Short answer: Yes! But it’s gonna get a little complicated.
Long answer: It depends on who you are and what your goals look like.
You’re probably thinking, “Wait, what about everything I’ve heard about bulking and cutting? I was trying to decide which of those to go for first, and now you’re telling me they’re not even legit?”
Don’t worry — the bulk/cut process is still a totally viable option for gaining serious muscle mass and losing body fat, and it’s the method most bodybuilders use. And, that’s especially the case if you’re new to lifting.
There’s also a way to get gains while cutting body fat at the same time: body recomposition.
Let’s get into that.
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What is Body Recomposition?
To answer that question, we first need to understand what body composition is.
Your body composition is the makeup of the fat vs. lean mass (muscle, bone, water, etc.) that your body contains.
When your focus is strictly on lowering the number on the scale, both of these categories also lower, so you lose both fat and muscle mass.
When your focus is strictly on building mass (like when you’re bulking), both of these categories get higher, so you’ll gain both muscle and fat.
So, body recomposition refers to lowering your fat mass while raising your muscle mass.
Who Body Recomp Works Best For
While body recomposition won’t work for everybody, it is useful for a few common groups of people (shout-out if you’re in one of these groups):
- Newbies to training (aka “untrained” individuals), especially if you consider yourself “skinny-fat,” so you want to gain muscle and shed some fat while staying roughly the same weight.
- Detrained individuals (those who have lapsed from training due to injury or other reasons — we don’t judge)
- Intermediate lifters (maybe you’ve been training for a while, but either casually or you don’t have all the knowledge you need to get 100% out of your sessions)
If you’re in one of these groups, you’re more likely to be able to utilize fat stores for energy to build muscle. Then, you’ll have raised your metabolism so that you burn more calories at rest — the higher your muscle mass, the more calories you burn 24/7.
Additionally, because of the magic of “noob gains,” you’ll build that muscle faster than those who have been training for a much longer time.
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Want Some Proof?
If you still think that this whole thing sounds sus, we get you.
Here’s what the research says about this theory.
This study (Sigal et all., 2014) focused on younger overweight people aged 14 to 18. They split up groups between aerobic training (cardio), resistance training (weights), and a combo of both (also known as “concurrent training”).
The study found that those who did resistance training lost body fat while gaining muscle.
If you still doubt whether you can actually lose fat while strength training, check this study out (Meirelles, Claudia M, and Paulo S C Gomes., 2016). They aimed to assess how carbs affected trainee’s diets.
Scientists found that no matter their carb intake, participants (men and women in their 30s and 40s) maintained muscle thickness, lost body fat, and gained strength.
Okay, So How Do I Do This “Body Recomp” Thing?
As with everything in fitness, you’re gonna need to focus on a combo of diet, training, and time.
Let’s break that down.
Your focus isn’t going to be on cutting as many calories as possible (bless). Yes, you’ll want to be in a caloric deficit (because, duh, you need to cut calories to lose fat) — but not all the time.
There are different approaches to diet in body recomp, but calorie cycling is a common method.
Amanda Capritto of C-Net explains calorie cycling as “modifying your calorie and macronutrient intake to match your goal for the day.”
Basically, eat in a caloric surplus (with lots of protein!) on days where you lift, a caloric deficit on rest days, and eat at maintenance calories on cardio days.
Most importantly, don’t starve yourself.
Otherwise, you’ll lose all the muscle that you’ve worked so hard to build!
During body recomp, most people opt for a combination of lifting and cardio.
You’ll probably want to do resistance training at least a few days per week for optimal gains.
Then, for cardio, you’re gonna want to focus on exercises that will keep your heart pumping and your muscles working.
HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is going to be your best friend for this. This style of cardio will be short (30 minutes or less), absolutely burn out your muscles, and get your heart rate soaring.
Time is actually the key ingredient to body recomposition. Unlike a quick, crazy diet that will shed pounds quickly, body recomposition is a longer-term goal.
If your goal is to lose a lot of weight fast, this probably isn’t the method for you.
That said, losing a lot of weight quickly isn’t very healthy, anyway.
Body recomposition over an extended period of time is more likely to keep you fitter longer instead of stuck in a yo-yo cycle of binging and dieting.
You’ll start seeing some results in as little as two months during body recomp. But it could take as long as six months to see the real magic happen.
Can I Still Be As Successful Bulking and Cutting?
In fact, if you want to get incredibly shredded (like, bodybuilder, Thor-level), a bulk/cut cycle is probably the right move for you.
A bulk/cut cycle is a slightly faster process than body recomposition, and you really get to focus on separate goals (putting on muscle and then getting shredded).
You can shred some serious body fat while you’re cutting and then pack on insane muscle mass when you’re bulking.
Each of these phases lasts a few months each, so your physique will go through dramatic changes several times per year.
Can You Really Lose Fat and Gain Muscle at the Same Time?
If this style of diet/training matches your goals, sure can.
Body recomposition takes a lot of time and dedication, but it can be done.
That said, it doesn’t have to be!
You can also focus on gaining muscle and shedding fat separately with a bulk/cut cycle.
But if you want to tone up while losing your gut, body recomposition could be an awesome option for you.
Ready to start cutting? Make sure you understand how long you should cut for (to get shredded) before you start dropping weight.
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