John and I worked together for almost six months, during which he lost 8.3 pounds. You might be thinking, “Just 8 pounds in 6 months?”

But weight loss isn’t the whole story. Check out John’s progress shots:

John clearly lost a lot of body fat, especially from his chest and stomach. Plus, his arms and shoulders have developed more muscle.

In addition to losing weight in his legs and chest, John’s waist shrank by 10.6 centimeters, while his arms have grown.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Chest: John lost some weight in his chest, which is common because men often store fat there. A 1.4 cm decrease over six months suggests he also gained some muscle in this area.
  • Legs: His quads, which are a large muscle group, lost both fat and glycogen. Even though measurements showed a decrease, his strength improved, indicating some muscle growth.

John essentially went through a body recomposition—losing fat while gaining muscle. That’s why he “only” lost 8 pounds in six months.

We didn’t do a detailed body composition analysis, but research shows that untrained men can gain around 3.5 pounds of muscle in 10 weeks of resistance training. Based on that, John might have added about 9 pounds of muscle over six months, which fits within expected ranges for beginners.

Body recomposition is a slow process, and the changes can be subtle, making it hard to tell if you’re really recomposing or if something else is going on. This leads us to the next question:

John Fat Loss and Muscle Gain Transformation
John Fat Loss and Muscle Gain Transformation

How did I determine John was experiencing a body recomposition?

I guess you could say that after coaching for so many years, spotting these things has become second nature to me.

But I get it—that’s not really helpful for you. It would be an easy way out to just say that. Don’t worry, though; I’m here to help you without any shortcuts.

There were two factors that stood out:

1. John was a complete beginner to resistance training

Before John started training with me, he was only running three times a week. I could tell right away that he had a lot of potential to build muscle. Beginners often see significant muscle gains when they start resistance training, and John was no exception.

2. John’s weight loss didn’t add up

At the start, our main goal was to cut down on fat, not do a body recomp. My thinking was simple: John needed to lose a lot of belly fat. Even though he had great muscle-building potential, jumping straight into a recomp would have made progress too slow, which might have hurt his motivation.

By focusing on fat loss first, John could see faster, more noticeable changes in his weight and measurements, keeping him motivated.

So, I set John’s diet to help him lose about 0.5–0.7% of his body weight each week, which meant around 2100–2300 calories a day.

However, in the first week, John only lost 0.4 pounds, which was less than expected. This is actually pretty normal because people often lose a lot of water weight at the start of a new diet.

I don’t usually tweak calorie numbers in the first week since it’s too early to see the real progress due to factors like increased muscle glycogen from starting resistance training.

After the second week, John’s weight loss slowed even more, averaging less than 0.3 pounds a week. At this point, I adjusted his daily calorie intake to 1800–2000 calories.

Unfortunately, this change didn’t make much of a difference. John continued to lose about 0.3 pounds a week throughout the first month.

Now, I know what some of you might be thinking: Maybe John was misreporting his calorie intake?

If we were just looking at body weight, this might make sense.

But we also tracked John’s body measurements, progress photos, and weight. So, what do we see when we check out all of John’s data from the first month?

John Fat Loss and Muscle Gain Transformation
John Fat Loss and Muscle Gain Transformation

John lost 1.5 pounds instead of the expected 3 pounds, but his waist shrank by 1 centimeter, and his chest, arms, and legs all grew noticeably.

So, it’s clear that John was losing fat while gaining muscle—he was going through a body recomposition.

Also Read: Deadlift Form Mistakes to Avoid

When we examine John’s weight reduction graph during the coaching time, the recomp trend is much more noticeable:

John Fat Loss and Muscle Gain Transformation
John Fat Loss and Muscle Gain Transformation

Check out those little weight spikes on the graph. They stand out more when you compare them to the light blue line for his scale weight, even though the overall trend (dark blue line) is down. These spikes are another clear sign that John is gaining muscle.

At this point, I explained to John what was happening. I told him that sticking to a small calorie deficit and focusing on his training would be more effective for muscle gain and fat loss than drastically cutting calories.

Once John agreed, I adjusted his plan to aim for a weekly weight loss of 0.3–0.5% of his body weight, which is roughly 0.5–0.8 pounds.

Why 0.3-0.5%?

John could lose fat without losing muscle, and the best part was, he could eat more food, which would help him work out better.

This wasn’t just a random decision. A 2022 study looked at how cutting calories affects muscle growth. It found that if you cut your calories by more than 500 per day, it actually slows down muscle growth.

John Fat Loss and Muscle Gain Transformation
John Fat Loss and Muscle Gain Transformation

I won’t dive into all the details here, but generally speaking, the larger your calorie deficit, the harder it is to build muscle while on a diet.

John was losing between 0.3 and 0.5% of his body weight each week, which meant he had a daily calorie deficit of about 200–400 kcal. This was enough to help him lose fat without messing with muscle growth.

The rest, as they say, is history. John shared:

“This has completely changed my life. My relationship with food and exercise is so much better now, and I’ve never looked better.”

John balanced his social and travel plans, enjoyed eating out, and figured out what worked best for his body during his coaching.

For example, he stopped doing cardio because he preferred weight training. He also switched from fasting before workouts to having a small snack, which really boosted his performance.

Due to a long-term health issue, John had to avoid dairy and wheat. He also wanted to cut back on meat, so we focused on finding ways to boost his protein intake with plant-based foods and supplements.

I share John’s story because there are a few universal lessons that apply to everyone reading this.

1. Don’t only rely on the scale

The scale is just one way to track progress, and while it’s useful, it doesn’t give you the full picture.

As you can see from this email, we tracked a lot of different data points. This helped me explain to John what was really happening and gave him a clearer view of his progress.

The main takeaway is that tracking progress shouldn’t rely only on the scale.

Make sure to regularly measure yourself, take progress photos, notice small improvements in your habits, check how your clothes fit, and observe changes in your mood or energy levels. Also, keep an eye on how you’re performing in your workouts. All these factors together will give you a much better sense of how you’re doing than just the scale alone.

2. Stop trying to fight your body––work with it

A lot of people try to force their bodies to meet their expectations. They cut calories, ramp up exercise, follow crazy fad diets, or spend money on pointless supplements.

But in the end, your body will always push back if you push it too hard.

When John’s progress seemed slow, someone less experienced might have thought that cutting calories even more was the answer. But as this post shows, that would have been a mistake.

Instead of just cutting calories blindly, I kept reviewing John’s stats to really understand what was happening.

John Fat Loss and Muscle Gain Transformation
John Fat Loss and Muscle Gain Transformation

3. The value of objectivity

You’re way too close to your own results. That emotional attachment can cloud your judgment and lead to bad decisions.

As your coach, I care about your progress, but I make sure that doesn’t affect how I see what’s really happening and what needs to be done.

I have a query for you:

If you were in John’s shoes, and after a month of sticking to a strict diet and exercise plan you had only lost 1.5 pounds, how would you react?

You might think about ramping up your workouts or cutting calories even more. Or, you might feel like giving up entirely.

Now, imagine having someone who can assess your progress, point out what’s working, suggest improvements, and tweak your plan as needed. Someone you can ask questions to whenever you’re unsure, instead of turning to Google and getting even more confused.

That’s the real advantage of having an experienced coach. While a solid workout and diet plan are important, a coach’s true value is in helping you navigate the process and keep you moving forward.

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