Nutrition – it’s a complex topic.
Do you need carbs or do you avoid them altogether?
You can’t eat bread, ice cream and pizza, and have to eat celery, chicken and spinach, right?
And what’s the deal with sugar?
Depending on what you read and who you listen to, getting your eating right for fat loss can become a real pain, as you struggle and stress over what to eat, when to eat it, and how much you need.
Here’s some good news though…
Nutrition is simple!
Despite everything we hear, it really does boil down to a few basic fundamentals, So…let’s talk about calories!
Calories are King
Despite the fact it seems extremely cool to say that calories don’t count, or that there’s no point worrying about them, calories are what determine whether you lose or gain weight.
And whether you build muscle or lose fat.
A calorie is a unit of energy, and your body needs them to survive.
Eat too few, and your body digs into its reserves to keep you going on, but eat too many and it can’t process them, so it stores them.
To make that even simpler…
Eat fewer than you burn and you lose weight.
Eat more than you burn and you gain weight.
None of the rest of your diet really matters until you’ve addressed that, hence, why calories aren’t the only thing you need to worry about, they are the most important.
A Numbers Game
Flashing back to the above briefly, I mentioned about your body digging into its reserves when calories are low and storing them when they’re high.
Both of these can be good and bad.
In terms of under-eating calories, this is where you need to be to lose body fat. By not quite giving your body enough to run from, it will tap into stored fat tissue, and burn that off. Too big a deficit though, and it will start to waste muscle tissue as well, and you definitely don’t want this.
To build mass, you need to be in a calorie surplus, but once again, it’s a trade off.
A small excess of calories means you’ll build muscle, but too big a surplus will lead to gaining body fat too.
Therefore, you have to get your calorie intake right to either lose fat without losing muscle, or build muscle without gaining fat.
How Many Do I Need?
There are so many calorie calculators out there, and they all “work.”
You could try a basic BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) calculator, or use an equation such as Harris Benedict, Katch McArdle, or Mifflin St-Jeor.
All of these will give you a rough idea of what your calorie intake should be on a daily basis.
Keep things very basic (because basic is so often best) and give a nice simple sum.
First thing you need to do is work out your maintenance calorie intake. This is the number of calories you’d need to eat every day to more or less maintain your bodyweight.
Women should do:
Bodyweight in pounds multiplied by 11 to 14
Bodyweight in kilos multiplied by 22 to 28
Men should do:
Bodyweight in pounds multiplied by 13 to 16
Bodyweight in kilos multiplied by 26 to 32
How big a number you multiply depends on your daily activity levels.
If you’re not too active, then the 12 and 14 figures (for women and men respectively) work well.
Do a little more? Then go with 13 and 15, or, if you’re highly active, shoot for 14 and 16.
The lowest numbers (11 and 13) only really apply if you don’t train, or only do a couple of light sessions per week.
Once you’ve done that sum, you have what we call our “maintenance intake.”
More Muscle, Less Fat
If you ate your maintenance calorie allowance every day, theoretically your weight would remain unchanged.
That’s fine if that’s your goal, but if you want to change your physique, here’s what you need:
For fat loss – subtract 10-25% of your intake.
For muscle gain – add 10-25% of your intake.
The reason why we use percentages here, is because your calorie intake is individual to you, and some guys and girls may be working with high numbers of calories, while others are much lower.
How do you know what percentage to choose?
When it comes to fat loss, while 25% may seem like the best option for faster fat burning, it comes at a cost. The more calories you drop, the more likely you are to lose muscle mass, plateau sooner and feel drained and tired.
Therefore, athletes and those who are already light and lean should only subtract 10-15%, while those with more body fat to lose and who don’t mind sacrificing some muscle could go to 20-25%.
As for gaining muscle, it’s the same sort of deal.
You’ll get bigger and stronger faster by adding 25%, but you’ll probably gain some fat too.
If you’re concerned about staying lean, just add 10-15%, but if you’re naturally skinny, or don’t have any worries about getting a little chubbier, add 20-25%.
Become a Number Cruncher
You don’t absolutely have to count calories, as you can progress just by eating mindfully, but crunching those numbers is a much safer way to go, as you know exactly what you should be eating, and it makes making any changes so much easier.
Calorie counting isn’t an exact science, but it’s the best, most accurate option we have, so do your numbers!