Recompositioning is the term that we use to describe the simultaneous loss of fat and building of muscle or strength.
This is almost mythical because it offers both of the best benefits of training at once. There are even people out there who don’t think it exists.
Fortunately, it does and today we are talking about what it is, how it works, and how you can use it to improve your health and fitness.
What is recompositioning?
First of all, Recomping is easiest as a beginner and every year of training that becomes more difficult. This isn’t a new thing specific to Recomping: this is how training works in general.
Recomping, however, has a much narrower set of tolerances which you have to play with in order to make progress. The obvious trade-off is that you get double the benefits of training and is also probably the best way to approach exercise as a beginner if you don’t have a specific problem to solve.
The trade-offs are pretty clear: Recomping is a great way to make progress in a rewarding and motivating way, as you see change happen immediately. Results are clear both in terms of fat loss and muscle and strength gains, changing a whole physique in a relatively short space of time.
How do you Recomp?
As a beginner, Recomping is as simple as eating a healthy diet and introducing training as a new stimulus. Your body adapts to what you’re doing with it and – when you introduce resistance training – you’re going to develop strong muscles, a preference for building muscle rather than losing fat and healthier tendons, ligaments, bones, and joints. If you’re struggling on the diet front, the experts here at Health Hub have a useful guide on low FODMAP diets.
However, as you become more advanced, recompositioning comes more difficult within these tolerances.
Calorie Control: A Slight Deficit
First of all, calorie intake should be at maintenance, or slightly below.
Calorie deficit is about creating systemic energy deficit but local energy abundance. This should be a relatively small deficit as severe deficits increase the risk of losing muscle while dieting. It’s also important to ensure that your training calorie-burn is accounted for in your diet to prevent extreme weight-loss.
Protein Intake: Fuelling Better Nutrient Composition
During this calorie deficit, protein intake should be a priority. Proteins are the building blocks of muscle tissue and a significant factor in determining what calories are used for – called nutrient partitioning.
Amino acids from protein are also an important regulating factor in insulin action, especially after workouts. A higher protein intake both reduces the risk of fat storage, contributes to burning more fat, and ensures that protein from your muscles aren’t being used to make up for the calorie deficit.
Carbohydrate Intake: Fuelling Growth and Muscle-Proteins
Carbohydrates are the most important energy source for maintaining muscle health, recovery, and growth. As your short-term energy supply, carbohydrates are important for signalling energy abundance as well as controlling insulin action, an important factor in short term muscle maintenance and growth.
Diets that are too low in carbohydrate will limit signalling for muscle protein synthesis. Producing a positive balance of protein breakdown and protein synthesis is the key to making a recompositioning diet work. Carb habits make this possible when they’re built on top of good protein and calorie intake.
Carbohydrates should be used deliberately. First, consume them relative to the amount of activity you perform on a day to day basis.
Second, eat carbs on a scheduled activity and workouts. Pre- and post-workout carbohydrates are more important for Recompositioning because they dictate muscle energy stores, a key factor in how your body handles muscle damage, energy expenditure, and what nutrients from the diet do once they’re digested.
Controlling Training Load for Recomping
Training load has to be managed carefully for recompositioning diets, especially in those with training experience.
Developing muscle mass and strength requires careful management when recovery resources such as calories and protein are limited. This is why regular refeeding days and other “high” days are part of recomp diets best practise – they fuel more difficult sessions and can be scheduled to keep hitting personal bests even as you burn fat.
Linear progression is not likely on every comp diet. Getting the most out of recompositioning requires a mature approach to training. It demands understanding that performance will not be linear and accounting for reduced recovery capabilities in simple terms we comping will teach you better training habits, for the long term, because you can’t simply force progress.
In many ways this process lets you look into the future, as tolerances are narrower, and each good habit carries significantly more weight than it would on a calorie surplus. It’s a way of building elite habits from early on, since these narrow tolerances are what it looks like to be an experienced trainee!
Recompositioning does not work without exercise, because the muscle sparing and growth stimuli come from resistance training. You will not spare – or grow – muscle without a stimulus that tells your body that it’s necessary for future safety and survival, such as weight training.
Endurance exercise is also appropriate for creating calorie deficit but should be carefully managed. The repeated impacts on bones, joints, connective tissue, and the overall strain it puts on muscles can make recovery very difficult on a recomp diet.
With reduced ‘recoverability’, it’s important to be more clear on your personal goals and structuring training. For example, it is difficult to improve cardiovascular fitness and strength at the same time during a recompositioning diet: you simply can’t train enough to get the most out of both.
Training two things at once will rapidly out-strip your ability to recover and progress.
Recompositioning requires effective lifestyle management outside of training and nutrition.
Sleep quality and quantity are even more important, as you may expect, because of their importance in the recovery process. It may be simpler to think of sleep as ‘picking up the slack’ from reduced dietary resources and increased demand on the body.
Better sleep – in a cool dark room with very little light or sound – and 8+ hours is the key. If you’re interested in learning more about sleep then you can check out how omega 3 influences your sleep. These recommendations are important for rebalancing the hormonal environment and ensuring the best stress-response.
You can use other lifestyle habits, as well as sleep, to improve your recovery.
For example, active recovery involves low-intensity movement – like a casual walk or swim, or even mobility work. These can support effective recompositioning by protecting you from stress and contributing to an improved hormonal environment when the stress-recovery balance is more important than ever.
Consider reducing stressors themselves and improving deliberate relaxation and recovery time. These aren’t just psychologically refreshing but also support hormonal signals that squash stress and promote the release of powerful recovery factors like testosterone and human growth hormone.
Recomposition is challenging but possible at every level, even in athletes with decades of training experience. It just takes a careful approach and an eye for detail.
It’s not the easiest way to make change but there’s a certain simplicity to recompositioning: you’re getting better all the time and cutting out the challenge of gaining or losing weight specifically. It’s a rewarding approach to training that allows you to make significant progress in two directions at once, a rare thing!
These are the most important and desirable changes we can make, and they come with a wealth of secondary health benefits along the way – both from the training they require and the change in body composition. One of the most important factors is understanding the limits of your own body and we recommend testing for food intolerances and allergies if you’re having issues with your diet.
It’s a challenge and you’re going to need to work towards it, but it’s a great aim to tie all the best dietary habits together. It’s enough to change your approach to training and provide some of the best benefits – especially at a habit level – that pay off forever.