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Build muscle and lose body fat — two commonly shared goals.

While most people focus on achieving one of these goals at a time, it’s completely possible to do both simultaneously through a process called body recomposition — or body recomp.

Along with lifting weights and aerobic or cardio exercise, diet plays a crucial role in body recomp.

This article explains how body recomp works, provides macronutrient and calorie guidance for a body recomp diet and includes a sample body recomp diet menu and workout plan.

body recomposition diet

What is body recomposition?

Body composition refers to the proportion of fat and lean body mass in your body.

Fat mass refers to body fat while lean body mass — or fat-free mass — refers to everything else, including your bones, total body water, and muscle mass.

A body recomp focuses on changing your body’s composition by increasing lean body mass and decreasing fat mass simultaneously.

In this way, there’s less emphasis on body weight and a greater emphasis on what the weight consists of — more lean body mass and less fat mass.

Body recomp works especially well for three types of people (1):

  • New lifters. Compared with advanced lifters, those with little to no training experience can build muscle and lose fat easily with a basic progressive resistance training program and a decent diet.
  • Detrainees. People who built a lot of muscle but stopped due to injury or other responsibilities can rebuild that muscle quickly and easily due to the muscle memory effect.
  • Overfat people. People with a large amount of fat can pull calories from these reserves to fuel the muscle-building process. This allows them to build muscle while eating fewer calories than their body burns to lose fat.

Beyond these people, however, most people can still achieve and benefit from a body recomp.

This includes people who may have been lifting for several years, but their training or nutrition hasn’t been optimized to allow a body recomp.

Conversely, advanced lifters that have optimized their training and nutrition or are near or at their genetic ceiling for building muscle wouldn’t experience a body recomp effect.

How long does it take for a body to recomposition?

Body recomp is a relatively slow process that requires consistency, hard work, and patience.

Most studies that have demonstrated body recomp have used an 8-week training period.

However, it’s possible to see noticeable results within 2–4 weeks, especially for new lifters (1).

Calories and macros

Although the primary driver of body recomp is training, diet plays a significant role in optimizing your results.

Here are calorie and macro guidelines for a body recomp diet:

Calories

While you can build muscle and lose fat at the same time, it’s best to decide which goal is more important to you.

If you are on the lean side, your primary goal should be to gain muscle, whereas if you have more body fat, then your primary goal should probably be fat loss.

Once you determine your primary goal, center your calorie goals around your maintenance calories — the number of calories you need to maintain your weight.

You can determine your maintenance calories by using an online calorie calculator like this one.

If your primary goal is building muscle, you should add 200–500 calories to your maintenance calories (1).

If you’re leaner or less advanced with training, your surplus can be on the higher end of this range.

Conversely, if your primary goal is fat loss, you should subtract 300–600 calories from your maintenance calories (1).

The more fat you have to lose, the larger your calorie deficit should be.

Macros

Macronutrients — or macros — refer to protein, carbs, and fats.

Of these, protein is the most important for body recomp since it supports the muscle-building process and aids fat loss.

You should consume protein in the range of 1.0–1.3 grams per pound (2.2–2.9 grams per kilogram) of body weight per day (1).

This equates to 150–195 grams of protein for a 150-pound (68-kilogram) person.

Equally distribute your protein throughout the day, consuming 20–40 grams of protein with each snack and meal (2).

From there, you can set your target for fat, which should comprise around 20% of your total daily calories.

Fat contains nine calories per gram, while protein and carbs contain four calories per gram.

If your calorie goals are 2,000 per day, you should consume at least 44 grams of fat (2,000 x 0.20 = 400 / 9 = 44).

You can fill in the remainder of your calories with carbs.

Foods to eat and avoid

You should eat foods that help you stay within your calorie goals but also allow you to meet your macro targets.

Foods to eat

Eat mostly minimally processed foods that are rich in nutrients.

These foods include:

  • Fruits: apples, avocados, berries, grapes, plums, pears, raspberries, watermelon, etc.
  • Vegetables: arugula, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cassava, kale, mushrooms, onions, peppers, potatoes, squash, etc.
  • Whole grains: brown rice, oats, popcorn, quinoa, and whole-grain bread and pasta
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, cashews, chia seeds, pecans, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, etc.
  • Legumes: black beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans, kidney beans pinto beans, split peas
  • Dairy: butter, cheese, cottage cheese, milk, yogurt
  • Poultry: eggs, chicken, duck, goose, quail, and turkey
  • Lean meats: cuts of beef and pork that contain the words “loin” or “round” such as eye round, sirloin, and tenderloin.
  • Beverages: black coffee, unsweetened tea, water

Foods to limit

Limit foods and ingredients that contain few nutrients relative to the number of calories they contain.

These include:

  • baked goods
  • breakfast cereals
  • crackers
  • desserts
  • fried foods
  • fruit snacks
  • regular soda or energy drinks
  • some frozen meals
  • specialty coffee drinks
  • alcohol

One-day sample body recomp diet

Here’s a one-day sample body recomp diet for a 130-pound (77-kg) female whose primary goal is to build muscle.

  • Breakfast: 2 whole eggs and 1 cup of oatmeal topped with 1 cup of blueberries
  • Snack: 1/2 cup cottage cheese and 14 almonds
  • Lunch: 3-ounce chicken breast, 1 cup of rice, and 1 cup of mixed sauteed vegetables
  • Pre-workout: 1 cup Greek yogurt, apple slices, and 1 cup of black coffee
  • Post-workout: 1 scoop whey protein
  • Dinner: 4-ounce salmon, medium-sized sweet potato, and 10 asparagus spears

This sample diet contains about:

  • 1,800 calories
  • 153 grams of protein
  • 46 grams of fat
  • 214 grams of carbs

Helpful supplements

While there are no specific body recomp supplements, several can optimize your results.

Protein powder

Protein powder is a concentrated source of protein, usually from milk in the form of whey or casein.

However, several types of plant-based protein powders are also available.

Protein powder supplementation has been shown to significantly increase muscle size and strength (3).

Beyond these benefits, taking a protein powder supplement can make it more convenient and cost-effective to reach your protein goals.

Research suggests it doesn’t make much of a difference in terms of optimizing muscle repair and growth whether you drink a protein shake before or after your workout (4, 5).

Find protein powder online.

Creatine

Creatine is the most well-studied sports supplement.

Thousands of studies support creatine supplementation — primarily in the form of creatine monohydrate — for improving muscle size, strength, and power (6).

Creatine is also one of the safest sports supplements with a very low risk of side effects.

You can supplement with creatine in one of two ways.

The first is called the loading phase, which involves taking 20–25 grams of creatine daily for 7 days followed by a daily maintenance dose of 3–5 grams.

The second option is to skip the loading phase and supplement with the 3–5-gram maintenance dose.

This option is just as effective as the loading phase option, but it takes 3–4 times longer to experience creatine’s benefits (6).

Creatine supplementation is not timing-dependent, so it doesn’t matter when you take it, as long as you take it daily (6).

Here’s our pick for creatine.

Caffeine

Caffeine is a nervous system stimulant naturally found in the leaves and fruits of some plants like cocoa beans, kola nuts, tea leaves, and coffee beans.

The stimulant has been shown to enhance physical performance by decreasing fatigue and pain perception and increasing the speed and force of muscle contractions (7).

Most studies support caffeine’s performance-enhancing effects at a dose of 1.4–2.7 mg per pound (3–6 mg per kilogram) of body weight 30–60 minutes before exercise (7).

Black coffee contains about 100 mg of caffeine per 8-ounce (240 mL) serving, making it a good pre-workout drink (8).

Preworkout supplements also commonly contain caffeine along with other ingredients intended to improve performance like creatine.

You can develop caffeine tolerance, meaning the effects of caffeine decreases over time with regular consumption (7).

As such, it’s a good idea to take breaks from caffeine to resensitize your body to its effects.

Find pre-workout supplements online.

Sample 7-day workout plan

Like any good training program, a body recomp training program focuses on progressive overload, which is when you gradually increase the weight, the number of repetitions, or training frequency over time (9).

Include a variety of compound exercises like deadlift, squat, bench press, and rows, mixed with some isolation movements like bicep curls, tricep pushdowns, and leg extensions.

You should train at least 4 times per week and perform 10–20 sets per muscle group.

Vary your repetitions, training to failure on some movements and leaving 3–4 repetitions in the tank on others.

Including some high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can further enhance your results.

HITT involves short bursts of intense exercise alternated with longer recovery periods.

Here’s a sample 7-day body recomp workout plan:

Monday (upper body)

  • barbell rows
  • overhead press
  • pull-ups
  • bicep curls
  • lying dumbbell trice extensions
  • seated chest press

Tuesday (lower body)

  • back squats
  • deadlift
  • hip thrust
  • leg extension
  • leg curl

Wednesday (rest day)

Thursday (upper body)

  • barbell rows
  • overhead press
  • pull-ups
  • barbell bench press
  • dumbbell flyes
  • dumbbell lateral raise

Friday (lower body)

  • back squats
  • deadlift
  • hip thrust
  • one-legged cable kickbacks
  • Bulgarian split squat

Saturday (rest day)

Sunday (HIIT)

  • 4 sets of 30-second sprints separated by 2-minute recovery periods

The bottom line

Body recomp refers to the process of building muscle and losing body fat at the same time.

While new lifters, detainees, and overfat people can easily recomp their bodies, most other people can too.

Once you decide your primary goal, you can determine your calorie and macro targets.

In addition to your diet, protein powders, creatine, and caffeine can help optimize your body’s recomp results.

Finally, keep in mind that body recomp is driven primarily by your training, so make sure your training plan focuses on progressive overload.


Gavin Van De Walle, MS, RD, LN
Gavin Van De Walle, MS, RD, LN

Gavin Van De Walle holds a master's degree in human nutrition and bioenergetics. He is a registered dietitian who aims to arm the public with evidence-based nutrition recommendations so they can make their own educated and informed health decisions.