Counting calories can be an arduous task, taking time to estimate food portions and calorie values of the meals we consume on a daily basis. Unfortunately though, regardless of whether your body recomposition goals are to lose fat or gain lean muscle, it is necessary to have an idea of how much you eat in order to meet your goals.
So once we accept the fact that we have to have an idea of what we eat on a daily basis as a starting point, and likely using a smart phone app to make it simple, we have to determine how many calories one should take in daily/weekly. For as many diets that exist in the world there are as many differing opinions on how many calories we need to eat. The truth is there is no “right” mathematical formula or philosophy that answers this question for each individual, and the reason for this is that everyone is different.
With different body types, varying activity levels, metabolic changes, age impact, etc. a formula to determine your ideal calorie intake to maintain your ideal body weight does not exist. ‘Trial and error’ is the best method I have found and should work for anyone – counting calories and measuring macronutrient ratios (carbohydrates-protein-fat) and then making adjustments based on your individual results, successes and failures. Some people respond differently to higher carbohydrate or fat ratios, while high protein has never failed me or others I work with.
So where to start?
I think most people will be surprised to learn how low you can go with your daily caloric intake. If the goal is fat loss or weight loss Women can start at 8-10 calories per pound of desired body weight, while Men can start at 10-12 calories per pound. Using this template a 165-pound male can consume between 1650 to 1950 calories per day. While it may not sound like much, a man working out 4 days per week eating around 1700 calories/day can expect to see both fat loss AND muscle gain in this range. We need to stick to the lower end and lift weights if we wish to gradually lower percentage of body fat and increase lean muscle mass. Remember to use your desired body weight for fat loss or muscle gain as the guide – if you currently weigh 170 pounds but feel 160 is ideal, you work with 160 when multiplying the 10-12 calories per pound, not 170.
In terms of macro-nutrient ratios I would suggest starting with 33% coming from each carbs, protein, and fat – then adjust once again based on your individual results. Everyone has a different level of tolerance to carbohydrates, those with faster metabolisms may be able to support up to 45% of their calories coming from carbohydrate sources, those who do not react well to carbs end up storing more as fat, so starting lower is a safe place to begin.
The trick is to keep track of how your body reacts to different ratios as well as varying calorie intake levels. Men are often quite surprised to see gains in lean muscle mass even while reducing calories provided protein intake is at least 1 gram per pound of body weight. As always, your body will adjust to reduced calorie intake so do not forget to cycle calories higher every few weeks for even greater muscle gains. When you deplete calories for an extended period of time while exercising, your body becomes primed and hungry for excellent lean muscle gains once you bump up the calories for a week.