Posted 9 months ago

Recomp or Reset?

In the bodybuilding world, it’s well established that we need to progressively increase the food on our plate to continue to grow. However, there will always come a time where one’s appetite simply does not permit them to eat the calories that they require for growth, without physically feeling sick. In the past, I would have always said that you should immediately recomp.

However, if you are halfway through an off-season/gaining phase in which you are aggressively trying to make changes to your physique, a full recomp might not be the best strategy. Instead, if body fat levels are at an acceptable level, you can “reset” your calories to increase your appetite, to then continue pushing.

Of course, there are many variables to consider before choosing to go with one approach or the other; therefore, the aim of this article is to discuss when you should recomp or reset, and how to go about it.

What is a recomp?

In the fitness industry, a “recomp” is what we call a short dieting phase – it stands for body re-composition, and is basically a period in which an individual will aim to drop some body fat and hold on to muscle mass. This will typically be done after a long gaining phase, during which the individual has added a significant amount of mass and overall body weight to their frame.

As we increase our body weight with the aim to add more muscle mass, we will inevitably lay down some body fat. As you continue to add overall weight and increase your food, there will come a point in which your body composition begins to be compromised. At this point, you may notice that body fat is starting to predominantly accumulate in stubborn areas, relative to other areas of your body.

I usually take this as a sign that your body is no longer in an optimal place to add muscle mass: it’s likely that if you continued to push, you would accumulate body fat at a much faster rate than you would do muscle mass, due to a decreased sensitivity to insulin. As such, once this point is reached, one would enter a short dieting phase to pull off some body fat, increase insulin sensitivity, and establish a better position to a massing phase from.

As an example, if you’ve gained 10-12kg over the course of 5 months, you might look to pull off around 5-7kg before bulking again. However, these numbers are completely dependent upon the individual and their levels of body fat. What you will certainly find is that when you bring your weight down to that new “set point” or massing start point, you look better, or in a similar condition, as to when you first started the original bulk.

This scenario works well if you’ve been able to get through your off season/bulk with a consistent ability to eat the required food. However, especially for male bodybuilders, this isn’t always the case.

Calorie reset

This can be understood as an appetite resetting process, as the sole aim is restore one’s appetite enough, to get back to eating and gaining weight again.

It’s no secret that assisted bodybuilding is about pushing boundaries, and it is therefore not uncommon to gain 20kg+ in a massing phase, with a large percentage of that being muscle mass. Of course, to do so, long and extended caloric surplus periods are required – often spanning 6-8 months in length. Inevitably, the more weight you want to gain, the more food you’re going to have to eat.

However, what are you supposed to do if you’re into month 4 and you are struggling to put food down? Many guys will know what it feels like to sit down to eat without hunger, and to physically gag as you’re trying to finish the meal in front of you. If you’ve been to this point, you know just how horrible it is. You’ll often find that nothing you do (e.g., changing food sources) will get rid of this feeling. Yet, if your body fat levels are at an acceptable level, a calorie reset is something that you may not have thought of implementing, but that you could largely benefit from.

A calorie reset will involve pulling your food down drastically for a 2–3-week period, perhaps coinciding with an increase to output. Let’s say you’ve managed to build your food up to 800g carbs on a training day. If you are looking to reset, then you could drop these to 300-400g, hold your protein, and perhaps even drop your fats too. Dropping your overall calories by 1200-1600kcal/day in this example might seem drastic, but if you’re not able to eat your meals, you’ll accept that with open arms.

After a few days on this lower intake, you will undoubtedly find yourself beginning to get a little bit hungry when mealtimes come around. Give yourself a couple of weeks on that lower intake, and you will no doubt be ‘starving’. It’s at this point you can begin to increase your food back up. It’s worth noting that it’s common and normal to lose some weight; however, note that the majority of this will be fluid loss and a slight loss of muscle fullness. Once you get back to increasing your food, the weight will come back on over time.

So the reset is done – do you go straight back to 800g carbs? Absolutely not! I’d advise increasing your food to a point in which satiety is met, for example, at 550g carbs; from this point, you’d then begin to slowly titrate your calories up. I can bet that by using this strategy appropriately, your food will be higher at the end of your bulk than it was when you felt the need to pull back.

With this information in mind, one of the most frequently asked questions I get from assisted bodybuilders is around what to do with anabolics during these phases. Personally, I keep my dosages where they are. Food is one of the key drivers of muscle growth and recovery. Anabolics can help us recover quicker, and in most scenarios, will allow us to get stronger whilst on low food. Therefore, it makes sense to hold anabolics where they are for this phase as opposed to dropping them down. In addition, most assisted bodybuilders will titrate there usage up over the months and would continue to do so regardless of whether they implement a calorie reset or not.

My experience

I have completed recomps and resets myself as well as prescribed them for clients. Both have their place in one’s journey, so it’s just about deciding which one is best for you in your current situation. A bodybuilder who performs a reset halfway through an off season will probably still need a recomp once the bulk is over. During those resets, I’ve found that you should be able to maintain strength if not increase it, as your increased CV conditioning would drastically improve performance across the board.

Resets have allowed me to continue pushing clients’ weight up over the course of their off-season and often finish it with calories far higher than what they were when we had to drop food for that short period. Without resets, it would be impossible to expect clients to continue to eat when they physically can’t. If you tried to keep pushing and held food where it was, your weight, strength, and overall progress would undoubtedly stagnate, and no bodybuilder wants that!

With that in mind, it’s rare to have the need to implement a reset for a female client, as they don’t tend to need as much food as males do; this is especially true if they are natural, which is primarily who we work with at VW Physique.

Recomps will always be necessary at some point over time, and your appetite is usually not huge when you do commence one. Even though these run for much longer (e.g., 8-12 weeks), I’ve often found that clients are still able to hold strength and/or increase it (unless they must drop to TRT).

In summary, choosing whether to perform a recomp or a calorie reset will depend on a few factors. A recomp will aim to pull off a set amount of weight and body fat, whereas a reset will simply get one’s appetite firing again and allow you to push your food higher and your bulk for longer. In essence, these short resets ensure you can complete your planned off season, finish it at a higher bodyweight, and with a higher calorie intake than you have ever been on before.

Vaughan Wilson Bsc Hons

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