp phase. There is nothing particularly groundbreaking with a body recomp, it’s no different to a bulking or cutting phase, the goal and therefore path to get there is just slightly adjusted.
Consume a Calorie Deficit
The key to a body recomp is going to be losing body fat as your primary goal and a caloric deficit will be required to do this. As a beginner, consuming more protein (I’ll get on to that shortly) and engaging in resistance training will be enough to facilitate muscle growth, even in a caloric deficit.
This is because over the same period of time the deficit required to lose body fat is much higher than the surplus required to build muscle mass. As I mentioned earlier the rate of fat loss is not identical to the rate of muscle growth.
As a very general average, you can lose 1lb-2lb of body fat per week as a beginner whilst building 0.5lbs of muscle mass per week as a beginner. For a body recomp the recommended limit for weight loss is 0.7%-1% of your total body mass so taking myself as and example:
180lbs x 0.07 = 1.26lbs
180lbs x 0.1 = 1.8lbs
As you can see at the absolute upper limit I should be losing no more than 1.8lbs per week and for most people I’d take the cautious approach and use 0.7% of your body weight as the goal. This typically equates to a 400-600 calorie deficit per day which is a 2,800-4,200 calorie deficit per week.
Keep Protein Intake High
Protein intake needs to be kept high for a successful body recomp. For anyone engaging in resistance training it’s recommended that you consume 0.8g of protein per 1lb of body weight in order to facilitate muscle growth and maintenance.
For those in a caloric deficit however, this number needs to be adjusted to around 1g of protein per 1lb of body weight consumed daily. Therefore to use myself as an example again weighing 180lbs I’d need to consume 180g of protein per day as a minimum when cutting.
Protein is key to maintaining muscle mass on a cut for most people and is therefore even more essential when looking to body recomp as a beginner. Protein consumption when lifting is also key for a number other other reasons detailed in the linked article.
This is honestly the most simple and straightforward step that you need to follow in the recomp phase in order to successfully build muscle whilst being in a caloric deficit.
Follow a Weight Lifting Program
The next step when it comes to a body recomp is to follow a weight lifting program with a heavy emphasis on progressive overload. Resistance training and muscular contractions kickstart the process of protein synthesis.
This is where you will utilize your protein intake and put it towards building and growing muscle tissue. Weight training will cause microscopic tears to the muscle which sufficient nutrition and rest will then allow your body to repair the muscle both larger and stronger in order to better handle the training stimulus in the future.
This is the absolute basics of weight training and building muscle but is also one that many will remove as a priority when trying to lose body fat. Cardio is often seen as the best route to take to lose body fat which might be true in most cases but for a body recomp the priority needs to be on weight lifting.
The caloric deficit alone will be enough to trigger fat loss but weight lifting will also increase energy expenditure and facilitate this process. The importance of weight training however is on stimulating muscle growth, an increased energy expenditure is simply a beneficial side effect.
Next you need to focus on progressive overload, this means that you either lift more weight, perform more reps or perform more sets each and every workout. As a beginner this is very much achievable even with a calorie deficit and it’s only once you get to a more advanced level that this becomes more difficult.
If you are lifting weights at close to your genetic capacity (let’s say a 500lb deadlift) then a calorie surplus is often required to support this level of both muscle mass and strength. A calorie deficit when you are this advanced would make body recomp incredibly difficult.
As a beginner though, your weights will likely not be so challenging that even with a calorie deficit you should still be able to progress and get stronger each week. Progressive overload is one of the keys to muscle growth so make sure you log your workouts and aim to beat them each workout.
Increase Energy Expenditure
Finally, your energy expenditure will also be important on a body recomp but you need to make sure you do not excessively overdo it.
Your aim should not be to lose as much body fat as possible, remember it only needs to be a fat loss rate of 0.7%-1% of total body weight for a successful body recomp.
Therefore 1-2 HIIT sessions or 3-4 LISS cardio sessions per week are more than enough to improve cardiac fitness and I’d place that at the high end. As mentioned a calorie deficit and resistance training is enough to facilitate fat loss at the required rate for a body recomp.
Cardio in some form is always recommended for cardiovascular health however you need to make sure you include it for general fitness and not for the purpose of speeding up fat loss. That might be the aim for someone with a high level of muscle mass looking to get to a low body fat percentage but not for those looking to body recomp.
Body recomposition is something that many will dispute with no real reason other than “you can’t lose fat and build muscle at the same time” with no real detail on why that may be the case.
For a lot of people body recomposition is very much possible and in fact advised. If you follow some of the basic steps above then you should be able to drastically change your physique in less than 6 months time.
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