So you're trying to lose weight. Build some muscle. You want to get toned. You want to get some more definition in your arms.
What you're trying to do - what you really want! - is not weight loss, but body recomposition!
So what is body recomposition? It's different from weight loss. You might not actually lose weight in the process of body recomposition (meaning the weight on the scale). You might actually GAIN weight. But with this weight gain comes more muscle. And with more muscle, fat loss becomes much more doable.
And when fat loss occurs, that's when we get that lean, defined appearance that most of us want when we talk about weight loss!
Let's look at my own fat loss journey as an example -
I'm by no means or ever have been overweight. But I've definitely experienced the effects of body recomposition.
This picture was taken when I was in college on the crew team. I was about 15% bodyfat, 105lbs. I was training 2 to 3 times a day with cardio and weights and eating easily 2500-3000 calories a day.
This was the leanest I've ever been and the most aerobically fit I've ever been. But I definitely did not have THAT much muscle or was very strong.
Fast forward to a few months after graduting college. I stopped training as hard (because there was no point) and kept eating like I did while I was training.
In this photo, I'm not sure what my bodyfat percentage was, but I'm around 130lbs and definitely not as defined.
You can see there was a 20+lbs difference between these two photos but not a TON of size different in my body. Sure I look a little softer, hold a little bit more fat in my stomach area, but I'm not HUGE by any means.
So we now know that a few pounds isn't going to drastically alter your apperance. Let's continue looking at how my physique has evolved and changed.
Several more months (or maybe a year later, I can't remember), I had dropped back down to around 118-120lbs. I look significantly leaner here, with more definition in my stomach area.
What did I do? Cleaned up my diet and stopped getting takeout everyday. I continued to focus my training on getting super strong and strength trained pretty much 6 days a week.
I focused less on the calories I ate (didn't try to limit myself) and more on quality of food, lifting heavy, and moving more often.
And these three things are the most influential things you can do for your body composition. Ready to learn why?
Your body's total daily energy expenditure or TDEE makes up the amount of calories used during the day. What we know about fat loss, is that to lose fat, we need to be exceeding the amount of calories we eat with what we burn. I present CICO or calories in calories out. Calories out > calories in = fat loss.
So now you may be saying, "Laura why don't I just eat less?" IT IS NOT THAT SIMPLE.
Yes, you can create what we call a calorie deficit by eating less. But that's usually not the best way to go about it for long-term success.
There are several components that make up your TDEE - Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT), Thermic Effect of Food (TEF), and Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (EAT). Let's break down each one.
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
Your BMR is the most influential part of your TDEE, making up more than half of your daily expenditure. BMR is basically the amount of calories you'd need to sustain your body at its current size if you were just in a vegetative state. BMR is influenced by your height, weight, muscle mass, fat mass, sex, etc.
With that being said, changing your BMR is one of the most powerful things you can do to increase your metabolism. If you can increase your BMR, you'll be increasing the amount of calories your body expends on a daily basis, without having to go to the gym and running on the treadmill for an hour to get the same result.
How do we increase BMR? Well, the easiest and most direct way to do it is to increase muscle mass! This is why lifting weights is SO important! The more muscle mass we have, the more energy costly we become. Therefore, we burn more calories doing the same activities we usually do and we are more "expensive" in terms of energy so we use more throughout the day in general.
This is why, instead of telling people to drop calories, I stress the importance of appropriate fueling, recovery, and strength training. Pack the muscle on!
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)
NEAT is another influential aspect to body recomposition. When people embark on their fat loss journey, many of them focus on food and the gym, but forget a huge component; daily activity. This just comprises of everything you do that's NOT exercise - walking, hiking, breathing, fidgeting, using your hands when you talk, blinking, etc. NEAT is the second biggest component of your TDEE.
So what does that mean for you? If fat loss is your goal, on top of lifting weights and eating that protein to increase your muscle mass, you need to be increasing your NEAT. How do we do that? We WALK. Get your steps in! 10k a day may seem outdated, but it, in fact, works. Especially when you have a sedentary job. Getting out of your house and walking for an hour or so a day may seem mundane. It's boring. It's not sexy. But it works.
Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)
When you eat food, you burn calories. What?! Yes!
Thermic Effect of Food is our third greatest contributor to our TDEE. Our body has to expend energy in order to digest and absorb our food. Wild, I know.
However, this doesn't mean just go and eat ravenously now. TEF is still a small component of TDEE compared to BMR and NEAT. But this just goes to show how important eating is and how cutting calories is not always the answer (it actually rarely is).
Eating more protein, which helps us build muscle, is a component to increasing TEF because protein is the most energy-taxing macronutrient to digest and absorb when compared to carbs and fats.
Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (EAT)
EAT has actually the least contribution to our TDEE because most of us don't exercise for hours on end.
This doesn't discount its importance though!
Exercise is a huge component for fat loss. Without exercise, most of us wouldn't get the sufficient stimulus to drive recovery and adaptation. Without exercise, it'd be hard to build muscle or make our bodies more resilient and capable.
So what can we conclude from all this information?
To break it down simply:
Eat to fuel and nourish
Lift to get strong and build muscle
Move often; stop sitting on your butt (10k a day!)
About the Author
Laura Su, BS Exercise Science, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, Powerlifter, Entreprenuer
I'm just a girl who fell in love with movement in high school and now wants to bring the freedom that exercise brings to everyone else.
I started working out with the desire to look a certain way but eventually found the sense of accomplishment and clarity that training for performance brought. Now I want to help everyone, especially women, to learn how to train and eat for their health and performance and realize that when you do that, the looks you desire are simply a positive side effect.
In my spare time, I enjoy powerlifting, horseback riding, sleeping, and hanging out with my boyfriend. I hope you enjoy my posts and keep reading along!