That (simple?!) calorie deficit…

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Energy in Vs energy out. This is a statement currently being thrown about by so many leading media influences, health & training professionals at the moment. If you want to lose weight you need to be in a calorie deficit and your energy consumed must be less than your energy expended. 

However, I still find the dynamics of our complex metabolic system as well as the hormones that can influence & disrupt our energy balance somewhat mind blowing.

Obviously, if your currently overweight or (unwilling) gaining weight, you are consuming too many calories.  So, where do we begin? 

Your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is the benchmark you’ll need to establish if you plan to calculate a calorie deficit.  This is unique to each individual.  To figure this out you need to consider the four aspects – 

  1. Basal Metabolic Rate – BMR (your body’s basic requirements to stay alive);
  2. Non Exercise Adaptive Thermogenesis – NEAT (non-exercise, unconscious movements);
  3. Exercise activity – EA and
  4. Thermic Effect of Food  – TEF.

No equation is perfectly matched to everyone but by calculating a BMR & then comparing it to how many calories you’re currently consuming, is a pretty darn good place to start. I think so many of us 

a) don’t know what our BMR should be & 

b) just how much that differs from our current daily intake.

If you have been ‘dieting’ for years you may have even experienced certain metabolic adaptations, which have now lowered your BMR further. 

When you then apply how active or sedentary you are, you can increase or decrease your metabolic needs accordingly. 

So now we’re talking about limiting our calories & consuming less than we’d prefer.  This is where macros & TEF play a significant role & making smart food choices become so important.  Theory currently stands that so long as you hit a calorie deficit you will lose body fat regardless of what you eat. However, when you are restricting your calories you will soon find out that getting the nutrients you need to remain healthy, feeling satiated & maintaining lean body mass can’t be taken for granted.  Shit food choices, leads to shit results in the long term.  

Your macros consist of carbohydrates, fats & protein.  Protein has the highest TEF of all these three.  Which means that it requires more energy (20-30%) to be processed by the body than carbohydrates (5-10%) & fats (0-3%).  This is a good thing especially when hitting a calorie deficit. 

Begin by calculating how much protein you need. I have mentioned before that 1g/lb lean body mass is generally a good place to start.  Protein is crucial for muscle protein synthesis (MPS); maintaining & building new muscle tissue. Ensuring you eat leucine-rich protein sources would be hugely beneficial also because leucine stimulates muscle growth as well as prevents potential muscle deterioration. Choosing complete protein foods such as meat & eggs will provide the nine essential amino acids that the body can’t produce on its own. Leucine is one of these essential amino acids.  Beans & nuts aren’t complete protein sources so if you don’t eat meat, just make sure you eat a sufficient mix to get all these essential amino acids into your diet.

Protein is additionally highly satiating, which by default means you will eat less because you are feeling fully for longer.

Although there are no hard & fast rules as to how many meals you should eat in a day with regards to fat loss (so long as you hit a deficit), research shows that protein distribution to enhance muscle anabolism is actually important.  By spreading your protein intake out throughout the day you are more likely to hit the protein threshold required (ca. 20g), as well as remain within the ‘cap’ of around 40g.  This basically means that you may not get an anabolic response if you consume too little protein, or you won’t really benefit by eating lots more protein in one meal. A good quality protein source within this range with each meal would be a good idea for most people looking to improve or refine their diets.

Once you’ve gotten your head around your protein needs, it’s personal preference as to how you fill in your remaining calories with carbohydrates & fats. This is your chance to be creative, flexible & experiment.  

You could theoretically fill in the calories with whatever carbohydrates you enjoy, BUT… certain carbs (let’s take jelly babies for example) will offer lots of calories for very little volume.

Simple (short chained) carbohydrates, like jelly babies, are broken down by the body quickly to be used as energy. Simple carbs are found naturally in foods such as fruit, milk & milk products, as well as in the processed foods, refined sugars & soft drinks you are probably already familiar with.  

Complex (long chain) carbohydrates (starches) are broken down by the body to form glucose but not as quickly & don’t cause quite the same spikes / dips in blood sugar levels as simple carbs might. Complex carbs include vegetables, whole grains, potatoes & whole fruits.  They aren’t striped of fiber & nutrients like processed & refined carbohydrates.  

Your optimal carbohydrate consumption will ultimately boil down to your personal circumstances – your age, gender, metabolic health & physical activity. 

Fats are also broken down into their categories of saturated and unsaturated.  Saturated fats are found in meat products as well as butter, lard & coconut oil for example.  Monounsaturated & polyunsaturated fats in avocados, nuts, seeds, natural oils & fish are unsaturated.  There is a lot of debate as to which kinds & how much of these fats is best to consume.  Again, this does depend on personal circumstances.  When filling in your remaining calories with fats the thing I try to bear in mind is that Omega 3 fats (i.e. from plant sources & oily fish) can’t be made by the body so must come from a food source.

Trans fatty acids are made by heating oils in a process called hydrogenation.  Partially hydrogenating vegetable oils makes them more stable & less likely to become rancid, which is why you’ll find them popular for frying, baked goods, processed snack foods, fasts foods & in restaurants. In short, these are not good for the heart, blood vessels or rest of the body so, in a nut shell, limit your intake of these.

There are many different ways to hit your weekly calorie deficit.  Find tricks & tools, which help you do this. When you’re hitting a calorie deficit, you’ll ultimately want to gain the most nutrients & feel fuller for longer on less food!

Fasting until a certain time of day, prepare meals in advance, factor in a ‘cheat’ meal or special occasions, have snacks prepared for emergencies (as part of your deficit), alcohol is not free calories, install a calorie counter app on your mobile phone, don’t go food shopping hungry…  Adherence is the key to weight loss success. 

Diets aren’t a punishment, & neither should food be a reward. If your new eating plan is causing you to binge eat or you dread the thought of meal prepping, then be prepared to go back to the drawing board. Tailor your diet to fit your lifestyle. 

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