The age old question in bodybuilding, hell, even in fitness in general; is body recomposition real? On both ends of the spectrum you will meet strongly opiniated groups that will try to force-feed you their opinion on body recomposition. Some will claim that it is easy to accomplish a full body recomposition within a few months, whilst others will claim that body recomposition is a hoax and that everyone that claims they’ve done it is lying. I got into this industry in the first place because I was absolutely done with all the guesswork and the BS that is promoted. Therefore, I decided to dive into this topic and see for myself what science says about body recomposition.
Let’s get into the theoretical aspect of building muscle.
The equation of calories in versus calories out is the general rule of thumb for building muscle. Consume more than your daily energy expenditure, and you will gain weight. Consume less than your daily energy expenditure, and you will lose weight. Logically, people will assume that because your body needs energy to build muscle, you will need to be in a caloric surplus to build muscle, and in a deficit to lose fat. This is for the most part a good rule to follow, although not the complete truth. You see, fat and muscle make up different parts of your body. This means that the calories that your body can use are split up and used independently on fat mass and muscle mass. This concept is called calorie-partitioning by science.
Because a caloric surplus is not the end all be all of building muscle, let’s look at what actually stimulates muscle growth. Heymsfield B. et al (1982) conducted a study where they examined how human muscle is actually built up. Let’s check out the results below.
What does this say? Your muscle consists of: — A great percentage of H2O (Water) — Different types of protein — Glycogen and Triglyceride. This is energy, essentially. So, to build muscle we need protein, water and energy. Where do we get these muscle building sources? H2O is the easiest of the three to get plenty of. Just drink adequate water and that will be covered. Protein should not be a big concern either, if you have enough lean protein sources. I have written about adequate protein intake in my Leaner by the Day program, but to cut the chase, about 1gr/lb of bodyweight of protein a day should cover your protein needs during a cutting phase. Finally, glycogen and triglyceride. “What the hell is THAT!?” you might ask. It really boils down to energy, and believe me, your body has plenty of that in fat mass. Yep, even if you are REALLY lean (think 5% bodyfat), your body will always have enough fat to take energy from. If you take these three things into account, and give your body enough reason to build muscle (by following a good training program!), it has enough reasons to build muscle and lose fat!
The other way around, the same concept applies. If you do not give your body reason to preserve muscle, you can lose muscle and gain fat.
Let’s look at real life examples of losing fat and gaining muscle simultaneously
A study that followed fat police officers starting a weight lifting program found that they managed to gain 9.3 pounds of fat, whilst gaining nearly 9 pounds of muscle! There are hundreds of examples in science of men and women losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time, even with crappy low protein diets. Crazy right? It really does not matter where in life you are. In studies conducted by Treuth et al. (1985) and Iglay et al. (2007) elderly men and women lost fat and gained muscle mass at the same time. These examples are of barely trained or even untrained individuals though. What about people that are already in great shape? Is a body recomposition still possible?
Yes it is, although a tad more difficult.
This study looked at elite gymnasts. These men were in GREAT shape, better than probably everyone reading this. They could showcase great feats of strength and were obviously genetically gifted. They were put on a high protein low carb diet and they dropped from about 8% body fat (which on itself is already insanely low) to 5% bodyfat — something that 99.9% of the population will NEVER achieve in their lives. Here comes the shocking part: they gained muscle while doing so. This study documented a body-recomposition in strength trained males that were bench pressing over 4 plates. (Also something that most of the population will never do.) This study and this study documented a positive change in the body composition of professional rugby players.
Clearly, body recomposition is achievable, even for the elite.
Gaining muscle and losing fat simultaneously is possible. Better yet, it is even to be expected if you are on a good plan and eating right. Stop listening to all the negativity around you claiming that you can not lose fat and gain muscle at the same time, because you clearly can.
Your body is capable of more than you think, you just have to act upon it.