But it’s not what you might be thinking.
(Two months of being in a 10-15% daily calorie deficit)
For you to lose weight and shed body fat, you need to be in a calorie deficit.
This means your body needs to be burning more energy than it’s consuming from food and drink over a given period.
Where people go wrong is thinking that a larger calorie deficit is going to speed up the process and get them to their end goals faster.
Instead, what happens is their diet becomes so restrictive they give in after just a few days, a week at the most and then blowout, and begin the binge->guilt->punishment merry-go-round.
Large calorie deficits are great in theory, but for almost all of us, a more moderate approach is superior because we can stick to it and sustain for a far longer period.
The longer you can stick to the plan, the better your overall results will be.
So how big does my calorie deficit need to be?
A 10%-15% calorie deficit is usually all it takes to get the scales moving in the right direction. What dieters get stuck on is the speed of their weight loss.
We all want it to happen overnight, but the reality is that it takes far longer than we want it to, that’s the unfortunate truth.
You should be aiming to lose around 0.5-1% of your starting body weight per week. So, for a 95kg man like myself, in a fat loss phase I’d be aiming for around 475-950 grams of ‘weight loss’ per week.
Let’s say my goal was to lose 10 kilos, on the low end of that target, it would only take me 21 weeks to lose that 10 kilos.
What? 21 weeks to lose 10 kilos?
10 kilos of fat mass, yes. It takes time.
Even more so if you’re trying maintain/build strength and muscle mass at the same time.
Now, getting back to talking about your calorie intake and how big your deficit should be.
If I was to go from eating my maintenance level of calories at 95kg of 3,135 calories per day, a 10% calorie deficit would mean I’d need to reduce my calorie intake by around 313 calories per day,
which would take my daily intake from 3,135 to 2,822.
For a 65kg female with a maintenance calorie intake of 2,145 calories per day, a 10% calorie deficit would mean her calorie intake would need to come down by 214 calories per day, which would take her daily intake from 2,145 to 1,930.
What’s the big deal with having even less calories?
When you drastically reduce your daily calorie intake, you’ll see a very rapid drop in your body weight initially. Initially.
This drop in body weight comes from a reduction in stored carbohydrate (glycogen) within your muscles and liver, a loss of stored water, a loss of floating weight (within your digestive tract), and a small amount of actual fat mass.
This initial drop in body weight is the trap that sucks in unsuspecting dieters and turns them into chronic yo-yo dieters looking for the next big drop on the scale, but it’s not coming.
Some people can sustain a large calorie deficit of up to 30%-50% for short periods of a few days/weeks depending on circumstance but eventually your body starts to fight back.
- It starts breaking down muscle tissue to re-use as energy.
- It begins to slow down your metabolism.
- It reduces your energy levels.
- It starts to increase your appetite.
Your body literally starts to fight against what you’re trying to achieve, and this is typically what people call a plateau.
It’s what your body is designed to do, prevent itself from starving.
This is why people that go on very low-calorie diets lose weight quickly at first, stall, and then begin gaining it back as the months go by.
How to avoid the diet -> binge -> guilt -> punishment merry-go-round
The best way to avoid this mistake is to take a more flexible and moderate approach. As I mentioned above, having a realistic expectation of losing 0.5-1% of your body weight per week with a 10-15% calorie deficit and sticking with it for the long haul.
It’s not glamorous, it’s not gimmicky, but it works time, and time again.
Once you’ve calculated your daily calorie intake, deduct 10% and stick to it for 14 days. Track your body weight daily, ideally weighing yourself as soon as you get up of a morning and calculate your weekly average body weight.
If over the course of a 14-day period, you are not achieving a loss of 0.5-1% of your body weight then you may need to reduce your calorie intake by a further 5-10% or consider increasing your daily activity level.
When it comes to calorie deficits and fat loss, size matters.
The size of your calorie deficit determines the rate you lose weight but also determines how much of that weight loss is coming from a loss of LBM aka muscle mass.
As you begin losing weight you will need to adjust your calorie intake to keep the momentum going but it’s a wise choice to start with a moderate calorie deficit and allow an adequate amount of time to get lean.
The more body fat you have to lose the longer it will take, but that’s life.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking a larger (30-50%) calorie deficit will get you to your goal any faster, you might see some short-term success, but you’ll be setting yourself up for long-term failure.
Instead, start with a 10-15% calorie deficit and work from there.
Train hard, diet smart.
Coach Ben Hidalgo
Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation