Posted 6 days ago

The what and why behind a recomp

Have you ever heard someone say they’ve just completed their ‘recomp’ and you have no idea what they are talking about? Are you confused as to why you would complete one if the goal was to add more muscle mass?

In the fitness industry, a ‘recomp’ is what we like to call a short dieting phase – it stands for body re-composition, and is basically a process in an individual will aim to drop some body fat and hold onto muscle mass. A recomp is typically done during a long off-season or bulking phase, and the time frame will be person dependent – this decision is made based on where that person’s body fat levels are at, but usually they won’t run for much longer than 8-10 weeks.

At this point, you might be asking yourself the question of “why would I diet when my goal is to get bigger?”. Back in the day, I used to have the same thought process and unless I was prepping, I would be on a bulk all year round.

But here’s the thing about bulking: as we push our calories up and add muscle mass, we simultaneously add small amounts of body fat. Over time, as our body fat levels steadily increase, our body’s ability to add muscle mass becomes less efficient; however, its ability to lay down more body fat becomes more efficient.

So, for someone who has been steadily increasing their calories in their bulking phase, this could lead to a scenario in which continuing to bulk past a certain “set point” would lead to them inevitably laying down body fat at a higher rate than they are adding muscle mass. As you can probably already tell, this isn’t a good place to be – not if your goal is to add as much muscle mass as possible! Therefore, once that set-point is reached, that person would enter or commence a short “recomp” phase.

But how do we know when that set point has been reached? How can you judge whether it is a good idea to start a recomp? As always, it depends, but it could come down to a few factors such as: a lack of appetite, which would increase as a result of dieting; poor recovery, which would be improved by pulling some body fat off; and critically, if an individual is starting to accumulate body fat in stubborn areas at a quicker rate than normal, then recomping would make a lot of sense.

In essence, the main reason why someone would recomp during a growing phase would be because it puts the body in a better position to add muscle mass more efficiently. This is accomplished by the removal of body fat, which in turn improves insulin sensitivity, a key component of muscle recovery and growth.

I always suggest that recomps should be fairly aggressive. By that, I mean being aggressive with a calorie drop, whilst simultaneously increasing energy expenditure in the form of steps or cardio. Your main focus will be to maintain strength throughout this phase, meaning that when you start your next bulk, you’re just as strong as you were when you ended the last one. If your training intensity is high you might even be able to progress some lifts.

In summary, we must always have a cyclic approach to gaining muscle mass. It will involve spending extended periods of time in a calorie surplus and short dieting phases in between. Do this multiple times over the course of years and I can guarantee you will drastically improve your physique.

Vaughan Wilson Bsc Hons