Keep Progress Moving Along Optimally
So as you all know, the unique balance between calorie intake and calorie expenditure is probably the SINGLE most important thing you will ever need to know, and know well, if you want to optimally lose fat, and build size and strength over the LONG-TERM.
If you haven’t gotten the hang yet of the whole cals in and cals out principle, then it’s the first thing you need to learn NOW before beginning your long, successful fitness journey. Why? Simply not knowing the basic principles of calorie manipulation and how it determines successful fat loss and size and strength development, will essentially put you in that stubborn ‘ping-pong trap’. That is, you will end up running blind and not really knowing whether your calories are tuned to your weight loss and/or size and strength goals. The ping-pong trap ensures that you go backwards and forwards continuously in your journey without actually ever making consistent forward progress. If you ask me, knowing exactly how to manage calories in and calories out, is the perfect way to ensure that over the long-term, you stay meeting AND exceeding your desired fat loss and size and strength goals.
Calories In And Calories Out
When you decide to lose fat or develop size and strength, modifying the balance between the number of calories you take in (daily) with the amount of calories your body consumes (daily) will be your top priority in driving progress. When you are looking to lose body fat, then you will need to consume fewer calories than your body utilises. This will put you in a CALORIE DEFICIT and over time, you will lose weight (hopefully mostly excess fat!). The more weight you want to lose, the less calories you will need to take in and the larger the calorie deficit will need to become. However, larger calorie deficits are not always optimal as you always risk losing quality muscle tissue in the process, if you do this. As I always say: SLOW and STEADY wins the race!
“The balance between the number of calories you take in with the amount of calories your body consumes will be your top priority in driving progress”.
On the other side of the coin, if you want to develop more size and strength, then you will need to reverse this balance. Here, the creation of new muscle tissue will require MORE nutrients and other goodies! This will require that you take in more calories than you consume, putting you in a CALORIE SURPLUS. This calorie surplus will provide your body with the necessary fuel to kick start the muscle building process. Again, the more weight you want to gain, the larger your calorie surplus will need to become. But, a calorie surplus that is TOO HIGH can lead to unwanted fat gain (usually without any faster and/or greater increases in lean muscle tissue with it). Not what you want! If you are looking for the best improvements in body composition possible and to gain lean muscle mass WITHOUT excess fat, a smaller CALORIE SURPLUS will always lead the way (as long as your training program is also good!).
Don’t Forget MAINTENANCE CALORIES: Keep A CLOSE EYE On It As You Progress
Whenever you plan on losing fat or want to develop more size and strength over time, you will need to know what your MAINTENANCE calories are. That is, the number of calories that you need to consume daily in order to support your CURRENT bodyweight. Simply put, if you always ate at your maintenance calories, you would never develop size and strength or lose body fat (regardless of your training program). Essentially, you would always stay exactly the same. In order to make sure that you can balance your cals in and cals out in favour of your goals, you MUST know what your maintenance is in order to move further forward. The good news is, there are lots of simple online calculators that you can use to calculate this value. Once you know your maintenance calories, you can then figure out exactly how to balance your daily calorie intake and expenditures to accommodate your fat loss/size and strength goals. But, there is one more thing: your maintenance DOES NOT always stay the same, it is changing over time. This is something you must keep an eye on as you make progress.
“You will need to know what your MAINTENANCE calories are”.
A common thing most people forget when they lose weight or gain size and strength is that their maintenance changes. If this changes, then how you manage your calorie intake and expenditures, also changes. When you calculate your daily maintenance, you will use factors such as age, height, WEIGHT, gender, activity level etc in order to achieve a value. If you look, WEIGHT is an important factor to consider. For instance, if you are working with the goal to lose weight, then your calorie intake will be LESS than the number of calories your body consumes. You will be in a CALORIE DEFICIT. So, to maintain a calorie deficit, you will have subtracted between 200-500 calories OFF your current maintenance. That will be your daily intake to MAINTAIN this calorie deficit. However, over time as your bodyweight drops significantly, your maintenance will also fall. This means that you will have to over time RECALCULATE your maintenance and again subtract 200-500 calories off this new number in order to REMAIN in a calorie deficit. If you assume that your maintenance never changes, then at some point your weightless will slow or even plateau. What happens if you carry on your fat loss journey assuming your maintenance never changes? Over time your calorie deficit would GET SMALLER, resulting in less weight loss over time.
“A common thing most people forget when they lose weight or gain size and strength is that their maintenance changes.”
This is why many people who want to lose weight end up stalling at some point in their journey and not knowing why. Many people at this point tend to assume that their current training program is not effective, they need to change their macro ratios around, jump onto special diets or, overthrow their current food choices completely. People panic at this point and end up changing everything in sight in the hopes to kick start the fat burning process again. But nothing works! However, it’s usually the simple case that people stall because they have overlooked their daily MAINTENANCE calories. Ok, say you had started off with a bodyweight of 80kg and are so far down to say 73kg, but your goal is 68kg. You have made great progress so far and haven’t changed a thing to your training or nutrition. The problem is, you find that your fat loss is slowing and your hitting plateaus more often. Well, since your bodyweight has dropped significantly, your maintenance will have also dropped. But, because you haven’t adjusted your calorie intake to accommodate this, your calorie deficit has become smaller over time, accounting for the stalling in progress. In order to maintain a large, optimal enough calorie deficit, you NEED to account for this smaller maintenance as you go from 80kg to 73kg bodyweight. So, in order to restart your progress and to continue optimally, it is probably a simple case of recalculating your new daily maintenance (inputting your new bodyweight into an online calculator), and subsequently subtracting your 200-500 calories from it. This will give you your new daily calorie deficit intake number and SHOULD get you to your 68kg target.
Take home note: you need to EAT LESS AND LESS OVER TIME to continue loosing more as you loose more bodyweight (the opposite situation occurs if you want to gain more size and strength).
What Influences Daily MAINTENANCE CALORIES?
The short answer: The amount of muscle tissue you have. Muscle is what burns calories. Muscle is constantly growing, repairing and utilising energy. This all requires calories. Without these calories, you enter a catabolic state (a breakdown state, as opposed to an anabolic building up state) and you risk losing valuable muscle tissue. Therefore, how much muscle tissue you have at any one point, will determine the current number of daily calories you need to MAINTAIN that amount of lean mass. Obviously other things do come into account (like daily activity levels etc.) but for the most part, maintenance is mainly regulated through the amount of muscle tissue you have. When you lose bodyweight, depending on how large your calorie deficit is, you will always loose some muscle during the process. This will significantly affect your daily maintenance and as you lose more, your maintenance will go even LOWER. This means you need to constantly adjust your daily intake lower to maintain a reasonable calorie deficit. Obviously you can reduce the amount of muscle lost during fat loss by maintaining a smaller calorie deficit and a good training program, thus keeping your maintenance level steady. But, as you lose more and go further into a fat loss cut, your maintenance will go lower. Therefore, everything has to be readjusted downwards.
“Maintenance is mainly regulated through the amount of muscle tissue you have”.
The converse is also true! When you want to develop more muscle tissue, your maintenance will go up over time. More muscle, means more calories consumed by your body for energy, growth and repair. This means you will have to take in even more calories to maintain a CALORIE SURPLUS as your maintenance goes higher. This is why many people struggle to put on more muscle after a short period of time (even with a good training program): they don’t accommodate for an increase in their maintenance by eating more. The simple line is, if you want to keep gaining, then you MUST maintain a calorie surplus. This means that as your maintenance goes up, you will have to consume MORE FOOD to maintain the surplus needed for growth. Therefore as you progress and you find yourself stalling, it’s probably time to recalculate your daily maintenance level, add 200-500 calories onto this and that will be your new daily intake to maintain the calorie surplus needed for size and strength gain.
Take home note: Whether you want to lose fat or gain more size and strength, you can’t always maintain the SAME calorie deficit or surplus throughout the entire process. If you do, then your calorie deficit or surplus will gradually become smaller and the results will start to slow (and possibly stall completely!) as your maintenance level changes. Therefore, you need to continuously track how your maintenance changes and how this will influence your daily calorie intake.
The Bottom Line
There are lots of variables to consider when it comes to fat loss and size and strength development. But, if you ask me, calories in and calories out and daily maintenance tracking are the two most important to consider. In my experience, many people start off making good progress in their fat loss and size and strength gain journeys, but quickly stall and end up hitting a brick wall because they forget about recalculating MAINTENANCE calories. Although maintenance can be influenced by many factors, the biggest influence is simply changes in bodyweight (particularly muscle mass) as you lose weight or gain weight. As you progress, it’s always good to keep an eye on maintenance and adjust your daily calorie intake as this maintenance level changes. This will ensure you continuously meet your goals into the LONG-TERM.
Any questions, ask away!