A body re-composition involves a change in your body composition, with a decrease in body fat and an increase in muscle mass. Many people aim for this to occur over a number of weeks during a singular phase. The reality is, while you can you can lose body fat and gain muscle at the same time, your ability to do so is context dependant and harder to do. Muscle gain is also usually a painfully slow process. Let me elaborate now with an example.
Shown here is my client Jane, who has clearly added muscle mass and dropped body fat, whilst she is the same bodyweight in both pictures. However, this process didn’t occur over 12-weeks but instead took 12-months. The reason for this is simply due to physiology.
To lose body fat, we must distort energy balance and create a calorie deficit. To do this, we can either decrease calories in, increase calories out, or use a combination of the two. For non-beginners, muscle gain on the hand is usually best supported by a calorie surplus, with energy intake exceeding energy output. While you can gain muscle in some instances whilst dieting, your ability to do is more impaired due to inadequate calories.
The irony of fat loss is that despite decreasing your calories and your body weight falling, you often look more muscular. This is simply because we can now better see your muscle due to the decrease in body fat and thus, many people can look bigger, whilst being smaller. This is despite the fact that most people lose some degree of lean body mass over the course of a diet, though this doesn’t necessarily mean muscle mass is lost.
Ultimately, for many people seeking a true body re-composition, with an increase in muscle mass occurring, you’re more likely to do this if you use multiple consecutive phases with differing focus points. For instance, this could look like either of the following over the course of the year:
Option 1: dieting phase 🡪 muscle building phase 🡪 dieting phase = body re-composition.
Option 2: muscle building phase 🡪 dieting phase = body re-composition.
However, there a few instances whereby you are more likely to drop body fat and gain some muscle concurrently. These typically are if you are a beginner or if you are coming back from an injury. In these instances, your physical progress can be faster as you haven’t had any or any recent exposure to the stimulus of resistance training. Likewise, some people will pursue the pharmaceutical enhancement route, which changes your physiology and change potential. Though, this is something we never would employ or prescribe ourselves.
Thus, if you are neither a beginner nor are returning from any injury, a more realistic body re-composition result is likely to take a bit longer than you expect. The longer the time period, the greater the change potential. For instance, when Jane (shown here) started coaching with me, her maintenance calories were around 1950 per day and her goal was muscle building. I immediately realised this was too far low for her energy needs as she was highly active.
As such, I progressively increased Jane’s calories over the first 5 weeks, eventually reaching 2415 calories as her new maintenance, yet with zero weight gain. I was confident that this may occur as I felt Jane’s metabolism would likely be more on the inefficient side. As a result, when we decided to push for a calorie surplus to optimise muscle building, I gave her a good nudge and jumped straight to 2745 calories per day.
This allowed a small surplus to now finally be recognised, with Jane’s weight incrementally increasing but her physique growing. Over the course of the muscle building phase, Jane’s body weight reached a peak of 57kg but with a lot more mass.
However, when pushing calories, I never want to allow body composition to skew too far one way, with body fat climbing too high. This is where mini cuts are valuable as they can allow you to quickly drop some weight, then get back to muscle building. This is what I’ve used with Jane so far and the picture shown here is the result of her 9-week mini cut. In fact, we have yet to run a true dieting phase together and all up, Jane has only spent 11 weeks out of a total of 55 together dieting with me. Fat loss simply hasn’t been the goal and instead we have biased towards muscle building.
While the calorie manipulation was a crucial part of the puzzle in regard to Jane’s physique enhancement, the training was just as important, if not more in regard to muscle building. To build a superior physique, I had Jane training 5 days per week with a lower body bias, with 3 days being dedicated to lower body and 2 days to upper body. Continued strength progression was always a key part of our training and the training volume was strategically manipulated to support progress.
The take home message is that a true body re-composition with extra muscle mass gained, will usually take some time unless you’re a beginner or you are returning from an injury. If you are wanting to improve your body composition, a dieting phase is usually the safest bet to get you on the right path. If you’re lucky, you may even add a little more muscle mass along the way too if you’re training hard and continuing to get stronger. However, if you are a more advanced lifter, the reality is the dieting phase will more likely be about muscle preservation than muscle acquisition, whilst dropping body fat.