8 February 2019
Can You Lose Fat & Build Muscle, At The Same Time?
This process is called ‘body re-composition’ and can also be referred to as ‘re-comp’. Some individuals think this process is impossible due to the common understanding that muscle building requires an energy surplus and fat loss requires an energy deficit.
Behold the most common request I get upon consulting with a new client…
“I want to build muscle and lose fat”
This process is called ‘body re-composition’ and can also be referred to as ‘re-comp’. Some individuals think this process is impossible due to the common understanding that muscle building requires an energy surplus and fat loss requires an energy deficit. Yes, these are the optimal pathways but in some cases building muscle and losing fat simultaneously is possible and should be expected.
So how does this phenomenon occur if it seems like you’d have to walk two separate paths at the same time?
Re-comp happens when an individual is highly sensitive to the specific stimulus of high volume training (HVT). Unfortunately, not everyone falls into this category due to adaptive resistance and the advancement of training age.
Adaptive resistance refers to becoming acutely resistant to a specific stimulus that is consistently experienced, for e.g. consistent HVT for 6+ months would result in the subject becoming resistant or less responsive to HVT.
The advancement of training age refers to one’s training career. Over time, the human body becomes less responsive to weight training which ultimately slows down muscle growth rates and diminishes the chances of re-comp. Here is a list of some scenarios where re-comp is possible:
Individual who has been training for 6-12 months
Individual who has been training consistently for more than 12 months but has poor nutrition and training habits
Individual who has spent a lot of time training at low volumes therefore increasing sensitivity to HVT
Individual who returns to training after a long lay-off due to holiday, injury etc.
The use of anabolic steroids and other PEDs – will not be covered within this article
Being sensitive to the stimulus of HVT means anabolic signalling is high and your body has a lot of recovering, adapting and growing to do! Here is the kicker…for re-comp to occur, the individual needs to be in either energy deficit, maintenance, or a slight surplus. Since you can only be in one of these energy scenarios at a given time, and considering re-comp involves both muscle growth and fat loss, the theory that muscle is only built in a surplus and fat loss only occurs in a deficit is flawed.
So how does your body actually build muscle with the absence of energy surplus?
After a workout, Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS) levels are elevated and your body begins the muscle building process (more on MPS later…). Here is where it gets interesting…the novel stimulus of high volume training places a large stress on the body and causes a lot of homeostatic disruption…leaving your body in a position were adapting and growing is the only option!
There is only one problem; MPS is an energy demanding process meaning that energy needs to be readily available for new muscle to be built… and when the body is in energy deficit, energy is very scarce (this is why an energy surplus is the optimal scenario for muscle growth).
So, if consumed energy is being used for other reasons but your body is in dire need to build muscle, where does it get the energy to fuel this process?
Stored fat mass!
There you have it, even without a surplus building muscle is still possible and actually comes along with fat loss. It is also important to understand that the fat mass doesn’t actually turn into muscle; it is used to fuel MPS with the end result being new muscle tissue and less body fat.
What about losing fat whilst in a surplus?
Re-comping in a surplus is the harder approach because energy balance mediates weight/fat loss but not necessarily muscle growth. Losing fat is nearly impossible in a surplus however may still occur; energy demands of MPS can be so high that the surplus is still insufficient requiring your body to pull additional energy from fat stores. Based on the research done by Hall (2008) that was further interpreted by Menno Henselmans, an individual would have to gain muscle 5.2 times as high as the rate of fat loss for re-comp in a surplus to occur. When this does occur, fat loss is very minimal but is evident.
So… energy deficit, energy maintenance or energy surplus?
This is where an individual’s specific starting point becomes a determinant of how body re-composition should be approached. The following infographic demonstrates how aggressive the deficit or surplus needs to be in relation to individual starting points when the goal is to re-comp. Keep in mind that from the middle to the left side of the spectrum re-comp is probably at an optimal level. A
s an individual gets closer to the right end of the spectrum fat loss becomes increasingly minimal but comes with a trade-off; slightly more muscle growth.