Body Recomposition: How to Build Muscle While Losing Fat

body recomposition thumbnail

How to Body Recomp

If you want to learn exactly how to successfully achieve a body recomposition with science-backed methods, then you need to read this article.

Common belief has us convinced that building muscle and losing fat simultaneously, also known as body recomposition, isn’t feasible for most natural lifters.

You’ll often hear that you’re stuck with one of two options:

“Either you eat at a caloric surplus in order to build muscle or eat at a deficit in order to lose fat.”

But based on my own experience and a review of dozens of body recomposition studies, this simply isn’t the case. Building muscle and losing fat at the same time is definitely possible, it just comes with a catch. Body recomposition protocols are typically more effective if:

  1. You’re a beginner. Meaning that you’re within your first year of proper and consistent training.
  2. You’re detrained. Meaning that you’ve taken at least a couple months off from training OR you’ve never really trained or eaten properly and consistently.
  3. You have quite a high body fat (for example over 25%).
  4. You’re an intermediate lifter ready for a “slow cut”.

Keep in mind that if you’re a more intermediate lifter, body recomposition can still occur in some cases but at a much slower rate. And mainly only if you’re at a higher body fat % and willing to perform a slow cut.

Body Fat Percentage

body recomposition

This is the method I’ve personally used to help me maintain (and even build) my muscle while dropping body fat despite having years of lifting experience. Although this is a slow process, it’s an effective strategy to achieve a body recomposition in more trained individuals.

But regardless of which category you fall under, in order to successfully achieve a body recomposition, there’s a few key points that you need to implement correctly and that’s what I’ll be covering in this video.

Step 1: Eat at a slight caloric deficit

In order to successfully build muscle and lose fat simultaneously, the first step Is to eat at a slight caloric deficit. Higher deficits will maximize more fat loss but will counteract muscle gain as a consequence. Therefore, you need to set up your caloric deficit so that you’re able to lose some fat while enabling muscle gain.

One 2011 study by Garthe and colleagues showed that even elite trained athletes were able to gain muscle while losing fat over a 9 week period. They achieved this by performing a slow cut, meaning that they aimed to lose a maximum of 0.7% of their bodyweight per week.

Example of Body Recomposition

body recomposition example

This means that for a 165 lb individual, they’d aim to lose a maximum of around 1 lb per week. For most people, this equates to a maximum daily caloric deficit of around 500 calories.

Simply meaning that you’re eating a maximum of 500 calories below your maintenance everyday. I’d argue that the more trained you are, the smaller this deficit should be. Beginners and detrained individuals will be able to get away with a higher deficit (e.g. 500 calories) and still achieve a body recomposition.

And keep in mind that your weight might actually stay the same (or even increase) throughout the process. This happens because you’re losing fat but gaining an equal amount of muscle simultaneously.

This mainly occurs if you’re a beginner or detrained and have a greater ability to build muscle while losing fat. But regardless of what your weight is doing, make sure it isn’t dropping too fast and maintain your slight deficit throughout the process.

Step 2 = Maintain a high protein intake

Adequate protein intake is essential for a body recomposition in order to maintain a positive nitrogen balance despite being in a caloric deficit. This ensures that your muscles still have what they need for growth.

Generally, research shows that anything over around 0.8g/lb of bodyweight is unnecessary in terms of muscle growth and maintenance.

However, in studies where subjects were able to achieve a successful body recomposition, they were often intaking around 2.4 to even 3.4 g of protein / kg of bodyweight. This is equivalent to roughly 1g to 1.6g/lb of bodyweight.

In fact, one 2018 study by Schoenfeld and colleagues even showed that every single subject on a high protein muscle building diet of a little over 1g/lb of bodyweight gained muscle while losing a kilogram of fat. Whereas the subjects in the low protein group (~0.4g/lb of bodyweight) still lost 1 kg of fat but many of them also lost muscle with it or didn’t see any muscle gain. The results can be seen in the graph below.

Schoenfeld Study

schoenfeld body recomposition study

Based on this it’s clear that body recomp is more likely to occur with a high protein science based diet.

However, protein intake is (and will likely always be) a grey area. Although the previous studies I mentioned found superior results with a higher protein intake over the recommended 0.8g/lb of bodyweight, the lower protein groups in these studies were all below this recommendation.

Thus, future studies need to compare a protein intake of 0.8g/lb of bodyweight with an intake above this to see if a higher intake really does promote body recomposition.

But although the exact protein intake that is optimal for a body recomposition is relatively unclear at the moment, I think the literature suggests that intaking 0.8 to 1g per pound of bodyweight and maybe even more is ideal. I’d personally suggest experimenting with it and seeing how your body responds!

Step 3 = Progress in the gym

The third tip is to ensure that you’re progressing in the gym. Your muscles need a stimulus to grow, and we provide that through resistance training.

As a beginner or detrained lifter, this is relatively easy to do since you’re able to gain strength quickly in the gym. So stick to a solid training program and ensure that you’re progressively overloading it throughout the weeks which can be done by increasing reps or the weight lifted in your exercises.

On the other hand, the more training experience you have, the harder this will be to do. But given that you’re utilizing only a small deficit with adequate protein, your body still has the energy and positive nitrogen balance it needs to progress in the gym.

This has been shown in several studies on elite gymnasts, aspiring physique competitors, and football players who were already squatting over 380 lbs and benching over 280lbs when starting their body recomposition! They were all able to drop body fat while gaining some muscle and strength – meaning that body recomposition in trained individuals is definitely possible and common!

The key for more advanced individuals though is sticking to steps 1 and 2 AND properly setting up your training program in a way that allows consistent progression. This simply means that you’re following a structured (possibly periodized) program, integrating deloads, and using a progression scheme that prevents you from reaching plateaus.

This is something I’ll cover in more depth in a future article. For now, check out some of my science-based workouts to get an idea of what kinds of exercises you should be incorporating.

Body Recomposition Takeaways

So to sum the article up, in order to successfully achieve a body recomposition, you want to implement the following 3 steps:

  1. Maintain a slight caloric deficit that allows a maximum of 0.7% weight loss per week. Just keep in mind that weight loss might not occur especially in beginners/detrained individuals.
  2. Intake adequate protein of at least 0.8-1g per lb of bodyweight. I’d also suggest experimenting with higher intakes. This might provide additional body recomposition benefits in some individuals. And no, high protein intakes are not harmful for you.
  3. Stick to a solid training program that focuses on progressive overload and consistent progression. 

Limitations Of Body Recomp

With that being said, I also want to mention the limitations of body recomp:

  1. It’s clear that the closer you are to your genetic potential, the less drastic your body recomposition will be and it may not occur at all.
  2. The same applies for how lean you are. The leaner you are, the less likely you are to recomp since your body has less fat to utilize for energy.
  3. This isn’t an effective strategy for hardgainers or those with a low body fat and need to put on a lot of size. In this case you should focus on lean bulking by eating at a slight surplus in order to maximize muscle and strength gains.

Despite these limitations, I’d suggest utilizing the above tips I discussed and seeing how your body responds. I’ve personally experienced a lot of success with it despite my years of training, and I’ve applied the same approach to several clients of mine with great success. The only way to find out if this will work for you is to try it out!

YouTube Video

Anyways, I hope you guys enjoyed this article! Feel free to let me know if you have any questions down below. And give me a follow on Instagram , Facebook , and Youtube where I’ll be posting informative content on a more regular basis. Cheers!

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41 thoughts on “Body Recomposition: How to Build Muscle While Losing Fat”

      1. Sir but what is the logic behind 20% of fat
        Can i cut down my calories from carb rather than cutting from fat

  1. Hello, thank you for the informed post as always. Should I combine body recomp with some form of cardio like HIIT?

    1. Jeremy Ethier

      It can be used sparingly as long as it doesn’t interfere with your weights workout or recovery

  2. I have found your science backed methods very helpful to gain the results for a lean body and going to step a head for the results Thanks for sharing.

  3. How much cardio should we be doing with this program? I am interested in attempting body recomposition and it has been several months since I’ve done any weightlifting (and even then, I was incredibly inconsistent) thus putting me in a very good position to attempt this. Over this summer I am relatively free to commit to a lot of exercise. I am very interested in alternating between basketball, swimming, biking and running over the summer. I also might consider taking up boxing. Are these activities a bad idea if trying to attempt body recomposition. If they are not, how often should I do them and how long with what type of intensity? I thank you for this article. You are one of the only people I trust on the Internet to give me fitness advice. I apologize if you mentioned this in the article, perhaps I skimmed over if.
    Thanks for all your hard work! I Appreciate any feedback.

    1. Jeremy Ethier

      It depends, but weight lifting should be the focus. If you’re doing a lot of other activities then keep extra cardio on top of that to a minimum. Just monitor your weight and adjust things if you’re dropping weight too fast.

  4. surya Kumar Geda

    Hey Jeremy,

    Thanks a lot for this Article. I fulfil all the pre-conditions to attempt this. I have body fat over 25% and been away from workouts for more than three months now. But I am having a hard time to draw a proper workout in the sense that how many days cardio and how many days weights. Would be very grateful if you can these specific questions:

    1- is cardio at all necessary, if yes, then how many days in a week?

    2- if no cardio is necessary then weights for how many days I.e. 5 days only or one muscle per days than seven days weights can be done?

    3-can cross training be counted towards good weight lifting session, I know it also increases heart rate so can it could be proved counterproductive?

    4- if not too much of a trouble, can you please post a sample workout so just to guide us.

    Thanks.

    1. Jeremy Ethier

      Cardio isn’t necessary but can help speed up the process and helps in the sense that you can intake more food. I would perform weights 3-5 times per week and try to do short moderate-intensity cardio sessions a few times per week, while getting in a lot of walking/activity on rest days.

      I wouldn’t use cross training as it will likely hinder your strength improvements.

  5. surya Kumar Geda

    Hey Jer,

    Thanks for your answer, it really clarify a lot. I was watching other video of yours on optimal sets per week for each muscle.

    For intermediate who have been away from the workout for three months now, I would like to experiment with 13-15 sets per week.

    Now the tricky question is that these number of sets are for one muscle group or stand alone one muscle in a muscle group. So 13-15 sets for entire chest or 13 – 15 sets for each peck of the chest. If these sets are for stand alone for each muscle then it would be too much of a workout!!!

    Thanks

  6. You do not need to do many different exercises to get strong – you need to get strong on a very few important exercises, movements that train the whole body as a system, not as a collection of separate body parts. The problem with the programs advocated by all the national exercise organizations is that they fail to recognize this basic principle.

  7. Hi Jeremy

    I’ve been trying to dial in a body recomp for the past couple of months. Started keeping track of my food intake last fall and have been at a net caloric deficit for most of that time. I’ve also been working out regularly — 3-4 times a week (mix of kettlebells, lifting, bodyweight exercises, and an isometric or two), with some brief yoga sessions in between as rest days. My protein intake’s pretty consistently been at around 2 or more grams per kilo of bodyweight, especially this year. Results: I’ve gained some strength and endurance (especially with the kettlebells and isometrics), but have gained virtually no noticeable muscle definition and have lost a lot of weight. Starting out in the upper range of normal weight for my height and age, I’m now hovering around the lower end. Still got some flab around the midsection, but losing more weight doesn’t seem like a good idea at this stage.

    I’m sure it’s hard to say, but do you have any inkling what I’m doing wrong? Doing the numbers, it looks like my caloric deficit has been in the right neighborhood. Should I try hopping up to maintenance calories or a slighter deficit? Should I restructure my workouts? I may have been slacking behind in terms of progressive overload for the weight lifting.

    In any case, I’d like to commend you for trying to keep things evidence-based. Thank you for your time.

  8. i am skinny fat a little bit now, should i be in calorie difiction or surplus. as 3 months of gym really help me to loose some fat now i am lean little bit but i can still see my ribcage and lower fat too and thats crazy. plss help!

  9. Hi,
    Please could you help me to find a solution
    I want to try this recomp protocol, since i am a fat or skinny fat beginner.
    Lost already 30 kg by intermittent fasting, but half part was probably muscle
    I do rock climbing / bouldering twice a week, does it count as a workout or a cardio day ???

    My week :
    Monday : rest
    tuesday : climb
    wednesday : workout
    thursday : climb
    friday : workout
    saturday : rest
    Sunday : workout.

    Thanks for your answer

    1. Jeremy Ethier

      Yes that counts as cardio most likely. Just make sure it doesn’t interfere with your weights workouts.

  10. Hey Jeremy,

    Been reading everything I could find online about recomping for a while now. Your article’s straightforward and unbiased. Thanks for that! It’s helped to filter through all the contrast of information on this subject. Big ups!

    My question is though, did you utilize carb cycling for training and non training days or did you just keep your daily caloric intake at the same deficit throughout the week?

    I’m currently training 5 days a week, working each muscle group twice a week (push/pull/legs/upper body/lower body) and doing some hiit on my treadmill (on non training days) so I’m not sure how effective carb cycling would work with this routine. Any light you could shed on this would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    – DC

  11. Mohammed Hassan

    I am a beginner with about 22 % body fat and my height is about 170 cm. I was wondering how long a period can I follow this recomposition program .
    Great article btw

  12. I only just found out about this !! And about your online programs but they close today I wish I could’ve gotten into it and hopefully for a body recomposition program!

  13. Hi Jeremy. Love the info. Thanks for all the help. Should I be in a calorie deficit every day, including training days or on training days should I increase my intake to maintainance level or even a slightly over by say 100 calories?

  14. How long will it take for the body recomp to occur? Lets says for an individual who weighs 165lbs, 18%bf to go to 165 lbs, 12% bf?

  15. Pingback: The Holy Grail of Body Transformation: Is it Possible to Lose Fat and Gain Muscle at the Same Time? – ScienceBod.com

  16. Hi, great post!

    I swim intensively every morning worth about 5kilometers HIIT. Also I do body recomp workout every afternoon for about an hour or so. Is this advisable? I am 80kg 5’7″ with a lot high body fat, I used to be 73kg but I recently got detrained. I train everyday except saturdays and sundays. Is this advisable? I read somewhere that doing too much cardio can train the body to shed lesser fat as the body becomes aerobic.

    Thanks!

  17. Is the 0.8 grams per weight based on the lean weight or the total weight? If someone is 600 pounds, should they be eating 480 grams of protein per day if they are looking to get down to a weight under 200?

  18. Hi Jeremy

    Thanks for the article. I’m 16, 5’5” and 122 lbs with around 16-18% bf and skinny fat. How long do you think I should recomp and should I eat at a 15% caloric deficit or not. Thanks!

  19. Hey Jeremy, I recently came across your videos and was wondering if you could help me. I can get all the protein I need but the problem is that the food sources all exceed my daily calories, and its hard for me to get protein whey. In this case, do I do cardio everyday to lose some calories on top of my muscle gainz? I’ve never worked out before, I’m 17 and had lost 70 pounds (from 200 to 130). Once I lost those 70 pounds, I took a break for a year, and had gained 30 pounds. I’m currently 170 pounds, with 20 percent body fat. I want to have results within 6 months, but I don’t know how to approach body re composition.

  20. Hey! Thanks so much for the article, it’s extremely informative and helpful!

    I was wondering, even though I have a higher body fat percentage, I’m a small person and need very few calories per day to maintain/lose weight. I was planning on doing a workout plan like insanity max 30 for 30 minutes a day to let me eat 300 calories more and give me extra room to hit my protein goals. Will this affect my recomposition at all?

    Thanks!

  21. Jeremy,

    So would you ever adjust the overall total cals?

    For example, I am 193 lbs and my maintenance is 2836. If i do 2336 everyday to lose 1lb a week that’s 4 lbs a month. If I gain some muscle lets say 2lbs that month. I’m at a loss of 2lbs.. would I have to recalculate my overall maintenance cals again or should they always stay the same?

  22. Hi Jeremy,
    I really like your videos. It really helped. I am a skinny fat and trying to have a body recomp. How long will it approximately take before I can see the result? I do weightlifting 4 times a week.

    Thanks!

  23. Hi,

    I’m skinny fat with fat mostly at belly and under chin. To do a recomposition how many calories should I be in a deficit and how many more in a surplus. My TDEE is approx 1800? Thanks

  24. Hi Jeremy,
    Thanks for sharing such valuable information with us.I just wanted to know that for a complete beginner how long should the gym workouts be and how often should I do full body workouts and isolation workouts.
    Thanks

  25. Hey Jeremy,

    I think I’m around 12% body fat, and want to get to 10%. However, I am a bit low on weight for my height? (155 lbs for 6 feet tall). I was wondering how to gain weight while losing fat, or should I follow the same procedure as outlined above as it will give the same results?

    I don’t do any major compound lifts (I think I need to hire a trainer to actually get the right form) but I have noticed that I am making a much faster progress on my lower body compared to my upper body gains. And I notice that if I lose lean mass, it’s from my arms first.

    Lastly, you said that the speed depends on your genetic potential and how far you are from that so called ‘equilibrium.’ How do I maintain this physique for the coming years, and want is the minimum amount I need to train per week to do so?

    Much appreciated if you could answer my questions!

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