How many of us are happy with our bodies? There is some serious pressure from the media and our culture in general to manipulate our current bodies. In the fitness community, a common desire is to gain more muscle while losing more fat. We know that muscle is a good thing; it speeds up our metabolisms, contributes to a toned body and can help with athletic performance. Body fat, on the other hand, is frowned upon, even though it is a normal part of body distribution.
Some body fat is essential, and it does have purpose. Body fat serves as a store of energy for us. So, if we were to experience a famine or a long period without food, we could use some of those stores to keep our bodies alive and functioning. Body fat also provides insulation for tissues and organs and serves as a carrier of some vitamins for metabolism.
Your body composition thereby refers to the distribution and amount of fat and fat-free mass on and in your body. Fat-free mass refers to everything that’s not fat, including muscle, organs, bones and fluid.
What is Body Recomposition?
Body recomposition refers to the process of manipulating body fat and muscle mass. It can be used by athletes and non-athletes alike. Also known as “recomp,” body recomposition is less about weight, but instead, focuses on changing your body’s ratio of fat to muscle. In other words, it is reforming your body in a new way, hence “recomposition.” The goal is to gain more fat-free lean muscle mass, which has many positive health benefits, including an increased metabolism, increased strength, improved bone health, a reduced risk of injury, and more.
Since body recomposition is not necessarily about weight loss, those engaging in recomposition techniques may not see a change in weight. However, gaining muscle and losing fat provides many other benefits.
“If body recomposition is something you are considering and don’t know where to start, it is recommended to begin by working with a certified trainer or physical therapist,” says Dr. Scott Burbank, of OrthoCarolina. “There are many benefits to safe exercise as we age. A professional can help you determine your specific strengths and weaknesses, and tailor an appropriate long-term program.”
How Do You Do It?
Body recomposition techniques are referred to as more of a lifestyle and less of a diet. According to researchers, there is no set protocol for how to engage in body recomposition. Most methods include a combination of cardiovascular exercise and strength training. Strength training, if performed in a careful, well-thought out manner, is especially necessary to more seriously alter body composition. It’s important to note that a recomposition plan will look different for each person. Someone who is preparing for a competition or training for an event will have different needs than someone looking to increase muscle mass or stay healthy.
Dr. Burbank cautions against just researching online and trying it on your own, emphasizing the importance of addressing individual weaknesses. “Musculoskeletal preservation while maintaining an active lifestyle can be challenging,” he adds. “You want to make sure you’re working with a professional who understands body recomposition and can coach you on a safe and personally tailored program.”
A review of the research found that including resistance and strength training twice per week was effective at maximizing muscle growth, compared to training once per week. Common strength building exercises include squats, pushups, bench presses and leg presses. Combining strength training with cardiovascular exercises, like high intensity interval training, seems to be the ideal way to increase muscle mass and strength, while simultaneously decreasing fat mass.
Diet Matters, Too
There is equal importance in focusing both on exercise and diet when trying to gain muscle mass and reduce fat mass. Eating foods higher in protein (especially those higher in the branched chain amino acid, leucine) is important. Whey protein powder, eggs, fish, dairy, chicken, beef, nuts and beans are great options to help support muscle growth.
It’s wise to spread these protein foods out evenly throughout the day, aiming for 20-30 grams of protein at each meal and 10-15 grams at each snack. Research shows that consuming 0.7 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight (about 1.6-2.2 g/kg) produced the best results for maximizing muscle gain and strength. Including healthy fats and complex carbohydrates is important as well.
Remember that weight in and of itself may not be the best indicator of success, since there may be a simultaneous gain in muscle while losing fat.
In terms of tracking results or progress, you can measure body fat and muscle changes without expensive, foreign equipment. Skinfold calipers can measure body fat changes. You can use a simple tape measure to measure inch changes in waist circumference, hips, arms, legs and chest.
Body recomposition can be a great way to help aging and maintain a strong structure if done properly and with guidance.
“We really recommend easing into an independent strengthening and training program,” Dr. Burbank reiterates. “This is critical to help avoid injury and the progression of degenerative processes, like arthritis.”
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Sarah is a Registered Dietitian, writer, blogger, runner and recipe developer in the Lake Norman area. She’s also a new mom to a baby girl, and is still transitioning to the steep learning curve of first time motherhood. She writes about nutrition, running and healthy recipes on her blog, Bucket List Tummy. To see what she’s up to or find her checking things off her bucket list, follow her on instagram – @bucketlisttummy_rd.