Most people trying to lose weight want a trim yet toned body.
Oftentimes, traditional weight loss programs focus on cutting body fat and hitting lower numbers on the scale rather than gaining muscle.
Body recomposition is an approach to weight loss that emphasizes the importance of not only losing fat but gaining muscle at the same time.
Aside from trimming fat, using body recomposition techniques may help you increase strength and boost the number of calories you burn throughout the day.
This article defines body recomposition and discusses its health benefits and how to start a body recomposition regimen.
Body composition refers to the amount of fat and fat-free mass (muscle, bone and water) your body contains.
Analyzing body composition gives a better understanding of health than other screening methods that only factor in weight and height, such as body mass index (BMI).
That’s because your body fat percentage in relation to your muscle mass better reflects your overall wellbeing than just weight or BMI.
Therefore, body recomposition focuses on body composition rather than weight.
Unlike a standard diet, body recomposition is a lifestyle in which fitness and nutrition techniques lead to healthy changes in your body’s ratio of fat to muscle.
Recomposition means “to form something again or in a different way,” hence the term “body recomposition.”
Though body recomposition has been used by athletes and weightlifters for quite some time, it has only recently gained traction with those simply trying to get fit and lose fat.
Body Recomposition Is More Than Just Weight Loss
Typically, people use a scale to gauge their progress when trying to lose weight.
If the number on the scale goes down, most dieters infer success.
However, the problem with using a scale as the only method to track your progress is that most scales don't differentiate between fat loss and muscle loss, which is an important factor in measuring health.
Having too much body fat has been linked to a slew of health issues and may increase your risk of chronic conditions, such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease (1).
If done correctly, body recomposition changes the makeup of your body so that you have less fat and more muscle.
Interestingly, favoring body recomposition techniques over other methods of weight loss may result in much slower weight loss, or no weight loss at all, due to the simultaneous gain in muscle.
However, contrary to popular belief, your ratio of muscle to fat is the best indicator of overall health and fitness, not body weight.
Summary Rather than simply aiming for weight loss, body recomposition focuses on decreasing body fat while simultaneously increasing muscle mass.
Since body recomposition is more a lifestyle than a diet, there is no set protocol.
Instead, those wanting to gain muscle while burning fat must commit to changing their diet and exercise regimens in ways that facilitate body recomposition.
Rather than tracking weight on a scale, you should evaluate results by taking body circumference measurements and measuring body fat through methods such as skinfold calipers.
Body Recomposition Basics
With traditional weight loss methods, people may drastically cut calories and increase cardiovascular exercise in order to expend more energy.
Though this may result in weight loss, it will most likely trim both fat and muscle mass.
When following a body recomposition routine, it’s important to both preserve and build muscle while losing fat at the same time.
Modifications in exercise and diet must be made in order to reach this goal.
While cardiovascular exercise is important for weight loss and overall health, strength training is necessary to alter body composition.
In addition, a diet high in protein facilitates fat loss while supporting muscle growth (7).
Body recomposition methods can vary depending on your ultimate goal.
For example, a lean bodybuilder who wants to put on more muscle and cut fat will have different dietary and exercise needs than an overweight person who wants to lose fat while toning up.
The good news is that body recomposition benefits everyone regardless of the amount of fat you want to drop or muscle you want to gain.
The key to effective body recompositioning is finding the right balance between diet and exercise.
Summary Those wanting to alter their body composition should use methods to increase muscle mass and cut fat. Though body recomposition principles can be used by anyone, methods vary depending on your body composition goal.
To lose body fat, a calorie deficit must be created, which can be achieved either by consuming fewer calories or expending more energy.
However, cutting an extreme number of calories through very low-calorie dieting or engaging in hours of cardiovascular exercise don’t necessarily preserve muscle mass.
To lose fat while maintaining or building your physique, it’s best to moderately decrease your calorie intake while incorporating exercises that build muscle mass into your routine, such as strength training.
Nutrition and Fat Loss
Diet quality also matters when it comes to losing fat.
Consuming a diet rich in protein has been shown to reduce fat while preserving lean body mass.
A study in 88 overweight adults found that a hypocaloric diet that contained 0.64 grams of protein per pound (1.4 g/kg) of body weight was more effective in preserving muscle mass and reducing body fat than a diet providing 0.36 grams per pound (0.8 g/kg) of protein (10).
Studies have shown that higher protein intake is necessary for athletes attempting to lose fat while maintaining muscle.
A review of six studies showed that athletes who lost the least amount of muscle mass while cutting calories consumed the most protein — 1.14–1.3 grams per pound (2.5–2.6 g/kg) of body weight (11).
For this reason, upping your protein intake to at least 0.64 grams per pound (1.4 g/kg) of body weight may improve your body composition.
Other Ways to Reduce Fat Stores
Aside from hiking protein intake and increasing calorie expenditure, here are other tried-and-true methods for losing body fat:
- Cut out processed foods: High intake of processed foods, such as fast food, candy, packaged baked goods and chips, has been associated with excess body fat (12).
- Reduce carbohydrates: Replacing carbohydrates (especially sugary carbs) with foods higher in protein, healthy fats and fiber can increase fullness and lower levels of insulin, a hormone that promotes fat storage (13).
- Increase fiber intake: Eating more fiber-rich foods, such as vegetables and beans, can help decrease body fat, especially in the belly area (14).
- Try out interval training: Interval workouts that combine intense, short bursts of energy followed by brief periods of recovery are more effective in decreasing body fat than continuous, moderate-intensity workouts (15).
Summary Moderately decreasing your calorie intake, cutting out processed foods and increasing protein and fiber intake are the best ways to lose fat while preserving muscle mass.
While losing fat is important, maintaining or gaining muscle is key to changing your body composition.
Focusing only on diet and neglecting exercise habits may result in a loss of muscle mass.
It’s vital to combine a healthy, lean-body-mass-promoting diet with a fitness routine that supports muscle growth and maintenance.
The Importance of Protein
When you’re trying to build muscle, the right diet is critical.
A healthy diet rich in whole foods, such as fresh produce, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates and protein, is best for everyone, regardless of fitness goals.
Individuals trying to reform their body composition may need to focus on bumping up their protein intake, as studies have shown that a high-protein diet is necessary for promoting muscle growth.
For example, a recent review concluded that 0.73–1 gram of protein per pound (1.6–2.2 g/kg) of body weight per day is best for maximizing muscle gain and strength (16).
Another review of 49 studies found that even though participants consumed an average 0.64 grams of protein per pound (1.4 g/kg) of body weight per day, supplementing with 35 grams of additional protein daily led to even further gains in lean body mass (17).
This review included people in resistance training programs.
The researchers concluded that consuming the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of 0.36 grams per pound (0.8 g/kg) “appears insufficient for those who have the goal of gaining greater strength and fat-free mass with resistance training” (17).
What’s more, research from the International Society of Sports Nutrition suggests that even higher protein intakes of 1.1–1.4 grams per pound (2.3–3.1 g/kg) per day may be needed to maintain lean body mass in resistance-trained people who are following low-calorie diets (18).
For individuals who have more fat to lose, reducing calories by 30–40% while increasing protein intake to 0.55–1.4 grams per pound (1.2–3.1 g/kg) may maximize fat loss while promoting muscle mass maintenance (19).
Best Exercises for Gaining Muscle
Along with a high-protein, whole-foods diet, incorporating strength training exercise into your routine is crucial.
Strength training involves using resistance exercises to build strength and muscle mass. An example of strength training is lifting weights.
If building muscle and reducing fat is your goal, experts recommend a training protocol of at least two days of resistance training per week.
A review of 10 studies demonstrated that resistance training twice per week was more effective at maximizing muscle growth than training just once per week (20).
Combining strength training exercises like squats, bench presses, pushups and other muscle-building exercises for two to three days per week alongside one to two days per week of interval training may be the perfect combination.
Summary To build muscle, increase your protein intake to at least 0.73 grams per pound (1.6 g/kg) of body weight per day and complete strength-training exercises at least twice per week.
Research demonstrates that consuming whole, complete protein sources throughout the day is the best way to gain muscle mass.
However, it’s perfectly safe to use protein supplements to reach the recommended intake of 0.73 grams per pound (1.6 g/kg) of body weight while undertaking resistance training.
For example, consuming high-quality protein sources — including protein supplements — up to two hours after working out stimulates muscle protein synthesis (23).
Whey protein is a type of protein powder that is rich in EAAs and makes a convenient post-workout protein source.
Supplements including whey, pea protein, casein and hemp powders are a practical way to increase your protein intake and can be especially helpful for those engaged in rigorous resistance training.
However, it’s entirely possible to consume the recommended amount of this nutrient through meals and snacks alone.
Adding protein sources, such as eggs, chicken, fish, nuts, nut butters, beans and yogurt, to every meal and snack is the best way to meet your needs.
Summary Protein supplements such as whey protein powder can boost your protein intake and stimulate muscle growth. However, research shows that the most effective way to meet protein needs is through consuming whole food sources throughout the day.
Body recomposition stresses the importance of gaining muscle while losing fat, which may decrease your risk of chronic disease and boost metabolism.
Try increasing your protein intake to at least 0.73 grams per pound (1.6 g/kg) of body weight per day and complete strength training at least twice per week.
Body recomposition methods can be used by everyone from elite athletes to those simply looking for a healthy way to get in shape.