Saturday, January 11, 2014

Recomposition Guide 1.0

I’ve been tinkering with these protocols for quite a while, achieving what I feel like is a great deal of success with my own physique. Everything herein will describe the methods I have used and that I feel are optimal based on experience. Lastly, before diving into this, I’d like to give credit to Lyle McDonald (, Martin Berkhan ( and JC Deen ( for exposing me to these ideas, as well as all the superb info that they put out for free.


Recomposition is the so called holy-grail of body transformation. The ideal scenario of simultaneous fat loss & muscle gain. There are varying degrees to which you can manipulate these variables, which will enable you to skew your results in either direction, to suit your specific goal. Lots of folks say that attempts at recomposition largely result in nothing but wheel spinning, but not in my case;

Day 1 - 190lbs

Day 55 - 185lbs

Thoughts on who Should / Should-Not use this Protocol

-I believe this will work best for advanced trainees. Rates of muscle gain will be slow for these individuals anyway and I’m of the opinion that bulking is unproductive for them. I prefer slow, gradual progress in both directions (muscle gain/fat-loss). Newbies and Intermediates; please feel free to experiment with my methods, but you may be better served by simply focusing on strength & muscle gain.

-You must be able to track your macronutrient intake. You don’t have to be OCD about it, but be reasonably accurate. Weigh / Measure your food for at least a month to learn your portions, then eye-ball it after that.

-You must be relatively lean (sub 15% body-fat for men). There are various factors why this protocol will work better for lean individuals, primarily because of insulin sensitivity. If you’re fatter than my recommendation, just go with a standard calorie deficit (-20% /day) until you de-fatten yourself.


-You must be patient. I believe part of the reason most people ‘cut’ or ‘bulk’ is because they NEED to see the number on the scale moving to assure themselves that they are making progress. Recomposition requires a bit of patience and a ‘big-picture’ point of view, as day to day fluctuations in bodyweight will be largely irrelevant. You must maintain an objective view. If you’re one of those people who freak out if the scale moves up a few pounds, then proceeds to eat nothing but celery all day… this is not the program for you.

Constructing the Diet

Step #1 – Set maintenance calories

I would assume that most people reading this have a decent estimate of their maintenance caloric intake (or thereabouts), if so (yay), then you already have a number to start with.

If you don’t have any idea what your maintenance is, multiply your bodyweight x 14-16 to determine your daily caloric intake. Lower on the scale if you are sedentary, higher if you are active. I suggest most people start with bodyweight x 14 and make adjustments based on progress. Don’t obsess over the numbers, here. Your actual daily maintenance intake is on a sliding scale from day to day. We’re merely attempting to capture a general average.  

Step #2 – Set caloric surplus / deficit based on goals

Generally speaking, you will have two different days;

Low day: Create a caloric deficit to lose body-fat
---------- (Maintenance – 10-30%)

High day: Create a caloric surplus to gain muscle  
---------- (Maintenance + 10-30%)

Now this is where things can get tricky… Determining your surplus/deficit for each day, relative to your goal. I’m going keep this simple by listing a few standard set-ups, rather than attempting to cover every possible scenario.

Vanilla Recomposition
Low Day: Maintenance –20%
High Day: Maintenance +20%

Recomp – Bias toward muscle gain
Low Day: Maintenance –10%
High Day: Maintenance +20-30%

Recomp – Bias toward fat-loss  
Low Day: Maintenance –25-30%
High Day: Maintenance +10%

As you can see there can be many different combinations for distributing calories. I recommend starting with one of the above and adjusting if necessary.

Matching the diet to the training;
-If you train every other day (3x/week) like most people do, make those the High days, with non-training days being Low days.
-If you train everyday like I do, simply rotate through high/low/high/low. This is what I believe to be optimal and has worked very well for me.
-Having 2 Low days in a row is fine, if they are non-training days.
-Having 2 High days in a row is not recommended under most circumstances.
-Do not have a High day on a non-training day.

Step #3 – Calculate Macronutrient requirements

Macronutrients can be highly variable between individuals, so experimentation is obviously necessary. With that said, these are the guidelines I’d like to see most people start with, adjusting based on results.

Low day: 1.2g/lb(bw) Protein, .4g/lb(bw) Fat, Remainder Carbohydrate
High day: 1g/lb(bw) Protein, .3g/lb(bw) Fat, Remainder Carbohydrate

Meal Pattern

Meal timing is largely irrelevant, although I do think it wise for the majority of calories to come after the training session. Whether you want to accomplish this by using Intermittent Fasting, the BioRhythm Diet (also see this for meal template options), or whatever else, doesn’t matter. Just do it.

In Practice

Let’s say our sample lifter is 180lb with a proposed maintenance of ~2500 calories (bodyweight x14).  He is going to do a Vanilla Recomp;

Low Day: 2500 –20% = 2000 calories
High Day: 2500 +20% = 3000 calories

Based on the above, his macros are calculated as;

Low Day: 215 P / 70 F / 125 C
High Day: 180 P / 55 F / 445 C

Gauging Progress

First and foremost, your performance in the gym is your primary indicator of success. For all intents and purposes, if you’re gaining strength on the compound lifts, you’re gaining muscle.

I personally do not track body measurements via calipers or measuring tape, but if that floats your boat, go right ahead. I primarily use the mirror for feedback on body-comp.

Regarding scale weight, what I’ve found to be the most helpful is to record my morning weight 5 – 7 days out of the week and average them out. When comparing these averages from week to week, you can determine what path your weight is on; generally increasing, decreasing or staying the same.  

If you decide to try out one of these protocols, please provide some feedback.


  1. Hi Joe, thanks for sharing this. Been thinking about trying a recomp at the end of my cut. The hi/low cycling nature of the diet would tie in nicely with the push/pull/legs/rest split I'm putting together and mean low days would always fall on a rest day.

    A few questions though. What recomp % did you use and what bf were you at when you started roughly? Also, since I've been cutting a while, I'm worried that throwing 400g + of carbs into a damaged metabolism would cause unwanted fat gain... I was thinking of adding carbs gradually to the high days (reverse diet style, adding 25-50g per week) and keeping the low days the same as my cut. I'll tweak the macros to fit the protocol gradually over time. What do you think?

    Welcome back btw! I'm glad to see this blog alive again, i often direct friends here. Simple, clear, tried and tested guidelines. Thanks again.

    1. Hey, Thanks for the kind words.

      I would guess my starting b.f.% was around 15%. Simply an estimation. I used the -25 / +10 set-up.

      I think that tapering your calories back up after a cut is always a smart decision.

      Best of luck. Let me know how it works out for you.