Recomposition: The Key to Building Muscle & Burning Fat

It's only week three in your new training plan and you're a little fed up. You haven't seen any results. You continue to search the internet tirelessly for a solution. How can one build lean muscle tissue AND lose fat at the same time? One article says it's possible, the other says it isn't. Next thing you know you're five pages into your Google search, you haven't found any answer to your problem, and you find yourself getting more and more frustrated. 

Ever been in this situation? I have on countless occasions. Whatever the problem is, it seems that the internet never really gives a concrete, "yes" or "no" answer. Want to know why? It's because the internet is full of goons who just want you to click on their site, regardless if they have valuable information waiting for you or not. So here's the truth:

In most cases, when we ask "Is it possible to build muscle and burn fat at the same time?", the time we are speaking of is relatively long term. The question really being asked is: "is it possible to build muscle and burn fat over the course of X weeks?" The answer to that is YES, absolutely. On the other side of the coin, the question could be "is it possible to build muscle and burn fat simultaneously, at the same moment?", to which the answer is: I don't think so. At least I haven't found any science to prove it. 

Quick thought before we move along: If our usual mindset is to put on a certain amount of muscle or lose a certain amount of fat in a given amount of time, why the heck does it matter if muscle can be built while fat can be burned simultaneously? That's just making things more complicated than it needs to be. You'll reach your goal either way. 

Don't blow this up and turn it into something that it's not. I'm not saying that you have to get fat in order to put on muscle, and I'm not saying that you have to turn into a twig to lose fat. I'm actually writing this to introduce a new way of thinking about your health, training, and nutrition. It's called recomposition. 

Recomposing like a boss.

Recomposing like a boss.

What is recomposition? It's nothing fancy, but it will help us build muscle and burn fat over a period of time. As you know (or at least you do now), in order to build muscle, we need to be in a caloric surplus. This is what is most commonly known in the bro community as "bulking season" which usually occurs in the winter when very little skin needs to be exposed. In order to lose body fat, we need to be in a caloric deficit. This is known as the "cutting season" which usually is procrastinated and crammed into a span of two weeks right before the big spring break trip. 

Recomposition is both of those mixed into one. While attempting to recompose your body, you are in both a caloric surplus, as well as a caloric deficit. This is called calorie cycling. There are plenty of other factors that play a role in the recomposition of the body, but calorie cycling is plays a HUGE part in keeping us lean and mean all year round. 

Question is though, how do we put ourselves in a caloric deficit AND surplus at the same time? And calorie cycling? What the heck does that involve? Let's break this down.

While on a training regimen, there are days in which we train/workout, and days in which we rest. This means that there are days in the week where we are burning more calories than others. Up until recently, a lot of people have been following only one daily goal for their calories and macronutrients. But that doesn't make any sense, right? I wouldn't want to be eating the same amount of food on rest days that I am on training days, because my body wouldn't use the excess calories which means more fat on my stomach. No bueno. 

If we want to stay lean while putting on muscle over a period of time, we need to make sure that our bodies are properly utilizing every single calorie that we take in for muscle growth and recovery. We don't want to give it anything extra to hold on to. With that being said, we need to eat differently on days we train and days we rest. 

How to Cycle Your Calories

In order to determine how many calories you need to be eating each day, you need to first determine your BMR. Your Basal Metabolic Rate tells you how many calories you are burning at rest. I use the Harris-Benedict equation to determine BMR if an individual doesn't know his/her lean mass in pounds. (*Note: this equation is only an estimation of BMR. Muscle tissue and body fat play a large role in BMR. Those who weigh the same with more muscle will burn more at rest). Here are the calculations for both men and women based on total body weight.

Men: BMR = 66 + (6.2 x weight in lbs) + (12.7 x height in inches) - (6.76 x age in years)

Women: BMR = 655.1 + (4.35 x weight in lbs) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age in years)

For a little more accurate formula, you'll need to know your lean body mass. To find your lean mass, you need to know your total scale weight as well as your body fat percentage.

Fat percentage x total scale weight = fat mass. Scale weight - fat mass = lean body mass.

Using the Sterling-Pasmore equation, you can find your BMR by completing the following:

BMR = lean body mass in lbs x 13.8

Once you have determined your BMR, you now need to calculate your TDEE or total daily energy expenditure. The following list will help:

Little to no exercise: Calories needed = BMR x 1.2
Light exercise (1-3 days/week): Calories needed = BMR x 1.375
Moderate exercise (3-5 days/week): Calories needed = BMR x 1.55
Heavy exercise (6-7 days/week): Calories needed = BMR x 1.725
Very heavy exercise (2x/day): Calories needed = BMR 1.9

After determining your TDEE, you now have your calorie intake in order to maintain your lean mass!

Looking through all of these calculations seems daunting, I know. Luckily we have this thing called the internet which is full of calculators that will do the work for you.



I figured you'd appreciate knowing how to make the calculations yourself, so I threw them in. Knowing things is fun.

From here, you need to know how to cycle your calorie intake based on your goal. Now remember, reaching your goal is going to take longer because your body is recomposing. If you're cutting, you're going to try to preserve as much muscle as possible. If you're bulking, you're trying to put on as little fat as possible. It's a process, but trust me, it's worth it. 

Let's say that your maintenance caloric intake based on BMR and TDEE is 2500 cal. Here's what a calorie cycling plan may look like for muscle gain.

Monday: Training day
Maint: 2500 cal.   Intake: 3000 cal.   Surplus: 500 cal.
Tuesday: Training day
Maint: 2500 cal.   Intake: 3000 cal.   Surplus: 500 cal.
Wednesday: Rest day
Maint: 2500 cal.   Intake: 2200 cal.   Deficit: 300 cal.
Thursday: Training Day
Maint: 2500 cal.   Intake: 3000 cal.   Surplus: 500 cal.
Friday: Training Day
Maint: 2500 cal.   Intake: 3000 cal.   Surplus: 500 cal.
Saturday: Rest day
Maint: 2500 cal.   Intake: 2200 cal.   Deficit: 300 cal.
Sunday: Rest day
Maint: 2500 cal.   Intake: 2200 cal.   Deficit: 300 cal.

As you can see, the training day surplus is greater than the rest day deficits because the goal is to gain muscle. Sure, you may put on a little bit of body fat in the process, but it will be minimal and it's much better than getting fat in ten weeks just for a few pounds of muscle.

For a fat loss plan, you'd switch the surplus on training days to be slightly smaller, and the deficit on rest days to be even larger. For example:

Training Day
Maint: 2500 cal.   Intake: 2700 cal.   Surplus: 200 cal.
Rest Day
Maint: 2500 cal.   Intake: 2000 cal.   Deficit: 500 cal.

Throughout this process, make sure you're monitoring your weight. If you're losing weight extremely fast, you may want to bump the calories up in order to preserve your hard-earned muscle. Vice versa if you're gaining too fast during a mass gain program. I always encourage my clients to stay between .5 and 2lbs of weight lost per week. Those of you just beginning a workout regimen will be on the higher end, while those who have been training for a while will be near the .5 lb mark. 

The Takeaway

Building muscle and burning fat is definitely possible, but only over a period of time. Again, who cares if it can happen at the same exact moment in time? 

It is possible to be lean all year round while slowly putting on mass. It's just going to take you longer than someone that's new to working out or taking drugs.

If you want to maintain a lean physique all year-round, calorie cycling is essential. You can't give your body extra stuff to hold onto. 

They key here is finding a plan that works for you, your schedule, and your goals. Also, YOU HAVE TO STAY WITH IT. You're never going to know if it works or not if you constantly give up at week four. These things take time, and fully understanding/accepting that is a big step in the right direction. Stay tuned for more to come on staying lean all year round. From meal timing, to carb cycling, information is coming your way that will help you reach that body you've always dreamed of.

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Thanks for reading and take care!