Losing weight and getting toned is a common fitness goal for many people. Some of the most impressive weight loss transformations you’ve likely seen involve body recompsitions.
Body recompositions (or body recomps) involve gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time. Gaining muscle or losing body fat on their own can be a challenge, doing both at the same time is even more complex.
Body recomposition, or losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time, can offer several benefits compared to the traditional approach of bulking and cutting phases.
- Sustainable progress: With body recomposition, you can make slow and steady progress towards your goals without the dramatic weight fluctuations that some people may experience when they do strict bulking and cutting phases. This approach can help you maintain a more sustainable and balanced lifestyle that you can be committed to following long-term.
- Improved body composition: Body recomposition can help you stay relatively lean while you still actively work to build muscle. This can be more aesthetically pleasing and rewarding for individuals who may be consistently tracking their results in the mirror and get discouraged when they lose definition during longer bulking phases.
- Health benefits: Losing fat and gaining muscle can improve your overall health in various ways. Achieving a healthy body weight is associated with numerous health benefits.
It's important to note that body recomposition can be a more challenging approach to achieve, as it requires careful attention to diet and training. However, it can be a viable and beneficial option for individuals looking to achieve long-term, sustainable progress towards their fitness goals.
Many people attempt to do body recomps and stumble along the way by either gaining fat along with their new muscle or burning off fat and muscle. These setbacks often leave people wondering if it’s even possible to simultaneously gain muscle and lose fat.
“Yes, absolutely. I’m a 2x Ms. Figure Olympia Champ. I changed my body in 3 years and I’m now competing for the Ms. Bikini Olympia Title. It is possible, it does take patience. There are 4 basic things you need to remember for a successful recomp” - Erin Stern
You have to make sure that your meals are on point. Get at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. I recommend eating at least 4 meals a day, 4-5 meals a day is great. Take your daily protein intake and divide it by 4 or 5, so you’ve got a steady stream of protein coming in. Your carbohydrates are important. You want to cluster your carbohydrate intake pre- and post-workout; those are your two critical meals of the day. Essential fats are necessary, as you become more sedentary throughout the day, gradually increase your fats and decrease your fats.
Protein is the basis of every meal, then you’ve got your carbs and fats. As carbs increase the fats decrease and vice versa.
You want to make sure you’re eating at maintenance. This is going to allow you to gain that muscle and burn fat for fuel. If you’re eating in a caloric surplus you’re going to gain muscle but you’re not going to lose fat. If you’re eating at a caloric deficit you’ll definitely lean out, but you won’t gain any new muscle.
You need to lift heavy. When I say lift heavy, I mean come within 1-4 reps of failure. Choose compound movements over isolation movements, this is going to help with fat burning and muscle building. In addition to lifting heavy, you want to make sure you’re lifting those muscle groups that you want to maintain and gain. If you’re only training shoulders once a week and your goal is to grow shoulders, you’re missing out on important gains. Think about training those muscle groups twice a week and even three times a week.
Do not do excessive cardio, instead focus on getting those steps in. Cardio can be a quick fix. If you’re looking to get in shape in a few weeks, you can add some cardio in and it’s going to get you great results, but it’s not sustainable. If you’re doing 30 minutes this week, next week you’ll have to do 40 minutes just to get the same results. By focusing on getting your steps per day you’re getting that caloric burn. You can burn between 600 and 1000 calories on average just by keeping your steps high.
People often ask, is it possible to gain muscle and simultaneously lose fat, the answer is yes, absolutely. By following these four simple steps, you can do it.” - Erin Stern
Here are some of the most frequent questions related to body composition change that I hear every day in my career as a coach.
Can you gain muscle mass and lose fat at the same time?
I'm sure you've heard or even asked that question before. The simple answer? There isn't one.
Let’s start with "no". According to the laws of thermodynamics, you cannot be simultaneously burning fat tissue at the exact same time as you are building muscle tissue. That being said, if we look at a longer time period than just one moment, we can in fact gain muscle mass and lose fat mass at the same time. If we look at a longer time period such as, say, four to eight weeks, which a reasonable time period to complete a full training program, you can in fact lose body fat and increase lean muscle mass over that period.
It has been proven that a combination of resistance training and high intensity interval training while in a period of caloric deficit (but relatively high protein intake,) can in fact result in the desired results above. (1)
It should also be noted that it may be easier to accomplish as a complete beginner in the gym and/or if you are starting with a very high amount of body fat.
Can I turn my fat into muscle?
This one is very simple, no.
You cannot turn fat cells into muscle cells. They are two completely different things and cannot be transferred back and forth based on additional exercise and change to diet. You can however work to change your body composition by building more muscle and lowering body fat.
I want to lose the fat in [fill in the blank] area, what exercise can I do to get rid of it?”
None of them!
It doesn’t quite work like that. It is impossible to control where you lose fat when you are decreasing body fat. But you can change the appearance of an area by adding muscle mass to an area through resistance training. So stop doing the extra crunches and focus on quality nutrition and consistent training and you will see the results you want.
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