Is Your Goal Body Recomposition? How to Lose Body Fat & Gain MuscleDec 02, 2021
Warning: This article includes a discussion of changing body shape, which may or may not be in alignment with where you are in your unique health journey. If this discussion isn't for you, we encourage you to skip over this article.
When asking clients to describe their health, fitness, and nutrition goals, "getting toned" is a response that many Registered Dietitians – like those at Vitality Nutrition in Saskatoon – are used to hearing.
As many of us know, society often conditions us to gauge our health, fitness, and nutrition progress solely based on a number on the scale. One downside of using the scale to track progress – aside form the fact that body weight doesn't tell the full picture of your health or fitness – is that a weight scale cannot differentiate between fat and muscle.
For nutrition coaching clients whose goal is muscle definition or development, this is not 'weight-loss', but instead 'body recomposition'. Body recomposition is the act of altering one's physique through the loss of body fat and the simultaneous development of muscle mass. Body recomposition requires a different approach to nutrition and fitness than the typical 'weight loss' mindset. Our team of Registered Dietitians at Vitality Nutrition are here to help demystify body recomposition, and lay out our top five tips to consider if body recomposition is your goal.
WHAT IS BODY RECOMPOSITION?
Body composition is the ratio of fat mass to lean mass in the body. Sometimes, body composition is used interchangeably with 'body fat percentage', but body fat percentage is just one part of your overall body composition. Lean mass includes muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, organs, other tissues and water – in essence, it's everything that's not body fat!
Body recomposition refers to the process of changing the ratio of fat mass to lean mass in your body – that is, losing body fat and gaining muscle mass. Body recomposition isn't about weight loss; it's about fat loss. On a body recomposition plan, Comprehensive Nutrition Coaching clients may find they maintain their current weight, lose weight, or even gain weight. However, altering their body weight is not the goal. Altering its composition in a way that healthfully and sustainably supports the goals of the individual client is.
Who is a body recomposition goal for:
- People who exercise especially resistance based training
- People who want to change their body shape, build muscle, and lose fat versus solely losing weight.
Who body recomposition happens fastest for:
- Newbie gains/new to exercise.
- First time progressive overload training.
- Long break from training and coming back to it.
GUIDELINES FOR BODY RECOMPOSITION
Establishing a plan for body recomposition truly comes down to the client's personal physique, fitness, and lifestyle goals. While there is no standardized protocol for achieving body recomposition, there are a series of general guidelines our team of Registered Dietitians recommend that can support the development of muscle whilst losing or maintaining body fat over time. Before reviewing these guidelines, it's important to note that body recomposition is a long game. Sustainable fat loss and muscle gain each take time on their own. Put them together, and you are in it for the long haul! However, by developing habits that are enjoyable and sustainable, you can find joy in fuelling your body and increasing your fitness!
Is body recomposition your goal? Check out these five Dietitian-approved tips that can help you get started!
1. EMBRACE STRENGTH TRAINING
Strength training is essential to changing your body composition – your muscles won't grow if they don't have stimulus that challenge them to adapt. Consider the following tips to build a strength training routine that will best support your body recomposition goals:
- Adopt Progressive Overload: To build muscle, it is important that the program you choose includes a progressive overload component (1). Progressive overload is the practice of gradually increasing the weight, frequency, or number of repetitions in your routine. This challenges your body and allows your musculoskeletal system to get stronger!
- time under tension
- Train 3-5x per week: When body recomposition is the goal, it is recommended that an individual trains at least three times each week (2). Depending on your recovery requirements and lifestyle, you may be able to strength train more than three times each week.
- Hannah might add dialogue about how even 2x a week can be effective b/c but higher frequency allows more volume
- Effort and perceived exercision: put down the 10 pounds, more capable than you think, RPE scale, CrossFit /energy system
- Embrace rest days: In the pursuit of progress, we find that clients often skip rest days with the goal of advancing more quickly. However, muscles need rest to repair and get stronger (3)! In other words, rest days are just important as training days if building muscle is your goal. As Registered Dietitians, we recommend at least 1-2 full rest days per week.
While we do not offer specific workout programs or plans at Vitality Nutrition, we do support clients inside of our Comprehensive Nutrition Coaching program to find an exercise regime that matches their personal goals, lifestyle, and preferences. If you'd like to learn more about evidenced-based strength training principles to support you with your body recomposition and strength goals we highly recommend looking into the in-person and virtual services offered by Craven Sports Services.
While our role is nutrition, the nutrition protocols we recommend are not effective for body recomp without the stimulus on the muscle. Adopting a progressive overload program and executing movements with proper technique and the correct volume, frequency, load, etc. is key. We are happy to direct our clients to Craven Sports Services..
2. CONSUME ENOUGH PROTEIN
A moderate to high protein diet paired with a resistance-training regime is an evidenced based strategy to alter body composition (4). As Registered Dietitians, we find more often than not that clients with the goal of body recomposition are not consuming enough protein to repair muscle tissue, whilst simultaneously reaping the other benefits of a high protein diet such as blood sugar stabilization and increased satiety. A targeted strategy to increase protein intake can support long-term muscle development and body recomposition goals!
When you work with one of our Registered Dietitians through our Comprehensive Nutrition Coaching program, we'll work one-on-one to calculate the specific protein requirements for your unique body and goals. However, for those looking to begin improving their protein consumption, we recommend these Dietitian-approved tips!
- Calculate your approximate protein requirements: An exact calculation of specific protein requirements involves a determination of one's lean mass via body composition tests like a DEXA scan, skin calliper testing, or estimation of body fat percentage. Since these assessment tools are not readily accessible to most individuals, you can instead estimate your daily protein requirement in grams by multiplying your current weight in kilograms by 1.6-2.2 (5). For example: If you weight 150 pounds (68.2 kg) your protein requirements in grams would be between 109-150 grams per day. Depending on your body fat percentage and fat free mass, this simple equation may over- or under-estimate your protein requirements. Working one-on-one with a Registered Dietitian is a reliable way to identify and plan for sufficient protein intake in order to help you meet your body recomposition goals.
- Identify protein-rich foods you enjoy: Consuming adequate protein will be difficult if you do not have access to high protein foods that you genuinely love. Our team of Registered Dietitians can help you find protein sources that meet your taste preferences, budget, and personal values (eg. vegan or vegetarian). If you are looking for protein-rich food ideas, download our free grocery list here.
- Consider whether a protein supplement is beneficial for you: Protein supplements (eg. protein powder) may be used as a means to increase daily dietary protein intake as well as a tool for maximizing muscle protein synthesis (6). While protein supplements are not necessary to ingest adequate protein, many clients find that protein powder and bars are a tasty and efficient way to increase their total protein intake. For example, you might try adding protein powder to overnight oats, smoothies, or bars.
- Discussion on how to approach protein intake (eg. if yu are new to nutrition simply adding protein to meals and snacks will be an appropriate first step. If you are more advanced in your nutrition knowledge and/or looking to achieve a lower body fat percentage more precision and accuracy with protein requirements may be necessary (for example: food tracking). As dietitian, our role is to access where you are at and the most appropriate next step or tool for your body recomposition goals.
Ensuring a progressive resistance training program paired with adequate protein intake is an important first step for increasing the likelihood of building muscle tissue. If you are looking for support in ensuring you are meeting your protein requirements, we recommend reaching out to a Registered Dietitian for a customized plan and guidance.
3. CONSIDER ENERGY BALANCE (aka: eat enough!)
A strict focus on requiring caloric surplus in order to gain muscle (ie., 'bulking') is an outdated mindset that if often not appropriate for sustainable body recomposition. By contrast, research has shown that you can be consuming maintenance calories or be hypocaloric (ie., in a calorie deficit), build muscle, and lose body fat if your protein intake is adequate (7). There are many factors to consider when determining your personal energy requirements, which is why we recommend working with a Registered Dietitian for customized support. Some considerations when it comes to energy (ie., calorie) intake for body recomposition include:
- Your current body fat percentage: Higher levels of body fat may impact the magnitude of body recomposition because these fat stores can provide endogenous energy to support muscle mass accrual. For this reason, individuals at a higher body fat percentage could be in a caloric deficit and build muscle while a leaner individual may benefit from being in a caloric surplus to ensure more exogenous energy (ie., energy through diet) to build muscle.
- Determining maintenance calories: While those with a higher body fat percentage may benefit from a slight caloric deficit and those with a lower body fat percentage may benefit from slight caloric surplus, we find most of our clients experience sustainable recomposition when their energy intake matches their energy expenditure. When you consume enough energy each day, your muscles will have access to the nutrition they need to recover and you'll obtain the energy you need to maximize your efforts in the gym!
- Tracking caloric intake: We find that many clients will benefit from a period of food/caloric tracking to ensure they are meeting their energy needs and consuming enough protein to build muscle. After learning about their personal protein requirements and energy needs, we find most clients can easily transition to a non-tracking approach using their nutrition knowledge and hunger/fullness cues to guide their intake. Some of our clients prefer a combined approach where they periodically track their intake to ensure their energy and protein requirements are consistently met. Note: For some people, monitoring variables like protein and caloric intake can negatively compromise their relationship with food. There are ways to monitor intake to ensure you are eating enough protein and calories to support your training without the external feedback of calorie or macronutrient tracking! If you experience negative side effects from food tracking, we highly recommend reaching out to a trusted healthcare professional like a Registered Dietitian and/or psychologist for support.
4. GET ENOUGH SLEEP
There are many considerations for optimizing your recovery from training to facilitate body recomposition. For example, hydration, mobility, stress management, and others. While these are important considerations, if we were to choose our top recovery modality (aside from nutrition) it would most definitely be sleep.
Prioritizing sleep quality and quantity is an additional variable that can significantly impact changes in performance, recovery, and body composition. Sleep deprivation is associated with negative hormonal adaptations – leading to an increase in cortisol, glucose, and insulin, as well as a decrease in testosterone and growth hormone (8, 9 ). This dysregulation seems to create an “anti” body recomposition environment, wherein building muscle mass and losing fat mass is less likely (10).
As Dietitians, we also find that low sleep reduces our clients' desire to exercise (or train with intensity) and tends to effect appetite in a way that does not support body recomposition efforts. For example, it has been found that sleep deprivation leads to over-eating and a decreased intake of protein-rich foods (11).
5. BE PATIENT & CONSISTENT
Building muscle (and losing body fat) takes time – this is why as Registered Dietitians we believe that it is crucial to find a style of eating and training that you enjoy and can stick with long term! While patience will be required to reach your body recomposition goals, loving the way you eat and train will help you better enjoy each step of the journey. Don't forget that there are many ways to approach resistance training and consuming a high protein diet – it can take time and experimentation to establish a regime that works for you! Those looking for education, support, and individualized guidance on this journey are encouraged to consider participation in our Comprehensive Nutrition Coaching program.
As Registered Dietitians, we have found that adopting a resistance training regime, ensuring an adequate protein and caloric intake, obtaining appropriate sleep, and being patience are the top five habits that elicit body recomposition results. However, there are additional factors that can increase your rate of progress, such as meeting essential omega-3 fatty acids and micronutrient requirements, supplementation (eg. creatine), and the management of cortisol (stress) levels (12, 13).
While an altered physique is one outcome of evidenced-based training and nutrition strategies, we encourage you to consider additional benefits that may motivate you to train and fuel your body. The general benefits of strength training for both men and women include an increase in bone mass and lean mass, as well as improved cardiovascular fitness, strength, and an enhanced sense of wellbeing (14, 15).
In this article we discussed key recommendations to better achieve body recomposition (ie., building muscle and losing body fat). Practical strategies for supporting body recomposition include:
- Adopting a resistance training regime with progressive overload at least three times per week
- Consuming adequate protein for muscle protein synthesis (ie., 1.6-2.2g/kg of protein per day)
- Consuming enough total energy (ie., calories) relative to your body fat percentage and personal requirements
- Prioritizing sleep to optimize the hormonal environment that impacts muscle protein synthesis
- Being patient and adopting a routine you enjoy (and can stick with!) as building muscle takes time
At all stages of this process, Registered Dietitians like those at Vitality Nutrition can be an important source of education, support, and professional guidance. Contact us to learn more about getting started on your body recomposition goal with the assistance of a professional Dietitian today!
If you'd like to listen to this content, we recorded a Podcast which you can find here.
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