The Basics of Body Recomposition: How to Lose Fat and Gain Muscle

by John Romaniello
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The Basics of Body Recomposition: How to Lose Fat and Gain Muscle

One of the most curious terms you’ll hear in fitness lingo is “lean muscle.” It’s a curious term because, as you may know, all muscle is lean muscle. There is no such thing as “fat muscle” or “bulky muscle.”

Still, it’s a term that has worked its way into the fitness lexicon because of the imagery it suggests. The expression is used to describe the process of building muscle without adding fat; or, in the case of more specific marketing, the idea of building strength without adding “bulk.”

Both of these are highly desirable, and yet neither of them come close to what people really want — the so-called Holy Grail of body transformation: the ability to burn fat and gain (lean) muscle at the same time.

This is something called body recomposition, and while it is undoubtedly difficult, it is not, as some people might have you believe, impossible. In fact, a better way to put it is this: while recomposition is anything but easy, it can be made simple.

IT COMES DOWN TO DIET

What you eat happens to be the most important factor when it comes to body recomposition. Although modifying your exercise program will help, the truth is that diet holds the key.

Specifically, I’m talking about something called cycling. In the context of dieting, “cycling” means that certain aspects of your nutrition are modified on specific days. Nearly every successful diet uses some sort of cycling, whether it’s a standard intermittent fasting practice, a ketogenic diet or carb backloading. All of these examples use different parameters, but they have one thing in common: you eat more calories and carbs on days you work out than you do on days you don’t.

If you want to achieve recomposition, you’re going to eat more on days when you exercise, and less on days when you don’t. The primary reason for this is energy utilization and recovery. To put it succinctly, you need to take more energy on days you expend more energy.

Apart from helping you achieve body recomposition, these things are also important for hormonal optimization. However, there are some other advantages as well: researchers at Louisiana State University found in a 2005 study that calorie cycling prolongs your life; this conclusion was further supported by researched conducted by the National Institute of Health in 2008.


READ MORE > 7 REASONS YOU GAINED THE WEIGHT BACK


BASIC CALORIE CYCLING FOR BASIC RECOMPOSITION

For the purposes of our discussion concerning body recomposition, the term “training day” is only referring to a day on which you perform weight training for at least 30 minutes. Although other forms of exercise can certainly be intense, recomposition is only possible if you’re doing at least 30 minutes of reasonably intense weight training a consistent three times per week.

After all, part of recomposition is gaining muscle, and the most effective way to achieve that is through resistance training. Now that we’ve established that, let’s look how many calories you should eat to achieve your goal of simultaneous fat loss and muscle gain.

It’s a three-step process, and it looks like this:

  • First, figure out your maintenance calories. Input your information into your MFP Diet Profile, then set your goal for “maintain my current weight” and hit “update.” The number you were given is your Maintenance Caloric Intake, or Maintenance Calories (MC).
  • Next, figure out your training day calories. Take your MC, and increase it by 15%. Keep in mind, training days are only days you train with weights.
  • Finally, determine your rest day calories. Take your MC and decrease it by 10%. Rest days are any days you do not train with weights.

That’s it. Super simple. Let’s put it into practice using my body.

I currently weigh 197 pounds and am 5’8’’ tall with 10% body fat. According to my MyFitnessPal diet profile, my MC is set to 2,550. For a guy my size, that sounds about right.

To determine my training day calories, I simply take that number on add 15%. To get that number, I multiply 2,550 by .15, giving me 383. I simply add that to my MC and get 2,933. This is the number of calories I will eat on days I train with weights.

Next, I want to determine my caloric intake on rest days. To do this, I take my MC and subtract 10%. I first multiply 2,550 by .10 and get 255, then subtract that from my MC, giving me 2,295. And just like that, I know how many calories I need to eat on my rest days.

CLOSING THOUGHTS & NEXT STEPS

While recomposition is difficult, it can be made simple, especially with a formula like this. There are a lot of ways to eat for recomposition, and this basic formula is the perfect first step on your journey to simultaneous fat loss and muscle gain — your key to gaining that “lean” muscle you’ve been after.

YOUR TURN

Now, it’s your turn. Give it a shot and let us know how you’re doing in the comments section.

Related

  • Elsa

    So according to this i can only eat 1080 calories on days i dont exercise. Im going to die. :/ so when i get on the treadmill i still only get 1080? :O

    • Ben

      I think you might have made a mistake in your math, or are using your daily calorie intake after a weight loss adjustment has been made (which would be incompatible with the strategy laid out in this article). That said, the above sounds like some serious pseudoscience, and ignoring cardio is really suspect. I thought the whole point of this site was avoiding gimmicks and simply entering in all the data and eating back your calories? It’s been working for me.

      • Elsa

        Curtis i did that.
        Ben…I used my daily calorie intake which was 1200. ( i moved it up after writing my last comment though still unsure it was the right thing.) Im 5’6″ and weigh 124. Im trying to build muscle and get rid of the extra flab on my belly and arms. But the article says to eat more calories when you weight train. Im using a treadmill so according to the article that doesnt count as a “training day”? Sorry. Just totally confused. Im not sure how many calories im suppose to be consuming every day. According to FP its 1200 and then if i exercise a bit more. But according to this article if i dont have training days i have to eat less.

        • Sawsan Al-Hadhrami

          I’m also 5’6 and weigh around the same as you do. There is no way that you are MAINTAINING your weight at 1200, you are losing weight. You cannot build muscle at a deficit, especially at the relatively low weight that you’re already at.

          The article specified maintenance calories for that reason. Maintenance calories are the calories you need to keep your weight the same, not to lose more.

        • Stu3yp

          You only eat less on a rest day if you are eating more on a weight lifting day. According to this article if you are not doing weights then this would not apply. Either way I think you can use it, your maintenance calories are 1200 + 180 (15%) so on your gym day you beat 1380. On a non gym day you eat 1200-120 = 1080.

          The one thing that no one has taken into account is the amount of calories burnt. So of you burn 300 doing a run you would need to consume 1680 instead. Hope that makes sense.

          • Elsa

            Thanks for the reply!! ITiok me awhile but i think i finally got it! 🙂

          • AAnafi

            I’m glad you clarified that. My maintenance calorie intake is 1480, so on weight-lifting days, I’d eat 1702 calories and on non-weightlifting days I’d eat 1332 calories. The way the article reads is that on a day where I don’t lift but I run for an hour and burn ~500 kcal, that I would only eat 1332 calories (because I didn’t lift). If that was the case I’d be an angry, hungry maniac and probably strangle a co-worker out of hunger-rage:)
            Your reply indicates you can still eat some of that 500 calories you burn running if you’re trying to maintain weight and not lose weight. Right?

        • Cilenia

          Assuming you are a similar age as me and do no exercise your BMR is 1588. It would be higher if you exercise… So your 1200 is you still trying to loose weight.

      • Jason Voegele

        Ben, cardio is not a muscle building activity. If the goal is body recomposition (losing fat AND gaining muscle) then eating more on cardio days would not have the same effect of partitioning the extra calories into building muscle as it does on weight training days. In fact, overeating on cardio days would just cancel out the calorie burn from the exercise, or possibly even overcompensate for it.

    • Curtis

      What you do first is input your height weight into your profile to find out to how many cLories you need to maintain that weight. Then on training days add 15% of your mc (maintainace calories) again that is what you need to maintain your weight at current level. To figure out training day calories take your mc x .15 (15%) that gives you the extra calories you need to consume on training days.
      On none training days you minus 10% again mc x .10 (10%) to find out how much you minus out.

    • Beata

      Others have already said so, but I’ll add my three-cents-worth, too: the 1200 must be your losing-an x number-of-lbs calorie allotment, Elsa. So you’d need to go back into settings in MFP and choose “maintain weight” rather than “lose x lbs/week”. At my height and weight (Three inches shorter than you and 20 lbs heavier, mind you, 1200 calls is the MINIMUM allowed. I get grave warnings if I log under that. (Ps. At your hight, your weight seems perfect (if not a bit low) to me. Maybe some muscle building would give you the results you are looking for. 🙂

    • Nina Krosch

      Don’t eat less than 1600 calories a day or you’re going to lose muscle and lower your metabolism.

  • Kait

    . But say I want to use the lose 2lbs a week setting…can I use the same math on the calorie Intake calculated for me by the 2 lbs a week setting instead of my maintenance calories calculated by the maintain my weight setting?

  • ILiftHeavyAcrylics

    You don’t have to calorie cycle to do recomp. I ate the same amount every day while I was recomping and it worked just fine.

    • TR0berts

      Of course you don’t. Like most of the blogs that MFP promotes, this one isn’t correct. Closer than most, but still not quite.

    • F

      Does it actually quicken the process at all?
      Even if calorie cycling were necessary, I don’t really understand the method in the blog post – why eat less on non-training days? Isn’t that when the body’s really going through the process of building muscle?

      • JofJLTNCB6

        I’ve never understood how the magical 24 hour window that includes physical activity is somehow distinctly different than the 24 hour window before or after it. It isn’t as if my body has a separate process for food consumed in this window.

      • ILiftHeavyAcrylics

        I honestly don’t know whether it would quicken the process or not. I’d be interested to know if anyone has any info on it.

      • Tom

        It’s smart to eat more on training days because your body requires more fuel. If you require 2,000 calories to maintain your weight and you burn 400 in a workout it’s smarter to make your food roughly 2400 to prevent your body from going in starvation mode by not supporting it with enough fuel/ calories to support it

        • F

          Agreed that you should eat more to fuel any exercise you do, whether before the workout, after the workout or both – but that’s completely separate from the longer term muscle-building process.

    • franjazkah

      Were you eating maintenance calories? How did you calculate them? I am struggling to find the correct number, each calculator online gives a different result 🙁

  • TruDat

    This makes sense. I saw a big improvement when I added in resistance training 3x a week (with my husband, a personal trainer). I had hit a plateau with my weight. So I did resistance training and increased 1200 cal/day to 1550. Then I had the energy to put in better workouts and I felt like my body was getting back to good condition. I dropped to 117 after being stuck at 122 for over a month. I’m 5’2″.

  • andiesayswhat

    I completely agree and I’ve been trying something similar with my calories. It’s a little disappointing that MFP does not allow (at least that I can figure out) to set goals for calories and macros for each day of the week. Is there a place I can make that suggestion?

    • dinosnopro

      Set calories to your “high” days. On low days come in under goal by x calories, ignore calories left over.

      • andiesayswhat

        Yeah, that’s what I’ve been doing, but I’m always worried that my macros are off; when I exercise they change, of course. If I’m always on my high days, though, I don’t know if I’m meeting them or not. It might not be as big a deal as I’m making it 🙂 Thanks for the reply!

        • Nilzed

          You do have to adjust yourmindset to accept that, depending on whether you set your daily goal to BMR, exercise day, or rest day, there will be days you will seem to miss your goal per the app. You know more than the app though!

    • Dani Nicole

      You can set daily goals for cals and macros with premium 🙂

  • Virginia Johnson

    Why isn’t there more of a focus on progressive loading strength training mentioned in this article about recomposition? That is just as important as diet. It seems as if the author just breezed by this super important part of how to recomp.

    • Agreed.

      3 things you need to recomp optimally:
      1) PROGRESSIVE loading via resistance training
      2) Eat – don’t starve yourself.
      3) Quality sleep

    • Because the editors give me a 1200 word limit.

      • Kjs

        Thank You! I appreciate your article. I was unsure how to use my extra calories when weight training.

  • GOOD Nutrition Advice

    Calorie cycling sounds really stupid. So does hardcore calorie counting. Put it this way – if it has a nutrition label it ISNT REAL FOOD. The composition of the macronutrients is more important than the calorie total. A calorie is not a calorie. One calorie of SUGAR does not elicit the same reaction in human biology as a calorie of FAT or PROTEIN. If I eat a bag of Skittles (approx 250 calories) or 1/2 of walnut pieces (approx 250 calories) two TOTALLY DIFFERENT things will occur chemically in my body. Different types of exercise rely on different primary fuels – aerobic is a balance of fat and muscle glyogen; while anaerobic training relies first on glycogen then on fat. HR during exercise plays into this. You cannot relegate yourself to some caloric surplus/deficit methodology or all you’ll do is burn out and burn up muscle. I can’t wait to see the “next” step in this “recomposition” (you’re not recomping anything) process. This whole first bogus calorie counting article could have been skipped and you could get right to the actual foods part.

    • GOOD Nutrition Advice

      Human Biochemistry*
      1/2 cup of walnut pieces**

    • JackieTreehorn

      Yes obviously the nutrient itself is important, but so too is your total caloric intake. If you’re consuming too many calories (ie more than is required for maintenance + exercise), regardless of whether they are from ‘clean’ foods, you’re going to start storing fat. This article is just an intro into the basic concept of cycling calories and I don’t know that it needs to be so basic as to state that relying on Skittles as your primary calorie source is less than ideal. If you’re out of shape, and looking to improve how you look and feel, you need to understand what and how much you are consuming, and the vast majority of people will notice better results by cycling calories and carbs.

      Further, tracking calories is actually a good idea for those that are new to this as most people have no idea as to their total daily consumption. This doesn’t mean you have to become a psychotic anal retentive tracking each morsel of food you think about, but simply tracking your daily food intake for a week or two is a great way to start off and to keep yourself accountable.

      • Kristina

        I started using mfp to count my calories about a year ago and have lost 100 pounds since then. I was also adding in my exercise which then allows you to consume more calories. Pretty much cycling like he had said. Although it is healthier to eat walnuts over skittles calorie counting is the way to go for weight loss and toning which I have experienced myself.

    • shartran

      Super GOOD point that you have made regarding the nutrition of what is consumed…

    • George

      Wow, super negative – and a pompous know-it-all to boot. And who knew you shouldn’t get all your calories from skittles? Maybe everyone… Lighten up, Francis.

    • Brian Murray

      I appreciate that you put your best fut forward here, GOOD Nutrition Advice, so I’ll try my best to do the same in my response.

      “Calorie cycling sounds really stupid. So does hardcore calorie counting. Put it this way – if it has a nutrition label it ISNT REAL FOOD.”

      That’s quite an amazing conjecture. Let’s rephrase this to, “I don’t understand how this works, so it must be stupid.”

      I can understand your reason to admonish folks from eating foods with a nutrition label in an effort to sway them towards consuming whole foods, however, you did so poorly. Roman never mentions nutrient-density, he simply implies folks should focus their attention on calorie/macronutrient intake. Thus, you can’t draw the conclusion that he’s advising folks to neglect nutrient-density, nor that he’s giving folks the go-ahead to eat whatever they want as long as it falls within their macronutrient guidelines. Most folks on MFP probably have a good idea where they should be getting a majority of their foods from, e.g., whole, unprocessed foods. Because Roman was limited to a specific word limit, I’m sure he left “food quality” out of the article.

      “The composition of the macronutrients is more important than the calorie total.”

      Both are clearly important, and again, nowhere in this article did Roman imply it wasn’t. You drew this conclusion yourself. In addition, you LITERALLY cannot disprove energy balance. Check out Avi Bitterman, Lyle McDonald, Alan Aragon, etc., if you really want to talk shop on this topic.

      I’ll just stop there, Tom Smykowski—I’m running out of room.

      • Eustina Filipatos

        I LOVE this! You are exactly right… He never mentioned anything implying that the content of your calories and your macro breakdown is not important , he said he will discuss that in the next blog. And I’m sorry but the only way I have been able to lose weight is with my fitness pal and counting … It took a LONG time but I figured out what to consume… Nutrient dense, whole foods .. And guess what? They still have labels. Organic chicken? Label . Organic quinoa and brown rice? Label. Bananas? Label. I have learned balance in life but only through counting calories and realizing the importance of measuring … U can eat an avocado, super healthy right? What you think is a good portion could set you over your daily calorie goal by 200 calories… At the end of the day it adds up so even if you are eating healthy, whole foods, you can still not progress and lose weight if you overeat. Most ppl don’t know what 45 grams of avocado looks like so they overeat. Counting and being super strict until you truly can eyeball it is an awesome way to teach you about portions. And he also never mentioned cardio is bad ! It’s super great for endurance and blood flow etc etc … He’s talking specifically about trying to build muscle and stay lean at the same time so you can definitely still incorporate cardio . It’s all math and I love the way he examined it. In the end it’s a balance between cardio, weights, calories, AND macro breakdown. Finding that balance is they key to overall health .

        • Jim McGuckin

          I enjoyed your comment, I once had a doctor who said its all about calories. He said he could make me fat on vegetables and its true as I have seen Vegan bodybuilders who get big on plants. So in the end its calories in and calories out and it takes some time to get your individual needs down.

          • BuzzPreston

            Calories in/calories out is not only a sick myth, it’s dangerous. It’s the basis of the USDA my plate, which is very similar to the livestock fattening nutrition profile of a Kansas Feed Lot. We all know how that’s working; where the Western Diet goes, metabolic disease, (heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, metabolic syndrome), follows. American food producers are poisoning the world.

          • annrein

            Industrial food products vs. real food. Cheap food isn’t cheap. But the author isn’t advocating anything. Yet. He’s just trying to get people thinking. You are a diet wonk as I am, I can tell – we need to guide people to good food.

    • BlakeTheGeek

      The rice and oatmeal I buy both come with nutrition labels.

    • Duncan

      Sorry. Everything come with a nutrition label these days. Even my steak and eggs.

    • Rolly Mangaccat

      Nope. Cals in / cals out. End of story.

      • Ana Karina

        Rolly life isn’t so simple. My body composition is mostly fat with some muscle – I need to build muscle to lose weight as my metabolism is sluggish. I have hypothyroid issues. I’m over 50, short, and struggling with perimenopause. Losing weight isn’t that simple for me.

      • Drone Eye

        That’s true, however the “calories in” doesn’t necessarily have to come from food in your mouth. It can come from fat storage. On the other hand “calories out” isn’t always in the form of burnt fat, it can be from muscle catabolism.

      • annrein

        Quality calories in = good health out. There is a difference.

    • I need something other than calorie counting. I try not to eat anything with a label. I wouldn’t have to count calories if I could control basic urges.

    • Orion Antares

      Calorie cycling for recomp does work. The problem is there is a second component to it completely left out of the article, macro ratios. It’s left out how they need to be calculated and how they also need to be adjusted with the calorie totals from day to day.

    • Justin

      Egg cartons have a nutrition label. So do bags of white potatoes and sweet potatoes, bags of chicken breast and fish, bags of brown rice do too as well as tubs of plain oatmeal, cans of tuna, rolls of lean ground beef and turkey. These are all body building foods, so it sounds like you’re not speaking from experience.

  • Tobias Krüger

    In that case.. Do I add the workout as an activity / the extra calories for my workout on workout-days?

  • koleman4118

    great info– how can I make sure to get notified when the article on macronutrient is posted?

  • Tez

    So those of us who work out a bit less than 30 minutes at a time or strength train without weights can just forget about this, then…?

  • syversonj

    ok soo now I have a question. I am desperately trying to shed the weight and nothing seems to really work for me.

    My totals are this.

    Male 5’10” Current Wt = 282 trying to lose 2lbs /week (MFP says 1760 daily to do this)

    Your formulas:

    maintain = 2760
    train (Weights) = 2760 +15% = 3174
    rest (no weights) = 2760 -10% = 2484

    Exercise routine

    Heavy cardio days = 1500cal burned from cardio
    light cardio days = 500 cal from cardio and 45 min of weight training

    I am on a 3 and 2 schedule that flips from week to week

    Eample

    week 1 = 3 heavy cardio and 2 light cardio with weights
    week 2 = 2 heavy cardio and 3 light cardio with weights

    overall what happens if I just follow the 1760 that MFP recommends to do this. I am horribly confused about the fabled conservation mode.

    Any help that you could offer would be greatly appreciated.

    • JackieTreehorn

      Just curious as to your training and what program you’re following? When you reference weights and cardio – are you saying you are doing both in a single workout?

      With cycling your calories, be sure to also cycle carbs. That is – keep carbs low on non-training days, and increase them on days you train. This only means starchy impact carbs (such as rice, potato’s etc) – you should always be eating plenty of green veggies on both training and non-training days.

      • syversonj

        I am trying to keep my body guessing since nothing seems to be working.

        I am not really cycling calories other than on light cardio or (training) days, I am trying to eat closer to the 1760 that MFP recommends since I am doing weights. Both cardio and weights are not in the same workout. I do the cardio in the morning and the weights in the evening when I get home from work. I mainly eat protein and vegetables every day and I try to stay eating low carbs all of the time. I am getting very frustrated because nothing seems to work for the long term. everything works for a little while but I continually run into plateaus that cause me to stay stagnant. This is why I am trying to keep my body guessing at what I am going to do.

        • JackieTreehorn

          It’s easy to fall into the ‘too much cardio cycle’ – doing
          more is not necessarily better. Doing
          too much cardio will put your body into a catabolic state, and it becomes a vicious circle of frustration!

          Doing your cardio first thing in the morning on an empty
          stomach is great — 2 HIIT sessions and 2 slow-go cardio (brisk 30-45 minute walk) are about right. Doing any more
          than that can start to be detrimental.
          You could also add a finisher to the end of your weight workout once or twice a week.

          Something to keep in mind is that low carb only works for so long before your body basically revolts against you causing those plateaus. After 5 or 6 days in a row of
          low carb, you should have a re-feed day consisting of high carbs and high calories to reset your leptin levels, then revert back to low carb for the next 5 or 6 days.

          • syversonj

            Jackie:

            THANK YOU!!! soo much for taking the time to help me out a little with some advice. I will elaborate a little more.

            High cardio days
            30 mins (500 cal burn) on empty stomach first thing.
            30 mins (500 cal burn) after I get home from work.
            60 mins (500 cal burn) water aerobics class in the
            evening.

            low cardio days:
            30 mins (500 cal burn) on empty stomach first thing.
            45 mins weight training and body weight exercises.

            Cardio comes mostly from elliptical machine and occasionally a stationary bike. I have to be careful jogging is not an option (artifical joints).

            the high and low days cycle every week on a 3 and 2 alternating schedule. so in 2 weeks time;

            5 high cardio non-training days

            5 low cardio training days.

            If I understand what your saying about the low carb diet is that every 5-6 days (weekly) I need to have a high carb and high calorie day. This would imply the fabled “cheat day” is this correct. Then back to the low carb way for 5-6 more days?

            If this is the case do I move the day around and have it different every week?

            Any tips for avoiding a catabolic state?

          • JackieTreehorn

            If I’m reading your reply correctly, my first instinct is that you’re overdoing it on the cardio. You mentioned artificial joints, so I’m guessing your ability to do high intensity intervals may be limited — however I would suggest a 30-45 minute walk 2-3 times per week, preferably in the morning. I would (if your joints allow it) try to do at least one higher intensity interval workout in the am — these are short, intense workouts.

            For your diet, yes – a cheat day after 5 or 6 low carb days is the way to go. If you have a lot of weight to lose right off the bat, you can keep this to a more clean cheat day with a cheat meal in there somewhere (that is, try to still eat relatively clean but make sure you’re getting alot of carbs). The reason here is to reset those leptin levels. Once depleted (which happens after too many low carb days), your body will no longer respond. You can definitely mix this up (some weeks after day 5, some after day 6 etc). I’m not sure what (if any) protocol exists on this board for recommending trainers but there are a few people that I would recommend Googling that can really give you some great insight into the more cutting edge techniques for this (and yes, the author of the blog we’re responding on is definitely one of them).

          • syversonj

            I agree that I may be overdoing the cardio. With Joint replacements (knee and hip opposite sides) an elliptical machine is about all that I can do for high intensity.

            I am trying to do the high impact cardio in the morning.
            I am assuming that I should be doing some lower impact stuff in the evening (stationary bicycle). I do try and walk but frankly I am trying to do more stuff indoors because of winter setting in.

            Ok so then if I am overdoing the cardio then how much is a good number to work with on a daily basis (M-F)?

            I am trying to do more weight training (upper body) and body weight exercises (lower body). I am averaging 2-3 days a week for this should this be more in your opinion?

            It really sounds like I need to really sit down and talk to a trainer and just have a custom plan created for me (food and exercise). I would love for you to recommend some. I can give you an email address so you can recommend some. I just need something that works.

            As far as diet goes. I can definitely squeeze in a cheat day every 5-6 days. I get so tired of eating what I call plastic. I realize that all of this is a process and every body (machine) is unique. I am a little confused on why I haven’t found anything that works for me as of yet but I will keep trying.

            I really appreciate you taking the time to share your insights with me!

          • JackieTreehorn

            Diet can be extremely frustrating when things don’t seem to be working. The Renegade Diet (by Jason Ferrugia) is worth picking up. It’s what I’ve used for years now, with
            great results, not just physically, but mentally as well. It’s very simple to follow and is essentially just re-framing how you think about food and timing of meals (specifically relating to when to eat carbs). There are of course a plethora of other diets/meal plans etc. out there; this is just one suggestion.

            For cardio – I’d really keep it to 4 sessions per week, in the morning. Ideally 2 mornings would be high intensity intervals (or as high /hard as you can go), and the other 2 sessions would be slow-go cardio (walk on the treadmill or similar). A brisk morning walk doesn’t get the respect it deserves — it’s so good for fat burning!

            For weights: 3-4 sessions/week is ideal (I should refer to this as strength training as intense bodyweight workouts can be done as well). If you can pair the high intensity morning workouts with a tough strength workout (done later in the day), that is ideal, then also make sure to take 1 full day off a week at least.

            Also- after your cheat day, you should make sure to do a high intensity workout the day after.

            Personally I follow the Renegade Diet, and the programs I follow are either the Renegade Training programs (google: Jason Ferrugia – Renegade Strength Club); or I use programs designed by John Romaniello (you can buy his programs, and he also does offer personalized training). A couple of others I would suggest googling are Shaun Hadsall and Craig Ballantyne.

            Like a lot of people that are into fitness and strength training, I’ve been down the frustrating road of
            plateaus and weak (or worse) results and I know how frustrating it can be, but once you get things dialed in, it is well worth it!
            I hope some of this helps!

        • keeptotheright

          From the program I started 12 weeks ago (The Happy Body), your cardio is negating or impairing the benefits of your weight training. Try using the formula in the article, staying on a low/slow carb diet, and removing cardio from your routine and see if you don’t notice a positive difference. You should see a gain in muscle, metabolism and composition.

          • syversonj

            Thank you for the advice keeptotheright. I will look into it. I am starting to ramp up my weight training to see if that will help. I will look into The Happy Body. Thanks for the reply. I have heard from multiple sources that I am doing far too much cardio. I am just wondering how much is too much?

          • keeptotheright

            According to THB, any endurance training is detrimental. They recommend ceasing running, cycling, swimming, etc. By eliminating cardio, by default your weight training is “ramped up.” This sounds radical and seems to go against conventional fitness wisdom, so understanding why is key. Good luck!

          • syversonj

            that does sound radical. The cardio I cant really give up (recent artificial joints both legs). However I can certainly tone it down. I will look into it. I looked at their website and there is some promising information there. Has it worked for you?

  • Tony Douglas

    if your weight training to bulk, you add 500 calories to your diet. If you want to maintain the same weight or on your off day, eat your bmi calories. If your trying to lose weight, eat 500 calories less than your bmi.

    • And if you are trying to gain muscle while getting leaner, use cycling.

  • ivanmcc

    This is a bit daft. To say that I should eat 10% fewer calories on a day when I run 30k training for a marathon just because it doesn’t involve weights is just going to lead to exhaustion and illness – you have to listen to your body and over time develop an understanding of its needs and how different foods meet these

    • The idea is that you eat for your activity level. If you’re about to go on a marathon, I think the author would recommend you eat a lot more prior.

    • Anon

      The author said eat at maintenance. So, yes, if you run 30km, eat enough to support it.

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  • Mary-Scarlett Vernon

    This is a great example of overthinking food. We obsess over it. It is time to stop! Just eat the food, lift the heavy things. Repeat.

    • This is a really interesting comment to post on a blog run by My Fitness Pal.

      Because, you know…MFP exists so that people can accurately measure and record the food they eat.

      Instead of “just eating it.”

  • Mica

    Calorie cycling literally has no benefit over a steady state diet. If anything, it’s awful for you in that you’re not teaching yourself to habitually eat a consistent amount of nutrients.

    From a cognitive standpoint, it is extremely difficult for one to contend with major changes in their diet, and it is best to adopt a consistent diet to teach oneself habitual diet regulation.

    The actual best way to recomp is to understand one’s own metabolism such that you can make an extremely modest increase in your maintenance calorie level (like 10%). Slow bulking is the cleanest bulking, especially during a recomp.

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  • Alyssa

    This guy, john romanillo, is a very well known name In the fitness industry-this man knows his stuff…some of these comments are too funny….

    of course you don’t HAVE to calorie cycle to recomp but its an awesome tool that allows flexibility- and for the runners out there, do some more research. There are hormonal responses our bodies elicit when we engage in physical activity. Running five miles does shit for body recomp compared to weight training…hence why higher calories are recommended. This advice- especially being FREE, is gold. Use it.

  • Kerry

    John,
    Thanks for the article, very good! I’ve lost 150lbs on my own. 6’1, now about 195lbs, male. Recomp is exactly what I want to do, so I’m going to start using your cycling method. A question for you, I’m also an enduance athelete (marathons, triathlons, etc.)… though weight training is my main focus now through March. My thought is that my lifting days (4 days per week) eat 15% above maintenance (about 2700ish) and on days I do HIIT running, bike trainer, etc. (non-lifting days) go 10% under (2100ish)… even though I’ve burned a pretty decent amount of cals through those activities. Does that sound about right? I realize that heavy weight training and endurance sports counteract each other. My goal is to get as lean as possible while still being competitive in the sports I enjoy. Any thoughts appreciated. Thanks again!
    -Kerry

  • Mzs Stiletto

    My question is this. He is letting you know about recomposition for maintenance. What about to lose weight? Would I use that same formula but with my suggested caloric intake to lose weight as opposed to using the one to maintain? For instance, my calorie consumption to maintain would be 1,610 and to lose it would be 1,200. Would I multiply the 15% and 10% by the 1,200 instead of the 1,610 if I would like to lose?

  • pam

    is kettlebells considered training. I swing between 15 – 25 lbs. I know I get a great cardio from it as well.

  • Jolie Goldstein

    This makes total sense. Thank you. It definitely sounds better than what my nutritionist suggested which was to take in between 1300-1500 on my training days, which by the way is M-F. I didn’t take her advice of course. I didn’t think that was the right thing for me. I will however try this because I’m trying to put on more muscle weight. I’m 5’2, 113lbs, with about 19% BF training for my first bikini competition. @johnromaniello would love to read about how to set up the macronutrients next.

  • Cecile Fields Cann

    Now I’m really confused… Does it matter if you have more than 75 to lose?

  • Macman51

    Andysayswhat: when I input my exercise into MFP is adjusts the macros accordingly. I’ve also adjusted the ratios of macros. Log in online and it will let you manually set up. So I first input my information got my baseline for maintenance then went back and did it manually. I set it up for 35% protien 25% fat and 40% carbohydrates. Which equals 220g of protien and when I input my weight training it adjusts protien goal up to 264g for 100 minutes of strength training.

  • NotreReve

    Ok I am confused…Everyday I log my exercises into MyFitnessPal. On days when I
    do aerobic exercise, such as walking, the calories expended are added back into my daily allowance. The same is NOT true on days when I lift weights.
    This seems to be the opposite of what this article espouses (???)

    • Dani

      Mostly because there are no accurate calculations for lifting weights, but there are for cardio, since the machine does the calculation for. Weird. It took me a while to figure this out.

  • tinka

    so am I wasting my time doing cardiovascular everyday?

  • Meggs N’ bacon

    okay, it seems to make sense, but MFP tellms me that i need to consume 1200 calories to loose the 48 lbs i’m working on but even on my rest days according to this i shoud be consuming 1854? That seems like alot…
    QUESTIONS: Do body-resistance programs (Yoga or Pilates) count as ‘training’ (aka.: weight trainging)?

  • Adriane Sorrels

    Do you have any good resources for researching caloric cycling? I’d like to know more about the specific macronutrient ratios as well as the ratio of calories necessary for body recomposition.
    I would love to start a 30 minute weight lifting regimen, but I don’t know enough weight exercises to comprise a full 30 minutes. Any recommendations on where to start?

  • Greg Dahlen

    poorly written article because doesn’t explain why this matters

    • Kam

      “The primary reason for this is energy utilization and recovery. To put in the most succinct way possible, you need to take more energy on days you expend more energy. Pretty simple, right?

      Apart from helping you achieve body recomposition, these things are also important for hormonal optimization. However, there are some other advantages as well: researches at Louisiana State University found in a 2005 study that calorie cycling prolongs your life; this conclusion was further supported by researched conducted by the National Institute of Health in 2008”

      Did you miss this part of the article? Its a pretty big part of it.

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  • Jonathan Kaleb Long

    This sounds like a good idea, but I think it may fall flat with people like myself. I lift 6 days a week (different muscle groups) for the requisite 30 minutes. That means I’d be eating less than baseline only 1 day per week. The other 6 days a week are essentially just bulking! While that will definitely help me see the muscle growth I desire, I doubt it will burn much fat!

  • PeterBrown77

    I weight train 5-6 days a week though… so I only take one low calorie day? I’ve been doing an alternate of Crossfit and Body Beast. CF has 6 days, BB 5.

  • BuzzPreston

    What is the principle behind reducing calories, ( especially protein), on rest days when your body is repairing and rebuilding from the previous days’ training?

  • Lexus Aquarius Kershaw

    Ok, I need some help because I know my maths is awful and the figures I churned out look way too high calorie wise that I have no idea how I’m going to fulfil it.

    ATM to lose 1kg per week with my 162cm height and current 66kg weight it has me on 1200 cal per day.

    I worked out to maintain I had to eat 1740 cal per day. On training days I had to eat 2001 cal per day and on rest days 1566 cal.

    How would my rest days be higher than my MFP goal calories atm?
    I’m confused :/

  • Danie Cibula

    I’ve been overweight all my life and tried so many things. Different things work for different people and I was lucky enough to find one that worked for me. I lost 25 pounds in one month without much exercise and it’s been a life changer. I’m a little embarrased to post my before and after photos here but if anyone actually cares to hear what I’ve been doing then I’d be happy to help in any way. Just shoot me an email at oceanflowers82@gmail.com and I’ll show you my before and after photos, and tell you about how things are going for me with the stuff I’ve tried. I wish someone would have helped me out when I was struggling to find a solution so if I can help you then it would make my day

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  • Danielle

    Are all of the body recomposition equations the same for both men and women? I’m wondering if there would be a discrepancy between the two. I am a woman who is questioning you. 🙂 Thank you!

  • Arkodiak

    I’ve been counting calories for almost three years with mfp and have lost 75 pounds. Have recently started lifting and doing cardio and have been lost. Finally found an answer with your post. Changed my goals set in mfp app will give it a try maybe wasn’t getting enough fuel and maybe wasn’t tracking 100% either. But thanks for the input. Not looking to bulk up I just want to loose some body fat and gain some more muscle same time Ina 43 and not trying to be 18 again thanks

  • johngrivera

    So how does one lose weight without building muscle? I’m interested in losing about 60 lbs but I have no intention of building muscle or gaining a 6 pack or any of that fancy stuff that comes with weight lifting. Any ideas on how someone can lose weight and only weight without building muscle at all? Yes I understand most people will disagree here with that but this is what I have been trying to accomplish for a while now and running on the treadmill alone just isn’t doing enough.

  • Ro

    All muscle is NOT lean muscle. Fatty tissue can be dispersed through muscle (eg “marbled steak” – at any butcher) and organs in gross obesity.
    Muscle can be replaced with fibrous tissue. These facts are well-documented.

  • Wendy

    I’m real confused. If I set MFP to maintain my current weight, (which is currently Overweight) then is that not defeating the object? I don’t want to stay at this weight & get muscles, I want to be thinner & leaner!!!

  • charlieok

    How about this: link MyFitnessPal to a fitness tracker (in my case Garmin Forerunner 235 — GPS, accelerometer, heart rate sensor). Syncing regularly adds calories to the daily calorie budget equal to the estimated energy you burned exercising.

    My assumption and hope is that the estimates are reasonably accurate for both cardio and strength exercises, given the basic stats and sensor measurements available.

    This automatically results in eating more on days you exercise and less on days you don’t.

    I see no reason to restrict the ‘eat more when you train’ rule of thumb to strength training only. Obviously I should strength train if I want more muscle, but it strikes me as equally obvious that I should eat a little extra if today is a cardio day and I am doing an hour long run.

  • Wendy

    I’m real confused. If I set MFP to maintain my current weight, (which is currently Overweight) then is that not defeating the object? I don’t want to stay at this weight & get muscles, I want to be thinner & leaner!!!

  • Crisarlin Vazquez

    Does Insanity Max 30 workout counts as training day?

  • Hey MFP, how about adding big red “calorie cycling: rest/train” buttons at the top of our diaries? 😉

  • Elisabeth Mcdonald

    I lift for an hour tuesday/thursday and do cardio everyday for 2 hours and rest on Sundays. Do I eat the amount of calories that MFP recommends I eat to lost 2 pounds a week on days I workout but don’t lift? or do I eat the rest day calories on days I only do cardio and the training day amount on lifting days? SOS

  • Elisabeth Mcdonald

    I lift for an hour tuesday/thursday and do cardio everyday for 2 hours and rest on Sundays. Do I eat the amount of calories that MFP recommends I eat to lost 2 pounds a week on days I workout but don’t lift? or do I eat the rest day calories on days I only do cardio and the training day amount on lifting days? SOS

  • Carlos

    What are your recommendations for macro ratios to achieve this basic recomposition?

  • Gabe

    Is the goal to be over 15% on training days and 10% under on rest days based upon your gross or net caloric intake?

  • Terry Dix

    Like the sounds of this John, but I don’t need to loose weight, just maintain and put on muscle mass. 69 yrs old 154 lbs 20% body fat. Would I do 15% over on days I lift, and do my MC on days I don’t? Also, have done some (not extensive) weight machines at the “Y”, but not near one now. I’ve given up cars and ride a recumbent bike and walk, so get a lot of my lower body exercise. I was thinking of starting Shawn Phillips’ Strength for Life program and emphasize upper body work. What do you think?

  • Aswinikumarpalo@gmail.com

    How to measure the percentage fat content in a human body? Is there any formula?

  • Megan

    Can you give any advice for those of us who have a signifigant amount of weight to lose but still want to start building
    muscle while losing fat?

  • katie

    i worked mine out as my MC is 2460. then Weight days i get 2624. Non training days is 2214. I feel this is too much for me ? i am 11 st 11 lbs and 5.8″ tall. Can someone advise?

  • Vivi

    I get the jist of it, but I want to lose weight and tone up so I don’t want to maintain my weight I need to lose weight. Do I just have a weight loss plan to get to target and then maintain that weight and train to gain lean muscle???

  • Kas

    I do weight training six days per week. I imagine that a surplus for six days and deficit for one is not going to help me lose weight. Any idea for someone who weight trains more than 3 days per week?

  • Anthony

    Where is the maintence calculator on MFP?

    • Heather

      You go to your “goals” and put your current weight in to the spot where it says “current weight” AND “goal weight.” Then you have to set the “weekly goal” part to “maintain current weight.” Then when you go back to your daily log section your calories will be updated to what you should consume to maintain your current weight.

    • Brian

      There is no maintenance calculator. You set your goal to maintain your same weight.

  • Brian

    Okay, so I have lost about 100 lbs using MFP. I’ve totally changed how I think about food and the foods I eat. I’m a vegetarian and I’m a 5’11” male at 210lbs and 19% body fat last time I checked. I want to put on muscle and still continue losing body fat. Up until now I’ve strictly been doing cardio. I’ve decided to set my goal to gain .5 pounds per week now. The only real nutritional changes that I’m making is adding another protein shake. It’s hard to get approx 200g of protein when you’re vegetarian. I’m starting to lift heavy weights alternating shoulders, chest and abs one day, cardio the next, arms, abs, and back the next day, cardio the next day, legs, booty, abs one day, then cardio again and then a complete rest day. Any thoughts or suggestions?

  • Laura

    What do you do about days where you do cardio?

  • gina h

    Thanks for the info. How do I calculate “maintenance calories” if I’m trying to lose about 40 pounds? Surely I don’t use my current maintenance calories.

  • Heather

    I feel like I would gain weight if I did this!! So I definitely want to lose fat and gain muscle but right now I am eating a high protein diet, staying around 1200 calories and lifting weights 4 times/week and the scale is not budging! Will I actually lose weight if I increase my calories?? It just doesn’t make sense to me. I always thought weight loss is just math: burn more calories than you consume…

  • Deedi Boland

    Question…are we talking net calories after workouts or total calories before workouts?

  • Taite Lipchak

    It says my MC is 2990, does that seem right for a 18 year old guy at 180 and 6’0?

  • Kristen

    So…. if I’m trying to lose 10lbs, do I lose it first and then do this method? Because if I do this method now, it gives me 2173 calories on my training days which seems like way too much. ???

  • Lucy Brown

    I have one question about this; if someone could help me. Do you adjust your activity level? I know that the calories it gives you changes based on activity level. I appreciate anyone who can help.

    • BJ Mac

      I was wondering the same. Maintenance calories vary by 500 cal/day when I change my activity level.

  • Jennifer Braun

    What about women? Are the percentrages the same?

  • Mike

    Easier math (if you use a calculator): Multiply by 1.15 (training days) and 0.9 (off days). This will skip the addition/subtraction steps.

  • Melissa Poncia Williams

    Does “weight training” mean using weights or can it be resistance training like Bar or TRX – planks – even hiking…?

  • Maria

    So, what happens if I don’t meet the required amount of calories that I have to eat?

  • DetroitSinkhole

    Hmmmm….i eat when my body tells me to eat.

  • Cassidy

    Just to clarify should we ignore workout activity calories and just use the 15%?

  • Tiana Tallant

    how would you recommend adjusting this for someone who runs 50-60 miles a week? in addition to 4 days/ week of resistance training? how do the calories burned running factor into the equation?

    • Orion Antares

      I’m not a runner, but I would assume you would want to adjust your macros based on your target heart rate since higher heart rates burn more carbohydrates.

  • Nicole Felts

    Great article! We want the breakdown of the macronutrient guide now too 😉

  • bg

    What about days you do cardio but not necessarily weight training, maybe swimming, or HIIT for example, not really a rest day. What should your caloric intake be those days?

  • Ask Helen

    Maintaining and controlling my calorie intake per day is really hard, plus the fact that I don’t exercise regularly. I guess I just have to restart my diet and start following your tips! 🙂

  • Becca Foster

    The calories seem so much to me but for me it is 2334kcal door training days and 1926kcal on non training days. What can I do if I have trouble eating that much so I don’t opt for high calorie junk food?

    • davedave12

      Still there? On training day a whey protein shake with whole milk will give you about 32g protein for 260 cal — A recent review published in the European Journal of Nutrition of the existing research on dairy fat came to some surprising conclusions: People who eat full-fat dairy are no more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes than people who stick to low-fat dairy. When it comes to weight gain, full-fat dairy may actually be better for you, the review found.

  • Andrew Yeroshenko

    Hey guys,

    I got kinda noob question on daily calorific goal for both training/non-training days – should I substract calories which I burn during activities from calories I ate when calculating if I am reaching daily goal?

    E.g.: on non-training day my calorie goal is 1.9k calories, at the same time I cycled for 500 calories. Question – should I eat 1.9k calories or 1.9k + 500 calories?

  • Jaedyn Fernández

    How would this work if you do cardio during your weight trainings days with one rest day . Should I do my cardio on a seperate day from weight training?

  • YF

    Sorry, but this isn’t recomposition. It’s called ‘lean bulking’. You will gain some fat over time whenever you eat above maintenance, which is what the author is prescribing.

  • Heather

    Does working out on a Total Gym work as weight training?

  • PrettyPrivleged

    So what about the days I do long runs? It seems a bit calorie restrictive to me. But I’m game, I’ll try it. I log every bite of food I take in & absolutely pay attention to my macros.

  • davedave12

    why is this so complicated – don’t you have general idea how many calories you burn in your workouts — added approximately that amount to your maintenance calories

  • Susan

    I am trying to lose weight/fat. So, do I use my adjusted calorie goal provided by MFP for my calculations or the calories necessary to maintain my current weight?

  • Carin

    I have read through a lot of these comments to see if my question has been addressed – sorry if I missed it there is a lot of back and forth on a variety of subjects. Can you drill down on “weight training”? I weight train – like olympic style lifting, but as a 35 year-old-female I have found that in order to not look like a body builder I need to incorporate lots of other strength training with tons of cardio. Does bodyweight movement count in this scenario? Resistance training??

  • NolaNicki

    So, if I work out with weights 6 days in a row, does that mean that I still eat my training day calories on each of those days? It seems like a lot of calories. I’m 5’2″ petite woman and recently went from 120lbs to 133lbs due to prescription meds (and I stopped working out). I’m used to only eating 1200 calories max each day even if I work out.

  • Dani Nicole

    Thanks for this article! Question: I calculated my caloric need based on your equations. I need to turn off the setting that adds calories for exercise, now, correct?

  • Tony Rizk

    Great article!

    i just have a question about choosing when to ‘eat more’, as i exercise in the evening (before bed time). In that case should I consider my training day the next day, since i would need those extra calories for recovery?

  • Denita

    Hi, I have a few questions.
    1. Is this for AFTER you reach your desired maintenance weight, NOT while you are still trying to lose weight?
    2. You said on days you use “weights”. I usually do 20 minutes on the exercise bike, and 20-30 minutes on weight machines. If I only do the bike, then I shouldn’t change my diet? Or if I only do 20 minutes on weights then I should do it? Is it good to combine the two? Or should I do cardio one day and weights the next time? ( I am trying to work out 3x a week, but sometimes only make it 2x)
    3. Any suggestions for foods to eat on exercise days? I can’t seem to figure out a food that won’t put me over my limit in some other area: sugar, sodium, fat, etc.

  • Nichole Blankenship

    Age: 34, Female, 149lbs, 30% BF, 5′ 2″
    using your calculations:
    Maintenance: 1640 (I set my activity level to sedentary since I have a desk job but I crossfit 4-5 days a week and strength train 4 days a week)
    Training days: 1880
    Rest Days: 1476

    Questions:
    I crossfit and follow a Wendler lifting program as well as class strength program. I have been eating around 1600-1700 a day following macros – Protein 45%, Fats 30%, Carbs 25%. I am trying to lose body fat but also build a little more muscle mass. According to our super fancy expensive scale at the gym, I have 13 lbs of fat to lose and about 58lbs of skeletal muscle mass. Do I need to be eating closer to 1880 on training days or am I ok with what I am doing? So scared of gaining weight or fat or losing mus I eat whole foods, minimally processed. Eggs, Ezekiel bread, sweet potatos, salmon, chicken breast, ground turkey, veggies, olive oil/coconut oil, some fruit…not much.

  • Idelfonso Arrieta

    Hi. If you are 5´8″ and 155 lbs, 15% BF. what way should you take if you want to recomp?

  • Robert Blythin

    I want to lose 1.5 pounds per week as a fitness goal, but I also want to gain lean muscle. My question is which ‘goal’ should I set it to on the MyFitnessPal app?

    Thanks,

    Robert

  • Lucy

    I am 5ft 1 inch woman. How much protein, carbs, fat and calories do I need to burn fat and build muscle

  • Chris Jones

    I like the content, but have to comment on the math. You made a one step process into a two step process. Need to eat 15% more when you lift? Multiply by 1.15. It will give you the same answer as multiplying by .15 and then adding back to the original number. Likewise, when you want to eat .10 less, just multiply the number by .90.

  • Pomi Chen

    I love this Article to determine how much calories I need to take on rest and training day.

    Are author or any friends have ideas what’s Macronutrient Ratio on Training day and rest day?

    Training day and rest day
    Crabs ?%
    Protein ?%
    Fat ?%

  • Marco P

    I appreciate your suggestions and will apply to my routine. I see cardio has been my antagonist in the recomp. I do a lot, sometimes long running in the morning and weight lifting in the evening in the same day. The fact is when making lot of cardio my hunger skyrockets despite I do intermittent fasting almost every day and eat whole plant food. In cardio days I can easily get over 3500 kcal and sometimes I feel I can eat more because of the calories consumed but now I see that was an occasion lost, had I eaten within the normal range which is usually 2400kcal and is exactly what my stomach asks and fits to my height/weight i.e. 185cm/81kg. I care more about performance than look but I hate this flabby belt around my belly, being ripped on the rest of the body.