Body recomposition is the process of adjusting your ratio of fat mass to muscle mass by way of gaining muscle and losing fat which are the two primary goals of most people looking to get in shape.
You may do body recomposition in two ways.
The first is by taking a traditional approach of “bulking and cutting”. You intentionally put on a lot of weight first (bulking) over several months, followed by deliberately reducing your weight (cutting) for several months after to show the newfound muscle stores previously hidden underneath the fat stores.
Alternatively, another way you may achieve body recomposition is by gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time, rather than one before the other.
As this killing two birds with one stone approach may seem to be the most ideal and efficient training regimen to adopt, this post will be primarily focusing on gaining muscle and losing fat simultaneously.
Although, which is more suitable for your goals? What are the pros and cons of each training style?
As weight-loss experts, we here at Plato Physio have helped countless clients with finding the right training style suited to their goals. If you would like further assistance than we can offer in this blog post, please contact us here.
In today’s post, we’ll be breaking down:
- Why many think gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time is impossible
- Why gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time is possible
- Research behind gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time
- Calorie cycling
- Monitoring body recomposition
- Advantages of losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time
- Disadvantages of losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time
- Advantages of losing fat and gaining muscle in different phases
- Disadvantages of losing fat and gaining muscle in different phases
Why many think gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time is impossible
Now, to begin with, many people actually think that losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time is impossible.
They argue this based on two trains of thought:
To lose fat, your body needs to be in a caloric deficit daily. A caloric deficit is when your body burns more calories than it consumes per day. Since you are burning more calories than you are intaking, these extra calories need to come from somewhere, forcing your body to use pre-existing fat stores for fuel.
On the other hand, to gain muscle, your body needs to be in a caloric surplus daily. A caloric surplus is the opposite of a caloric deficit, meaning that it is when you burn fewer calories than you are intaking per day to provide your body with the energy needed to repair and rebuild broken down muscle fibres post-exercise.
Because we can only either be in a caloric surplus or a caloric deficit on one given day, this is why losing fat and gaining muscle simultaneously is thought to be impossible.
To read our blog discussing the main reasons why people don’t lose weight while dieting, please follow the link here.
Why gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time is possible
However, the reason why it is possible is that when you have fat stores, as we all do, you do not need to be in a caloric surplus to build muscle as the body supplements the extra calories needed for this from your fat cells.
So, in other words, you can be in a caloric deficit (meaning you’ll lose fat) and still build muscle.
There are some rules to follow for this to be done correctly:
We first need to make sure that we are incorporating adequate amounts of resistance training per week in the form of strength training or bodyweight training.
Resistance training is important as your muscles will simply not grow unless you challenge them with progressive overload, meaning increasing the weight, or reps, of what you are lifting every week or so.
Although cardio is very beneficial in terms of health, we want to cut out steady-state cardio like jogging or cycling while building muscle and losing fat at the same time.
The reason being is that you are more likely to lose lean muscle tissue with this type of activity. Remember, it is mostly fat loss we are after here, not weight loss (fat and muscle)! We can still obtain a lot of the health benefits from cardio through resistance training.
Secondly, we need to make sure that we are only in a slight caloric deficit.
The reason being is because if your calorie intake drops too low, then it’ll be a lot harder to supply your muscles with the energy for even maintenance, let alone for development. We recommend a 300 calorie deficit.
To find out how many calories a 300 calorie deficit would equate to per day specifically for you, you will need to calculate your maintenance caloric intake first and then minus 300 from it.
Your maintenance caloric intake is the number of calories you would need to consume per day not to gain or lose weight.
You may find out how to calculate this here:
Lastly, we need to make sure that we are intaking enough protein while incorporating this caloric deficit into our diet.
We recommend consuming 1 gram of protein per pound (2 grams per kilo) of body weight. So if you weight 250 pounds, eat 250g of protein; If you weigh 200 pounds, eat 200g of protein and if you weigh 180 pounds, eat 180g of protein and so forth daily.
Prioritizing protein is the most important consideration when it comes to your macros. However, we still want to make sure we are intaking enough good fat and carbs to improve satiety and reduce cravings.
After calculating the number of calories you will need to consume to reach the recommended protein intake, you can use the remaining calories to include as much good fat and whole carbohydrates as possible in your diet.
To read our blog about what to intake pre and post gym, please follow the link here.
Research behind gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time
Studies have shown that participants can gain muscle, even while in a caloric deficit, as long as they eat enough protein.
For example, a 2010 study of 68 female recruits who undertook 12 weeks of basic military training following a combined strength and cardio program found that, on average, the participant’s total body fat mass decreased by 10% while their lean muscle mass increased by 9% (Wood, Krüger, & Grant, 2010).
In addition, a 2015 study on 24 middle-aged women found that after a 12-week swimming program, there was a decrease in body fat alongside an increase in physical strength (Lee & Oh, 2015).
Besides the method of losing fat and gaining muscle simultaneously via a slight caloric deficit that we have just talked about, there is also an alternative way that involves “calorie cycling”.
This method basically switches back and forth between a caloric deficit one day and a caloric surplus the next, with your resistance training taking place on the caloric surplus days while resting on the caloric deficit days.
Now you may be thinking, “well, how will I lose fat if I will be in a caloric surplus some days in this method? Won’t this lead to fat gain?”
Well, yes, but over the duration of a week, you will have more days in which you are in a caloric deficit than a caloric surplus which is how you’ll lose fat weekly.
Monitoring body recomposition
Moreover, it is important to be aware that when it comes to monitoring your progress when undertaking body recomposition, our focus is not weight loss (fat and muscle) but rather fat loss.
While gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time, you may maintain your current weight or even gain weight. The reason being is because muscle weighs more than fat as it is a lot denser.
So you could actually gain weight when you are monitoring progress, but it is ok because it is the weight we want. Instead of your weight, what changes is your physique as you will notice improvements such as trimmer arms, legs, and waist, for example.
Advantages of losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time
Now that we have broken down why losing fat and gaining muscle simultaneously is possible and explained how this might be achieved, what are the advantages of this training method?
Firstly, when you only want to make marginal changes in your body composition, and you already have a relatively lean physique, then this method may suit you.
-The second advantage is that compared to the usual months of bulking and cutting, mentioned before, to gain muscle and lose fat in stages, you will spend a lot less time and money buying, preparing and consuming meals.
Typically, a lean physique is assumed to be a lot of very hard work as often staying on top of a mountain is harder than getting there, but it’s actually a lot easier to maintain when you’re building muscle and losing fat at the same time as you know what foods that you’re going to be eating and in what amounts without having to constantly keep track of this.
Disadvantages of gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time
That said, let’s discuss the disadvantages of this training style.
Now you may think that an advantage of gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time is that you’ll be able to stay lean all year round while putting on muscle, but remember, you can only support muscle growth with fat stores while you are in a caloric deficit.
The leaner you get and the subsequent less fat stores present, the tougher and tougher it will become to gain muscle.
The second disadvantage is that if you are significantly overweight or obese, then you really do need to prioritize fat loss as a 300 caloric deficit will not be enough to make significant weight loss progress.
It is generally recommended to undertake a 500 caloric deficit daily to lose 1 lb of weight per week. Similarly, if you are having a hard time making size gains, you should prioritize gaining muscle.
If you want the best results in the shortest time, you should choose one or the other.
The next disadvantage is that the strength and size gains will be meagre at best than if you were to undertake the standard Winter bulking and Spring cutting training routine.
To read our blog about the best way to track your weight loss progress, please follow the link here.
Advantages of losing fat and gaining muscle in different phases
Now, in comparison, what might be the advantages of gaining muscle and losing fat separately by undertaking months of bulking followed by months of cutting afterwards instead?
Well, the first advantage is that you’ll have more energy exercising most of the year because when bulking, the carbohydrate intake will be a lot higher, so that means more energy.
You’ll also experience faster muscle gains as there will be the carbohydrate intake necessary to support optimum muscle growth, and as a result, greater strength gains too.
Next, as you’ll have more muscle mass in the last few weeks of your bulking phase, this will result in a heightened metabolism, which means that when you enter your cutting phase, you’ll burn more calories when at rest.
And finally, you’ll also get a mental break between dietary restriction as we are only human, and many people often get burnt out or reach plateaus if they reduce their daily calories for extended periods.
Therefore, you’ll actually be happier when losing fat and gaining muscle in different phases. In my opinion, guys.
Disadvantages of losing fat and gaining muscle in different phases
Alternatively, one drawback of gaining muscle and losing fat in different phases is that you’ll spend more time and money buying and preparing meals.
Another is that eating more to gain size comes with a consequence. When people bulk, they’re more prone to bad eating habits, including overconsumption of saturated and trans fat in addition to refined carbs.
This is what is known as a dirty bulk, and it is problematic as it will lead to a build-up of unnecessary fat stores. It is important to mainly eat a balanced diet of whole quality carbohydrates alongside good unsaturated fat even while bulking.
In conclusion, body recomposition by losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time is very doable as long as you are resistance training, intaking enough protein and are consuming an adequate number of calories daily. There are benefits and drawbacks to both whether you wish to lose fat and gain fat at the same time or in phases, so it is really up to your preference.
If you would like further help in the pursuit of your fitness goals, make sure to contact us here for expert assistance.
Lee, B., & Oh, D. (2015). Effect of regular swimming exercise on the physical composition, strength, and blood lipid of middle-aged women. Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation, 11(5), 266-271. doi:10.12965/jer.150242
Wood, P. S., Krüger, P. E., & Grant, C. C. (2010). DEXA-assessed regional body composition changes in young female military soldiers following 12-WEEKS OF periodised training. Ergonomics, 53(4), 537-547. doi:10.1080/00140130903528160