Ep #91: Body Recomposition: Losing Fat While Building Muscle

Strong as a Working Mom with Carrie Holland | Body Recomposition: Losing Fat While Building Muscle
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If you want to lose fat while building muscle at the same time, this episode is for you. We’re talking about body recomposition today and how you can change what your body is made of, simply put: how you can build muscle while you also lose fat. No matter what your current strength level, fitness level, or age, you can start the process of body recomposition today!

With advances in science and research, we’re learning more and more about what recomposition is and the most effective ways to do it. So, in today’s episode, I’m demystifying this idea of body recomposition, and giving you some ideas for getting started.

Tune in this week to discover what body recomposition is, how it works, and what you need to do in order to achieve body recomposition. I’m discussing how the baseline for good health has shifted away from just losing weight and getting smaller, and you’ll learn exactly how you can get started with body recomposition: losing fat while building muscle.

Are you ready to eat, move, and think in a way that gets you strong both physically and mentally? You deserve to have both no matter how busy you are, and I can help. I’m opening up my one-on-one coaching program for new clients, and I would love to work with you. Click here to learn more about working with me.

What You Will Discover:

  • What contributes to your body’s composition.
  • Why your body composition is a better indicator of your overall health than your weight or your BMI.
  • Some suggested body fat percentage metrics by age and gender.
  • Why body recomposition is possible for everyone, despite what science used to believe.
  • Ways of discovering your current body composition.
  • Why building muscle plays a vital role in your overall health as we get older.
  • How to get started in your own process of body recomposition, building muscle while losing fat.

Listen to the Full Episode:

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Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast, Episode #91. If you’re interested in losing fat and building muscle at the same time, let’s talk about how to do it.

Welcome to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. If you’re balancing career, family, wellness, and some days sanity, you are in the right place. This is where high-achieving, busy, working moms get the tools they need to eat, move, and think. I’m your host, physician, personal trainer, and certified life coach, Carrie Holland. Let’s do this.

Hey, how are you? What’s new, what’s good? So what’s good here, we are going to talk about body recomposition today. We’re going to talk about how you change what you’re made of. So, when I think of body recomposition I like to keep it really simple. I think of it as building muscle while you lose fat.

Body recomposition is a term that you might hear in fitness circles or at your gym, or find on influencer or social media pages. It’s something that I get asked about often, and I think it’s worth diving into because we’re learning more and more about what recomposition is and how it’s done.

My goal today is to demystify it and make sense of it for you in this episode. So, I’m going to break it down for you and explain what it is, how it works, and what you need to do in order to achieve body recomposition. Because you can take on body recomposition no matter what your current strength level is, no matter how old you are, or how familiar you are with strength training. So, I’m going to make this accessible for anyone. Alright?

Let’s go. Before I get into body recomposition, let me take it one step back and simply talk about body composition for just a second. Because before we get into recomposition, I want to get back to basics and talk about body composition first. So, again, to keep it very simple, body composition essentially describes what your body is made of.

I’m going to get just a little nerdy here for a second, but hang with me, okay? Often, when you read about body composition, you’ll see the terms “fat mass”, and “fat-free mass”. And, that makes sense. In our bodies, we all have fat, and the amount of fat you have in your body adds up to give you your fat mass. Everything else is considered fat free mass. Your fat-free mass would include things like water, muscle, and bone, or anything that is not fat.

So, what’s cool about this is that what you’re made of, or your body composition, is actually a better indicator of your overall health than something like your BMI. I will keep saying this for as many people who need to hear it, but BMI, your Body Mass Index, or your weight for height, really does not tell the whole story.

That’s because your overall health, in general, is better reflected by your body fat percentage in relation to muscle mass, than it is by your weight to your height. In plain English, what you’re made of is more useful and more important than your BMI. Okay?

As far as body composition is concerned, there is no be-all end-all agreed upon standard. But I did go looking, and I found some suggested body fat percentage metrics from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. These are guidelines broken up by age and gender.

Okay, for women aged 20-39, the goal is 21%-32% body fat. Age 40-59 is 23%-33% body fat. Age 60-79 is 24%-35% body fat. Now, for men aged 20-39 is 8%-19%. Age 40-59 is 11%-21%. And age 60-79 is 13%-24% body fat. I know that’s a lot of numbers that I just spit out, but I’m sharing them because there are a few takeaways.

One, men typically will have a lower percentage of body fat throughout their lives compared to women, no matter what their age. And two, we all tend to accumulate more body fat as we age. So, the next thing you might be wondering is, how exactly do you find out what you’re made of? How do you know what your body composition is? This is where it gets a little tricky. There are most definitely ways of learning your body composition, but the most accurate method of doing this includes a DEXA scan. Which is noninvasive, but generally not widely available, or easy for most people to access outside of needing it for medical reasons.

Other ways of learning your body composition would be with skinfold calipers. If you’re going to do this, have someone who is well practiced in this take those measurements. That’s using that little pincher-thing to see how much fat you have in various parts of your body.

Or you can do body circumference measurements like waist, hips, thighs, biceps and chest. Or you can do the fancier scales, like the ones that do Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis. Those would be things like the InBody scan, which you may see at your gym. Those are scales that measure the passage of small electrical currents through your tissues.

Those electrical currents travel more easily through muscle than through fat, and that’s because muscle holds more water. So, the only problem with these scales is that their accuracy is widely variable. But it’s the best we have with the science available, and it’s more easily accessible than a DEXA.

The take home here is that your body composition tells you what you’re made of; fat, muscle, bone, and water, or fat-free mass versus fat mass. And there are a number of different ways to find out what your body composition is, each with its own pros and cons.

Okay, so now that we’ve talked about body composition, let’s get into the recomposition. Let’s get started by getting clear on what exactly body recomposition is. Keeping it simple, I think of recomposition as literally changing what you’re made of. I think of it as two processes happening at the same time, and those two processes are losing fat and building muscle.

Based on what we were just talking about, we’re decreasing the amount of fat mass you carry, and increasing the amount of fat-free mass you have. Or specifically, increasing your muscle. So, let’s talk about the myth that surrounds recomposition, because this is where we got stuck for a while. But now, thanks to science, time, loads of research… with still more on the way… we know a little more about recomposition, and this is helpful.

It used to be that we thought that body recomposition was only possible for people who either had little-to-no experience strength training, or for people who were very overweight or obese. Meaning, we used to think that you either had to have very little baseline muscle mass, or you had to be very overweight or obese, in order to build muscle and lose fat at the same time.

So the question that was left here was, what about the people who have some muscle and are around a normal-ish weight, who want to put on more muscle? These are people who don’t fall neatly into either category. They aren’t new to lifting weights, they’ve got some muscle already. And they also aren’t super overweight or obese, and don’t have a ton of weight to lose.

So, what about those people? Is it possible for those people to be successful at recomposition? We used to think the answer was no. It used to be thought that you could only do one at a time. You could either be in a fat loss phase, or a muscle building phase. It used to be that you were either doing one or the other.

But now we know better. We’re finding that recomposition is possible in people who are already resistance training. What this means in plain English is, if you already have a baseline foundation of lifting weights, and you don’t want to lose weight but you want to put on muscle, it is possible. If you’re already lifting weights and know your way around a dumbbell, you can still achieve body recomposition.

And then the question becomes how to do it, which we’ll get into in just a few minutes. First, let’s talk about why this matters. Let’s talk about why recomposition, or gaining muscle while losing fat, is important and why it’s getting so much attention right now.

Recomposition matters because the way we look at the connection between body type, physique, and health, is changing; at least for me it is. It used to be, especially for women, the goal was to be as thin as possible; that smaller was better. It didn’t really matter how you got there or what you were made of, but being small was often seen as the goal.

That meant straight up weight loss and seeing the number on the scale go down; period, end. But now, thankfully, things have changed. Now we know a thing or two about muscle. We know how important muscle is for longevity. And not just for living a longer life, but a longer life with higher quality.

We know that having muscle as we age is so, so, so important. So you can do things like get yourself out of a chair, bend over and pick up a box, run around with your kids and grandkids, or even just walk up and down the stairs. All of those things are dependent upon having a body that is strong. This is not just about aesthetics. Okay, yes, muscle looks good, but it’s also essential for function. So, the idea of simply being small, whether you assess that by the number on the scale, your waist size, your clothing size or whatever, the idea of simply being small, no.

The old and tired construct that women should be tiny, and shrink themselves by whatever means possible to live in a smaller body, that idea is thankfully losing steam, as it should. Small is not the goal here. Because we’re smartening up and learning that small is just small, but it has very little bearing on your overall health.

So, think of the whole “skinny fat” phenomenon. Skinny fat refers to someone who, as it sounds, is thin, but despite being thin has a relatively high percentage of body fat and low percentage of muscle mass. So, even though your BMI is normal… Which, again, we know that BMI really doesn’t tell the whole story.

Even if your BMI is considered normal, if you have a high percentage of body fat and low percentage of muscle, you still could be at risk for things like insulin resistance, diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure just to name a few.

Because it’s not the state of fitness that equates with health, it’s what you’re made of, or your body composition, that matters more than being thin. So if you’re thin, but your body composition is largely fat relative to muscle, you’re not in the clear. People who are skinny fat, or metabolically obese normal weight… That’s how it’s referred to in some medical literature… They may have a number of different factors at play that contributed to them being that way.

Things like genetics, level of exercise, nutrition habits, age, gender, hormone levels. All of those things can add up to make you more prone to being skinny fat. And the two places where you have the most control over whether you become skinny fat are your exercise and nutrition.

What this all adds up to is, that simply being thin, or simply being skinny, does not equate with being healthy, okay? Being thin but not having any muscle, that’s not helping you. And that is why I don’t aim to be small; I don’t aim for you to be small either. I aim for you to be strong. As in, I aim for you to have muscle.

I want you to have muscle, because while it looks good it also feels good, and it’s good for you. Beyond that, I want you to have muscle so you can still be kicking it when you’re 85. Okay? So, instead of simply trying to get smaller, when you aim for recomposition you are aiming to get stronger, to build muscle.

Many traditional diets will claim to get you smaller, thinner, or seeing a lower number on the scale. But I want to call into question, if that’s really the end game we’re looking for, to simply be smaller? For many of you, it’s not.

When you tell me you want to look lean, or you want to look good, or you want to look strong, now you’re speaking my language. Because when you tell me that’s how you want to look, that to me means muscle. And the only way you’re going to look lean or look toned or look like you go to the gym, is by lifting the weights.

Losing fat will simply put you in a smaller body. But once you add strength training to the equation, now we’re talking about having a stronger body, and that is my personal mission. No, this is not to say that we all need to be walking around looking like bodybuilders, or busting out of our shirts with bulging biceps or a perfectly rounded booty. No, I’m simply saying that muscle is really, really good for you, no matter what your age.

Okay, so before I get into the how-to have recomposition, let me take a minute and talk about the scale because this is another place where it can get a little tricky. For starters, let me make it super clear, recomposition does not automatically equate with weight loss. I want to make sure to point that out. This will be especially important to remember if you place a lot of importance on the scale as your measure of success.

Remember, that when you’re aiming for recomposition you’re aiming to change what you’re made of. But that does not automatically amount to weight loss. Most scales won’t tell you whether you’re losing fat, water, or muscle, or a combination. Which is really what it’s going to be when you lose weight, it will be through a combination of all those things.

Again, while I mentioned those bioelectrical impedance scales, like the InBody, their accuracy still leaves much to be desired and can’t be taken as hard fact just yet. So, we have to take that data with a bit of caution and a grain of salt.

And this is where relying on the scale as a sole determinant of your success can be misleading. Because when you aim for recomposition you may not see the scale go down; your weight may stay the same. Your weight may even go up. I don’t want you to freak out, but I want to be honest with you. If you take on recomposition and you build muscle while you lose fat, your weight might go up. But you may look very different than if you were to gain that weight from fat. Because remember, muscle is more dense than fat. So, if you put on muscle while you lose fat you may gain weight, but if you look in the mirror you look different. You look lean, you look toned, you look muscular, you look more compact.

But the scale may confuse you because it hasn’t gone down. The point here is to remember what you’re trying to do, build muscle, and lose fat. Those two do not always add up to weight loss. But the health benefit of recomposition is huge, and not something you can measure with a scale. Okay? The benefit of building muscle and losing fat is not going to be measured by a single number on your scale.

Now, we’ve talked about the scale. Let’s talk about how you approach recomposition. So, I think of recomposition as two pieces, strength training and nutrition. Let’s talk about each of those. Let’s dive into strength training first, because this is the more straightforward piece of the puzzle. If you want to build muscle, it comes down to progressive overload. That means subjecting your muscle to an increased stress over time. So, you continuously break down your muscles in your strength training sessions, and then give them the rest they need to repair and come back, not only stronger but bigger.

And when I say bigger, I don’t mean bulky. I mean longer length and larger diameter. That’s what happens when you strength train. Again, you can do that by increasing the weight lifted, grabbing the heavier dumbbells, or by increasing the number of sets, number of reps, number of strength training sessions.

Essentially, you’re increasing the volume of stress that you put on your muscles. That is progressive overload, and it is the foundation and is the key to building muscle. This is going to look different depending on where you’re starting from. So, if you are brand new to strength training, you’ll find that you put on muscle much faster and more easily than someone who has already been strength training for years.

Think of it as a bell curve. If you’re at the bottom of the bell curve, in terms of your muscle mass, because you’re brand new to weightlifting, you’ll notice a sharp uphill trajectory once you get started. Meaning, over the course of a few weeks or a few months, when you have dedicated, consistent strength training, you may find that you’re able to increase your weights or do more sets or do more reps.

And, it comes at a fairly rapid pace. As a result, you put on muscle quickly; you’re ascending that bell curve pretty fast. So now, if you’re already lifting weight and you already have a little bit of muscle but you want to put on more, you may be in the middle of that upward trajectory on the bell curve. That means that you’re that much closer to your maximum muscle potential.

So, it may take longer to build muscle, and it may mean that you have to start going heavier than what you have lifted in the past. Or doing more reps, or manipulating any of those variables that I mentioned, to lift for progressive overload.

Remember, that when you’re training for muscle hypertrophy, which means you’re training for size or to grow your muscles, that means training a certain way. And that means anywhere from 8-10, or even 12 reps for 3-5 sets, with 1 minute to 1 1/2 minutes of rest between those sets, with a weight that is challenging.

When I say “challenging”, I mean that the last 1-2 reps are hard, you’re feeling the burn. You can still get the weight up, but it’s not easy. Okay? That may be different from what you’re used to. So if you’re currently lifting weights, awesome. Now, take just a second and think about your approach to lifting. How would you describe it?

Do you tend to stick with the same weights, the same reps, and does it feel comfortable? Or do you regularly challenge yourself to see what you can do and try to best yourself. I don’t mean that you have to do this every time. I am not asking you to lift-to-failure when you pick up your dumbbells. But I will be honest and say that in order to build muscle, especially if you already have a baseline foundation of muscle, it’s no joke. This is not giggling with your friends while you’re curling your dumbbell. There is no giggling because you’re focused on moving some heavy iron and not getting hurt.

So yes, you should be red faced and breathing hard and concentrating, to recruit all of your muscle fibers for whatever lift it is your undertaking. This is serious business. And you’re not speeding through it. This is not a race, okay? If you’re speeding through your lifting, that tells me you can probably lift heavier weight if you did, in fact, slow down.

You can’t speed through your weight training sessions, because you’re not going to give your muscles the chance to really show you what they’re capable of. You can’t rush the process of building muscle. Okay? So please, slow down and grab the heavier weights. I guarantee you; you will surprise yourself.

So, how often? I’m going to recommend strength training at the very minimum twice per week. You will be more effective at putting on muscle if you train at least twice a week compared to lifting once a week. But ideally, I would love to see you lifting three to four days per week. And that can be broken up in any number of ways. It could be alternating upper body and lower body workouts. It could be a body part split. Where one day is legs, focused on quads. Another is chest, shoulders, and triceps. Another day is back and biceps and rear deltoids. And another day is more hamstrings and booty. There are innumerable ways of going about your strength training.

But I would aim for a minimum of two, but more like three or four weight training sessions per week, with at least 24 hours between lifting the same body part. I don’t want you doing legs two days in a row, that’s going to slow down the muscle recovery process and that’s the opposite of what we’re trying to do here.

Again, you should relish those rest days, because on your training days you’re not messing around. You’re going hard. Okay? I’m also not saying that you should be killing yourself. As I’m talking through this and encouraging you to go hard, you may be envisioning the gym goer who is screaming their face off, sounding as if he or she is birthing a small child while putting up some crazy heavy weight.

No, you don’t have to be that person. But at the same time, I want you to walk away feeling like you did something. You are pushing yourself here. Okay? It’s a balance that you are only going to find by lifting weights consistently.

And then, as far as cardio is concerned, that’s a delicate balance. For some of you, you are used to stair climbing or running or doing HIIT to help you add to your boost of your overall energy expenditure. But this is where it gets sticky, because you run the risk of doing so much cardio that you risk losing muscle mass.

I’ve said it many, many times, and this just is another place where this applies. Please, don’t use exercise to lose weight. Don’t use cardio to lose weight. If you’re aiming for recomposition, don’t look to cardio to help you lose fat; it’s going to come from your diet.

That being said, if you like cardio you can most definitely incorporate it into your routine for heart health, cardiovascular endurance, and because it feels good. But if we’re talking about recomposition here, focus on your strength training. Lifting weights is what will give you the change and body composition that you’re looking for.

Remember, we’re talking about building muscle, that’s going to come from lifting weights. Okay? Yes, you can certainly do cardio, but please don’t feel compelled to do multiple HIIT or Stair Climber sessions every week in the name of recomposition. That is missing the point. Strength training, first. Okay?

Alright, now that we’ve talked about lifting weight, let’s talk about the role of nutrition in body recomposition, because this is where it gets even more tricky. And I say “tricky”, but what I really mean is interesting. So, if you want to build muscle, you’ve got to feed your muscles. That may be oversimplifying, but really, that’s what it boils down to.

By feeding your muscles, I mean that you eat enough protein and carbs in order to fuel muscle protein synthesis. That’s just a fancy term for “muscle growth”. If you want your muscles to grow, you need to eat enough calories so that your body can use those calories to build muscle. Again, how much protein? Oh, that is subject to wide, endless heated debate. But I would aim for anywhere from .7-1 gram/pound of your ideal body weight. Before you freak out on me, and tell me there is no way you can eat 100 or 120 grams of protein, I will respectfully disagree. You can. It requires planning. It requires intentionality. And no, it does not mean drinking three protein shakes a day. One maybe, sure. But you can absolutely get protein from real, whole foods.

You can start by aiming for 100 grams of protein a day. That’s about 30-ish grams per meal, plus a snack of 10-ish grams, if you have one. You can absolutely do that with things like eggs, egg whites, fish, chicken, beef, turkey, seitan, tempeh, and tofu, as a start. You can get to 100 or more grams of protein in a day, I promise.

But I get it. For many of you, recomposition may mean eating more protein than you’re used to. So, you can take a graded approach. If 100 grams of protein sounds like a lot, start by aiming for 80, then aim for 90, and you can step it up from there.

Now let’s talk about calories, because this is where it gets even more interesting. For many of you, you are used to cutting and cutting and cutting your calories. But that may not be what you need to do for recomposition. Remember what I just said, in order to build muscle you have to eat enough calories to support it.

So, if you’re already at a normal weight, you may not need to cut your calories at all. You may be able to keep your calories the same, and simply shift the balance of what you’re eating to ensure that you’re eating higher amounts of protein; to get you closer to that .7-1 gram per pound of body weight. And I think of that as simply manipulating the pie pieces.

So between your carbohydrates, fat and protein, you add up to 100%. But the proportion of each may shift. You may find that instead of eating 20% of your calories from protein, you amp it up to 30% or even 35% of your calories from protein. And you still eat carbs to drive insulin, in order to get that protein into your muscles.

Maybe you eat 35%-40% of your calories from carbohydrates and then the rest comes from fat. We’re not necessarily cutting your calories; we’re just shifting where those calories come from. Because, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, for most people, it’s really easy to take in plenty of carbs and fat. Think of a piece of chocolate cake versus tuna. It requires a little more focus and planning to take in enough protein to build muscle. But you can absolutely do that without increasing your total caloric intake.

Okay, now for some of you, if you have fat to lose, then you may need to be in a calorie deficit. But this is where it gets to be a slippery slope. Because for too many of you your inclination is to slash your calories drastically, which is not going to help you if you’re trying to build muscle. In fact, if you cut your calories too much you may end up losing muscle, which is the exact opposite of what we’re trying to do.

For some people, if you have some weight to lose, like 10 pounds or less for example, you may establish a slight calorie deficit, like 200-300 calories, while still keeping your protein high. You don’t want to go too low and risk losing muscle, so we take it to a more moderate calorie deficit while shifting the proportion of protein to fuel your muscle growth.

And all the while you’re lifting weights and going hard at the gym. You’re lifting heavy, you’re in a slight calorie deficit, and you’ve increased your proportion of protein to fuel that muscle growth. Okay?

Now last, let me share something else just to make it even more interesting. You may actually need to eat in a slight calorie surplus in order to achieve your composition. Yes, you may need to eat more calories in order to build muscle. So, let me pull this apart a little bit. Because often this is where many of you shake your head, put your foot down, and say, “Absolutely not. No way.” Because when you hear “calorie surplus”, you think weight gain. Or more specifically, fat gain. But before you shut down this idea, remember again what we’re trying to do here, we’re trying to build muscle. What do you need in order to build muscle? Calories.

So, if you’re someone who already has a base of muscle, but you want to get more muscular and you don’t have a lot of weight to lose, you may need to eat in a slight caloric surplus. Let me explain what happens when you do this. You are lifting heavy weight, then on top of the heavy lifting, you’re eating adequate protein, like at least .7 grams, but more like one gram per pound of your body weight.

Then you fuel yourself by eating in a slight caloric surplus. I’m talking 250-400 extra calories a day. We’re talking about high quality food, like lean protein and whole unprocessed carbs. We’re not talking gummy bears here. If you’re doing all of those things consistently, a few things are going to happen.

So, let me tell you what you’ll notice. First, you are going to feel like a superstar at the gym. When you fuel your muscles and actually eat properly, you are going to feel amazing when you hit the weights. When you’re adequately fed and eating whole foods in a slight surplus, and then you head to the gym, you’re going to be able to do some serious hard work and it’s going to feel awesome. Take advantage of those extra calories and use them to move some serious iron. Okay? You will feel amazing when you do.

And second, you are going to build muscle. So, please trust me when I say this, you are going to build muscle. I was there, too. When I went into natural bodybuilding, I started out with a pretty small frame with some muscle. But I wanted to work on building muscle, and my own coach suggested a slight calorie surplus.

I freaked out. Because I wasn’t interested in putting on weight; I wanted to put on muscle. I wanted to be jacked. He reassured me that I could indeed do that and get jacked, but I had to eat in order to do it. And that went counter to everything I thought I knew about nutrition. But to be honest, it was my foray into bodybuilding that got me interested in all of this nutrition and muscle building stuff in the first place.

So, I trusted my coach, I trusted the process, and he was right. I ate in a slight surplus. It was through things like eggs, chicken, fish, quinoa, and Ezekiel bread. And I didn’t get fat, I got muscular. I got a shoulder cap, biceps and quads. because I not only lifted heavy stuff, I ate real food; more than I thought I would need to eat. I ate in a slight caloric surplus.

Here’s the thing I want to clarify, when you go into recomposition, and if you do it properly, yes, you will put on muscle. But you may also put on fat. I’m going to be 100% honest. If you eat in a slight caloric surplus, you may gain some fat. I don’t want to lie and say it’s all going to be 100% muscle, because we can’t control that.

I can’t control your genetics and biology, and guarantee that you will only put on muscle when you go and do a recomposition. You will put on some fat, too. But we’re minimizing that fat gain by controlling a number of variables; lifting heavy weights, eating higher protein. If you take those two seriously and maximize those, then you will put on muscle and minimize the amount of fat that you gain.

And if that still makes you nervous or uncertain at this idea, I will simply add here that recomposition is not for forever. You’re not meant to be in a recomposition phase for forever. So, if you’re eating in a slight calorie surplus, lifting heavy, and gauging your muscle building by things like measurements, calipers, InBody scans, or even pictures, you can use that data to decide when to be done with your recomposition phase.

When you’re happy with the amount of muscle you have, then you adjust how much food you’re eating so that you’re no longer in a calorie surplus, but you’re still fueling your muscle. So, you could go into a phase of maintenance, where you eat at a maintenance calorie level.

And when you do this, and get rid of your calorie surplus, you may find that you lose the fat you put on while you were building muscle. All the while you continue to lift heavy weight and monitor your protein intake.

So, no matter which way you spin this, recomposition is a combination of lifting weights and going heavy, plus adjusting your nutrition so that you’re giving yourself adequate protein and adequate calories to build the physique you’re aiming for.

Let’s bring this all together here. If your head is spinning, like mine was by the time I was done researching and outlining this podcast, let me bring it home by saying that recomposition is both science and art. I would love to be able to tell you straight off the bat that in order to achieve recomposition you need to be in a calorie deficit, hands down.

But the literature doesn’t support it. In fact, there are studies that demonstrate subjects who put on muscle and lose fat, meaning they got a body recomposition while they were in a calorie surplus. At the same time, there are studies that show significant changes in body composition while subjects were in a calorie deficit.

So, what gives here? These are opposite approaches. One is a calorie surplus. One is a calorie deficit. So, how can both lead to decomposition? Well, one of the things we don’t understand fully is all of the mechanisms that lead to recomposition. There is physiology that we just don’t have a grasp on yet to explain this.

Specifically, we do not know exactly what the energy cost is if building up muscle. Meaning, I cannot tell you with exact precision how many calories it will take for you to build muscle. And to make it even more complicated, the calorie and energy needs it requires for you to build muscle will most certainly be different from your friends. Because we all have different genetics, different body types, different metabolisms, and a different response to strength training.

We also don’t understand the exact impact that our energy supply from both our body fat stores and our diet have on this process. We don’t know all the physiologic or metabolic factors at play that impact how losing fat affects building muscle.

At the same time, we also don’t understand all the metabolic factors that connect our diets and building muscle. So, this is all to say there is still so much we don’t yet understand. There is so much we don’t know yet about body recomposition.

But what we do know is that it’s complex, and more than simply energy balance. Because recomposition has been documented in a caloric surplus, in a caloric deficit, and at caloric maintenance. So, this is not straight up calories in-calories out that we’re talking about here.

But now that we’ve gone through a lot of the nuance around body recomposition, here are some takeaways that you can start implementing now. In order to build muscle, lift heavy weight. I’m not talking about killing yourself, but I’m talking about at least two but more like three, or ideally four, solid strength training sessions per week, where you challenge your muscles and go heavy.

Next, eat to fuel your muscles. That will likely mean, for most people, eating more protein. So, aim for .7-1 gram/pound of body weight. Or you can make it simple, and aim for at least 30 grams of protein per meal and aim to increase from there. You can certainly supplement with things like protein shakes, but I would love for you to be getting your protein from whole foods.

Next, depending on where you’re starting from, you may need to eat in a slight caloric deficit if you’ve got weight to lose. You may choose to eat in maintenance and focus on increasing your overall proportion of protein. Or you may need to eat in a slight caloric surplus if you’re close to or at a normal weight but you want to build muscle.

This is not cause to freak out. In any of these, eating in a slight deficit or in a slight surplus or even maintenance may feel counterintuitive to you if you’ve spent much of your life trying to eat as little as possible to get smaller. Remember, we are not aiming to get you smaller, we’re aiming to get you stronger. And getting stronger by building muscle is a combination of art and science.

If you’re lifting heavy but trying to eat as little as possible, and you’re not gaining muscle, there is a reason. Consider eating more by increasing your lean protein intake. You will see a difference. You will feel a difference. Remember that building muscle requires calories. And you can do this in a healthy way that feels good.

When you eat to fuel your muscles, you will not only look stronger, you will feel it because muscle feels awesome. Strong feels good. Alright?

If you want help with this, let’s talk. When you coach with me, I will look at you as an individual and we’ll come up with a nutrition and exercise plan that will help you look good and feel strong. Check out my website. Go to www.CarrieHollandMD.com/contact and let’s schedule a console to talk about how this works.

Alright, thank you again for hanging out with me. I’ll catch you again next week. If you like what you’ve been hearing, please review the show. I would love to get your feedback and ideas. Your suggestions have inspired episodes and will help me make the show better for you. Share this podcast with a friend, text a show link, share a screenshot, or post a link to the show on your social media.

Be sure to tag me @CarrieHollandMD on either Instagram or Facebook so I can follow along and engage with you. This is how we get the word out to other working moms who want to feel strong inside and out. If you know someone who wants to feel better or eat and move differently but she is too tired or too busy, it is time to change things up.

You know making that change starts with how you think, and that is what we do here on the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. I’ll see you next week.

Thanks for listening to Strong as a Working Mom. If you want more information on how to eat, move, and think, so you can live in the body you want, with the mind to match, visit me at CarrieHollandMD.com.

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