Ready to do your first cut huh? Awesome. There are a few things to know before cutting. But, the most important are how to make sure you’re losing fat and not muscle and preventing plateaus. Here’s exactly how.
How to Figure Out How Many Calories You Need to Eat
There’s a concept called energy balance.
Energy balance is a fancy way of saying “calories in versus calories out.”
Basically, energy balance refers to the amount of energy (calories) you consume (through eating) versus expending (through daily activity).
Here’s an illustration that’ll explain it,
You want to cut, so now you have to figure out how many calories you need to consume that will put you in an energy deficit (consuming fewer calories than your body expends).
This can get SUPER complicated. When I calculate calories for training clients, I use a eight step formula to calculate their calories based on:
- Body weight
- Body fat percentage
- Basal Metabolic Rate
- Resting Energy Expenditure
- Daily Activity
- Thermic Effect of Food
- Weight gain/loss rate and desirability
I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that you don’t want to have to do algebra to figure out how many calories you need to eat.
Luckily for you, there are some good calculators that can do all the math for you.
Here’s the one I suggest →
Because of the energy balance concept, you don’t need to be too concerned with exactly WHAT you eat. But, if you want to get a bit more detailed on what to eat, here’s an answer I wrote on eating for health →
Now that you figured that part out, it’s time for the hard work.
Actually Counting Calories.
Here’s the 4 step process to counting calories:
- Buy yourself a . (On each nutrition facts label, you’ll see calories and serving size near the top. The amount of calories listed is based on the serving size, which is why you need the scale).
- Every time you’re about to eat, look at the nutrition facts on the package of the food. (If there are no nutrition facts just google them).
- Weigh out a serving size (or multiple serving sizes) based on the nutrition label, and write down the amount of calories. If you consume more than one serving, multiple the amount of calories by the serving size you’re consuming. For example, if you eat 1.5 servings, multiple the amount of calories by 1.5.
- Do this for each food throughout the day. As you go, add up the amount of calories, but make sure you don’t go over the amount you got from the calculator.
How to Make Damn Sure You’re Losing Fat and Not Muscle (Throw Your Weight Scale Away)
You’ve been working your ass off for a year (great work by the way), and I KNOW you don’t want to lose the progress you’ve made.
How do you make sure you’re losing fat and not muscle?
There are two methods.
- Cut super slowly.
- Use calipers and not a weight scale to measure progress.
First, by cutting slowly, you’re doing a better job of preventing your fat loss from plateauing. The human body couldn’t care less about you having ripped abs. Your body wants to keep you alive.
I won’t get all into the biochemistry and shit, but, basically, if you cut too quickly, then your body will think that world hunger has arrived and prevent you from losing fat.
So since you’re not overweight to begin with, I’d suggest to cut about .25 to 1 percent of your overall body fat per week.
The lower your body fat gets, the less you want to lose.
For example, if your body fat percent is 20%, then you’d want to lose about 1% in a week. But once you get to around 12–15 percent, aim to lose about .5 a percent per week.
“How the hell am I supposed to know that I’m loosing EXACTLY .5 body fat percentage points per week?!”
Use calipers and not a weight scale.
The weight scale shouldn’t be used by most people. The one exception being people who compete in athletics in which you have to meet a weight requirement.
When most people say they want to lose weight, what they really mean, is lose fat.
The problem with the weight scale is that it doesn’t measure fat loss. It measures WEIGHT loss.
Weight is made up of a few of different things. Your muscle mass, body fat, amount of water, undigested food, and digested food (aka poop) are all being measure by the weight scale.
If the weight scale shows a number that is less than it was the day before, most folks think they loss fat. But, it could very well mean that you have less water on you than you did the day before.