Can I Gain Muscle and Lose Fat… AT THE SAME TIME? Part II

In Part I, we learned that you cannot lose fat and gain muscle in the exact same moment (we are pretty sure), and pondering the issue is an utter waste of time and mental energy.

Therefore, you have three options for physique change:

  • Muscle Gain
  • Fat Loss
  • Recomposition

Today, I am going to introduce you to a strategy that has proven to facilitate fat loss and muscle gain over a period of time.

Recomposition: What is it?

Body recomposition is a change in the weight of specific components within the human body:  Fat, muscle, water, organs, bones, etc.

Recomposition, as it relates to a fitness, is a strategy used to increase muscle mass and decrease fat stores while maintaining the same body weight.

Maintaining the exact same body weight isn’t a sticking point to the definition as you will see in the examples I provide; slow weight gain or weight loss variations of recomp exist.

Now, unless you are an obese beginner, a steroid user or a person regaining previously possessed muscle mass, the only way to recomp is through calorie cycling.

Before any of that, I want you all to know that my first exposure to recomposition was through Martin Berkhan’s Lean Gains method.  The guy is a pro.

Calorie Cycling

Calorie cycling is varying your caloric consumption (and macronutrient composition) day-by-day based on your training schedule.

Andy: 6’0″ 200 pound (or 91 kilo, I see you guys too 😉 ) male, 14% bodyfat and caloric maintenance of 2750.


1.  Slow Bulk Recomp


2.  Slow Cut Recomp


3.  Straight Recomp


Training Day v Rest Day

Notice in all three examples you will eat a caloric surplus on training days and a caloric deficit on rest days.  The purpose of this strategy is to capitalize on muscle growth opportunity by feeding your body a surplus of calories during recovery from training.

Therefore, it would be best to consume the majority of your daily calories after you train.

If you are unsure how to calculate your caloric maintenance, go here.

Recomposition: Pros and Cons



  • Hormones

Recomposition has a positive effect on the levels of important hormones.

Dieting screws with your hormones.  A caloric deficit leads to:  Leptin, down.  Thyroid, down. Testosterone, down.  Cortisol, up.  This is why diets incorporate “refeeds” or “cheat days”.

A refeed is a high calorie day (at or above maintenance) during a fat loss program, scheduled at a frequency dependent on the trainees bodyfat percentage.

The less body fat you have, the more frequently you should refeed as leptin production is driven by total fat storage.  Thus, a lean person’s leptin levels will drop faster on a caloric deficit than an obese person’s, all else equal.

Recomposition effectively provides 3+ refeeds per week, keeping your hormones at levels more conducive to muscle gain and fat loss.

  • Lookin’ good year-round

I mean, this is why you want to recomp, right?  Who cares about hormones, recomposition is the closest thing to “converting fat to muscle”.


  • Losing Some Gainzz

Recomposition does not yield the rate of muscle growth or fat loss that a traditional bulk/cut program will provide.

Remember, muscles don’t grow in the gym; they grow during recovery.  Adequate sleep and a caloric surplus is what allows growth.

But we are getting a caloric surplus!” you plead, hoping to rationalize something you know deep in your gut cannot be true – that you can gain the same amount of muscle on a recomp as a traditional bulk.

You can’t.

Your muscles aren’t fully recovered 16 hours after training.  Duration of complete recovery depends on the intensity of your training (as well as a zillion other factors) and can span from 2-5 days.

So, when you are back on a deficit come Tuesday, you miss some of the recovery/growth that you would achieve on a traditional bulk.

  • Lack of Routine

Human beings are creatures of habit.  People resist change in all facets of life.

The psych experts say it takes 21 days to create a new habit.  In a traditional fat loss program, you become accustomed to the lifestyle.  Things start to click.  You have your go-to foods, you know when you eat them and you know what to avoid.  It becomes your new “normal”.

When bulk and cut days are sprayed at you rapid fire, things get confusing.  Monday night, you eat a 12oz porterhouse steak and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.  You are happy, full and sleep like a baby.

Tuesday night you are supposed to eat 2 grilled chicken breasts, 1 cup of spinach, 2T olive oil and some roma tomatoes?  After you polish off dinner, which does little for your taste buds, your brain is like, “uh, what happened to that Half-Baked ice cream?”

Alternating between high calorie and low calorie days can be psychologically draining.

  • It’s a Slow, Tedious Process

It takes incredible mental strength, willpower and most importantly – long term vision. You won’t get the daily/weekly satisfaction of visible change or training progression that a traditional fat loss or muscle gain program would provide.

How many calories above/below maintenance?

Mr. Berkhan recommends starting at a surplus/deficit of +20%/-20%.

In our example, Andy would have a (2750*20%) 550 calorie surplus/deficit. These numbers are just a starting point.  They are not concrete, and you can move them around based on your goals.

For instance, +15%/-40% might make sense for a slow cut recomposition.

The important thing to focus on is your total surplus/deficit.  If you choose to recomp with the primary goal of fat loss – make sure you have an overall deficit.


This could be it’s own article, but we’ll keep it simple.

First, you don’t have to lose your mind tracking macros.  If you hit your daily calorie target and protein goal, you are on the path to recomp success.

However, those of you willing to get a little nutty and keep each macronutrient in a specific range, here is how you do it:

Andy: 200lbs, 2750 maintenance.

Training Day Macros

  • Calories: 3250
  • Protein:  200*1 = 200g
  • Fat: 3250*20% = 650 cals of fat.  650/9 = 72g
  • Carbs:  3250 – (200*4) – (72*9) = 1800 cals of carbs.  1800/4 = 450g

Rest Day Macros

  • Calories:  2375
  • Protein:  200*1 = 200g
  • Fat:  2375*40% = 950 cals of fat.  950/9 = 106g
  • Carbs:  2375 – (200*4) – (106*9) = 625 cals of carbs.  625/4 = 156g

Note:  If you are confused by this math, I’d check out the nutrition section of the beginner’s guide

We can summarize this macronutrient cycling strategy as:

  • Training day = high carb, low fat
  • Rest day = low carb, high fat

Why do we do this?

When we are in a caloric surplus, fat is the macronutrient most easily stored as fat by the human body (carbs second, protein third).  If you want to know why, here are 4,000 words of science.  So, we keep fat low on training days.

However, fat also has countless benefits (related to inflammation, CNS, sex drive, etc), so on our rest days we increase fat intake.  The numbers I used (20% and 40%) are just benchmarks – feel free to move them around.

Is Recomposition Right For Me?

  • You want to gain muscle but are unwilling to gain ANY fat
  • You are extremely disciplined and patient
  • You’re already in decent shape.  Bodyfat under 18% for guys – 28% for girls.
  • You’re happy with your current physique

These qualities make a person a good candidate to recomp.  But to be honest, I don’t think it is a great idea for most people.

MOST people are (a) not in a physical state where recomposition is the optimal strategy to achieve their goals and/or (b) not willing to dedicate themselves to the micromanaging nature of calorie cycling.

Patience and satisfaction with your current physique are important because, as mentioned above, recomposition is a slow, tedious process.  I think the point is worth restating:

It takes incredible mental strength, willpower and most importantly – long term vision. You won’t get the daily/weekly satisfaction of visible change or training progression that a traditional fat loss or muscle gain program would provide.

But, if that list speaks to you, recomposition might be the best strategy for your goals.

Not a one-size-fits-all formula

I had a friend contact me about putting him on a program.  His main concern was that if he lost too much fat his well tailored suits would no longer fit.


Extended periods of bulking and cutting weren’t appropriate for his goals.  But, he is also the last person on earth I would trust to accurately cycle calories and macronutrients.

So, I recommended shorter, frequent bulk/cut cycles to keep his overall size consistent – a few weeks at a 300 cal/day surplus followed by 7-10 days at an 800-900 cal/day deficit.

The point is, there are infinite ways to do this stuff.

Final Thought

One important piece of advice I want to give:  Pick a program based on your goals and stick with it.  I see people changing their diet/training weekly or even daily.  In the past, my own progress has suffered when I wavered between a surplus and a deficit.

Don’t let shortsightedness deter you from your long-term goals.  Understand that your body is going to look different at various times irrespective of training and diet.

Hydration, lighting, a pump and 100 other factors could cause you to look huge, ripped or bloated.  Remember that this is a long process that rewards consistency and discipline.

Comments for This Entry

  • Brad

    Also are you concerned with macros at each meal? Carbs used breakfast, pre and post? Or spread through the day? Separate fats and carb meals? You also said to use most calories post workout for recovery, so the ideal time to workout would be in the morning?

    September 16, 2013 at 1:14 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Mike Author

      Hey Brad, For some people, separating carbs and fats into different meals simply makes counting/meal planning easier. Physiologically, I see no reason for separating them. Nutrient timing really depends on many factors. For fat loss diets where carbs are low, it is important to get the majority of carbs after your workout. The best time to workout isn't necessarily in the morning, it depends on your schedule and what works best for you. If you want to eat in the morning, then yes I would try to get a workout in before your meal. But many of my clients practice some form of intermittent fasting. So even though they workout around lunch time, their first meal of the day lands post-workout. Does that make sense?

      September 18, 2013 at 6:02 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Brad

    Thanks! I've typically been working out at 5:30am and have been getting up around 4:45am to get some oats and protein in. I have not been able to do the intermittent fasting with my schedule. For "off" days on the recomp we are eating considerably less cals than training days. Do these "off" days account for some cardio/ab work? Or should some additional calories be added unless its a off day completely.

    September 18, 2013 at 6:10 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Mike Author

      You can definitely throw in some ab work and cardio on your rest days without adjusting your macros. Unless you are doing really, really strenuous cardio (marathon training for example), there is no need to increase cals on rest days to adjust for activity. All that being said, I do think a bit of direct ab work is important to avoid injury and to progress on major lifts. Cardio, on the other hand, is something I only suggest if you really ENJOY cardio.

      September 18, 2013 at 8:23 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Jazzy

    I think that identifying the calorie surplus day to be on the training day is an oversimplification and potentially not optimal. The reason being is that (a) it doesn't take into account what time of day the workout occurred and (b) the fact that muscular hypertrophy can continue even more than 24 hours beyond when the workout occurred. I've seen studies citing ranges from 28 to 48 hours. Granted the law of diminishing returns probably applies. Since the repair process begins immediately following the workout and it takes a while for the calories in the food you eat to be made available to the body for fuel, I don't think just saying pig out a little on training days is necessarily bad advice. But in my own opinion, if you are eating 5-6 meals a day (to keep your blood insulin levels from spiking too much), the if you worked out at say lunch time, you'd want to make sure you were in a calorie surplus from say 10 AM that morning to 6PM the next day (30 hours) This is micromanaging, but maybe the recommendation just assumes that most people workout in the morning. I do realize, in many cases, simpler is easier to follow.

    October 5, 2013 at 12:50 am | Reply to this comment

    • Mike Author

      Jazzy - thanks for the comment. I agree, the training day surplus should really be a postworkout surplus. Yeah, wrt the duration of hypertrophy I have even seen evidence that it extends beyond 48 hours. The thing is, if you maintain a surplus for 48 hours after training, you will never have time to eat at a deficit as your next training session will have already happened. So, we assume that more hypertrophy is occurring 0-24 hours post workout than 24-48 hours. Obviously you will sacrifice some of the muscle building of an all out surplus, but that is inherent in the idea of a "recomp". Here's the other thing, micromanaging a 30 hour surplus window over two days is really something that only applies to very, very dedicated individuals -- probably like you and me. Most people would rather digest more basic advice.

      October 5, 2013 at 2:58 pm | Reply to this comment

      • James

        Hey Mike, Does it make any sense to do a higher calorie day on a rest day preceding a more difficult workout for a lagging body part (i.e chest), and then still following the cycle down method before a day where I would target a body weight exercise like weighted chin-ups as my key lift? Thanks, and I love all your work and videos.

        December 7, 2015 at 12:09 am | Reply to this comment

        • Mike Author

          Assuming you aren't carb deplete (insanely low cals/carbs on your rest day) you probably don't need to. What would make more sense is to increase cals on the day you train the lagging part as well as the following day.

          December 7, 2015 at 8:02 am | Reply to this comment

  • Dante

    I think this is one of the best articles I read about the carb cycling, I read zillions of them and never found one as complete as this one. So, congrats. But I'm wondering if I should choose the slow cut recomp or the straight recomp, that's why I wanted to ask you about it. I'm not at all fat/overweight, my height is 5'7" (170cm) and my weight 137 lb (62kg). However, I want my abs to pop out. I did judo 3 years ago and I had them, but on the other hand, I barely had muscle. Now I look much better because I'm not as thin as I was (I've been doing weightlifting) but I have a bit of belly fat. I don't know how to burn this fat without losing muscle. Instead, I'd like to get rid of this fat at the same time I gain muscle, since I want to get my abs back. So what do you recommend me? slow cut recomp or straight recomp?

    August 15, 2015 at 2:09 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Gul Muhammad

    Hey Mike, wanted to know that if you keep the carb and fat ratio the same on training days vs rest days but are still hitting the caloric goals for the respective days then is it alright? Silly question but I was pretty curious. Thank you! :)

    December 15, 2015 at 5:37 am | Reply to this comment

  • Mike

    hey, mike, i´m trying recomposition (been for 2 months now and i do fit your list of when recomp is right for you) but my progress is kinda slowing down over time. Can i do anything to help it? I am taking about 60% of my carbs before and about 40% after workout on a training day. Should I change that? Thanks in advance.

    February 23, 2016 at 4:30 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Jen

    Hey Mike, So if I wanted to do a slow bulk body re-comp what percentage would I go in surplus on training days and what percentage would i go into deficit on rest days? Untill now I have been doing a straight re-comp for the past 6 weeks, it has been effective but I have started loosing weight which I don't want. My goal is to put on muscle with minimal/no fat gain (crazy I know), I power lift three/four times a week and am 115-117 pounds (5ft 3). I was eating 1550 on at rest and 1850 on training days. I have recently increased this to 1600 and 1900. Sorry for the long rambling comment hop you could provide some insight!

    January 28, 2018 at 4:29 pm | Reply to this comment

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