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Unveiling the Magic of Body Recomposition

As humans, we are beautiful, imperfect beings with flaws and insecurities. We are all unique in our own way, but we often find ourselves trying to look and be what we think society and social media tell us to look and be. The way we look often refers to our body weight and composition. Most of us have experienced the desire to lose weight or change the way our body looks at some point in time, and nowadays, we have so much information instantly at our fingertips, and things like weight loss ‘tips and tricks’ are easily accessible. Anything in life that is a ‘quick fix’ like a 30-day workout challenge or an 8-week ‘get shredded’ program is realistically not something healthy or sustainable for you.


Changing your body composition requires understanding the science, proper education, time (months if not years), the right mindset, and, most importantly, professional guidance to do it effectively and sustainably. You may be able to get quick results if you’re just looking for weight loss on the scale, but

these trends are usually not sustainable over time. Changing your body’s composition and maintaining these changes requires a greater understanding of your nutrition, how you’re training, your daily activity levels, the root of why you want to make these changes and most importantly, understanding your body literacy as everyone’s starting point is vastly different. 

Breethe's Coaching focuses on holistic body recomposition from the inside out and this program taught me about the importance of eating more food and building muscle in the gym, but I also learned all of the other health benefits that come with this and how these lifestyle changes can benefit your mind and body so much further than seeing a lower number on the scale. With that said, working with Breethe coaching gave me physical results I’ve never attained in my adult life and the knowledge to sustain these results over time - let’s dive into what this program entails and the science of why it works!

Weight Loss Vs. Fat Loss

There was a time when the consensus was that you had to eat less and move more to lose weight and change your physical appearance. Fast-forward to today, the process is known to be a bit more complex. We now know how much weight we lose on the scale is not an isolated measure of a change in our body’s appearance or health, but it’s where we lose weight. Our composition comprises fat and other masses like bones, connective tissue, muscle and water. When we want to change our body’s composition, a shift in the fat-to-muscle ratio is needed, and the goal should be to increase muscle mass and decrease fat loss.

If you’re thinking, ‘But I don’t want to increase my muscle, I don’t want to be bulky,’ this is a common misunderstanding regarding gaining muscle. Maintaining our muscles or increasing their mass comes from eating protein and weight training. When we eat protein, our bodies use more energy to break it down. As we burn more energy, our metabolism increases and burns more calories at rest. So, when we increase our muscle mass, we are aiding in fat loss. The goal of increasing your muscle mass is a way to drop fat and become leaner. It is not definitive to become ‘bulky.’ A kind reminder: it is ‘simpler’ to lose body fat than it is to gain muscle mass. Muscle mass takes progressive overload, consistent training, increased stimulus, and maintaining macronutrients and calories, while ideally in a surplus. Fat loss is maintaining healthy habits (training, activity levels, protein targets) while in a deficit and letting time do its magic. Let’s dive deeper into what this means!


Nutritional Phases of Body Recomposition

Breethe’s body recomposition coaching consists of a nutritional and training component. The phases I moved through required me to count my daily calories and macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates & fibre) over six months, which consisted of 4 phases: restorative, rebuilding, deficit and lifestyle. The goal of the 6-month program is to build healthy habits, perfect training technique and form, gain deeper understanding of nutrition, enhance your body literacy, heal your gut microbiome and ultimately change your physique by getting stronger and healthier from the inside out. 



Restore:

2-4 weeks

This phase enters you into a nutritional space where your physical body, hormones and cells feel safe. Typically, you start with a baseline to see how many macronutrients and calories you’re consuming. With the help of a coach, they help analyze and work with you to refocus on where to find cellular safety. Most of us are unconsciously chronically under-eating from deep narratives of societal norms. Under-eating calories, protein, fibre, fats, or all the above can lead to binging moments, inflammation, hormonal imbalances and low energy.

When we chronically under-eat or do not give our body the proper nutrients, this inherently can increase low grade inflammation and inhibit our metabolism from working optimally. If our body feels unsafe, it goes into low-power mode. It tries to save energy in storage

because it believes it is in a famine (we are primitive beings by nature), and when there is an unknown time when and if it will receive the nutrients it needs to maintain our daily functions - our body will become a container for inflammation and fat storage. Think of your computer having a virus while in low-power mode. It’s slow, glitchy and barely works! This Restore Phase is about finding your ‘maintenance calories,’ which allows our bodies to work optimally and feel safe. During this phase, we also learn the training app, schedule our training sessions, get familiar with working with a coach, know what to expect in each weekly check-in, and focus on our goals and daily practices. 


Rebuild:

2-8 months

After our body feels safe again, the rebuild phase allows us to give it more energy and fuel. Increasing our calories, protein, healthy fats, and fibre and staying consistent daily are the focus of this phase. Not only does Breethe's coaching focuses on muscle growth while simultaneously focusing on a healthy microbiome utilizing all macros, specifically healthy fats and fibre. Fats and fibre allows our hormones and digestion to thrive. Calories are increased in this phase, typically anywhere from 1800-2500 cals per day; depending on where you start, how much body fat vs. muscle mass an individual has and activity and training levels. Building calories helping our muscles build; which typically the best way to increase muscle mass is being at a maintenance if anything being in a slight 10% surplus and prepare our body for the next phase by giving it abundant energy and making it feel incredibly safe, nourished, and strong.

It’s funny because this is the phase most people struggle with because of societal mixed messages of more food = more body fat (which is inaccurate). Typically, they have suppressed hunger from under-eating for so long (even with binge moments), and it takes time and effort to build up that hunger and fill our calories with whole, nutrient-dense foods. Eating highly processed foods might hit a higher calorie target, but typically not the macro targets (protein & fats). Plus, the added pro-inflammatory chemicals and additives negatively affect our body composition from highly processed foods. At Breethe, the focus is an 80/20 rule where 80% of our foods come from whole nutrient-dense sources, and 20% come from fun foods (gotta still have your chocolate!). It is all about tapping into body literacy and how the food makes you feel - does it make you feel energized, bloated, gassy, sluggish, full, hungrier?  


Deficit:

12-16 weeks

After restoring and building your body’s base, the next phase focuses on fat loss. This phase decreases calories to create a deficit from the previous two phases. Protein targets stay the same, and fats have a minimum target, so we can still efficiently support our hormones and cells, and fibre targets remain the same. The only change is a decrease of 200-500 daily calories to create the deficit (which comes from carbohydrates and fats). 


To lose fat, we must be in a calorie deficit, which requires burning more energy than we consume. This statement is similar to the idea that ‘eating less and moving more will make us lose weight.’ But our bodies must be in the right state to be effective and lose fat. At this point, many people tend too fail. They are chronically under-eating (protein, fat, calories, nutrients) and seeing inflammation and weight gain increase, so they drop their calories even more and empty the tank. You cannot empty a tank that has never been full! Fill the tank first (cell safety & healthy habits), then go for your drive!

Deficits are very stressful on the body, as it gets substantially fewer calories than it usually uses to function. In turn, it can (over long periods) lower our metabolism to work slower and in a low-power mode, so deficits must be a short-term tool to be optimized properly. The key to this phase is maintaining all healthy habits established in the first phases: sleep optimization, lifting the same weight (do not drop your loads/reps or sets in this phase), activity levels, consistency in macro and calorie targets and reducing stress. Remember, we must restore and rebuild before we deficit to sustain fat loss and muscle maintenance over time. It is important to note if you are trying to get pregnant, have a lot of stress in your life, or have a flare-up of current disease, it is not an optimal time to do a deficit. 


Lifestyle/ Maintenance:

Majority of the year

After your deficit, this phase allows you to return your calories to maintenance mode. After a deficit, we remind our bodies that it is safe again as we nourish them with more calories and nutrients. Since we now have increased muscle mass (which requires calories) and decreased body fat (energy storage), our body can utilize the maintenance of calories to assist all systems (cognitive, reproductive, digestive, and muscular) to work optimally and ultimately fuel our workouts and daily energy. This part of the program is a transition to everything you’ve learned and experienced and for you to apply it to your everyday life on your own.


It is common to see scale weight changes, but only sometimes physique changes (unless it's muscle growth or booty gains!) going into lifestyle maintenance. Weight changes usually happen from added carbs. For every 1g of carbohydrate, we retain roughly 3-4 grams of water. These scale weight changes are typically from water retention and food increase (hey, poops!) and are not generally reflective of your physique. It takes roughly eating at maintenance and an added 3500 calories a WEEK to gain 1 pound of body fat. Which, when looking at whole foods, is challenging to maintain. We want to avoid chasing fat loss constantly. We always want to pursue strength and cellular safety! The most important part of this journey is learning habits, getting stronger in training, and living an 80/20 rule regarding health & fun.  


Strength Training and Body Composition

Another common thought is that steady-state cardio exercises, like running or skipping, or high-intensity interval training (HIIT) cardio are the best for weight loss. Cardio exercises greatly benefit heart health and prevent cardiovascular diseases, and they can burn a lot of energy/calories. However, strength training is an effective way to build muscle and, in turn, change your body composition (leaner, toned, stronger), and the goal of strength training is not to burn calories - it’s to utilize them to build muscle. Muscle tissue burns more calories at rest than fat tissue, and having more muscle mass increases your basal metabolic rate, helping you burn more calories throughout the day, even when you're not exercising. This is the main difference between strength and cardio training.  Strictly exercising with cardio can have a weight loss effect. However, it could also include muscle if we are not incorporating strength training. 

Strength training consists of applying resistance against your muscles. Daily tasks such as lifting groceries, climbing stairs, or even sitting and standing depend on muscle strength. Increased muscle mass improves strength and enhances functional abilities, promoting independence and reducing the risk of injuries. Muscle mass also strengthens bones by the muscles tugging and pulling at bones to strengthen ligaments and tendons. Muscle mass is also essential for preventing osteoporosis and reducing the risk of fractures, particularly as you age. Building muscle mass can enhance insulin sensitivity, which helps regulate blood sugar levels, lowering the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and improving overall metabolic health. Strength training requires a few components for it to be efficient when it comes to building muscle:

Form

Technique

Mindset

-Proper form prevents injury 

-Increases effectiveness and targets the muscles intended for the exercise 

-Increases the gain of the muscle when done properly

-Proper technique allows for a higher quality of muscle engagement and energy used to perform the exercise 

-Understanding how to do the exercise properly will let you execute it that much better and more efficiently “Mind-muscle connection”

-Progressive overload is needed to grow your muscles over time. This requires an increase in weight or an increase in reps/sets from your last session of this exercise, allowing your muscle fibres to stretch further and grow

-Pushing yourself to a ‘technical failure’ rep where you can no longer lift the weight with the correct form, and this should be an aim in lifts when trying to increase your muscle mass and overall strength


-Consistency is needed to maintain muscle gains and build on them further

-Continuing to be mindful of your form and technique, either through your coach or self-awareness, will allow your training to be effective-Showing up regardless of the outcome. This means hitting the gym 3-4/week, and even if you lift a bit less or feel fatigued quicker than usual, making the time and being consistent regardless of the outcome is the key to sustainability and longevity of health 


Nutritional Phases and Strength Training Throughout Body Recomposition

The different nutritional stages in the body recomposition program will affect your strength training as you will have more energy at points (restore, rebuild, maintenance) and less in others (deficit). You will have more energy and feel stronger when you’re not in a deficit, as your body is receiving the extra calories it needs, giving it more power to push itself further. In the deficit phase, it’s still important to maintain the weight you’re at with your lifts to maintain your muscle mass because, as we mentioned earlier, muscle mass helps increase our resting metabolism and will help further in fat loss. As much as you may feel less energy during your strength training, it is still possible to continue progressive overloading, even if it is a minimal amount of weights or increasing the reps of your current weights.  I could maintain all my lifts during a deficit and even hit personal bests throughout the 12 weeks! Having a positive mindset can truly motivate you through your lifts!

Macronutrient and Calorie Tracking 

Macronutrients comprise carbohydrates, fats, and proteins and are our body's primary fuel source. Calories are the measure of energy released into our body from food and drinks when we break them down. Hitting macro targets that match our calories keeps us on track to giving our body enough nutrients and energy to run efficiently. The goal is always to be consistent and to find the balance between our calories and macros when tracking them. 


An imbalance between macros and calories can happen by eating calories with no nutritional value, like ultra-processed foods or foods with added sugar and syrups (empty calories), which leaves your body starved for usable energy but storing this

unusable energy as fat. It also can happen when eating macro-dense, nutritional foods but not enough (under-eating calories), leaving your body with deficient energy sources and storing fat as its safety net. Both imbalances hinder fat loss, so tracking macros is important to stay on track. Food=Fuel Tracking macros can be tedious, but the long-term goal is to take the habits we learn from tracking over the time of your body recomposition program and to be able to apply portion size, nutrient values and macros to your daily life on your own without needing to track for the long haul. Temporary pain for a forever promise ;). 


Protein is King 

Prioritizing calories from protein will benefit muscle gain and fat loss, knowing how much protein we should eat will help us reach specific goals when changing our body composition. Fats and carbohydrates are essential, as most of our energy comes from carbs and fats, but protein is king for building muscle and maintaining fat loss over time! Ideally, 1-1.2g of protein per pound of body weight. *If you are obese, use your ‘healthy’ body weight as a reference for protein targets; the leaner you are the more protein requirements you need*

Stress and Its Effect on Body Composition 

I learned about the importance of consistent nutrition and training throughout my program, but more importantly, I also learned about decreasing stress on my body. Getting adequate sleep was my biggest issue regarding stress on my body. Stress releases cortisol, simultaneously making our body release glucose as it thinks it is in danger and needs quick fuel to fight off the danger, ‘fight or flight mode.’ Suppose our body is always in a state of stress, and high glucose levels are circulating in our blood. In that case, high amounts of insulin are released, too, and over time, we become resistant to insulin, which will further make our metabolism dysfunctional and lead to unwanted weight/fat gain. 


Stress can come in all sorts of ways, but when trying to diet or ‘lose weight,’ under-eating and overexercising can cause consistent stress. It’s hard to think that going hard and consistently in the gym wouldn’t give you optimal results when it comes to weight loss, but if your body isn’t getting enough food to provide the energy it needs to function at that activity level, it will feel in danger and just focus on vital organs to survive. Energy is burned during digestion to break food down, and nutrients are made available to our body, but this isn’t a priority in fight or flight mode. High-stress states will skip the ‘rest and digest’ phase, resulting in minimal absorption of nutrients and body recovery. Our metabolism becomes dysfunctional, depriving us of healing and refuelling, ultimately leading to inflammation and fat loss resistance. We are usually frustrated and exhausted from working hard but not seeing results, but prioritizing calories to fuel our activity and getting adequate rest is key to fat loss. 


Female Hormone Balance and Fat Loss

A woman’s cycle must balance estrogen and progesterone to function optimally for reproduction. Estrogen is very present at the beginning of a cycle, whereas progesterone is more present at the end. The peaks and dips in these hormones signal the pathway for one another and other sex hormones to take their part throughout the cycle. With that said, estrogen and progesterone can have many

different effects on a woman’s body outside of the reproductive system, especially if unbalanced. Fat loss can specifically be affected if estrogen is more dominant than progesterone in women. Estrogen plays a role in moderating and promoting fat storage. When it is dominant, the enzyme aromatase converts testosterone to more estrogen, storing more fat. 

Hormone balance is a crucial player when working towards body recomposition. Balancing estrogen and progesterone can be done through:

  1. Diet and exercise help support our liver and detoxify estrogen.

  2. Focusing on gut health, as harmful bacteria can recirculate estrogen into our body instead of breaking it down.

  3. Avoiding xenoestrogen compounds that mimic estrogen. (birth control, pesticides, and plastics)

  4. Manage stress. 

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a steroid that produces cortisol and progesterone. Cortisol production is a higher priority than progesterone, so progesterone is compromised when stressed, leading to an imbalance between it and estrogen, having estrogen dominant. Healthy fats (Essential Fatty Acids + cholesterol) are critical for regulating hormones and aiding in fat loss!


Gut Health’s Role in Inflammation & Fat Loss

To achieve fat loss, we’ve discussed the importance of maintaining our metabolic processes through eating, training and minimizing stress, but a functioning, healthy gut supports our metabolism as well. Bacteria, both beneficial and harmful, comprise our gut. Our gut needs a balance between these two to function optimally, but if it becomes unbalanced (gut dysbiosis), harmful bacteria take over, impairing us from breaking down food into usable fuel. When certain foods enter our digestive tract in this state, the harmful bacteria are activated and become inflamed as our body tries to fight them off. Gut inflammation hinders its function of breaking down and absorbing nutrients, leading to a dysfunctional metabolism and potential fat loss resistance.


Breethe has guided me on how many macros and calories to consume throughout the program. However, a big takeaway I also learned was the importance of needing a healthy gut to see body recomposition results and support my body and brain functions. Hitting macro and calorie goals are important, but it's surprisingly easy to hit your goals with lower-quality, inflammatory foods. Breethe coaching focuses on supporting our gut health and healing gut dysbiosis through quality, holistic nutrition and, if needed, supplement support. A healthy gut throughout the body recomposition process supplies you with the energy and nutrients you need to build muscle and support your metabolism, further increasing fat loss results. 


Understanding the Process

When deciding to do a body recomposition program, I understood that if I wanted to reap the benefits and see results, I would have to commit emotionally, physically and financially, and I did! But I didn’t expect how much easier eating cleaner, more calories and more protein would become throughout the program. The program consists of tweaks and small changes of macros, calories, and workouts between phases, and these changes made it easy to set and achieve small goals. When I reached these goals, I saw results that motivated me to keep up the momentum! When in the restore and rebuild phases, I could see the consistency with my food slowly changing my body, so when it was time for my deficit, I was ready for the challenge because I already trusted and saw it would be worth it. That’s not to say I didn’t have weaker days in the gym or days where I wanted to eat more, but the changes I saw and felt motivated me to keep the right mindset to follow my food and training goals. 


Breethe’s outlook focuses on a healthy balance, with an 80/20 approach between whole, nutrient-dense foods and our fun foods, and macro counting is a way we can do this! We are imperfect, and most of us will not eat 100% clean daily or have the most energy for every workout, but… that's okay! Life gets busy between social gatherings and busy work schedules, and to achieve and maintain body recomposition, our eating and activity habits shouldn’t be restrictive. They need to be realistic. Learning how to eat non-restrictively while simultaneously fueling my body with enough calories and nutrients, building my base through strength training, and prioritizing moving my body is what truly gave me body composition results I’ve never achieved before in my adult life. And I did it while working a demanding full-time job as a Critical Care ICU Nurse and still enjoyed social celebrations with fun foods without feeling limited. But more importantly, these lifestyle changes throughout the program are now everyday practices, not for a desire to look a certain way but because I understand my body more now, and I love having control of my health physically and mentally, while all at the same time, still having fun and enjoying small indulgences of the good stuff. For anyone stuck in their health journey, I believe that the science behind this body recomposition program can teach positive habits for activity, nutrition and overall wellness. It is just what people need to change their perspective of diet culture and live a healthy life without feeling restricted! I'm still practicing the lifestyle changes I made daily, and I am so in love with this new journey!


Written By: Lauren O'Malley, RN  

Edited By: Bree Lowry, BKin  


If you are in need of supplement support, lifestyle habit rejuvenation, strength training, mindset or nutrition coaching, please reach out and connect with us for a free 20-minute journey call!


This blog provides general information and discussions about health and related subjects. The information and other content provided in this blog, website or any linked materials are not intended and should not be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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