Losing Weight & Gaining Muscle

By Shelby Nolan

It is pretty regularly stated in the world of health, wellness, and fitness that calories play a huge part in both weight gain and weight loss. In terms of fitness, a common reason to gain weight, particularly muscle, is for a bodybuilding competition. Someone may want to lose weight, particularly fat, to be considered healthier, and someone else may want to lose weight to get into a certain bracket of weight-based sports like powerlifting or wrestling.

But what if you don’t really care to change your weight? What if you want to want to both gain muscle and lose fat? What options are there for you?

You can alternate between the two. When in a caloric surplus and exercising to gain muscle, it is called “bulking.” When in a caloric deficit to lose fat, it is called “cutting.”

If this doesn’t appeal to you, no need to fret! What you can do is called body recomposition or “recomping.” This is when you eat at maintenance, meaning your body weight is relatively stable (obviously you will still have daily fluctuation in weight, but the overall trend does not move much), and you exercise with effort and progressive overload (this just means you do more over time). You will simultaneously lose fat and gain muscle. This is most easily demonstrated in folks newer to lifting weights and those with more fat to lose. It also is more effective with a higher protein diet. Basically, the gist is that you will WEIGH the same but LOOK entirely different. Let me show you:

Believe it or not, but I (yes, this is me Jan ’18 – Sept ‘18), weight the same in both of those photos. Not only am I visibly smaller, but there is more muscle definition (a product of both muscle growth and fat loss), and I am stronger in the photo on the right.

Body recomposition, or “recomping,” is one of the reasons people say that the scale is deceiving. Muscle takes up less space than fat, and this is why you may not see the number on the scale move drastically, but your progress pictures and clothes are changing tremendously. It is also why weight should not be your only data point to determine your progress. Measurements, progress photos, energy level, fit of clothing, strength progression, and mental wellbeing are all important factors to consider to determine if you are losing fat, gaining muscle, or both.


The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 103, Issue 3, March 2016, Pages 738–746, https://doi-org.unco.idm.oclc.org/10.3945/ajcn.115.119339