Getting huge but staying shredded: it is a rubiks cube of a puzzle that has perplexed the bodybuilder for millenia.
The problem with getting huge but also being shredded comes down to the natural way in which our bodies work; to be anabolic and build muscle the body needs more calories than it burns to add this extra mass.
To be shredded requires burning of fat, which requires you forcing your body to use stored fat for energy, which means being in a caloric deficit.
Gaining muscle in a caloric deficit is impossible and losing fat in a caloric surplus is also quite difficult, although not totally impossible.
Notice we didn’t say impossible? That’s because of a thing called “muscle recomposition”.
What is Body Recomposition?
Body recomposition is kind of the holy grail amongst bodybuilders.
As the name implies, recomposition usually involves reducing your overall amount of body fat while increasing your amount of muscle mass, resulting in a noticeably improved overall physique.
But recomposition is impossible unless you’re on steroids!
Yes, many people are quick to shout this out, however those people haven’t spent enough time doing actual research.
Body recomposition has been scientifically observed in a multitude of circumstances including new lifters, overweight lifters, and those coming off a cut.
How to Recompose Naturally
Jeff Nippard, who is probably one of the most “unnatural” looking natty lifters has a great video where he explains the circumstances in which you can burn fat and build muscle at the same time.
If you don’t already subscribe to Jeff’s Youtube you should do so as he’s always dropping mad truth bombs with his “Science Explained” video series.
Jeff is also sponsored by PEScience, one of the most transparent supplement companies out there, which we are also big fans of, not gonna lie.
So we know it is completely possible, it just requires a bit of skill and know-how.
How to Recompose Unnaturally
Sure, one of the most sure-fire ways to burn fat (and be in catabolic state) whilst building muscle is to hop yourself up on some anabolic hormones like testosterone and trenbolone and god knows what else.
But if you don’t have access to this kind of gear there are still other simpler ways to do a complete body recomp. One avenue is using research chemicals known as Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators, or “SARMS”.
SARMS are not FDA approved, so there is some inherent risk in their use, however chemicals like Enobosarm/Ostarine has completed multiple Phase II clinical trials and is even undergoing Phase III trials, meaning it’s been given to thousands of real people without any adverse side effects being reported.
Skinny Yoked explored the world of SARMs in our “Complete 6 Week User Log” study, where our test subject did indeed put on muscle at a rate not before seen.
But if you’re not into chemicals and want to stay “110% natty” then there are still options out there for you to build muscle and stay lean at the same time.
Recomposition Is a Long Term Strategy
As Jeff outlines in his video, he added a solid 10 pounds of lean muscle over a 6 month period with solid diet, regular working out and optimizing his natural testosterone levels.
“But….but…. he must be lying.. you can’t build muscle in a caloric deficit!!!!”
Quit crying ya baby! The world is not completely black and white ok? There are shades of grey and caloric deficits and surpluses are one of those things.
Rarely are you in a constant caloric deficit. To do so would require a 24 our fasting period, which nobody ever does.
If you train hard, consume adequate amounts of protein (1gram per 1 pound of bodyweight) and avoid excess carbohydrates and fats you can definitely build muscle while losing fat.
As long as you are putting your body in an occasional caloric surplus when it needs it most, you are allowing it to build muscle.
You can do this by either alternating between surplus and deficit through the course of a day… with your deficit coming in the morning and your surplus coming later in the day after training, or through the course of the week with some days (training days) being the surplus days with other days being the deficit (fat burning) days.
Simply dialing in your caloric need and eating maintenance calories while getting enough protein can help you recomposition. This looks like this:
You can also do mini cuts and mini bulks, broken down by day, week, or month. This way you you give your body the calories it needs on lifting days but then dial back the calories on off days, forcing your body to burn fat instead of newly ingested calories.
A mini-cut on a on-day/off-day cycle would look something like this:
Guide to Mini Cuts & Mini Bulks
The most popular bodybuilding cycle right now is to bulk through the fall and winter, stuffing your face with way more calories than you need, building 5-10 pounds of new muscle along with 10-20 pounds of fat, and then busting your ass in March and April to try to burn off the fat, leaving only your new found gains shining through.
In theory this bi-annual sort of bulk/cut like a bear works a treat, but in practice, things usually get real messy real quick.
The biggest problems with traditional once yearly bulk and once yearly cut cycles include:
- Going way over your required minimum caloric surplus because ice cream tastes good
- Getting way too fat because of all the cookies, ice cream and other “bulking” garbage foods you’re eating
- Inability to cut your newfound 15 pounds of fat because well, cardio sucks and ice cream taste good
- Perpetually staying in bulk mode because cutting massive amounts of fat is discouraging and difficult
That’s why many bodybuilders are taking a more measured approach with mini bulks and mini cuts spaced throughout the year.
This allows them to build muscle multiple times throughout the year instead of just once and also ensures they never get too fat or too lean to the point where it jeaprodizes their overall physique.
One huge popular proponent of mini-cuts and mini-bulks is Youtube star Brandon Carter. Brandon has a sick physique year-round.
Brandon says micro-cutting and micro-bulking is his preferred way to build muscle while staying lean and never letting things get out of control. It is a controversial approach but it seems to work.
So, you want to try to build muscle and burn fat at the same time, maybe even give micro-bulking and micro-cutting a go.
Well, here are a few of our top articles on ways to build overall mass, build specific muscle groups and how to do so even in a caloric deficit or with a high metabolism:
- How Lifting Furiously Makes for More Impressive Gains
- How to Build Muscle, Even With a High Metabolism
- Top Lean Mass Gainer Supplements of 2023
- Top 5 Exercises for Building a Bulging Back
- Mass Building Chest Exercises for Ectomorphs & Hard Gainers
- Best Supplements to help Hard Gainers Build Muscle
- Best Reviewed Thermogenic Pre-workouts that Actually Work
So we’ve covered the how to stay anabolic and how to build muscle multiple times. But what about the fat burning?
Well, most of that comes down to diet. You need to make sure your macros are on point, meaning you’re getting sufficient protein while monitoring overall carbohydrate and fat intake.
One of the best ways to make sure you hit your macros consistently is to pre-prepare your meals for the week ahead of time so everything is measured and ready to go.
Preparing meals ahead of time is tedious but it’s what all the professionals do as it helps them build muscle while staying photo-shoot lean year round.
We recently rounded up the best meal prep bags in a post that might be useful if you are considering getting into the meal prep game yourself.
Once you have the workout plan dialed and the diet dialed then you have to focus on the elephant in the room: cardio.
Low Intensity Cardio for Maximum Fat Loss & Muscle Retention
Doing cardio is absolutely critical if you want to build muscle but prevent fat from building up and hiding all of your gains.
While HIT cardio, or “high intensity training” is all the rage now, more relaxed, LIC, or low-intensity cardio has been popular for years before HIT became all the rage.
Low intensity cardio, which doesn’t even really qualify as cardio as your hear rate never exceeds 50-60% of your MHR or maximum heart rate.
Essentially, a rough guide for low intensity fat burning cardio is cardio that is slow enough so you don’t get winded but fast enough/intense enough to where you aren’t comfortable and you sweat.
The best fat burning forms of cardio favored amongst bodybuilders are walking up a treadmill at a moderate pace with an incline and using a stair stepper.
Walking up a treadmill is great because it helps develop your calves, however we are bigger fans of the stair stepper as it helps you engage your hamstring and glutes as well.
You’ll see many professional bodybuilders spending hours on stair steppers to hit their daily cardio requirements.
The most common training split includes getting cardio out of the way first thing in the morning, followed by a meal or two, maybe a nap, and then more intense weight training later in the day.
Driving to the gym twice a day sucks so many serious lifters will get a stair-stepping machine to put in their house so they can do it in the morning while watching the news, reading or doing some other multitasking.
There are a ton of great stair-steppers out there. These kinds of low intensity cardio are also commonly referred to as “Stairmasters”, which is actually a branded term that has come to encompass all machines, much like Kleenex has cornered the tissue market.
Skinny Yoked Final Word
We hope that we’ve opened your mind to different approaches to training today. You don’t always have to follow the crowd and work the exact same bulk/cut cycles everyone else does.
Experiment with your diet, with your training and your cardio to better dial in a physique you’re proud to rock year round.
Recomposition is a real thing. It isn’t easy, it takes time and it isn’t without its own set of drawbacks but for the chance of looking beach-ready year round we think it’s a holy grail definitely worth pursuing!