Body recomposition refers to the process of building muscle mass and dropping body fat simultaneously. This is obviously ideal for most, if not all, clients that we work with. Changing that ratio of lean body mass to body fat is not only beneficial for long term health and fitness levels, but achieving body recomposition over time is especially important for physique competitors as well. The overall goal for physique athletes is to drop body fat and maintain/build muscle mass in order to present their best physique on stage aesthetically.
Body recomposition is relatively easier to achieve for the untrained, novice trainees, or overweight/obese populations. With that said, body recomposition is also commonly thought to be possible exclusively for these populations, and not the more experienced and/or advanced trainees.
There is a significant amount of evidence suggesting otherwise, showing that this process is well within reach for resistance-trained individuals as well.
There are two primary drivers for these adaptations to occur: progressive resistance training (…duh) combined with evidence-based nutritional strategies. This isn’t surprising as a combination of a solid training program and effective nutritional interventions are shown to be highly beneficial, no matter the client’s level of experience.
Now to take a step back really quick – when first starting out (the novice/untrained), very little habit change goes a long way. Literally any form of consistency within the diet or activity can show positive changes for those who had no structure or guidance prior.
Now taking this point to resistance-trained and experienced individuals, these variables still continue to be important. Nothing has changed there – we still need proper dietary strategies and progressive resistance-training/solid training principles in order to set ourselves up best for desirable physique changes.
Physique Athletes In-Season
Most of the current literature on physique athletes is comprised of case studies done during contest preparation (i.e. aggressive dietary restriction, low body fat, high expenditure, negative hormonal/metabolic adaptations, and poor sleep). This, in turn, makes body recomposition hard to achieve due to this state and the demands it places on the athletes.
Nutritional Strategies and Training
As we know, diet and training are both important factors; they’re even more impactful once combined with one another. Various studies show us that resistance training coupled with evidence-based nutritional strategies, such as manipulating protein intake (by raising it or hitting a minimum amount), looking at energy balance, and nutrient timing produce favorable changes to body composition, performance, and overall recovery.
The idea that more advanced trainees are no longer able to achieve body recomposition can possibly stem from simply forgetting what other variables are important for us to consider. What other things do we have to keep an eye on to ensure we’re making progress and optimizing everything that we’re already doing? What can hinder that progress?
Diet and training are just the beginning. Shocker.
In The Details
Looking at resistance-trained individuals is good in a sense that they already have those bigger habits established. They have no issue training, challenging themselves with the weights, and keeping an eye on their diet and nutritional approaches. With that said, however, this is also where smaller things will add up.
Non-training and diet-related variables also influence our ability and rate of achieving body recomposition over time. These smaller details in one’s day/week can easily be overlooked because they seem so small in comparison to other, larger factors we often spend so much time looking after. This makes them even more likely to add up over time – for the good or bad. Let’s look at a few of them:
Sleep, Stress, and Metabolism
This is not just the number of hours per night, either. Are you getting restful, quality sleep? Sleep restriction has been shown to influence food cravings and hunger through increasing the likelihood of overeating. In addition to this, under equated caloric deficits, sleep-deprived individuals lost more FFM than their rested counterparts.
In addition to this, less sleep can then bleed into other areas in our lives like stress and negative hormonal adaptations. Increased cortisol levels, glucose, and insulin are all things that make achieving body recomposition, or gaining muscle mass and losing body fat, much harder or not likely to occur at all. The authors describe this as an, “’anti’ body recomposition environment,” essentially.
Setting a foundation from the start and looking at the details of our current lifestyles is essential. This makes it so that when novice/untrained people become beginner trainees, then intermediate, and even more advanced, they already have the tools and habits needed to optimize every aspect of what they’re doing.
Based on the literature, it’s clear that body recomposition is very possible for those who are resistance trained. Maintaining a progressive training program, tracking progress in a variety of ways, consuming a high protein diet, and focusing on other lifestyle factors such as sleep will all positively influence your body composition and your ability to continue making those changes.
Barakat, C., Escalante, G., Pearson, J., Campbell, B., De Souza, E. Body recomposition: can trained individuals build muscle and lose fat at the same time? Strength and Conditioning Journal. 2020 DOI: 10.1519