Everybody seems to know the best way to lose weight these days. Whether it’s a low carb diet, or HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), or fat loss pills – there’s no shortage of information online about how to shred that fat on your body. But few of these claims actually cover the basics of weight loss and weight, which is what we’re going to cover now.
Everything we eat can be measured in (kilo)calories. But what is a calorie? To put it plainly, a calorie is a unit of energy. And humans, like every organism on this planet, need energy in order to perform their basic functions. Humans use energy to breathe, to walk, to speak – you name it. That’s why we need to eat. Food is our main source of energy, and our bodies change depending on what we eat, and how much of it we eat (among other things, but we’re going to focus on the latter for now). Calories, not carbs nor fat nor protein, is what determines weight.
In order to lose weight, something called a caloric deficit is needed. All this means is that we need to eat less calories than our bodies need in a day. The easiest way to figure that out is with this BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) calculator. Take me for example: I use 1825 calories in a day without doing anything, so I need to consume 1825 calories a day to maintain my weight (75kg), but probably more because I’m moderately active, which means I also burn around 200-300 calories going about my daily business.
Ignoring the activity side, if I wanted to lose weight then I’d need to eat anything less than 1825 calories in order to be in a deficit. Of course, eating 1800 calories isn’t going to get me the results I want, which in this example is fat loss. Speaking of fat, there are around 3000 calories in 1 pound of fat, so in order to lose 1 pound of fat, I would need to be in a deficit each day to the point my caloric deficit adds up to 3000 calories. I don’t recommend eating 0 calories for obvious reasons, and I don’t recommend being in a severe deficit (500 calories, for example) because you may actually convince your body it’s starving, which in turn makes it slow down your metabolism. Not to mention it would harm your body and mental health.
A healthier way to lose weight is to have a steady and controlled plan of calorie deficits. If you reduce your daily intake by 300-500 calories, then you can expect to be burning 1 pound of fat every week or so, which is a healthy rate of weight loss. You can speed this process up by exercising, but you don’t actually need to do any exercise if your goal is purely weight loss. However, any kind of exercise is going to benefit you, and if you do it right, will maximise your weight loss efforts while also not depriving you of essential nutrients.
“Does this mean I can eat whatever I want?” I hear you ask. Yes and no. Eat what you want, but don’t exceed your caloric limit. Having said that, you don’t want to just use up all your calories on bad foods, because that will still increase health risks. But if you don’t care about that stuff, then go ahead!
If your goal is to lose fat but to maintain muscle, then you still need to keep a caloric deficit. Any caloric deficit will cause weight loss, which means that it will also decrease your muscle volume. Having said that, you can minimise muscle loss and maximise fat gain by staying in a deficit of 200-300 calories AND lifting weights. Making sure you keep as much muscle as possible requires using those muscles as much as possible.
he best way to do this is strength training, via something called Progressive Overload. All this means is that, after each set, you increase the weight or the number of reps you’re performing for a specific exercise. This will force your muscles to try and adapt to the stress you’re putting on them, by using the available energy to increase your strength, and maintain muscle size. What you eat is also important here. Your muscles need protein in order to repair, so having a good amount of protein in your diet is important, but make sure you also keep a healthy intake of carbs and fats. But don’t forget to keep that (slight) deficit!
So what if you want to gain muscle but keep your fat gain to a minimum? The answer to this is a bit more complicated, because while you need to eat more calories than you use, you need to factor in how many you burn from training as well, AND you need to ensure that you’re eating a good split of macronutrients (carbs, fats, and protein) and resting properly at the same time, while also putting in a sufficient amount of effort in every training session. How does the saying go again? Train like a beast, eat like a king, sleep like a baby? Do that.
But try not to go extreme in your surplus, because then you’ll end up gaining more fat than muscle. There are a host of apps that will help track your calories and macronutrients, but the two I’d recommend are MyFitnessPal and Cronometer. Use them to make sure you’re hitting your calorie/macro limits, but don’t be afraid to indulge once in a while. The most important part of a weight gain or weight loss program is flexibility. Being too strict on yourself is a likely recipe for failure, unless you’re a pro at creating new routines and lifestyles for yourself. Consistency is the key to success, but there’s no point doing it if you aren’t enjoying it. Organise your regimen around the basics, and go from there. I’ll be sure to do another post on bulking in the future, so stay tuned!
Finally, if you’ve had trouble with losing or gaining in the past, then you may have an underlying issue, so talking to a medical professional might help. But give the suggestions a try first and see if does the trick!