23 Aug Setting Up A Fat Loss Diet: Calories
I’ve saved the most important bit until last. Calories.
You’ll see when I come to putting it all together that calories are what I actually start with when setting the caloric goal. But for this article series, I wanted to leave the most crucial part until the end so that I can amplify it’s importance.
It seems recently that this message is finally becoming clear, though there are still some coaches/trainees that seem to miss this key point.
To lose body fat you must be in a negative energy balance.
What this means in the real world is that you must either:
Create an energy (calorie) deficit via decreased input (food).
Create an energy (calorie) deficit via increased output (movement/exercise).
It’s upto you how you achieve this caloric deficit, but typically using a mix of the two will yield the best results.
For myself as an example, when I start a dieting phase I may keep calories where they are – but just set myself an output target (10,000 steps for example). Then as I plateau I’ll make a reduction in either carbohydrate or fats. I may then further reduce carbohydrate or fat – or I may add in a CV session or two.
So I’m constantly making small tweaks to both variables as the diet phase progresses. Rather than consistently pulling calories until I’m eating lettuce leaves, or always pushing cardio up so that I waste the day away slaving on a treadmill.
One popular misconception is that certain diets have some kind of voodoo magic behind them – making them more effective than others.
I’ll let you in on a trade secret. We already give too much information away at RNT, and this may be crossing the line a little further. But, if you’ve stuck with me through the previous three articles I think you’ve earned this.
The secret behind these diets is: they create a caloric deficit/negative energy balance.
To help visualise it, I’ve put together this super simple flow chart of what’s happening with a few of the most popular diets out there:
Now, this isn’t to say that there are no merits to the above diets.
For example, there are potential health benefits to both IF (Intermittent Fasting) and Ketogenic diets.
My point is that there is no magic when it comes to fat loss. They all work because they all achieve the same end result – a negative energy balance.
Each of the six diets above just gets there in different ways.
The deciding factor as to how successful it is comes down to is your preference and psychology.
If you have little understanding of nutrition and food choices in general – following a low carb approach may work purely through it’s simplicity.
If you’re the type that’s motivated in group environments and accountability is important – group based diets such as Weight Watchers, Slimming World etc could be a viable option for you.
Taking It Further
We now know that the over-riding rule to fat loss is that a negative energy balance must be in place.
But is that all we need to do?
Well, if you’re a complete beginner and very overweight – possibly yes.
If you’re actually in reasonable shape already and you want to take it to the next level (as I’m guessing you will be if you read our blog) then perhaps not.
You see our goal with our clients isn’t just to lose bodyfat. It’s to get a full transformation/recomposition effect.
And for that we also need to gain or at least maintain muscle tissue (as referenced in my protein article).
If you’re identifying yourself now as someone that has an end goal of looking lean and defined with a decent amount of muscle mass or definition then maximising the retention of muscle is going to be paramount.
We still need that deficit of calories alluded to earlier. That’s un-negotiable. But, we also need to set a minimum threshold of protein to reach. I won’t go over old ground in this article, I’m just going to leave it at this:
If your goal is to lose fat AND carry an above average amount of muscle – you need two things:
- Create a negative energy balance/caloric deficit
- Set a minimum protein intake
How To Determine Your Calorie Intake
There are many different ways to set this. The latest way I see mentioned is using formulas that calculate; activity levels, TEF, LBM etc all with the goal of calculating your TDEE and then working in a percentage deficit from there.
While on paper the above sounds very scientific and impressive – is it practical?
I don’t think so.
It’s the human body we’re dealing with. As fancy as you’d like to get with your calculations – it’s still an educated guess at best and will still need you to make adjustments almost weekly.
One line I used in my recent seminar at Frontline Fit Performance Centre is that when setting up a clients plans for the first time I’m simply throwing shit at the wall and seeing what sticks.
I like to think I nail it from day one on a consistent basis by now. But really, that’s not what the client is paying me for. They’re paying for my knowledge and intuition on knowing when to push and when to pull through a dieting phase. When to make adjustments and when to keep things static.
They’re paying me to coach them throughout a process. Not to use a time-consuming formula/calculator that they can find for free themselves online.
With that mini-rant out of the way, where do I start?
I typically take their bodyweight in lbs and multiply it by 10-12. This is super oversimplified and there are occasions where it may go up toward 13-14 (for those on long time scales and/or very high activity levels). And it may go as low as 8-9 if they’re wanting a very short (10-14 days) diet for a last minute holiday etc.
For the most part though. You can’t go wrong with 10-12.
As an example, if I had a 200lb male that is of an average level of body fat and is working with me for 12-16 weeks I’d use the following calculation:
200(lbs) multiplied by 12 = 2400 (calories) to start their fat loss diet on.
Of course, this isn’t set in stone and will be adjusted up/down based on how they respond.
Next up is the protein intake, we already know the myriad of benefits to setting a specific protein intake. We also already know that he’s male and weighs 200lbs
Using the formula from the protein article, we’ll set his intake up as follows:
200(lbs) multiplied by 1.2 = 240 (grams of protein).
After we’ve worked protein out, we then work out the fats. Again, the benefits of which can be found in our fat article.
For this, we’ll keep it nice and simple and shoot for the recommendation mentioned toward the end of that piece:
200(lbs) multiplied by 0.4 = 80 (grams of fat).
The final piece to the puzzle is to fill the remainder of the caloric intake with carbohydrates.
To do this, we simply subtract the calories taken up by protein & fats from our total calorie intake:
Calories = 2400
Protein = 240g (960 calories worth)
Fats = 80g (720 calories worth)
2400 – Subtract – 960 – Subtract a Further – 720 = 720 (calories for carbohydrate).
We are now left with a final chunk of calories (720) that are allotted to out carbohydrate intake. All we need to do is convert it into grams.
720 – Divided By – 4 (1g carbs = 4cals) = 180g (grams of carbohydrate).
If you’re left confused by how I came to the above numbers, it’s worth pointing out that every:
1g protein = 4 calories
1g carbs = 4 calories
1g fat = 9 calories
Done! We have our final macro-nutrient breakdown, that is somewhat personalised to our body type and should deliver us fairly consistent fat loss results. With the caveat being that this is just a starting point and must be monitored and adjusted.
Calories = 2400
Protein = 240g
Fats = 80g
Carbs = 180g
To display it slightly differently and give you another insight as to how it might look. Here is a slide from a recent seminar Akash & I did, using the exact same 200lb man.
Hopefully these articles have cleared up any questions you may have regarding macro-nutrients and setting up a successful fat loss diet. I’ve tried keeping it as basic as possible, while still attempting to give you what I consider the vital information.
A quick index of the three previous articles leading into this one – if you wanted to work in order:
Should you have any trouble setting up your initial diet plans – please get in touch with either Akash or I and we are more than happy to take care of the whole process via one of our online coaching packages. Through here we will take care of; training, nutrition, supplementation and cardio plans – from start to finish!