On Body Recomposition
So much of the diet and fitness industry focuses on weight loss. You might get so wrapped up in watching those scale numbers go down that you completely forget where that weight is coming from.
Chances are if you are over-training or under-nourishing, the weight dropping off the scale includes healthy muscle mass. It’s not completely unavoidable to lose muscle mass while dieting, but the goal should be to preserve and build as much muscle mass as possible while shedding fat.
Lyle McDonald (along with Alan Aragon) is known for his expertise on body recomposition, so much so that he runs the site BodyRecomposition.com.
In his article title, “What Does Body Composition Mean?”, McDonald applies two categories to the body composition model for non-research purposes:
Fat Mass: the sum total of all body fat.
Fat Free Mass: everything else, including bone, muscle, organs, minerals, blood, ect.
So, total body weight = Fat Mass + Fat Free Mas
Unless you have a severe protein deficiency, it’s rare for you to lose bone, organs, and blood mass. Water can be considered part of fat free mass, and often athletes lose water mass when in fact they believe they are losing muscle mass.
One of the trickiest things as a figure or body building athlete is to reduce fat percentage while gaining muscle. This holds true for any athlete, or anyone looking to improve body composition.
McDonald analysis this issue in his article, “Reducing Body Fat Percentage While Gaining Muscle.” Below are two different charts posted by McDonald in this article. The first is the impact of muscle gain on body fat percentage, while the second is the impact of fat loss on body fat percentage.
Please note that these charts are based on a male body weight:
Impact of Muscle Gain on BF%
|Muscle Gain||Fat Mass||Total Weight||BF Percentage|
|5 pounds||25 pounds||175 pounds||14.2%|
|10 pounds||25 pounds||180 pounds||13.8%|
|15 pounds||25 pounds||185 pounds||13.5%|
Impact of Fat Loss on BF%
|Fat Loss||Fat Mass||Total Weight||BF Percentage|
|5 pounds||20 pounds||165 pounds||12%|
|10 pounds||15 pounds||160 pounds||9.3%|
|15 pounds||10 pounds||155 pounds||6.4%|
To paraphrase McDonald, it takes roughly 5 pounds of muscle gain to reduce body fat by less than 1%, while losing 5 pounds of fat will reduce it by 3%.
Adding 5 pounds of lean muscle mass takes roughly 5 times longer than losing 5 pounds of fat.
If you are at a maintenance weight, this system works to your advantage and you may want to consider focusing on eating at maintenance. Though building muscle has a lower impact on body fat, eating at maintenance will encourage your body to shed excess pounds of fat while building muscle.
Over the past 2 years, I have consistently improved my body composition while maintaining my weight.
The photos below were taken in May of 2010, before I started strength training with Bret Contreras:
Though I was lean, I still had a decent amount of body fat and could definitely use some lean muscle mass to get on stage as a figure competitor.
Now, fast forward to June 2011. The photos below were taken before I started working with Alan Aragon for nutrition. You can see after implementing Bret’s strength training methods I gained a considerable amount of muscle:
The next photos were taken after working with Alan for 9 weeks to get on stage on August 28, 2011. Not only did I gain muscle, but I also lost an immense amount of body fat:
When viewing these photos how much weight do you think I gained between May of 2010 and August 2011? How much weight do you think I lost between June 2011 and August 2011?
Though my body changed significantly, my weight barely fluctuated. In the photos taken in May 2010, I weighted 127 pounds. In the photos taken June 2011, I weighted 132 pounds. Lastly, in the photos taken August 2011, I weighted 127 pounds.
That’s right. Over the course of 14 months, I completely transformed my body with only having my weight fluctuate 5 pounds. The end result produced a body weight that equalled that of my beginning phase. Though I did not measure by using advanced technology, my educated guess tells me that over the course of the 14 months I gained at least 15 pounds of muscle. This means I lost 15 pounds of fat.
How is this possible?
You must understand that this method is all about precision, patience, and planning. Attempts to rapidly gain mass or lose fat (or both) causes you to eat and train in excess. Your bulking and cutting phase should extend over long periods of time if you want quality lasting results. Attempting to pack on 15 pounds of lean mass in your 5 month off-season will result in gaining a considerable excess of body fat. This means you must work twice as hard to shed the excess fat before your scheduled contest. You do this by cutting your calories significantly and performing excess cardio workouts.
Doing this causes you to inadvertently lose muscle mass. It’s a perpetual cycle that you will force your body through every season for years to come. But if you exercise patience and strategically plan your bulking and cutting stages so that you are not forced to store excess fat, your results will be far greater.
I am no expert on the subject of body recomposition, but I learn by working with and reading the works of experts. I can speak from experience and definitely side with the tortoise on this: slow and steady wins the race. I highly encourage you to read the works of both Lyle McDonald and Alan Aragon in regards to body recomposition as it will serve as a beacon to guide you toward your own transformation.
Another note: when training for my last show from June to August I ate at maintenance. My calories were not restricted even in the last weeks leading up to contest.Â