Building muscle and losing fat at the same time is the holy grail for most gym goers. It is known in the fitness industry as body recomposition. There is a lot of debate about ‘recomping’: according to one it is impossible, according to the other it is perfectly doable. What’s the deal? Coach and author Tom MacCormick devoted an excellent podcast to it, where we highlight the key points for you. The podcast itself can be found below.
RECOMPING VERSUS BULKING AND CUTTING
The principle of bulking and cutting is actually based on the assumption that muscle growth and fat loss are two completely opposite goals that are physically incompatible. The first law of thermodynamics is usually invoked for this: energy cannot be created from nothing and energy is never lost. However, this does not mean that an energy surplus is needed to build muscle mass: the body can also extract energy from fat reserves. The latter means that you do build muscle mass with an energy deficit. However, that is not always easy and sometimes even almost impossible.
WHEN BODY RECOMPOSITION IS FEASIBLE
There are five situations where body recomposition is easily achievable, meaning that you can achieve a significant amount of muscle growth despite being in an energy deficit. Those are the following:
- as an absolute beginner (you benefit from newbie gains);
- after a long break from your training (you benefit from muscle memory, among other things);
- when you start training properly for the first time;
- when you first start eating decently;
- if you use steroids.
BODY RECOMPOSITION IN OTHER SITUATIONS
The big question is to what extent body recomposition is feasible outside the five situations mentioned. For example, is it useful to try it as an advanced bodybuilder?
A scientific review by Barakat et al. suggests that trained individuals can also achieve body recomposition. To what extent depends on the following factors. Think of these as three overlapping conditions in a Venn diagram:
- training age: how long you have been training;
- training status: how advanced you are (measured by how strong you are, among other things);
- fat percentage.
For an experienced, advanced bodybuilder with a low body fat percentage, body recomposition is particularly difficult. In fact, you can say: the more in shape you are, the harder it is to recomp. In such a case you can bulk and cut much better, especially if your goal is to gain a lot of muscle mass. After all, remember: just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
ELEMENTS FOR SUCCESS
But there are also situations in which recomping is a real option, for example for advanced users with a high fat percentage or for people who are skinny fat. If you decide to recomp in such a case, there are several factors that determine your success.
For a successful body recomposition you must:
A recomp period lasts at most 6 to 12 weeks.
Be very focused
It can help to have concrete goals, for example a photo shoot.
Assess and correct the process
Weigh yourself regularly and take progress photos.
Make decisions based on results
and not based on emotions.
Keep a close eye on your calorie intake.
Use a calorie app to do this.
Use a protein-rich diet
Eat (even) more protein than normal: ~2.6 g per kg of body weight per day.
Prioritize peri-workout nutrition
Have a post-workout shake with 25-40 g whey protein and 30-50 g fast carbohydrates.
Use refeeds strategically
Maintain a small calorie surplus two days a week (that’s different from cheat days!), preferably at training days.
Optimizing your training volume
Find your sweet spot, or your MAV.
Understanding that cardio can be a helpful tool
Preferably do LISS, such as walking.
Body recomposition is possible, but it depends on the situation whether ‘recomposition’ also pays off. The more training experience and the lower the fat percentage, the more difficult it is. Bulking and cutting is often much more effective.
If you choose body recomposition, do it for a relatively short period of time during which you are fully focused on it.
The timestamps are below the video.
03:00 Five circumstances in which body recomposition is easily achievable
07:48 Recomping is difficult, but not impossible, contrary to popular belief
14:27 How to determine to what extent recomping is possible for you
18:29 Other factors that may play a role
22:15 Anecdotal evidence for recomping
24:24 What scientific research says
34:01 The elements of success