April 16, 2024/Weight Loss

What To Know About Body Recomposition

This fitness plan can work as a realistic, holistic approach to a healthier you

person lifting weights in a gym with a spotter behind them

Dieting and exercise trends come and go (and frankly, some should just go away). We know fad diets are generally a bad idea, and many exercise trends can be overwhelming, confusing or even downright damaging if done impulsively or without preparation or guidance.


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So, what’s with this new one, body recomposition?

Body recomposition, or “recomping,” is a hot topic right now. Once mostly favored by weightlifters and bodybuilders who embraced it to lose fat and gain muscle simultaneously, the idea is going mainstream.

“It’s true — it’s being talked about a lot now, but if you step back a bit and don’t get caught up in the term ‘body recomposition,’ it’s not entirely new and it can be a beneficial, healthy lifestyle approach,” says psychologist, registered dietitian and clinical exercise physiologist David Creel, PhD.

“Whether you call it body recomposition or not, following a sensible eating and exercise routine can be beneficial for anyone, once they account for their own particular needs.”

In other words, body recomposition isn’t just for bodybuilders anymore. And despite the trendy and maybe misleading name, it can be an effective lifestyle and fitness approach for many of us.

What exactly is body recomposition?

The term “body recomposition” first appeared within the fitness and bodybuilding communities. It describes the process of using targeted exercise and diet to transform your body shape or physique — shedding fat and building muscle — at the same time.

In those circles, the technique promised showy results in a shorter time than traditional bodybuilding or “sculpting.” Traditionally, an athlete would bulk up first with heavy weight or resistance workouts and take in maximum calories, then switch to a low-calorie diet to shed the fat and reveal the muscle beneath.

Achieving both fat loss and muscle increase at the same time was considered the “holy grail” of bodybuilding. Some scoffed at the idea as impossible because, in simple terms, you need more calories to build muscle and fewer to lose fat — so how could you do both at the same time?

But Dr. Creel says the overall approach of body recomposition can be in line with good, solid advice for living healthy when it strikes a balance between appropriate exercise and nutrition strategies.

“In the past, I worked with a lot of athletes wanting to simultaneously gain muscle and lose fat, but we never had a word for it,” Dr. Creel says. “Now, the term and concept are gaining popularity beyond bodybuilders and athletes. Although the idea of overhauling your body sounds appealing, it’s important not to get lured into programs that over-promise. There is no simple fix or silver bullet here.”


In fact, some research indicates that “despite the zeitgeist that well-trained individuals cannot gain muscle mass and lose fat simultaneously, there have been many chronic randomized controlled trials conducted in resistance-trained individuals that have demonstrated body recomposition.”

In other words, all hype aside, it can work.

How can I get started with body recomposition?

Sometimes lost in the chatter about body recomposition is the fact that if you plan on tracking your recomposition journey, you first need to know a bit more about your current body composition — how much fat and muscle you have. (On the other hand, if you’re simply aiming for an integrated approach and you’re not fixated on the data, you can just do the work of exercising and eating smart.)

We’re not just talking BMI here either. Body mass index, or BMI, is simply an estimate of what an average person should weigh based on their height. (To calculate your BMI, you multiply your weight in pounds by height in inches squared — and then multiply by a conversion factor of 703.)

But that’s not enough information to reveal body composition. To get an accurate estimate of how much muscle and fat you have, you’ll need some help — either from your medical provider or from a commercial product.

The “gold standard” for determining body composition used to be weighing people underwater, Dr. Creel says. But today, providers may choose from among a variety of methods — from MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to a DEXA scan (bone density test) to bioelectrical impedance (measuring the difference in electrical conductivity between the body’s muscle and fat tissue).

Is there a body recomposition workout and diet plan?

Like any lifestyle change, getting into body recomposition begins with a commitment — and continues and succeeds through discipline and balance. But if you’re looking to get into body recomposition as a lifestyle change, you’ve first got to consider your exercise routine and your diet.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all workout plan for body recomposition any more than there is a universal workout plan for everybody.

Dr. Creel notes that we still have a lot to learn about the things that influence these simultaneous changes, but there are some basic principles to follow.

“If we’re going to stick to the ‘body recomposition’ model, strength training is essential,” he says. “Adding some additional cardio and flexibility can help with overall fitness and may contribute to burning more calories than consumed.”


Further, depending on the amount of calories burned with exercise, people may also want to moderately decrease calories in their diet while keeping protein levels higher.

“That’s the big picture, but things such as age, sex, training status and current body composition may impact results,” he adds.

But in any case, Dr. Creel says, “Something is better than nothing” and a balanced fitness program can benefit anyone — whether you call it body recomposition or not.

“Certainly a shift in body composition will be noticed by someone who says their clothes are fitting differently, or they are able to walk farther than they could a week or two earlier,” he says. “Without any official measurement at all, I’d say that’s a victory and I’d encourage them to celebrate that.”

Sample body recomposition workout and diet plan

While it’s best to develop a plan specific to you with your provider, a variety of body recomposition trainers provide similar approaches and offer some suggestions, including:

Strength training
  • Use weight lifting to target major muscle groups such as chest, back, legs, shoulders and arms two to three times a week. Exercises could include squats, deadlifts, bench presses, rows, and overhead presses. (If you’re more into the bodybuilding side of recomping, you’re going to want to add more exercises focused on specific muscle groups, Dr. Creel says.)
  • Try to do three sets of eight to 12 repetitions per set and lift a weight that challenges you but allows you to maintain good form. Gradually increase weight as you get stronger.
  • Allow 48 hours of rest between weightlifting workouts.
Cardiovascular workouts
  • Do cardio three to five times a week, aiming for a total of either 75 minutes of intense activity or 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise.
  • Workouts could include anything from jogging to brisk walking to cycling, swimming or even group fitness classes.
  • A great option is high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, alternating short bursts of intense exercise with brief recovery periods.


Flexibility and mobility training

But in the end, it also should be fun — or at least close to it. “It’s important to remember to add workouts that are realistic and enjoyable,” Dr. Creel encourages. “It does not matter how effective a routine might be if a person gets burned out, overwhelmed or simply quits because they don’t find it enjoyable.”

A ‘cycling’ diet
  • Cycling means that you increase your calories in specific ways on training days and decrease them in a targeted way on off days. Simply put, you eat more calories and carbs on days you work out than you do on days you don’t. And be sure to eat whole, unprocessed foods as much as you can.
  • You can track and manage a cycling diet by focusing on your intake of macronutrients, or macros — the main nutrients found in food that come from proteins, fats and carbohydrates — and focusing primarily on proteins.
  • In general, for someone weighing 165 lbs., you might aim for 110 to 150 grams daily of protein from lean meat, fish, eggs and Greek yogurt. More precise goals should be worked out with your provider.
  • As for carbs, look to fruits, veggies, brown rice, whole wheat pasta or quinoa for carbs. For healthy fats, turn to nuts, seeds, avocados and even more fish.
  • Finally, it’s also important to not fall into too much of a calorie deficit. You’ll still need energy from your food to support your workouts. A slight deficit — burning more calories than you take in — is OK because it supports fat loss and may not interfere with muscle building.

How long will body recomposition take?

This may be a commonly asked question for any exercise or diet plan, but it’s not the right question, experts say.


“This isn’t a destination you’re trying to get to, it’s more of a lifelong practice,” Dr. Creel adds. “You can’t think you’re going to somehow shift your weight around by losing fat and gaining muscle and then be done with it. You’ve got to make it part of your life going forward.”

As for how long you’re likely to see initial effects from doing recomping, the timeline is going to depend as much on your personal factors — your genetics, your body composition at the start, and your existing exercise, diet and resting habits.

In many cases, it may take weeks to months for effects to become noticeable, but Dr. Creel encourages you to “celebrate the small victories” along the way. Maybe you’re sleeping a bit better, your mood is improving, you have more energy, or your pants fit even the slightest bit differently — even if nothing is yet showing up on the scale.

“It’s more important to approach this as a long-term lifestyle change and not a quick fix,” he states. “Sticking with it and staying with a balanced workout and nutrition are key to just feeling better overall. That is something you might notice even sooner than any change in your physique.”

Is body recomposition safe?

It can be, Dr. Creel says — but like any workout and diet plan, it also may not work out perfectly, or at all, for some people. Others might overemphasize certain parts to “get ripped.”

“But for me as a healthcare professional who is interested in health and function, body composition is really just one marker of health — not the whole story,” he continues. “Although our body shape and size are part of who we are, our physical and mental health impact our quality of life at a much deeper level.”

He adds that “healthy people naturally have different shapes, and even though having excess weight increases the risk of conditions like diabetes and heart disease, regular physical activity helps offset these risks. In the same vein, being lean and muscular doesn’t guarantee optimal health.”

Still, focusing on body recomposition as a lifestyle and maintenance plan and building a healthier relationship with food and exercise — rather than trying for quick weight loss or only bulking up — is a far better way to be sure you’re doing the right things to keep your mind and body healthy and happy.

Seen in that way, Dr. Creel notes that body recomposition can be a holistic approach to fitness that prioritizes overall health and well-being.

Learn more about our editorial process.

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Body Mass Index (BMI)

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