Body recomposition is effectively the “holy grail” whereby people are able to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time. As the density of muscle is less than that of fat, the overall body weight may stay very similar while the person is actually physically smaller. The other type of body recomposition would be where the person is gaining weight but losing fat so the net increase in muscle is greater than the amount of fat lost.
In the past it was generally considered that this can only happen in a few cases:
- People who are new to resistance training (or those who have only trained a particular part of their body e.g. cyclists who start training upper body)
- People who have trained in the past, then had some time off. This is called muscle memory.
- People who use anabolic steroids (or other PED’s)
For the remainder of this article, I will be referring to natural (no PED’s) lifters as there are very limited studies on enhanced individuals.
The primary factor with weight change is energy balance. However, overall weight change does not take into account the actual changes in fat free mass (FFM) and fat mass (FM). Halls 2007 study (1) concluded that:
- FM has an energy density of 39.5 mj/kg or 9434.4 kcal/kg
- FFM has an energy density of 7.6mj/kg or 1815.2 kcal/kg
Antonio et al’s recent study (2) had 30 resistance trained individuals comparing moderate protein to very high protein intakes over an 8 week period. The mean amount of FFM gained was 1.9kg and FM lost was .2kg. (tested by bodpod) Bear with me for some maths.
- FFM: 1.9kg x 1815.2 kcal = 3448.88 kcal gained
- FM: .2kg x 9434.4 kcal = 1886.8 kcal lost
- 3448.88kcal – 1886.88kcal = 1562.08kcal surplus over 8 weeks
- 1562 kcal surplus divided by 56 days = 28 kcal surplus per day i.e. not very much.
So this study proves that trained individuals can in fact lose body fat while gaining weight. However, the magnitude of this needs to be examined. 200g of fat lost over 8 weeks is a very small amount and most likely not noticeable visually.
Practically, the recomp method will work better for those with more fat to lose. If I were to put a number on it, I would recommend this method for males over 15% body fat or females over 25% body fat. The leaner you get the more the body wants to hold onto fat stores (as dieting is effectively controlled starvation). That is, it is unrealistic to expect a male at 13% body fat to be able to continually gain FFM at a greater rate than the loss of FM in hypercaloric conditions.
How do you go about achieving body recomposition?
- Use the principles of progressive overload for resistance training
- Eat around maintenance calories or a slight surplus with adequate protein
- Nutrient timing specifically pre/post workout protein and carb intake to maximise performance would most likely be beneficial.
What you don’t have to do for body recomp?
- Restrict your diet to a random group of “good” food choices.
- The effects of consuming a high protein diet (4.4 g/kg/d) on body composition in resistance-trained individuals
Credit to Eric Helms of 3d Muscle Journey and Menno Henselmans of Bayesian Bodybuilding for bringing this subject to light recently.