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The Recomposition Diet: How To Build Muscle AND Lose Fat

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who want to look lean AF, and those who are lying to themselves. It may be vain, but honestly, there’s nothing wrong with desiring a killer physique.
The first step is admitting it to yourself. The second step, actually achieving that physique, is a little more tricky, but I have a simple plan for you to follow.

If you’re among the majority of people who want to look better naked, you might be wondering exactly how to achieve a desirable, Adonis-like body without obsessing over food or spending all your spare time in the gym.

In the olden days of bodybuilding, you’d be stuck between vicious cycles of bulking and cutting. This approach meant eating a ton of food to build as much muscle as possible for a while, then switching to a “cut” to trim the fat that accompanies a bulking phase. Inevitably, you’d also lose some of your hard-earned muscle while cutting. This is one step forward, two steps backward nonsense.

The alternative, body recomposition, is the holy grail of physique transformation.

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Recomposition (or “recomp” for short) is the process of simultaneously building muscle while shedding fat.

Technically, this doesn’t happen at the exact same time because your body can’t be in both an anabolic (muscle-building) and catabolic (breakdown) state, but by following a recomp nutrition strategy, you can seamlessly switch between these states daily to both build muscle and burn fat, thus achieving a physique worthy of a Greek god/goddess.

How does a Greek god in training set up the most effective recomposition diet to reveal a lean, chiseled-looking physique?

Your ideal diet will fluctuate in sync with your training.

Since you want to build muscle as part of your recomposition plan, you’ll need to strength train three to four days per week. On those training days, you’ll eat slightly more calories to optimize muscle growth.

On non-training days, you’ll eat slightly less to optimize fat burning. For the purposes of body recomposition, “training” refers only to weightlifting. Any extra cardio you do, while nice for burning calories, does not count as training.

Here’s How To Set Up Your Recomp Diet, In Three Simple Steps.

  1. Determine your maintenance calories
  2. Determine your training and non-training day calories
  3. Set your macros (start with protein, fat, then carbs)

Step one: Determine your maintenance calories

Multiply your current body weight by twelve to estimate your baseline calorie needs – the point at which you would neither gain nor lose any weight.

Step two: Calculate your training and non-training day calories

Take the number from Step 1 (your body weight x12). On weightlifting days, add 100-200 calories to create a slight surplus. That’s your training day calorie target.

Taking the original number from Step 1 again, subtract 500 calories to create a fat loss-inducing deficit. That is your non-training day calorie target.

Where do the +100 and -500 calories come from? Your macros.

Step three: Set your macronutrient targets

Quick primer, if you don’t already know: macronutrients are the main things food is made of – protein, carbohydrates, and fat.

In order to build and maintain lean muscle, you’ll need to eat enough protein. Research shows that 1g of protein per pound of your body weight is just right for supporting lean muscle growth. If you weigh 150 lbs that means 150g of protein (600 cal). This protein target remains constant on both training and non-training days.

Your carbohydrates will fluctuate depending on your workouts, and will contribute to the calorie difference on training versus non-training days.

Fat intake will also fluctuate, but we’ll keep it at about 30% of your total calories in order to optimize your muscle-building hormones throughout the body recomposition process.

Remember, the dual goal of recomposition is to build muscle and burn fat. Weight training will help you build muscle, as will eating enough protein in a slight calorie surplus. What many people overlook is the importance of carbohydrates for muscle building.

the recomposition diet how to build muscle and lose fat

When you eat carbs, your body releases insulin in response to sugar entering your bloodstream. Insulin is a hormone that signals your body to pull nutrients (and the sugar from carbohydrates) into your cells.

Thus, adding carbohydrates to your diet on weightlifting days will help strategically spike insulin and pull sugar and amino acids (from protein) into your cells, where the aminos will be used to rebuild and repair your muscles. This muscle growth will help you look lean and sculpted.

To summarize, you’ll cycle your calories and macros depending on whether you’re weightlifting.

On training days (three to four days per week), you’ll eat in a slight calorie surplus; on cardio/rest days, you’ll eat in a calorie deficit. Protein remains constant – about 1g per pound of bodyweight.

Fat should make up about 30% of your calorie intake. Carbohydrates will make up the remainder of your calorie budget, fluctuating based on your training – higher carb on weightlifting days, lower carb on rest days.

Let’s look at how this all plays out for our example 150-lb person. We’ll put them on a slight calorie surplus of 100-cal for training days.

Weightlifting Days Non-Training Days
Step 1) Calories 150×12 = 1800

100-cal surplus = 1900

150×12 = 1800

500-cal deficit = 1300

Step 2) Protein = 1g/lb 150g (600 cal) 150g (600 cal)
Step 3) Fat = 30% 1900×30% = 570 cal (63g) 1300×30% = 390 cal (43g)
Step 4) Carbs from remainder 1900-600-570= 728 cal (182g) 1300-600-390= 310 cal (77.5g)


We can do the same thing with a bigger person who might require more calories in order to build muscle. We’ll say they weigh 180# and plan for a 200-cal surplus on training days.

Weightlifting Days Non-Training Days
Step 1) Calories 180×12 = 2160

200-cal surplus = 2360

180×12 = 2160

500-cal deficit = 1660

Step 2) Protein = 1g/lb 180g (720 cal) 180g (720 cal)
Step 3) Fat = 30% 2360×30% = 708 cal (78.6g) 1660×30% = 498 cal (55.3g)
Step 4) Carbs from remainder 2360-720-708= 932 cal (233g) 1660-720-498= 442 cal (110.5g)


Okay, so now that you see how this plays out with two different people, you can do the math for yourself. Use the calorie and macro targets from your calculations to plan your meals. Log your food with an app like My Fitness Pal to make sure you hit your targets each day.

When you lift weights, you’ll eat more calories, mostly coming from carbohydrates. The higher calories, higher carbs, and slightly higher fats will contribute the building blocks necessary to build lean muscle. On cardio or rest days, you’ll dial back carbs and fats, thus reducing total calories and putting your body in a negative energy balance. This sets you up to burn body fat.

Combined with a smart training plan that includes 3-4 days of weightlifting and 1-2 days of (optional) cardio to increase your calorie deficit, facilitate fat-burning, and improve your recovery, this recomposition diet will help you effortlessly build a lean physique.

Let’s put this into context with a training plan. If our 150# athlete from above strength trains four times per week, their schedule would look like this:

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Rest Chest Back Cardio Legs Cardio Full body
Low carb, calorie deficit High carb, calorie surplus High carb, calorie surplus Low carb, calorie deficit High carb, calorie surplus Low carb, calorie deficit High carb, calorie surplus


Their weightlifting plan should focus on major compound movements like squats, lunges, deadlifts, hip thrusts, bench press, overhead pressing, rowing variations, chin ups, pull ups, and dips.

Moving heavy weights in the 3-8 rep range is perfect. Adding isolation movements like bicep curls or ab work with moderate weights and higher reps at the end of these workouts will help bring up “lagging” body parts and further build muscle definition.

Cardio is optional in this training plan, but as stated, it can help increase your calorie deficit and speed up recovery in between lifting sessions, so it has it’s time and place in a recomp plan.

the recomposition diet how to build muscle and lose fat

As seen in the table above, your calories will fluctuate depending on the type of training you do each day. On weightlifting days, you need to add carbs from fruits and starches, ideally before and after your training sessions. This could be as simple as having a banana with a pre-workout shake, and adding a baked sweet potato to whichever meal they eat after their workout. The extra carbs and calories will build lean muscle while you’re in an anabolic state.

On cardio or rest days, you want to omit most fruits, starchy vegetables, and grains, going “low carb” at each meal. When you’re not strength training, you don’t need carbohydrates to spike insulin and drive nutrients into your muscle cells. This also naturally reduces your calorie consumption, allowing your body to switch into fat-burning mode on rest days.

How Long Should a Recomposition Last?

If you’re starting with a higher body fat percentage, you’ll be able to make progress for a longer period of time on this plan. You could get away with calorie cycling for 60-90 day blocks. As you approach your ideal leanness, you may find that your progress stalls. This is normal.

But, hitting a fat-loss plateau is a sure sign that you should take a brief diet break and work on maintaining your progress for a week or so. Simply eat at your maintenance calories, keeping protein around 1g/pound with moderate carbs and fats to support training and hormonal health.

When you return to calorie cycling, make sure you recalculate your macros based on your current body weight. As you really lean out, you may need to decrease your calorie intake slightly on both training and non-training days to coax your body to continue burning fat.

Troubleshooting Your Recomp Diet

  • If you’re steadily losing weight, you’re eating just enough. No need to adjust.
  • If you’re not losing weight, you may benefit from dropping some carbs or fats. Try this first on rest days, then on lifting days if you still need a bigger deficit.
  • If your energy levels drop or your workout performance is suffering, you may need to add more carbohydrates on lifting days.
  • If you’re not gaining muscle, you may be a “hard-gainer” and need to eat more protein on lifting days or train more frequently to stimulate muscle growth.

Bottom line, the numbers discussed in this article are simply a good starting point. You have to listen to your body and adjust your plan according to the progress you make. Be patient. Allow your body two weeks to adjust to any changes you make before you re-adjust your calories or macros again.

Part art, part science, body recomposition is the path to building a body that even the Greek gods would envy. Recomposition requires patience and consistency, but it is a surefire way to sculpt your Adonis-like physique in far less time than old-school bulking and cutting.

About the Author

Katie is a strength and conditioning coach for the everyday athlete. Katie loves coffee, craft beer, and deadlifts. When she's not lifting heavy things, you can find her exploring the mountains - hiking, climbing, and snowboarding. Katie believes that training in the gym should make you more awesome at the things you love to do outside. Visit to learn how you can look better, feel better, and perform at your best to conquer every adventure life throws your way.