Body Recomposition vs Weight Loss: Nutritionist Explains

If you’ve got a few inches to lose, you might be considering weight loss however, body recomposition may give you more bang for your buck. 

What is Body Recomposition?

Weight loss targets fat and is often measured by the number on a scale while body recomposition focuses on replacing fat mass with muscle mass. 

The results may not render a huge dip in the scale but you’ll notice the results with your physical appearance.

By incorporating strength training exercises and prioritizing your protein intake, you can increase your muscle mass while burning fat. This can help your metabolism function better and burn more calories at rest. 

Energy Deficit for Fat Loss

When you are just looking to lose weight, we prioritize a calorie deficit for fat reduction. Research has shown us this is necessary for weight loss. 

While it’s common for diets to take to extremes with these calorie deficits, a healthy deficit does not surpass 500 calories per day. This means if you normally consume 2,000 calories per day you should not be eating less than 1,500 calories while trying to lose fat [1].

A calorie deficit is also needed for body recomposition in most cases. Although it’s not a requirement, those who have some additional weight they want to get off while also building muscle will find this to be an essential component.

However, the calorie deficit during body composition should be closer to 200-400 calories to still allow enough calories to adequately build muscle. 

Nutrition for Muscle Gain

One of the most important nutrients for muscle gain is protein. This nutrient is essential for building and repairing muscle tissues. It also helps with satiety which makes it easier to maintain a healthy weight.

According to research, those looking to build muscle should aim to consume somewhere between 1.4-2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (.64-1 gram per pound) per day in combination with resistance training. For example, someone who weighs 150 lbs should be consuming between 96-150 grams of high-quality protein per day [2, 3]. 

The best sources of protein come from meat, fish, poultry, dairy, and eggs but many utilize protein shakes and powders during this time to help supplement what they can’t get from diet alone. 

It’s encouraged to get a good source of protein at every meal and snack then spread it out evenly throughout the day [4].

Although protein is the main priority, don’t discount carbs and fat. Getting adequate calories from high-quality foods during this time is essential and highly processed items should be limited.

Carbohydrates fuel your muscles and are necessary to give your body the energy it needs to power your workouts. It’s recommended that men and women get about half their calories from carbohydrates. 

Health professionals encourage people to focus on high-quality carbs that include a good source of fiber, such as whole grains, fruits, and veggies. However, high fiber foods should be avoided immediately before a workout to avoid digestive upset [5].

Additionally, your body also benefits from fat. Aim to include more monounsaturated fat sources, such as olive oil, avocados, nuts, and fatty fish such as salmon. These fats provide many health benefits over saturated fats and can also help with satiety.

Body Recomposition vs Weight Loss: What is the Difference?

The main difference between body recomposition and weight loss is that weight loss focuses on fat loss only. It is typically measured by the number on the scale and does not take into consideration muscle mass. 

Body recomposition focuses less on weight and more on replacing fat mass with lean body mass. 

Body recomposition may only show a small change on the scale, or no change at all. Because of this, it’s recommended to not use the scale to measure your progress but instead using body circumference measurements. 

Weight loss focuses only on incorporating a calorie deficit while it's important to eat more during body recomposition, specifically of protein foods. Additionally, body recomposition is associated with more health benefits than just weight loss as your ratio of muscle mass to fat mass is a better indicator of health than just your weight [6, 7].

Should I Focus on Weight Loss or Body Recomposition?

Although weight loss comes with its pros, body recomposition will provide you with more benefits to your health and wellbeing overall. 

If you are looking to improve your health and physical appearance, body recomposition may be a better focus however, it depends on your specific health and fitness goals. 

Some individuals may find value in losing weight first and then focusing on body recomposition once they get close to their goal. 

Do I Need to Be at a Calorie Deficit for Body Recomposition?

A calorie deficit is not always required for body recomposition but a small deficit can typically help encourage fat losses. The key to this is avoiding a large deficit as this can negatively affect your results. 

To build muscle, your body needs to be fueled appropriately. If you aren’t eating enough, your metabolism will slow down to conserve energy and you will not see significant improvements in your performance or your physique.

It can be helpful to know your baseline calorie intake. It’s recommended to have a calorie deficit between 200-400 during body recomposition but if you aren’t sure how much you eat currently it can be easy to underestimate your intake.

Consider tracking your intake for a week or two. From there, you can prioritize which areas you may want to cut down a little.

If you aren’t a fan of tracking, you can typically achieve the same results simply by making healthier swaps during the day. For example, instead of sugary cereal in the morning, plan to have 2 scrambled eggs with a piece of fruit and some turkey sausage. 

This adjustment incorporates more protein, high-quality carbs, and no refined sugars. Additionally, if you know you typically over do it on the snack foods in the evening, work on portioning those out to eliminate unnecessary calories from low-nutrient foods.

Is Body Recomposition the Same as Cutting?

Body recomposition and cutting are two very different practices. Body recomposition focuses on replacing fat mass with muscle while cutting refers to losing weight quickly while preserving lean body mass, often in preparation for an athletic event or competition [8]. 

Cutting is a short-term adjustment in nutrition and exercise with the goal to make weight for an event and is specific to each individual depending on their current weight and goals. Body recomposition can be done by anyone and is aimed at creating a new lifestyle.

Body Recomposition: Long Term Sustainability

One of the biggest challenges with weight loss is sustainability. Unfortunately many people who undergo traditional diets do not have long-term success. 

If done incorrectly, dieting can impact your metabolism and make it even more challenging to lose weight in the future and keep it off.

Body recomposition is more sustainable than weight loss. It helps to boost the function of your metabolism while also incorporating high-satiety foods like protein that are associated with maintaining a health weight [9].

How Long Does Body Recomposition Take?

The amount of time body recomposition takes will vary by individual and their specific health and fitness goals. Noticeable differences in your physique may be seen somewhere between 4-12 weeks

More sensitive tests may be able to assess if progress has been made prior to this however, these can be difficult to find and are not always accurate. To measure your progress, consider doing body circumference measurements monthly.

Final Thoughts

Both weight loss and body recomposition have health benefits however, when it comes to sustainability and health, body recomposition takes the cake. You may not see the number on the scale plummet, but you will see physical improvements and be able to sustain the changes you make a lot easier than with just weight loss.

If you are interested in body recomposition but don’t know where to start, consider working with a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist to help provide guidance.

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