Anyone even half-serious about improving their physical performance and physique knows this comes down to changing the two basic elements of body composition – fat and muscle.
The perfect ratio of fat-to-lean will depend on your favoured sport (which is why long-distance runner Mo Farah doesn’t look like England Rugby captain Chris Robshaw) or a simple desire to look better in the buff!
If we put some specialised activities to one side (sorry all you desert-runners and Sumo wrestlers out there), most people want to reduce fat and increase muscle. And the route to your low-fat-high-lean destination depends very much on where you’re starting from.
Fortunately, high-tech methods to measure body composition, such as DEXA, measure fat and lean mass separately and therefore accurately establish your starting point and the optimum route in terms of exercise, nutrition and supplementation to get from ‘A’ to ‘B’.
Let’s look at your possible starting points:
1. Low Fat, Low Muscle
Commonly referred to as an ectomorph or a hard-gainer, you have the advantage of low fat but may struggle with building muscle mass. Or maybe you’ve simply never tried to build any muscle and you could find you actually make lean mass gains very quickly.
Your goal is to build muscle with little or no increase in fat. So you’ll need a small calorie surplus of roughly 10% above maintenance with a fairly high proportion of carbohydrates to provide the energy around your fairly frequent (4-5 times a week) weight training. Make sure you up the weights when you can (progressive overload), while keeping a close eye on correct form.
As you’re low in fat to start with, adding cardio to your routine is going to be of little benefit.
A macro-split of 35P/45C/20F might be a good starting point. Opt for complex carbohydrates such as oats and consume close to your weights sessions to provide energy and build muscle.
At least a gram of protein per pound (450g) of body weight is a good rule of thumb and, in addition to high-protein foods like chicken and fish, Whey Protein is a great supplement thanks to its ultra pure form that’s high in protein and low in fat and sugar.
2. High Fat, Low Muscle
There’s no easy way to say it but if you’re in this quadrant on the fat-muscle axis you have the hardest task – reduce fat AND gain muscle. It’s quite rare, actually, to be at this starting point because as we gain weight with increased fat our bodies adapt to carry it around. Most people with a lot of fat (commonly known as endomorphs) actually carry vast amounts of muscle because they’re doing a high-weight full-body workout with every step they take.
If you’re high-fat-low-muscle your diet and exercise priorities are as follows.
To lose fat you need to be in a calorie deficit, typically between 500-1000 calories. The more fat you have, the higher the deficit can be. We’re all aware of the yo-yo weight problems of ultra-low calorie crash-diets caused by the loss of large amounts of muscle but if you don’t reduce calories enough you’ll take forever to shift the fat and just get demoralised.
To prevent muscle loss (and even increase muscle) you must do bodybuilding-style resistance training with progressive overload. A calorie deficit without weight training is a surefire way to lose muscle (and quite a lot of it if the deficit is big).
Adding some HIIT (high-intensity interval training) to the weight-training will help accelerate the fat loss.
For nutrition, you’ll need to keep protein pretty high to maintain and build muscle but reduce carbohydrates to assist fat loss. Diet Whey Protein is one of the best ways to hit this particular higher protein need thanks to its low carbohydrate and sugar content in one supplement. You might also want to get the most out of your workout and burn more calories with the helping hand of a caffeine booster or thermogenic to really get you working up a sweat.
A potential macro split for you is 50P/25C/25F.
3. High Fat, High Muscle
As with (2), your goal here is to burn fat but with the added pressure of not losing any lean muscle, so weight-training three times a week with some steady-state cardio to round off your sessions would be a good strategy.
Protein intake needs to be high, around 1g-1.2g per pound of body weight to keep muscle loss to a minimum but carbohydrates should be kept low to very low. Diet Whey Protein is a good source of supplementary protein without the carbs, and a pre-workout will help to keep you focused for your entire session.
A good macro split might be 50P/20C/30F.
4. Low Fat, High Muscle
Lucky you, you’ve arrived! This is many people's dream composition, but how do you mesomorphs stay there? Your calories are obviously on point so keep them where they are. As for the macro split, moderation in everything is the order of the day, so 35P/40C/25F would be a good strategy.
Around 1g of protein per pound (450g) of body weight together with a balanced amount of carbohydrates and weight training three times a week will ensure you maintain your lean muscle mass and keep your fat enviably low. Make sure you eat enough essential fats, such as those found in peanut butter, which is nutrient-dense to help curb cravings and keep you fuller longer – but remember to keep an eye on overall calories.
This is a Guest Blog by our friends at The Protein Works. You can win a share of 100,000 TPW Loyalty Points in our competition (and a package of DEXA scans) before October 30th.
Remember, for a customised, calorie- and macro-specific food plan and training programme, consider Bodyscan Personal Coaching.
Below is the progress report (and above are the DEXA images) from a Bodyscan customer, Enzo, who came for his sixth scan in September.
Reading up from the bottom of each yellow table you can see that he has made almost no progress since he first came to Bodyscan on 13th October 2015.
If you look at the ‘Change vs Baseline’ column, Enzo has gained no muscle mass at all (down 30g, which is less than the margin of error) and his fat is down less than 2kg (1835g) after two years).
And the ‘Change per month vs Baseline’ column shows he has lost an average of just 78 grams of fat and 1 gram of lean per month over the two year period.
These results are at once woeful and scandalous!
Woeful because nothing has changed after two years. Scandalous because Enzo has been paying a personal trainer three times a week to go absolutely nowhere.
Compare those results over two years to the following, which show excellent progress in just three to four months. The first (below) shows a simultaneous fat loss of 3.7kg and lean mass gain of 3kg in 18 weeks.
The second (below) shows a simultaneous 3.3kg drop in fat and 2.5kg lean gain in 14 weeks.
And the third shows a lean mass gain of 3kg with no corresponding gain in fat (53 grams) in exactly three months.
All these individuals (two of whom are of a similar age and slightly older then Enzo, in their forties) are clients of Bodyscan Personal Coaching, at the heart of which is a calorie- and macro-specific food plan based on your unique DEXA data and a weights-based resistance training programme.
In just a few weeks these individuals have achieved what Enzo and his trainer have failed to do in two years. So if your body recomposition plans are going nowhere, change your regime, dump your PT or consider Bodyscan Personal Coaching (BPC).
BPC is not for everyone. It requires you to be disciplined, to go to the gym three times a week under your own steam, be familiar and comfortable with weights and understand the importance of good form. If you need a real live personal trainer standing over you to keep you honest then BPC is not for you.
Also, because it is uniquely customised for you and your lifestyle, we can take on only a small number of clients at any one time. But if your last few results are more like Enzo's than our three clients' above, give it some thought.
And of course, if your personal trainer is any good and helping you achieve great results, then stick with them! They are worth the money!