Cut Fat and Build Muscle, How May Calories You Need in Your Diet

The first and most important step to changing how you look is dieting, here's how you start a diet off right.

To lose fat or build muscle the first and most important step of any diet is to determine the amount of calories you need. I'm going to walk you through exactly how you set yourself up for success from the start.

Why You Need to Count Calories

Calories almost seem like a dirty word today. If you read the latest magazine or scour the internet you'll find conflicting information on whether or not you need to count calories in the first place. While some approaches will work for weight loss "without counting calories", they're typically just diets that involve eating less calorically dense (low calorie) foods.

If you want to continue to effectively lose the most fat and build the most muscle then you need to know how many calories you're getting.

A good rate is one you've probably heard before, losing 1-2 lbs per week. Any slower and you're prolonging the diet process. Any faster and you're likely sacrificing some muscle, which we don't want-it makes you look good.

Initially, you may lose weight faster then this, it has to do with insulin. I mention this here in another post on What Can You Accomplish in a 21 day Challenge

I'm going to walk you through how I determine starting calorie balance for clients looking to gain or lose weight. Now it may not be an exact number, at best it's a guess you'll have to adjust. I'll explain why.

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Determining Calorie Balance

The most popular formula used for determining initial calorie balance is the Harris-Benedict formula. This formula has been updated twice since it came out in 1918-19 so I use the revised equation by Mifflin and St Jeor. It has a 95% confidence range of  ±213.0 calories a day for men and ±201.0 calories a day for women.

There are two steps to this process. The first is to figure out your Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR-how many calories you burn at rest. The second is to multiply that number by a factor related to the amount of physical activity you get in a day.

There are two different formulas for men and women for BMR:

  • Women: BMR = (10 x weight in kg) + (6.25 x height in cm) - (5 x age in years) - 161
  • Men: BMR = (10 x weight in kg) + (6.25 x height in cm) - (5 x age in years) + 5

Once you have your number you will multiply your BMR by one of the following activity factors:

  • Sedentary ( little to no exercise): 1.2
  • Lightly active (1-3 days per week): 1.375
  • Moderately active (3-5 days per week): 1.55
  • Very Active (6-7 days per week): 1.725
  • Very Heavily Active ( 2x per day, extra heavy workouts): 1.9

The number you get will actually be the number of calories that you need in a day in order to maintain your weight. To lose weight you can subtract from this number. 

A pound of fat has been said to contain ~3500 calories, so start off by subtracting 500-1000 calories to start off losing 1-2 lbs per week.

When gaining weight, a pound of muscle has ~2500 calories. Add 350-700 calories a day to start gaining 1-2 a week.

This assumes that weight loss occurs in a linear fashion which it doesn't. That's why the next step is so important.

How to Know if You're Doing This Right

The most foolproof way to see if you're doing this right is to watch your scale. Daily weight fluctuations are a normal part of living so you need to track the trend over time. The best time to weigh yourself is first thing in the morning, after you've used the bathroom but before you've eaten. If you're headed in the direction you want to go in then keep it up! If not you may need to add or subtract calories to get back on track.

Something I did not mention was the ratio of carbs/protein/fat that you need. This can change depending on your goal but it is one of the most important steps. Be on the lookout for a follow up on those subjects!

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