Traditional bulk-and-cut diets are antiquated, inefficient, and just plain stupid. You’ve probably heard it a million times: “I’m going to eat a ton of calories and put on all this muscle mass, then I’ll cut all my fat away and look shredded and huge.” You know what really happens? Your bulk ends up leaving you looking like the Michelin Man, and your cut leaves you looking like a marathoner. You don’t need to add layers of fat to add muscle, nor do you have to burn muscle to lean out.

Bottom line: You can work toward muscle gain and fat loss at the same time (aka recomposition, or “recomp” for short), even though you’ve been led to believe differently. What’s the secret? You work with your body. You fluctuate between periods of caloric deficit and caloric surplus, maximizing the anabolic response of training on workout days while facilitating fat loss on off days. By playing off the interaction between these anabolic and catabolic processes, you can work toward building the best physique of your life.

To be clear, your body doesn’t care how lean and muscular you are. It cares only about survival. If gaining muscle were easy, we’d all be walking around looking like Arnold. Muscle building is hard, and it takes time. If your training and nutrition aren’t spot-on, you’ll just be spinning your wheels. This is where the old bulk-and-cut routine fails you. Sure, it’s fun to eat everything in sight, and it can be effective, but there’s a big difference between effective and optimal.

Your diet should place you in an environment where your food goes toward building muscle, not being stored as fat. The traditional bulking diet does the opposite of this: By always staying in a caloric surplus, your body becomes used to storage. The fatter you get, the fatter your body allows you to become.

During the typical bulking period, body fat increases, which leads to a cascade of negative hormonal effects. Increased body fat leads to a decreased ability to feel full, reduced carbohydrate metabolism, more testosterone converted to estrogen, and less metabolic flexibility. All these factors lead to less-than-optimal nutrient repartitioning (or, in layman’s terms, where your calories go when you eat them), whereas the goal of any diet should be to improve how efficiently your body uses nutrients.

On the opposite end of the spectrum— the cutting phase—if you’re always
in a caloric deficit, you’ll experience a decrease in thyroid hormones and thus metabolism. Your hunger will increase and your testosterone will decrease, cueing the onset of a host of other undesirable side effects. A diet lacking the proper amount of calories and macro- and micronutrients will also lead to suboptimal muscle gains. The key is finding a proper balance between the two.



The saturated fat and cholesterol in foods like bacon fuel testosterone production. Bacon is also high in choline—which aids memory—plus zinc, iron, and magnesium.

Enter the Fast

It’s time to break your vicious 24/7 eating cycle. This is where some short fasting— abstaining from eating for 12–24 hours— comes in handy. Before you dismiss it, open your mind and consider the logic. What happens when you don’t eat for a few hours? With no food, your insulin levels are low. When insulin is low, the body shifts to using more stored fat for energy; this is why fasting can be so useful in stripping body fat. Fasting has also been shown to increase carbohydrate metabolism, lower your risk of heart disease, reduce inflammation, and provide other anti-aging and longevity benefits.

But isn’t not eating…catabolic? The short answer is yes. But, do you think we would have survived and evolved as humans if we couldn’t endure some stretches of low food intake? Although many people have become terrified of the word “catabolism,” it actually serves many useful purposes. For example, the breakdown of fat for energy is a catabolic process. Still scared of it? The body needs these periods of reduced food intake to regulate itself and clean up the junk we constantly fill it with. In other words, you need to give your body and your digestive system a chance to reset.

But what about muscle loss? You’ve been told that if you don’t have a constant supply of protein, your muscle will shrivel and die. This is absurd. As long as you consistently aim for a positive protein balance, where protein synthesis is greater than protein breakdown, your hard-earned muscle will be at the very least retained, if not increased. You can do this just as easily by having all your protein

in three meals as you can with six meals. There are also plenty of mechanisms that occur during fasting that actually protect muscle, like, for example, increases in growth hormone.

A short fast will actually decrease bodyfat stores, improve your carbohydrate metabolism, protect muscle, increase your metabolism (shown in fasts up to 36–48 hours), and help you live longer. That said, in the diet that follows, you’ll reserve fasting for off days, as you need a full supply of energy on training days to ensure an effective session and full recovery. Your workouts need to stay productive so the body sees muscle as something necessary to keep. Fat stores will be a bit more expendable because your body will want to preserve muscle to keep up with your workouts.



Leafy greens such as spinach, collard greens, and Swiss chard are high
in beta-carotene, plus folate, which can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and depression.

Peri-Workout Nutrition

Dieting really is simple. Any reasonably thought-out plan the dieter can adhere to will work, assuming there’s proper caloric intake and macronutrient ratios. But you want your diet to do more than just “work.” There are certain tools you can use and manipulate to ensure you’re reaching your desired goal. Two of the most effective tools are fasting, as discussed, and altering peri-workout (pre-, intra- and post-workout) nutrition.

While there are a couple of effective ways to change your peri-workout nutrition, avoiding carbs post-workout may be the most surprising one to gym rats. Now, before you spit out your protein shake in objection, consider the following facts:

Normally, you finish a workout and rush home to slam a shake consisting of protein and fast-acting carbs. Are these carbs truly necessary post-workout? A recent study found that protein and carbohydrates post-workout did not further increase protein synthesis when compared with consuming only protein post-workout. Not only that, but the protein-only group showed a higher net-protein balance, which is just as important as the level of protein synthesis, if not more important.

Despite what you‘ve been told, carbs really aren’t needed post-workout, and may actually diminish some of the benefits of your training. You need carbs only to fuel high-intensity activity and to recover if you’re training multiple times per day, as a pro athlete would. For everyone else, post-workout is a perfect time to jump-start fat loss, because stored carbs (glycogen) at that time are low, so fatty acids are the primary energy source.

NEXT: Get the meal plans >>



Need yet another reason to eat chicken breast? The go-to protein source for athletes everywhere is also high in vitamin B6, which helps increase energy and metabolism.

How It Works

On days you weight train,
you want to take advantage of the myriad adaptations that occur in the body—for example, elevated protein synthesis and insulin sensitivity. These will be your higher-calorie and higher-carbohydrate days. On these days, you want: (1) your muscles to be full of energy (glycogen) and ready to dominate a workout, and (2) enough protein intake to allow proper rebuilding of muscle.

On days you aren’t training, you’ll want to keep insulin levels low and fat burning high, maintaining and prolonging insulin sensitivity so that when you reintroduce carbs, they go to muscle tissue instead of fat. These off days will include a short fasting period (depending on goals and experience), cardio done in a fasted state, certain supplements, and fewer calories and carbs. However, you still need some proteins and fats.

So let’s say you need 2,000 calories a day to maintain your weight. Which do you think is the better way to reshape your physique: 3,000 calories on training days and 1,000 on off days, or 2,000 calories on both days? Either way, it ends up being 4,000 calories total for the two days—but the 3,000/1,000 option is much more effective. You can also get away with some normally considered “bad” foods on workout days, as your fat-loss
days will help even this out: When carbing up the day after a fast, even something like French toast can be acceptable to eat.

This style of eating can be set up many different ways. Dieting is highly individual, and being able to build
a sustainable plan will determine long-term success. Before you decide how to put this into practice, take an honest look at your current physique and past dieting history. Do you gain fat relatively easy? If so, you may need to blend in more of the “fat-loss” periods. If you have a harder time gaining weight, you can be more lenient with carb choices and really push the calories on training days.

Start the recomp eating plan by implementing our template into your routine once a week: Follow the Day 1 plan on a training day and the Day 2 plan the next non-lifting day. From there, adjust based on your progress. If you find that you feel awful during a short fast, this tells you that your body is terribly inefficient at using its fat for fuel. This would be referred to as your “metabolic flexibility,” and it’s recommended that you continue to use fasts or fasted training to improve in this area.



Fry or poach whenever you cook eggs. Breaking the yolks while cooking—as you do when you scramble them—damages the fat and lessens the nutritional value.

Recomp Diet Meal Plan

The sample days presented here— one weight-training day, one rest or cardio-only day—offer a template
for eating and supplementing to optimize muscle gains and fat-burning simultaneously (recomposition), based on a male weighing 180–200 pounds. These two sample days are only a starting point, not a final destination, as there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all diet.

The important thing is to acknowledge and then implement the main techniques utilized to maximize fat-burning while still building muscle: higher carbs before workouts on training days and very low carbs after training; fasting and overall low carb intake on non-training days, including doing cardio in a fasted state; and high-quality proteins consumed at every meal, regardless of the day.

These meal plans can and should be tweaked based on how you
feel and the results you’re seeing in the mirror. For example, if you feel carbs need to be increased on training days, bump up a little bit at a time. If your body weight is more than 180–200 pounds, you’ll need to increase serving sizes accordingly.



It’s not only the ultimate natural pre-workout drink, one study showed that drinking four or more cups also reduced the risk of prostate cancer progression and recurrence.

Day 1 – Training Day

Meal 1
4 whole eggs
2 egg whites
1 tbsp MCT oil

Meal 2
6 oz turkey
4 pieces Ezekiel bread with grass-fed butter
2 cups oatmeal

Meal 3
6 oz chicken breast
2 cups white rice

35g whey protein
5g leucine
40–50g high-glycemic carb (e.g., dark chocolate)

5g leucine
5g glutamine
2–3g glycine, citrulline malate, electrolytes

5g leucine
5g creatine
60g high-quality zero-carb whey protein

Meal 4
2 beef patties (85– 90% lean)
5g leucine

Day 2 – Off Day

Start with a Short Fast
Water only until 1 p.m.; a fat-burning supplement and/ or caffeine is also acceptable here.

Do 20-30 Minutes of Cardio
Half HIIT/half steady-state in the fasted state.

Meal 1
5 whole eggs
1–2 strips bacon

Meal 2
6 oz grass-fed beef
1 cup green vegetables

Meal 3
6 oz chicken thighs
1–2 cups green vegetables

Meal 4
6 oz chicken breast
1–2 cups green vegetables
If training early the next morning, add a large serving of carbs here.