Body Recomposition 2022: Can We Lose Fat & Gain Muscle Simultaneously?

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Medically reviewed by Dr G. Michael DiLeo, MD

body recomposition

Everybody wants to lose weight but nobody wants to just look skinny. We want our bodies shapely, but we know that to get our body shape perfectly we need to gain muscle at the same time. 

Yes, this is the definition of “body recomposition”. Losing fat and gaining muscle in a healthy way can only be by combining diet with exercise. 

In this guide, we will discuss where you should pay attention for ideal body recomposition, how to observe your body change, as well as diet and exercise strategies.

Can We Lose Fat & Build Muscle At The Same Time?

The quick answer is yes, we can. But there are important strategies to lose weight while gaining muscle. 

First of all, you need to know that body fat doesn’t transform into muscle, a big mistake many people make. Your adipose tissue and muscle tissue work separately but in association with each other. 

We’re built to run on the energy we gain from our diets. However, when your energy needs increase and enough calories don’t come in to support those demands, your body starts to release energy from its own stores. 

The first store is glycogen storage, inside of muscles and liver. After depleting glycogen storage, the body starts to use adipose tissue,  the biggest energy storage, to get energy. 

However, if you don’t strike a good balance with the energy cycle, the increased needs lead the body may convert into catabolism, which includes muscle breakdown. 

There are several principles to increase muscle mass while decreasing body fat: what is called “Body recomposition”.

What Is Body Recomposition?

Body Recomposition is a principle for healthy toning of the body: we want to decrease body fat while increasing muscle mass. 

So, the numbers on the scale aren’t very important as long as you increase muscle mass, because increased muscles add to the scale. How do we measure body fat rather than weight?

Measurements Of Body Fat

Monitoring of body recomposition can be done with a protocol that involves measurements of body fat and muscle mass. A simple scale is useless unless you have a scale that shows body fat, muscle ratio, etc. 

Such a scale uses biometrical impedance[1] to differentiate the fat from other tissue; this scale is very expensive. This method, using dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA), however, is the gold standard for determining body composition. The expensive instrument means it can only be found in large centers and won’t be a part of your daily life.

However, there are several basic measurement methods–”anthropometric measurements” whose results correlate[2] with DXA measurements. 

Skinfold thickness[3] and waist circumference[4] are the main measurements to determine body fat composition this way.

Skinfold Thickness

As an easy body fat measurement method, the body fat estimation via skinfold thickness showed a significant correlation with DEXA measurements[5]. You can measure your skinfold thickness by using a “caliper,” which is a cheap anthropometric tool. 

Here are the main 7 skinfold measurements to calculate body fat:

The skinfold thickness measurements for men
Image 1. The skinfold thickness measurements for men: a. Suprailiac, b. Subscapular, c. Thigh, d. Triceps, e. Abdominal, f. Midaxillary, g. Chest
The skinfold measurements for women
Image 2. The skinfold measurements for women: a. Chest, b. Midaxillary, c. Abdominal, d. Triceps, e. Thigh, f. Subscapular, g. Suprailiac

By using these measurements you can easily calculate your percentage of body fat and your body density with the following Jackson & Pollock equations:

4-Site Skinfold Equation (abdominal, triceps, thigh and suprailliac) for females:

% Body Fat = (0.29669 x sum of skinfolds) – (0.00043 x square of the sum of skinfolds) + (0.02963 x age) + 1.4072

7-Site Skinfold Equation (chest, axilla, tricep, subscapular, abdominal, suprailiac, thigh) for females:

Body Density = 1.112 – (0.00043499 x sum of skinfolds) + (0.00000055 x square of the sum of skinfold sites) – (0.00028826 x age)

4-Site Skinfold Equation (abdominal, triceps, thigh and suprailliac) for males:

% Body Fat = (0.29288 x sum of skinfolds) – (0.0005 x square of the sum of skinfolds) + (0.15845 x age) – 5.76377

7-Site Skinfold Equation (chest, axilla, tricep, subscapular, abdominal, suprailiac, thigh) for males:

Body Density = 1.112 – (0.00043499 x sum of skinfolds) + (0.00000055 x square of the sum of skinfold sites) – (0.00028826 x age)

Waist Circumference, Waist/Height Ratio and Waist/Hip Ratio

Waist circumference[6] is commonly suggested to measure body fat rather than weight scaling. You can easily monitor your abdominal fat by regularly measuring your waist circumference. 

Also, the waist/hip circumference[7] ratio gives an important idea about health risks. Waist/Height ratio is also found to be an effective tool[8] for determining cardiometabolic risk because metabolic syndrome[9] is partly defined by these disproportionate ratios.

Measurement of waist circumference
Image 3[10]: Measurement of waist circumference

Waist circumference should be measured from the midline between the ribs and the iliac crest. It should be lower than 80 cm for women and 94 cm for men, to lower metabolic risk[11]

These measurement tools can be used to observe changes in the body’s recomposition before and after. 

The Ultimate Guide to Body Recomposition

Cardio training while realizing a calorie deficit is essential for losing weight. But if increasing muscle mass is your goal, this is not enough. Strength training[12] is the key point of body recomposition to increase muscle mass. 

Also, avoiding muscle weight loss requires your diet to support the muscles with high protein and essential amino acid content. 

But how to do a body recomposition? We can examine this process under two steps, that is, diet and exercise.

Healthy and Functional Body Recomposition Diet

There are many diet strategies for weight loss and muscle gain and all of them have some advantages and disadvantages. 

However, the fundamental concept is increasing the protein level of the diet. When you eat healthy, whole-food, high fiber, high vitamin and mineral sources, even a moderately increased protein diet is beneficial for increasing muscle mass. 

It is a scientific fact that increased serum and muscular cell amino acid content stimulates muscle protein synthesis[13]–the way muscles are built.

Body recomposition calories should be moderately decreased to stimulate fat loss, but since excessive calorie restriction reduces muscle mass, too, the increase in protein is crucial to prevent this. 

The protein type is also an important factor to support muscles. Anabolic signaling[13] of muscle cells is needed to increase muscle mass. 

The body recomposition meal plan should include all essential macronutrients (“macros”) to support muscle gain while losing body weight.

Body Recomposition Macros

Protein

For muscle gain, daily protein intake[14] should be 1,4-2 g/kg at least. Higher protein intake (> 3.0 g protein/kg) combined with resistance exercise benefits muscle gain.

Among these proteins, 0.25g/kg should come from high-quality protein sources (egg, milk, yogurt, seafood, meats, soy, nuts and seeds, and spirulina).

Leucine is essential to avoid muscle loss, as well as supportive amino acids for muscle gain. Daily 700-3000 mg of leucine added to other essential amino acids can help to build muscle.

It is better to distribute protein intake equally, every 3-4 h, during the day. The optimal time to ingest protein is pre- or post-workout.

The most effective protein intake for muscle gain is rapidly digested proteins with high proportions of essential amino acids and adequate leucine.

It is also suggested that it is better to get your macro needs from a dietary source; however, supplements can be used if you can’t get the suggested amounts with your diet, especially for protein.

Carbs

It should be appreciated that adequate carbohydrate intake promotes muscle gain in addition to protein; also, carbs may help to offset muscle damage by promoting recovery.

To lose body fat, it is essential to decrease carbohydrates; however, an essential amount of carbs is needed. 

Fat

During dietary fat intake, attention should be paid to healthy fat alternatives–especially the antioxidant capacity and healthy fatty acid content of oil sources like olive oil, nuts, and avocado. 

Remember that since fat sources provide high calories, it is important to indulge in only a limited intake. 

Since the body recomposition diet provides an increase in protein especially, the calorie gain from protein should be balanced by keeping carbohydrates and fats limited.

Removing foods such as simple sugars, saturated and trans fats, and processed foods from the diet, which directly stimulate weight gain, is indispensable for this process.

The basic body recomposition calculator websites give the daily calorie amount according to your weight and height, but they are not very accurate applications. As mentioned above, the fat mass should be measured with skinfold or waist & hip circumferences rather than body mass index (BMI).

Similarly, the body recomposition macros calculator isn’t going to be very beneficial without asking for help from a professional. Another consideration is that body recomposition calorie calculators cannot accurately estimate your daily energy expenditure.

Perhaps a better option is getting help from mobile apps to monitor your eating and exercise habits. Also, some beneficial effects of supportive supplements to lose weight have been demonstrated, and these kinds of products can be helpful under the control of health professionals.  

Body Recomposition Exercise

Skeletal muscle is an adaptive tissue navigating mechanical stress. Mechanical stress is created by strength exercises. Continuous mechanical loading contributes to muscle production[15], while a reduction in strength training causes muscle loss. 

The effects of resistance training differ[16] according to the total volume and load applied to the muscle, the time the muscle is in tension[16], the speed of the contraction forces created, and the duration. 

So, the bodybuilding recomposition plan should include a variety of strength[17] and cardio[18] exercises. You can find the main principles[19] of exercise to muscle gain online.

University of Ottawa Heart Institute – The main principles of exercise to muscle gain

The focus on the desired muscle function to be supported can be changed and modulated during the body recomposition workout plan.

For Strength Heavier Weights

The strength of the muscles can be enhanced with heavier muscle loads in a dose-dependent manner. Training with heavier weights and fewer repeats (1-5 repeats), depending on the person’s physiology, increases muscle strength.

For Hypertrophy Moderate Weights

Moderate weight load with training volume (8-12 repeats) is needed to increase muscle fiber volume. Evidence shows that fiber type-specific differences are seen within a range of moderate loading.

For Endurance Lighter Weight

Muscular endurance can be increased from lighter muscle loads with increased repeats (15-20 rep). 

Body recomposition strategies for males and females may differ due to the baseline muscle mass and physiological differences. Body recomposition workout plans for females include more repeats with less heavy weights; however, men generally train with as much weight as they can, with fewer repeats. 

Especially for females, the exercise timing was suggested to be 3-4 sets per exercise, on 2-4 training days per week, for upper body strength according to the meta-analysis results[20].

Lower body strength in women can be achieved with various combinations of protocols, although the frequency and total weekly volume are a priority.

The Bottom Line

Considerations for the body recomposition plan can be summarized as

  • Moderate calorie deficit
  • Increased protein intake
  • Moderately reduced carbohydrate intake
  • Strength exercises arranged according to the desired muscle function

A balanced and nutritious diet should be followed in order not to weaken the body and to meet the needs of the muscles. A balanced diet with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory content prevents wear and tear that may occur during exercise, as well as promotes recovery. 

It will not take long to see body recomposition results with a combination of diet and exercise.


+ 20 sources

Health Canal avoids using tertiary references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic researches from medical associations and institutions. To ensure the accuracy of articles in Health Canal, you can read more about the editorial process here

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Written by:

Sevginur Akdas, RD

Medically reviewed by:

G. Michael DiLeo

Sevginur Akdas is a researcher, medical writer, and clinical dietitian, who is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in metabolism, chronic diseases, and clinical nutrition fields. She has many scientific articles, meta-analyses, systematic reviews, and book chapters on nutrition, chronic diseases, dietary supplements, maternal and child nutrition, molecular nutrition & functional foods topics as a part of a research team currently. Besides her academic background, she is also a professional health&medical writer since 2017.

Medically reviewed by:

G. Michael DiLeo

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