With Exercises, Workouts and Nutrition Suggestions
In this article we take a look at a two month (60 day) plan for losing fat and gaining muscle.
by Holly Smith, DO
Here is a quick rundown of what I'll cover in this article on body recomposition:
So let's get started!
What is Body Recomposition?
Body recomposition refers to losing excess body fat while simultaneously gaining lean muscle.
These positive body changes have a number of health benefits which include improving athletic performance, reducing blood pressure and cholesterol, and reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
Is It Possible to Lose Fat and Gain Muscle at the Same Time?
To get into the best shape of your life, the goal is to lose fat, but still gain muscle. If you want that chiseled, fit body you likely need to lose weight. But you want this weight to be excess fat and not lean muscle.
It may seem impossible to lose weight and gain muscle at the same time, especially if you are eating in a calorie deficit to achieve weight loss. But the fact is, you just need the right plan to get you there. By incorporating the proper balance of diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes you can see these desired changes.
How To Retain Muscle While Losing Fat
If you are overweight, you probably think that it’s because you have too much body fat. While this is true, the other big problem is that you have too little lean muscle mass. So, losing fat and gaining muscle can really go hand in hand.
Lean muscle mass increases your resting metabolic rate and keeps your body burning fat even at rest. Plus, strength training will help you not only preserve, but also to gain muscle mass even as you are losing weight.
To lose fat, you need your body to be in a caloric deficit. And to gain muscle, you need a calorie surplus, right? While it seems that these two things can’t happen at the same time, there are actually ways to lose fat while also gaining muscle mass.
The first big step to this is incorporating strength training.
A research study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Medicine found that the key to losing fat without losing muscle is the combination of both resistance training and cardiovascular training (1). When comparing groups that performed either endurance activity versus resistance training versus a combination of both, the combination group was able to lose about 16 pounds of fat while still gaining 10 pounds of muscle!
This is an example of how increasing lean muscle mass really impacts your metabolism. By increasing your calorie burn with endurance exercises you will lose weight. And by also incorporating strength training you will be able to maintain muscle mass.
When you start on an exercise program to lose weight, there is the risk of also losing muscle mass in the process. This is also why weight training is a vital component of any workout program. Research has even shown that strength training helps preserve lean body mass.
A study performed at the Obesity Research Center at St Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital compared participants that were put either on a diet plus strength training, diet plus cardio, or diet alone. Each of these groups lost about the same amount of fat, however the strength training group lost significantly less muscle mass than the cardio and diet-only groups. In fact, the diet and cardio groups lost twice as much muscle mass as those that performed strength training(2)
This shows that all weight loss is not equal! And to keep that toned, muscular physique, strength training is absolutely necessary.
The other key to body recomposition is incorporating the right nutrition on a daily basis. While traditional thinking is that you have to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight, body composition changes seem to be more complex than energy balance alone. This means that different diet plans, including high-protein diets and lower calorie diets, can lead to body recomposition.
The most important nutritional aspect for body recomposition is consuming high quality protein at about one gram per pound of your ideal body weight.
Protein is a macronutrient that not only builds muscle, but also spares muscle mass while you are cutting calories. A recent study looked at men on low calorie diets that were also performing resistance training and high intensity interval training 6 days a week. Each group consumed the same number of calories, however the group that consumed a higher protein diet gained more lean muscle mass and lost more fat (3).
The exact amount of protein you should aim to consume will depend on your specific goals and current weight. A recent meta-analysis found that muscle building gains seem to top out at about 1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight. The authors of this study noted, however, that for those looking to maximize muscle building gains this number could be increased all the way up to 2.2 grams per kilogram, or about one gram per pound of body weight (4).
How Much Fat Can I Expect To Lose in 60 Days?
When you focus on body composition changes, losing fat is obviously one of the main goals. However, you also don’t want your weight loss to be so abrupt that you also lose lean muscle. Remember, you are trying to not only maintain, but also build muscle mass as well.
When combining strength training, cardio, and optimum protein intake, you can expect to lose 1-2 pounds of body fat a week. This means that over a span of 60 days, or 8-9 weeks, you can expect to lose between 8-18 lbs under healthy circumstances.
The exact amount will also depend on your starting weight and body fat percentage of course. As you get closer to your ideal body composition, these losses will begin to slow down since you have less fat to lose. That’s a good thing though! It means you are getting close to your ideal body composition.
Your Starting Point Matters: Assessing Your Starting Point and Expectations
If you are aiming for body recomposition, your starting point plays a pretty significant role.
In fact, untrained and overweight individuals actually have an easier time losing fat and gaining muscle, at least in the early stages of body recomposition.
People that are new to a fitness routine tend to have greater muscular adaptations compared to those that are already relatively fit. For example, a study from Cribb et al. (5) reported significant gains in lean muscle mass (about 5 kg) and reductions in fat mass (a loss of about 1.4 kg) in a group of recreationally trained individuals (ie. “weekend warriors”) over 10 weeks. Conversely, a study in more highly trained athletes only gained 1.9 kg of lean muscle mass and did not demonstrate significant reductions in fat mass over an 8-week period (6).
However, this doesn’t mean that if you are already highly trained you still can’t experience some degree of body recomposition. Studies have found that the key is to incorporate fitness programs that are focused on building muscular strength and hypertrophy. In addition, just as in untrained individuals, you need to focus on your nutrition, specifically increasing your protein intake, especially around your workouts.
Are There Any Differences Between Men and Women When It Comes to Body Recomposition?
Generally speaking, men have higher lean muscle mass and women have higher body fat percentage. This is due to hormonal differences and basic biology. Since women have the ability to bear children, they require a higher degree of body fat. In addition, men tend to accumulate fat in their midsection, and women more so in their hips and thighs.
Despite these physiologic differences, the principles of body recomposition are essentially the same for both males and females. The only difference is that women will likely need to target a slightly higher body fat percentage overall when compared to men to maintain healthy bodily functions. In addition, since women naturally produce less testosterone than men, they may see slower gains in muscle mass. However, this doesn’t change the way men and women should train or approach body recomposition.
The Best Foods for Body Recomposition
If you want to lose weight and gain muscle, you need to increase your protein intake. This is essential to do if you want to lose fat without losing muscle, especially if you are in a calorie deficit.
Your calories should come from lean protein sources, such as chicken, turkey, lean beef, or fish. Look for packaging marked 99% or 93% lean, or meat sources that end in -loin, such as sirloin. Eggs are also a great protein source and contain a full complement of essential amino acids.
If you are a vegan, you can still get high quality protein from foods like tofu, tempeh, beans, and edamame. Protein powders made from plant sources, like pea protein or soy protein are also great options. However, you will still need to get essential nutrients that are only found in animal based proteins, such as B12, from other sources.
As far as carbs, you need to limit processed foods such as those high in sugars and simple starches. These types of foods will spike your insulin levels and lead to increased fat gain. Complex carbs, like whole grains, oatmeal, and quinoa are great complex carb options. Vegetables, including broccoli, asparagus, and salad greens will also provide you with high quality carbs and fiber. These foods will not only provide essential nutrients, but also keep you fuller for longer.
And yes, even though you are trying to lose fat, you still need to consume healthy fats to achieve body recomposition. Foods high in essential fatty acids, like nuts, seeds, and olive oil are excellent choices. In order to lose weight and maintain muscle, you also need to limit foods high in saturated and trans fats, like margarine, fatty cuts of meat, palm oil, full fat dairy, pastries, and packaged desserts and snacks.
This does not mean eliminating food groups or “banning” certain foods from your life. It means making smart choices on a daily basis to maximize fat loss.
Studies have also found that spreading your calorie intake out over the course of the day can help you gain muscle and lose fat. So, instead of eating 2 or 3 big meals, try to spread this out into 5 or 6 smaller meals throughout the day. Research has shown that by doing this you can lose weight while reducing the loss of lean body mass (7).
And the type of food you eat throughout the day is also important. You want to make sure that you are specifically spreading out your protein intake over the course of the day. Eating a moderate amount of protein at each meal stimulates muscle protein synthesis more effectively than eating more protein at one meal (8).
A Sample Weekly Meal Plan for Body Recomposition
Your exact weekly meal plan for body recomposition will need to be individualized based on your current weight, goal weight, and your level of activity. However, this is a sample weekly diet plan to give you an idea of what kind of foods to incorporate to see body composition changes, especially when combined with a strength training regimen. You may need to increase or decrease your actual calorie or protein needs based on your current weight and ideal body weight.
Note that you want to aim for at least 25-30 grams of protein with each meal and to have these spaced evenly throughout the day. In addition, after a workout you should also consume 20-30 grams of protein with a carbohydrate source to help rebuild lean muscle mass.
After Workout Snack
Egg sandwich (2 eggs) on whole wheat english muffin, half cup of nonfat plain greek yogurt with half cup of blueberries
Boneless skinless chicken breast grilled (4-5 oz) on whole wheat bread or toasted bun with a slice of cheese
Sirloin burger (90%lean) on whole wheat bun with slice of cheese, Baked potato with shredded cheese and low fat sour cream
Whey protein shake with 2 slices of bread with tablespoon of jam (carb source)
½ cup oatmeal with ½ cup of skim or 1%milk, ½ cup of fresh fruit
Lean chicken burger (4 oz) on whole grain bread with slice of cheese, side salad
Boneless skinless chicken breast, grilled (4-5 oz), ½ cup quinoa or brown rice, side salad
2 slices of bread with 2 tablespoons nut butter
Whole wheat bagel with 2 tablespoons nut butter, whey protein shake
Lean turkey burger (4 oz) on whole wheat bread, steamed broccoli
Healthy tacos: sirloin burger, low fat cheese, low fat sour cream, tomatoes, lettuce in whole wheat wrap with side of black beans
½ cup nonfat greek yogurt, palm full of almonds
Whole grain, protein cereal (like Kashi) with ½ cup of skim milk, ½ cup of nonfat greek yogurt topped with berries or drizzle of honey
Rotisserie chicken sandwich: Cut or shred up rotisserie chicken (4 ounces) on whole wheat bread or toasted bun, slice of cheese
5-6 oz salmon filet, asparagus, ½ cup brown rice
Hummus with whole wheat pita bread
2 eggs omelet, green pepper, low fat cheddar cheese with 1-2 slices of whole wheat toast
Lean turkey in a whole grain wrap with low fat cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, side salad with olive oil/vinegar dressing
Boneless skinless chicken breast grilled with 2 tablespoons barbecue sauce, 1 medium ear corn, side salad with olive oil/vinegar dressing
½ cup nonfat greek yogurt, apple with 2 tablespoons nut butter
Whole grain protein waffle (like Kodiak cakes) with ½ cup fruit, ½ cup greek yogurt
Boneless, skinless chicken breast or shredded rotisserie chicken salad (greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots) with olive oil/vinegar dressing
Sirloin burger on whole grain bun with lettuce/tomato, baked sweet potato, steamed asparagus
Whey protein shake, ½ cup of berries
Breakfast burrito: 1 whole wheat tortilla, 2 eggs, ¼ cup brown rice (minute rice is fine), 2 tablespoons shredded cheddar cheese, 2 tablespoons fresh salsa
½ cup whole wheat pasta with lean chicken breast or shrimp, tossed with tablespoon of olive oil, side salad
4-5 oz white fish, steamed broccoli, ½ cup brown rice or quinoa
½ cup cooked oats with ½ cup skim milk, 2 tablespoons nut butter
The Best Exercises for Gaining Muscle and Losing Fat
Let's take a look at the best workout routines and exercises for body recomposition.
Full Body Strength Training
As we’ve discussed, strength training is absolutely essential if you want to build lean muscle while also losing body fat. Full body resistance training is one of the best ways to do this.
In order to build lean body mass, you need to train all of your major muscle groups. Full body weight training is an efficient way to incorporate strength training to lose weight and gain muscle at the same time.
You should aim for a minimum of two days a week of strength training, and ideally three days. Studies have shown that the most efficient workout plans involve full body workouts spread out three times a week as compared to only hitting specific muscles once a week (9).
High Intensity Interval Training
High intensity interval training, or HIIT, is a great cardio option to burn calories in a short amount of time. Since these workouts also incorporate an element of resistance training, you will also build lean muscle.
You can do pretty much any exercise you choose during these intervals. This gives you the opportunity to train multiple muscle groups so that you will build lean muscle while simultaneously burning off fat. Research from the University of North Carolina has even shown that HIIT is effective at increasing muscle size over a three week period of time (10).
Along with building strength, HIIT will also help you burn calories to shed those extra pounds. With higher intensity workouts you will burn more calories, even after the workout has ended. This is called Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption, or EPOC for short. So if you are short on time, the key is to really up the intensity. This ensures that even a workout that is low in minutes will be high in fat burning and strength building.
Body Recomposition Workout Plan #1
Full Body Circuit Workout
Here is a full body workout routine you can include in your weekly schedule that is perfect for the beginner. The moves are simple but extremely effective at increasing strength and muscle size. Plus, you can efficiently target all of your major muscle groups in one session.
Full Body Workout Routine:
Lunges- Body weight or with dumbbells: (32) How To Do A DUMBBELL STATIONARY LUNGE | Exercise Demonstration Video and Guide - YouTube
Do 10 reps with each leg. You can do these with or without dumbbells depending on your strength and level of fitness.
Dumbbell Arnold Press: (32) How to do the Arnold Press - YouTube
Do 10-12 reps either seated or while standing. Standing will force you to engage your core to a greater degree than sitting with a back support.
Standing Bicep Curls: (32) How to Do Standing Dumbbell Curls - YouTube
Choose a weight that will allow you to complete 8-10 reps. Try not to use your back, or swing your arms to use momentum when performing this exercise.
Dumbbell or Barbell Bench Press: (32) Dumbbell Bench Press Demo - YouTube
Aim for 10-12 reps.
Bent Over Dumbbell or Barbell Rows: (32) Bent Over Dumbbell Row - YouTube
Make sure to engage your core as you aim for 10-12 reps.
Tricep Rope Pull Downs: (32) Rope Cable Tricep Pushdown - YouTube
Perform 8-10 reps
Elbow Plank: (32) Exercise Demo: Front Plank - YouTube
Hold an elbow plank for max time. Try to increase the duration of your hold each time you do this circuit. Make sure to maintain good form throughout and avoid arching or bowing the back. If you break form, you have reached your max time.
After you complete a round of this circuit, take a two minute break. Walk around, stretch out the arms and legs, and grab some water. Then repeat two more times!
Body Recomposition Workout Plan #2
HIIT Workout for Body Recomposition
Perform each move for 30 seconds and rest for 30 seconds. As your fitness levels improve, you can increase the interval to 45 seconds with a 15 second rest.
- Burpees: (32) How To Do Burpees With Proper Form - YouTube
- Alternating Lunge Jumps: (32) Alternating Jumping Lunge - YouTube
- Mountain Climbers: (32) Mountain Climber - Exercise Demo - YouTube
- Side to Side Push-Ups: (32) Side to Side Push-Ups - YouTube
- Tuck Jumps: (32) WORKOUT TECHNIQUE | Tuck Jump - YouTube
- Russian Twists with Dumbbell: (32) How To Do A KETTLEBELL RUSSIAN TWIST | Exercise Demonstration Video and Guide - YouTube
- High Knees: (32) How To Do HIGH KNEE TAPS | Exercise Demonstration Video and Guide - YouTube
- Spideman Push ups: (32) How To Do A Spiderman Push Up - YouTube
Rest for one minute then repeat.
Body Recomposition Workout Plan #3
Full Body Workout-Strength + HIIT Workout
This full body resistance workout will improve your strength and stamina. Plus you will burn some serious calories with the HIIT intervals which will also increase your cardiovascular fitness.
This workout is set up a little bit differently than a conventional strength training workout. Between each strength training set you will perform a high intensity, 30 second interval, making this the ultimate body recomposition workout.
Start with a five minute light warm up. This could include some jumping jacks, jogging in place, or stair runs.
Romanian Deadlifts: 3 sets of 8-10 reps. (32) Movement Demo - The Romanian Deadlift - YouTube
*HIIT Interval: In between each set, do 30 seconds of mountain climbers. (32) Mountain Climber - Exercise Demo - YouTube
Dumbbell Bench Press: 3 sets of 8-10 reps. (32) Dumbbell Bench Press Demo - YouTube
*HIIT interval: In between each set, do 30 seconds of jump rope. (32) Jumping Rope Demonstration - YouTube
Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 3 sets of 8-10 reps. (32) How to Do a Dumbbell Shoulder Press - YouTube
*HIIT Interval: In between each set, do 30 seconds of squat jumps. (32) How To Do A Squat Jump | The Right Way | Well+Good - YouTube
Bicep Curls: 3 sets of 8-10 reps. (32) How to Do Standing Dumbbell Curls - YouTube
*HIIT Interval: In between each set, do 30 seconds of kettlebell swings with light weight. (32) Equipment Demo - Double Kettlebell Swing - Rogue Fitness - YouTube
Tricep Kick Backs: 3 sets of 8-10. (32) How to Do Triceps Kickbacks - YouTube
*HIIT Interval: In between each set, do 30 seconds of jumping jacks. (32) How To Do JUMPING JACKS | Exercise Demonstration Video and Guide - YouTube
Pull-Ups: sets of 8-10 reps. (32) Strict Pull Up - OPEX Exercise Library - YouTube
If you cannot do an unassisted pull up that’s ok! There are modifications that you can start out with as you gradually build up your strength and work up to performing pull-ups on your own. Pull up modifications include:
- Pull-up machine: Many gyms will have a machine with a platform to rest your legs on. The heavier weight you choose to assist you, the easier the pull up will be. Try using this machine at first, gradually decreasing the assistance until you are able to do a pull up without any assistance
- Pull-ups with spotter: Have a spotter hold your legs to assist you during the movement.
- Negative pull-ups: Start by standing under a pull up bar. Jump up, grabbing the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip. Using the momentum from your jump, pull yourself upwards until your chin is above the bar. Slowly lower yourself. Slowly extend your arms as you inch closer to the ground. Aim for 3 to 5 seconds until your arms are fully extended. Let go of the bar and return to the ground. Repeat for the desired reps.
*HIIT Interval: In between each set, do 30 seconds of high knees. (32) How To Do HIGH KNEE TAPS | Exercise Demonstration Video and Guide - YouTube
Ab Wheel Roll Out: sets of 10-12 reps. (32) Ab Wheel- How to PROPERLY Use an Ab Wheel | MIND PUMP - YouTube
*In between each set, do 30 seconds of burpees. (32) How To Do Burpees With Proper Form - YouTube
The 10 Key Strategies for Body Recomposition
- Incorporate strength training exercises at least 2-3 times a week.
- Add high intensity interval training to your cardio twice weekly.
- Consume 1 gram of protein per pound of ideal body weight daily.
- Choose lean protein sources, such as chicken, turkey, fish, and lean red meats like sirloin.
- If you are vegan or vegetarian, plant based protein sources like tofu, edamame, beans, and protein supplements are great options.
- Limit simple and processed carbohydrates to avoid insulin spikes and fat accumulation.
- Consume healthy fats with high amounts of essential omega-3 fatty acids.
- Make sure to follow up your workouts with at least 20-30 grams of protein along with a carbohydrate source in a 2:1 ratio (ie. 40 to 60 grams of carbs) to help rebuild lean muscle mass.
- Don’t cut back on calories too quickly! This can lead to loss of lean muscle instead of fat.
- Be consistent! If you miss a workout day or overeat at a meal that’s okay! Just don’t let it become a pattern. If you can be consistent with your workouts and nutrition on a daily basis you will start to see body composition changes.
Frequently Asked Questions about Body Recomposition
1) Is it better to do cardio or lift weights for losing fat?
While including both cardio and strength training will help with body recomposition, if you only have time for one then strength training is the way to go. Lifting weights will add lean muscle mass which not only improves body composition, but also helps your body burn more calories at rest by raising your resting metabolism.
2) Do HIIT workouts help with body recomposition?
Absolutely! HIIT workouts utilize both resistance training and cardio, so you are getting the most bang for your buck when you do high intensity workouts.
3) Does fasting work for body recomposition?
Technically, any dietary plan can work for body recomposition. Some people find intermittent fasting is a useful way to cut calories. However, this should be done with the help of a nutrition professional so that you can ensure you are still getting essential nutrients and adequate protein on a daily basis.
4) Which diet is best for body recomposition?
The diet that you can follow long term! Fad diets or cutting out foods too aggressively don’t tend to work because people can’t stick to them long term. The main focus should be on eating high quality protein and meeting your calorie needs based on your current weight and your goal weight.
5) Does keto work for body recomposition?
Keto definitely can work for body recomposition, but only if this is a plan you can actually stick to long term. With keto diets you will more than likely get adequate amounts of protein, but you need to be careful that you are choosing lean protein sources and healthy fats. However, if you have low energy levels or mental “fog” on a keto diet, this may not be the best nutrition plan for you long term.
6) What is the worst diet for body recomposition?
Not having a plan is the worst diet for body recomposition. There is no set diet you need to follow, but you do need to go in understanding what your protein and macronutrient needs are so that you can track these daily. This will help you see your progress and tweaks that may be needed along the way to reach your body recomposition goals.
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Holly Smith is an osteopathic physician, professional triathlete, and fitness and nutrition enthusiast.
She is a board certified physician in nephrology and internal medicine, has a bachelor's degree in dietetics and is a certified personal trainer with NASM-PES certification.