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Body recomposition for women: How to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time

With the right approach to nutrition and training, it is possible.

Your Guide to Body Recomposition for Women | Juniper

Understanding the delicate balance between losing fat and gaining muscle isn't always easy and despite the myth that you can't achieve both simultaneously, science and real-world success stories prove otherwise.

It's true: with the right approach to nutrition and training, body recomposition is perfectly attainable.

But how, exactly? In this blog post, we'll explore what body recomposition is, and how you can change yours by modifying your diet and creating an effective workout routine. Let's get into it.

What is body composition?

Before we dive into the concept of body recomposition, it's important to understand what body composition is.

Although weight loss and management often focus on numbers like your body weight and BMI, these metrics don't actually paint the full picture of your health and fitness.

For example, someone with a lot of muscle and minimal body fat may have a high BMI — and technically be considered overweight — even though they are healthy. In fact, according to the BMI, Usain Bolt is almost overnight and Tom Brady is obese, simply because of how much they weigh [1].

That's where body composition comes in.

Instead of looking solely at the number on the scale, your body composition measures the percentage of fat, muscle and bone in your body [2].

By knowing these numbers, you can set fitness goals that will actually improve your health — whether that is to lose body fat, build muscle or do both at the same time, which is known as body recomposition.

What is body recomposition?

Body recomposition — or body recomp, as it is sometimes referred to — is the process of changing the makeup of your body by shedding fat and gaining muscle.

So, instead of simply losing weight, the aim is to achieve a healthy ratio between fat and muscle — and this involves both nutrition and fitness strategies, which we'll get to shortly.

Benefits of body recomposition for women

The benefits of body recomp go way beyond aesthetics, as it impacts your health and well-being in many ways:

  • Lower body fat percentage
  • Increased muscle mass
  • Faster metabolism (the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest [3])
  • Increased strength
  • Better bone density
  • Improved blood pressure
  • Lower risk of cardiovascular conditions and diabetes [4][5]
  • Improved mood
  • Better self-confidence

Nutrition tips for body recomposition

Nutrition is a key component of successful body composition, and there are two main things you need to consider: how much you eat (your calorie intake) and your macronutrient split (particularly, how much protein you need to consume).

Do you need to be in a calorie deficit?

One of the most common questions when it comes to body recomp is whether or not you should be in a calorie deficit.

Now, if your goal was simply to lose weight and excess body fat, the answer would be easy — you would need to be in a deficit.

But as we know, with body recomposition, you also want to build muscle. In order to do so, you need to fuel your body appropriately.

Generally, it's recommended you follow a slight caloric deficit, aiming for 200-400 calories below maintenance [6].

However, the best approach here is to work with a health coach or dietitian, who can look at your circumstances and provide you with a specific calorie target.

Juniper's Strength Programme helps you understand your unique nutritional and physical needs while taking weight loss medication (if eligible) — so you can build healthy habits that last.

Through the programme, you'll fuel weight loss with food, burn fat more efficiently, and build strength for life, while increasing your mobility, stability, and muscle mass. Check your eligibility today.

How much protein should you eat?

A high-protein diet is healthy for many reasons, one being that it helps you build lean body mass.

It's often recommended that you have at least 30 grams of protein per meal, which you should pair with a balanced intake of healthy fats and carbs.

Similar to your calorie deficit, if you want to know the exact protein target that is right for you, a health coach or dietitian can help you figure that number out.

But for reference, a 2013 study on 88 overweight adults found that those on a low-calorie diet who consumed 1.4 grams of protein per kilo of body weight were able to more effectively preserve muscle mass and lose body fat than those eating only 0.8 grams of protein per kilo [7].

So, upping your protein intake may be a good idea if you're starting a body recomposition journey.

If you're not sure which foods to reach for in order to meet your daily protein targets, our list of high-protein, low-calorie foods will help, as well as our article on the best high-protein snacks for when you're feeling a little peckish.

Other nutrition tips

Besides staying within your calorie budget and eating enough protein, the following nutrition tips can also help you achieve your goals:

Eat high-fibre foods

Similar to protein, fibre helps you feel fuller for longer which will in turn help you stick to your deficit.

There are plenty of fibre-rich foods you can add to your plate, but if you need a boost, you can also take a supplement.

Limit your intake of processed foods

Foods like potato chips, biscuits, processed meats and soft drinks are usually full of empty calories, as well as sugars and trans fats that won't do much to support your body recomp efforts.

You don't have to completely eliminate these foods from your diet, but we recommend you choose healthier alternatives as much as you can.

Limit alcohol consumption

Notorious for being empty calories, alcoholic drinks can lead to the development of an alcohol belly, especially when consumed in excess.

Plus, drinking alcohol can disrupt muscle protein synthesis, making it harder for your body to grow muscle mass (although this negative effect seems to be more significant in men than women) [8].

What are the best exercises for losing fat and building muscle?

When it comes to exercise, there are 3 main components to factor in:

Strength training

Strength training is a type of exercise designed to make your muscles contract through the use of resistance.

Though often associated with barbells and weight machines, strength training can also be done with dumbells, kettlebells or even your body weight.

Whichever type of equipment you choose, it's important that you incorporate progressive overloading into your strength training routine.

This means that you gradually increase the intensity of your workouts to avoid hitting a plateau with your muscle growth, and there are a few ways you can do it:

  • Increasing the weight you're lifting
  • Increasing the number of repetitions or sets you perform
  • Shortening rest times
  • Increasing the number of workouts you do weekly

As for what specific exercises to perform, compound exercises like deadlifts, squats, hip thrusts and bench presses are a solid choice.

By working several muscle groups at the same time, they can make your workouts more effective, which is especially beneficial if you're short on time. They're also easier to progressive overload with, helping you build strength more quickly.

And since you're engaging more muscles than you would with isolation exercises (those that focus on one single muscle group), compound exercises also result in a higher energy expenditure.

This isn't to say you shouldn't do isolation moves, like bicep curls, hamstring curls or lateral raises. They can actually be great for waking up the muscles and improving muscle imbalances.

But for beginners in particular, it is sometimes recommended that compound exercises make up the majority of a workout.

Cardio

While some believe that there's no room for cardio in body recomp, that isn't necessarily true.

It's not about completely eliminating cardio from your routine, but about doing it moderately.

Incorporating 1-2 high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts into your weekly split, for example, is a great way of getting your heart rate up and effectively burning fat, while still activating your muscles.

Another option is MISS — moderate-intensity steady-state cardio — where you keep your heart rate at about 50-70% of your maximum heart rate [9].

MISS is a beginner-friendly, effective way of burning calories, but it doesn't have the same muscle-building benefits as HIIT.

Walking

Technically, walking is a form of cardio, but it deserves a mention of its own as it can often be overlooked.

Getting your steps in each day will help maximise fat loss, while also preserving lean muscle [10][11].

No matter what your strength training/cardio schedule is and how many steps you walk, the most important thing to maintain is consistency.

There's no point in creating an overly intense workout routine if you can't stick to it.

A low and slow approach is best to start with. As you build strength and endurance, you can make your workouts more and more challenging (in other words, progressive overload!).

How to track your progress

Body recomposition isn't about weight loss, so weighing yourself isn't the best way to monitor your progress.

What you can do instead is:

  • Take your measurements. There are apps to keep a record of your measurements over time (or you can simply use a notebook). For a comprehensive assessment, measure your neck, arms, chest, stomach, hips, thighs and calves.
  • Get a body fat scale. Smart scales are a convenient way to measure your body composition at home, but we do recommend looking at reviews and accuracy percentages before purchasing one.
  • Pay attention to how your clothes fit. As your body composition changes, your clothes should start to fit differently. Although this isn't the most objective way to measure your progress, it's still completely valid.
  • Take progress photos. Your appearance will also change as you lose fat and gain muscle. Looking at yourself in the mirror will likely not be enough to notice the changes as they happen, so instead, take monthly or biweekly photos — front, side and back — with the same lighting and pose.
  • Get a DEXA scan. Although not as readily available as the alternatives listed above, DEXA scans are one of the most accurate ways of measuring body fat and muscle mass.

How long does body recomposition take?

There's no one answer to this question — everybody's body recomposition journey is unique. Plus, fat loss takes time, and so does muscle growth.

However, if you stay consistent with both your nutrition and fitness regimen, you may start to see results within 8-12 weeks [12]. This means that your clothes may start to fit differently and your friends and family may notice visible changes in your physique.

But again, timeframes vary according to several factors, including your initial body composition, fitness level, and how your body responds to your body recomp program.

For women in particular, there's also the hormone factor. Whether it's due to your menstrual cycle, pregnancy/postpartum or menopause, hormonal fluctuations may impact your progress.

Additionally, women naturally have a higher body fat percentage than men, so that's something else to account for.

Common mistakes to avoid

Female body recomposition can be tricky to navigate, especially if this is a completely new concept for you, but we're here to help.

In order to actually lose fat and gain muscle mass, you want to avoid:

Eating too little

If your calorie deficit is too drastic, you may see the number on the scale go down.

However, this likely means that you're losing both body fat and lean muscle mass, which isn't the goal.

The idea of eating more may seem daunting at first, especially if you've been in a deficit for a long time, but done right and with professional support, an increase in calories can help you achieve your fitness and health goals.

Plus, you need energy to train properly — and that's exactly what food gives you.

Not getting enough sleep

Speaking of energy, sleep is an often overlooked factor in fitness and weight management. But trust us when we say, it is crucial that you rest properly, aiming for 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night.

During this downtime, your body releases human growth hormone, which stimulates protein synthesis, helping to repair and grow your muscles [13].

Sleep also helps refuel your muscles for your workouts and reduce any inflammation that may happen due to intense exercise [14].

Ultimately, every woman's body recomposition path is unique.

Listening to your body, being compassionate with yourself, making adjustments based on progress, and seeking guidance from fitness professionals can help you achieve your goals.