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Finding Caloric Balance

No matter what someone’s goals are, or which diet they choose to use, caloric intake is the main contributing factor to success. The experts can argue whether low carb is better than high carb, whether to go plant based or meat based, or vice versa, or whatever. But everyone agrees that caloric intake is crucial. There is no denying that the old school calories in vs calories out model matters in weight loss. If used properly, we can use it in fat loss as well. The difference between weight loss and fat loss is the maintenance of lean body mass. If successful in training and diet, the client’s lean body mass will increase as the overall measurements decrease. To accomplish this, we must calculate and track their caloric output to find the correct caloric input.

Finding a caloric balance is not hard but can be time consuming and a little monotonous. First, we have to calculate the client’s Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). BMR is the amount of calories burned without extra movement. Basically, how many calories one burns of they do not leave the bed for 24 hours. This is pretty easy due to various online calculators. I prefer the Harris Benedict equation, but they are all pretty close. We will use my BMR as an example.

Sex: Male Age: 31

Weight: 165lbs Height: 5’9”

From this information the calculator gives a BMR of 1756. That means I will burn 1756 calories just staying alive. That sounds like a high number of calories for zero activity, but once organ function, body heat maintenance, cell production, and many more processes are factored in it is not that hard to believe. Since we do not spend all day in bed, we must account for our various activities throughout the day as well. My day starts around 5 am and ends around 9 pm. During this time, I train my clients, do some kickboxing, train myself, and do Jiu-Jitsu. On the Active Metabolic Rate (AMR) scale I put above average physical work (low-balling in my opinion) which puts me between 3512 and 4214 calories per day.

So, I need around 3750 calories just to maintain my current weight. Here is where we begin to factor in the goal for training. I use my base line as 3750. I want to gain weight, so I will add 300 calories to my base line to create a surplus. If I wanted to lose weight, I would subtract 300 calories to put myself in a deficit. Now that I have a target caloric intake (I use 4000 calories to keep things simple), I must find my macro nutrient split. In the most simplistic way imaginable, think of protein as building blocks and carbs and fat as fuel.

Protein = 4 cal/g Carbohydrates = 4 cal/g Fat = 9cal/g

First, we start with protein. I suggest staying within the standard .8 – 1.2 grams per pound of lean body mass (LBM) design because it has worked well for my clients and I for as long as I can remember. It may be difficult to find LBM without a DEXA scan or Biopod, so this is one place where guesswork comes in. I have a BioMed hand scale, so I use it. (I know it’s not the most accurate, but it works in a pinch.) My last BioPod reading was 8.2% Body fat. That puts me at 151 lbs. LBM.

151 x 1.2 (high protein intake for hypertrophy) = 181g 181 x 4 = 724 cal from protein

Next, we have carbohydrates. This is where we get a little leeway. I like to stay low on the carbs because I have seen a ton of benefits from being low carb from cognitive function to reduced inflammation. I also want to increase them a little bit to maintain a nice anabolic state and fast energy response for explosive movement in Jiu-Jitsu. I plan to keep them around 10% instead of the standard 5% for keto. That puts me at 400 calories or 100g of carbs.

4,000cal x .1 = 400 cal 400cal / 4 (cal/g) = 100g

Lastly, we move on to fat intake. So far, I have accounted for 1,124 calories from protein and carbs. Now I just have to fill in the rest with fat.

4, 000 – 1,124 = 2,876cal from fat 2,876 / 9 = 320g of fat

My overall daily caloric breakdown is 181g of protein, 100g of carbohydrates, and 320g of fat. Yes, it is a lot of food and No, I do not take this lightly. Eating 4000 calories a day is more of a job than anything. After breaking everything down, I try to stay as close to the given numbers for at least four weeks. During that time I note my progress from body fat, strength, endurance, and mental state. If I begin to get softer as I gain, then I know I am eating too much. If I do not gain, then I know I’m not eating enough. If I began leaning out too fast, then I know I’m getting plenty of protein, but not enough overall calories. And many, many more combinations. Anything other than the desired results means that I go back to the drawing board and work out the kinks.

Although this is science, everyone is different and reacts differently to diet, exercise, etc. This is just a way of finding a starting point. Calories may need to increase or decrease. Macros may need to be adjust. Just make sure to give each change a chance. Program hopping is a horrible way to approach dieting. Give each adjustment four to six weeks before moving on. It seems like a long time, but changes do not happen overnight.

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