Recomp 101 – Guide For Building Muscle and Losing Fat

Are you looking to build muscle and lose fat? If so, then body recomposition may be right for you.

Recomp, as it’s often called, is a process by which you can change your body composition – that is, the ratio of muscle to fat – by losing body fat and gaining muscle simultaneously. 

So how does it work? And how long does it take? In this blog post, we’ll answer those questions and more. 

We’ll also provide suggested foods and supplements for a recomp and common mistakes to avoid. So if you’re ready to learn everything there is to know about recomping, read on!

What Is A Recomp

A recomp is losing weight, specifically body fat, while maintaining and gaining lean body tissue or muscle. (1)

Recomp VS Weight Loss

Many of us know that you must burn more calories than you use to lose weight. This is referred to as a calorie deficit. Simply put, eating less food containing calories will cause weight loss. (2)

If we don’t consume sufficient calories (energy) to sustain our everyday activities, our bodies are designed to rely on stored fat tissue to fulfill the remaining energy demands. 

However, fat tissue is not the only energy storage our bodies rely on when we don’t get enough food. Skeletal muscle can and will be used as an energy source when necessary. (3)

This idea of general weight loss caused by simply eating in a caloric deficit includes losing both body fat and muscle. In most cases, this is not ideal and will eventually lead to metabolic adaptation, weight loss plateaus, and muscle wasting. (4,5)

Rather than restricting calories to encourage general weight loss, a recomp focuses on meeting a specific number of calories, consuming a higher protein diet, and strength training. (1)

The combination of these three, calories, protein, and strength training, all of which encourage fat loss intending to maintain and even increase muscle mass. (1)

Recomp vs. weight loss. side by side comparison.

How To Recomp

Changing your body’s composition includes two aspects fat loss and muscle building. The key to a successful recomp is striking the right balance between the number of calories you consume, hitting an adequate amount of protein, and stimulating your muscles through strength training. 

By doing so, you are creating an optimal environment for fat loss and building muscle. As alluded to in the previous section, this statement is considered an oxymoron. To clear this up, let’s address each individually.

How to Lose Fat Tissue While Limiting Muscle Loss

The scientific conciseness regarding weight loss is that you must be in a negative energy balance to achieve it. (6) You must consume fewer calories than your body expends daily, creating a caloric deficit. 

It has also been well-established that by sustaining a negative energy balance, the weight loss ratio is 75% fat and 25% muscle. This means that for every 10 pounds of weight loss, 7.5lb will be fat, and 2.5 will be muscle. (7)

At face value, building muscle while losing body fat is an uphill battle. However, more recent studies have indicated that having a lower to a moderate calorie deficit and, in some cases, a slight calorie surplus will help attenuate the loss of muscle tissue. (1)

In addition to not aggressively cutting your calories, consuming more than the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram in combination with a weight training regimen will further shift the weight loss ratio in favor of fat loss over lean muscle tissue loss. 

While the research is promising, it is important to note that there are not enough studies looking at these factors (calories, protein, and weight training). Let alone the three in combination concerning preserving muscle mass and fat loss. More research is needed. 

How to gain muscle while limiting the accumulation of body fat

Similar to losing body fat, building muscle requires several factors. These factors are needed to create an ideal environment for the muscle-building process to occur. 

The three most important factors include the following: 

  • Eating an adequate amount of protein (8)
  • Engaging in a weight training regimen (9)
  • Eating a caloric surplus (10)

The current recommendation for protein intake is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. Like weight loss and the preservation of lean muscle during a negative calorie phase, this amount of protein is too low. Instead, a protein target of 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram is optimal. (11)

Strength training plays a pivotal role in the development of new muscle tissue. It acts as another stimulus that triggers protein synthesis leading to muscle growth. (12)

Finally, creating a caloric surplus will put the body in an optimal environment to build muscle. It makes sense; having more calories equals more energy which can lead to a high capacity to do more work. (Lift heavy weights, run fast, move more.) (13)

Again there is not a ton of research looking into to surplus of calories needed to create the most optimal environment to gain muscle however, research indicates that somewhere in the range of 358-478 calorie surplus above your maintenance calories is needed. More research is needed to say whether or not this is true. 

Is It Possible To Lose Fat and Gain Muscle at the Same Time

As we have identified the optimal environments for both fat loss and muscle growth, there are some similarities, like eating enough protein and weight training; there is a glaring difference between the two regarding the number of calories needed to achieve each goal. 

This is where we must think critically about whether losing fat and gaining muscle simultaneously is possible. It is possible to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time however; neither will be optimized due to the calorie demands for each goal. 

Several studies have examined this idea of losing fat and gaining muscle, including a slight calorie surplus paired with a moderate to high protein intake while following a progressive weight training regimen. (1)

How To Start Body Recomposition

When starting a recomp, there are a few factors to consider, like the individual starting body composition, the number of calories, the amount of protein, and the training regimen. 

Based on the individual’s starting body composition, the number of calories and protein must be adjusted accordingly. 

Who Should Try Body Recomposition?

Depending on the individual and their current health status, body composition, and training level will determine if they should try a body recomposition phase.

First and foremost, someone that wants to run a body recomp, needs to be healthy enough to do so. Putting your body through an intense progressive training program and a high protein diet requires that person not to have a preexisting condition like heart disease or kidney disease. Talk to your doctor before making significant changes to your diet or lifestyle. 

Second, the individual must consider their current body composition; this can affect the calories they need. For instance, a person with a higher body fat level may not need a calorie surplus, while a well-trained person carrying more muscle may need a calorie surplus. (14)

Finally, your physical fitness level will play a role in your body recomp. You should increase your workout intensity to see the results if you are an athlete. If you are new to working out, you will likely see faster results because of the new stimuli.  (15)

How many calories for a body recomposition?

The number of calories needed for a recomp will include your basal metabolic rate (BMR), activity level, and, depending on your current body composition, a slight calorie surplus. 

The first two, your BMR and activity level, can be identified using the harris benedict equation or an online calorie calculator

The third condition, the calorie surplus, is hard to pinpoint. If you are at a higher level of body fat, you may not need to add additional calories on top of your maintenance. You may benefit from a slight calorie deficit. (1)

On the other hand, if you do not have excess body fat, you may need to add additional calories. This can look like adding 250-500 calories to your maintenance calories. You should closely monitor your body fat percentage and muscle mass to ensure that you are not adding extra body fat. (1)

How much protein should I consume for recomp?

The amount of protein you consume for a recomp should be in the range of 2.6-3.4 grams per kilogram or about 1.18-1.54 grams per pound of lean body mass. (16)

To find your lean body mass, you will need to know your current body fat percentage and subtract that from your current weight leaving you with your lean body mass. Then multiply that number by 1.18-1.54 to get the protein target for your recomp.

Benefits of Body Recomposition vs. Weight Loss 

The main benefit of body composition vs. weight loss is that it allows you to keep muscle mass while losing fat. Considering that muscle mass is an incredibly important functional tissue, it should be kept as much as possible. (17)

Suggested Foods and Supplements to Lose Fat and Gain Muscle

Foods that will lose fat and gain muscle will be lean protein, whole grains, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and fruits and vegetables. Incorporating a variety from each of the five food groups ensures that you meet the macro and micronutrients your body needs to perform and recover. Get a 7 day meal plan for muscle growth.

Supplements are designed to supplement your diet and should be treated as such. Consume a majority of your nutrition through whole foods. A few supplements that may help are whey protein powder, creatine, and caffeine.  

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the biggest mistakes people make when trying to achieve body composition?

The most common mistakes people make when trying to achieve body composition are not being aware of their caloric needs, not eating enough protein, and not incorporating strength training into their workout routine. 

Is body recomposition the same as cutting?

No, body recomposition is not the same as cutting. Both involve changing your body composition; body recomposition focuses on maintaining or gaining muscle mass while losing fat, whereas cutting involves reducing calories to weight. 

How to change your body composition without cutting

The best way to change your body composition without cutting is to focus on a combination of strength training, proper nutrition, and adequate rest. With strength training, you can build muscle and burn fat. With proper nutrition, your body will have the fuel it needs to perform and recover. And with adequate rest, your body can make the most of its workouts. 

Final Thoughts on Body Recomposition

Body recomposition can be a great way to improve your overall health and appearance. Understanding the basics of how it works and its benefits versus weight loss is essential. 

To achieve success with recomping, you should focus on strength training, proper nutrition, and adequate rest. 

Additionally, you should pay attention to your caloric needs and ensure that you get enough protein for muscle growth. 

With these tips in mind, anyone can improve their body composition without cutting calories or sacrificing health!

Disclaimer

Remember: this post is for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. It shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read here.

Noah Quezada is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist located in Denver, Colorado. Over the course of more than a decade, he has gained extensive experience in helping clients manage their weight through in-person sessions. Noah is also the 2023 President of the Colorado Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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