Don't Maintain, GAINtain!
Remember that time I talked about how our bodies have “happy spots” for bodyweight, aka set points?
Well, as a refresher, these set points are the weights in which our bodies feel most comfortable and function the most optimally.
For me, this weight is around 148-153 lbs. I can go lower temporarily, but I’ll always wind up back around here. In fact, even after years of training, I’m still about the same weight, if not slightly heavier. If I were simply going off the scale, I would have chalked this all up to a loss and a waste of my time.
However, I’m not just going off of the scale- I’m going off of strength in the gym, I’m going off of amount of cardio I do, I’m going off of how many calories I’m consuming, I’m going off of body part measurements, and I’m going off of progress photos!
What has all this revealed? Well, I’m 150-some pounds still, but I’m 150-some pounds with a smaller waist, bigger biceps, more defined legs, and more overall muscle mass. I’m also 150-some pounds while eating more calories per day (specifically carbs) and doing much less cardio! I’m lifting weights heavier than I ever have before and my strength is progressively building. Not to mention, my energy is up, my confidence is up, and my general happiness is up!
While I haven’t lost weight over the past few years, I have recompositioned my body and built up my metabolism. I’m still hanging at my set-point, I’m just changing what that number looks like on me-- that’s the beauty of recomposition.
What is body recomposition?
First, let’s recap what plain ole “body composition” is. Your body composition is the amount of fat, muscle, bone, and water that your body contains.
“Body recomposition”, known as “recomp” for short, is then the process of changing up your body composition by reducing body fat while adding muscle mass.
As I mentioned above, recomping is not necessarily about weight loss. While it can happen, more times than not, the scale is not your friend during a recomp. This is because, while you are losing weight (fat), you are also gaining weight (muscle). Essentially, you’re “gaintaining”! Gaining muscle mass while maintaining weight.
What isn’t body recomposition?
It is not big calorie cuts and increased cardio. It also is not eating in excess and decreasing cardio. In other words, it isn’t a cut or a bulk.
If you’re looking to just lose weight for something specific (i.e. a competition or meet or special event), then you’re better off doing a cut.
If you’re looking to put on a lot of weight in a short period of time (perhaps during an offseason to prepare you for your upcoming season), and are okay with some of it being fat, then a bulk is more up your alley.
How should your diet look during a recomp?
We pretty much covered what it shouldn’t look like (low calorie or very high calorie); instead, you should be eating in a slight deficit while still consuming high amounts of protein.
Consuming a high protein diet will be essential in storing and building lean muscle mass while trying to lose fat. In fact, there are many studies out there on the “high-protein diet” demonstrating that athletes who lost the least amount of muscle while cutting calories (entering that deficit just talked about) were those that consumed the most protein. A high-protein diet is necessary for promoting muscle growth.
To keep it safe, aim for around .73-1g of protein per pound of bodyweight to lose fat while gaining muscle and strength. Distribute protein evenly throughout the day by consuming protein-rich foods such as eggs, poultry, dairy products, lean meats, and protein supplements every three to four hours.
How should your exercise look during a recomp?
While the nutrition is crucial in a recomposition, the training is just as important!
When working out during a recomp, you should be incorporating strength training with a progressive overload (talked about here). Keep a heavy focus on big movements such as squat, deadlift, bench, military press, and pull-ups. Lift heavy, make it hard, and challenge the muscles!
This type of resistance training will build strength and muscle, which is key to a successful recomposition.
In regards to cardio, ditch the notion that the only way to make changes is through devastating amounts of cardio! It is not a necessary evil, but rather an awesome tool to utilize occasionally.
Combining this helpful tool with your resistance training can bring added health benefits and also get you closer to your goal. Here are some types of cardio to add into your weekly regimen:
- HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) can be incorporated a maximum of 1-2x a week
- Metabolic conditioning, circuit training, Tabata, EMOM, and any other style of full-body conditioning would also be considered HIIT and can be a great way to change up your interval training routine.
- LISS (Low Intensity Steady State) can be done more generously as it is more muscle-sparring than its high intensity counterpart.
When it comes to cardio, it’s important to remember “less is more” during a recomposition. Too much cardio can cause both fat and muscle loss, which is not the goal. Keep cardio amounts low enough to burn fat while still saving that hard-earned muscle.
Is there a magic pill that will give me recomposition quickly?
...of course not, but there are supplements that will aid in getting you to your goal faster. To start, protein powder!
As you now know, protein is imperative in a recomp. Though the majority of your daily intake should come from natural sources, it is still helpful to utilize supplements. For example, before and after a workout.
During these times, you want to hit the body with protein. Unfortunately, the time it takes the digestive system to break down a natural source, such as a chicken breast, is too long for it to really be effective pre/post workout. This is a time where a quick digesting, hydrolyzed isolate whey protein can come in supremely handy. This protein supplement will break down quickly, be easier on the digestive system, and deliver muscle-friendly protein to the body faster (which will, in turn, bring a speedy recovery!).
As well, branched chain amino acid (BCAAs) supplementation can be helpful for gaining skeletal muscle and maintaining mass while in a calorie deficit. These BCAAs stimulate protein synthesis (the creation of muscle) and decrease protein breakdown (keeping more of that muscle-food in the body!).
BCAAs also can help decrease muscle soreness and reduce exercise fatigue-- making you feel better and stronger so you can workout better and stronger!
For more information on these supplements, and the other key ones for any athlete, head here.
Who shouldn’t recomp?
For one, as already mentioned, those looking for a quick (temporary) fix. These people would better benefit from a cut. Also, those that have a hard time gaining. “Hard gainers” should look to a bulk to help them reach their goals as a recomp will not give them enough of what they need to put on size.
Along with the cutters and bulkers, people that are naturally very lean would not get the most out of a recomposition compared to those that are not. This is because the body fat isn’t there to use as energy for adding muscle. This group would do better with a bit of a bulk first.
“Change” isn’t just based off of just what the scale reads.
Just because a number is staying the same doesn’t mean your physique is staying the same! Your body may be comfortable at a certain weight, and that’s fine, because ultimately- you are in control of what that weight looks thanks to recomposition.
- Don’t be afraid of lifting, and lifting heavy!
- Don’t be afraid of eating more!
- Don’t view cardio as the supreme king of “body transformation”!
Check out what these clients of mine were able to do once they followed those 3 rules…
(^^ 3.5 months into plan)
(^^ 1 month into plan)
(^^ 2 weeks into plan)
Train, eat, and be patient. Nothing worth having comes easy (or quick), and recomping is no exception. It takes time!! So, have patience.
I promise, it’s worth the wait.