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Recomping 101: How to Gain Muscle and Lose Fat at the Same Time

Updated: Aug 19, 2023


woman with dark brown skin is wearing leggings and a sports bra. she has one had on her hip and in the other hand she's doing a biceps curl with a dumbbell. Her hair is thick, wavy, and past her shoulders in length.

Wondering how to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time? The notion of recomping, which refers to transforming your body by losing fat and gaining muscle simultaneously, is becoming increasingly popular. But, how do you do it? Well, it's not that simple.


  • Are you new to weight training or returning after an extended break? At these times, your body is keen to build muscle, and if you're on a diet, it will use your fat reserves for energy. As you advance and gain more muscle, it becomes tougher to build more muscle, lessening the use of fat stores.

  • Overweight or obese? If you're in these categories, your body doesn't react to a calorie deficit the way leaner bodies do. You might be able to gain some muscle while losing fat.

  • Using anabolic steroids or performance-enhancing drugs? These can enable simultaneous muscle gain and fat loss BUT I DO NOT RECOMMEND THEM.


Remember, though, if you've been working out consistently for a while, recomping isn't as efficient—it results in slower muscle gain and fat loss.

White woman with blonde hair is chalking her hands and preparing to lift a barbell. She's wearing gym shorts and a sports bra.

Recent studies suggest that a calorie deficit might slow down your ability to gain lean muscle. That doesn't mean you can't gain muscle while on a diet, but you might not gain as much as you would with a calorie surplus.


Focusing on One Fitness Goal at a Time

Often, we're caught in the middle of two goals—building muscle and losing fat—only to end up going around in circles. This might involve starting to gain muscle, feeling uncomfortable after a few weeks and switching to a fat loss phase, then feeling too lean and switching back to gaining muscle. This fitness seesaw doesn't help our progress.


Instead, try setting one goal at a time. Have a muscle gain phase, followed by a fat loss phase to 'clean up.' This approach tends to bring more satisfying results. As you advance in your fitness journey, recomping becomes trickier.


Consider this: if you're starting with a low body fat percentage and want to gain a significant amount of muscle, it's unlikely recomping alone will get you there. You typically need extended phases of a focused calorie surplus.


How to Gain Muscle and Lose Fat at the Same Time: The Calorie Surplus Sweet Spot

The exact amount of surplus you need depends on your training experience.


New to training? Your body uses a lot of energy to build muscle, so you can probably handle a larger calorie surplus—perhaps 15-20% above your maintenance calories. For a maintenance calorie intake of 2000 calories, this means an extra 300-400 calories. That translates to 75-100 grams of extra carbohydrates or protein.


Here's an example meal with about 25 grams each of carbohydrates and protein (keeping in mind that these are approximations):


Grilled Chicken Salad

Grilled chicken breast (around 100g): ~25g protein

Mixed salad greens (2 cups): <1g carbohydrate

Cherry tomatoes (1/2 cup): ~3g carbohydrates

Cucumber (1/2 cup): ~2g carbohydrates

Red bell pepper (1/2 cup): ~3g carbohydrates

Quinoa (1/4 cup, uncooked): ~17g carbohydrates

Total: Approximately 25g protein and 25g carbohydrates


Here's another tasty meal idea with these metrics in mind:


Greek Yogurt with Fruit and Nuts

Greek yogurt (non-fat, 1 cup): ~20g protein

Chia seeds (1 tablespoon): ~2g protein, 5g carbohydrates

Almonds (10 almonds): ~3g protein, 3g carbohydrates

A medium apple: 0g protein, ~25g carbohydrates

Total: Approximately 25g protein and 33g carbohydrates


Remember, it's also essential to include healthy fats in your diet for overall balance. These meal examples don't account for the small amounts of fats in these foods, which will also contribute to your total caloric intake.


If you're an advanced trainee, or if you're cautious about gaining too much weight while trying to add muscle, a smaller surplus of 5-10% should be adequate.

In this case, for a maintenance calorie intake of 2000 calories, you'd need an extra 100-200 calories per day. This translates to 25-50 grams of extra carbohydrates or protein each day. Or you could have a snack that's roughly 15 grams of carbs and 15 grams of protein. It really isn't that much.


High Protein Yogurt with Berries and Almonds

High Protein Greek Yogurt (200g): Roughly 15g protein, 7g carbohydrates

Blueberries (1/2 cup): Roughly 1g protein, 10g carbohydrates

Almonds (10 pieces): Roughly 2g protein, 2g carbohydrates

Total: Roughly 18g protein, 19g carbohydrates, approx. 162 calories


This snack has a little more than 15 grams of protein and carbs, but it's close, and it's a healthy, balanced option.


Protein Smoothie

Protein Powder (1/2-the 1 scoop, depending on the brand): Roughly 15g protein, 2g carbohydrates

Banana (half of a medium): Roughly 1g protein, 13g carbohydrates

Almond Milk (1 cup, unsweetened): Roughly 1g protein, 1g carbohydrates

Total: Roughly 17g protein, 16g carbohydrates, approx. 164 calories


These mini-meal or snack ideas stay within the 100-200 calorie range you're aiming for. You can adjust the quantities to better suit your personal needs and preferences. Remember, the nutritional value of these foods can vary based on preparation methods and the specific brand or type of food used.


So, there you have it. Gaining muscle while losing fat is a tricky balancing act, but with the right approach and knowledge, it's entirely possible!


These are rough guidelines, and each person's experience may vary.


The bottom line? If you're serious about gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time, a slight caloric surplus is likely your best bet. Remember to be patient and focus on one goal at a time. Happy training! 🤍


If you're curious about protein powders but are uncertain about which brands to try, I've listed ConsumerLab's Top Picks below plus one of my favorites. It's crucial to remember that the supplement industry is not strictly regulated. Therefore, relying on third-party evaluations to ensure the product contents match their label claims is essential.


Here are some highly-rated options:



One of my favorites is True Nutrition. I love that you're able to build your own protein based on the things you value.

 

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