Epic Guest Post: Nathan Jones Complete Body Recomposition Guide
This a special guest post from my friend Nathan Jones, an excellent strength coach and former college classmate of mine. Towson sure does turn out great coaches… anyway. He was kind enough to write up this incredible post, more detailed than any other posts up here. Please show him some love – comment on this, or better yet, go like him on Facebook and check out his site. Really great stuff.
The Complete Body Recomposition Guide
I want to start out by thanking Matt for inviting me to write this up for you guys…. Matt knew me back in the days when I still had a workout dedicated to “abs”, so needless to say it’s an honor he still even talks to me, let alone would trust me to write anything for his business.
A lot has changed since the 5 varieties of leg raise days. I’m no longer training for Ze Pump (nor the feelings it gave me all the time… look up Arnold’s stance on The Pump if you don’t know what I’m talking about), and I’ve learned a thing or two about training and nutrition since.
I’m here to talk to you guys about the mystical unicorn (or jackalope if that’s more your style) of the body composition world. Body recomposition… gaining muscle while losing fat.
“It can’t be done!”
“You’d be crazy to try!”
“Recomping shot my dog and gave me leprosy!”
I’m here to tell you that it can be done, and it’s not as hard as people make it out to be. I’ve done it personally and helped clients do it as well, and am going to give you the protocols that I used. I’ll confess, my plan is not groundbreaking, and you can look around at some of the well known people in the fitness industry- Martin Berkhan, Brad Pilon, Jason Ferruggia, John Berardi- and see that I was largely influenced by them. I devised this protocol from personally trying each of their plans over the course of several years, found what worked for me, applied some knowledge I gained doing research and ended up with a hybrid all my own…
Before I get in to the strategy I want to make it known that I am not a dietician, doctor, physical therapist, psychotherapist, trained painting chimp… you get the point.
This is simply my recommended approach based on what I personally use and what has served my clients well.
Training style is an essential aspect of the approach… you’re looking to maximize the stimulus to grow in the least stressful way possible. Kind of an oxymoron, but here’s what I’m trying to say.
Bust your ass hard and then go home and rest twice as hard.
It’s not easy to build muscle; it’s even harder when you’re not inhaling a calorie surplus day after day. You’re going to want to keep your total volume lower than you would on a typical “bulk”. Low volume (least stress possible) and high intensity is the recipe for maximal muscle gain while getting leaner.
You want to pick some exercises that allow you to use heavy weights to maximize mechanical tension (that’s our stimulus)… think deadlift, squat, bench, overhead press, cleans, row. You know, Athletic Physique approved exercises. Also keep the actual workout under 45 minutes (do whatever mobility/warm-up work and cool-down you need at your pace). Take your phone/watch and just time it.
Take these exercises and perform a couple of them per workout with a couple assistance exercises for variety/health. Aim for only 3 or 4 true work sets with the main lifts in the 2-5 rep range for lower body (I consider cleans lower body dominant) and 4-6 reps for the upper body. Assistance work you’ll keep to 2, maybe 3 sets at 8-12 reps for upper body, 8-15 for lower.
Use a modified pyramid scheme for the main lifts. This is where you’ll do the low end of the rep scheme to find the first work set then take 2 submaximal sets to a peak and then bring the weight back down about 10% to get in some quality work. It might look something like this…
245×2(1st “work” set)
255×2(2nd work set)
265×3 (peak set)
245×5 (added work set)
Do another non-competing core lift (i.e. row on that day), then knock out a couple sets of a pushup variation and some glute-ham raises as the assistance work.
During the warm up sets and with the assistance work I keep rest short. With the assistance exercises I usually just superset two non-complimentary exercises like a low body/upper body or push/pull. With the maximal effort sets on the big lifts rest is essential. Rest 2-3 minutes between maximal sets. You can’t afford to cheat yourself out of the stimulus of maximal weights by going back at it before you have recovered.
Typically clients train only 3 days a week using this plan. They also alternate between weeks of heavy squatting/deadlifting if they are reasonably strong (deads above 400, squats over 315). Do what works for you, but if you can’t progress regularly in either of those lifts, try the lower frequency/ greater recovery time while. Still use both movements weekly, just not maximally loaded (i.e. if you back squat heavy you would Romanian deadlift, rack pull, etc.) Calorie restricted training requires a bit of strategy…
You may notice I didn’t include any conditioning work here… honestly that’s because I don’t think it’s 100% necessary for people who only care for aesthetics. If you like to have some go to your show (a slug with six pack-abs is still slow and slimy), you can make one of the assistance lifts a conditioning one. Make sure it’s intense and takes very little time- sled drags/pushes, powerwheel crawls, kettlebell swings, battling ropes or hand-over hand rope rows are all great options. Keep it to 4 or 5 sets that wind you, rest only enough to recover your breath.[box] *** Please do conditioning work. No one wants to watch your two-year old go flying into a storm drain because you can’t keep up with her tricycle.[/box]
(Matt’s Note: This analogy killed me, so it got it’s own box.)
On off days walk/swim/bike at a low-intensity on an empty stomach to maximize fat loss. Emphasis on low-intensity- you should never feel even close to winded here. Remember, low-stress is paramount.
The Nutrition Plan
You’re going to need to know your maintenance calorie intake for this.
Also, it’s helpful to know that carbs/protein supplies 4 calories per gram and fat is 9 calories per gram.
The nutritional approach is pretty simple. Eat what you need when you need it, eat less when you don’t need it. Regardless of the macronutrient, the more natural the food source the better. Matt’s suggestions of food choices are perfectly in line with the plan I’ll outline.
So here are the details on eating for recomposition…
Most people are conditioned to believe carbs make you fat, fat makes you fat, and protein will turn your shit to gold. Here’s the truth- you only really need carbs to fuel intense activity and, to a lesser extent, keep your brain happy. Fat doesn’t make you fat, calorie surpluses in a state that doesn’t use them does. In the absence of sugar it’s a primary fuel source for low-intensity activity (everything you do on a daily basis). Protein is very useful from a dietary strategy standpoint, but not the kingmaker it’s made out to be.
The approach uses carb-cycling and intermittent fasting, both fairly hot topics in the fitness industry these days. They are effective and that’s why I suggest them, I’ve never been cool and never will be- note that I told you earlier to work out less and rest a lot earlier.
Intermittent fasting is just not eating, it’s nothing miraculous. The only reason it’s recommended is because it keeps you in a fat-fueled state for a good chunk of the day. It also has a number of hormonal effects beneficial to fat loss. Anecdotally, my clients have found it more satisfying to eat their calorie load for the day in a more condensed time frame. Myself/clients have found a 15 or 16 hour daily fast most sustainable while still being effective. So pick 8 or 9 hours a day that you would typically eat. 8am-5 pm. 11 am-8pm (my favorite). Midnight-9 am. It doesn’t matter. Just choose a time period you can fairly consistently stick with. I feel the need to give credit where it’s due- this is essentially Martin Berkhan’s meal timing protocol.
Now for the carb cycling… I’ve found that going no-carb is basically impossible and will make you miserable to be around (Think veering for your neighbors’ cat in the Silverado). There is simply a baseline carb amount that seems to be necessary for brain health. Baseline. As in a marginal amount of your total calories. So, we’re going to eat more carbs when we need them/they’re beneficial for muscle growth and just enough to stay sane on rest days when excess might lead to fat gain.
On workout days carbs are going to be emphasized, on rest days, fat will be the focus, protein will remain consistent at about 1g/lb of bodyweight. Carbs basically prime the conditions for tissue, be it fat or muscle, to be added to the body. So the plan calls for them to be combined with protein rather than fat, since the goal is adding more muscle and less fat. If cravings are a problem for you, going a little above the protein recommendation may help Let’s look at workout days first….
On workout days you’re going to eat slightly, 10-15 % daily total, over maintenance calories. You can’t build muscle without a calorie surplus, so just accept it. You aren’t going to gain fat, don’t worry. If it puts your mind at ease go ahead and eat your surplus post-workout but that’s not a necessity. On these days you want to deduct your total cals from protein from your total for the day then eat about 70% of the remaining allotment from carbs, let fat make up the rest. In my (and others) experience it’s easiest control cravings by eating the bulk of your carbs after your workouts.
On rest days you’re going to do the opposite. Keep protein the same, but let the bulk (70% or so) of your calories come from healthy fats. Grass fed beef, salmon, eggs, avocadoes, are all great options. Also don’t shy away from cooking oils like olive or coconut oil Fat’s are dense. It’s easy to eat 1000 calories in them before you know it. To fill you up (literally) on these days, I suggest heaping portions of greens/vegetables. They’ll provide you with the limited carbs you need and are valuable sources of micronutrients as well. If you do end up having room for some starchy carbs in your allotment, I actually recommend them at the end of your eating period, otherwise they can lead to some cravings in my experience.
Ask me to write a post and I write a book… no wonder my mother always said I was full of shit. Hope you guys find this useful, feel free to question or criticize. Thank you again to Matt, keep up the great work brother.
Nathan Jones is a personal trainer and strength coach in Camarillo, California. He is the owner and Chief Guinea Pig for Red Rocks Health & Human Performance, a strength and conditioning business serving athletes and average Joe’s alike. For more information from Nathan go to his website or check him out on Facebook.