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Are you wondering what body recomposition for men looks like and how you can change your body and be more muscular and lean?
Today I’d like to share with you techniques and strategies I’ve learned to help me go from about 30-40lbs overweight to lean, muscular and shredded in a matter of around 8-9 months.
Let’s jump right in so you can learn everything you need to know all in one convenient package right here!
WHAT IS BODY RECOMPOSITION AND WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO DO IT?
If you’ve been scouring over the internet over the last few years or so you probably have run into the term “body recomposition” at some point or another.
But what the heck is body recomposition?
Well, I’d probably argue that depending on whom you speak to, you probably would get some variation in answers.
However, this article isn’t focused on what other people are saying, rather, this article will focus on what I’ve learned over the last couple of years in my bodybuilding experience.
Body recomposition, to me, means losing unwanted fat and developing adequate-to-advanced muscle development, definition and tone.
As a matter of fact, we have an awesome guide you can read on using intermittent fasting to make your weight loss efforts much more enjoyable than you’re probably used to.
However, it’s not that cut and dry in my opinion.
In my experience, your body might fall into any one of the following categories – more of which we’ll cover below so make sure to stay tuned:
- You are significantly obese/overweight with little or no muscle development (somewhere past 25% body fat)
- You have decent muscle development but are still holding too much fat to showcase it (somewhere at 15-18% body fat or beyond)
- Perhaps you’re already relatively lean but you don’t have any (or have very little) muscle development (the skinny-fat syndrome) which would peg you at around 15% – 18% body fat or less
Well Mike, this is all great, but how do I know what category my body falls under?
Keep reading the article because after I go through each issue, I will help you discover how you can determine what your true starting point is.
We’ll cover that in great detail below.
PROBLEM #1 – YOU ARE SIGNIFICANTLY OVERWEIGHT WITH LITTLE OR NO MUSCLE DEVELOPMENT
Contrary to what you might hear from experts out there (which I am sure many of which are right), being significantly overweight with little to no muscle development is not that bad of a starting point!
Let me explain myself.
When you are significantly overweight (above around 20-25% body fat) and you attempt to lose this weight, the weight will naturally come off much faster than an individual trying to diet down to 8% body fat from 15%.
Expected rate of fat loss following a 25% caloric deficit at around 25+ percent body fat: 3-6 pounds per week.
As our bodies get leaner and leaner and our metabolism adapts to this, it becomes increasingly more difficult to lose weight – but not only that – your rate of fat loss becomes much slower.
This is a problem if you consider the psychological standpoint of not seeing “fast results”.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I am not promising you fast results if you have a lot of fat to lose, you’ll just be able to lose the fat much faster than someone who’s already somewhat lean.
Alright, so you’re pretty obese with tons of fat to lose, now what? What’s the answer?
What your plan should be is to first determine how much weight you need to lose to get to your goal weight.
Once you have determined what your goal weight is, you can then proceed to this article to determine how many calories you need to eat to lose weight.
So you’ve set your calories for weight loss and you’re on your way to losing weight, but body recomposition depends on building muscle as well which can only be achieved through the use of resistance (or “weight”) training.
What this means for you is that, while you’re shredding off the fat, you can definitely (and should!) go ahead and begin any beginner’s weight lifting program in order to start building muscle.
A great resource for this would be to do a quick search for Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength program. This will give you everything you need to get started transforming your body.
In terms of what your goal weight should be, the next two sections will outline what your goal weight should be and how to determine your body fat percentage.
PROBLEM #2 – YOU HAVE AT LEAST SOME MUSCLE DEVELOPMENT BUT NEED TO LOSE SOME FAT TO SHOW IT OFF
Maybe you’ve done some martial arts or other sports and you’ve done some pushups, situps, perhaps even some pullups – but you can’t really tell whether or not you have muscle.
You might also be holding on to a little bit more fat than you’re happy with but haven’t discovered the “illusive secret” to going from 15% body fat to 8% (spoiler alert: it’s neither “illusive” nor a “secret” that many pro bodybuilders would allude to).
In fact, getting from 25% body fat down to 12% is not really any different than dieting down to 8% body fat from 12%.
No reverse dieting is needed, no calorie cycling, no low-carb diets, no ketogenic diets – all of that is utter nonsense and is absolutely not required one single bit.
Micro-Situation #1 – You Are Happy With Your Muscle Development… but Want to Lose a Little Bit More Fat
You don’t need to be The Hulk to look amazing and it goes without saying that our modern age of androgenic-anabolic steroid abusing Instagram fanatics has completely skewed the realistic viewpoint of what a great looking body should be (at last in my opinion).
In other words, you don’t need to have elite levels of muscle development to look fantastic.
Just hop onto Google and look up Brad Pitt in Fight Club, or Paul Rudd in Aunt Man. These two awesome chaps definitely did have some muscle development but nothing like Chris Hemsworth in Thor or Chris Evans in Captain America.
However, the key takeaway here is that, without having a decently low body fat percentage of at least around 12% (depending on the individual), you can have all the muscle development in the world and still not look like you even have muscle because the fat is hiding it.
You see where I am getting at?
Similarly to Problem #1 as outlined above, you can begin losing extra fat by dieting (eating about 25% fewer calories than your body burns). Once you lean up, if you’re happy with how you look, great – if not, again, jump on a great workout program to build more muscle mass.
Side-Note: Choosing a specific workout program other than Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength up above is outside of the scope of this article as there are far too many to choose from and far too many variables to consider if you’re anything other than a beginner weightlifter.
PROBLEM #3 – YOU’RE ALREADY PRETTY LEAN BUT STILL LOOK “SKINNY-FAT” WITH NO MUSCLE DEVELOPMENT
All-in-all, Problem #1 and Problem #3 are the realest problems in my opinion – having no muscle development and holding on to extra fat.
One situation is more extreme than the other, obviously, but don’t underestimate the psychological severity of Problem #3 either.
It takes a couple of solid years of training to really develop adequate muscle mass and during that time you may have feelings of becoming disheartened by the whole process.
Having Problem #3 is truly tricky because I don’t want you to give up on yourself! As a matter of fact, this is what I looked like in 2016 before losing about 30lbs of extra body fat taking me from an astounding 20% to about 8%.
I know what you’re thinking. Mike, this doesn’t look that impressive and you still don’t have great muscle development.
If you’re only taking into consideration the above photo, then no, but I’ve been hitting the gym consistently for about 2 additional years since this photo.
I just wanted to outline the fact that I was in the “skinny-fat” boat, just like you are, and I wanted to share with you how to overcome this and, most importantly, not to lose sight of the goal and to not get discouraged!
There are two very distinctive things you should be doing at the exact same time if you’re in this situation:
- Continue to diet until you reach 8-10% body fat (or at last until you’re happy with your muscle definition)
- Use an EFFECTIVE weight lifting routine of your choice to ramp up your muscle growth.
This website by itself has some awesome resources to help you get started. You can also check out Reddit (r/fitness) and Bodybuilding.com for more information.
As a matter of fact, Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength would be excellent for you in this situation as well.
Fasting is a great way to lose weight while not becoming a slave to yourself or the whole process (which is pretty counter-intuitive if you ask me.)
SO THIS IS ALL GREAT – BUT HOW DO I DETERMINE WHAT MY STARTING POINT IS?
In all honestly, tons of fitness professionals out there love over-complicating simple processes and oftentimes ignore the most basic, fundamental approach to explaining a fitness scenario.
Unfortunately this includes determining what category your body falls into leaving you, the reader, more confused than ever.
Time to put a stop to this.
One of the best ways to determine what category your body falls into is to have a look in your mirror!
Yes, this seems obvious, but it’s true. Are you happy with your leanness levels? Are you happy with your bicep, chest and lat size(s)? Or are you unhappy with how skinny and jiggly you are at the same time?
Analysing myself in the mirror is my own preferred method of determining two things:
- What is my body’s current condition?
- Where do I want to be going?
This, I think, will really help you determine what the next steps will be.
Forget body fat measurement tools (for now).
Forget DEXA scans, caliper measurements, hydrostatic body composition analysis, and similar things because they really don’t matter right now.
You know that you’re too fat and need to work out, and you know that you’re too skinny yet flabby and… well… need to work out.
Simply analyse yourself from the perspective of “what do I currently look like, am I happy with that and do I want to make a change?”
That’s your answer and generally speaking our first instincts are right.
However, getting an idea of your body fat percentage becomes more important as you lean out and it will help you keep track of your progress better than a scale and I’ll explain why that is below.
Using Scales, Height (in inches) and Measuring Tapes (in inches) to Track Progress
Let me get one thing cleared up right away: When you’re very overweight, the scale can help you track your weight loss progress.
It’s a great tool to have, and you should be averaging out your weight over the course of 7 days (don’t fall into the trap of using daily measurements as guidelines!!) Your weight can fluctuate a lot during this time and it’s wise to just average it out.
However, when you’re leaner (below say around 18-16% body fat), and you’re following a proven strength training program (especially as a beginner), chances are pretty high that you’ll be packing on a significant amount of muscle while you lose fat which will ultimately skew your weight scale measurements.
Your rate of muscle gains might actually even match the weight you lose (in terms of fat) therefore negating the scale measurement altogether.
This is when it becomes important to more closely pay attention to the mirror and use your waist measurement in inches compared to your exact height in inches.
Let me explain this idea by first showing a graph that has been made available by a colleague of mine Radu Antoniu.
The chart below demonstrates at what percentage of your height your waist must be to reach a certain body fat percentage.
PRO-TIP: Let’s show the graph and then I’ll explain myself better below that. Also, Radu has an awesome video on the subject which I will post below as well.
Source: How to Estimate Your Body Fat Percentage by Radu Antoniu from ThinkEatLift
As you can see, when your waist measurement in inches is about 42-43% of your height in inches you will reach around 6-8% body fat depending on how advanced you are as a weightlifter.
Therefore, it goes without saying that, if you’re quite obese (over 15% body fat) you do not need to worry about this until you reach a lower body fat percentage.
It’s imperative that you go and purchase a seamstress’s measuring tape to keep accurate track of your waist measurement so you can compare this to your height.
Special Note: This method isn’t 100% accurate for some men – but keep in mind that no body fat percentage measurement method is always 100% accurate anyway (nor does an exact number even really matter).
The goal is to keep track of your progress so you have a baseline.
Here’s my example:
When I am losing weight and building muscle (no matter if I am lean-gaining or cutting) I always aim to get back down to about a 32.5-33 inch waist. When I reach that point, I know I am back down to around 8-10% body fat and I am happy with that.
I don’t actually care if I am 6, 7, 8% body fat – all I am doing is using it as a tool to help me track my progress.
WHAT BODY FAT PERCENTAGE SHOULD YOU AIM FOR, AND WHAT SHOULD BE YOUR TARGET WEIGHT?
You may not like this answer, but the truth is that it depends.
A general rule of thumb for someone with a normal amount of muscle development that does not lift weights regularly is about 2.3 – 2.5 pounds per inch of your height.
I’ll use myself as an example:
My current weight is 186lbs and I am 6’2” (76 inches). 186lbs divided by 76 inches is about 2.45 lbs per inch of height, and that pegs me at around 10 or so percent body fat.
As you gain muscle and lose more fat this can change, but that’s a pretty decent starting point.
If you’re 5 foot 10, you could aim to be somewhere between 160 – 170 lbs. This will largely depend on if you’re happy with the way you look at your chosen weight and if you want to lose more fat.
There’s really no hard and fast rule about this, unfortunately, so you’ll ultimately have to get more in tune with your body and the way you like it to look!
FITNESS TRUTHS PART I: YOU CAN GAIN MUSCLE & LOSE FAT SIMULTANEOUSLY (IN CERTAIN SITUATIONS)
If you’re like me back in 2016 and you’re just starting out, it’s common belief in the fitness community that you can’t build muscle while you’re losing fat.
As it turns out, when you consume just enough protein as necessary, you can actually build a significant amount of muscle as you’re losing fat (as a beginner).
Now, some people might think this is “converting muscle into fat” and that’s just not possible – but I totally understand why someone would think that.
One cannot simply “convert” fat stores into muscle fibres.
However, an increasing body of fitness professionals is on-board with the idea of body recomposition meaning losing fat while building muscle (through the use of progressive overload).
With all that being said, there are certain situations in which you cannot build a significant amount of muscle while losing fat and that’s when you’re an advanced lifter.
As a matter of fact, as Lyle McDonald and Alan Aragon state, muscle growth significantly slows down after about 3-4 years of correct weight training – all the way down to even as low as 2-4lbs of muscle per year.
Here is Lyle’s chart of muscle gain potential over time:
Source: What’s My Genetic Muscular Potential? By Lyle McDonald from BodyRecomposition.com
That’s not a significant amount of muscle at all.
Now, for these people, they already cannot gain much muscle with a caloric surplus let alone in a caloric deficit (eating fewer calories than you burn) but this article is not going to go into those depths.
If you’re advanced enough to be in that situation, I want to know your secrets!
For more information regarding this subject, I would highly recommend checking out Vitruvian Physique’s awesome video on the FFMI scale (Fat-Free Mass Index) indicating how much muscle natural and enhanced athletes can really have.
FITNESS TRUTHS PART II: CARDIO IS DEFINITELY NOT NECESSARY FOR WEIGHT LOSS
I know what you’re thinking and I can already hear the cries and screams… but bear with me here…
Exercise alone does not induce weight loss – it’s the caloric debt that you accumulate that leads to weight loss and using cardiovascular endurance training can supplement your efforts towards inducing a caloric deficit.
In more understandable words, if you burn 2000 calories to lose weight but eat 2500, you can then proceed to burn 500 on a treadmill if you want, but the point is that you could easily just not eat those 500 extra calories and still be left with the same net result of an energy deficit.
I personally know many people that actually enjoy cardio work so go ahead and do so if you wish, but you should understand that so many people out there are doing it because they think it’s necessary for weight loss which it is not in any way.
As long as you come out of this article understanding that, I am happy and I’ve done my job.
If you enjoy exercise, it’s definitely still recommended for a host of other benefits including increased prevention of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
I don’t want to dissuade you from exercising, I just don’t want to see you suffering and punishing yourself unnecessarily because you think it’s the only way to lose weight.
SELECTING THE APPROPRIATE WORKOUT PROGRAM
If you’re reading this article I’ll just go ahead and assume you want to build up some solid muscle. And I think that’s great.
However, when it comes to choosing a workout program it can be really tricky to just recommend one thing for everyone, even though I do recommend Starting Strength as mentioned above.
With that said though, Starting Strength may not be the best option for everyone out there and it’s definitely beyond the scope of this article to craft or recommend a workout program for every single situation out there.
That would just be impossible!
If you have some fitness people you trust and look up to, and if they have the physique to back up their program, I’d honestly just go ahead and grab their beginner’s weight lifting guide.
It’s really frustrating as a beginner to devise your own workout and I personally wouldn’t recommend it as you probably will be leaving gains on the table and will end up fed up and frustrated – and you’ll ultimately give up!
Find a fitness personality you like, make sure you trust with 99% certainty that they don’t take drugs and head off to buy their workout program.
For my own personal 30lbs weight loss and muscle building transformation you can read my about page, otherwise you can head right to the program I am using called ShredSmart written by Radu Antoniu from ThinkEatLift.
ShredSmart will teach you everything there is to know about body recomposition and it’ll be a great way for you to lose fat and build muscle – just remember – nothing is easy and it’ll take hard and focused work on your part!
FINAL THOUGHTS & LAST ADVICE(S)
Body recomposition is absolutely doable for any number of people out there. You have to first determine your starting point.
Once you know where your body is currently at you can then proceed to determine what to do next.
In the vast majority of cases it’s usually recommended to start losing weight and start a weight lifting program at the same time! There’s no reason to wait to lose weight first.
In the rare instance you’re already satisfied with your level of muscle development you can choose to simply lose weight and be done – but this article is about those who are unhappy with both their fatness levels and muscle development levels.
As you’re losing weight, track your weight loss weekly not daily as your weight can easily fluctuate from day to day.
Try to take an average over 7 days.
When attempting to establish a baseline of leanness you’re happy with, use a measuring tape to compare your waist to your height in inches and strive to get back to that point if you ever get too fat again!
You have the ability to instill amazing change in yourself so take action today and follow the guidelines set forth in this article to enjoy an amazing body and life!
To follow the same workout program I used to lose 30 pounds and build decent muscle development, check out my review of Radu Antoniu’s (from ThinkEatLift) ShredSmart program for more information.
What do you know about body recomposition and what have you done so far to try and do it? I’d love to hear your thoughts!