What are your physical fitness goals right now? If you’re anything like most people who are on a fitness journey, you’re probably aiming to lose some weight.
But let’s take your weight out of that equation for a second. How do you want to feel when you reach the peak of your fitness goal? Do you want to look leaner, get rid of excess fat, and feel stronger and fitter? Do you want to optimize your health by taking care of your body?
If so, you might be able to reach your end game by switching your focus towards body recomposition instead.
Body recomposition is a different way to approach physical fitness. Setting recomposition goals can place you on the path to better overall health and physical condition—no scale required.
What Is Body Recomposition?
Body recomposition is a fitness goal that focuses on optimizing your body composition. Rather than setting goals based on your body weight, body recomposition goals look at muscle and fat, the two main contributors to that weight, and how they compare to each other.
For most people, body recomposition goals include not only cutting excess fat but also building more muscle, all at the same time.
So beyond just knowing your body weight, you would be checking other factors like your:
Body Fat Mass, or the amount of fatty tissue in your body
Lean Body Mass (a.k.a. Fat-Free Mass), which is the fat-free contributor to your body weight, including your Skeletal Muscle Mass
and Percent Body Fat, or how your Body Fat Mass and Lean Body Mass compare to each other
Someone focused on body recomposition might set their goals around reaching certain body composition milestones, like minimizing their body fat percentage and increasing their muscle mass, rather than focusing on weight alone.
Compared to weighing yourself, you might start seeing results by taking body measurements since muscle tissue is denser than fat, and body recomposition progress does not necessarily reflect on the scale.
Benefits of Body Recomposition vs. Weight Loss
So what are the benefits of emphasizing body recomposition rather than weight loss? Focusing on changing the composition of your body rather than weight loss for its own sake is an excellent way to get healthier physically and mentally.
More Muscle Mass = Stronger, Healthier Body
Some people shy away from building muscle while they’re trying to lose weight because it is denser than fat, which can show on the scale as a weight “plateau” or even a weight gain.
However, muscle mass is vital for reaching your aesthetic fitness goals and keeping you healthy while you’re doing it. Not only does training your muscles help you build strength, which can be used both in and out of the gym, but it also helps you increase your caloric burn for the day because muscle tissue uses more energy to maintain.
It’s also crucial to maintain muscle mass as you age since studies have shown that having more muscle mass protects you from certain diseases like cancer and is even linked to a longer lifespan.
So body recomposition requires some strength training, as opposed to the “traditional” weight loss-focused methods of approaching fitness, where you may lose muscle from caloric deficits for the sake of hitting your goal weight.
Less Fat Tissue = Less Risk For Disease
When you say you want to lose weight, you’re more often than not talking about losing excess body fat.
Excess body fat can cause inflammatory responses that lead to a host of metabolic and chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Excess fat can also affect the structure of your body and come with conditions like sleep apnea and gastrointestinal reflux disease.
As opposed to general weight loss, body recomposition puts much more focus on getting rid of excess body fat rather than losing fat and muscle at the same time. By focusing on body recomposition, you’re getting to the root of the problem.
Achieve a True Healthy Body
Weight alone doesn’t tell you the whole story about your health. When many people are ready for a physical change, their initial goals are centered around reaching a healthy or “ideal” weight, and they usually base that off of their Body Mass Index (BMI).
While BMI can give you an idea of whether you’re in the healthy weight range for your height, it doesn’t give you the full story about how healthy your body is. BMI doesn’t consider what contributes to that weight, which can shield some underlying health issues.
For example, some people can be “skinny fat,” meaning that they are within their normal BMI range but still have too much fat tissue. Individuals who fall under this category are at risk for obesity-related health issues like cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes, even though their scale may indicate a healthy weight. The opposite can also be true, where athletic people who have a lot of healthy muscle mass can be placed in the “overweight” category, all while their body composition indicates that they are in great physical shape.
Knowing your body composition shows you a better picture of your health. It indicates whether or not your fat tissue, the genuine health risk, is where it should be or not.
Can Lead to a Better Mentality Around Health
Focusing on weight loss isn’t anything new, but focusing purely on weight loss can lead to unhealthy habits and focuses.
Traditional weight loss methods generally mean that you’re cutting your caloric intake, focusing on cardio to bring your net calories down even further. But the focus on calories on their own can lead to extremes, which isn’t good for your health in the long run.
You can’t take shortcuts like starving yourself when it comes to body recomposition—an extreme, restrictive diet isn’t going to help you out here because you need the proper nutrition to build muscle while burning fat.
Body composition goals also mean that you aren’t fixated on your weight alone, which can be a good thing. Progress can also mean building muscle and losing inches, neither of which will show on a traditional, weight-only scale.
Finally, building muscle is a confidence booster because, quite simply, it looks good and can get you closer to your aesthetic fitness goals. So reaching your body recomposition goals is a great way to get to your end game goal without compromising on your physical or mental health in the process.
How To Approach Body Recomposition
Body recomposition comes with the classic question: can I lose weight and build muscle simultaneously?
The answer: Yes, you can—but there is more to consider than traditional weight loss methods.
As with any physique goal, body recomposition happens with a consistent combination of diet and exercise.
Eating For Body Recomposition
To cut fat, you have to be at a caloric deficit. When you eat fewer calories every day than your body uses, it has to start burning through the stored energy in your body, which is found in your fat cells and muscle tissue. If you purely focus on a caloric deficit and do not consider the nutrients you eat, you may lose muscle mass in addition to fat.
However, with body recomposition, you want to preserve muscle mass at the same time, so a caloric deficit on its own isn’t going to cut it. Eating too few calories every day can cause you to lose muscle mass in addition to fat tissue, and it certainly won’t help you build muscle when there aren’t enough calories to spare.
So you want to be at a moderate caloric deficit so that you’re burning fat, but not so much that your muscles don’t have enough fuel. The best way to determine the right number of calories for you would be to find your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), or the number of calories your body burns every day at rest. From there, you can plan out your diet and exercise routine so your net calorie count for the day is slightly below your BMR.
The quality of your diet also matters a lot when it comes to body recomposition.
You need to make sure that you’re eating enough protein every day, especially following a workout. For example, there’s evidence that eating a high-protein diet of 3.4 g/kg of body weight in conjunction with a heavy training program can help you lose more body fat, even at a caloric surplus!
Carbohydrates are an essential nutrient for energy, but they’re also calorie-dense. When eating for fat loss, it’s a good idea to replace low-quality carbohydrates (highly processed, high sugar, low glycemic index) with healthier carbohydrates like from your fruits and vegetables.
These will keep your blood sugar more balanced than simple sugars and provide you with more nutrients like fiber, which are also helpful for losing fat.
Fats are also critical in any meal plan since they can help increase satisfaction when following a diet. However, not all fats are created equal. Choose healthier fats, like olive oil, avocado, and omega-3s, more often than trans and saturated fats, so your body can get the most nutrition.
You’ll also want to make sure that you’re watching the serving sizes since fats are the most calorie-dense macronutrients.
Exercising For Body Recomposition
Traditionally, if you were on a mission to lose weight, you would probably be spending more time doing classic, steady-state cardio workouts like running or biking. It’s a smart approach when your goal is to cut down your net calories for the day, but it’s not always an applicable training regimen if you’re going for muscle growth as well.
Muscle growth, or hypertrophy, occurs when you pair resistance training with an adequate protein intake. When you’re doing resistance-based training (think weightlifting), the repeated contractions start to break down the fibers in your muscles. When you get enough protein in your diet, your body can repair those broken-down microtears by replacing them with more muscle fibers, leading to growth.
Of course, we can’t forget fat loss in the body recomposition equation. To lose fat and build muscle simultaneously, you want a healthy mixture of cardio and resistance training.
The best workout programs are the ones that switch it up to keep your body challenged and working hard. Some of the best exercises to include in your body recomposition training include:
Resistance training – Resistance training using weights, resistance bands, and other forms of resistance is the gold standard for building strong, lean muscles. Research suggests that performing weight-training exercises in multiple sets of 6-12 repetitions is the best way to increase muscle hypertrophy.
You should also switch it up throughout the week, like using supersets and drop sets, to continue challenging your muscles and spurring on growth.
Bodyweight workouts – Don’t underestimate the power of bodyweight workouts in addition to lifting weights. Bodyweight workouts like push-ups and plyometrics use your entire body, including your core, which can lead to more calorie burn while still building muscle.
HIIT workouts – High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has become very popular in recent years because it’s one of the most effective ways to lose fat while gaining muscle. As the name suggests, HIIT workouts incorporate high-intensity movements in intervals to maximize your heart rate for weight loss while still working your muscles for growth.
Compound workouts – Strength-training workouts that use multiple joints at once, like squats and deadlifts, are great for body recomposition because they get your muscles and heart working throughout the movement. You’re using a heavier weight, which means your muscles are working overtime, but you’re also recruiting multiple muscle groups, which leads to a great calorie burn in the process.
As is the case with any fitness program, consistency is key. Ideally, you would work out multiple times a week for the best results when you’re aiming for body recomposition.
However, you also want to make sure that you aren’t skipping your rest days. Even when you’re putting in work during your exercise, your muscles need a period of recovery in order to grow, so make sure that you’re giving your body time to recover after your most intense workouts.
Final Thoughts On Body Recomposition
There’s more to being healthy and fit than falling into your BMI-determined weight range. In many ways, focusing on body recomposition rather than weight loss is a better way to ensure that you’re doing the right things to keep your mind and body healthy and happy. So if you’re sick of staring at the number on the scale every day, consider switching up your goals and measuring your body composition progress instead!