Burning fat without losing muscle—as impossible as it sounds?
Not really. There are two kinds of losses in the fitness universe that people strive for. The first is weight loss. The second is fat loss.
You may be thinking that these are both the same thing, but that is where you are mistaken and why you haven’t figured out how to put on muscle while burning fat. Today, we’re going to guide you through body recomposition, otherwise known as losing fat but not weight.
Why Body Recomposition is Tricky
Everyone’s natural body composition is different.
Some people naturally carry more fat than muscle. Others have a challenge with putting on both lean body mass and fat.
The other factor is “protein biosynthesis,” a process where the cells build protein.
This is a part of the overall body maintenance that we unknowingly go through every single day.
This is why the average person who eats their maintenance level of calories and does just enough exercise to keep their current weight and fitness level does not see much fluctuation between fat and muscle.
For the person training hard, however, workouts damage the muscle fibers, and so the process of protein synthesis gets a bit more demanding.
Since the body needs more cells to heal these muscles, the muscles will actually get bigger. Therefore, you need to continuously overload the muscles to keep building more muscle. Otherwise, your body adapts to the work and you plateau.
Now you know why everyone is always telling you to knock back a protein shake after going heavy with the weights, because the more demand you put on your body, the more protein you need in your diet.
But therein lies the problem with “losing fat and gaining muscle.” You need a calorie deficit to lose weight. When you cut calories to burn fat, the body will ultimately reduce overall anabolic hormone levels and the rate of protein biosynthesis. Uh oh.
How Does Recomposition Work Then?
The key is finding balance between your calorie deficit, nutrition, and workout load.
It starts with figuring out your natural body composition. Which do you gain more easily, fat or muscle? Where do you gain that muscle? Also, take into consideration how old you are and if you have worked out hard in the past.
The body’s natural composition alters as you age, and having previous experience with gaining muscle means you might not see gains as quickly as a newbie would.
Once you have figured these integral parts out, you can then begin applying the following tips for losing fat and gaining muscle simultaneously:
Focus on Heavy Compound Lifting
Myth busting first: high volume, medium weight is not ideal for shredding muscle. You’re only working endurance, which does nothing in adding muscle to your body’s frame.
What you need are targeted compound (also called “complex”) exercises that hit the targeted muscle groups that gain muscle quickly.
The more parts of the body you work in one shot, the more you can progressively overload the system.
Examples of compound exercises include the squat, deadlift, bench press, and military press. Isolated exercises like the bicep curl and side lateral raise are not going to put on as much muscle mass.
Now, we said “heavy compound lifting.” What do we mean by that? You need to emphasize heavy weights usually 80% of your 1RM, which is usually 4-6 or 5-7 reps per set (or about 60-80 reps per muscle group per week). In other words, aim for moderate volume, high intensity.
If you need some workout ideas, use guides that involve compound chest exercises and shoulder exercises to help you gain lean muscle mass.
Checkout this video from Buff Dudes on compound exercises:
Avoid Excessive Steady State Cardio
Sure, cardio burns calories, but it also does nothing more to the muscle fibers aside from exhausting them.
Steady state cardio, like jogging on a treadmill for 30 minutes at a moderate pace, actually cuts into your muscle recovery by wearing the ligaments, tendons, and joints. Any longer than 30 minutes and your muscles may actually catabolize.
Do HIIT Cardio Instead
On the flip side of steady state cardio is high intensity interval training, also known as HIIT.
This type of cardio actually works wonders for body recomposition, because HIIT has been proven to not only accelerate muscle growth, but it also increases insulin sensitivity in the muscles, increases resting metabolic rate, and causes significant spikes in growth hormone levels.
All of that factors into less fat and more muscle.
However, you don’t want to do too much HIIT either. Limit your sessions to 2-3 times a week, no longer than 30 minutes per session. That will be enough to help melt some fat and redefine your physique.
Get Pre- and Post-Workout Nutrition on Point
Food is fuel. It is that simple.
You have to maintain a balanced diet that not only prioritizes your recovery but also giving your body the necessary vitamins and nutrients to crush whatever workout comes your way.
You should be eating the appropriate amount of protein needed to aid in protein synthesis as well as getting enough carbohydrates to give you energy for a HIIT session.
Do Not Overly Reduce Calories
Yes, you need a calorie deficit to burn fat, but if you reduce those calories too much, then your body is going to go into starvation mode.
Doing so is a detriment to your muscles, which provide the body more immediate energy and is easier to break down than fat.
A moderate deficit, which is about 20% below your body’s needed maintenance level of calories is going to be enough to keep you energized and healthy without compromising your system.
There you have it, the clean-cut truth about body recomposition.
It is not going to be easy, and you are going to have to monitor your progress to make sure you are working as efficiently as possible.
If you have the motivation, though, you can do anything you set your mind to.
Eat clean, nutritionally balanced meals, use high weight, low volume, and avoid steady-state cardio. By following the guidelines laid out for you, you’ll start seeing more muscles develop and eventually achieve your desired look.