Calories: The Basics
What You Need To Know About Calories
Before reading this article it would be a great idea for you to complete Ben Coomber’s The Journey first otherwise this won’t make much sense. For those of you who have completed it this will help you to bash on hereafter.
Calories are how we measure energy. The energy you use through activity and the energy you put back from food and drink. It’s important to be in an energy deficit to lose weight but it’s important to understand that this doesn’t need to be huge.
The best way to work out what your actual TDEE is (total daily energy expenditure) is to meticulously track a week’s worth of food without aiming for any set calories targets. If you are tracking accurately and by the end of the week your weight is unchanged then it’s likely you have found your TDEE or maintenance calorie point. It’s highly likely that this will be a lot higher than you think.
A moderately active lady weighing 70kg should be maintaining at around 2,000-2,200kcals per day. If she is highly active and has a low body fat percentage (more muscle) this will likely be even higher.
So, if you have worked out that your calories are 1,200kcal you are either a 10-year old girl, you have done something wrong or you’re lying to yourself. You want to be dieting on as many calories as possible and if you set your calorie level too low too soon then you will have nowhere to go when your weight starts to plateau.
In the example above, with a maintenance level of 2,100kcals per day a 10% deficit should be enough which means: 2,100 x 0.9 = 1,890kcal per day. This is obviously affected by activity so if you have a week off exercise and aren’t getting many steps in you can probably drop this by another 10%. If you start increasing your exercise intensity or volume, then you’ll want to increase by another 5-10% depending on how much more exercise you are doing.
It gets easier with practice and, in time you may get to a point where you are able to judge your portions by eyeballing your food and only tracking the odd week from time to time, to see what your TDEE is.
This article explains more about How To Find Your TDEE.
How To Bring Your Calories Up Safely
If you are genuinely under eating, you will likely feel like crap. So, if you are tracking 1,200kcals and you have no energy, low motivation, headaches, joint pain, insomnia, erratic menstruation, low libido, bad skin, dry hair, poor mental clarity, etc. These are all pretty good indicators that you are under eating.
If you are tracking low but experience none of these and aren’t losing weight then you aren’t under eating, you’re under reporting.
To bring your calories up safely increase by 100 a day each week, like so:
Week 1 – 1,200kcal per day
Week 2 – 1,300kcal per day
Week 3 – 1,400kcal per day
What you might find is that your weight will stall until you get your energy intake up to where your natural set point is. But you should notice that all the previously mentioned symptoms start to disappear, so even though you’re not losing weight you are suddenly starting to feel more energetic and more motivated, your sleep will improve, your skin and hair improve, your back or knees stop hurting and you’re suddenly like Sting and Trudy Styler between the sheets!
It’s not unusual for someone to go from being at 1,200 /1,300/1,400 kcals for some time to over 2,000kcals before their weight starts coming off. Just think about that for a moment, you can eat normal amounts of food, never starve yourself, feel awesome and still lose weight. How jealous will your work colleagues be when they see you chowing down on a 600kcal pre-cooked chilli con carne for lunch while they are enduring a limp stick of celery and cottage cheese dip? They’ll want to know your secret, how is it that you can eat so much and look so good?
Calories And Exercise
Dieting on as many calories as you can will also have a positive effect on your exercise. If you are too low your performance will suffer and it will take much longer for you to recover between workouts. Get the calories right and you will train harder, meaning you will burn MORE calories and build MORE muscle.
But how do you know how to assess your calorie needs when your training increases?
By now you will have completed the Journey so you know how to work out your BMR, if not here’s a reminder. Your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) is your weight in pounds multiplied by 10 for a woman and 11 for a man.
Example for a 70kg women: 70 x 2.2 (conversion for kgs to lbs) = 154 x10 = 1,540 (BMR).
Once you have your estimated BMR you add in a multiplier for activity, so if you are now doing 5-6 hours of exercise per week and getting in 10,000 steps per day you might use number 4 from the list below. So, 1,540 x 1.725 = 2,656 kcals per day for maintenance.
1. BMR x 1.2 – Sedentary. Office job, no exercise.
2. BMR x 1.375 – Light exercise. You work out 2-3 days per week and don’t really move much outside of this
3. BMR x 1.55 – Moderate activity. You may train 3-5 times per week and be relatively active outside of this, or train 1-3 times per week and work a very active manual labour job
4. BMR x 1.725 – Training 6-7 days per week and a moderately active job, or 3-5 times with an extremely active job
5. BMR x 1.9 – Double daily workouts, basically a pro athlete.
This example isn’t 100% accurate but will give you a ball park figure to aim for. Remember this estimates your TDEE and so you still have to create a deficit, 10% is plenty at this stage. Now, just track your workouts and your weight for a few weeks. Is your weight going down by 0.5-1lb per week? Great you’re spot on, but how is your recovery and sleep? If you’re not recovering and sleep is compromised, you may need to bring your kcals up by 5% or so. If your weight isn’t going down, you may need to bring your kcals down by 5% each week until you are losing close to 1lb a week.
Yeah, we know, it’s all very complicated so it all depends how serious you want to get about this. The people who get the best results are the ones who track everything and stay consistent but if being ripped and excelling at sport isn’t really your thing then fine, just stick to the basics.
GymCube for life!